Saturday, January 31, 2009

Indonesia 0-0 Australia

On Wednesday night Australia took their first tentative steps towards Asian Cup qualification, holding Indonesia to a nil-nil draw in Jakarta. This was no ordinary Socceroos lineup, though: Pim Verbeek used this match as an opportunity to see what the A-League players were capable of.

The short answer to this question is 'not much'. But there's a lot more to it than that. Yes, the game was slightly insipid (after a pretty good start, it must be said), but there were plenty of reasons for the lack of champagne football. Only a few of the squad members had been previously capped, with Craig Moore and Archie Thompson by far the most experienced players chosen. There was very little preparation time for the team - a couple of days at most for some of the players - and the oppressive humidity and bumpy tropical pitch was a far cry from what most would be used to. And, of course, it was an away game in front of a very large and hostile crowd.

The team chosen by Pim was quite conservative, as well - workhorses like Dean Heffernan and Matt Thompson started the match at the expense of more exciting, attack-minded players like Michael Zullo or Tarek Elrich. A couple of players who could also have provided some much-needed spark, Travis Dodd and Adrian Caceres, were not even chosen in the extended squad.

Three Reds players made it onto the pitch, and all gave a reasonably good account of themselves. Galekovic was solid and composed in goals, and Paul Reid provided plenty of energy, although I think he and Matt McKay may be slightly too similar in their style of play to be paired up in midfield. Scott Jamieson was rather more subdued than usual, preferring to sit back rather than sprinting up the left wing in attack. Whether that was nerves, the conditions, or Verbeek's instructions I'm not sure - but this game certainly wasn't indicative of what he's capable of as a footballer.

For their part, Indonesia seemed happy to park most of their players in their defensive half, launching counter-attacks whenever the opportunity arose. Papuan forward Boaz Solossa was a handful, but in general Indonesia struggled to break down a well-disciplined Australian defence, with the centre back pairing of Craig Moore and Rodrigo Vargas particularly solid. At the other end of the park, Indonesia defended in numbers and effectively prevented the midfield from creating much for Archie Thompson and Danny Allsopp to work with.

The result could have been better, but any away point is a good one and there's certainly no need to write off the A-League players for future matches like this. The team's performance, with no preparation time, in unfamiliar conditions and on a horrible pitch, was still better than plenty of 'first string' Socceroos matches that I've seen (the last Asian Cup comes to mind). Australia really needs to make the most of its home games, though - I'm looking forward to a much better match when the Socceroos play Kuwait in Canberra on March 5.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Con Air going down in flames

Not too long ago, the Newcastle Jets were actually a good team. Last season, in fact, they were so good that they won the championship despite having Mario Jardel on the pitch for most of the season. Even though they'd lost their best player, the gifted Nicky Carle, to England. Gary van Egmond was the new golden boy of Australian coaches, overseeing his band of freewheeling youngsters as they scampered around the field, gleefully embarrassing oppositions with swashbuckling attacks and intricate passing moves.

Now, fast forward to January 2009. Newcastle, usually one of the more consistent sides in the league, have unravelled faster than the overpriced Ben Sherman cardigan I bought last year. They have finished the season in last place, on 18 points and with a goal difference of -18. Their best players (with the honourable exception of Joel Griffiths, at least for now) are abandoning Newcastle like rats from a sinking ship, even as the club prepares for its first ever Asian Champions League.

The situation on the pitch would be unacceptable for any club's supporters. Newcastle are playing like a team of human-shaped sea sponges. But that's not even the worst of it - their current dismal performances (the ridiculously poor 4-0 loss to Sydney on the weekend being the cherry on the cake) seem to be merely a symptom of a much deeper malaise. There is clearly something rotten at the Jets - even when they were playing well some of the club's business decisions seemed extremely poor. Trying to lure Stan Collymore, or signing Mario Jardel and forcing the coach to play him against his better judgement, for example.

Gary van Egmond's honeymoon seems now to be well and truly over. His team has dropped from best in the land to worst, over the past year. And he hasn't handled it very well, taking every opportunity to shift the blame for his team's woes onto his players, with Patafta, Zura and Hakansson all feeling the pointy end of the stick at various times. But the real highlight of van Egmond's season, for me, was dragging Pinto - a young player on his first senior team call up, who came on as a second-half substitute - off the pitch again in the last ten minutes against Adelaide. He defended the move by stating (incorrectly, in my opinion) that Pinto was "the worst player out there". Way to go, Dutchie. He should be a motivational speaker.

As they say, though, the fish rots from the head. In this case, that rotten fish head is local entrepreneur Con Constantine. Constantine has an undoubted love of football - he's pumped millions of dollars of his own money into keeping the game afloat in the Hunter region during the lean times. But he also has a reputation as somewhat of a megalomaniac, keeping a strong guiding hand on all aspects of the club. He's renowned for being extremely tight-fisted when it comes to money matters - you could probably fill an entire matchday squad with past players and staff that have locked horns with Con, often in courts of law, over pay disputes.

You don't become a multi-millionaire without being a bit of a prick, though. These sorts of things are often par for the course when wealthy businessmen own football clubs. One incident occurred recently that went well beyond acceptable behaviour, however, even for an autocratic football club owner. To cut a long story short, Constantine subjected a group of representatives from Newcastle's supporter groups to a lengthy, abusive tirade during which he threatened to throw one of them off a balcony. Their crime? Protesting against club management for Newcastle's diabolically bad season, during a match. Upside down banners, chants, that sort of thing. You can read a thread on the Jets supporter forum about the whole matter here.

Con's rant, during which he labelled the supporters 'worthless' and 'nobodies' and threatened to ban one for life for being a disloyal troublemaker, says a lot about the culture of the club. There seems to be an atmosphere of deep distrust between management, staff, and fans. And that's not a good situation. If you could do a TAFE course on managing a football club, the first thing they would teach you on the first day would be 'Respect the fans'. Healthy support is the lifeblood of a healthy club. I recently got FIFA 09 on my Wii (top game it is, too), and when you play in manager mode you get brownie points for saying nice things to the fans. Choose the 'throw them off the balcony' option and you don't do so well.

You have to feel for the Newcastle supporters, watching helplessly as their beloved Jets crash spectacularly back to earth. As I'm sure Otis Redding would have said had he not perished in a plane crash of his own, all they're asking for is a little respect from the men at the top.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Central Coast 0-1 Adelaide

So close! To win the Premiership, Adelaide needed to win this match by two goals. One goal would secure second spot, and a draw or a loss would put Adelaide in third spot after Melbourne and Queensland. As it turned out, the Reds won 1-0 from a Cristiano tap-in, but there were certainly enough chances to have wrapped up the title. Ago and Dodd could have both scored a couple. Here's what the final table looks like:

The match was also noteworthy because we saw the A-League debut of Youth League player Michael Marrone, filling in at right back for the injured Mullen. He had a great match, marauding forward with plenty of intent.

I thought I'd interview a couple of the country's leading football analysts - Kristina's dad Nino (ex- Sydney Croatia, Croatian Old Boys over 35's & Hallett Cove over 35's) and brother Marko (ex-Raiders junior and star signing for Adelaide Uni Blacks amateur league div. 5's) to get their thoughts on the game and Adelaide's season in general.

Spawning Salmon: So, what did you think of the game last night?

Nino: It was one of the better games that I saw this year. Both teams played well, attacking the whole game and defending quite well. That's what the game needs: good attacking football!

Marko: It was an exciting game, there were plenty of missed opportunities. I thought the squad that was announced was poor.

SS: What was poor about it?

M: Paul Agostino started! That guy is rubbish.

SS: So, how do you think they should have lined up?

M: Younis, Cristiano and Dodd up front in a 4-3-3. Put it all on the line, it's the last game of the season! I think Viddie played Ago because it was maybe his last match, out of sympathy. You need to play your best team every time.

N: I think the lineup was fine, defence was pretty steady. Midfield without Diego was passable, not too bad. Wasn't the best, Barbiero, Sarkies and Reid - I've seen them playing better, they had a lot of help from the defence. What surprised me was Marrone at right back - I've never seen him play before, he was attacking whenever he got the chance, taking on players, the same as Jamieson on the left - delivering crosses from both sides, it was good to see. Pantelis and Dodd had good games, as usual.

SS: What about Cristiano, do you think Viddie left it too late?

N: He should have been on from the start in my opinion, but he still got half an hour or so. Agostino should have been on the bench because he was out of match practice. The chances Ago had, Cristiano would have put at least one away!

M: Poor by Vidmar. Should have played more than one up front. Younis played well when he came on, took on players and set up Cristiano.

SS: What do you think about Adelaide's season? Are you happy with the result, coming second in the ACL and the league?

M: Happy with the ACL, but not with the league! We were hot and cold at the end of the season, should have won a few more of those games. Adelaide aren't managing the players to the best of their abilities, there are a lot of players out as well - Diego, Cassio.

N: We didn't need Cassio last night, they did well without him.

M: Adelaide did well this season in the ACL and the Club World Cup so I'm still proud. I hope Vidmar recruits well in the off season though. I'll get a season ticket next year though, for sure! It always sucks to lose to Melbourne though.

N: It's been good, considering. You couldn't ask for more, there was only one goal in it at the end of the league. They have to get the right players to build up for next year.

SS: Who would be the ideal player, if you were Vidmar, to sign for next year? As a marquee player?

N: Josip Skoko, to control the midfield. He's still only 32 or something, he's playing for Hajduk Split.

M: Kaka.

N: Kaka, bullshit. You have to be realistic you dickhead.

M: I would probably sign one of Gamba's midfielders... not Endo because we couldn't afford him, but the Japanese players would be great. Use our links to Asia to recruit..

N: I would like Cristiano to stay another year. He would be great with better players around him.

M: That means Vidmar would have to play 4-4-2, I don't think that's going to happen! All in all, with Gold Coast & North Queensland coming in things are going to keep improving. I want to see more of the youth team players in the first team - Malik, Marrone - give them a shot. I would like to see Matt Simon from Central Coast in a red shirt. He'd fit in well with the team I reckon.

N: Use the youth league players first, then buy whichever players you need. You need to give the young players a chance first.

SS: If Adelaide host the Grand Final, where should it be held?

M: Hindmarsh Stadium. It's a fortress!

N: It can't be Hindmarsh, not enough seats. Adelaide Oval.

M: Add a couple of extra stands, like they did at the Olympics.

N: There wasn't any extra seats? Where?

M: Temporary stands, there were like another 7,000 seats.

N: 7,000 seats my arse. You have to play at Adelaide Oval.

M: If Hindmarsh is good enough for the Champions League Final, it's good enough for the A-League.

Conversation descends into petty argument

SS: Thanks. Let's eat some watermelon.

Nino and Marko

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Wellington 1-1 Adelaide

I only watched the second half of this game, so I can't really say too much about it other than that Adelaide haven't really gotten any less awful over the past few weeks. Needless to say it was a very different game to the last time these two sides played each other.

Adelaide played two up front, but it doesn't really matter what formation you play if your midfield is getting owned. Towards the end the Nux were down to ten men, as well. One round to go and Adelaide is holding on to the slimmest of leads over Melbourne (equal on points, +1 goal difference), and two points ahead of Queensland. So, anything can happen, but the way Adelaide are playing I don't feel too confident about top spot.

Oh, and Ago's back. Score us a goal, you bum.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Around the Grounds

There's been a few big stories around the league this week.

For a start, it sounds as though the FFA are seriously considering implementing a proper knockout cup competition, akin to the English FA Cup, within the next couple of years. It's been on the backburner for a while but I never thought we'd see it happen this quickly. I'll write more about it some other time but, for now, I'll just say that I think it will be brilliant to have this mechanism for state league and lower level clubs to be able to play competitive matches against the A-League sides. Eventually, we may see the final rounds of the Cup take the place of the A-League finals series, which would be a big change - feasible once there are a few more clubs in the league.

Gold Coast United

The A-League's new boys are looking ominously good. In a press conference, the Toolies' (yes I'm trying to make this nickname stick) owner Clive Palmer officially announced that current Socceroo and PSV Eindhoven midfielder Jason Culina would be the club's inaugural marquee player. Well done.

Palmer, who is not renowned for his in-depth knowledge of the intricacies of the beautiful game, also stated that the Gold Coast is aiming to go undefeated through its first season. Oh dear. But they'll definitely be a force to reckon with: as well as Culina, their squad will include Shane Smeltz, Joel Porter, Tahj Minniecon, Adam Griffiths, Michael Thwaite, Jesse Vanstratten, several Brazilians that I've never heard of before and a Dutchman named Bas van der Brink. Sterjovski is probably staying at Derby, though.

Gold Coast United also used this press conference to unveil their colours (blue, yellow and white) and their badge:

The font used and general look of the badge are a graphic designer's worst nightmare - it's generic, garish and gaudy. Suits the Gold Coast to a T, I'd say. But at least it's relevant - the logo features a ribbon of blue (for the sea), a strip of yellow (for the sand), and.... wait a second... are those buildings FLIPPING THE BIRD????

Sydney FC

This week hasn't been a good one for the boys in baby blue. Reports have come out that, following the win over Wellington last weekend, two Sydney 'fans' assaulted Robbie Middleby in the stadium carpark. The reason? Seabiscuit, as he is affectionately known by supporters, is leaving the Blingers at the end of the season after signing with North Queensland. This is a guy who has been with Sydney FC since their inception, and has always put in a hundred percent for the club, who is moving on for the sake of his career. Those two morons should be given life bans from all forms of football, and castrated to boot.

As I write, Sydney have just lost 3-1 to Queensland, killing off their season for good. It was a great match, too - both teams played some nice football and Sergio van Dijk boosted fantasy league scores around the country with a hat-trick. Kosmina's career is looking a little shaky, one would think - but I think he deserves another season for the sake of stability.

Queensland Roar

The Oranje women have taken out the W-League title with a 2-0 win over Canberra United in the Grand Final, thanks to strikes from Lana Harch and Tameka Butt. The crowd at Ballymore was a very healthy 4,500 - women's football is definitely on the rise.

This may not be the only silverware to end up in Brisbane this season, either: the Roar are currently one game and a couple of fortuitous other results away from an A-League Premiership this season, and their form suggests that a Championship would be eminently achievable. Especially with the fat Scotsman Miller back on deck and SVD really starting to bang them in...

Perth Glory

One of the league's impressive youngsters, Nikita Rukavytsya, seems likely to leave Perth after securing trials with FC Twente in Holland. No matter: Perth have a likely replacement lined up in Zimbabwean striker Glen Salmon. Obviously I support this signing wholeheartedly, on the basis of his name alone.

Also, Eugene Dadi has signed on for another year, which is great news for the A-League: despite his aging body he's got plenty of class.

Melbourne Victory

The enigmatic Ljubo Milicevic has spoken out about his ill-fated time with Melbourne Victory, and the period of depression and soul-searching that he underwent after leaving the club:

'How Victory Turned Me Into An Angry Buddhist Porn Fiend'

I think he'd be the ideal replacement for Ognenovski in the centre of Adelaide's defence. Sounds like he wants to leave professional football behind though - a pity because of his talents, but you can't blame the guy for doing what's best for himself.

Adelaide United

Back on home turf, there's a couple of big stories out of Radelaide. Significantly, Dario Fontanarosa has stepped down as United chairman, to be replaced by Mel Patzwald (of Airport Travel Company - he did a great job organising my tickets to Osaka, so he gets my seal of approval). Hopefully Fontanarosa is taking a back seat in order to finalise his plans for the awesome new Estadio Dario:

I'm not holding my breath though.

Sadly, it also seems very likely now that Angelo Costanzo is out the door at Hindmarsh at the end of the current season. Obviously Vidmar and the AUFC management have not been reading this blog. I think he's still got a lot to offer the team, but he's unlikely to be a first team player at Adelaide and could therefore command a lot more money elsewhere. It's a pity because I always pictured him retiring in his home city. It's upsetting but I'm not about to hunt him down in the Hindmarsh carpark after a game because of it...

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Adelaide 0-0 Queensland

The following are the TV shows that I could have watched last night instead of going to the football:

The 7.30 Report; My Family; The Omid Djalili Show; Star Stories; Air Crash Investigations: Fire Fight - Air Canada 797; Las Vegas; 10 To One; The New Adventures of Old Christine; CSI:Miami; The Simpsons; Rules of Engagement; House; Food Safari; Tales From The Palaces: The Detectives; Long Way Down: Shashemene, Ethiopia To Laisamis, Kenya.
Long Way Down would have been good, I think. Not too long ago I read Paul Theroux' Dark Star Safari, in which he visits Shashemene, in Ethiopia. The land that the town is built on was granted by Emperor Haile Selassie I to the Ethiopian World Federation, and during the 60s Rastafarian settlers began to 'repatriate' to Shashemene from Jamaica. Pretty interesting little snippet of history.

I did catch some of House when I got home (it was a double episode) - it was the one where there's the kid who's having weird visions of alien abduction, probes, etc. Turns out it's just some problem in his brain - House was having to run an electric current through his cerebral cortex or somthing to induce the hallucinations and work out what was going wrong.

Maybe the Adelaide United players need some of that treatment - they're clearly suffering terribly from delusions and psychological traumas of their own. Barbiero, Reid and Pantelis seemed to be under the impression that they're midfielders, despite demonstrating absolutely no evidence in support of this hypothesis. Cassio at one point had a particular bizarre episode in which he appeared to honestly believe that he could cross the ball with his right foot.

Younis' strange and as yet un-named psychological condition manifested itself in a complete lack of simple motor skills and a hyper-sensitivity to touch, resulting in significant time spent lying prone on the turf. Cristiano may have indeed been in some sort of semi-conscious dream state for his entire spell on the pitch. And poor Ognenovski's brain was having difficulty differentiating between 'present' and 'future' realities - all his clearances seemed to be aimed at South Korea.

Now for the players unaffected by these horrible affliction: Jamieson as always appeared as though he had drunk a six pack of Red Bull before the game, tearing up and down the sidelines and generally making life very difficult for Queensland's much-vaunted Minniecon and Zullo. Alemao played solidly, if unspectacularly, at right back. And Galekovic played solidly AND spectacularly, with a brilliant save keeping Adelaide in the game.

I'm starting to see why Vidmar is averse to playing two up front - all our strikers are rubbish. Also, we can't even hold the ball with five in midfield, so removing one player would be suicide against a team like Queensland. I think our formation is about right for the players we have - two up front would be nice, but we need the cattle to do it effectively. This is what we need for next season:
1. Costanzo to stay. Failing that, a proper ball playing defender.
2. Diego to stay. Failing that, a proper ball playing centre mid. I think it's no coincidence that problems with structure & moving the ball about have arisen since these two players have been out of the team.
3. A good striker. Even better, two good strikers.
Anyway, we're top of the league, so maybe we shouldn't dwell on Adelaide's shortcomings - suffice to say, I hope there's a much better performance in the remaining two matches. Although our away form hasn't exactly been stellar.

To end on a positive note - 14,500 people in attendance! Carlsberg on tap at Hindmarsh! Great work, people of Adelaide. Great work, Matchday Sponsor.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Taking stock of Australian football's modern history

Australian football is definitely in for a big year in 2009: before the year is over we will see the culmination of the current hotly-contested A-League season; a string of crucial international matches that will determine the Socceroos' entry to the 2010 World Cup, a new pair of Australian clubs taking on the challenge of the Asian Champions League, the start of a new expanded A-League competition featuring two new challengers in North Queensland Fury and Gold Coast United, and no doubt plenty of emotion, controversy, speculation, joy, and all the other things that make football so great.

We should stop for a moment, though, and take stock of the progress that football has made in Australia in little more than half a decade. Australian football has been on a steep upward trajectory since 2003, when the Crawford Report into the sport's governance was published. The recommendations of this paper led to a complete overhaul of the structure of the sport: Soccer Australia was succeeded by a new entity, the Australian Soccer Association, which in January 2005 became Football Federation Australia.

The Rebirth of Domestic Football

The A-League was launched in mid-2005 to great hype and fanfare: this was the 'new football' that was to replace the 'old soccer' of the NSL. The NSL, although home to a number of community-based clubs with long, proud histories and the breeding ground for a lot of great players, suffered from a chronic lack of 'mainstream' interest and a lack of professionalism. Moreover, the NSL fought an ongoing battle against perceptions that it was riven with corruption, ethnic nationalism, violence, and hooliganism (these perceptions were in some cases well founded, but it certainly wasn't the battleground that it's sometimes made out to be).

In one fell swoop, the FFA relegated South Melbourne, Marconi, Melbourne Knights et al to the bumpy suburban pitches of the state leagues, replacing them with shiny new family-friendly franchises boasting crisp colour schemes and snappy names concocted by sharp-suited marketing men in boardrooms. Whether or not you think this is a good thing, it certainly made an impact: the new league got off to a flyer. Big crowds of football fans and curious folks wondering what the fuss was all about witnessed a great first season, lit up by the abilities of the superstar Dwight Yorke and the fantastic skills of young Australians like Carle and Carney. A rampant Adelaide took out the league, but Sydney's class shone through in the grand final.

"Aloisi, for a spot in the World Cup..."

There's one date that will go down forever as the day Australian football came of age (if you will pardon the cliche): November 16, 2005. In front of 80,000 at the Olympic stadium in Sydney, Australia beat Uruguay in a penalty shootout to qualify for its first world cup since 1974. I don't think anyone who witnessed it will ever forget the emotion of the evening: Bresciano's first half goal, Schwarzer's massive penalty saves and Aloisi's historic kick (and the subsequent shirtless run up the sidelines, accompanied by Craig Foster's hysterical commentary - 'JOHNNY WARREN!!!! JOHNNY WARREN!!!!!). I got so excited I broke a lamp shade. There was such an incredible outpouring of emotion around the country - that night, more than any other, cemented football in the Australian psyche.

And then on to the tournament itself. After the buildup there was always the threat that the Socceroos would have a disappointing time of it at Germany '06. We all know how it unfolded, but let's indulge our nostalgia once more. There was the stirring comeback in the 3-1 win against Japan, with Cahill scoring our nation's first (and second) World Cup goal. Next was a respectable 2-0 loss to Brazil; then (to my mind) the pinnacle of the tournament - the momentous game against Croatia that saw Moore's penalty, Kalac's goalkeeping howler, Kewell's equaliser, red cards (including Graham Poll's bizarre and belated send off of Josip Simunic on a third yellow), and of course the final whistle, which amongst the chaos on the pitch signified that Australia had made it out of the group phase. The next match proved to be the Socceroos' last of the tournament - after holding the eventual winners (admittedly down to ten men) for most of the match Neill conceded an injury-time penalty, and the rest was history.

After Germany: the New World Order

Less than two months after the Socceroos' qualification for the Cup, Australian football passed another vitally important milestone. On January 1, 2006, Australia officially became a member of the Asian Football Confederation. This has enormous implications: at a national level Australia now competes against other powerful AFC countries for a berth in future world cups, rather than in a series of hugely uneven qualifiers against tiny Oceanian island nations culminating in one big playoff against the likes of Iran or Uruguay. We can play in the Asian Cup, and there's a very good chance that we will host one in the not-too-distant future.

The move to Asia is also a massive step forward for Australian domestic football, in that A-League clubs now compete in the Asian Champions League against the best clubs from powerful Asian nations like Japan, China, South Korea, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. So far Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide have played and acquitted themselves well in the ACL, with Adelaide's fantastic winning streak seeing them into the final of the most recent competition. This year it will be Newcastle and Central Coast representing Australia on Asia's biggest stage.

A-League - Onward and Upward

Australian football was given a huge boost by the Socceroos' World Cup campaign, and this new wave of confidence in the game was reflected in big crowds and growing interest in the A-League in its second and third seasons. Melbourne dominated the league in 2006-07, playing excellent football in front of record crowds at their new home in the Telstra Dome. Their Premiership was backed up by a Grand Final win, in which a rampant Victory lived up to their name with a 6-0 demolition of the outclassed and overwhelmed Reds in front of 50,000 fans.

The 2007-08 season was a much more close-run affair, with the eventual Premiers Central Coast fighting tooth and nail until the end of the season for their title. They came up against Newcastle in the Championship match, and the Novocastrians took home the toilet seat after scoring the only goal of the game.

Crowds were well up across the board in 2007-08, but they have come back to earth a little this season. Signs are good coming into the business end of proceedings, though, with most clubs' attendences picking up again, which looks good for the future. The quality on the pitch this season has been of a pretty good standard; teams have been getting better at recruiting foreign players and identifying youth talent, and there's been some great football played.

Philip Micallef wrote a great little article, entitled 'How we're winning the battle for respect', on The World Game site recently. In it, he recaps some of the major achievements of Australian football during 2008, including among other things the expansion of the A-League, the inception of the National Youth League and the W-League, and the success of the Socceroos and Adelaide United.

As Micallef identifies, though, the greatest progress that football in Australia has made is in its ongoing quest for mainstream acceptance and respect. The profile of football has never been better; here in Adelaide it seems that the image of the game has really turned a corner. United are just as legitimate a topic for water-cooler conversations as are the Crows or the Australian cricket team - it seems to me that support for the game is here to stay. Fans have been 'rusted on', as it were - no longer do people come to games as a curious novelty, but instead because they are genuine supporters of the club.

The Crawford Report was published a mere six years ago, but the changes that the game has gone through since then are extraordinary. It's been a great ride, but it's far from over yet. One of the best things about being a football fan in Australia is that we have no idea what's around the corner. But keep it coming.

Long live the revolution!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Adelaide 2-0 Newcastle

Magic from Barbiero and Pantelis, as always courtesy of JayFCAK47

The great thing about this game wasn't the scoreline, although getting the win and three points is vital now at the pointy end of the season. What really impressed me was the way United went about the win. Despite having only three days to recover from the disappointing loss against Melbourne, United came out with good intent. All night they looked comfortable on the ball, and were prepared to patiently knock it around in search for an opening.

And the opening came, soon enough - Fabian Barbiero received the ball outside the box and made a beautiful diagonal run towards the byline, deftly skipping past two defenders and then a third with an instinctive drop of the shoulder. From an impossible angle he let loose with his left foot, smashing the ball past Covic at his near post and into the back of the net. One of the goals of the season, for sure.

The icing on the cake came late in the second half, with Pantelis (a surprising starter for this game, given his lengthy injury layoff) running on to a diagonal ball from Barbiero and hitting a first time shot on his unfavoured right foot. In off the post - 2-0. Game over.

In this game I think Adelaide played their best football since the 1-0 loss to Gamba. Some might say that this was helped along by the fact that the Jest were a complete rabble, but then again, so were Sydney and United certainly didn't play convincingly against them at Adelaide Oval. There were some real positives to come out of this game - a good performance by Younis as the target man in a 4-5-1 formation, great running and movement from Reid, Barbiero and Pantelis in midfield, and most of all a willingness and ability to pass the ball around and properly construct attacking moves. On a more negative note, Cornthwaite was shaky at times in defence, and unfortunately Mullen came off at half time with a knee injury.

Mullen's injury, however, paved the way for a good 45-minute spell for retiring legend Michael Valkanis - this game was billed as his testimonial match, and he didn't disappoint, with a solid and assured display. We'll miss you Micky! After the game he did a lap of honour with his two kids, it was nice to be able to give him a good send-off. But with Mullen out he may yet see more game time this season.

One more thing that I should mention is the crowd. It was a very decent 13,500 (and in fact looked larger than that), and there was a great festive atmosphere throughout the match. This was helped by a big group of African guys standing in the north end and drumming all game - it was fantastic to hear a bit of rhythm at Hindmarsh (no offence, of course, to the usual north end drummers). Keep it up, lads!

So, bring on Wednesday and hopefully another big crowd at the Marsh - this game against Queensland will be enormous for both teams and the way the Clogs have been playing lately it should be very exciting.

Oh, I almost forgot - Gary Van Egmond gets the inaugural 'schmuck of the month' award, for putting on a young kid (Jesse Pinto) as a sub, then subbing him off again 15 minutes later for no apparent reason, then slagging off his performance. Great work, Dutchie, no wonder none of your players want to stay at the club. Worst. Title. Defence. Ever.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

More wild transfer speculation

So, here's a bit of juice:

Gold Coast United is very close to signing PSV's Jason Culina as its marquee player for next season. Plan B? Mile Sterjovski from Derby County. It would be fantastic if either of those two - World Cup players and current Socceroos - came back to Australia. Or both. I can actually see Sydney making a play for the Sterj if Culina goes to the Coast - they have new owners that hopefully have a bit of ambition, and goddammit Sydney need some good players. As for Culina, he'd tear this league apart. We know what a good playmaker can do for a team: see Juninho or Corica at Sydney, Fred or Hernandez at Melbourne, Miller at Queensland, Amaral at Perth, Carle at Newcastle.... the list goes on... Sarkies at Adelaide (thanks, you've been a great crowd)....

Adelaide is reportedly interested in Carlos Hernandez as a replacement for Diego. That would require paying a hefty transfer fee to his Costa Rican side (he's on loan to Melbourne). But apparently there's also plenty of interest from South Korean and Qatari clubs, as well as Melbourne themselves. Me, I think Hernandez would be worthy of our marquee spot. One of the best players in the league, a current international, with a great football brain, in a spot we need to strengthen. Yes please.

Also, Sydney FC are making the sort of noises that would suggest that John Aloisi will be out the door very soon. And Adelaide are sniffing around. Hmmm. Could be OK if he regained his Central Coast form. Or it could be the worst decision ever made since Archduke Ferdinand decided it would be nice to see Sarajevo in June. Probably won't happen anyway, but it's fun to speculate.

Melbourne 1-0 Adelaide

The dagger through Adelaide's hearts

There were question marks over Adelaide's performance on the weekend, but the Reds did what was necessary to get across the line against Sydney, an increasingly dysfunctional rabble lurching through their worst ever season. Given the resilience that Adelaide have shown this season, and their ability to step up in big matches, I thought that they would be able to step up a notch in their next game, the midweek catchup match against Melbourne Victory.

Melbourne are a very different team to Sydney, though. Facing up to their nemeses in front of 27,000 in the Tardistan National Stadium was always going to be a tough ask for Adelaide. It's no secret that Melbourne have had the wood on Adelaide since that fateful Grand Final thumping; playing them gives our boys the heebie jeebies at the best of times. This season, despite leading the league going into this game, United had already lost twice to the Tards.

And last night was no different. Adelaide started the game off looking sluggish, disjointed and afraid to meaningfully commit to attacking. And, of course, Melbourne took advantage, launching waves of attack into the Reds' half. Adelaide responded negatively, sitting deep in defence to try and nullify the always-dangerous Allsopp and Thompson and attempting to man-mark Hernandez out of the game. The porky Costa Rican is way too clever for that - he still managed to play some great passes and got past his man with nice tight ball control on occasion. Having Reid trying to mark (and kick) Hernandez out of the game effectively left Adelaide short of attacking options in midfield - we are severely missing the positional sense, poise and vision of Diego Walsh. Reid, Barbiero, Sarkies - none of them are playmakers in the same class.

At the break we were told that Viddie put a rocket up them at half time. To no avail, really, because the team came out playing the same dross that was served up in the first half. Bad touches, bad passes, players misreading each other, long balls to an isolated Cristiano (how many times do we have to say it?) But, of course, this is only half the story. Melbourne were very. very good. Their fullbacks (especially Kemp) had the out-of-sorts Cassio and Dodd in their pockets all game. Vargas and Muscat owned the backline. The midfield were full of endeavour - Celeski had a great game - and linked well with the forward line.

So, inevitably, Melbourne got a goal. An unmarked Ward with a confident header off an outswinging Hernandez corner. And, inevitably, Adelaide started playing football, finally finding a bit of attacking spark, but their play was in the end far too predictable for such a well-organised defence. Vidmar may have taken too negative an approach to formation and tactics, but the Reds have played well in the past with a very similar-looking lineup. More than anything, the players just looked mentally and physically shagged, not at all up to the challenge of taking on their biggest rivals in a match that may end up determining this year's Premiers. Exceptions to this were Galekovic and Ognenovski, both of whom had fantastic games. And both of whom will most likely not be at the club next season. Dang.

So, where to now? Melbourne are looking sharp and full of confidence; to get back to the top of the table and clinch the Premiership and ACL spot Adelaide will really need to make the most of their game in hand. Next up - Newcastle at Hindmarsh, which should really be points in the bag but I'm not really all that confident going by last night's showing. Buck up, lads.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Adelaide 2-0 Sydney

A balmy summer evening at Adelaide Oval. Lovely.

In what seems to now be an annual event, the Reds hosted Sydney FC at a ground known more for its association with summer whites and willow bats than football - the picturesque Adelaide Oval. All up 23,002 people made their way through the gates, took up positions in the stands or on the grassy hills, bought a beer or three, and settled down to watch the match.

The first thing that should be said about the match is that I didn't see it very well. As the picture above indicates, I was a fair way away from the pitch and watching from a pretty shallow angle, so most of the time I had a bit of trouble working out what the figures dancing around in the middle of the oval were actually doing. Adelaide Oval, for all its charm, convenience to the city, and ability to hold more people than Hindmarsh, is patently not a football ground.

As such, I can't really give much of an actual analysis of the game, other than that the distant blurry figures in red scored twice, through Cassio and Alemao, and the distant blurry figures in blue and white failed to score, despite getting on top of the game in the second half (until Alemao's goal, anyway). I think that the result was due more to the fact that Sydney are complete and utter pants, as opposed to any sort of quality from Adelaide. Our defence generally did well, though, aside from an out-of-sorts Jamieson.

I don't really want to whinge after a two goal win, but is it too much to ask for us to play two up front? I thought Cristiano was having a pretty decent game until his substitution for Younis, who was a little ineffective. Surely he could have stayed on the pitch - those two haven't had much game time together and I would like to see what they could have done. On a brighter note, it looked like the ex-Dead Ball Specialist TM had another good game, just to prove me wrong - maybe he is worth holding on to for next season. Perhaps being relieved of his free kick duties by Paul Reid has taken a bit of pressure off, who knows.

Generally the atmosphere around the ground was pretty lacklustre (or so it seemed from where I was sitting - apparently there was a bit more noise and energy up at the scoreboard end ), and this wasn't helped much by the shades of beige being dished up from both sides on the pitch. Things got much better towards the end of the game though, there was a bit of chanting that the whole crowd got into, and a Mexican wave started up that got a bit more noise going. Purists may scoff at the Mexican wave in a football context, but I don't think there's anything wrong with something that gets the crowd making noise and involving themselves in the game and the spectacle - no different to any other organised show of support, really, when you think about it. All up it was a pretty good night out. Definitely nothing on Hindmarsh in terms of view, atmosphere and pitch quality, but everyone (bar the small knot of Sydney fans) left happy with the result and in good spirits.

An enthusiastic Reds fan celebrates the win in Rundle Mall

Adelaide Oval - pros

Location, location, location
Proximity to post-match eating and drinking venues
Non-football fans know where it is and how to get there
Big capacity
Lovely grassy hills to sit on and sip beer
It really is a beautiful ground


It's a cricket ground
The pitch is too far from the crowd
The viewing angle is too shallow
Very low-key atmosphere
The number of non-football-savvy people that are just there to drink and yell at the 'umpire'
The pitch might be a batsman's paradise, and provide decent bounce for the quicks, but it's shit for football
It's not Hindmarsh - we lose some of our home-ground advantage
Changing venues is potentially disruptive to the team

Needless to say I much prefer to watch AUFC play at Hindmarsh. Adelaide fans are spoiled by the fact that we get to watch our team play in probably the best football stadium in Australia - just about every seat has a good view, and you're very close to the action. But as occasional events I think these Adelaide Oval matches are a good thing. People come that don't normally go to Reds matches, and the team gets a nice little publicity boost leading up to the game. It's a bit off a trade-off but I think it helps to keep football in the front of peoples' minds. Big crowds are good financially and they also keep the stadium debate on the boil.

If anything, comparing the Hindmarsh and Adelaide Oval experiences really drives home the need for football-friendly stadiums. Let's hope that if a new stadium is built in this city, it's designed with football in mind.

Cassio & Alemao ending Sydney's season

Thursday, January 1, 2009

New Years' Wish List

Happy 2009, everyone. Well, the Middle East might be on the path to self-destruction and the world economy is going down quicker than a hooker on the Titanic, but, on the upside, Adelaide United are doing pretty well and the A-League is heating up on the run in to the finals. But, there's always room for improvement. So, here's a list of all the things I would like to see in Australian football in 2009:

1. Adelaide romp in the A-League premiership, then crush Melbourne 6-0 in front of a capacity crowd at Hindmarsh to take the Championship (I know this is wishful thinking: if Adelaide win the rights to host the Grand Final it would probably be held at Footy Park). They therefore qualify for entry into the 2010 Asian Champions League.

2. Central Coast Mariners have a good run in the ACL, including beating Newcastle in the quarter final in the biggest match the F3 derby has ever seen. Sasho Petrovski and Joel Griffiths are both red carded for simultaneously kicking each other in the testicles.

3. The State Government agree to go halvsies with Adelaide United in a 30,000 capacity rectangular stadium on the North Terrace railyards, able to expand to 50,000 should Australia win the 2018/2022 World Cup bid. The design of the stadium is lauded as a truly iconic and revolutionary building (OK now I've really lost the plot, time to get back to reality Bill!)

4. Gold Coast and North Queensland debut in the A-League with healthy crowds and plenty of excitement. North Queensland defy the odds by not sitting in stone motherless last spot at the end of the year, while Gold Coast make headlines by hosting the inaugural 'XXXX Gold Annual Beach Soccer XXXXtreme SuperBattle' during Schoolies - an invite-only beach football tournament also featuring LA Galaxy, Sydney FC, and cameos from a host of washed-up ex players, TV personalities, celebrities and boy band members. Paris Hilton puts in a decent showing and is signed by Sydney on a guest contract.

5. Several Australian players return from Europe to finish their career in the A-League. Mark Viduka signs for Adelaide after carefully weighing up an offer from Melbourne Victory. At their next home game, Melbourne fans conduct a protest by standing up in silence with their backs turned and unfurling a giant banner stating "Merrick Out!" Unfortunately the banner does not have the desired effect as it is facing the wrong way; Merrick signs a new 10-year deal with the club, who also pick up young Botswanan striker !Tuo Kcirrem on loan.

6. The Socceroos do well in their Asian Cup and World Cup qualifiers. Adelaide representatives like Ognenovski, Jamieson and Dodd feature heavily in the A-League based squads.

7. Crowds and TV ratings go up to such an extent that the NRL, ARU and AFL join forces in an attempt to defeat the scourge of the round ball. A new hybrid game, RealAussieProEggball, is quickly developed and forced into school curricula. It takes off around the world as well, with over two billion registered participants in South Africa, Ireland and the Federated Republic of Micronesia alone. The Toyota Collingwood Sharkies are crowned as the inaugural RAPE champions after a thrilling game that sees them upset the Queensland Bundy Bears by a score of 13 1/2 (103) for 16 to 23.12 4/5 for a gallon. The crowd goes wild when Troy Fackwit nails a last-minute minor convulsion.