Monday, July 30, 2007

Jorvan Vieira for Australia?

SPECULATION is doing the rounds that successful Iraq coach Jorvan Vieira could well be coming to Australia to talk to FFA about the Socceroos coaching gig.

Early this evening SBS's World News featured a wrap of the Asian Cup final, with an exclusive interview with Vieira, taped this morning. In it, he told SBS's man on the spot Scott McIntyre that he would certainly be interested in coaching the Socceroos because he believed the 'conditions' would be favourable.

By 'conditions' he wasn't talking about the weather of course, rather the support structures and resources he would have at his disposal should he get the job.

He claimed he wasn't so much motivated by the dollars, but by the ability to work in an environment where he had resources at the ready, something he has repeatedly claimed he didn't have throughout his short time with Iraq.

NOW Fox Sports News is reporting another 'exclusive', claiming that commentator Simon Hill was travelling on the plane to Singapore with the winning Iraqi team where Vieira is said to have signed off a conversation with Hill by saying he will be visiting Australia "in a couple of weeks" to chat to the FFA.

This news was being relayed by Robbie Slater.

The notion of Viera being a possible candidate for the Roos job was explored on the weekend by fellow blogger John of Brisbane.

While I'm not sure that Viera will get the gig, let alone be the right man for the job, I like the idea that the FFA are at least exploring options away from a big name, if indeed the speculation is true.

As per my comment in John's piece, I'm of the view that it doesn't necessarily need to be a big name manager, with a big pay packet. It just needs to be the right man for the job, regardless of his name or background.

Naturally, he will have a fair deal of experience in the cut and thrust of international football and what it takes to run a qualification campaign, while experience in getting a team through an Asian qualification campaign should be looked on favourably.

With Rob Baab now on board as the technical director, a least there is a football man for Frank Lowy to bounce things off. The fact that Lowy was seen in around Indonesia on the weekend is perhaps a sign that all options will be explored, and so they should be.

Interesting times lie ahead.

Iraq: A Deserving Champion

Asian Cup Final, Iraq 1 v Saudi Arabia 0

NOT just because of the sentimental aspect, it’s great to see Iraq crowned as Asian Cup champions for the first time. They were the best all-round unit at this tournament and deserve their success.

While the Saudi’s have looked brilliant and incisive in the front third, they also suffered from numerous deficiencies in midfield and at the back. Iraq were far more balanced and clearly better suited in playing the role of spoiler.

Only against South Korea in the semi final were they out-spoilt; squeezed in midfield and pinned back on the flanks. Otherwise, it’s been Iraq that have controlled most of their opponents and subsequently most of their games.

Ditto on this night, and it was always likely to be the case. If they could contain the front two of Yasser Al Qahtani and Malek Maaz through their committed defence, then they were always likely to have too much up front and in midfield for the Saudi defence, which has improved since the tournament started, but still looked suspect enough.

Younis Mahmoud, if his defence was able to do the job at the other end, was always likely to get amongst the Saudi backline and create havoc with his incredible workrate and will-to-win.

And so it proved, Iraq’s back four of Haider Abdul Amir, Ali Rehema, Jassim Gholam and Bassim Abbas doing a brilliant defensive job on Saudi’s two pocket rockets. They made it a fourth clean sheet in six, only two goals conceded, the stuff of champions.

The Lebanon-based Abbas, in particular, was outstanding, having Maaz in his pocket, never giving him a chance to turn, pressuring him every time he got near the ball. Al Qahtani, meanwhile, was well looked after by the two central men, Gholam and Rehema, both physical and mean in the challenge.

Only his brother, Abdulrahman, looked a threat in the first half, driving at Abdul Amir, but he has clearly been playing injured in the knocks-outs and had had enough by the break.

No other Saudi attacker was afforded an inch of space. Some of the defending and hassling from Iraq looked personal, seemingly designed to unsettle Yasser, no doubt seen as the Saudi talisman. It was as tough a night as Mark Shield has had, and he handled it well, despite a couple of decent late shouts for penalties, one to each side.

While the bald-headed duo at the back set the tone for Iraq, they were equally well supported by the hardest working, best organised and most committed midfield in the tournament. Just as he had been against South Korea in the semi, holding midfielder Qusay Munir was outstanding, buzzing all over the place, getting a foot in almost every time, breaking up attack after attack.

Nearby was the official man of the match and my own man of the tournament, the graceful Nashat Akram, back to his best after a quiet semi.

While his first half was steady, it was in the second half, with the trophy on the line and the pressure on, when he really blossomed, proving he has the big-match mentality to go with silky skills. Europe beckons.

Out wide, Hawar Mulla Mohammed (left) and Mahdi Karim on the right were equally as diligent going backwards as they were in offence, while the two front-men, Karrar Jassim and Mahmoud, worked the house down.

The skipper, as he has done throughout the tournament, led from the front, chasing everything down, driving his nation forward. Younes for PM?

He was rewarded with the only goal of the final, getting on the end of a Mulla Mohammed in-swinger to the back post, hopelessly mis-read by keeper Yasser Al Mosailem, who had his best night of a forgettable tournament.

It took Younes to joint top scorer alongside Al Qahtani and Naohiro Takahara and was enough to convince those who decide these things to crown him the official player of the tournament.

Regardless of who was the tournament mvp, there is little doubt Iraq where the team and story of the tournament, and it’s a massive credit to all involved.

Brazilian Jorvan Vieria will deservedly take much of the credit for molding this motley crew in such a short space of time, but there is little doubt he had at his disposal one of the most motivated sporting teams you could imagine, committed to a greater cause.

The world – both the football and the broader - is a better place for Iraq’s Asian Cup victory.

Watch the final? Followed Iraq throughout? Who's caught the eye for you?

Friday, July 27, 2007

Thai trial....that's tops!!!

A FOOTNOTE to the wonderful performances of Thailand in Australia's group at the Asian Cup, it's great to see their two impressive defenders, Suree Sukha and Kiatprawut Saiwaeo, among three players offered a trial at EPL club Manchester City.

Yes, the offer is through the dubious connections of new City owner Thaksin Shinawatra, but for the EPL-obsessed Thais, it would be a dream come true to see a couple of their own mixing it with their heros.

Certainly, given the physical nature of the league, it won't be easy, but in Sven Goran Eriksson, at least they'll be trialling in front of a manager that will appreciate the finer technical aspects of the play. Both defenders caught the eye with some brilliant displays and were natural choices in my team of the group stages.

Even in the 4-0 loss to the Socceroos on matchday 3, Sukha was head and shoulders the best player on the pitch, ahead of Mark Milligan, driving up and down the right flank, Dani Alves style. Saiwaeo, meanwhile, is only 21, but is so comfortable and cultured on the ball, it was a joy to watch his display against Oman. He struggled a little bit in the aerial duels against the Socceroos, beaten by Michael Beauchamp for the opener, a weakness that will be exposed in England.

If Saiwaeo or Sukha don't land a gig in the EPL now, keep an eye out for the names. Indeed, wouldn't it be great to see their likes among the A-League, but I often wonder how many clubs here even know they exist?

Thursday, July 26, 2007

West Asian Wonders

Asian Cup Semi Finals Wrap

Iraq 0 v South Korea 0 (Iraq won 4-2 on penalties)

FOR a 0-0 draw, this wasn't a bad game at all. South Korea, improving by the game, made most of the running, producing their best all-round performance, but ultimately their weakness was an inability to capitalise on their territorial and possessional domination. Right from the start, in heavy conditions, they were able to press Iraq high and pin them back, controlling the first half through their control of both flanks. Pim Verbeek made a number of surprise tactical selections, keeping one of his stars of the campaign, Kim Jung-woo (#17), in reserve, drafting in Yeom Ki-hun (#19) on the right flank and shifting the adaptable Lee Chun-soo (#10) into the middle, behind Cho Jae-jin (#9). In midfield, Son Dae-ho (#20) was given the marking role of Iraq's playmaker, Nashat Akram. Verbeek's moves were brilliant, allowing the Koreans to control most of the match, Ki-hun turning on a man of the match performance to give the hitherto exemplary Iraq left back Bassim Abbas a working over. With Seongnam's Choi Sung-kuk (#7) combining well with left back Kim Chi-woo (#15), Korea were dominating both flanks. Chun-soo, meanwhile, was looking more a threat through the middle than he has been out wide, while Dae-ho didn't give Akram a sniff. But the Koreans, for all their control, were unable to crack the brilliant Iraqi defence, lead superbly by Jassim Gholam (#2), who followed Jae-jin everywhere he went. His central defensive mate, Ali Rehema (#15), wasn't too far behind, looking after Chun-soo. Abbas and right back Haider Hussain (#14), worked over early, never gave up, sticking to their work with real spirit and zest. All the time they were screened superbly by holding midfielder Qusay Munir (#24). While Akram was off his game, Qusay was the midfield king, winning and using the ball with equal efficiency. While Korea looked blunt at the pointy end, Iraq offered real bite in Younis Mahmoud, who looked a threat every time he got the ball, despite the limited service and the close attentions of the impressive youngster Kang Min-soo (#22). The #13, Karrar Jassem, was everywhere, fouling and frustrating the Koreans. As the game went on and the Koreans failed to open the door, heads started to drop and legs became heavier, encouring the fresher Iraqis to come home strong. It was an almighty effort. The tragedy for Korea is that two of the heros, Ki-hun and Jung-woo, failed from the spot, but there was no denying the hunger, desire and destiny of Iraq. Coach Jorvan Vieira, in the job for a couple of months, has done an oustanding job and the players have responded. Just a wonderful story.

Saudi Arabia 3 v Japan 2

WHILE there was strong belief that Iraq could do the job for western Asia, there was less optimism about Saudi Arabia's prospects against Japan, going for their third straight title. The Saudi's had looked porous in the quarter final win over the Uzbeks, and while they packed two dynamites up front, surely the Japanese would be too strong after shaking off the Socceroos. Not on your life. Clearly the Saudi's had learnt a thing or two from the Roos about how to play Japan; defend deep and look to counter with real purpose. Only difference between the Saudis and Australia was that the Saudis could actually counter with real pace, numbers and skill, especially through liverwires Yasser Al Qahtani and Malek Maaz, both so impressive throughout the tournament. The surprise was how well the Saudis defended, despite the liability that was Yasser Al Mosailem in goal, a far cry from Saudi great Mohamed Al Deayea. Japan's problem, so evident against Australia and even earlier in the tournament was that they were so one paced, only snapping into gear when they went behind. Here they played right into Helios dos Anjos's hands, leaving massive space between the midfield and defence for Yasser Al Qahtani and Maaz to utilise. It was an invitation they were only too ready to accept, Maaz in particular giving Yuki Abe a complete working over. While he showed customary elavation and aerial ability for his first, his second was a gem, burning Abe and the equally poor Kawaguchi. Like the Socceroos earlier in the tournament, perhaps Japan had been guilty of underestimating the opposition and believing the speculation that they were home and hosed. When quizzed about Saudi Arabia's men-to-watch in the lead-up, the disappointing Shunsuke Nakamura could only mention "the number 20" - he was talking about Yasser Al Qahtani. What motivation for the others. While Maaz was the man, right back Ahmad Al Bahri (#15) was awesome, setting up the second and blunting Komano, holding midfielder Saud Khariri (#14) ran all day and just in front of him #17 Taiseer Al Jassam has been a creative influence. Japan coach Ivica Osim must shoulder much of the blame, rarely asking enough questions of the Saudi keeper and central defenders. The Saudis wanted it more and deserved their win, despite the post coming to their rescue yet again.

It creates the unlikeliest of finals, two West Asian wonders full of quality, good management and plenty of desire. Andy Harper and Paul Trimboli, in the Fox studio, were spot on in their assessment; both Iraq and Saudi Arabia packed more improvisation and match-winning quality in and around the opposition box than their organised East Asian opponents.

Monday, July 23, 2007

The Other Quarters

Iraq 2 v Vietnam 0

IN my view, one of the two best performed teams of the tournament to date (along with Japan), Iraq again proved they are a genuine title threat with a dominant team display, controlling the game from start to finish with their technical and in-synch style, proving too big and too cluey for Vietnam. Not surprisingly, it was the two leaders, holding midfielder Nashat Akram and striker Younis Mahmoud, that provided the inspiration. Akram is the architect, smooth and sophisticated, gliding through the midfield, teeing up his teammates or taking it on himself. He gets better with every game. Younis is the leader from the front, driving his team forward, putting himself about in attack and defence, setting the pressing tempo, cajoling his team to give more. Here he bagged another two, one in each half, both from set pieces, one with the head, one with his feet to prove he can do it both in the air and on the ground. They weren't the only winners for Iraq. While Hawar Mulla Muhammad was relatively quiet, in defence they had two star performers, bald headed duo Bassim Abbas (the left back) and left stopper Jassim Gholam. Coach Jorvan Vieira has done an excellent job with this team but says he was disappointed with the performance, perhaps a subtle reminder that they will need to step up another level against South Korea. Vietnam had clearly played their grand finals against the UAE and Qatar and have been outclassed the past two matches. Alfred Reidl hasn't done his team any favours in either game though, playing far too defensive.

Iran 0 v South Korea 0 (South Korea won 4-2 on penalties)

ALOT was expected of this clash between two of the heavyweights of the competition, but in truth it disappointed, much as their respective campaigns have been. In truth that was largely down to the driving rain, which didn't stop. While there has been much talk about Iran being among the most impressive sides, I haven't shared that view, feeling that they have really struggled at either end of the pitch. Defensively, they have really looked shaky, especially in goalkeeper Hassan Rodbarian and left stopper Rahman Rezaei, while up front they have struggled to find a dependable pairing, especially with Vahid Hashemian so wasteful and Reza Enayati failing to fill the void. It has been left to their top-class midfield of Javed Nekounam, Ali Karimi and Andranik Teymourian to get them this far. Obviously concerned with the defensive woes, manager Amir Ghalenoei made some strange tactical adjustment for this game, going back to a back three (after it was so unsuccessful in the first half against China) and dropping the hitherto impressive Fereydoon Zandi. The signs of doubt were everywhere, emphasised by his bizarre decision to change keepers before the spot-kicks. All this hesitation was enough to encourage Pim Verbeek and his young men, fresh from an encouraging second half display against Indonesia, where they squeezed the life out of the hosts, to go for the win. While they didn't create too many chances in general play, the Koreans were competitive, both physically and technically, and organised, and continue to improve with the tournament. In midfielder Kim Jung-woo (#17), who dispatched the winning penalty, they have one of the stars of the tournament, a driving presence with good ability in the air and on the ground. The defence, marshalled by 21 year old Kang Min-soo (#22), is improving enough to suggest more joy might be around the corner, while experienced keeper Lee Woon-jae is a settling influence.

Saudi Arabia 2 v Uzbekistan 1

ARGUABLY the game of the tournament, this match had everything. The Saudis got off to a great start, the two impressive Al Qahtani's, Abdulrahman and Yasser, combining for the go-ahead. Back came the Uzbeks, playmaker Server Djeperov hitting the post, leading to a period of total domination from the team lead by Dinamo Kiev striker Maksim Shatskikh. He should have had an equaliser just before the half-hour mark, pouncing on a spilt free-kick, only to be denied by a terrible offside decision, one of the worst you will see. The Uzbeks were playing some delighful stuff, driving out of midfield, combining on the edge of the box and shooting at will, denied by the post on numerous occasions, but the Saudis, with the lively pocket-rockets up front, Yasser Al Qahtani and Malek Maaz (how much elivation do they both get?), were always a threat on the counter. Ultimately the Uzbeks grew more and more frustrated and the Saudis came strong in the middle period of the second half, substitue Ahmed Al Mousa getting on the end of arguably the passing move of the tournament. The Saudis were starting to enjoy themselves, stringing some delighful short passing moves, and the Uzbek defence was all over the place. Problem for the Saudis was that their own defence, especially down the middle, was also very suspect, Uzbekistan finally grabbing one with about 10 minutes to go. It made it a grand-stand finish, Uzbek striker Aleksandr Geynrikh denied a late late equaliser by the Saudi keeper and the post. It was thrilling stuff, the Saudis lucky to survive. Wonderful going forward, they leave gaps galore at the back, which will wet the lips of the likes of Takahara, Maki, Shunsuke Nakamura and Endo.

For what it's worth, it's Iraq vs Japan in the final for me. What about you?

‘We got what we deserved’

Quarter Final, Japan 1 v Australia 1 (Japan won 4-3 on penalties)

AUSTRALIA’s best performance of a disappointing tournament, but it was undoubtedly a case of too little, too late. The damage had been done on matchdays 1 and 2, against Oman and Iraq, forcing the Socceroos to travel from Thailand to Vietnam, into territory and conditions that Japan had spent the best part of three weeks in.

We got what we deserved, punished for believing we could waltz into Asia and do as we pleased. By the time we realised it wasn’t so easy, we were facing up to the Asia’s most successful team of the past decade, with our confidence and ego severely dented.

Guess it’s better to learn the lessons now than in the crunch world cup qualifiers that lie ahead.

Here Arnold stuck to the troops that had done the job, albeit unconvincingly, against Thailand, offering a reprieve to Lucas Neill, in for the suspended Luke Wilkshire.

Interestingly, Neill, reckless in the opening two fixtures, wasn’t handed the responsibility of controlling the back three from the middle. Instead, Mark Milligan was rewarded for an awesome display against the Thais, and, but for the moment of hesitation and confusion that resulted in Naohiro Takahara’s equaliser, he had another eye-catching evening.

Neill had to be content with a spot on the right of a back three, forcing Emerton into the right wing-back role.

Otherwise, it was status quo.

Ditto for Japan, whose wily manager Ivica Osim was hoping to exploit Australia’s recent vulnerability.

Truth is that the Samurai Blue never really got into top gear, struggling, like the Aussies, to play an up-tempo game in the early evening heat and humidity, and rarely managing to get in behind a dogged and deep Socceroos rearguard.

Instead, they played at one pace throughout, bossing the game, controlling the ball and the opposition, without every managing to hit full-throttle.

This was mainly down to some determined defensive work from the Sooceroos, who, cajoled by the sideline coaching of their manager, finally showed the requisite application and organisation, particularly through midfield. Vince Grella, up until his unlucky send off for a stray elbow, was having his best game of the tournament, and Australia’s midfield was all the better for it.

The fact that Arnold spent the early going shouting instructions to his men told not only of a man under pressure, but one who perhaps hadn’t done the requisite preparation ahead the game. It was a strange sight and sound at this level of football.

Regardless, the Socceroos reacted well to their managers promptings, doing a good job of keeping Japan’s two major creators, Shunsuke Nakamura and Yashuhito Endo, away from the 18 yard box, meaning that most of Japan’s limited drive was being supplied by the unlikeliest of sources, defensive midfielder Kengo Nakamura.

The Roos discipline, not to give away free kicks around the box, was good.

Problem for the Socceroos was that they were defending so deep that they were basically inviting Japan to control possession and the flow of the game. The times Australia did get on the ball we looked better than we have, knocking it around with patience.

But once again were unable to sustain any possession in the final third.

This was largely down to the brilliant defensive performance from man of the match Yuji Nakazawa, who was clearly intent on making up for Kaiserslautern, rarely allowing Mark Viduka and John Aloisi an inch to breathe, as if that wasn’t already hard enough in the conditions.

He was a monster, making it his prerogative to shut-down Australia’s skipper, seen as our most dangerous threat, on the ground and in the air. While he’d talked the talk in the build up to this match, here he backed it up.

Even when Kewell came on, Nakazawa was often nearby.

Fitting that it was he who stepped up and dispatched the final spot-kick to seal Japan’s passage to the semis. Smashing penalty after a smashing performance. Some redemption.

Even when the Socceroos were reduced to 10 men, it was clear we were playing for penalties, knocking the ball into the corners, trying to milk up time rather than build-up some possession. Only when Nick Carle was introduced late did Harry Kewell have anything resembling someone to play with.

Courageous it might have been, but smart?

Well, cast your mind back to K-Town just over 12 months ago when Italy proved that you can be down to 10 men and still look a threat going forward. Evidently, we still have a bit to learn.

Most of those lessons will be about ensuring no short-cuts are taken on the road to South Africa, for, if this tournament has proved anything, it is that we still have a long way to go in the grand world of football.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Don't have Fox, can't get to a bar....

...but still want to keep up with tomorrow's match?

ABC RADIO have come to the party, confirming they will be providing national coverage of tomorrow’s quarter final, plus the semi and final should Australia progress.

The Japan game will be broadcast via a combination of ABC News Radio and ABC Local Radio, with any remaining Socceroos matches broadcast entirely on ABC Local Radio.

Here are the details;

ABC News Radio from 8.15pm EST on Brisbane 936 AM, Darwin 102.5 FM, Melbourne 1026 AM, Adelaide 972AM, Perth 585 AM, Hobart 747 AM, Northern Tasmania 92.5 FM, Gold Coast 95.7 FM.
ABC Local Radio from approx 9pm EST in NSW, Queensland and the ACT.
ABC Local Radio from approx 9.30pm EST in Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia and the Northern Territory.
Semi Final and Final (if Australia progress)
Full Broadcast on ABC Local Radio

My understanding is the match will be called by Aaron Kearney and Phil Dando.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Asian Cup - Team of the Group Stage

NOW that the group stage is over, it’s time to cast an eye over the players that captured the imagination of Asia. Gotta say, it hasn’t been the easiest job given the quality we’ve seen in a tournament which has so far exceeded expectations. The thing is, quality was expected from the likes of Japan, Iran, South Korea, the Saudi’s and our own Socceroos, some of whom have been patchy at times, but it has been the performances from the so-called lesser-lights, the likes of Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia that have made an impression. Even the middle tier teams, the likes Iraq, Uzbekistan, Oman and China have caught the imagination, with some accomplished performers, so here is TRBA’s team of the group stages;

------------------Hong Son----------------------
---Teymourian-------------Minh Phong-------
------------Soria-------Al Qahtani----------------

Duong Hong Son, goalkeeper (Vietnam); caught out a little bit by Japan’s quality crosses and finishing on matchday 3, but his work up until then was outstanding. Brave and decisive, his early save against the UAE on md1, sharp down to his left, changed the game, while his work against Qatar was courageous. As responsible as anyone for getting Vietnam through to the quarter finals ahead of Qatar and the UAE, a massive achievement for such a small football nation.

Suree Sukha, right back (Thailand); along with Nashat Akram, perhaps the player of the tournament to date. It is a pity we will not be seeing him in the knock-outs. As in my report of the Socceroos/Thailand game, this bloke reminds me of Sevilla’s Dani Alves, a pocket dynamo that never stops running. His delivery was excellent in the main, and he rarely got caught out defensively. Dynamite. Hope to see him again.....soon.

Maman Abdurachman, central defender (Indonesia); not much of him, but along with his central defensive partner Charis Yulianto, defended with courage and conviction in all three games. When he got on the ball, he generally provided delightful service out of defence, allowing Indonesia to play their dynamic counter-attacking game.

Kiatpruwut Saiweao, central defender (Thailand); Have you ever seen a more relaxed and composed defender? Forget the hustle and bustle of modern football, this bloke plays the game at his own pace, controlling everything with his subtle left peg, a delight to watch. Was exposed in the air for the goal by Michael Beauchamp, but look what happened to Thailand’s defence when he limped off injured.

Ferydoon Zandi, left back (Iran); perhaps the hardest position to choose given the number of quality performers in this area. Indoensia’s Muhammed Ridwan proved why he is keeping Persik Kediri’s Erol Iba on the bench with some excellent displays, the mop-haired Uzbek Vitaliy Denisov has been full of energy, Yuichi Komano has provided wonderful width for Japan while Iraq’s Bassim Abbas of Lebanese club Al-Nejmeh has looked solid. But Zandi looks great coming forward, and he can deliver the ball.

Nashat Akram, defensive central midfield (Iraq); caught the eye in the first half of the first match of the tournament with a commanding display, both as a ball winner and ball user. Was even better against the Socceroos, scoring one, laying on another and combining beautifully with the likes of Younis Mahmoud and Hawar Mulla Mohammed. Imposing and elegant on the ball.

Andranik Teymourian, right midfield (Iran); does not stop. Incredible workrate, and while most of his teammates have struggled for composure in the front third, Teymourian has looked relaxed. Has been Iran’s best along with Javad Nekonam and gets in here ahead of Thailand’s Daksakorn Thonglao. Expect even more from the Bolton midfielder in the knock-outs.

Nguyen Minh Phong, left midfield (Vietnam); like Thailand’s Saiweao, plays the game at his own pace, having this amazing ability to always find space. Has been playing more on the right, getting the ball to feet, taking his time and picking out a pass. Created both goals in their crucial opening win over UAE.

Yasuhito Endo, attacking central midfield (Japan); while much of the pre-tournament focus was on big name Shunsuke Nakamura, it has been Japan’s other creative influence, Endo, who has really stood out. Technically brilliant and mobile, he has featured prominently in all the good work Japan has been doing down the left, combing beautifully with Komano, the two Nakamura’s and Takahara. Not a noted goal-getter, he scored a beauty from dead-ball on md3 and gets in ahead of Uzbek's impressive driving midfielder Timur Kapadze.

Sebastien Soria, striker (Qatar); the Uruguayan, left on his own up front, worked his socks off in all three games and was rewarded with all three Qatari goals, scoring two crucial late equalisers against Japan and Vietnam. Pity he didn't have much support.

Yasser Al Qahtani, striker (Saudi Arabia); built low to the ground, he demonstrated a remarkable leap to power a header home against Indonesia. Powerful and skilful, he is often found dropping deep to pick up the ball, either to run past defenders or link up with likes of Malek and his namesake Abdulrahman Al Qahtani. Has been involved in most of the Saudi’s best moments.

Others that have caught they eye

Indonesia; Elie Aiboy, Muhammed Ridwan, Budi Sudarsono, Firman Utina, Markus Horison
Korea; Lee Chun-soo, Kim Jung-woo
Iran; Javed Nekonam, Ali Karimi, Javed Kazemian
Thailand; Datsakorn Thonglao, Kiatisuk Senamuang, Suchao Nutnum, Pipat Thonkanya
Iraq; Hawar Mulla Mohammed, Younis Mahmoud
Oman; Mohamed Rabia, Ahmed ‘Kanu’ Mubarak
Japan; Kengo Nakamuta, Shunsuke Nakamura, Naohiro Takahara, Seiichiro Maki, Keita Suzuki
UAE; Ismail Matar
Australia; Mark Milligan
China; Han Peng, Zheng Zhi
Uzbekistan; Vitaliy Denisov, Server Djeparov, Timur Kapadze, Maksim Shatskikh
Malaysia; Sukhor Adan
Saudi Arabia; Abdulrahman Al Qahtani, Malek Maaz

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Far from Thai-rific, but it was much better

Asian Cup matchday 3, Thailand 0 vs Australia 4

AGAINST the ropes, battered by a barrage of upper-cuts from fans and left hooks from the media, and supposedly dogged by internal discord, the Socceroos last night produced a display full of the character that has been missing throughout this campaign to force themselves into the second round.

After appalling displays in their opening two Asian Cup games, against Oman and Iraq, the Socceroos finally took the advice of their most recognised player, Harry Kewell, and “pulled the finger out”.

The result was a 4-0 hiding that ultimately flattered Australia and wasn't assured until 10 minutes from time, when skipper Mark Viduka took a Tim Cahill cross on the chest, held off a challenge from Niweat Siriwong, and dinked his shot past the keeper and in off the chest of the impeccable Suree Sukha.

It wasn’t a smashing performance by any means from the Roos. Indeed, most of the best football on this wet night at the Rajamangala was dished up the hosts, who continued to play with the verve and swerve that has won them countless admirers around Asia, but ultimately hasn’t been enough to propel them into the quarter finals.

Sometimes, in football, as in life, there is no justice. The Thais have produced the goods in all three of their games and finished up with four points.

The Socceroos, by contrast, have shone in only their final game and are through to a quarter final.

Before getting into a dissection of Australia’s latest performance, let me take a moment to reflect on what has been one of the joys of this Asian Cup, watching the Thais wow Asia.

In Sukha, Thailand have the Asian Dani Alves, an incredible combination of top-notch technique and remarkable drive. One second he’s overlapping down the right wing, twisting and turning, getting beyond his defender, whipping a cross in, the next he is back in central midfield making a vital challenge to break up a Socceroos counter-attack, and then a second or so later he’s deep in his own penalty box acting as the last line of cover. Remarkable.

Tragic that Viduka’s clincher came off him, but who else would have had the energy to be there?

As I’d noted in my comment ahead of this game, he truly has been a revelation and would be a prized pick-up for any team around the world.

And he wouldn’t be the only one. Everywhere you looked the Thais were excelling. While he might have been beaten aerially by Michael Beauchamp for the Socceroos opener, central defender Kiatpruwat Siaweao has been great to watch, a model of composure and comfort on the ball, thanks to a cultured left foot. Ultimately he limped off here and Thailand’s defence suffered.

In midfield, they have had dynamic buzzers like Dakskorn Thonglao (only a substitute last night but brilliant in the opening two games), skipper Tawan Sripan and Suchao Nutnum, all comfortable on the ball and pacey enough to really trouble the Socceroos midfield.

Vinnie Grella will be having nightmares for weeks seeing a bunch of Thai midfielders bearing down on him.

Their performances will live in the memory and manager Chanvit Polchovin was spot on, but ultimately they couldn’t break down the Socceroos stubborn and desperate resistance at the back.

Beleaguered manager Graham Arnold had called for some ‘spark’ in the build-up to this game and in Mark Milligan he got both Spark and Spike.

Patrolling a new look three man rearguard, Sydney FCs frequent-flyer was everywhere, covering the right whenever Brett Emerton ventured forward, covering the left when Beauchamp was dragged wide and making countless last-ditched tackles as the pressure mounted in the second period. Demonstrating the desperation that has been absent on matchdays 1 and 2, it is easy to see why he is fast becoming a main man is whatever team he suits up form, be it FC or the Olyroos. On this evidence, you could almost add the Socceroos.

If Sukha was the man of the match, Milligan wasn’t far behind, and even if the petulant Lucas Neill comes back for the quarter final on Saturday, Milligan must be retained.

Here he was part of a new-look 3-4-1-2, which included FC teammate David Carney, on the left side of midfield, and John Aloisi up front. It meant a move for Luke Wilkshire to the right side of midfield, where he looked far more comfortable, controlling both Sukee Suksomkit and Nataporn Phanrit.

Mark Bresciano, perhaps lucky to survive the chop, was shifted into the hole behind the front-two, where he was much more involved. Execution could have been better, again. Harry Kewell was saved for later.

Only a few seconds in it was plainly obvious that the Aussies, stung by the criticism, most of it valid, were up for this one. The tackles were flying in, the energy great.

Jason Culina was biting in everywhere, trying to out-buzz the Thai buzzers. He was excellent, not far behind Milligan in his will to win.

Nearby Grella was struggling to control the game, but never gave up.

For once the set-piece delivery looked better, with Carney providing a bit of variety on the left-peg. Recognising that they had a real opportunity to capitalise on their aerial superiority, the Roos are reported to have practiced the set-piece that broke the deadlock long and hard. Here was the reward. Good work Arnold, good delivery from Wilkshire and great hunger from Beauchamp.

The Socceroos finally had the edge, one they appeared desperate not to relinquish, despite the odd nervy moment from Mark Schwarzer and the workrate of the tireless Kiatisuk Senamuang.

Even the introduction of goal-sneak Pipat Thonkanya with half an hour left failed to level things up. He fluffed his one genuine chance.

It was left to the Socceroos star benchies, Kewell and Cahill, to make a telling impact, almost a replica of what we saw in Singapore. Bravo Arnold for finally keeping them in reserve.

Cahill was particularly influential on this night, laying on all three late goals, the first two with crosses for Viduka, the last with an early ball into the path of the fresh Kewell, who finished with aplomb.

The only mystery after that is why Brett Holman was introduced ahead of Nick Carle, who is still waiting for his first minute at this cup, despite the poor form of those ahead of him.

When the Socceroos were under intense pressure throughout the second half, the game was crying out for someone with the ability to keep the ball.

The performance will need to improve for Japan, but after what has gone on before, it’s just great to be through.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Honeymoon over; Arnold's Favourites all but out

Asian Cup matchday 2, Australia 1 v Iraq 3

ORGANISED, united, spirited, disciplined, composed, classly, on the same wave-length and playing to a plan. It's everything you would want from a football team. That was Iraq.

Unstructured, undisciplined, under-prepared, strung-out, clueless, one-dimensional, catastrophic. Welcome to the Socceroos, version 2007.

This has been a learning experience like few before, for everyone - players, fans, media, manager, support staff and the governing body.

So much for the suppossed X factor that Steve Waugh saw after spending a few days in camp a couple of weeks back.

So much for the favouritism tag.

So much for waltzing through the group stage.

So much for the prevailing attitude that anything but the final would amount to failure.

We've become the champions of talk. Pity we haven't yet been able to get into a walk. As in life, respect and humility should be the guiding principles.

This is the wake up call Australia football needed, before we got too far ahead of ourselves.

Truth is that had it not been for the vision of Frank Lowy and his ability to convince Guus Hiddink to manage our German World Cup campaign, we wouldn't have made it to the finals for the first time in 32 years. We'd still be waiting. He pulled all the right moves, on the field and off it, at the right time.

Truth is that had it not been for Hiddink, we wouldn't have dished up the quality of football we witnessed this time last year, let alone got anywhere near the top 16 teams in the world.

It's this reason why Lowy has been reluctant to back Arnold as Hiddink's long-term successor, despite all the pressure that has been heaped on him here to do so.

It's because ultimately he knows Arnold hasn't the tools to take us to the World Cup, never mind doing something when we're there.

Australia is still a relative baby in world football terms and the sooner we all realise it, the better off we'll be. Time to take stock and accept we need to keep learning.

No doubt Australia has the players and talent to do the job on the world stage, but we still need to be nutured and taught, not pampered and spoilt into believing we know it all.

Here the Iraqi's gave the ultimate tuition thanks to some wonderful football from the likes of Nashat Akram, Younis Mahmoud and Hawar Mulla Mohammed.

Jorvan Vieira had his skilful unit well organised, disciplined and calculated, everything the Socceroos weren't. Akram was the craftsmen, the front two the executioners.

While the Roos performance was slightly better than Sunday night, there were still too many signs that Arnold had lost control.

Moving the ball around far too slowly, leaving too much room between the three lines, never getting in touch with each other, resorting to the aerial ball far too often, allowing our frustrations to boil-over, looking for excuses, taking short-cuts, tacking out frustraions on the opposition and the officials, making poor decisions in defence and on the ball; they were all symptoms of a team/camp which hasn't looked happy.

In my most recent Asian Cup post, after the Oman game, I signed off by saying that Australia still had a hope if the players could prove they wanted to be there and the manager started pulling the right punches.
Neither did the job on this night and the most short-changed people are those that have invested their time and money to follow the team through Asia.
Arnold's post-match comments to Fox Sport's Murray Shaw that "some players don't want to be here" drew a perplexed yet defiant response from skipper Mark Viduka. Boy will the next couple of days be interesting.
But for Mile Sterjovski, Arnold stuck with his 'big guns', perhaps reasoning that they deserved a chance to atone for their Oman performance. No doubt they let him down.
Perhaps the most disappointing of the lot was "golden boy" Lucas Neill, petulant throughout. After speaking for a week about the need for his team to keep the ball, his first use of it was a wasteful long ball in search of his skipper. It didn't get any better from there, his work often ponderous, ending up in him getting two cards.
Apart from Emerton and Wilkshire, few could hold their heads up high in this game. Schwarzer, often the hero, proved, as he did at the World Cup, that he is still shaky in dealing with crosses.
The evidence has been there throughout that the players have been running this campaign. It is a fine balance between being a friend and letting the players have too much of a say.

The miracle in the wash-up of all this is that all is not lost. Australia is still a chance of getting out of the group. A win over Thailand on Monday, coupled with an Iraqi win or draw against Oman will ensure passage to final eight, but on the evidence of this display, you wouldn't bet on it.

Arnold will need to lay down the law, put friendships aside, and the senior players will need to accept it. We shall see.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Mariners keen to revive the verve for Version 1

MANAGED to make the short trip to ‘The Gabbie’ - otherwise known as Fairfax Community Stadium, the home of the Blacktown City Demons - on Saturday evening to see how the Central Coast Mariners are fairing ahead the pre-season cup which kicks-off this weekend with a home clash against the ‘new’ Wellington Phoenix.

Not too bad a cappuccino out there, especially on such a nippy night, and I’m pleased to report the football was just as good.

Watching it with The Football Tragic and a couple of his mates from the Coast, it was a decent tune-up for the Mariners against the NSW Premier League minor premiers, who were themselves using the game to maintain the momentum ahead of this weeks finals series, which sees them pitted against Bankstown City in the major semi at Jensen Park on Sunday.

No doubt manager Aytec Genc had last season’s 4-0 drubbing in the grand final in the back of his mind when he agreed to this game. No week off for his boys this time around.

It turned out to be a valuable exercise for both clubs, the Mariners holding on for win 2-1 after taking a two goal lead into the break.

To lend a well-worn-out cliché, it truly was a game of two halves, with the Mariners dominating and controlling the opening period before Genc’s Blacktown came back into it in a big way in the second.

Missing Nick Mrdja, Greg Owens, Adam Kwasnik and Tony Vidmar, and with Paul O’Grady on the bench, Lawrie McKinna would have been best pleased with a first half display that featured incisive performances from midfield stars Tom Pondeljak and Andre Gumprecht.

Pondeljak, in particular, was buzzing, driving diagonally from right side of midfield, getting on the end of a Sasho Petrovski flick-on for the first, before being involved in the build-up to John Hutinchson’s second.

The performance of Pondeljak, one of Australian football’s best attacking midfielders of the past decade, was a reminder of just how much the Mariners were affected by his injury-interrupted campaign last season. Ditto with Gumprecht, who was full of energy early, despite the odd heavy touch.

If the Mariners hope to get back to the eye-catching brand of pass-and-move football that so defined their first season, then the health and happiness of these two veterans will be paramount.

Here, Gumprecht played centrally, ahead of the outstanding ball-winner Mile Jedinak, freshly signed to a full contract. Pondeljak was on the outside, but always willing to drift infield, supposedly to open the space for Matt Osman to press-on from right back, but Osman went down early and was replaced by Brad Porter.

Another reason for Coastie fans to get excited was the return from Germany of first season star left back Dean Heffernan. On the evidence of this display, fans of the Mariners and the Socceroos should be pleased to see him back. His combination with Damien Brown (tucked infield on the left of a midfield diamond to allow The Heff to forage forward) was good.

Timing is everything and had the Asian Cup come a year earlier and the circumstances been the same, there is every likelihood that Heffernan would have been a part of things given our problems on the left side of defence.

While the trademark marauding runs were limited, it was clear that his touch and awareness have improved after a year of professional German tutelage. Game-time he might not have received, but an education in the football ways he no doubt did. Expect to see a better, if slightly less spectacular, footballer.

The other impresser at the back was 20 year old Nigel Boogaard, who has been on the Mariners books for the past two seasons but seen only one minute of action 17 months ago. He started centrally alongside Alex Wilkinson and looked comfortable and composed, perhaps one to keep an eye out for.

Later, in the second period, when Blacktown was pressing, O’Grady came on, forcing Boogaard to right back and Porter into right midfield. Truth be told, the Mariners looked better with Boogaard and Wilkinson in tandem. With O’Grady and Wilkinson together they were often caught out by the long ball, a characteristic of their partnership last season.

Up front there was an opportunity to see one of the Sydney recruits, Petrovksi (didn’t spot Peter Turnbull anywhere), and he was presentable without being brilliant. Perhaps his most topical (some might say typical) contribution was a second half, late, over-the-ball challenge on Blacktown left back Brendan Renaud, which didn’t best please the man who doubles up as Sydney FC's Community Football Officer.

Having watched him at least 100 times in the NSL, it’s fair to say I’ve never seen Renaud, the most gentle of men, so fired up. Perhaps there were some unresolved issues from their time together at FC, but the verbals and finger-pointing were still going-on as Renaud departed the pitch.

Petrovski has always been the type to divide opinion, and Mariners fans will be hoping their impression of him is mainly positive and that he can forge a lethal partnership with Mrdja, if the latter can stay on the pitch. It’s a mouth-watering prospect on paper.

As for the Demons, after barely being able to get out of their own half in the first period, they showed typical character to get themselves back in the contest after the break, even with influential talisman Tolgay Ozbey resting in the grandstand. Once again, it was an even contribution from all involved.

Interesting times lie ahead for both teams, Blacktown hoping to exorcise the Demons of last season’s final day, the Mariners keen to revive the verve of Version 1.

Stay tuned.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Oman provide Shocker-Roos with a wake up call

Asian Cup opener, Australia 1 vs Oman 1

“MAYBE that was the wake up call we needed,” skipper Mark Viduka told Foxsports’s Murray Shaw after last nights shock draw in the Asian Cup opener against Oman.

One can only hope it shakes the Socceroos out of their lethargy, for last nights performance was perhaps the most disappointing senior national team display since the 2005 Confederations Cup.

While some might point to last September’s 2-0 loss in Asian Cup qualifiers in Kuwait City as being close, the fact is there was a massive gulf in the preparation (a couple of training sessions) and stakes (safety out of the group assured) for that game and this tournament.

Here the Socceroos have had a couple of weeks to acclimatise and most of the big guns are on deck, making yesterday’s showing alarming. Yes, the 34 degree sticky conditions played a part, but most of the problems appear to be between the ears.

Hitherto too much has been made of the conditions. Last week the squad spoke of the need to adopt a conservative approach.

‘We won’t be pressing for the full 90 minutes’ was the mantra, and they were right about that.

Instead, the Socceroos barely pressed at all, giving the talented Omani’s far too much space and time on the ball, allowing them to string the passes and control the tempo of the game, fatal against any team, let alone one that has been preparing for this match for a month.

Even up until a few days ago most of the people in and around the Socceroos squad had admitted to knowing little about the opposition. If it wasn’t arrogance, it was close. At the very least it wasn’t the doting of the ‘i’s’ and crossing of the ‘t’s’ that so defined Germany ‘06.

Seemingly the focus was on the knockouts when it should have been on picking up maximum points in the opener, just as it was a year ago.

Instead it was the Omani’s doing the homework. Clearly they’d learnt a thing or two about how well Singapore (for large periods) defended the likes of Bresciano, Sterjovski, Holman and Viduka, for they never allowed our men to turn and face goal.

With Kewell man-marked by the impressive Ahmed ‘Kanu’ Mubarak (#12), Viduka was largely left isolated by the double-teaming efforts at the back. Wherever he went, deep or wide, the well-organised back four of skipper Mohamed Al Noobi (#2), Juma Al Wahaibi (#3), Said Suwailim (#4) and Hassan Al Gheilani (#17) were in close proximity, never allowing Australia’s chief playmaker any luxury or time on the ball.

It was Cannavaro-esque in its execution.

Every time Australia went forward our attackers had two or three men to contend with and the supply was often blocked-off by the willing workers in midfield, Mubarak, Ahmad Hadid (#21) and left-sided Ismail Al-Ajmi (#15).

With our front four blunted, Omani manager Gabriel Calderon went about constructing his attack through the width of Yousef Al-Busaidi (#11) down the right, Ismail down the left (which kept Wilkshire and Emerton busy) and the impressive playmaker Bader Al Maimani (#8), popping up all over the place, in behind the lively and mobile Amad Al Hosni (#20).

Whereas the Socceroos quartet were bottled-up, the Omani front four were allowed the luxury to express themselves on the ball – demonstrating great technique - and the space to break-forward with pace and purpose.

It was calculated, detailed and part of a plan, buzz-words of the Australian game just 12 short months ago.

Right now the words that describe Australia’s recent efforts are lucky, flattering and disorganised.

As I’d hinted in my most recent post, a stretched Australian defence looked there for the taking, and had it not been for a number of strong interventions from Mark Schwarzer, the game might have been buried beyond our reach.

Whereas the defence under Hiddink had looked in-touch and in-control most of the time, suddenly it was being pulled apart by a bit of nous. When Al Hosni darted down the left, Emerton was out of position, forcing Neill, the left of two central defenders, to scamper across to the right, creating space infield for Al Maimani to finish.

The break came and Arnold reacted rather predictably. Instead of shaking up his unit by taking off one of his ‘stars’, it was Sterjovski who made way for Aloisi. Admittedly he’d been terrible, but no more than Bresciano or any number of big-names.

Unable to break through Oman on the ground, the Socceroos, riding their luck at the other end, resorted to the ‘Japan Plan B’ aerial route, just the receipt for the late show man Timmy Cahill to pick up the pieces.

It provided a get out of jail card, at least for now, but unless the Socceroos start demonstrating that they really want to be there, and Arnold starts pulling the right punches, it could indeed be the wake-up call we all needed.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Depth in numbers saves the Socceroos

Pre Asian Cup friendly, Singapore 0 v Socceroos 3

NO doubt about it, last night's 3-0 scoreline flattered the Socceroos. But it also proved that Graham Arnold has a deep squad and plenty of attacking options, something that could prove telling in the heat and humidity of Asia throughout the upcoming month.

Ultimately, it wasn't until Harry Kewell and Archie Thompson were introduced in the final 30 minutes, against the tiring Singaporeans, that the gulf in class between these two sides really told.

For much of the opening hour, the hosts, led defensively by skipper Aide Iskandar (#5) and inspired by the front duo of Indra Sahdan and the very impressive and mobile Khairul Amri (#19) punched well above their weight.

Indeed, it wasn't until the hard-working defensive midfielder Mustafic Fahruddin and skipper Iskandar limped off late in the second period that the Socceroos were finally able to put the game to bed.

Pressing the Socceroos all over the pitch, Singapore were able to frustrate Australia's attack, especially our two wide players in Marco (or is it Mark?) Bresciano and Mile Sterjovski. They took a particular liking to the Palermo man, snapping at his heels and getting in his back every time he dropped to receive the ball.

Meanwhile, Singapore's English left back Daniel Bennett was doing an admirable job of denying Sterjovski the ball.

Even our big man up top, skipper Mark Viduka, was rarely allowed the luxury to receive and turn, Singapore's wonderfully named Nigerian stopper, Precious Emuejeraye, doubling up with Iskander to restrict Viduka from facing goal.

But the big man, in his current form (and mood), is such a class act he was able to withstand the pressure and do as he does best - bring his teammates into the game. His reward was a couple of much-overdue goals, hopefully a sign that he is about to dominate these smaller Asian defences.

No-one profited more from his offerings than the second striker Brett Holman, ghosting into the box late to get on the end of a number of chances. Still feeling his way into the national set-up, the pity was that he often rushed, subsequently snapping and mis-hitting his chances.

On another night, with a Cahill, Kewell or even a Carle tucked in behind Viduka, Australia might have racked up a few early ones.

As it was, Singapore gradually got themsleves into the game, and looked particualrly effervescent on the counter-attack. It was clever work from their Serbian manager, Radojko Avramovic, who set out a neat template and has clearly got this team ticking in the right direction.

No one was more impressive than Amri, a constant headache for our back four, whether he popped up on the right, left or through the middle. A class act, it is little wonder he has bagged so many in the S-League.

Profitting from his workrate was his co-striker Indra, who had a number of chances either denied by the post or the big frame of Mark Schwarzer.

Perhaps the Socceroos had been guilty of underestimating the hosts a fraction. One of the sloppiest in the first period was Lucas Neill, who twice gave the ball away in trying to build from the back.

The first time he left Patrick Kisnorbo isolated and the Leciester man reacted to an early long ball by fouling his man and earning a yellow. The second time he was no doubt greatful that Schwarzer stood up to Indra.

Indeed, the back four often looked shaky, rarely being in touch with each other. There is little doubt the Socceroos currently play an attractive game built around controlling the ball. But it is also a high risk game and the team must remember that it not only has to control possession, but it has to control the opposition.

That can hardly be said of last night's performance. Singapore provided somewhat of a template for other teams; if you like to build through the counter-attack, Arnold's men often looked prime for the picking.

How Arnold handles the balance between getting enough men forward and not leaving the team exposed could decide the Socceroos fate in Bangkok (and beyond, if there is to be one).

I have already written about the importance of finding a replacement for Scott Chipperfield, and last night only served to emphasise the point, with Luke Wilkshire doing an ok-ish job without ever really looking at ease. Given his wonderful service, in whatever position, over the past 12 or so months, he still appears the safest bet.

Indeed, it wasn't the greatest night for the defensive axis, with Emerton also below his best, partly due to an excellent contribution from Singapore left midfielder Si Jia Yi, while Vince Grella had one of his more quiet nights of late, looking tired. Little doubt the conditions and the recent double-sessions played a part.

But the good news is that they were able to ride their luck enough for Kewell to again make a sparkling contribution in the green and gold. While Liverpool fans - my hand is up - are often left frustrated by Kewell's injures and hot and cold form, there is no-one who can doubt his efforts and match-winning contributions for the Socceroos over the past 11 years.

The hope is that he can stay on the pitch long enough over the next 28 days to win Australia some silverware. Little doubt his partnership with Dukes offers mouth-watering prospects.

With the likes of Bresciano, Culina, Emerton, Sterjovski, Neill and Viduka coming off taxing European seasons, the hope is that the freshness of Kewell, Cahill, Thompson and Carle can provide a spark.

Little doubt that Arnold is blessed with one of the deepest squads in Asia and that could prove telling.