Saturday, 29 September 2007

Off the mark

Its nice to be able to finally leap out of your seat and scream in celebration as your team finally puts the goal in the back of the net at their home ground. Something which they hadn't done for over 240 minutes. And last night we got to do it twice as the Melbourne Victory snapped its drawing sequence with a 2-0 win over the Queensland Roar. But with all the joy of winning our first game of the season, there is still some questions that need to be answered.

Our first half was abysmal. We barely created two chances on goal. I thought I was having flashbacks to season one. Our midfield lacked cohesion and lacked any type of creativity. The lack of creativity is my major concern. I don't think we can have Muscat, Broxham and Brebner all playing in the midfield together and for me the one that has to go is Brebner. Last night he looked slow and was often beaten to the ball or stripped of possession all too easily. Its time for Merrick to bite the bullet and play Hernandez in the centre of the midfield and play our game through him. Also I can't believe a talent such as Caceres is left on the bench along with Hernandez. We always look better when he is on the pitch and its no coincidence we scored both our goals after he came on.
Our insistence on the long ball out of defence is starting to wear a little thin as we constantly get beaten in the air and the ball comes straight back in. You could see Theoklitos getting frustrated as he often wanted to throw the ball out but no one was giving him any options. Players such as Keenan and Vargas should be giving Theoklitos an option to bring the all out of defence in a much more controlled and reliable manner.

It looks like fellow bloggers Hamish and Jessica are both in for a long season supporting the Roar. For the most part their attacking third of the pitch lacked inspiration with their best chance coming from Craig Moore, whose shot was acrobatically saved on the line by Vargas. The crowd was in fine voice again last night and even the normally reserved gold member section was lending its voice to some of the chants. A real camaraderie is starting to develop between fans in the area where I sit and opinions, jokes thoughts and high fives are shared. I missed most of the lead up play to our second goal as I was laughing at the string of amusing insults in Spanish that were being hurled at the Victory players by an Uruguayan fan sitting in front of us. I don't think I will be repeating them in my next Spanish lesson.

Looking forward we have a couple of tough road trips as we head off to Sydney and then Adelaide to take on our fiercest rivals. Our midfield issues are still to be sorted but things are looking promising with Thompson coming into form and Leandro Love proving to be an excellent acquisition.
Once these have been sorted we will start to go from strength to strength. Lets hope so.

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

A Season with Verona review

I have just finished reading A Season with Verona (Vintage, 2003) by Tim Parks, probably one of the quintessential books about football fans every written. That is apart from Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby (which I haven't read). The basic premise of the book is that Tim Parks, an English author who lives in Verona, and supports Hellas Verona, decides to follow their fortunes to every game, both home and away, in the 2000/01 season. I'm probably not the first to review this book and most definitely not the last, but I have given it a show anyway.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and its insight into the culture of Italian at one of the most controversial clubs in Italy. One of things that draws me to watch games every week is the interaction between fans and their team as they cheer, criticise and chastise them. For many it is a chance to escape the humdrum of their lives and lose themselves in the game of football for ninety minutes. For me Parks, has captured the essence of the fans that follow this very proud club. He encounters many fans on his footballing journey through Italy and lets us in on their feelings, thoughts and hopes as well as his own. He doesn’t solely concentrate on the football as he puts the season in the context of what is happening in Verona and especially Italy, who at the time was going through an extended election campaign. This allows the reader to understand the culture in which this story resides.

This book is essential reading for all football fans and fans of the culture behind the game. Many would relate to the fanaticism shown by the fans of Hellas Verona. This book has reignited my passion for Italian football that I used to follow quite closely by watching the one hour highlight show that was used to be on Sunday morning on SBS. I am also keen to read Calcio by John Foot to get a wider understanding of the history of Italian football and its culture. An occasional eye will be now kept on the fortunes of Hellas Verona, who unfortunately are now in Serie C1 and currently in last position after four games.
A must have for all football fans.

Monday, 24 September 2007

Class overwhelms tenacity

Last night saw the Matildas put up brave performance in their 3-2 quarter final loss to Brazil and thus ending their World Cup run. It was a great effort by the team but in the end, the class of their Brazilian opponents shone through. Their ability to control the tempo of the game with all players looking comfortable on the ball was the key difference. Too often we gave the ball away cheaply in midfield and resorted to the long ball, with which the well drilled Brazilians had little trouble. Credit must be given to the Australian girls who although clearly outclassed, never gave up and their two goals were well taken, especially the header by Lauren Colthorpe. It certainly gave the Brazilians a wake up call after they took an early 2-0 lead. The two goals from Formiga and Cristiane were examples of pure class and great finishing. Although Formiga's goal could have been avoided if she was closed down quicker by our defence. The Brazilian penalty, although clearly a foul, was questionable as to whether the infraction occurred in the penalty area or not. A possible penalty call to Sarah Walsh in the dying minutes was also waved away and with no replays to be seen it was difficult to assess her claims.

Overall, it was a great tournament from the team and now it is time to build on their results and interest. The team from Brazil clearly showed the gulf in class between the setups of the respective countries in both technical ability and football nous. A lot can be learned from countries such as Brazil, Germany and the USA in the way the women's game is developed. Also, our girls need to be playing at a high standard on a regular basis. Against Brazil, many looked tired and for some playing four games in close succession was having its affect. The reintroduction of a professional league in US in 2009 will help in this quest, but some sort of national league here in Australia needs to be put in place. We need to give our team members a chance of regular football and an opportunity to focus solely on their sport and not have to worry about making ends meet. An idea might be to affiliate teams with current A-League clubs and have them play before the men's games. Its just a thought and I would be interested to hear other people's thoughts on this matter. I know it has been topic of hot discussion on the Melbourne Victory forum. I am looking forward to the remaining games of the World Cupand it is great to see SBS showing the games live. I am tipping a Germany vs USA final.

Photo "borrowed" from

Saturday, 22 September 2007

1/2 ordinary play + 1/2 better play = another draw

Last night I went down to the Royal Melbourne Hotel to watch the game versus Newcastle Jets with my friend, Rosie. I had seen her in a while and she hadn't seen the Victory in action in a while so it seemed like the perfect opportunity. We got an early idea of what the team selection would be like as we spotted Kaz Patafta in the hotel, there to watch the game with the fans as part of the official Victory viewing. Was a bit disappointed not to see him take the field and to be honest I was a little starstruck, which is kind of odd because he is an 18 year old kid and certainly looks it.

When we finally settled down to watch the game we began to watch what was a pretty ordinary first half from the Victory boys and I am of the belief not much of it is worth talking about. Although special mention must go to Stuart Musalik of the Jets who scored a wonderful goal but should have never been giving the space and the freedom to take the shot in the first place. All is can say is that the defending was very casual and the midfield was giving the ball away far too easily and it looked like we were in for a long night as memories of the 4-0 defeat to Newcastle in the final round last year came flooding back.

After some half time entertainment where our host interviewed both Patafta and Evan Berger (who is even smaller than Patafta, Note to Ernie: we need to recruit some taller players.) and gave some sponsors a plug we got the news that Keenan and been replaced by Hernandez at half time. With the introduction of Hernandez our midfield appeared to have a lot more structure than the first half. He was playing deeper in the midfield and we were playing with him as our fulcrum. It was probably his best game of the season and he is threaded through some delightful balls. Two of note were the pass to Love who subsequently sent in a great cross to Thompson who nodded home our first goal (and 6 points for my fantasy football team), and to Caceres (who came on with ten minutes to play) who then slammed home a great goal from close range to beat Covic at his near post.

It was good to see the team fight back from a seemingly lost position and gain themselves another point. Hopefully this is a turning point for the team and we can rack up our first win next week against the Roar and bring some disappointment to both Hamish and Jessica. Standout players for me on the night were Hernandez, Love and Theoklitos. Special mention must go to Theoklitos as he made a number of stunning saves to deny the Jets from running away with the game.. He is definitely the standout goalkeeper in the league at the moment. So after a fairly entertaining match, both Rosie went and separate ways knowing that the Victory were still unbeaten and the our second half performance was much better than our 'crap' first half and next time we watch a game at The Royal Melbourne Hotel we hope to see Patafta on the field and not watching the game on TV.

Thursday, 20 September 2007

Off to the quarter finals

83rd min: Lots of swearing, holding of head in hands.

92nd min: Arms raisied in air. Lots of shouting and running around in front of the TV.

Congratulations must go to the Matildas as they became the first Australian senior team to make it to the quarter finals of a World Cup. However, they certainly gave us a rollercoaster ride in a game that had echoes of the Socceroos' match against Croatia just over twelve months ago, but without any yellow card incidents. After going down a goal to a 32 second Canadian strike it was great to see the girls dominate the rest of the half and create a lot of chances, some of them that should have been taken. The Canadians were playing a very physical game on the counter attack after taking the lead and it was playing into the hands of the Matildas. My concern was that at stage that we were playing too many long balls and not making use of our speed.

Collette McCallum then scored a cracker of a free kick early in the second half and I thought we would go on with the game from here as the Canadians looked shot. But to their credit the Canadians changed their game plan as we looked to forget ours as we wasted possession after possession. When the Canadians took the lead in the 83rd minute I thought that our wasted chances were coming back to haunt us and that our World Cup was over. But in the 92nd minute when all looked lost, a piece of individual brilliance from De Vanna in the penalty area that lead to the Salisbury goal had me leaping around my lounge room with my arms in the air. I am not sure what the neighbours would have thought as they heard my shouts of joy - unless they were watching the game as well.

Looking forward to the next game - a quarter final match against Brazil. The Matildas will have to play a full 90 minutes of quality football because if they drop off the pace like they did against Canada they will be punished by the complete football team that is Brazil. Brazil have in their ranks, Marta, FIFA player of the year, who is in great goal scoring form and will be one of many dangers for the Australians. It will be a tough game for the Matildas but I am sure they are up for it.

Image "borrowed" from

Sunday, 16 September 2007

At least we haven't lost yet

When it comes to the Melbourne Victory I am the eternal optimist. I can take a positive out of just about anything. This positivity probably comes from the fact that I usually watch the home games with my girlfriend's dad, Arturo. He is a typical Chilean and very negative in his attitude. So I guess you could say I am the ying and he is the yang or something like that. Tonight I took the positives that they didn't concede a goal; played a lot better than their last match at home; and of course that they are still undefeated after four games, although yet to chalk up a win.

Even with my eternal optimism I do have some concerns. My main concern is how our midfield is working together. The combination of Brebner, Muscat, Broxham and Hernandez just don't seem to be working well and I think the problem may be Brebner. He is not having the same impact as he did last year and is choking up the space that should be given to Hernandez to allow for his creativity. I think the other factor may be that he is also not fully fit. I was also astonished that Merrick decided to swap Pantelidis for Caceres after only thirty or so minutes. Caceres was looking extremely dangerous and when allowed to roam on the left put in some great crosses. I was also a little perturbed by the fact that our options on the bench looked a little defensive. An example of this was late on in the game when the injection of Patafta into the game would have been more useful than that of Ryall. Central Coast, for their part didn't create that many chances, but for an alternative view you may want to check out The Fisherman's Friend.

On another note, it was pleasing to hear the crowd was much more vocal than the last home game with the crews at either end making plenty of noise. I sit in the Gold Members section on the wing and was also good to see some of them also making some noise particularly towards the end of the game. Next week looms as an important match away to Newcastle where a win is paramount to our chances of keeping the many fans happy, not that I will be all that worried.

A game of two halves

After a sluggish start, the Matildas pulled off a well earned draw against world no.4 Norway in their second match of the Women's World Cup. Hero again for the Matildas, was Lisa Da Vanna who scored a cracker of a goal from the edge of the area after shaking off three Norwegian defenders. Craig Foster or Andrew Orsati, I can't remember which one, made the statement that the goal was on a par in term of quality and importance with goals scored by Tim Cahill against Japan. I couldn't agree more, the quality of finish was incredible and the Norwegian keeper had no chance and the timing was perfect. When it was scored I was out of my lounge room chair and running around like an idiot much like I did when Cahill scored those goals. The goal came after a period of sustained pressure by the Matildas, who after being on the back foot for most of the first half came out firing in the second half.

In the first half, the Matildas sat too far back in defence allowing Norwegians to constantly run at them and to create a lot of chances. This was evident when they scored the opening goal where a excellent through ball split open the Australian defence and left Barbieri with no chance as Ragnhild Gulbrandsen took her chance with her great control and first time shot. Our midfield had little or no impact on the game during the first half and there was no series of passes to speak of whatsoever although our defence stood firm after the early goal.. The introduction of De Vanna, Walsh and Munoz in the second half allowed the Matildas to now run at the Norwegian defence and they were on their heels for most of the second half. Players of the match for me for the Matildas were De Vanna, Garriock, McCallum, Slatyer and Salisbury.

The result now leaves the Matildas with an incredible chance of making it through to the quarter finals as they now only require a point from their final match against Canada. To progress to the next stage the Australians can't afford to have a similar first half against Canada as they did against Norway as the highly fancied Canadians will surely make us pay. After two great performances, the Matildas need to continue their great form and attitude otherwise it will be all for nothing. Go Matildas!

Image "borrowed" from

Wednesday, 12 September 2007

World Cup drought broken

The Matildas got off to a great start in the 2007 Women's World Cup in China tonight with a 4-1 win over Ghana in their first group game. It was their first ever win in a World Cup and breaks their run of nine matches without a win. Goals came from Lisa De Vanna(2), Heather Garriock and Sarah Walsh. I would be the first admit that I don't follow the world of women's football that closely and it took me a while to get used to the different style and pace of the game. I enjoyed the game nevertheless and am looking forward to their upcoming matches against highly ranked Norway and Canada. Footie Girl has provided an excellent analysis of Group C and all the other groups if you are into that kind of thing.

When Ghana scored their only goal to make the scoreline 3-1 I thought this would be a nice way to finish the game as it would provide a nice symmetry to the first ever win at a World Cup by the Socceroos last year. However, the Matildas would ruin my sense of romanticism with a fourth goal, not that I am complaining at all. The Matildas played well and dominated large parts of the game as they attacked mostly down the left flank exposing the lack of pace in the Ghanaian defence. However, goalkeeper Melissa Barbieri (the only Victorian in the squad) came to the rescue a number of times when the defence was a little slow to react to the runs of the Ghanaians. Standout players for me were De Vanna, Barbieri and Garriock. There are still some improvements that need to be made for their upcoming clashes against stronger opposition but hopefully they can make it past the group stage.

Image "borrowed" from

How football should be played

Last night we were given a demonstration of how football should be played. Argentina put on a display of clean, crisp passing combined with deft touches and bursts of speed and improvisation. This is how football should be played and not like how the guy who was sitting behind me in a Charlton Athletic shirt thought we should be playing. He was constantly extolled the virtues of route one football every time the Socceroos were trying to make a patient build up in the offensive half of the pitch. Constantly heard were the cries of "take a shot" or "just get it in there" or "why are they kicking it backwards". I am a huge fan of Alfio Basile, the coach of los albicelestes, partly because he is a former coach of one of my favourite teams, Boca Juniors, but also his attitude towards football and how it should be played. He always sends out his team out to play the kind of football he likes to watch - patient, passing football, with his team always looking to keep the ball and break the opposition down with a touch of flair. He is continuing the tradition of Jose Pekerman and credit must given to the AFA for doing so. I think FFA should take a leaf out their book when they finally get around to appointing the next national coach now that the reign of Arnold is over.

In the first half the crowd was abuzz with the antics and skills of Lionel Messi as he was causing massive headaches for the Socceroos and in particular David Carney. His rasping shot after beating both Grella and Carney (who had a good game) was unlucky not to find the back of the net as it crashed off the upright having beaten Schwarzer all ends up. I think a lot of the crowd was drawn to the game because of stars such as Messi and Tevez and they weren't disappointed. The first half of the game was very attacking and when Bresciano hit the woodwork, myself along with a vast section of the crowd rose to their feet expected it to fall in but luckily for the Argentines the ball fell to safely. Bresciano probably had his best game in a long time and his nice combinations with Grella was something that missing from the Asian Cup campaign. Grella always seems to take his game up a level when playing against good quality opposition. Abbondanzieri in goals was rarely troubled except for a couple of Bresciano free kicks and a David Carney lob. Although sometimes there was times that he made myself and my fellow Boca fan beside me a little nervous as came off his line - reminding us of his sending off in a superclasico last year when he fouled a River Plate player near the half way line.

The second half didn't have the spark of the first, especially after los albicelestes took the lead after some poor man marking by the Socceroos. It seemed as if the effects of flying half round the world for most of the players started to take its toll along with the numerous substitutions. I would have loved to Riquelme in action in this game as he is one of my favourite players and it seem the Argentines were missing his presence and creativity in the midfield. If he was in action I think the score would have been much more in favour of the team in blue and white. It was good to see Josh Kennedy back in the green and gold and he put in a good effort - though he looks like he needs to some match fitness having been out for over eighteen months. I have never understood Graham Arnold's fascination with Brett Holman and we were amazed he made it onto the pitch before Nicky Carle. Holman has no ball control at this level and seems to run about like a chicken without its head. Carle looked in good form but should have more time on the pitch.

Myself and the people I went to the game with (some who had travelled down from Brisbane for the game) came away from the game having seen a good quality game with its ebbs and flows and having seen the rising star that is Lionel Messi in action. Hopefully we will get to see him in action again sometime soon.

Saturday, 8 September 2007

Watching the Olyroos in Arabic

The Olyroos tonight continued their good form in their Olympic qualifying group with a 1-0 win over North Korea in front of what looked like a relatively small crowd in Newcastle. The only goal of the game was courtesy of Mark Milligan, who got on the end of a well taken Kristian Sarkies corner. It was a well deserved win for the team, who dominated vast stretches of the game with the North Koreans only have limited chances on goal and for the most part looked like they were playing for a draw. As a whole the team looked well composed and often put together long strings of passing that often led to dangerous attacking moves but lacked the killer finish. The defence was rarely troubled as was Vukovic in goal. Standout players for the night were Bridge, Sarkies, Milligan, Musalik and Topor-Stanley. The team will be strengthened by the return of in-form Nathan Burns for their next match on Wednesday night. The signs are looking good for the next generation of Australian footballers.

The oddest thing of the night was the fact that I was watching the game courtesy of a Saudi Arabian TV station via the internet complete with commentary in Arabic. How can such an important game being played in Australia not gain any live coverage whatsoever in Australia. If a Saudi Arabian station sees the necessity of showing the game live it is about time that the FFA insisted that either a free-to-air station or Fox Sports showed these games to showcase our up and coming talent. The Australian public needs to be able to see that our footballing future is in good hands.

Socceroos at play

I finished work slightly early on Friday afternoon so I headed down to see the Socceroos' training session at Princes Park with a few hundred other people. Here is a small sample of some of the photos I took of what looked like a fairly relaxed session for the team.
More photos can be viewed here.

Friday, 7 September 2007

Hero to Zero

Last year, we got off to a flyer winning our first six games of the season. This season, we might match the streak, but this time with draws after coming away with our third consecutive draw against Adelaide at Hindmarsh Stadium tonight. In about sixty seconds our ever reliable defender, Roddy Vargas turned went from hero to zero after scoring the opening goal with a nicely taken header from a Caceres freekick, he promptly handled in the area when a Diego cross struck his outstretched arm and gave away a penalty. Adelaide was probably unlucky to come away with the draw after a late Nathan Burns header struck the crossbar, but considering the injury problems that have hit the Victory squad it was a decent performance in front of a hostile Adelaide crowd.

The game saw the debut of Sebastian Ryall in the blue and white of the Victory and the 18 year old put in a solid effort at right back, keeping Spagnuolo quiet for most of the game although he didn't offer that much in attack his defensive efforts were good. A bright future is in store for the captain of the Young Socceroos, but he might struggle for game time when a fully fit squad is available. Adrian Caceres also started the game and was probably the best Victory player on the park and the most dangerous in attack. It makes you wonder why he wasn't in the squad last week as he has been in good form throughout the pre-season and now the regular season.

The undermanned defence looked solid giving Adelaide very few clear cut chances, it was only at the end when Adelaide were pressing did they look a little stretched. The midfield looked a bit slow tonight and when Adelaide were dominating the game early in the second half, they barely got a touch and when they did it was given away cheaply. The non-appearance of Patafta was also a bit baffling as his pace and guile would have useful in the tight midfield battles. Leandro Love, made his starting XI debut and made himself useful around the pitch, but too often gave the ball away too easily and his first touch was lacking a bit. He must given time to get used to the style of Australian football but should be a useful acquisition for the Victory. Allsopp put in a pretty poor performance in such an important game and was easily held.

Both teams will need to improve and Melbourne's title defence won't get any easier as they host the inform, although slightly lucky Central Coast next week at the Telstra Dome. Here's hoping for the three points to go our way and end this streak of sorts.

Tuesday, 4 September 2007

Injury concerns

After a great run with injuries last year with only defender Daniel Piorkowski suffering any major injury, our luck certainly has appeared to change this year with our rooms taking on the look of a medical facility. Of concern to the team are injuries to Ljubo Milicevic (knee), Joseph Keenan (hamstring), Steve Pantelidis (corked thigh) and Michael Theoklitos (back). Add to this list is our fearless captain, Kevin Muscat, who has been playing the last two matches with a non-displaced fracture in his left arm (which was suffered in the match against Wellington). Talk about tough, he wasn't even wearing any protection on the offending arm. According to reports, Muscat is still keen to play in the upcoming Grand Final rematch this weekend as both Archie Thompson and Leigh Broxham will be unavailable to due to their international call-ups to the Socceroos and Olyroos respectively. Thompson has also been suffering from a recurring knee injury that he picked up during the Asian Cup, which has quite obviously restricted his peformances in the opening two matches and also puts him in doubt for the Socceroos match against Argentina. Pantelidis and Theoklitos are expected to play, but if they are unavailable it could mean call-ups for Sebastian Ryall, Evan Berger and Daniel Vasilevski for the all important match against Adelaide, who themselves will be missing Bruce Djite and Kristian Sarkies due to Olyroos duty. It may also provide Merrick with the opportunity, to play both Patafta and Hernandez on the park at the same time or even give a starting position to Adrian Caceres. Hernandez needds to play out a full match to get his fitness up to speed - I don't believe there is any merit in pulling him off at half time in matches. Match fitness is gained from playing matches, not just on the training ground.

It will be a tough challenge for the Victory as Adelaide are in good form (although on the same points as us) with Nathan Burns available and in top form. On that note, if Burns is unavailable for Olyroos duty due to suspension, why wasn't he called up for full international duties as he is the most in-form striker in the country. It would be a perfect opportunity to give him a chance against world class opposition and would be great for his development.

Speaking of teams hit by injury and international duty, my A-League fantasy football team will be struggling under the pressure this week, especially with the fact that you can only make two transfers a week. For those playing in the "Blogger Cup" I am keen to follow in the esteemed footsteps of Hamish at Football Down Under and Beyond and his tipping competition and put a prize up on offer for the winning team. Any thoughts or suggestions of appropriate prizes would be most welcome.

Sunday, 2 September 2007

Some guts but no glory

It was a largely uninspiring display last night from both teams at the Telstra Dome, but probably more so from the Victory team. In front of 31,545 expectant fans the defending champions created very few chances with the Glory keeper not being called into action to make a serious save. The Victory's performance was helped by the early exit of Joseph Keenan after ten minutes due to a hamstring strain, after making an early incisive run which almost brought the Glory undone. The Victory's much talked about depth will be tested next week against Adelaide in a Grand Final rematch as utility and ever reliable Steve Pantelidis copped what appeared to be corked thigh late in the match.

As a plus, the defence put in a much more committed effort than last week, and Perth themselves had few chances, although Theoklitos had to be called onto to make some good saves to deny them. The midfield was solid, but lacking a bit of creativity when it counted, with only glimpses of brilliance from Hernandez and Patafta (who replaced Hernandez at half time) with some lovely long balls. I think it may be time for coach Merrick to bite the bullet and play both Patafta and Hernandez on the field at the same time. At the moment, the midfield looks a little defensive minded with Muscat, Brebner and Broxham all similar styles of players. I was also concerned by the absence of Caceres on the bench. He has been in good form in the pre-season and has that ability to run at defences which was lacking at times last night. In the atacking third of the field, there was flashes of brilliance from both Thompson and Allsopp, but lacked that finishing touch and constant supply. The fans may have found themselves a new Brazilian favourite, with Leandro Love showing lots of spark when he came onto the field for the last twenty minutes putting in a good effort at both ends of the field. He looks to have a bit of class and hopefully he gets a bit more game time to get on the score sheet.

I am looking to forward to next week's match against Adelaide in Adelaide and hope the team puts in a much more inspiring performance than this week.