Friday, September 28, 2007

Breathtaking Brazil

YESTERDAY was a beautiful day for the round ball game. On the back of Barcelona’s flowing show in the morning, I could not believe my eyes when watching the Brazilian women’s national team in last night’s stunning 4-0 semi final win over world number one, the United States. Breathtaking.

It’s fair to say I, like many, have been blown away by the standard of this women’s world cup, and last night’s performance was just another classic from a nation that continues to put a smile on the faces of football followers around the world.

Some of the skill displayed by the likes of Marta (in particular), Daniela and Cristiane was the sort of stuff you rarely see from the men these days, and if you want to have a look for yourself, then check out the highlights via the official site.

Yes, the US had a player sent off, yes their manager Greg Ryan erred in selecting veteran Briana Scurry over regular custodian Hope Solo, but nothing could have stopped the Samba girls in such fine form.

Talk about lighting it up when it most matters.

Little wonder Craig Foster was waxing so lyrically, and fellow blogger Hamish has written a piece this morning extending the virtues of the women’s game, and I tend to agree.

It’s wasn’t so long ago Sepp Blatter said ‘the future of the game is feminine’. If the numbers switching to the game across Australia and around the globe aren’t enough to convince, then Brazil’s performance last night most definitely should.

In my mind, it truly was a defining match for the women’s game.

Even my local grassroots club, St Josephs Rydalmere, has just, for the first time, crowned its senior player of the season, a female. Take a bow Katherine Bacha.

Meanwhile, our Matildas were among those turning heads in China, especially our pacey duo up front, Lisa De Vanna and Sarah Walsh, feed often by the wonderful left feet of Collette McCullam and Heather Garriock.

Yes, there are still a few things we need to do better tactically, but the depth is improving, and fast.

That has been the endearing hallmark of this tournament for me, the quality of many of the girls on the ball and their increasing ability to cover the ground. Brazil, for example, has pace all over the pitch, and their individual and collective technical standards are exceptional.

But as Sepp Blatter has pointed out (scroll down for his technical analysis) and all of our girls have been crying out for some time, there is an urgent need for some professional leagues around the world, and there is no reason why Australia shouldn’t be a world driver in this regard.

In the words of the great cricket correspondent Peter Roebuck, dammit, I’m a convert.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

'Barca at their Brilliant Best'

La Liga match wrap, Barcelona 4 v Real Zaragoza 1

IF you can get access to ESPN tonight at 8pm AEST, do yourself a favour a tune into the replay of this morning’s round 5 La Liga clash between Barcelona and Real Zaragoza at the Nou Camp.

You won’t regret it, unless of course you’re a Zaragoza fans. But even then you would have to sit there and marvel at the joy of watching Barca in full flow.

For fans of the beautiful game, this was just about as good as it gets, especially in this day and age of stifle, defend-first football. As the reputable commentator Derek Rae gestured, despite the cynicism of his side-kick Tommy Smyth (never the biggest Barca fan), this was “champagne football”, “Barcelona at their brilliant best”.

After a stuttering start to their campaign, with has featured 0-0 draws at both Santander and Osasuna, Barca appear back on course after wins against Lyon, Sevilla and now Zaragoza, admittedly all at home. There are few prettier sights in world football, perhaps with the exception of a free-flowing Arsenal or Roma, than watching Messer’s Messi, Iniesta, Deco, Xavi and Henry in full flight.

The first half was out of this world, and as usually, it was the little Argentine at heart of most that was good, bagging two and playing a lethal had in the third. No Ronnie, no worries.

One regular TRBA reader, Barcelona fan Adam, has been in my ear for the past couple of years, reminding me that it won’t be long before Messi is the best player in the world. Given the trademark smile has disappeared from Ronnie’s face since Germany ‘06, I think it’s fair to say Messi is there, especially since going up a level this season, as many Aussies were privileged to see first hand.

Here, his first was brilliant, driving from deep on the right in trademark style from outside to in, slaloming past defenders with the ball glued to his feet, linking up on the edge of the box with Henry before shaping his first time effort around Cesar Sanchez.

After a wonderful Zapater equaliser, Messi was back at it, profiting from some good ball-winning on the edge of the box from Deco, before playing in the Portuguese playmaker, who teed it up for Iniesta.

While Messi was the chief, he had a whole heap of willing helpers, with Deco seemingly back to his best after a poor last season, his worst since bursting onto the European scene at Porto. Also influential was the mercurial Spaniard, Iniesta, shaping up on the left, in space normally occupied by Ronaldinho.

On one occasion, Iniesta took a sublime 50 metre cross-field ball, cushioning it and dinking it over his marker with just one touch. The gasps from the Nou Camp faithful said it all.

Barca’s only frustration up front was the fact Henry couldn’t open his La Liga account to go with his Champions League tap-in against Lyon, but that was largely down to some good work from Sanchez.

Yet, for all this flow and show, perhaps Barca’s most promising addition is that of holding midfielder Yaya Toure, younger brother of Arsenals’ Kolo, who appears simple, neat and measured in everything he does. It’s early days, but he looks the goods.

So too, on this evidence, do Barca’s hopes of regaining the title they didn’t want last season.

If you missed it, make sure get yourself a copy or tune in to ESPN’s reply tonight. If you managed to catch it this morning, what were your impressions?

Monday, September 24, 2007

Blue skies at last as the Brazilian beat begins

A-League round 5 analysis

NJ 2 v MV 2
WP 2 v AU 2
QR 0 v SFC 1
CCM 1 v PG 0

AFTER the gloom of the past few weeks, it was great to see some blue sky over the weekend, the standard of play improving across the board, providing some decent entertainment at most of the venues.

Probably the pick of the lot came in the first match, the one between the two best sides of last season, Newcastle and Melbourne.

Gary van Egmond, the Jets manager, had promised some free-flowing football from his side and that’s exactly what they delivered, all but playing the winless champions off the pitch in the first period.

Much of this improved football was down to not only the make-up of the midfield (Adam D’Apuzzo in for Jobe Wheelhouse made a massive difference, his good work complementing the technical capabilities of Denni and Stuart Musalik), but the renewed focus on movement off the ball. Troy Hearfield was playing up front, and moving all over the place along with Joel Griffiths, Mark Bridge and Denni. The Victory defence was all over the place, almost as if a couple of Derby defenders had suddenly been drafted in.

Complement the movement up front with the drive and excellent use of the ball from Andrew Durante down the right, and it was Jets throwing all the punches. The tragedy for them was that they weren’t able to kill off the game early in the second period, Michael Theoklitos keeping the visitors in it with a couple of fine saves.

While Leandro Love was quiet early, Ernie Merrick’s patience was eventually rewarded, Love showing some good feet as he started peeling out to the left and providing Melbourne with the width they have been lacking this season.

One piece of good work resulted in a well delivered cross for Archie Thompson to prod home, and by the time Adrian Cacares was introduced, perhaps the Jets were thinking about all their missed chances. After an excellent few weeks, Adam Griffiths will want to forget the equaliser in a hurry.

The irony is that Newcastle had played well and only picked up a point, whereas in past fortnight they had been less convincing and won. On the evidence of this performance, there is hope for their fans they can do both, while Melbourne at least demonstrated some fight.

Another team that has made a habit of fighting back is Wellington. After last week’s come from behind win in Sydney and the round one heroics against Melbourne, the Phoenix kept the feel-good factor going with a late equaliser in front of another bumper and loud home crowd.

It was another entertaining, yet physical affair, most of the flair coming from the four Brazilians starters and most of the fireworks coming in the confrontation between Karl Dodd and Bruce Djite.

The one time the Olyroo was able to escape the attentions of Dodd he was able to hold off Steven O’Dor, turn and put Adelaide into a deserved lead.

While United dominated the midfield and flooded forward down the left through Cassio, Wellington always looked likely at the other end through the wonderful gifts, mobility and surprising strength of Felipe. Not all the Brazilians are struggling to adapt to the physicality of this league. Indeed, collectively, it was their best weekend by some way.

Adelaide looked sharp and incisive throughout, but had to deal with the deep and crowding defending of Wellington. On this evidence, United should soon start winning, but the aerial work of Robert Bajic will need addressing.

Another thing that needs addressing quick smart is that finishing of the Queensland Roar strikers, who continue to frustrate. While they came up against a hungry Sydney and a keeper that tends to save his best work for his trips to the northern state, just how much can the Suncorp crowd continue to take?

Already this season I have delved on a number of occasions into just how invisible both Ante Milicic and Simon Lynch have been, yet when the heat was on and Frank Farina was looking for an equaliser, he took-off Reinaldo instead of Lynch (Milicic was already off). As frustrating as he can be, at least Reinaldo was presenting and getting on the end of things.

The fact Farina had to resort to throwing Sash Ognenovski up front told of his frustrations. Sydney, battered by the press, clearly came with a smash-and-grab siege mentality and applied it to a tee, picking their moment to pounce.

Afforded a rare bit of space in midfield, Ruben Zadkovich proved it’s within his capabilities to deliver a final ball and picked out the movement of Steve Corica, who laid it on a plate for Patrick, who couldn’t miss.

FC had defended desperately for most of the match, and in all likelihood would have been punished by a more ruthless side than Farina’s, but their first win should at least provide a starting point for their season. Branko Culina still has much work to do, but at least the attitude was right on this night. Sydney fans will be hoping the football follows.

For now they join the traffic on five points.

How either side at Suncorp could have done with the cutting edge of Sasho Petrovski, whose finishing again proved to be the difference between the two sides yesterday.

Ron Smith had given the Perth formation a shake-up by relegating Mate Dragicevic to the bench and drafting in James Robinson, and early on they looked up for the challenge, with Mitchell Prentice and David Micevski combining well and dominating central midfield.

But gradually the Mariners wrestled back the control. While gun-for-hire Damien Mori was quiet, it was Petrovski who grabbed the game at the start of the second half and gave it a shake, eventually getting his reward a moment or two after some clueless work at the other end from Tyler Simpson.

That minute or so summed up the match and their respective positions on the ladder – impotent at one end, lethal at the other.

TRBA team of the week (3-4-1-2)

Goalkeeper; Clint Bolton (SFC)
Defenders; Andrew Durante (NJ), Mark Rudan (SFC), Ian Fyfe (SFC)
Midfield; Ruben Zadkovich (SFC), Stuart Musalik (NJ), Diego (AU), Cassio (AU)
Attacking midfield; Felipe (WP)
Strikers; Sasho Petrovski (CCM), Leandro Love (MV)

Friday, September 21, 2007

Gary on the big picture

FURTHER to my piece earlier in the week about the need to keep an eye on the big picture and ensure the product that teams dish-up remains appestising, it was great to read Gary van Egmond’s views on the matter in this morning’s Sydney Morning Herald;

There's a real onus on all the coaches in the A-League to entertain, I truly believe that. We could all be completely and utterly boring to try and make sure we keep our jobs, but we have a duty to entertain the crowds, to try and play football the way it should be played.

Spot on Gary. While most managers would simply be satisfied with his position on the ladder (second, only one goal against), it was good to read that he isn’t happy with the Jets’s performances to date and that he will be demanding more;

Have we fallen short? Very much so. We've talked about it as a group, and we're not happy with the way we've been playing … It's a matter of getting the likes of Denni and Mario [Jardel] used to the way we play the game.

Refreshing stuff indeed from a manager whose star continues to rise.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

QA; it's time to slow down

ALMOST by universal acclaim, it was predicted the third version of the A-League would be closest yet, but this close?

After four rounds, almost 20% of the regular season gone, we're averaging a poor 1.8 goals per game, with nine of the 16 games ending in draws, four of them goal-less. Only four teams have experienced the winning feeling, only the Jets and Mariners more than once.

But it's not just been the draws that have been the problem, it's been the quality of football on offer, or lack thereoff.

Quite simple, the league has been too physical for it's own good. Everyone is fitter, more athletic and better organised, but it's been to the detriment of the quality on offer.

The prevailing belief in the pre-season was that the infiltration of 13 or so Brazilians and South American's would improve the quality of the product, but the reality so far is that most have struggled to adapt to the physicality, a case in point being the Jets's Denni, who was replaced in the first half on Saturday night after finding the going tough against United enforcer Jonas Salley.

Another technician, Adrian Caceres, also made way early in the Victory v Mariners game for the more competitive Steve Pantelidis.

Gary van Egmond stated bluntly after the match that Denni was struggling to adapt to the physical nature of the competition, as was the Argentine signing Jorge Drovandi, barely sighted.

Not surprisingly Denni's most effective game came in round 2 against Queensland, when the Roar were missing their own two enforcers, Craig Moore and Danny Tiatto, through suspension. With youngster Chris Grossman playing in the holding midfield role, it's little wonder Denni had more space.
Over to the competition's marquee man, Juninho, who has had to deal with the hits from behind more than most, because of his reputation. In round one, he spent the first 40 minutes trying to shake off Mile Jedinak, who took both man and ball every time Sydney played it to Juninho. It wasn't until Jedinak was yellow carded, just before the break, that Juninho finally had a bit of space and was able to create a couple of openings.
In round two, against Adelaide, he had to face up to not only Salley, but Angelo Costanzo, a double whammy. While he proved he is able to ride a challenge better than most, it eventually caught up on him, the little fella injuring his shoulder after hitting the ground for the upteenth time.

Salley isn't the only A-League hardman playing in midfield. The champions Melbourne have Kevin Muscat and Grant Brebner. The Mariners have workhorses in Mile Jedinak, John Hutchinson and Andre Gumprecht. Tom Pondeljak, a player appreciated for his subtlety, couldn't get a look in until Sasho Petrovski went down injured on Sunday.

Queensland Roar, after experimenting in the first two weeks, have moved tough man Danny Tiatto into the holding role where he's been very influential. Fit striker Reinaldo was used last weekend as a midfield workhorse.

In the past two weeks, Ross Aloisi has been partnered by Richard Johnson and the Phoenix have looked far more competitive. Not surprisingly, their playmaker, Felipe, has had two good games in the past two weeks against the Jets and Sydney respectively, two teams that like to play and let you play.

Perth Glory, with Mate Dragicevic struggling to adapt to the pace of the game here, had little choice but to go more direct and draft in Jamie Harnwell, with effect.

It seems A-League managers everywhere are obsessed with having competitors in the middle of the park, and workhorses all around them, often stifling the creators and leading to matches where midfields and defences dominate. Stalemates.

Yes, as Branko Culina points out, there is a dearth of quality finishers, but the problem is summed up well through Ron Smith's analysis;

Look at where the improvement has happened and, in terms of work rate and structure, each year the teams have improved. And by that, I mean the athleticism, not people's attitude towards hard work. You're starting to get players with good athletic qualities who can get up and down the field and they make it difficult for people to get chances to score by getting behind the ball quickly and getting back in numbers. Players are going to have to get better at breaking down defenders and be a little more precise. That will be the next step, that has to happen, or we'll forever and a day have tight, close games.

That's the fear, that unless things slow down a touch and the ball gets moved sideways and backwards instead of constantly being shifted forward, season three will be remembered as a close one, but by the end of it, how many will be watching?

Watching the second half of the Victory v Mariners clash on Sunday, there were some good signs, with the ball moved from flank to flank, some space finally created in the middle. Had it not been for a couple of fine saves, we might have had a goal or two.

When the league was launched, both Frank Lowy and John O'Neill spoke of the importance of providing "entertainment", but at the moment there's no doubt the emphasis is far too geared towards the result, as Culina pointed out;

It's a problem for the competition and what we need to do is take a few extra risks. There's all this pressure to get goals, sometimes the emphasis is more on the result rather than the way you play the game and teams will go out and say, 'I'd rather get a 1-0 win than a 4-all draw'.

Of course teams want and need to win, but for the collective good of the league, let's hope the bigger picture isn't lost.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Fingers crossed for some real fantasy football

FOR fans of fantasy football, and I’m not talking about the internet-based game, the good news is that the Uefa Champions League is back on our screens, starting tomorrow, with games on both SBS and ESPN.

While it’s a bit of a money spinner for the big clubs that just continue to get bigger on the back of the television revenue, there’s little doubt that it often provides some of the most open and interesting football doing the rounds, with many of the matches often turning into giant games of chess as some of the world’s shrewdest football minds get to work.

Couple that with the collection of the world’s best players, and it’s easy to why the recipe is so appetising. Watching the Vicente Del Bosque and Zinedine Zidane inspired Real Madrid side of the turn of the century still ranks among my most pleasing football experiences, the football simply out of the world. Ditto the Barcelona side of two seasons ago.

While the competition is almost inevitably won by one of the European heavyweights, it generally throws up the odd surprise packet, and opportunity for the lesser lights to not only line the coffers, but for the club, the players and the manager to make a name for themselves.

Cast you mind back a couple of seasons and it was the yellow submarines of the El Madrigal, Villarreal, marching all the way to the semis on the back of Juan Riquelme’s gifts and Diego Forlan’s goals. Go back a year earlier and it was Guus Hiddink’s unheralded PSV that made a name for themselves.

A year before that was a wonderful story, with both Porto and Monaco going all the way to the final and unearthing such names at Deco, Maniche, Paulo Ferreira, Ricardo Carvalho, Patrice Evra, Jose Mourinho and Ludovic Guily.

Sadly, last season, there were few such surprises, and the competition, for my liking, suffered as a result, with the quarter finals occupied by the usual suspects - Milan, Bayern, PSV, Liverpool, Roma, ManU, Chelsea and Valencia – and the competition rewarding the ‘stiflers’, the likes of Milan and Liverpool making it to the final.

For the romantics, it was the end of a disappointing European season, which followed a disappointing World Cup.

So, as we fast forward to this season’s version, the hope is that the establishment is not only upset by an upstart, but that the teams making the waves at the business end are playing open, attractive and attacking football.

The reality is that pragmatism often wins out in the end, but wouldn’t it be nice to see an artist back in the ascendancy.

If you want to combine the internet-based Fantasy Football with your interest in the champions league, then pop a team into the official UCL fantasy comp and register it in the TRBA Fanasty UCL private league, via the following code; 48-28. Enjoy it all.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Two new winners, but the surprise is in who's yet to win

A-League Round 4 analysis

SFC 1 v WP 2
NJ 1 v AU 0
MV 0 v CCM 0
PG 1 v QR 2

IF last weekend was one to forget, than it has to be said that this one was only slightly better, but at least there were three results, which has opened up the ladder a little and doubled the number of teams that have won from two to four.

The suprise is the make-up of the teams that have yet to win, which includes three of the competitions heavyweights; Melbourne, Adelaide and bottom placed Sydney.

What odds of that at the start of the season?

It's early days, yes, but the signs are a little worrying, especially for Sydney, who have only picked up two points and are struggling at both ends of the park.

While there is little doubt that Branko Culina is light on quality options in the front third (Patrick struggled for the second week running), it has been the work at the back that is causing most concern. After going a goal up on Friday thanks to some powerful running from Adam Casey and some lax work from Tony Lochhead, FC soon gave up two goals.

While the first was brilliantly taken by the impressive Felipe, there's no doubt that somebody should have stepped out of the backline when the Brazilian had gotten in behind Mark Milligan.

And then the penalty give-away by Ruben Zadkovich just added to the litany of defensive errors -mainly from Clint Bolton - that have cost Sydney so far this season. While Brendan Santalab offered some energy off the bench, Sydney were very blunt again at the front end, meaning they can't be so generous at the other end.

But as Queensland proved late against Perth, the succession of draws to date means it's not hard to climb up the ladder with a win. Facing the prospect of a third draw and more frustrations in front of goal, Matt McKay eased the pressure considerably, his late winner sending the Roar from the bottom three to the top three, all with one deflected winner.

In truth, it is no less that the Roar deserve, for, while they mightn't have much punch up front, at least they are bombing forward and trying to win games, with Danny Tiatto proving somewhat of a fulcrum from his new vantage point in the centre of midfield. Here they put pressure on the Glory from the outset, and but for a couple of smart Tommi Tomich saves, might have had the lead.

The fact they fought back from Jamie Harnwell's well-taken opener to win away from home is a great sign, especially after the front third frustrations of last week. While both goals were second ball scraps, at least the Roar demonstrated a good mentality to keep coming when it might have been easier to throw the hands up in the air and complain it was all too hard.

As for Perth, they were finally able to register a goal, but for the most part they were disappointing and now face a tough trip to Gosford next Sunday.

The Mariners will be crossing their fingers that striker duo Nik Mrdja and Sasho Petrovski can get back on the pitch quick smart. While Petrovski went down after rolling an ankle midway through the first period at Telstra Dome and should be back soon, Mrdja is more interesting.

Out for two seasons already, he appeared to jar his knee in an early challenge in Queensland last week. While he saw out that match, he was invisible. Then he trained with the Socceroos in Melbourne, came off the bench for his international debut and apparently felt tenderness at Mariners training on Friday. Perhaps someone somewhere is questioning the wisdom of such a heavy workload. If not, they should be.

In any case, the confident Adam Kwasnik stepped into the central breach from his wide position and had an excellent game, twice rattling the crossbar with some neat skill and generally proving a nusiance with his movement and surprisingly subtle touch. Amazing what a couple of goals can do.

How Melbourne's front duo could do with a couple of goals. Mobile and hungry, both Archie Thompson and Danny Allsopp provided plenty of work for the Mariners defence, but won't able to find that final touch, such a hallmark of the A-League v3, let alone the Victory strikeforce.

While the first half fizzled out after a good start, the second got better and better. Both teams started the knock the ball around, side to side, and showed a bit of patience, something that has been missing in the hussle and bussle of this season.

Too much of the football has been physical and rushed, huff and puff stuff, but in the second period, both the Mariners and Melbourne slowed things down a touch, went sideways instead of looking forward every time, and there were chances created.

A-League teams, please take note. It doesn't always have to be a million miles and hour, a contest at every pass. What's wrong with a little bit of space and a more controlled pace?

Certainly Wellington and Sydney provided it in their clash, and the football was often easy on the eye.

While the Jets haven't been as easy on the eye this season in comparison to last, Gary van Egmond continues to touch gold. Realising that Denni was being hammered by the physical Jonas Salley, another of the A-League hatchet men, and that Mark Bridge was being wasted out wide, he threw Bridge into the central playmaking role, one he filled with disinction on a couple of occasions last season, when Nick Carle wasn't available, and it worked well.

While Adelaide had dominated the opening half hour without success, gradually the Jets got themselves into the game, and by the time Bridge danced around Richie Alagich, carrying on his good work with the Olyroos, it wasn't a surprise.

While they mightn't be flowing in attack, van Egmond has made sure they are mighty tight at the back, and the work of both Adam Griffiths and Jade North over the past couple of weeks has been excellent. Three cleans sheets and two one-nils on the trot sees them sitting in second spot, a wonderful achievement from van Egmond with such a thin squad and so many problems up front.

Here he gave some time to Mario Jardel, who put one quality move on Angelo Costanzo, but it looks like Super Mario will need time.

Time. It is the something the likes of Branko Culina, Ron Smith, Aurelio Vidmar and Ernie Merrick will be hoping brings a changes in their fortunes.

TRBA team of the week (4-4-1-1)

Goalkeeper; Michael Theoklitos (MV)
Defenders; Jade North (NJ), Adam Griffiths (NJ), Tony Vidmar (CCM), Matthew Kemp (MV)
Midfield; Michael Ferrante (WP), Danny Tiatto (QR), Kristian Sarkies (AU), Matt McKay (QR)
Attacking central midfeilder; Felipe (WP)
Striker; Adam Kwasnik (CCM)

Thursday, September 13, 2007

A weekend to forget

A-League Round 3 analysis

QR 0 v CCM 1
MV 1 v AU 1
WP 0 v NJ 1
PG 0 v SFC 0

TAKE at least 20 percent of your best players (internationals, young and old, and injuries to a couple of key off-season recruits) out of any competition and what are you left with?

A pretty average weekend of football, it has to be said.

Only four goals, all of them from the set pieces, confirmed that, in a competition limited by salary cap restrictions, it is hard to live without your best players, young or old.

There was a fair bit of discussion earlier in the week about whether round 3 should have gone ahead, but the truth of the matter is that these things should be discussed months ago, not now.

No doubt the postponement of the Argentina game threw a spanner in the works, one that mightn’t have around when the A-League draw was finalised, but the FFA need to stay on their toes.

In any case, it all conspired to produce not one single goal from open play. While that is a sad trend of the modern game, there’s little doubt that some excellent goalkeeping played a major role.

Matt’s Nash and Trott, of Sydney and the Mariners respectively, both had accomplished debuts, Nash impressive in commanding his area on Sunday in Perth, while Trott produced one spectacular save to his left to keep out the frustrated (many might say frustrating) Reinaldo, who worked the house down but couldn’t bulge the net.

Not that the Roar’s frustrations in front of goal are entirely of the Brazilian striker’s making. At least he provided a presence and didn’t stop working, but he is desperately in need of a partner who can stick the ball in the back of the net, for Simon Lynch and Ante Milicic continue to be the Roar’s invisible men.

Meanwhile, Marchino shows no signs of relaxing. He went on one sublime run from the right, gliding past Tony Vidmar and Damien Brown, only to shoot wide when confronted by Trott. Frustration all round, as Danny Tiatto so eloquently summed up in his post match chat with Nick Meredith.

At least the Roar can take something from the fact they dominated the competition pace-setters, and while Sasho Petrovski had an excellent game up front, the Mariners seemed content to play the smash and grab spoilers. It was that kind of weekend and it’s turning into that kind of a season.

Indeed, following on from the theme of my round 2 wrap, the lack of polish in the final third was again the most obvious trait about round 3.

The Roar were the most frustrating, but equally as frustrated will be Ricki Herbert, whose Wellington carved out a number of good openings in first period, only to be denied by the outstanding Ante Covic.

While it’s tempting to feel for a Wellington that dominated the game and got nothing out of it, the decision to go with only one up front was a mistake in my view. Herbert is to be applauded for drafting in Felipe, who was awesome in the first period, but to do it at the expense of a striker (Vaughan Coveny) was a negative move and Herbert was punished.

The Jets continue to be a shadow of the attacking side they were last season, but, like any good manager, Gary van Egmond has realised this and is making sure the defence remains solid. While there were holes in the first half, a second clean sheet will at least ensure there’s a foundation.

Ron Smith will be trying to adopt the same positive outlook after his side kept a third straight clean sheet in the dour spectacle against Sydney, but patience appears to be running out at the other end.

On 2ky’s Football Fever on Sunday night, Dave Mitchell made no secret of the plans for round four - Jamie Harnwell would come in up front alongside Mate Dragicevic and Perth would be more direct. Mitchell went on to add that Perth had played some pretty football so far this season but that the goals hadn’t followed, so a more direct style might lead to results.

Meanwhile, Sydney appear no closer to sorting out their lack of final third bite. Scrapping at the bit to put out an 11, Branko Culina had no choice but to go with two up front, so David Zdrilic partnered Patrick, and the former Socceroo was wasteful once again. After a neat debut in round 2, Patrick appeared frustrated in Perth and made a poor tackle on Nick Rizzo.

Thank goodness then for the second half of the grand final replay on Friday night, which at least had a bit of cut and thrust about it. While the first period was rather lifeless and typical of the hit-and-miss nature of the season so far, things certainly picked up in the second, both teams at least having a go. Kevin Muscat was in amongst most of it. After a number of physical duels with Paul Agostino, he put his body through Cassio and then went on to make the most ridiculous statement about Nathan Burns, a clear sign the youngster has got up his and Craig Moore’s skin.

Talk about going into bat for a mate and bringing the game into disrepute.

TRBA team of the week (4-3-2-1)

Goalkeeper; Ante Covic (NJ)
Defenders; Hyuk-Su Seo (QR), Rody Vargas (MV), Tony Vidmar (CCM), Matt Thompson (NJ)
Midfielders; Adrian Caceres (MV), Danny Tiatto (QR), Nick Rizzo (PG)
Attacking central midfielders; Felipe (WP), Nathan Burns (AU)
Striker; Sasho Petrovski (CCM)

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Left-sided libero leaves Lebanon for dead

Beijing Olympic Games qualifier, group A, matchday 3, Australia 3 v Lebanon 0

Tony Tannous
in Gosford

FAR too comfortable for the Olyroos. 1-0 after six minutes, 2-0 after 24, this was a one way procession towards Hassan Moghnieh’s goal in the first half, and Lebanon seemed powerless to stop it.

But for Mark Milligan, Trent McClenahan and Stuart Musalik, every Olyroo was bombing forward, too much for the slight of size Lebanese to handle.

Had it not been for a number of excellent saves from the Lebanese keeper, the score could have been five or six by the break. The bombardment eased up in the second period, the Olyroos having to wait till substitute David Williams pounced on the counter three minutes into stoppages to round out the scoring.

Lebanon were clearly not expecting much from this match, taking happy-snap on the field an hour before kick-off. They shaped up in 5-3-2, sitting deep, hoping to soak up some pressure. Missing a number of key players including defender Mootazbellah El Jounaidi (suspended) and striker Tarek El Ali (injured), this was always going to be a difficult task against an Olyroos side that continues to grow by the game.

Graham Arnold, who described himself later as the “ex-Socceroos” coach was back from Melbourne and put out a more attacking formation than the one seen on Saturday. This time it was a 3-5-2, with Bruce Djite joining Mark Bridge up front, no doubt keen to make up some goal difference on Iraq. Ruben Zadkovich played down the right flank, while Kristian Sarkies shaped up on the left, always looking to push on and create a three-man attack.

While Topor-Stanley was essentially playing as the left stopper in a back-three, he soon became Australia’s key man, an attacking libero, free to do as he pleased. With Lebanon’s right wing-back, Ali Hamie, preoccupied with Sarkies and the three central midfielders busy trying to deal with the drive of Billy Celeski and Nick Ward, Topor-Stanley was left to romp forward at will.

Neither Lebanese striker, Hassan Maatouk or Imad Saad, bothered to track the Perth Glory man. The lack of accountability was astonishing.

With Stuart Musalik also being afforded acres to dictate the play from his deep midfield position, he was able to constantly switch the play from right to left, feeding Topor-Stanley for fun.

With Celeski, Ward, Sarkies, Bridge and Djite providing movement all over the place, the options were plentiful. Bridge remarked later how he had “two or three” options every time he had the ball and Arnold described the opening 35 minutes as “champagne”.

On six minutes Bridge linked up beautifully with Topor-Stanley, who provided a peach of the cross for Nick Ward’s neatly volleyed opener, before Topor-Stanley and Bridge combined well with Djite, who played in Bridge for the second, expertly finished.

By that stage the score could have been anything, Moghneih replaying his heroics from matchday 1 in Pyongyang.

The second half was far less productive for the Olyroos, partly because the Lebanese made a few adjustments and played a bit better, but they never once threated Danny Vukovic’s goal.

Perhaps some of the boys were thinking ahead to the matchday 5 clash against Iraq in Gosford on November 17, which appears likely to decide who goes to Beijing.

Arnold said later that Iraq was in the box seat, but if the Olyroos continue to play with the verve and drive of the opening half, they will be hard to halt.

Apologies from Gosford

TRBA is unable to bring you live running analysis of the important matchday 3 Beijing Olympic Games qualifier between Australia and Lebanon from Bluetongue Stadium in Gosford which kicks off at 7pm (EST).

With phone lines tied up by the established media, TRBA will only be able to bring you the traditional post match analysis. My apologies for that.

I can however report the team line-ups;

Australia; 1. Danny Vukovic, 2. Ruben Zadkovich, 4. Mark Milligan, 6. Stuart Musalik, 7. Kristian Sarkies, 9. Mark Bridge, 11. Bruce Djite, 13. Trent McClenahan, 15. Nick Ward, 20. Nikolai Topr-Stanley, 22. Billy Celeski.

Lebanon; 1. Hassan Moghnieh, 2. Ali Al Saadi, 3. Hussein Amine, 5. Ahmad Atwi, 7. Mohamad Atwi, 13. Imad Kassem Saad, 14. Ali Hamie, 15. Ali Yaacoub, 17. Diaa Berro, 23. Samer Zeineddine, 30. Hassan Maatouk.

Graham Arnold has made two changes to the team that knocked off North Korea on Saturday, Djite in for Williams and McClenahan for suspended Leijer.

Meanwhile, for Lebanon, influential defender Ali Al Saadi, who was suspended for the matchday 2 loss to Iraq, is back, but they will be missing another defender, Mootazbellah El Jounaidi, sent off in the Iraq defeat.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


Running Analysis on TRBA

JOIN me from 6.30pm (EST) tomorrow, Wednesday September 12, from Bluetongue Stadium in Gosford for the live running analysis of the matchaday 3 Beijing Olympic Games qualifier between the Olyroos and Lebanon. After a 1-0 win over North Korea on Saturday night, the Olyroos need an emphatic win over Lebanon to make up some ground on group leaders Iraq, who beat Lebanon 5-0 in Beirut in the early hours of Sunday.
If you're planning to watch the Matildas world cup opener, on SBS at the same time, have your PC on and stay in touch with this game as well.
Spread the word to anyone you know might be interested and hope you enjoy.

Master Messi steals the Skoko's show

International Friendly, Australia 0 v Argentina 1

PRIVILEGED. That should be the overwhelming feeling for those lucky 70,ooo or so fans who witnessed the mercurial talents of Lionel Messi live at the MCG tonight.

This was supposed to be the night where we bid a deserved farewell to a Socceroo stalwart, Josip Skoko, but it will be remembered as the night Argentina's little no. 19 wowed the G with his unique football gifts.

Controlling the match with his sublime left foot, it was Messi who dictated the tempo throughout as he demanded the ball, turned, tempted and teased the opposition. Then, with one or two defenders facing up to him (it made no difference), he would just explode off the mark, the ball seemingly glued to his foot.

On another day he might have had a penalty or two as poor David Carney, Michael Beauchamp and Lucas Neill struggled to deal with his guile, technique, pace and ability to link up with his teammates.

Peeling wide to the right, as he does for Barcelona, this was always going to be a tough night for Carney (despite the pre-match talk it would be Luke Wilkshire’s job to mark him – Messi always plays on the right, where he can cut infield and run amok), a player still learning the art of defending. In that context, this was the steepest of learning curves, and while he couldn't get close to Messi a lot of the time, Carney never gave up.

And he won’t be the only left fullback to suffer at the hands of Messi. I remember one Champions League clash a couple seasons back on a patchy Stamford Bridge pitch where he put the cleaner through three Chelsea left backs.

It didn't take the Argentines long to identify the flanks as Australia's weakness, and they were soon overloading the wide positions, holding up the ball and waiting for the overlapping supporting run. It was a joy to watch, a lesson for us on how to keep the ball in tight space and build pressure.

Messi, so strong at shielding the ball, was getting able support down the right from skipper Javier Zanetti, himself such a fine keeper of the ball, while Carlos Tevez often peeled out to the left, where he was ably supported by both Mallorca's Jonas Guiterrez and Real Madrid's Gabriel Heinze. Playmaker Insua would drift both left and right, helping create overloads.

Argentina's work in transition in the first half was also easy on the eye. Quick to pounce on any loose ball in midfield, they got men forward swiftly, especially in the wide areas. On one occasion, Heinze got in behind down the left, and might have shot instead of trying the cut-back, but hard to be critical about such a flowing build-up.

But the Argentines didn't have it all their own way. This might have been a friendly in name, but, refreshingly, it was a very competitive one. While the visitors were building up for their marathon World Cup qualification campaign and keen to redress a couple of recent losses, the Aussies were keen to exorcise their own recent demons, give Skoko and Graham Arnold a fitting send-off and, knowing that Dick Advocaat was likely to ask for the DVD, press their individual claims for the qualifiers that start in February.

Up front there were some promising signs for both Archie Thompson and Josh Kennedy, while Mark Bresciano looked in the mood over the dead ball. Just when you think you’ve seen everything in football comes a free-kick that hits the crossbar, bounces off Roberto Abbondanzieri’s back onto the crossbar and then back off the keeper’s back, just wide of the post.

In midfield, Jason Culina and Vince Grella looked happy to be back in familiar conditions, and it was good to seen Culina contributing further up the pitch.

But while the Socceroos had the odd half-chance, they couldn’t mount any sustained pressure in the first period.

After Martin Demichelis’s goal, wonderfully supplied by Messi, you sensed Argentina were just happy to sit back and soak up whatever Australia could throw at them, almost as if they were role-playing for a day when they are under the pump.

While the Socceroos bossed the ball in the final half-hour, few chances were created, a clear sign of the gulf in class, and an indicator of what we need to keep aspiring to produce.

Argentina, a world power, produce players who can make things happen in the final third and the fact they could bring Javier Saviola and under 20s golden ball winner Sergio Aguerro off the bench told of their riches. Australia, at least for now, can only dream.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Missed opportunities could come back to bite Olyroos

Olyroos 1 v North Korea 0, post match analysis

IN the context of Iraq’s 5-0 win in Beirut a few hours after the Olyroos knocked-off North Korea in Newcastle, it was easy to see why Graham Arnold was disappointed in the post match press-conference.

Knowing that only the top team in the group progresses to Beijing, clearly Arnold was thinking about the missed opportunity to rack-up a nice goal difference.

It’s not that his under 23s had blow the North Koreans off the pitch, but they’d dominated and controlled the match enough to create a number of good openings, none better than Ruben Zadkovich’s one-on-one in the 89th minute, and cooler heads might have resulted in a more emphatic score-board.

Clearly Arnold was frustrated that this profligacy in front of goal might come back to haunt his side, as it did a few hours later, so naturally it dominated a large part of his press conference;

"I’m a hard task master. I was happy but I'm not happy with the final third. The boys carried out the game-plan great, defensively from the front to the back we were very good. But in international football when you have, on three or four occasions, three-against-one and you blow them every time then you'll end up getting punished. They've just got to relax a bit more. They get a rush of blood and get excited in front of goal and (think) what do I do now? That's why I got angry at the end because that could've been a one-all draw when we should've been much more clinical with our opportunities," he said.

Spot on. When DPR Korea striker Choe Chol-Man rattled the crossbar on the hour, it was fortunate Stuart Musalik was on the line and that his header went the right direction for Australia. Ditto when An Chol-Hyok was clean through ten minutes later with only Danny Vukovic to beat and fired wide.

Otherwise, Arnold was “very happy” with the performance. He spoke openly about how he had been able to pin North Korea back through the use off the two full-backs, Nikolai Topor-Stanley on the left and Ruben Zadkovich on the right, both bombing forward at will, and how he’d instructed both Kristian Sarkies (left) and David Williams (right), to tuck in and allow the fullbacks to provide the width.

In the main, I felt that worked pretty well, and the combination on either flank was good, although North Korea seemed content to let it happen, sitting deep and allowing the Olyroos to come at them.

Some of the other interesting tactical observations were his use of Musalik in the deep-lying holding role. With the two fullbacks pressing up so often, Musalik had the job of ensuring the North Koreans didn’t penetrate on the counter. While they showed a bit of pace up front, the countering was sporadic, so thumbs up to Musalik, who I thought had another excellent game. Unfortunately for us fan of the A-League, I sense it’s only a matter of time before he finds himself in Europe.

Driving from central midfield were both Nick Ward and Billy Celeski, the latter in great form for both club and country. Their job was not only to lend defensive support to Musalik, but to ensure they got forward and supported Mark Bridge.

When I asked Arnold about his surprise decision to start with Bruce Djite off the bench (he has been a regular starter so far in this campaign), the manager explained;

“Bruce has played a lot of football lately. I just felt Bridgey, with his greater experience, could offer us a little bit more in terms of the way we wanted to play. He’s good at holding up the ball and bringing others into the game.”

Perhaps the fact Nathan Burns was suspended also helped Arnold make up his mind, as Djite and Burns seem to have an almost telepathic understanding.

He also spoke of why he “had to play Sarkies”;

“Kristian hasn’t had a lot of football lately and I just felt that we needed him out there for the set pieces, and in the end, our goal came from one of his set pieces.”

Looking ahead to the Lebanon game on Wednesday night, Arnold felt they were likely to arrive here tired after a long trip from Beirut and that they would likely play a similar game to North Korea; sit back, soak it up and try and hit on the counter.

That was obviously before the 5-0 hammering at home. How that changes Lebanon’s outlook to this game we will find out, but at least they should have skipper and central defender Ali Al Saadi back from suspension. How they missed him in Beirut.

Regardless, the Olyroos are likely to adopt a similar game-plan, asking the full-backs to bomb forward in support of the front three. No doubt Arnold will be re-emphasising the need to be more clinical in front goal, for it could well be the decisive factor in whether this talented group makes it a sixth successive Olympics appearance for Australia.

IN team news, Arnold confirmed that Nathan Burns is out of the Lebanon clash after injuring a quad in the grand final replay on Friday night.

Saturday, September 08, 2007


Tony Tannous
in Newcastle

That ends the running analysis of this match, hope you enjoyed the coverage, will have more post match analysis in the next couple of days, including coverage of Australia's next match, against Lebanon in Gosford on Wednesday.

Just attended the Graham Arnold press-conference. Overall he was happy with the result but disappointed about the final third and the lack of clinical finishing, sighting the couple of good chances that DPR korea had in the second half to equalise.

DPR came for a draw, but had to come out and play when they went behind, but overall lacked the imagination to regualrly break down Australia.

Olyroos best were probably Zadkovich and Celeski, both driving forward with regularity, while Topor Stanley did well as a driving left fullback. Local boy Stuart Musalik controlled the game with his neat distrubution in midfield and the front trio of Bridge, Sarkies and Williams were lively throughout.

A dominate performance from Arnold's men and they really should have killed off the game towards the end with zadkovich having a excellent chance. But they still had to survive the odd DPR chance with striker Chol Man rattling the cross bar on the hour mark. Skipper Mark Milligan named the official man of the match for his bullet header on 50 minutes, but Australia didnt really have too man bad performers.

In the end a deserved win for the Olyroos and for now they go top of the group on 4 points with Lebanon hosting iraq overnight.


90' 2 minutes of stoppages

89' aussie sub, leigh broxham on for billy celeski, great game from the perth midfeilder

89' bridge plays in zadkovich, fluffs his one on one chance with only the keeper to beat.

86' DPR sub, defensive midfielder Yu Chol off, no. 23 Kang Ill on.

85' match nicely poised, DPR still looking to press forward without really showing a cutting edge

83' Australia have had the asendancy the last few minutes, looking to kill off the game with a 2nd.

79' zadkovich picks up a lose ball and gallops away on the counter, blasts from outside the box straight at the keeper.

77' Now it's DPR doing all the attacking, Australia preapred to sit back and defend what they have.

75' with the micevski sub, sarkies goes back to attack, out on the right.

74' leijer yellow for a tackle in midfield. Whats a game without a leijer card I hear you Melbourne Victory fans say?

73' Aussie sub, David Micevski on for david williams. Defensive move.

73' Jun Il fouls Williams on the counter, yellow card.

71' DPR sub, no. 7 Kwang Hyok on for 17. Chol man, slots into left md, Chol Hyok goes forward.

70' Chol Hyok played in behind, holds off leijer into the box and shoots just wide, another danger sign for Australia

66' Change in formation, Sarkies into midfield, Bridge over to the left and Djite up front.

64' olyroos sub, djite on ward off.

63' cross from yu-chol, headed over by 22, Chol Hyok, who is getting more forward

62' yellow card to DPR no. 8, Yu-Chol for foul in midfield to break up Aussie counter.

60' Chol man with a wonderful strike from the edge of the box, crashes against the crossbar than off an aussie defender's head on the line, warning for Australia.

58' DPR now have to come and play and that might leave a bit of space for olyroos to counter. a couple of DPR corners, comfortable for aussie defence

55' Australia playing some lovely stuff, really putting the pressure on.

54' neat build up from right, switched out to the left where sarkies cuts in on his right foot and clips in a ball to the penalty spot, which ward heads just wide. belting down with rain

50' GOAL, AUSTRALIA 1-0, Milligan back post header from a sarkies corner. Just before that australia had had two great chances to Bridge and Topor Stanly, well deserved 1-0 lead. Clinical header from the skipper.

48' ward playing in williams down the right, shot spilled by myong-guk, bridge pounces, cleared by chol jin.

47' zadkovich cross, mix up in the north korean defence

Both teams back out for second half, no changes it seems.

DPR defending with two lines of four and working extremely hard to keep Australia out. Clearly they are here for a bit of a smash and grab raid, but they look like they have plenty of pace on the counter, so Australia must be careful. DPR have shaped out as follows;


Chol Jin----Jun-Il----Kwang-Chon-----Kwang Il

Jong Hyuk----Yu-Chol----Su Hyok-----Chol-Hyok

-----------Nam Chol---Chol Man

Olyroos getting some good mileage out of the full-backs zadkovich and topor-stanley, getting forward regularly. Zadkovich combining well with Williams down the right, while Topor-stanley is getting forward on the other side whenever sarkies tucks in. Driving impressively out of midfield has been Billy Celeski, who had Australia's best chance about 10 minutes before the break who he drew a good save from Ri Myong-guk.

Australia dominating the possession and controlling the match with some neat interchange in midfield, but the koreans are prepared to sit back around their 18 yard box and invite australia on.


45' referees patience runs out with myong guk, booked for time wasting, 2 minutes of stoppages

42' topor stanley just under a sarkies corner, punched away by myong guk who looks like he's already endeared himself to the energy australia crowd with a bit of time wasting

39' DPR looked a threat though on the counter, getting bodies forward quickly, so olyroos must be weary.

37' on the counter DPR win a free kick about 25yards out from a milligan challenge. striker Chol man (#17) curls free kick over.

36' billy celeski breaks out of midfeild in box, played in by sarkies, header rebounds off a defender falls to celeski who draws a near post save from myong guk.

35' topr stanley lets one rip from deep on the left, just wide.

34' our first real spot of time wasting from the DPR keeper Myong Guk, staying down after claiming a sarkies corner.

29' celeski getting forward and mis-hitting one from outside the box, wide. vukovic rarely had a touch, but the DPR always looking to get in behind quickly down the right, in the space vacated by zadkovich, so leijer has to be alert in tracking the runs.

25' australia starting to press on down either flank through zadkovich and topor-stanley, zadkovich cross one from right to left, topr-stanley gets in behind and squares one across the goal, which celeski fires over. from the corner williams blasts a few metres wide, more good signs.

22' nice build up down the right involving zadkovic, williams and ward, results in zadkovich left foot effort from outside the box, good signs for australia.

20' the north korea 22, chol hyuk, getting forward down the left, often creating a three man forward line.

18' Olyroos getting on top with some nice control of the ball in midfield, north korea clearly content to counter

15' Australia create a couple of decent shooting chances. Looking to play the ball into Bridge, the target man. He lays it off to Sarkies who shoots straight at Myong-guk, then Bridge picks up a loose ball and shoots just over

12' pattern set pretty early, korea allowing olyroos to have the ball in their own half, pressing them when they get into their half, and looking to counter.

8' Australia's first real attack, Bridge holding the ball up at halfway, playing in Williams down the right, who tried to play an early ball to the back post, cleared away for a corner.

7' North Korea playing a more conventional 4-4-2,

5' Australia lining in in 4-3-3 formation; Vukovic; Zadkovich, Milligan, Topor-Stanley; Musalik, Ward, Celeski; Williams, Bridge, Sarkies.

6.55pm update; not a greatest crowd because of the weather and a lack of publicity, about 2,500 to 3,000.

6.45pm update: the match will be refereed by Hiroyoshiu Takayama of Japan, with the assistant referees Toshiyuki Nagi and Hiroshi Tezuka, also of Japan. The fourth official is Ali Saleem of Kuwait.

6.00pm, JUST a quick one from Energy Australia Stadium with the team news ahead of tonight’s matchday 2 clash in the final phase of the Beijing Olympic qualifiers between the Olyroos and North Korea.

I can report it’s been raining here, on and off, throughout the day. We had another down-pour at 5.45pm (EST) and it looks like the rain will come and go throughout the night.

The pitch looks in decent nick, patchy in a couple of areas, but it doesn’t look heavy. Indeed, the players will probably appreciate the give in the surface and the Olyroos have already been out there, no doubt testing whether it’ll be screw-ins or moulds. I’d suggest the latter.

The Olyroos, who’ve been in camp on the Central Coast for a week, spent last night in Newcastle, and both teams held a familiarisation session at the stadium yesterday.

The North Koreans arrived at the ground at 5.20pm (EST), followed by the Olyroos 10 minutes later.

6.20pm, UPDATE with team line ups;

AUSTRALIA; 1. Daniel Vukovich, 2. Ruben Zadkovich, 3. Adrian Leijer, 4. Mark Milligan, 6. Stuart Musalik, 7. Kristian Sarkies, 9. Mark Bridge, 15. Nicholas Ward, 19. David Williams, 20. Nikolai Topor-Stanley, 22. Billy Celeski.

Subs: 11 Bruce Djite, 13, Trent McClenahan, 16. Leigh Broxham, 17. Aaron Downes, 18. Tando Velaphi, 27. Ersun Gulum, 39. David Micevski.

NORTH KOREA: 1. Ri Myong-Guk, 2. Cha Jong-Hyok, 3. Ri Jun-Il, 5. Ri Kwang-Chon, 8. Kim Yu-Chol, 9. Pak Nam-Chol, 11. Jon Kwang-Ik, 17. Choe Chol-Man, 19. Jong Su-Hyok, 20. Pak Chol-Jin, 22. An Chol-Hyok.

Subs; 7. Kim Kwang-Hyok, 12. Ryang Myong-Il, 16. Kang Jin Hyok, 18. Ju Kwang Min, 21. Pak Nam Chol, 23. Kim Kyong Il, 25. Jang Myong Il.

The big news for Australia is that Bruce Djite starts from the bench, Ruben Zadkovich gets in ahead of McClenahan, the in form Billy Celeski ahead of Leigh Broxham, while Nick Ward is in ahead of Djite.

Friday, September 07, 2007


GREAT news for those of you who want to follow the Olyroos final qualifying phase for the Beijing Olympics but are a little disillusioned about the lack of TV and radio coverage.
The Round Ball Analyst will be on hand on matchdays 2, 3 and 5, starting with tomorrow night's match in Newcastle against North Korea, followed by Wednesday night's clash with Lebanon at the Bluetongue Stadium in Gosford.
The word from above is that AFC regulations don't allow for live updates, but stay tuned shortly after tomorrow night's match, due to finish approximately 9.00pm EST, for a full and comprehensive analysis.
The Olyroos currently sit equal second in Group A after drawing 0-0 away to Iraq on matchday 1 in a match played in Iraq's home away from home, Doha.
Sitting atop the group on three points are Lebanon, who survived the last 11 minutes without their skipper to win 1-0 away in Pyongyang. The match was decided by a 12th minute penalty, neatly dispatched by Ali Yaakoub after North Korean defender Ri Jun-Il was adjudged to have handled the ball in the box. Here is some footage;

Only the winners of the three groups go to the Olympics, meaning the Olyroos will be looking for some serious points from their next two games. The draw has been kind enough to give the Olyroos successive home games.

Compare that with Lebanon, who play Iraq in Beirut on Sunday morning our time, before making the treck to Gosford. North Korea, meanwhile, face a trip to Doha after Saturday's game in Newcastle.

Clearly the cards have fallen Australia's way and there should be few excuses coming from the Australian camp if the Olyroos aren't good enough to set-up the group over the next week.

The Asian Cup proved that the quality is improving across the continent, so hopefully the Australian brains-trust have learnt some valuable lessons about not underestimating the opposition.
Lebanon, for example, have won their past five qualifiers on the spin, including wins in Jakarta and Pyongyang. Seemingly, they know how to travel.
Evidently, the Olyroos have also learnt a thing or two about travelling in Asia, and a couple of sources who watched the Iraq match noted that our keeper - Danny Vukovic - was only too willing to stay on the ground and that Graham Arnold was heard encouraging his men to kill the game. It was an excellent result, a point that might prove crucial in the wash-up.
With Arnold in Melbourne for his final Socceroos fling, Rob Baan has been back in the fold, and the word is that the players had warmed to his ways by the end of the second qualification phase.
While the Olyroos will be missing the likes of Nathan Burns (suspended for tomorrow's match but back on Wednesday), Matt Spiranovic, Neil Kilkenny, James Troisi and Dario Vidosic, it is still a pretty formidable squad at Baan and Arnold's disposal, and with Mark Milligan, Mark Bridge, Kristian Sarkies and Leigh Broxham back, there is still plenty of talent on show and a starting 11 might look something like this (in 4-2-3-1 formation);
Vukovic; McLenahan, Leijer, Milligan, Topor-Stanley; Musalik, Broxham; Bridge, Sarkies, Williams; Djite
While the Socceroos are on show against Argentina in a couple of days, there is little doubt where the real focus should be. These are crucial days for our next generation of footballers, and after the recent disappointments at under 17s and under 20s level, and the Matildas missing out on the Olympics, the Olyroos have a task ahead of them to get to their sixth straight Olympics.
Stay tuned to TRBA for a comprehensive coverage.
UPDATE, Saturday 08/09/2007; According to this report in yesterday's Daily Telelgraph, it's new youth coach Steve O'Connor helping out Arnold with the Olyroos, which I guess begs the question of where is Rob Baan?

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Finding that functional front-third frustrating for most

Round 2 analysis

CCM 3 v WP 0
SFC 2 v AU 2
MV 0 v PG 0
NJ 1 v QR 1

LISTENING to the blunt half-time assessment of Gary van Egmond in Sunday’s Newcastle-Roar clash at Energy Australia, the signs of frustration were obvious.

Paraphrased, for those of you off having dinner, he said something like this; “We've defended very well, but we can’t go on doing that for 90 minutes. We have to find a cutting-edge”.

How he was already missing the likes of Nick Carle, Milton Rodriguez and Vaughan Coveny, and feeling the frustration of what appears to be some bungled work around Mario Jardel.

His frustration even extended to Jorge Drovandi’s sloppy performance off the bench in the opening round, and he explained the Argentine’s absence on Sunday by saying he’d "been guilty of giving away far too much ball and was still trying to understand where we needed him to be defensively".

Van Egmond’s frustrations were ultimately down to his side’s lack of fluidity in the front-third for the opening 135 minutes (90 last week and the opening half on Sunday) of the season.

Last week he had a lacklustre Denni playing behind Mark Bridge, with Tarek Elrich and Joel Griffiths on the flanks. They shot blanks, only Griffiths playing anywhere near his potential.

This week there was no room for Elrich (“good defensively”, said van Egmond, implying he wasn’t happy with his attacking contribution), replaced by Troy Hearfield, playing on the right, while Griffiths moved up front and Bridge went to the left.

Clearly van Egmond was looking for some chemistry and a solution up front, but the first half performance suggested there was plenty of work to do. While Denni was looking more comfortable and combining well with Griffiths, Hearfield was struggling, while Bridge seemed to be going through the motions.

It seemed a rocket had been launched in the Jets dressing room at the break. While the second half performance was much better, the chemistry in the front third was still off, so much so that van Egmond ultimately lost patience with Hearfield, bringing on little known local Jason Hoffman.

Ultimately Griffiths rescued the day with a peach of a free-kick, but van Egmond will be scratching his head to find an effective front-third combination for round three, especially with Bridge and Stuart Musalik on Olyroo duty.

And truth be told, he won’t be the only A-League manager suffering front-third frustrations. No doubt the Roar’s Frank Farina will be in the same boat.

With both defences playing deep, there was plenty of room in midfield, but neither side had the creativity to unlock their opposition. Roar’s goal came from a classic counter-attack, the Jets caught in possession in midfield. Otherwise, the Roar were struggling to crack the flood of Jets defenders, resorting far too often to some average long range shots instead of patiently knocking it around. Frustration enough to watch, so you can only imagine how Farina was feeling.

In that respect, it was a similar game to the one at Telstra Dome on Saturday night, another dominated by the defenders. It is early days, and the official line in one of “no panic”, but the Victory, especially Danny Allsopp and Archie Thompson, are clearly still missing the drive and penetration of Fred, and Ernie Merrick is still to settle on a workable solution.

Here he gave 45 minutes each to Carlos Hernandez and Kaz Patafta, but neither grabbed his opportunity.

Indeed, most of the impressing in this average match on a shocking pitch (a sore point of mine - when will the game’s administrators learn that the quality of pitch is paramount to producing the quality on the pitch, thus keeping bums on seats?) was made by Perth, who made up for the absence of David Tarka by shifting skipper Simon Colosimo into the centre of defence, alongside Dino Djulbic, who had an outstanding game in keeping Allsopp and Thompson quiet. The addition of Leandro Love made a bit of a difference for Melbourne, but by then the Glory defence was in 'the zone'.

This defensive control allowed the front third to function better than it had in the opening round, and Billy Celeski continues to catch the eye with his drive out of midfield. Often though the final execution was lacking, and the front three of Mate Dragecevic, Nikita Rukavytsya and Leo Bertos are still working on their understanding, but Ron Smith will be encouraged that they at least created the better chances.

The game of the round was in Sydney on Saturday evening, where both sides showed plenty of attacking verve. The signs for Sydney were far better than in the opening round, especially after Patrick was introduced and Branko Culina again went from a 4-4-2 to a 3-4-2-1 at the break.

Not surprisingly, Adam Biddle made way after an unhappy debut, but the real encouragement for Sydney came from the performance of marquee man Juninho, who was finally able to shake off the attentions of the physical Adelaide defensive midfield – Jonas Salley and Angelo Costanzo - and slide in a number of delightfully weighted balls, even smashing one left foot drive against the cross-bar and hitting the post with a free-kick.

The news this afternoon that he will be out for a prolonged period is sad not only for Sydney, but the whole league, and the disappointing of watching Sydney live over the past fortnight has been seeing the battering 'the little fella' has copped from teams intent on smashing him out of the game, despite his ability to ride the challenges. Last week it was Mile Jedinak, this week a mixture of Salley and Costanzo. A little less of the physical and of more of the technical would be nice.

Despite one poor miss, at least Patrick was able to provide Sydney with a bit of presence up front and someone to take the buffering. Suddenly Alex Brosque had a little more freedom to roam, and his goal was well taken.

Ultimately Sydney were undone by another defensive mix-up for which Clint Bolton was the main culprit, but at least Culina will be more comfortable knowing that his front-third looked functional in the second period. Patrick looks set to be a first team regular, but how much will Sydney miss their marquee man?

Adelaide, on the other hand, have had few front-third problems of late, but will be hoping that Bruce Djite can develop into a far more clinical finisher than he was on this entertaining night. Twice he rounded the keeper and twice he took too long, but his overall contribution was immense, forcing Culina into the unexpected move of shifting Ruben Zadkovich to sweeper.

Elsewhere, the combination between Cassio and Bobby Petta down the left was easy on the eye, while Nathan Burns continues to marvel. His work in fending off four challengers (Steve Corica, Terry McFlynn, Zadkovich and Mark Rudan) and cutting it back for the opener was simple brilliant, the type of stuff we want to see more often in this competition.

The only team that appears totally functional up front at the moment are the Mariners, the only team to enjoy that winning feeling after a superb first half on Friday night. In Nik Mrdja and Sash Petrovski they have two gun finishers who look comfortable together, but Adam Kwasnik down the left also offers a viable goal-getting option, as he demonstrated with a superbly taken second.

On this night he was able to take advantage of Steven Old's absence down the right, exposing some sloppy work from Steven O'Dor.

After last week's late heroics, the Phoenix couldn’t get out of jail this time, and will need to be far more tight early in games. Last week they were fortunate that the Victory didn't fully capitalise on the defensive holes, but there was no escape against a Mariners team lead wonderfully by the hungry Mrdja.

For the second week in a row, however, Felipe had a massive impact off the bench, combining well with Shane Smeltz, and must surely now come into contention for a starting spot ahead of the disappointing Jeremy Christie.

After all, as most of the club are discovering in this tight league, finding the right formula in the front-third will be the difference between a successful season or otherwise, and at the moment only Lawrie McKinna can be totally satisfied.

It's only appropriate then to leave the final word to van Egmond; "We all have to start to catch them [the Mariners], and be as effective as we can in the last third."

TRBA team of the week (4-4-2)

Goalkeeper; Michael Theoklitos (MV)
Defence; Richie Alagich (AU), Dino Djulbic (PG), Jade North (NJ), Andy Packer (QR)
Midfield; Billy Celeski (PG), Nathan Burns (AU), Juninho (SFC), Adam Kwasnik (CCM)
Strikers; Bruce Djite (AU), Nik Mrdja (CCM)