Monday, February 27, 2006

Mariners continue a wonderful story

Preliminary final, Adelaide United 0 v Central Coast Mariners 1

The fairytale continues. In a season which started with some questioning their inclusion in the A-League, the Central Coast Mariners have marched all the way to next week’s grand final against Sydney FC, and with the momentum of 12 undefeated games behind them, there’s no doubt they are there on merit and will give the title a shake.

So a pre-season that started with a loss to Sydney in the final of the world club championship qualifiers back in May, will end with a rematch, this time for the biggest prize, the title of the inaugural A-League champion.

In a competitive yet good-spirited preliminary final away to minor premiers Adelaide United yesterday evening, the Mariners scored early and defended with the character, belief and surprise element that has epitomised their campaign.

While two of the recognised superstars in Tom Pondeljak and Andre Gumprecht were responsible for conjuring up the seventh minute winner, it was another emerging superstar in goalkeeper Danny Vukovic who provided the heroics at the other end, making a couple of excellent blocks to deny key front-men Fernando Rech and Shengqing Qu, as well as coming off his line on numerous occasions to thwart the Adelaide attack.

One particular example came late on when Adelaide were pressing for an equaliser, a long ball seemingly playing Travis Dodd in down the right. Hesitate and Vukovic was in trouble, but the young custodian was as decisive as he has been all season, reaching the ball just ahead of the flying Dodd.

He had a little more luck when the crossbar came to his aid to deny Rech from a wonderful free kick late on.

Vukovic, 20, has summed up the manner in which most of this Mariners teammates have risen well above pre-season expectations, coming into the team early when number one John Crawley was injured and playing with the maturity and consistency you’d expect from a keeper in his late 20s. Had it not been for the continued good form of Sydney’s Clint Bolton, Vukovic would undoubtedly have been the best keeper of the inaugural A-League season.

In truth though, Vukovic wasn’t on his own in the heroic stakes last night. Mariners manager Lawrie McKinna has moulded a team full of spirited and determined players, and here they again showed how willingly they work for each other, surviving the inevitable Adelaide onslaught in their typical no-fuss style.

The back four were again magnificent, and brilliantly marshaled by another surprise packet in Andrew Clark, the player who had some NSL experience with Canberra Cosmos and Parramatta Power, but who has punched well above his weight all season.

McKinna has been on the record saying he expected Clark, who doubles up as the clubs conditioning coach, to perhaps play a few games, but he has been a regular and vital cog of the Mariners central defence alongside Michael Beauchamp, his speed a particular feature.

While this defencive strength and the fact they have only been beaten on the road once this season no doubt provided the belief, McKinna has to take much of the credit for game plan.

Here his team turned on a master-class in finals football, soaking up all Adelaide could throw at them and hitting the hosts with a ruthless counter-attack, designed to test Adelaide in the area they are most vulnerable, out wide, at the back.

McKinna had been on the record stating the most important thing would be not to concede in the first quarter of this match. The sucker-punch was to attack early and try and grab something his team could defend, and the game plan worked better than he could have imagined, with all four players on yellow cards surviving a second caution that would have rubbed them out of the decider.

While the goal was a moment of hesitation that Adam van Dommele will have nightmares about, it was Gumprecht who drove up-field with purpose and pace and made the most of a quick Vukovic throw.

Pondeljak, who has been supplying more than scoring this season, had been encouraged by McKinna in the lead up to this match to add to his solitary goal for the campaign, and here he delivered.

It was a tactical adjustment by McKinna that gave the Mariners the edge to test Adelaide’s speed at the back. Hitherto, Stewart Petrie has been the furthest forward in attack, with Pondeljak dropping off to link up play, but here they were switched around, Pondeljak, with his extra pace, pushed up to test the big defenders, Michael Valkanis and Kristian Rees, particularly on the break.

It was more thoughtful work from a manager who has enhanced his reputation as one of the shrewdest football minds in Australia.

Adelaide will rue taking their foot off the pedal after sowing up the minor premiership in round 18. In the six games since they failed to win, and must feel as if luck deserted them at the wrong end of the season. After hitting the post twice last week in Sydney and again here when Rech’s late free-kick rattled the crossbar, John Kosmina will feel the football gods conspired to deny his men.

Perhaps the locals also sensed that Adelaide had run its race for the year, a poor showing for their most vital game of the season, despite the competition from cricket and AFL.

The result gave further credibility to the theory that momentum is everything come the crunch end of the season, with Sydney and the Mariners the two teams flying when it counts.

Sydney are undefeated in their past four matches, while the Mariners will be looking to make it three away wins on the trot in the finals after 1-0 victories at both Newcastle and Adelaide.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Positive first foray into Asia

Asian Cup Qualifier, Bahrain 1 v Socceroos 3

So what lessons do we take out of our first adventure into Asia, a strong come from behind 3-1 victory away to Bahrain in this morning’s (Australian time) Asian Cup qualifier in Manama?

Firstly, it was a fantastic show of character from a team that has only been together for the past couple of days. Many of the boys had to be introduced for the first time in camp.

Considering that the starting 11 featured no starters from the side that took on Uruguay in Sydney last November and that three of the 11, goalkeeper Ante Covic, defender Michael Beauchamp and striker Scott McDonald were making their debuts, this was an excellent result and a good sign for the future of our national team.

Our move into Asia has promised a lot, but what this game delivered was an opportunity to blood some youngster and fringe players into the team for a meaningful qualifier, giving them the necessary experience in a pressure situation and our coaching staff an opportunity to see how they handle it.

Lets face it, had we lost this opening qualifier, it wouldn’t have been an insurmountable position to finish top two in a group also featuring Kuwait and Lebanon, but it would have placed pressure on the coaching staff, whoever will be in charge, come the next qualifier at home to Kuwait in August.

On the back of the Under 17s being eliminated from their Asian qualifiers a couple of weeks ago, a loss this morning would also have thrown up questions about whether we were taking our sojourn into Asia seriously enough given the short length of preparation both teams had.

Add the fact that for many of the players this was possibly a final opportunity to impress the powers that be ahead of the World Cup, and there was a fair deal riding on this match.

At half time, the signs weren’t looking good. Down 1-0 and with Bahrain asking most of the questions, the players looked nervous and tentative and co-assistants Graham Arnold and Johan Neeskens were being outsmarted by Luka Peruzovic on the Bahrain bench.

After a promising opening 15minutes for Socceroos, Bahrain started to take control, with striker Hussain Ali proving a constant menace on his own up front, but he was ably supported from behind by attacking midfielders Mohammed Salmeen, the captain, and Hossan Maki.

Bahrain were playing a 4-5-1 formation and outnumbering the Socceroos in midfield, giving no space to the likes of skipper Josip Skoko and Luke Wilkshire. They defended fairly deep, never allowing the likes of Archie Thompson, Ahmad Elrich and McDonald in behind, where they were reported to be slow.

‘The Reds’, as they are known, also played a calculated counter-attack, with their goal coming from one such raid where the left fullback Salman Isa got in behind Jade North thanks to a wonderful one-two with Maki, his cross neatly tucked away by Ali at the near post.

Again the Socceroos were opened up down the right as Isa forced a save from Covic just before the break. Australia went to the break without a shot at goal and having being forced by Bahrain to resort to long balls by its flooding on the midfield.

But Arnold and Neeskens showed the awareness and flexibility that have become hallmarks of the Guus Hiddink era when they made a key tactical adjustment at the break, going from a 3-4-3 to a 4-3-3.

For months Hiddink has been preaching the mantra of having only one spare at the back, but with Ali on his own up front for Bahrain, there was no need for three central defenders, so Michael Thwaites, who looked short of match practice, was sacrificed, with both North and Alvin Ceccoli dropping back into a more familiar back four, systems they and Beauchamp play at their respective A-League clubs.

Brett Holman was introduced in the half-half role between midfield and attack, which would help the two central midfielders as well as taking some of the pressure off McDonald, who was battered in the first half by the two central defenders Mohammed Hussain and Said Adnan.

The move also allowed Thompson and Elrich to get wide and pin back their respective fullbacks, Abdullah Marzooq and Isa. Suddenly the Socceroos looked more in-synch and soon had Skoko on the ball, controlling the tempo of the game.

Holman, on debut, made a telling difference driving at the Bahrain defence, and with the experienced trio of Skoko, Elrich and Thompson now in the game, it was a matter of time before the goals came. Tellingly, all three, who are on the fringes of Hiddink’s first 11, got on the scoresheet and played key roles in the goals.

Of the debutants and those on the fringes, Beauchamp and Ceccoli did their futures no harm with solid displays at the back, while North, Thwaites and McDonald will be a little disappointed not to have made more of an impression.

Player ratings

Ante Covic (6.5); looked nervous early on with a fumble after a couple of minutes, not at fault for the Bahrain goal but may have been more assertive in barking at Jon McKain to be tighter on Ali. Made a good save at the end of the first half from Isa to keep it 1-0 at the break. Not enough to put pressure on Schwarzer and Kalac.

Michael Thwaites (5); looked rusty and short of a gallop, fair enough considering he’s been frozen out in Romania. After a smashing debut against Jamaica last year, which at one stage looked likely to give him a play off birth against Uruguay, will be disappointed to have dropped a couple of spots in the pecking order.

Jon McKain (6.5); wasn’t tight enough on Ali for the goal, didn’t look comfortable at the back of the back three in the first half, resorting to pumping long balls, but settled alongside Beauchamp for the second period in a back four.

Michael Beauchamp (7.5); was troubled a couple of times early by Ali, but got more comfortable as the match went on, his strengths of tight marking, good coverage on the ground and aerial ability all on display. Very accomplished debut and with so many problems at the back to our senior players, now comes into calculations for the World Cup squad.

Jade North (6); failed to grasp his opportunity as Bahrain got in behind him on the right on a number of occasions in the first period and early in the second. Looked more comfortable in the back four in the second half, a more natural position.

Josip Skoko (8); outnumbered in the first half but looked rusty as he gave up the ball too often, but once the numbers issue was addressed at the break he was back to his best, controlling the game with his simple distribution. Also played a hand in all three goals, scoring a trademark gem from outside the box and taking the free kicks that set up the other two.

Luke Wilkshire (6.5); looked lost in the first half but got into the game more in the second with his high work-rate complementing Skoko’s distribution and Holman’s drive.

Alvin Ceccoli (7); was solid throughout, never allowing right midfielder Mohmmad Hubail in behind him. Like North, looked more comfortable in the back four. His strength is the tightness of his defending, although a couple of times he gave the ball away coming forward.

Ahmad Elrich (7); like the others who haven’t played regularly lately, he looked in need of a run. Was too narrow in the first half, had nowhere to go, but got better in the second period when he opened up, getting around Isa a couple of times. Good composure at the penalty spot for the final goal.

Scott McDonald (6); worked hard throughout but had the physical central defenders on his back in the first period. Had more space in the second half when Holman was closer but missed a couple of decent opportunities.

Archie Thompson (7.5); peripheral in the first period, was a handful in the second, getting the ball out wide and taking on Abdullah Marzooq. Great header for the opener, then he teed up Skoko for the second with some nimble footwork, telling contributions.

Reserves, Brett Holman (7); excellent debut, filling a crucial hole in the area between midfield and attack. Looked like he played the managers’ instructions to a tee and was a constant menace driving at the Bahrain defence.

David Carney (5); not enough time for the Sydney FC flanker to impress on debut, but he looked comfortable and composed the couple of times he did get the ball.

Messi pitch? Not for this craftsmen

Champions League round of 16, Chelsea 1 v Barcelona 2

While there was much made about the state of the Stamford Bridge pitch and how difficult it would be to play on in the build up to this morning’s (Australian time) Champions League round of 16 clash, Barcelona’s dynamic young Argentine Lionel Messi made a mockery of this, turning on a superb individual performance against Chelsea to help give the visitors a decisive 2-1 lead going into the second leg at the Nou Camp in a fortnight.

His performance, along with that of his team-mate Ronaldinho proved that the truly classy footballers can play on any pitch, regardless of its condition.

How wonderful it was to see the world’s premier club competition back on our screens after the European winter break, providing the opportunity to marvel at the unique talents of these two craftsmen.

While we already know a great deal about the world’s current number one, Ronaldinho, less was known about the sublimely gifted 18 year old Messi, but here he terrorised Chelsea’s left side, getting the better of all three opponents placed on him throughout the game.

He was involved in perhaps the most pivotal moment of the game, the sending off of Chelsea left back Asier Del Horno shortly before the break. While the challenge itself was probably worthy of only a yellow card, it was reckless and looked worse in real time than it did on replays.

Del Horno can have no real complaints however as he was lucky to escape yellow card a short time earlier when his left foot went through Messi’s thigh.

These challenges were born largely from Messi’s ability to put Del Horno under pressure with his wonderful ball control, electric pace off the mark and great link-up play, forcing the Spanish defender to panic.

Jose Mourinho immediately introduced Geremi to right back, shifting Paulo Ferreira onto Messi, but he wasn’t sparred, with Messi getting in behind him on a number of occasions. If he wasn’t beating him on the outside, he was ducking back onto his favoured left foot and attempting to shoot or create something. On one particular occasion he skipped inside Ferreira, only to see his delicate shot come off the woodwork. Petr Cech could only watch and admire. This was the work of a kid who probably goes to sleep with the ball at his feet.

If that’s the case with Messi, than Ronaldinho probably goes everywhere with the ball at his feet, such is his love affair with it.

It would be a tragedy if this Brazilian with a big smile never won the ‘trophy with big ears’, as the Champions League prize is often nicknamed. Already a World Cup winner and twice world footballer of the year, he is clearly determined to add this prize to his resume.

As for Messi, the appetite wets at the prospect of seeing him illuminate the World Cup in June.

The same could be said about seeing Barcelona in the later stages of this year’s Champions League, particularly if they continue to play football of this magnitude.

The big question going into this tie was how its defence would cope. After all, this was its Achilles heel last season. While its attacking couldn’t be faulted, its propensity to leak goals brought about its eventual down-fall.

But the move by Frank Rijkaard of Mexican tough man Rafael Marquez from central midfield to central defence this season has really stiffened things up at the back. Last season Carles Puyol was basically left on his own to deal with Chelsea’s attack, but now, with Edmilson in central midfield, Marquez has become a crucial figure at the back.

He even bobbed up on the edge of the box to tee up Barcelona’s winner with a delightful first time left foot cross to Samuel Eto’o, wonderful technique for a predominantly right foot player.

The other pivotal move came immediately after Chelsea had opened the scoring after profiting from some uncertainty between Thiago Motta and goalkeeper Victor Valdez from a Frank Lampard free kick.

Rijkaard immediately introduced Henrik Larsson up front, shifting Eto’o to the left and giving Ronaldinho a free role to rove. With midfielder Motta replaced, Barca had gone from a 4-3-3, where Eto’o and Ronaldinho had been kept under wrap, to a 4-2-4, and Chelsea, already a man down, were powerless to stop the inevitable onslaught.

Ronaldinho drifted over to Messi’s right to give Chelsea a double-dose of magic and some of his work in holding the ball against some fierce challenges had to be seen. Almost inevitably, he played a crucial role in both Barca goals, providing the wicked free kick for the equaliser and then penetrating Chelsea’s midfield with a superb counter-attack to set up the second. Easy on the eye.

Chelsea was hanging on, the only miracle being that they didn’t concede more, for which they have some desperate defending from John Terry and Ricardo Carvalho to thank.

It really could and should have been tie over, but Chelsea is still in with a sniff. The good sign for Barcelona is that they defended much better than in previous seasons. While right back Presas Oleguer was at times shaky, they have a much more solid look about them, and an attack that should be too classy not to score at least once at the Nou Camp, meaning Chelsea would need two to take it extra time. Even for Mourinho that might be too tough an ask.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Thrilling night as rivalry intensifies

Sydney FC 2 v Adelaide United 1 (4-3 on aggregate)

If there are any conclusions to be drawn from another pulsating Sydney v Adelaide clash, Mark V, one can only assume there weren’t be too many invitations between the clubs when it‘s time for players to celebrate their testimonials in the coming years.

While privately there may be a degree of respect from both sides, on the field and on the bench the animosity is intense, serious and very public.

It was best summed up at the end of the match, when managers Pierre Littbarski and John Kosmina had a heated chat after the Adelaide boss refused to acknowledge Littbarski's hand-shake offering. Deja vu for those who remember the public battle between Kosmina and Queensland Roar manager Miron Bleiberg before Christmas.

Presumably Kosmina wasn't pleased with Littbarski's use of the media earlier in the week, where the German great publicly criticised Adelaide for its physical style in the first leg. It seemed he was particularly targeting Carl Veart, who was worked up to become public enemy number one after a number of 'borderline' challenges at Hindmarsh.

Then senior player Alvin Ceccoli upped the ante on Tuesday with another stinging attack on Adelaide's style, a physical and in-your-face style that is to some people "dirty" and to others "competitive".

Then Mark Milligan, the victim of one of Veart's challenges last weekend, went on the record claiming his team would concentrate on "playing the ball". While not stating it in as many words, presumably he was saying that Adelaide had been playing the man.

When asked about all this ahead of the game, Kosmina made the point that Littbarski "should concentrate on his coaching".

Indeed, there is history between these two sides dating back to their first clash of the season in round seven at Aussie Stadium, when Kosmina and his Adelaide side felt they were robbed a point when a Shengqing Qu injury time header appeared to have equalised the match.

The two regular season games since and the first leg last week have all been tight and gripping affairs, punctuated by moments of brilliance such as Ceccoli's scorcher in round 21 and Rech's volley at Adelaide in round 14 and many moments of hostility.

While Adelaide has forged a reputation for being tough, Sydney are no shrinking violets. From the pre-season they have shown a willingness to match it physically with any team, and when they felt their main man Dwight Yorke was copping extra attention early in the year, they weren't afraid to turn up the stakes and make a public point of it.

And in Sasho Petrovski, Ceccoli, Matthew Bingley, Mark Rudan, Iain Fyfe, David Zdrilic and Terry McFlynn, Sydney have a number of players who can hold their own in any physical duel.

When you consider that this Adelaide side has a physical spine the envy of most teams - Veart, Michael Valkanis, Krisitan Rees, Angelo Costanzo, Ross Aloisi, Fernando Rech and Qu - and that this game would decide who hosts the big one in a fortnight, could we honestly have expected anything else from this match?

Who would have envied being in the position of Mark Shield, the best whistle blower in the country, who would somehow have to control all that was bubbling beneath the surface.

To add to the pre-game tension, Sydney's vocal brigade, the Cove, were whipped into a frenzy about 20 minutes before kick-off by one of the most touching public displays you are likely to see at a football match. When Littbarski wandered over with a chair and folded cloth and sat there, arms folded, in front of the Cove for five minutes you wondered what on earth was going on.

Was the German doing his best impersonation of a security guard or was he about to make an "I told you so" statement to those fans that were calling for his head only a few weeks ago? It became apparent a few minutes later when goalkeeping coach Jim Fraser and the whole squad wondered over and, together with Littbarski, unfurled a heart-warming banner, signed by each member of the club; "To the best fans - Thanks".

The Cove and the stadium erupted. If there wasn't already enough motivation for Sydney players, then suddenly a united stadium would make it that little more difficult for the visitors.

Not surprisingly, Sydney dominated the opening exchanges and might have scored after 30 seconds, but after the initial 10 minute onslaught, Adelaide settled down and looked to be getting on top when Petrovski exposed Adelaide's lack of pace at the back.

The game ebbed and flowed, with the momentum shifting back and forth. Adelaide was unlucky not to equalise a short time later when Qu headed against the crossbar. At times it was hard to decide whether to keep your eyes on the ball or behind play, such where the number of off the ball incidents.

Needing two goals, Adelaide had to come out and play and not surprisingly the second half was a brilliant spectacle. Qu's equaliser was top-notch and in keeping with his great work throughout the season, cutting inside Milligan and finishing with precision. One can only hope he backs-up for another season or two in the A-League.

Sydney, who had seemed content to sit back and counter, were suddenly brought to life, with Yorke lifting the crowd with his brilliant feet and crowd-pumping gestures at a couple of corners. It helped that Sydney was attacking the Cove end.

The crowd responded, helping lift Sydney's play. Yorke was the conductor, teeing Steve Corica up with a wonderful cross from the right, but goalkeeper Daniel Beltrame made a splendid save at the back post. Shortly afterwards, Rudan was left unattended at the same post as Milligan drifted in a delightful cross from the right, finishing with the aplomb of a striker, which of course is where he spent some time earlier in the season, when his days as a defender looked limited.

It's a credit to Rudan that he buckled down and got himself fit when he wasn't in the side, and he's now reaping the benefits of his hard work.

For Adelaide the scenario hadn't changed, they still needed a second goal, only that it would now take them to extra time. They pressed and pressed, introducing new signing Greg Owens to right midfield. He made a couple of telling contributions, crossing to Veart who guided his free header over the bar, then playing in Ross Aloisi, who somehow hit the post, with Rech’s rebound cleared off the line by Rudan. Thrilling stuff.

In truth this game deserved to be decided in extra time, but Adelaide were left to lament the misfortune of twice hitting the post. Perhaps Kosmina will wonder if his decision to hold the first leg at home was the right one.

Sydney has now clearly wrestled the momentum and will go into the decider, if it is to be against Adelaide, with the psychological edge.

Perhaps there will be a sixth installment of this building rivalry, but Adelaide will be hard-pressed to halt the momentum that the Central Coast Mariners have built, and it will be a fascinating battle next week to see who takes on Sydney on March 5.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Tactical preview; Any surprises for the Sydney v Adelaide blockbuster?

Two meetings on the trot and four already this season means there are now very few secrets between respective managers Pierre Littbarski and John Kosmina, but as we look forward to tomorrow’s return leg of the major semi final at Aussie Stadium, will there be any surprises?

Expect Pierre Littbarski to go with much the same side that started the first leg away from home last week, however, with central defender Jacob Timpano not named in the squad due to injury, there is one spot at the back open, to be filled by either right back Andrew Packer or central defender Iain Fyfe.

While Fyfe has been drafted back into the squad after missing out last week, expect to see the same back four which started the second half last week, with Mark Milligan moving from right back to partner Mark Rudan in the middle, and Packer coming in on the right.

There is one other option for Littbarski, to bring back Terry McFlynn into the central midfield and push Matthew Bingley into defence, but given the fact that Sydney has been successful with Bingley in the holding role over the past month, expect status quo there.

Also, expect the same attack as we’ve seen over the past month, with Ruben Zadkovich on the left, David Carney on the right, Dwight Yorke pulling the strings from midfield and Steve Corica behind Sasho Petrovski in a fluid 4-4-1-1 formation that relies on all the midfielders taking turns in making runs beyond Petrovski.

There is much more intrigue surrounding the likely line-up for Adelaide, especially since results over the past few weeks haven’t gone their way. Kosmina admitted last week a couple of his main men have had a dip in form, and while he didn’t name them, it is telling that he introduced Kristian Rees into the central defence at half time of last week’s game, shifting Angelo Costanzo into central midfield.

Up until then the central defencive pairing of Costanzo and Michael Valkanis had been given the run around by a mobile Sydney attack, with the main problem being Corica, who was playing in between midfield and attack. He was being allowed too much space, with central midfielders Carl Veart and Ross Aloisi already busy with Yorke and Bingley.

Kosmina fixed this in the second period by pushing Costanzo up as he is more naturally adept at playing in the deep role in midfield, thus limiting space for the likes of Corica and Yorke. Essentially, he gives Adelaide a better shape.

But this in itself creates another headache, what to do with Veart? He has been starting in the middle lately, but, with Lucas Pantelis still out injured, don’t be surprised to see him on the left, providing a physical threat to Packer.

This would mean Travis Dodd goes back to the right side of midfield after starting on the left last week and Richie Alagich returns to his favoured right back position after playing in midfield last week, with Robert Cornthwaite returning to the bench.

If Kosmina does decide to leave Veart in central midfield and Costanzo at the back, he still has the option of playing Louis Brain on the left. Also, don’t be surprised to see Robert Bajic back between the sticks. It is often a line ball decision between him and Daniel Beltrame, but Adelaide have yet to lose with Bajic in goal.

Perhaps as intriguing will be the use of the bench, with both managers having the option of throwing on a couple of recent short term signings. Sydney have the nippy Tolgay Ozbey as a speedster who can test an hesitation in Adelaide’s defending on the ground, while Kosmina has added the experienced former NSL attacking midfielder Greg Owens and local kid Jason Spagnuolo to his traveling contingent for that added surprise element.

Likely teams. Sydney (4-4-1-1); Clint Bolton; Andrew Packer, Mark Rudan, Mark Milligan, Alvin Ceccoli; David Carney, Matthew Bingley, Dwight Yorke, Ruben Zadkovich; Steve Corica; Sasho Petrovski. Adelaide (4-4-1-1); Robert Bajic; Richie Alagich, Michael Valkanis, Krisitan Rees, Adam Van Dommele; Travis Dodd, Angelo Costanzo, Ross Aloisi, Carl Veart; Fernando Rech; Shengqing Qu.

A proud night on the Coast

Central Coast Mariners 1 v Newcastle Jets 1 (2-1 on aggregate)

A wonderful evening at Gosford last night, and while the football didn’t always live up to the high standards we’ve grown to expect from the Mariners, the record crowd of 17,429 got the result they were craving thanks to another telling late goal to left fullback Dean Heffernan, his eighth of the season.

But it wasn’t all smooth sailing for the Mariners, as the Newcastle Jets played a telling role both on and off the field, with a spirited and much improved performance on the park matched by its biggest contingent of traveling supporters to date, helping create a tense but ultimately rewarding evening for the locals.

Indeed, it was the Jets who had the better of the opening period, with striker Vaughan Coveny proving a constant menace to the Mariners central defencive pair of Andrew Clark and Michael Beauchamp. With Ante Milicic dragging Beauchamp into midfield, it isolated Coveny on Clark on numerous occasions, the Jets playing early long balls up to the Kiwi to try and take advantage of this.

But the Mariners are quick at the back, and while they were at times opened up and pulled apart, their ability to scramble in defence, a feature of their defending all season, was again evident.

One particularly brilliant piece of scrambling defence came late in the first half, when Coveny appeared to be through in on goal after getting the better of the central defencive pair on half-way, but Heffernan showed wonderful speed, strength and timing in his challenge to make a telling block on the 18 yard box, sprinting about 40 metres to make the challenge, to a huge roar from the near capacity crowd.

The effort from Heffernan summed up the Central Coast’s never say die spirit and on its own was worth traveling up from Sydney to see. It also added to the growing reputation of Heffernan, who after a quite evening in the first leg last week, was back to his swashbuckling best on this night.

Just before that, Matt Thompson’s wonder strike appeared to stun both the home fans and Mariners players, who appeared nervous and a little tentative in front of its biggest gallery of the season.

Newcastle, for its part, seemed to enjoy being away from Energy Australia Stadium, where it had had a poor run over the past five weeks. Indeed its form on the road this season has far exceeded its home form, losing only twice on the road, and here they put on another performance in keeping with this away record.

Primarily, it was a more accomplished defensive display by Jets than we’ve seen over the past month or so. They never allowed the home side to settle into their usual rhythmic passing game.

Central defenders Ned Zelic and Allan Picken and right back Jade North were excellent and well supported by a midfield that was clearly intent on stifling the influence of Andre Gumprecht, to which Paul Kohler played a key role, the player of German heritage shadowing the German everywhere he went.

Richard Johnston and Thompson also played influential defencive role, narrowing the space between defence and midfield, not giving the Mariners strikers Tom Pondeljak and Stewart Petrie any space to drop off and work in. It was solid defencive work all round.

Unfortunately though for the Jets, two key men in attack, Milicic and Nick Carle, failed to have any major influence, as has been the case for much of the last third of their campaign.

For whatever reason, perhaps he is still carrying that groin injury that troubled him earlier in the season, Milicic failed to have one clear cut opportunity and was largely ineffective, while Carle was a peripheral figure on the left.

In any case it was a match being dominated by the defences of both teams, until some tactical tinkering by Lawrie McKinna in the second half, which saw left sided substitute midfielder Damien Brown shifted to the right. The Mariners started to create a couple of half chances.

While in the first leg they attacked Newcastle’s left side, here they appeared to be targeting the right, with a quick switch of play designed to isolate Jets left back Mateo Corbo. The two times that Brown did get in behind Corbo, the touch on his right foot let him down.

The equaliser came from one such move down the Mariners left, which involved a lovely interchange of almost 10 passes, before the ball was played in. As it was cleared, it fell to Brown, who measured a delightful cross, with his wrong foot, towards the late run of Heffernan. Brown’s right foot had worked at the third attempt.

While the Jets had largely been prepared to play on the counter attack for most of the second half, suddenly they were forced to press forward, and they knew that any late goal would give them the tie on the away goals rule.

How close they came in stoppage time as first Coveny placed a free header from a Tarek Elrich cross directly at goalkeeper Danny Vukovic and then a goal was disallowed when substitute Franco Parisi was correctly ruled offside.

A thrilling finish to a tense minor semi final, and while it finished even on the night, it was a fairytale victory for the Central Coast both on the field and in the stands.

The Mariners have worked extremely hard at engaging the community, and on a night like this, they enjoyed the rewards. If the preliminary final next weekend is to be against Sydney, one can only imagine the number of busloads of Marinators traveling down the F3.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

05/06 Season Wrap, Melbourne Victory

Position; Seventh.
Leading Scorers; Archie Thompson, 8, Kevin Muscat, 6, Richard Kitzbichler, 5.
Most games; Michael Ferrante, 21.
Player of the season; Archie Thompson
Emerging star; Adrian Leijer

Summary; Top of the table a third of the way through the season, second from bottom two-thirds of the way in, it was a dramatic slide from the penthouse to the basement for one of the A-League big clubs. The high point was undoubtedly the 5-0 home win over Sydney FC in round 8 that sent the Victory top after four consecutive wins. Crowds were flocking to Olympic Park, multinational Samsung jumped on board and the good times looked headed south. From there followed a terrible stretch in which they only picked up one point in five games, which effectively put them back in the mix outside the top four. It didn’t get much better, with three wins in the remaining eight games not enough to climb back into finals contention, placing significant pressure on the coach Ernie Merrick and giving the club little choice but to allow key man Archie Thompson to take up a career-shaping loan move to Dutch giants PSV.

Analysis; In as simple terms as possible, an over-reliance on one man, Archie Thompson, for the bulk of its goals. While Kevin Muscat bagged five from the penalty spot and Richard Kitzbichler weighed in with five from out wide, there were not enough from the likes of strikers Danny Allsopp (three goals) and Ricky Diaco (one) and the attacking midfielders Michael Ferrante (one), Kristian Sarkies, Andy Vlahos, Chris Tadrosse and Vince Lia (all none). In truth, Melbourne have a young squad and these kids will improve their goal getting ratios in the coming years, particularly Sarkies, who has a big opportunities to deliver goals from the dead ball. When Thompson was called up to national duty or off his game, the goals dried up, as did the results. The signs at the other end were more encouraging with Melbourne having the second best defencive record in the league.

Negatives/Concerns; Victory’s inability to capitalise on an excellent start to the season. Perhaps the lack of experience in the squad told and some of the players started to believe the hype. Also, a lack of depth in key areas such as attack, wide and in the creative midfield role. Structurally, Melbourne’s midfield was too static for a large part of the season, many of them preferring the ball to feet rather than making runs to try and get beyond their strikers and opposition defences. Too often the strikers were isolated, only Kitzbichler making regular runs into the opposition box. The fact that squad was put together so late meant many of the better players around were not available. Also, the very public debates about both the coaching position and the ownership structure may have been handled better.

Positives; There were doubts in the pre-season about whether Melbournians would take to their team, but they showed up in droves, packing Olympic Park to create the most intimate and intense atmosphere in the A-League, particularly when their team was winning. Some of the images filtering from Melbourne were a site to behold. On the field, there were a number of good things, including the emergence of young defender Adrian Leijer, the classy finishing of Archie Thompson early in the year, and the fact that many of the young kids in the squad now have a year’s experience at a higher level than they’ve been accustomed to.

Next season; Melbourne will need to be sharper in it’s recruitment, and already there are good signs with the signing of one of the most underrated A-League players of the season, Adrian Caceres, who had a terrific season as a late signing for Perth. While most of it was off the bench, Caceres proved a danger every time he came on the field, combining wonderful technique with good positional sense down the left, an area Melbourne clearly need to improve. They will also need to find more quality up front, particularly if Thompson stays overseas after the World Cup, while finding a replacement for Kitzbichler on the right is vital. If the likes of Sarkies, Ferrante, Leijer and Lia can continue to improve, the Victory can expect a more consistent campaign, particularly if they can find a quality playmaker that can provide regular chances.

Monday, February 13, 2006

First leg semi-final wraps: Advantage the Mariners and Sydney

Minor Semi, Newcastle Jets 0 v Central Coast Mariners 1; Stung by the criticism of their recent poor form and motivated by the words of manager Richard Money, it was no surprise to see the Jets start the match so intensely.

Word had filtered through that the Jets players were up for this game and it showed. They dominated the opening half, pressing the Mariners high up the pitch and not allowing the visitors to build any of the passing momentum they have become famous for.

The Jets really should have had at least a 1-0 lead at the break, but squandered a couple of golden opportunities, one particularly to Matt Thompson, who had a brilliant first half, constantly terrorising Mariners left back Dean Heffernan.

Most of Newcastle’s good work came down the right, as Nick Carle was again kept quiet on the left. But the old adage in football is about converting your chances when you dominate. Newcastle failed.

The Mariners for their part seemed content to bide their time, knowing that if they could stifle Newcastle, their superior fitness might tell late in the second period. It proved true.

After averting a headed chance to Ante Milicic just after the break, the Mariners took control, with Stewart Petrie proving the menace he has been all season with his amazing work-rate up front.

It was backed up in midfield as Noel Spencer and Andre Gumprecht started to take control, bringing wide men Wayne O’Sullivan (right) and Matt Osman (left) into the game.

The Mariners were particularly targeting Newcastle’s left, with Tom Pondeljak and Stewart Petrie taking turns in doubling-up on Uruguayan left back Mateo Corbo, who was already on a yellow card from a first half indiscretion. This forced Carle to do too much defending and also forced Newcastle’s central defenders out of their comfort zone in the centre.

The Mariners goal eventually came from such a scenario, with Pondeljak, O’Sullivan and Petrie combining to pull both Allan Picken and Ned Zelic to the right sideline. When the cross came, Jade North was on his own in the middle, forced to deal with the late runs of Spencer and Osman from midfield.

It was too much for him and goalkeeper Liam Reddy to handle, with Osman grabbing the winner. The Mariners were on a roll, forcing the Jets to retreat, and had it not been for a couple of smashing saves from Reddy in the final 20 minutes, the tie could effectively have been over.

As it is, Newcastle is still in with a sniff, but would require a major turn around in fortunes. While the Mariners have stretched their unbeaten run to an impressive 10 games, Newcastle has suffered five loses in the same period, hardly the momentum you want to take into such a do-or-die clash.

Major Semi, Adelaide United 2 v Sydney FC 2; While the minor premiers Adelaide should never be underestimated, it’s advantage Sydney in the race to host the grand final on March 5.

Two away goals, an impressive first half showing and the momentum at the right end of the season means Sydney are now favourites to host the decider.

After a poor patch of form following its return from the Club World Championships in Japan and a great deal of conjecture about Pierre Littbarski’s future, Sydney have turned things around at the crunch hour by changing it’s formation, adding more mobility to the midfield.

During its downtime, it was particularly noticeable how static and immobile the midfield was. Basically, playing 4-4-2, only right midfielder David Carney was making any effort to get beyond the strikers and test opposition defences.

But since 19 year Ruben Zadkovich has been introduced to the midfield and Littbarski has adopted a 4-4-1-1 formation, it has become noticeable how each midfielder takes turns in springing forward to get beyond sole striker Sasho Petrovski, who is playing as much as the link man these days, dropping off the front line to bring his five midfielders into the game.

Corica has been particularly mobile the half-half role between defence and attack, constantly springing forward. He hasn’t been on his own however, with Zadkovich, Dwight Yorke, Matthew Bingley and Carney all taking turns to sprint forward and find gaps between and beyond the defenders.

It worked a treat in round 20 against Perth, with Zadkovich scoring a beauty when he got in between defenders and shot first time past Jason Petkovic. Again it worked early against Adelaide, with Zadkovich running at defenders and sliding a lovely ball through to the moving Corica, who clipped it over Daniel Beltrame and past Michael Valkanis.

Sydney dominated the opening half hour, opening up the United defence regularly, and could have had a second to Yorke but for Adelaide’s scrambling defence. Seconds later the ball was in the Sydney net as Adelaide broke with a long ball to the left flank, where the speedy Travis Dodd pushed it past Mark Milligan, rounded Clint Bolton and fired home.

It was Adelaide at its best – resolute at the back, direct, strong and clinical in attack.

Two minutes later they showed their ability at the set piece when Shengqing Qu found Fernando Rech who climbed over the Sydney defence at the back post to head Adelaide into the lead. Smash and grab.

Sydney, from a position of comfort, where suddenly behind, and had to show character to fight back. This time it was Carney on the ball and Bingley breaking forward, his first-time cross laid on a plate for Petrovski.

It was a frantic eight minutes of open football, but after the break the tight and fiesty contest that had been expected beforehand emerged. Sydney was clearly content with its two away goals and re-enforced its midfield by introducing Terry McFlynn, while John Kosmina tightened things up a touch by bringing on Krisitan Rees into central defence and pushing Angelo Costanzo into midfield.

Not surprisingly, given that both teams don’t mind mixing it, the game became physical, with Carl Veart never far from the action.

It seemed both teams were happy to sort things out at Aussie Stadium in a week.

United appears to have lost its momentum since claiming the minor premiership against Perth in round 18, failing to win in its past four starts, while Sydney have put the Japan hangover behind them with three wins and a valuable away draw on the trot.

But Adelaide showed in the first half of the campaign they are at their most dangerous when written off, so this tie is far from over.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Newcastle Jets v Central Coast Mariners Preview, minor semi final

When Newcastle Jest host the Central Coast Mariners in the first leg of the minor semi final tonight, expect it to be fiery and physical.

Jets manager Richard Money has gone on the record this week claiming that Australian football will experience its first “real derby” tonight.

Clearly he is trying to fire up his men after a number of insipid displays at home in the past month or so, which include conceding eight goals in the past two games.

But if you look beyond the recent poor form of Newcastle, there is clearly some history between the two clubs, at least dating back to the pre-season World Club Championships first round clash at Gosford, which was won by the home team, but featured one of the talking points of the pre-season, a reckless tackle from Mariners striker Nick Mrdja on Newcastle defender Andrew Durante which broke Durante’s leg and has keep him on the sidelines for the duration of the season.

It is somewhat ironic that Mrdja has been confined to the sidelines for the entire season after coming down with a knee injury.

The Mariners manager Lawrie McKinna has also weighed into the derby debate, emphasising the importance of traveling supporters to create a real derby atmosphere, at the same time reminding Newcastle fans that the Marinators sent a large contingent of supporters north earlier in the year and that its wasn’t replicated by those venturing south.

Beyond the fire and building rivalry between the two clubs, there is little doubt that the Mariners can be more satisfied with its season to date. While only a point separated them at the end of the regular season, it terms of football played and consistency over the season, the Mariners have been well ahead, looking the more fluid unit.

While the Jets had an excellent mid-season spell away from home, when their ground was being renovated, their form in the final third of the season has been patchy, their two wins coming against the bottom two, Melbourne and New Zealand.

Whether it is tiredness or a lack of fitness to some crucial players, Money will be a magician if he can halt the downward momentum. In terms of team structure, there is no doubt that Newcastle has been defending deep. Perhaps this is a sign that they are not entirely confident with their speed at the back and ability to cover.

Certainly and understandably, Ned Zelic, at 34, has lost some pace and relies as much on his speed of mind these days, while in Allan Picken they have another tall and physical defender, but not one who necessarily quick on his feet. His strong point is in the air. It is this area that the Jets have missed Durante, a natural sweeper.

By defending deep, there is then a massive area for the midfield to cover, meaning that Newcastle are often stretched covering the space between their strikers and defenders. It means that the likes of Nick Carle and Matt Thompson, attacking midfielders, spend as much time tracking back, limiting the influence they’ve been having in attack.

Money has to somehow find a way of getting Carle closer to his front two of Vaughan Coveny and Ante Milicic so he can influence the attack. Too often the front two have been isolated, with Carle less effective on the left as the season has gone on. The Jets would be served well by shifting Carle more central, in front of Richard Johnston and behind the front two.

While this might bring him closer to the likes of Andre Gumprecht and Noel Spencer, it should also allow him to get on the ball in areas he can hurt the Mariners defence.

Certainly Money will be hoping his big name players in Milicic, Carle, Johnson and Zelic all lift. There is evidence they have done this against the other three finalists.

A win a piece and a draw in its three games against the Mariners, two draws and a win against Sydney and one win and two losses to Adelaide shows this bunch of players should never be underestimated, but over two legs, the smart money would be on the Mariners getting through.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

05/06 Season Wrap, New Zealand Knights

Position; Eight, last.
Leading Scorers; Jeremy Brockie and Simon Yeo, 4 goals.
Most games; Darren Bazeley and Zenon Caravella, 21 games.
Player of the season; Jeremy Brockie.
Emerging star; Brockie again.

Summary; Everywhere you look sums up what a disastrous season the inaugural one was for the NZ Knights. A solitary win against the Central Coast Mariners way back in round three, a staggering 81% of matches lost, a negative goal difference of 32, only two points picked up at home, finishing 20 points behind second last placed Melbourne Victory and average crowds of only 3,908. As the saying goes, things can only get better, both on and off the field.

Analysis; Perhaps it was the well publicised healthy problems of manager John Adshead, but for whatever reason, the Knights, along with the Melbourne Victory and Perth Glory, were the slowest of the teams to sort out their player roster, assembling the squad only a matter of weeks before the season proper. By then many of the better players around had been snapped up or, in the case of some of the New Zealand players, ignored in favour of a squad of mainly English journeymen. Clearly there was an underestimation of the levels required to compete in the A-League.

Negatives; The assembling of a squad of players chock-full of experience in the English lower leagues, as was evidenced by the poor form and departure of Ronnie Bull and Simon Yeo before the season was out. The reliance on these guys appeared to cause angst among the few New Zealand players, as highlighted by Danny Hay’s departure. A couple of crucial long-term injuries also didn’t help, particularly those to Hay and Neil Emblen early on. It appeared as though Adshead was trying to build a squad around Hay at the back and Emblen in midfield, and all his plans were shot when these two guys went down injured. Naoki Imaya also suffered a season ending knee injury just as he was looking good. Some of the other overseas signings, including Xiaobin Zhang, Frank van Eijs, Sean Devine and John Tambouras also failed to deliver.

Positives; The emergence of a couple of exciting young Kiwi prospects in Jeremy Brockie and Kris Bright. Brockie in particular set the League on fire in his debut against Newcastle in Round 11, when he scored both the Knights’ goals in a 4-2 loss. The emergence of Zenon Caravella was another good sign, as was the admission by Adshead as early as round 10 that the season was effectively over and he should start building towards next season. He did by building into the team the likes of Brockie and Bright. Another good sign was the fact they picked up draws against the top two, Sydney and Adelaide.

The future; How fitting that it was Bright’s through ball to Brockie for the Knights’ final goal of the season against the Melbourne Victory in round 21, hopefully for the Knights and the A-League the beginning of a fruitful partnership. Clearly the Knights have to add some more quality to their playing roster, with the recruitment of overseas players a particularly crucial area. In tough times, it’s often best to get back to basics, which in football means you build from the back. The appointment this week of highly qualified Paul Nevin, formerly of Fulham, to the role of head coach could prove pivotal in turning around NZ’s on field fortunes.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

A-League Team of the Season 2005/06

The task of picking the A-League team of the year from the inaugural season was made all the more difficult by the evenness of the competition, with the second last team, Melbourne Victory, finishing just five points outside the four. But for the NZ Knights, all teams featured players with strong claims for inclusion. While some big name players have produced patches or moments of brilliance, compiling this team was based more on consistency over the 21 rounds. As far as a formation is concerned, I've gone for the A-League's most popular, 4-4-2;
Goalkeeper; Clint Bolton
Back Four (right to left); Hyuk-Su Seo, Michael Beauchamp, Michael Valkanis, Dean Heffernan
Midfield (right to left); David Carney, Andre Gumprecht, Ross Aloisi (C), Carl Veart
Strikers; Shengqing Qu, Stewart Petrie
Goalkeeper, Clint Bolton (Sydney FC); Had he been a little more ambitious and pushed to go overseas earlier in his career, there's no doubt he would now be vying with Mark Schwarzer and Zeljko Kalac for the Socceroos number one jersey. At 30, it might not be too late for a lucrative overseas move or a World Cup birth, and this season he has again enhanced his reputation as the best custodian on our shores, rescuing Sydney in a number of games with his superb shot stopping and ability to relieve pressure by commanding his area, whether in the first minute or deep into stoppage time. The best of the rest was undoubtedly young Danny Vukovic of the Mariners, who started the campaign as back up to John Crawley but has been outstanding since getting his chance.
Right fullback, Hyuk-Su Seo (Queensland Roar); 'Harold', as he prefers, featured in central midfield for the first two-thirds of the season, where his simply distribution, game reading and sting in the shot were all easy on the eye. Technically sound and simply, he showed in the final third of the season just how adaptable he is when shifted to right back by Miron Bleiberg to fill a hole for the injury depleted Roar. A Korean import, Seo is a model example of how our Asian future can be a healthy one.
Central defender, Michael Beauchamp (Central Coast Mariners); Outstanding, particularly in the first two-thirds of the season, where his timing in the tackle has been a particular feature. Has been rattled in the past few weeks by some opposition strikers keen to test his temperament out, an area he needs to improve if he is to take the next step.
Central defender, Michael Valkanis (Adelaide United); A rock at the back of a wonderful Adelaide spine which features the likes of Angelo Costanzo, Carl Veart, Ross Aloisi, Fernando Rech and Shengqing Qu. Courageous, tough, reads the game well, good communicator and ventures forward at set-pieces to provide a real goal scoring threat, everything you want in a central defender.
Left fullback, Dean Heffernan (Central Coast Mariners); A close call between 'The Heff' and Sydney's Alvin Ceccoli, but Heffernan's ability to flow forward and score some crucial goals, seven in total, gives him the nod. Blessed with blistering pace, he is proving a threat every time he ventures forward and is a vital part of the Mariners' dynamic attack. More work on his final cross will make him an even better player.
Right midfield, David Carney (Sydney FC); One of only a couple of players to be signed by coach Pierre Littbarski, Carney has emerged as one of the biggest threats from midfield in the league, cutting in from the right on his left foot and causing problems with his deceptive pace and trickery. Has improved his option taking as the season has gone on. Needs to continue working hard on his right foot delivery.
Central midfield, Andre Gumprecht (Central Coast Mariners); Consistently one of the stand out players of the old NSL and the form has continued through this inaugural A-League season. Terrific work-rate and wonderful technique combine to make this bloke one of the most complete box-to-box players in Australia. Weighed in with a couple of crucial assists.
Central midfield, Ross Aloisi (Adelaide United); After a long career overseas, he is clearly relishing the return to his home state and the extra responsibilities that come with the captain's armband. While a high work-rate and physical edge have been the hallmarks of his season, he has been as articulate with the ball at his feet as he has fronting the media. A class act on and off the pitch.
Left midfield, Carl Veart (Adelaide United); One of the veterans of the league, has been simply outstanding in any position he has played, whether up front, in the hole between attack and midfield, out left or in central midfield, where he has been for the second half of the season. Like Aloisi, has a physical edge to his game and gets a birth on the left due to his adaptability. Hard to argue with his coach's claim that he is playing better today than he was when he featured for the Socceroos over a decade ago.
Striker, Shengqing Qu (Adelaide United); What a success story this bloke has been. A former Chinese international, he has been a vital ingredient in United's minor premiership run, scoring six, most of them quality strikes, as well as five assists in only 16 games. But it is not just his impressive work in front of goal that has impressed. Qu has a fantastic appetite to be involved in a game, working as hard as any midfielder to pressurise opposition defences from the front. A manager's dream.
Striker, Stewart Petrie (Central Coast Mariners): For sheer class, Dwight Yorke, Archie Thompson or Bobby Despotovski would get the gig hands down, but for sheer determination and consistency, Petrie has been a phenomenon. Nobody has exemplified the Mariners' spirit and will to win better than this bloke. Started the pre-season behind Nick Mrdja in the pecking order, but has made the most of his opportunity, becoming a real focal point of the Mariners attack as the link-man and finisher.
Manager, John Kosmina (Adelaide United); A line ball decision between two guys who have been around football in Australia for years, Socceroo legend John Kosmina and the affable Scot Lawrie McKinna at the Central Coast Mariners. Both have done a brilliant job, focusing on the detail and team spirit as the basis for their clubs' success. McKinna put together a team on a tight budget in a new football market and still managed to produce some wonderful flowing football, full of purpose and good technique, while Kosmina decided to stick with the tried and tested from the old NSL, relying on an experienced spine and some determined characters. Special mention also to Miron Bleiberg, who, while his team haven't always been rewarded with the results, has at least encouraged his young men to play open and positive football, an important consideration in such a important market like Queensland and for a start up venture such as the A-League.
Reserve Team of the Year (4-3-3); Danny Vukovic (CCM), Adrian Leijer (Melbourne Victory), Jacob Timpano (Sydney FC), Angelo Costanzo (Adelaide United), Alvin Ceccoli (Sydney FC); Tom Pondeljak (Central Coast Mariners), Dwight Yorke (Sydney FC), Nick Ward (Perth Glory); Archie Thompson (Melbourne Victory), Bobby Despotovski (Perth Glory), Alex Brosque (Queensland Roar). Manager, Lawrie McKinna (Central Coast Mariners).