Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Half-Time Heroes has arrived

ADDICTED to the round ball? Read through the daily press, various blogs, forums and still can't get enough football?

Well, now there's a new monthly fix, Half-Time Heroes, an online fanzine combining a bit of serious analysis with a bundle of laughs.

The bumper first edition is out, a couple of days ahead of the new season, and can be found at the following link;

http://issuu.com/nearpost/docs/halftimeheroes1?viewMode=magazine

Editors Eamonn Flanagan and Con Stamocostas have done an outstanding job bringing it together, putting up with late arriving copy (guilty!) and crys of "mate, it's so much work" (guilty again!). Well done boys.

It contains an engaging foreword from the engaging pissant Kate Ellis, some absolute gems from resident cartoonist Wayne Snowden and enough thought-provoking copy from around the country to keep you glued for hours.

45 pages, 25 scribes, enjoy it all and let the editors know your thoughts by dropping a comment either here or anywhere.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Bluetongue’s carpet is back?

A POSTSCRIPT to the piece I wrote on The Roar a couple of weeks ago about the importance of quality A-League surfaces, it was great to hear these comments from Lawrie McKinna after training at Bluetongue today;

“The field (at Bluetongue) is back to its best, back to where it used to be. They’ve worked hard to get it back up, and it was fantastic today. Just training here is a big lift for the boys and great preparation going to Melbourne on Thursday.”

Let’s hope he’s right and that it’s a sign of better surfaces to come across the board.

Wouldn’t it a great, a dream even, to hear Ernie Merrick or Kevin Muscat praising the state of the Etihad surface at some point throughout the season?

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Half-Time Heroes; New Australian football fanzine out in six days

WITH only a week till the start of the new season, two fresh clubs to cast an eye over, a stack of returning Roos, a European at the helm in Sydney, God looking down from up north, Bleiberg and Palmer cranking up the rhetoric, ABC Grandstand finally on board (if only in Melbourne, for now), the Socceroos qualified for South Africa, the World Cup less than a year away, a World Cup bid book to write by May, fans demanding better football and the FFA encouraging it through its new template, there's a bit of a buzz around the local round ball scene.

And soon there'll be another addition to the local landscape, with the launch of Half-Time Heroes, a monthly football fanzine from some of Australia’s most dedicated football nutters, for all you other Oz football nutters.

The brainchild of Nearpost’s tireless Eamonn Flanagan, it will combine some serious commentary with a bit of fun, and feature the likes of Mike of The Football Tragic, Bill of A Spawning Salmon, John of A Seat at the A-League, Wayne of The Fishermen’s Friend, Con of A Football Story, and many more.

Oh, and I’ll also be chipping in with my regular tactical slant.

The first issue is out on Wednesday, 5th August, a day before the Victory and Central Coast kick off the season, and it will feature a piece by Sepp Blatter’s favourite Aussie, Sports Minister Kate Ellis (throw her inside the bid book, address it to Sepp, and we’re a sure thing).

And what’s best, HTH is online and free. To get it, go to either of the following two websites and on the right hand side of the page enter your E-mail address and subscribe so you never miss an issue.

http://nearpost.blogspot.com/ or http://afootballstory.blogspot.com/

Enjoy HTH, enjoy the season, and pass on your feedback via an email to flanagan.eamonn@gmail.com

Monday, July 27, 2009

Fantasy Time

Long time TRBA readers will know I've long been a fan of fantasy football, and with only a week or so till the start of A-League season five, it's time to get the thinking cap on and join the TRBA A-League Fantasy League via the Foxsports website.

Will some of the youngsters who broke-through last season continue to shine, or will a new set of kids come through and capture the imagination?

Will Jason Culina get the opportunity under Bleiberg to break the European shackles, bomb forward, create and score?

Any value among the other crop of returning Aussies, the likes of Mile Sterjovski, David Williams, Chris Coyne, Joel Porter and Jacob Burns?

Or are you thinking of spending your limit on some imports, the new ones like God, Fabio Vignaroli, Karol Kisel, Chris Doig, Paul Ifil and Surat Sukha, or the established ones like Eugene Dadi, Carlos Hernandez and Cristiano?

So much to ponder, so little time, so get cracking and join the TRBA A-League private league via the following code; 495-133.

Meanwhile, the EPL isn't too far away, and for those of you who've relied on Cristiano Ronaldo over the past few years, you'll have to shift your attention.

Will it be Rooney, Gerrard, Torres or Lampard? Or are you expecting big-spending Man City to produce the goods.

Whatever your thoughts, be sure to join the TRBA EPL Fantasy League via the official site and the following private league code; 11076-3839.

Enjoy it all, and best of luck.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

What type of kids should we be producing/nurturing/encouraging?

OF course, a team can't completely be made up of little fellas that are great on the ball, but we need to start encouraging the kids that can make a real difference in the front third, kids like Dimi Petratos. Check out more in my latest Roar post.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

An assessment of Carle against Japan

ARGUABLY the most intriguing part of the Socceroos selection last Wednesday was to see how Nick Carle would go with a rare start.

I thought he started pretty well, touching the ball numerous times in the opening 10 minutes. Australia were on top and it was only natural he would find the ball, even if his use of it wasn’t always of the usual crisp standard.

But then Japan started pressing high and we started coughing up the ball and retreating. Japan dominated the rest of the first half and none of our front men touched the ball as the likes of North, Neill, Williams and Stefanutto had to go long given that the short options, Culina and Grella, were given no room.

On the few occasions the two screeners did get it, the pressure was immense, and they couldn’t get it into our front third.

Carle, I thought, struggled to work out his defensive role in the first half. He dropped too deep and allowed Uchida to become the Japanese outlet, and he allowed him to venture forward too much, into our half before pressing him. Some of his tackling was off as a result.

In the second half Carle worked it out, pressuring Uchida higher, getting in his face earlier, which meant the chance of missing tackles was reduced.

The whole team did well in the second period, pressing Japan higher, allowing us to win more of the ball higher and control the second half, and Carle played his part in that good work.

Once we started dominating he started to get on the ball, and his set pieces were at least on par with what we’ve seen throughout this campaign from Wilkshire, Emerton, Culina et al.

His in-swinging corners from the right were arguably the best corners we’ve produced in the campaign.

Carle showed, in the build up to the second goal, how dangerous he can be once he gets his foot on the ball often, and he started to combine nicely with the likes of Cahill and Culina as Australia got on top.

Verbeek seemed happy enough with his job after the game, but there is still the prevailing thought that he is not a wide player, especially against a team like Japan that can hold the ball well and shift it from side to side, as they did in the first period.

For mine, his performance was about average, with hopefully a few more opportunities to come over the next 12 months, particularly through the middle.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

TRBA Roar's On

A BIG thanks to the TRBA regulars who have touched base over the past couple of weeks to enquire about why I haven't been writing about all the big football games and news doing the rounds over the past month and half, where we've been witness to such wonderful things as Barcelona's UCL success, the Socceroos WC qualification and the vibrant launch of our compelling World Cup bid.

Thanks for your ongoing interest and apologies for not making any announcement earlier, but I have been writing, over at The Roar.

My first 10 Roar articles can be found here, so be sure to visit The Roar, and TRBA, from time to time, and stay in touch.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Mark Viduka...

"Patched-up, put out, played well, the fulcrum of much of Newcastle's play".

THE great Martin Tyler on Viduka being replaced in the 88th minute of this morning's crucial 3-1 win by Newcastle over Middlesbrough, which could just be enough to keep Shearer's men up, and consign Brad Jones' Boro and Richard Garcia's Hull to the drop. No goals for the big man, but a crucial assist for the Martins goal (great to see Viduka contesting the aerial ball) and a productive night all round.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Can Barca burst the blue banks at the Bridge?

Join the debate in my first article on www.theroar.com.au, or add your two bobs worth in relation to the other semi, where Arsenal were never in it, both physically and, more importantly, mentally.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

UCL semis first leg wrap

The yellow brick wall; Chelsea came to the Nou Camp, set the stall out in a very defensive 4-5-1, with twin screeners in Obi Mikel and Essien, and five out and out midfielders. The idea was undoubtedly to stifle all the space across Barcelona's attacking third and get in the face of both Henry and Messi, and it worked an absolute treat, with Ivanovic and Bosingwa excellent in the main. Only Iniesta was able to find any regular space, and while Guardiola tried to flick the blanket by over-loading the left and right with Abidal and Alves, Chelsea stayed compact and scrabbled superbly. The good thing for Barca is that it finished 0-0, and with Chelsea likely to come out at home, that might just give Barca the space and goals they were denied at home. The problem is the decimation of their central defence.

Men against boys; Man Utd applied the physical press, pressuring Arsenal both with and without the ball, and Wenger's boys couldn't cope. More than ever Arsenal needed Fabregas, Adebayor and Nasri to step up, but all were blanketed by United's excellent organisation. Carrick was exemplary in the holding role, with Anderson and Fletcher helping out-muscle the likes of Song, Nasri, Diaby, Walcott and Fabregas, and push forward in support of Tevez and Rooney, who pulled Arsenal all over the place and opened up space for those joining from deeper. Despite only being a goal down, it's hard to see the Gunners getting out of this one. Where are they going to find the belief that was so clearly lacking here? It's one thing to be beaten physically, but mentally, one sensed, Arsenal never looked like they believed they could get anything at Old Trafford. Almunia keeps them in it, and they're back at the Emirates, but they'll need to find much more belief.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Bang on Bozza

PROPHETIC work from the former Socceroos gloveman, this time from the comfort of the analyst's chair in Fox's Pyrmont studios. Speaking during Saturday night's EPL coverage, and before the Man U v Spurs game, the subject invariably switched to Sir Alex Ferguson's sideline rant in the FA Cup semi final loss to Everton, when the United manager went ballistic when his team wasn't awarded a penalty.

Paraphrased, Bozza's analysis went something like this;

"Sir Alex knew exactly what he was doing, turning up the heat on the premier league officials and planting a thought in their mind. He's a bully boy, he's been doing it for years, and mark my word, it'll work."

Sure enough, a few hours later, that moment arrived, Howard Webb awarding a dubious penalty when Utd were 2-0 down, thus shifting the momentum of the game and title back in Utd's favour.

Undoubtedly there's a bit of history between Ferguson and Bosnich, but I'm glad to see I'm not the only one in Oz banging on about Sir Alex being the bully boy of English football.

Speaking of great work in the analysts chair, compliments to both Craig Foster and Andy Harper for some spot on stuff of late.

During a recent TWG episode, SBS showed some footage of the wonderful Kawasake 5-0 thumping of the Mariners, including a segment highlighting the outstanding work of their skipper, Kengo Nakamura, who's every touch that night was top shelf. Complemented by Foster's voice-over, it highlighted the Japanese international's ability to turn into space, see things a step ahead of everyone else, and thus dictate the tempo of the game. Foster likened Nakamura's night to the work we've seen down-under from Yasuhito Endo, who I've been rattling on about on here for the past few years. If I had to draw another analogy, I would also have likened Nakamura's night to the one we saw from Ghana's dread-locked midfielder Laryea Kingston on this night 11 months ago. Nothing like watching a quality central midfielder own a game.

Meanwhile, during another recent ACL night, Wednesday's clash between Newcastle and Nagoya, Harper made a call, not too long into the game, that Newcastle fans will be praying that Fabio Vignaroli, back from a hamstring injury, can get through the game without re-doing it. They were the words of an ex-player who had undoubtedly seen and been through his fair share of soft-tissue injuries. Low and behold, the Italian, so influential early, went down a few minutes later, much to the detriment of the Jets' play.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Nice work Glory

SOME good signs on the field last season through the likes of Dadi, Rukavystya, Pellegrino, Srhoj and Trinidad, and further signs here that Perth appear headed in the right direction with the release of its new logo. Nice work indeed.

Still trying to work out though what happened with the vetting of the Fury's logo.
Still on the subject of A-League aesthetics, the awesome strips worn by Newcastle and the Mariners in the ACL are a great step forward for the A-League, and this piece from Bill of The Spawning Salmon drops a hint on what they might look like in season 5, some great stuff.
Looks like the clubs are starting to have a level of control over their own look, and that's not before time. Now it's time to focus on the on field aesthetics.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A great morning of football, especially for the champions


YOU could hardly watch a more thrilling morning of football action and be left thinking that it only improved the lot of the defending champions.

Liverpool's 4 all draw with Arsenal was one of the best games you are likely to see. It was a must win for Liverpool and a sideshow to the main event (the Champions League) for Arsenal, safely in the top four after an wonderful run of late.

The Reds, minus their skipper, but coming off a seven day rest, went into it as firm favourites. After all, the Gunners had had to endure two crucial games since Liverpool's epic 4-4 at the Bridge.

Surely Wengers men, minus their first choice two at the front and back would bow over to Reds, especially at Anfield? Not on your life.

While Liverpool started the better, this morning they were met by an inspirational Fabianski, Arsenal's villain on Saturday. Time and time again he denied Torres and Benayoun.

Arsenal's opener, when it came, arrived on back of a pedestrian mistake from Mascherano, who dwelt on the ball and got pick-pocketed by Fabregas, playing his third game in seven days. Combine the quality of Fabregas and Arshavin in any circumstance and you invariably have a goal.

It was tense times in the Kop and on the couch, but with Liverpool attacking the famous end in the second period, in the goal getting mood they've been in this season, there was hope.

Benetiz pulled a neat shift at the break, swapping the influential Benayoun and the willing Dutchman Kuyt. Benayoun went in behind Torres and Kuyt went out to the right. There was instant success, with Kuyt first teeing up Torres with a flighted cut-back, then hanging one up to the back stick for the Israeli to attack. Wonderful vision and execution.

Up 2-1, surely Liverpool were in control now, but they would need another one, for sure.

Back came the visitors, with two of their own, both from the lethal Russian. Every time Arsenal went forward the Reds rearguard looked nervous, and when Arbeloa waited for a Carragher header, Arshavin pounced and drilled one across Reina. Smashing. Minutes later he picked up a ridiculous clearance from Aurelio (why on earth he didn't wrap his right foot around the it instead on using his left in-step to clear?) and sent Arsenal 3-2 up. Memories of the Gunners and Michael Thomas stealing the title all those years ago came rushing back.

Soon after, Liverpool we back on the front foot, and when the ball was moved into the wonderful feet of their Spanish striker there was only one result. Instant control, a lightning turn, a quick shift of the ball and powerful placement. A parry from Fabianski, but we had parity, 3-3. It was already an epic.

Any more twists? Absolutely! The hosts, desperate to heap the pressure on Man Utd, kept bounding forward, throwing everyone at the Kop end, and when they failed to connect with a corner, or pick up the loose ball, were picked off by Wenger's two whippets, Walcott teeing up Arshavin. Some finisher.

Surely Liverpool's title hopes were shot now? Alas, there were still five minutes of stoppage time, enough for a thrilling equaliser from Benayoun, outstanding throughout.

Despite sending them top on goal difference, the draw might indeed not be enough for Liverpool.

With two games in hand, and despite a hectic calendar, Man Utd are still favourites. But on the evidence of this season, there's no doubt Liverpool will go down swinging.

And who knows? Tomorrow Utd host Pompey.

When I caught my first ever EPL game on a recent work trip to the UK, Portsmouth were fighting for their Premier League lives, just outside the relegation zone. It was a nervous afternoon at Fratton Park as Everton took the lead early, only for Liverpool old boy Peter Crouch to nod in two trademark headers and keep the 'Blue Army' breathing. That afternoon it was a case of Stay Up Pompey rather than their famous anthem, 'Play Up Pompey', but a couple of decent results since, including two clean sheets, gives Pompey hope they can not only stay up, but push on up the ladder.

Tomorrow morning, this Liverpool fan, and countless others around the world, will be hoping that Crouch, David James and Co. can indeed 'Play up' and keep a bit of life in this most thrilling of EPL titles.

And just when you thought things couldn't get more breath-taking, a quick flick of the remote to ESPN showed there is plenty of life left in the LaLiga chase, with champions Real Madrid surviving an almighty scare at home to take them to within three points of Barcelona, who are still battling on three fronts. Down 2-1 to Getafe with only five or so minutes left, Real managed to equalise thanks to a wonderful Guti effort. Then, remarkably, with only a couple of minutes left, Pepe gave away a penalty and was sent off, only for Getafe's Francisco Casquero to clip the penalty, Panenka style, tamely at Casillas.

Low and behold, Real did what they do best, getting out of jail and getting their winner a few minutes, which heaps the pressure on Barca, who host Sevilla tomorrow.

Liverpool also escaped, but only with a draw, and as thrilling as it was, you sense this morning's fixtures, in England and Spain, benefited the champions.

Footnote; If you didn't see it, be sure to catch a replay of the 4 all at 6pm on Fox Sports 3.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

No FA Cup, no UCL...

...NOW there's a sole focus, the EPL, and I'm loving that.

BTW, congratulations to Guus Hiddink for having the balls to leave out the scrapper Jon Obi Mikel in favour of a far more offensive central midfield trio of Essien (outstanding), Lampard and Ballack.

It wouldn't have happened under Mourinho.

It allowed Chelsea to control the game, kept them on the offensive, made for an eye-catching game, and really it was Chelsea asking all the questions, at Anfield no less. 3-1 was undoubtedly a fair result.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

It’s Viduka in a one, or Kennedy and McDonald in a two


THE most intriguing part of Pim Verbeek's selection last night was to discover exactly what he would do with our much talked-about front third.

All week the speculators had been doing their best to talk the manager into a more offensive formation, much to his growing frustration, one sensed.

Given the personnel, or, more to the point, the lack of personnel at his disposal, I was among those hoping for a slightly more offensive feel to what we've seen throughout large parts of the campaign.

To be more detailed, my hope was for a front two pairing of Kennedy and McDonald, the logic being that I'm not totally convinced either could do the job on his own, and their respective attributes just seem to compliment each other.

The job I'm talking about is the one that Mark Viduka, at his best, does so well; play with his back to goal, hold the ball up and bring others into the attack by linking with the midfield and playing the quarter-back roll from the highest point of the formation.

This, I feel, is when the lone-striker system has worked best for Australia; when the man playing it essentially sacrifices himself to create for the rest of the team.

Examples of less successful recent attempts of the lone-striker have been Harry Kewell away against Iraq on matchday 4 in the first phase and more recently Tim Cahill in Japan.

Even Kennedy, when he played on his own on matchday 4 of this phase in Manama, seemed isolated and not able to link the front third. After all, the big man likes to play "one-touch" and feed the people around him, so having no-one to play with in Manama rendered him useless. What chance then would McDonald, an "inside the box predator", have of sacrificing himself for the greater good in the lone-ranger role, I reasoned.

So it was with a degree of disappointment to find McDonald on his lonesome when the teams were announced on the big screen at Homebush last night.

For much of the first half that disappointment seemed justified. McDonald ran everywhere, chased everything down, tried as hard as I've seen him try in the green and gold, without really making an impression, or adding enough linkage to Australia's front third.

It might have been different. Had his and Bresciano's finishing been of the usual crisp standard we've come to expect (McDonald for his club), McDonald might have had a goal and an assist to his name within the opening quarter hour.

As it was, his performance will be remembered more for his willingness to sacrifice his predatory game for the greater cause, and he is to be commended for such a selfless display. Little doubt he followed his manager's instructions to a tee, and that should endear him to this most pragmatic of managers.

If the next 12 months on the international stage prove fruitful for McDonald, a player in my opinion that is worth nurturing and developing because of his goal-getting skills, than this game should be remembered as the making of McDonald as a Socceroo, the game he really stepped up and saw the big picture.
 
Indeed, I felt his mobility and movement ultimately laid the platform and created that space that Kennedy was able to profit from.

Later, when Kennedy cushioned a header into the path of Holman, who blazed away, one could see how a Kennedy/McDonald combo deal might work. Imagine it was McDonald, rather than Holman, on the end of that knock-down!

In my opinion, both these guys work best in a front-two, and it would be great to see this partnership get an opportunity to grow and flourish in the build up to South Africa.

For that to happen though, Verbeek will need to sacrifice either one of his holding midfielders or one of his wide players, a move he has hitherto been reluctant to make.

If he can't bring himself to do that, and stubbornly sticks to his 4-2-3-1, then the evidence is that he will be heavily reliant on a fit and firing Viduka to fit the lone-ranger mould in South Africa. Only then might the Socceroos' front third tick.