Saturday, December 20, 2008

Al Ahly 1-0 Adelaide

Cristiano's million dollar strike

This game was only televised after SBS' last-minute backflip, which came as a result of a flood of complaints by fans irate at the network's initial refusal to show it due to other programming commitments. As it was, it was only shown on the HD channel, meaning I had to watch it at my girlfriend's parents' place and missed out on the first ten minutes (which were, from all accounts, by far the best ten minutes of the game from an Adelaide perspective). Disgraceful from the network that calls itself the 'home of football' and was once lovingly referred to as 'Sex Before Soccer'. Well, they were going to shaft us on the soccer, and the naughty foreign movies aren't even as good as they used to be.

Anyway, onto the football. This match was a long, long way from being a classic. Adelaide started off brightly and Cristiano scored an absolute cracker from long range in the seventh minute, but for most of the game the Reds' performance was extremely ordinary. The real shift in the match occurred midway through the first half, when Salley came on for the injured Diego - from that point on, Al Ahly had control of the midfield. Fullbacks Jamieson and Mullen were ordinary, and Alemao played at a pedestrian pace, showing very little of the creativity that he is capable of. Younis played the whole match and provided some muscle up front, but generally didn't do all that much to convince me of his credentials as a first-choice striker.

But the negative picture I've painted so far is, of course, not the full story. The fact remains that little Adelaide United knocked off the six-time African champions, who have won the Egyptian league 33 times, to clinch fifth spot in the Club World Cup. And they did this with a matchday squad missing three of their first-choice players, Cassio, Dodd and Barbiero, and with the equally important Diego limping off the pitch after 24 minutes. Two of the substitutes were Michael Marrone and Osama Malik, Youth Leaguers who have never even taken the field in the A-League.

So, Adelaide can be proud of their against-the-odds victory, and they will come back to Australia having declared themselves to the world after two wins and a very respectable loss. And even after all their travels in the ACL and CWC, they are leading the A-League with a game in hand.

Hats off, boys.


Gamba Osaka 3-5 Manchester United

The second game shown by SBS on Thursday evening was the semi final between Adelaide's Asian nemesis, Gamba Osaka, and the world's richest and most famous club, Manchester United.

Gamba were very, very impressive. They pressed well, held their structure and played much better football through the midfield than the Mancs. Their passing and movement off the ball was an absolute pleasure to watch. Manchester United's tactics mostly involved pumping long diagonal balls to the best player in the world, C. Ronaldo (and why not!).

United were generally better than Gamba man for man (unsurprisingly, given that they are rich enough to buy basically whoever they want), and Gamba's back line struggled against the quality of Man U's set pieces and the skills of Ronaldo and two-goal super sub Rooney, but I thought that the Osakans were tactically the better side and played some beautiful attacking football, despite going down 5-3 in the end.

Endo was man of the match, for mine. He pulled all the strings for Gamba, and would not look out of place in the midfield at a top-level Italian or Spanish club.

In a way, I'm kind of glad that Adelaide missed out on playing this match. We would have parked the team bus in front of our goal and still let in four or five, without getting anywhere near scoring ourselves. After watching the way Gamba and other J.League sides play (Urawa v Gamba in the ACL semi-final was one of the best matches I've seen), this is what I want Australian football to be aiming for. And the J.League teams, unlike the big European sides, are mostly made up of home-grown players, products of local youth academies. It will take a long time, but if Australia ever gets to the standard of player development and domestic league quality that we are seeing from Japan, I'll be very happy.

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