Saturday, March 29, 2008

The South American Spanner

Group 1, Asian world cup qualifiers matchday 2 review, Qatar 2 v Iraq 0

JUST when we thought that the Socceroos group was a battle in three between Iraq, China and Australia came a spanner in the works in the form of a comprehensive Qatari home win over the Asian champions early on Thursday morning our time.

Muppets on the road on matchday one in Melbourne, this was a completely different Qatari team, both in attitude and personnel.

Playing at the intimate Al Saad Stadium certainly played a role, but the main reason for the change in fortunes was the performance of their front quartet, led superby by central striker Sebastian Soria Quintana, with great support from fellow South-American ring-ins Emerson and the two goal-getter, Fabio Cesar . The only 'Qatari' of the four was the tiny Hussain Yasser, but he was hardly as inflential as the other three.

In Melbourne, only Cesar was on deck, and after a couple of handy early touches, we hardly saw him thereafter as the Socceroos dominated.

But here, when he whipped in an early ball from the right, with his neat left peg, Soria attacked it and Iraqi keeper Noor Sabri was rooted. Later, he picked up a loose ball inside the box, turned and snuck it under Sabri.
How that Telstra Dome game might have been completely different had Soria and Emerson been on deck.
Watching them in the wee-hours on Thursday morning was a joy.
Soria, a one man band at the Asian Cup, now has two mates to play with, and what an awesome trio they are. Soria is still as direct, powerful and skilfull as ever and caused the Iraqi defence, especially the bald headed Jassim Gholam, no end of trouble.
But Emerson, the naturalised Brazilian, was equally as impressive in my mind, quick, mobile and brilliant on the ball. In true Brazilian style he likes to link with those around him and play in small spaces.
The trio also brought their teammates up a few notches. Players who had looked like plodders in Melbourne, such as central defenders Marconi Amaral (another naturalised Brazilian) and Abdulla Kone, and holding midfielder Talal Albloushi, suddenly looked world-beaters.
Prompted by their South American attacking trio and encouraged by the wily Uruguyan Jorge Fossati, Qatar are well and truely back in the race to get out of the 'group of death'.
So what then to make of Iraq?
Well, amazing what a few months and a change of manager can do to a side. From champs to chumps, it seems (the Socceroos look to have gone the other way).
Gholam looks like he might have enjoyed the celebrations a few months ago too much, and he wasn't the only dissapointment.

With Nashat Akram suspended after being sent off against China, Iraq were rudderless in central midfield. Qusay Munir, such an infleunce late in the title run (so much so I had him in my Team of the Tournament), was terrible, spraying the ball all over the shop, while the 'new number five', Haitham Tahir, was a pale imitation of Akram.
Subsequently, Younis Mahmood never got into the game.
And the 'new' manager (he is actually coaching the team for the fifth time), Adnan Hamad, who took over from Egil Olsen, who took over from Jorvan Vieria, got it all wrong. With Asian Cup left back Bassim Abbas (he of the bald head and over-head kicks) injured, Hamad went to a back three and played 'attacker' Hawar Mulla Mohammad far too deep as a left wing-back.
It proved fatal, as Qatar repeatedly utilised the space in behind him and exposed Mulla Mohammad's defensive game, or lack thereof. By the time Hamad re-adjusted, in the second period, the damage had been done.
Now Iraq sit bottom, with two games against the Roos to come, the first down under.
Two months away, there's every chance there'll be another manager for Pim Verbeek to deal with and that Iraq will lift as a result. We can't be complacent.
Everywhere you look there are challenges. China may well have taken us to 1900 metres, but there will be other hurdles between now and the end of phase three. Perhaps the biggest, thanks to the wonderful Emerson, Soria and Cesar, will be the trip to Doha on June 14.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

After the pain comes the point

2010 world cup qualifier, matchday 2, China 0 v Australia 0

IF AUSTRALIA'S move into the Asian confederation 51 months ago promised high pressure, competitive and crucial games, often, then that's exactly what our first world cup qualifier on the road, in Asia, delivered.

Make no mistake, this evening's scoreless draw in Kunming was a fantastic result for the Socceroos, especially after all the adversity that has struck Pim Verbeek and his team over the past week or so.

Elevated 1900 metres above sea-level, bereft of half a team of certain starters and at least the same amount of fringe starters, restricted to a two day preperation, struck down by a stomach bug on the eve of the game, losing one of only two strikers 10 minutes into the match, coping a penalty with three minutes left, the miracle is the Socceroos came out of it with a precious point that could prove so crucial in the final wash-up of this phase of qualifiers.

Two games, a win at home, a draw away, four points, two clean sheets; so far so beautiful for Verbeek and his men, even with all the logistical hurdles since he was belatedly made manager.

Throughout it he has been a model of calm and composure, keeping his inner-most thoughts close to home and invariably pulling the right moves.

Now Australia is on-side, and the Australian football establishment is warming to him mojo, slowly but surely.

Little doubt his players have been on board since day one, and this was another outstanding performance from a bunch of men who not only played with the pride that is trademark of the green and gold, but with the brains we haven't always associated with Australian footballers.

This is why a man of Verbeek's football know-how is critical to a nation still learning to compete consistently at this level.

Here he pulled yet an another surprise, starting with a back five and playing with two recognised holding midfielders in Grella and Valeri, three if you add the slightly more advanced Culina, five if you factor in the two front-men, Bresciano and a combination of Thompson and Holman.

As Verbeek point-out post match, the workrate of the front three was incredible. They were on the pitch as much to defend as they were to attack.

It was a team built to defend, sustain possession, keep the ball on the deck and press sporadically. No Viduka, no Aloisi, no Kennedy and no Djite, there was no natural holding target up top, so mobility became the modus operandi.

The logic behind the back three was explained pre-match; he was expecting from China many long balls, thus many second balls, thus hoping the numbers at the back would be enough pick up the second balls. No doubt the fact both Carney and Wilkshire aren't natural fullbacks (Carney looked particualrly fallible early on) also played a part in the thought-process.

It all made sense.

More importantly, it all worked, helped in no small part by the conservative approach of the hosts, who basically cancelled out of the Socceroos with a similar template; defend first, attack second.

Watching it, I couldn't help but think Petrovic was playing for second in the group and banking on knocking off Iraq at home (after drawing away on matchday 1) and hoping the Socceroos will knock off the Asian champions twice. Who knows, that might be exactly how it plays out, but Petrovic mightn't be around to fulfill it.

If the opposition are already thinking about second place, than Verbeek and his men have inflicted an early psychological blow.

Here they took control early, knocking the ball around at the back, intelligently moving it through the twin Italian screeners, 'Vinnie and mini-Vinnie'. Most of the passing was very easy on the eye, the occasional ball over-hit as it invariably took-off in the high-altitude.

Problem was there was no-one at the pointy end to keep it. The idea was to pinch something, and it so nearly happened when Holman went around Feng Xiaoting (#4) and squared it for Bresciano, who was brilliantly denied by the alert Zeng Lei.

Australia was in control, but suddenly, about 10 minutes before the break, China had a good period, the skipper Zheng Zhi (#10) then the lively Zhu Ting (#13) mis-hitting two of those second ball chances Verbeek had spoken of before the game. China's reputation for melting in front of goal was intact.

After the break, the Socceroos remained in control and it wasn't until pacey striker Qu Bo (#11) was introduced for Han Peng (#9) with 15 minutes left that China started to get in among things.

First he volleyed another one of those second balls, forcing Schwarzer to get down quickly. A few minutes later the two were back at it, Schwarzer hesitating as he came out for a long ball and paying a big price.

UAE referee Al Saedi, who had earlier allowed Sun Jihai (#17) to get away with a terrible two-footed lunge on Wilkshire, punished Schwarzer for his hesitation and all the Socceroos hard work looked like it was for nothing. As the keeper said afterwards, to lose would have been a "disaster", a massive mental blow.

Anyway, the big man stayed up for as long as possible, left his feet behind and got lucky, the ball falling into his arms.

Could the Roos punish the host and apply the knock-out? Almost. Deep into injury time Culina found Bresciano in space, inside the box, a rarity. Carney, who had started the attack, lumbered into the box and should have been on the end of it, but left wingback, Sun Xiang (#3), one of the host's best, came from nowhere and applied enough pressure.

0-0 it ended, a fair result.

The Socceroos had many heros, but Jade North continued his graduation into a fully-fledged Roo with a composed display. Ditto Valeri and Holman, who also proved they can do the job required. Valeri was a monster in defence and very constructive on the ball, while Holman, confidence up thanks his recent goals in the Eredivise, worked and probed and looked Australia's most likely.

Alongside Valeri, Grella proved he can play in Asia. Perhaps it was the more coolish temperatures at 1900 metres.

There was hardly a poor Australian player, and they can now focus on a double-header against Iraq which should go a long way to deciding top spot, especially if the Iraqis do the job in Qatar tomorrow morning.

By then, who knows who will be in the Socceroos mix, but with Pim around, pulling the strings, it's looking ok. Bravo.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Heavy work as Singapore flood

Socceroos (0) v Singapore (0) friendly review and China wcq preview

IF last night’s friendly against Singapore was all about seeing who of the young or fringe players could step up to pressure of international level and press their claims for honours later on, as I argued at the bottom of yesterday’s piece, then unfortunately the heavy conditions didn’t really allow Pim Verbeek an accurate gauge of where his men are at. Indeed, nor did it really give the players a fair chance to make a serious case for Kuming and beyond, but even then, Verbeek will have learnt a bit about his men, some of it good, some of it not so good. Here I run the rule over last night’s contributors, with an eye towards China and beyond;

Ante Covic, 6; Didn’t have a great deal to do, but looked a little nervy on a couple of long range efforts. Got down well to his left to deny Singapore a late winner and generally his distribution when releasing with the arm was good.

Adam Griffiths, 5; looked very nervous and hesitant in the first period and not very comfortable out on the right. Over-hit his distribution too often and will surely not have convinced Verbeek he is up to the task of filling Emerton’s boots on Wednesday. Looked a little more comfortable in the middle towards the end where he won a couple of headers.

Jade North, 7; one of Australia’s best, he made a number of very good defensive reads, covering his backline and making timely interventions. On the ball he was neat, but not always accurate, especially when he went long. Looked better when he went looking for a short option out of the back, it was good to see him take his recent A-league form onto the international stage. The fact he got the captains armband after the break means Verbeek thinks highly of him, but we already know that. Wouldn’t look out of place alongside Neill in central defence or out wide on the right against China, it seems North has finally matured.

Michael Beauchamp, 6; a little rash in the challenge on the odd occasion, he had a tough job shadowing the mobile Singapore captain Indra Sahdan, but stuck to the job well and proved he is still one of our best man-markers.

Nikolai Topor-Stanley, 6.5; looked really good early, getting forward and providing a bit of width, but slowed down after about 20 minutes, sticking more to the defensive stuff, most of which he did reasonably well. Stayed alive when the ball was on the other side and made one important interception in the 90th minute. Decent debut.

Mile Jedinak, 5.5; Not bad, but could have been much better. More a ball winner than a distributor (say like a Musialik or Valeri), didn’t see enough of him seeking the ball from the defence and launching the Socceroos attack, or seeking the ball and switching it from side to side. The holding midfielder must boss the game and we didn’t see enough of this. Late on he was turned inside the box, which might have proved more costly. Surprised he gets a gig in the China squad given Grella, Valeri, Culina and Wilkshire are already there.

Harry Kewell, 6; playing in the unfamiliar central midfield space, it was a surprise to see Kewell playing so deep at times, often calling for the ball out of defence and looking to feed his strikers. Most of the things he did were neat, but there was very little space of him to do it in. Would be great to see him let loose in a wider area on Wednesday.

James Troisi, 7; played left of Kewell and did some really neat things on the ball, with both feet. Probably could have got wide more often, but appeared to be under instructions to “tuck-in”, as we heard Arnold instruct through the side-line microphone. Hit one right foot blast in the first period and showed good defensive discipline, showing Verbeek he can do a job. Would be nice to seem him again, especially with a little more license to get forward.

James Holland, 6.5; thrust in an unfamiliar role, on the right of a midfield diamond, Holland was generally neat, without every really getting in behind the Singapore left back. When moved into a more familiar holding role alongside Jedinak in the second period he looked more comfortable. Like Troisi he proved he can do a job, and better days lie ahead.

Mark Bridge, 5.5; quiet, he struggled to really link with the likes of Thompson and Kewell in the first period. When Djite and Burns came on in the second period, Bridge had some familiarity and the football looked better, but a technical ball-playing footballer of his nature was never really going to enjoy the heavy going. Better days will come.

Archie Thompson, 6; like Kewell, given 45 minutes, but failed to really make an impression in the heavy going. Got in behind a couple of times, but generally there was little space for Thompson to weave his magic as Singapore flooded back. Not sure he did enough to get into the starting 11 against China.


Bruce Djite, 6; started the second half really well, using his power to trouble the Singapore defence, create one chance with his strength and generally hold the ball up well and linking with Olyroo mates Bridge and Burns. But then he drifted out of it as the hosts took control in the final quarter of the match.

Nathan Burns, 6.5; busy and mobile, he was everywhere, dropping back to help in defence and driving forward despite the heavy conditions. Plenty of good things to come.

Ryan Griffiths, 4; a mystery why he was even called into the squad.

Leigh Broxham, 4.5; brought on in the unfamiliar right-back role, he did well to get to the by-line with one of his first touches, before going missing in his defensive duties a short time later.

Adrian Leijer, 5; not really enough time to make an impression, but I still think he could move right up the central defensive pecking order if he can every find some regular game time at Fulham. Maybe Beijing will be his showcase.

SO with all that in mind, attention now turns to the China qualifier on Wednesday night, and given the quality of the players that have pulled out from the original squad with injury (Cahill, Kennedy, Emerton and Sterjovski) or been left out (Carle and Burns) and the fact the game is at altitude, things appear to be looking a little more difficult for the Socceroos.

The 21-man squad for now looks like this;

Keepers; Schwarzer, Covic
Defenders; Beauchamp, Carney, Kisnorbo, Neill, North, A Griffiths, Topor-Stanley
Midfielders; Grella, Culina, Valeri, Jedinak, Wilkshire, Holman
Attack; Bresciano, Kewell, McDonald, Bridge, Thompson, Djite

Verbeek appears to have a number of interesting posers;

Who he plays at right back? North is one option, but I wouldn’t be surprised to even find him in the centre of defence, alongside Neill. If that’s the case, the everywhere man, Wilkshire, who will be somewhere in the staring 11, appears the safest bet at right back.

Who partners Neill in central defence? Beauchamp will probably get it, but on recent form North would do ok, I sense.

Whether he goes with three up front (McDonald through the middle with support on the flanks from Bresciano and Kewell) or two up front (McDonald appears to struggle as a sole striker)? I sense McDonald might get a partner through the middle, either Thompson or Kewell. If it is Kewell, Bresciano would be on the left and Verbeek would need an option on the right now that Sterjovski is out thanks to a typically reckless challenge from notorious Middlesbrough thug Lee Cattermole (why on earth is this tool allowed to masquerade as a footballer?). If Verbeek goes with Thompson up front, Kewell and Bresciano could play on the flanks (even though both are lefties), with Culina and Grella holding the central midfield.

With all that in mind, here is a starting 11 that I hope is strong enough to grab at least a point in Kuming, hopefully more;


Saturday, March 22, 2008

Thai-riffic yet again

ACL matchday 2 review, Chonburi FC 3 v Melbourne Victory 1

EIGHT months ago, at the Asian Cup, we got a chance to marvel at the magic dished up by the Thai national team, who despite not making it through Australia’s group, were as eye-catching as anything at the tournament.

A combination or great technique, wonderful energy and clear joy for the game, the likes of Suree Sukha, Kiatprawut Saiweo and Dakskorn Thonglao made a massive impression.

Even against the Socceroos, a game they eventually lost 4-0, it was the Thais who made most of the running, at times sending the Socceroos ragged.

Fast forward to Wednesday night’s ACL matchday two clash between their club champions, Chonburi FC, and the Melbourne Victory and the sense of deja vu was obvious.

Here was another Thai side that played their more fancied Australian opponents off the pitch, only this time to end up of the right side of the scoreboard thanks to a couple of wonderful late strikes from substitute Stephane Baga.

Confidence flowing after losing only one of their past 19 games, Chonburi pressed the Victory early, pushing up high and never allowing the Victory to settle into a passing rhythm.

Recognising that the Ernie Merrick was sticking with his three-man backline, they stretched Melbourne wide by getting the ball forward early and using the left and right channels, where they stretched the likes of Pantelidis and Celeski on the right Vargas and Kemp on the left.

Often criticised for a lack of width, Melbourne were clearly out-stretched in the first half of this one, and Chonburi’s goal just before the break was a reward for the team that clearly had a game-plan.

On the left, the blond Arthit Suntornphit (#7) was causing problems, his cultured left peg teeing up the first for the excellent Brazilian front-man Ney Fabiano after a brilliant build-up that saw the ball won in midfield, then switched superbly from right to left where Suntornphit played the killer ball.

The goal summed up everything that was good about Chonburi; two players swooping in central midfield to dispossess Ward; swift movement of the ball forward, into the flanks, with great accuracy; a brilliant first-time cross; and a composed finish.

Merrick tried to adjust at the break by introducing Vasilevski and Ryall (for Caceres and Pantelidis), Vasilevski pushed onto Suntornphit, Ryall onto Fabiano.

In truth it gave the Victory a bit more control, but after the equaliser, the Thais had one last trump card to play.

Earlier in the night Andy Harper, calling the Adelaide-Changchum game, said Diego’s volleyed left foot screamer that smashed against the cross-bar would have been the goal of the decade.

Seemingly it came a few hours later, when the Cameroonian Barga danced through the midfield, onto his left peg and delivered and absolute rocket into Theoklitos’s top corner. Wow.

Later, with Melbourne pressing on, Barga glided into the box and applied the killer blow, this time with his right peg.

It was no less than the Thais deserved. As Merrick said afterward, they “worked really hard and were very quick in closing is down”. That was the key.

Yes the goals had come from their two imports, but this was an excellent team performance from a very well drilled team. Little wonder they pushed Gamba all the way.

Suddenly Melbourne’s aim of getting through the group just got harder, and with a double against Gamba Osaka to come, there appear to be three serious players in this group, and if it’s the Thai’s who get through, it won’t be through luck.


The man with a plan

MEANWHILE, in Adelaide, there was some fascinating insight from Aurelio Vidmar into the way United are going about things this campaign.

Clearly unhappy about conceding too many goals in v3, United have apparently spent the past month or so building from the back, working on their defensive structure, from Galekovic through to Djite.

And there’s early evidence it seems to be working after two very solid defensive displays, everyone seemingly more familiar with the job required of them without the ball.

Only in the past week, Vidmar said, have Adelaide started working on their forward structure, and it showed on Wednesday night, with United often looking short of ideas in the final third after the Chinese champions did a brilliant job of shutting Djite out of the game.

As their coach had so shrewdly analysed ahead of the game, most of Adelaide’s attacks are built through their big front-man, so shutting him out physically was the key to a well-earnt Yatai point.

Vidmar’s job over the coming months will be to add more attacking support to Djite, but for now it is great to hear an Australian manager talk about a plan.


Over to the kids

STILL in Asia, very excited about the prospect of seeing the young Socceroos (plus Kewell) take on Singapore in tonight’s friendly.

When we played Singapore almost nine months ago, ahead of the Asian Cup, most of the big guns were on deck, and it was far from smooth, so it will be great to see how some of the younger kids adapt to international football.

While there has been some talk about it devaluing the Socceroos strip, frankly the fact there are so many Socceroos games these days gives Verbeek a great opportunity to see who, if any, can step up to the plate, and the kids an opportunity to press their case for more important matters later on.

The central midfield space looks particularly threadbare for this game, so seeing if the likes of Jedinak, Broxham and Holland can make the step-up will be fascinating.

Jedinak is an interesting one. Clearly blessed with the physical attributes to compete at A-League level, he is often found out by the finer technical aspects of the game, such as his touch and range of passing.

These things are often exposed at international level, so tonight’s game will be fascinating. I’ll also be interested to see if Jade North can transfer his excellent A-League form to the international stage, where he is yet to grasp his opportunities.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Aussie round ball goes from strength to strength

APOLOGIES first for the lack of a recent post, life has been hectic since the A-League came to a dramatic climax almost three weeks ago, and even a week in Hong Kong for work (it was an Asia-Pacific regional workshop, my own version of an AFC think-tank) meant no escape from the round ball. Indeed, the subject was high on the agenda, with conversations invariably diverting to the many various opinions on the game (for what it’s worth, the Chinese representative gave his side little hope on March 26), and the hotel room plasma featuring a football only channel with endless replays of the previous weekend’s Serie A and Bundesliga action and plenty more on the other sports channels.

While it was hardly a surprise to learn the work of our former PM wasn’t well regarded around Asia, the Socceroos were more popular, despite the cockiness of our first Asian Cup campaign. The memory of Germany survives.

Gotta love the world game, and gotta love feeling a part of it.

Much, as it does these days, has happened on the local scene, a lot of it analysed by Mike, The Football Tragic, who has kept up his usual relentless high standards, but here are some of my own thoughts on the myriad of issues dominating the landscape…

The Vukovic drama; like many, hard not to feel sorry for the kid, who will miss the Olympics, but gee, what a silly boy. Tough lesson, but lets hope it makes him a better man and player.

To expand or not to expand; First we were going to 10 and now we're not, at least not for another season. The Galaxy appeared ready, the list of linked names growing by the day, but the stumbling block appeared further north, where the lack of noise from the Thunder was a real pointer to the fact it was behind the eight-ball. It's a shame, but the FFA’s want to stick to even numbers means we have to wait for something new to mull over, at least at the senior level.

All things youth; at the younger level, there’s plenty new. First, the announcement of a national youth league is welcome news and will ensure the kids get games, such a key part of their development. V3 proved the kids can compete even in the senior ranks, so a youth league should create many more opportunities for the kids to infiltrate the senior ranks. How to be a kid growing up in Oz football today? Couple that with the institutionalisation of small sided games (SSGs) and it's great to see that things are really picking up on the development side of the game. Nothing like plenty of games and plenty of touches, so congratulations FFA and congratulations Craig Foster.

Bring back the Bling; Sydney FC has been very busy in the transfer market, seemingly keen to buy a team the city will want to watch (unlike the v3 motley crew). Big names John Aloisi and Simon Colosimo join bright young things Mark Bridge and Stuart Musialik, both of whom I have made no secret of my admiration for on this blog over the past couple of seasons, especially the latter. I will say though that despite winning the championship, both had disappointing seasons, seemingly a combination of injury, their minds diverted by the need to sort out their futures and perhaps being a little over-worked by the Olyroos. Time for both to switch back on, which you sense they did at the back end of the finals, and for Musialik, it’s definitely time to pull the finger out. The signing of both Musialik and Colosimo is interesting. Yes they are both holding midfielders, but Colosimo also showed an interesting propensity to drive this season, so at this stage I see no reason why they can’t play together in the centre of midfield. Any who knows, perhaps Kosmina sees the latter as a central defender. Con Constantine seems to think people are dispensible, but he better look after Gary van Egmond.

Melbourne making many gains; While Sydney is keen to bring back the Bling, down South there has been some great work in the transfer market. The signing of Billy Celeski is very shrewd business from Melbourne, and as I’ve written before, Celeski’s technical work for both Perth and the Olyroos was for me a feature of 2007. Like Musialik, there appears to be a bit of a head-strong mentality for the manager to deal with, but there is no doubting the technical ability. The same can be said of Tom Pondeljak, although he is at the other end of his career, and seemingly keen to be closer to home.

Melbourne’s Matchday 1 Marvels; it was a very impressive start from the Victory to their ACL campaign at the Dome last night with some wonderful quick movement of the ball and some terrific mobility off it. Really enjoying the make-up of the Melbourne midfield at the moment as it has a far more technical feel than at the start of A-league v3. Nicky Ward has made a real impression driving and creating from central midfield throughout 2008 and the addition of Celeski, as I noted above, just adds real class to the team. When you think about Carlos Hernandez and Pondeljak coming in, and Kaz Patafta in reserve, it’s an impressive ball-playing squad Merrick has built, so let’s hope their football continues to catch the eye. In defence Vargas and Kemp were excellent, and while the latter’s heavy first touch created the opening goal, it was arguably his best game in navy blue. Up front, the movement of Archie Thompson and Adrian Caceres was too much for the Dragons, while Merrick's decision to bring on Sebastian Ryall 10 minutes into the second period effectively killed off any chance the visitors had of a comeback, good work all-round.

Adelaide’s Steel; At the Pohang Steelyard (great name), it was the visitors showing plenty of it. Loved the way that United burst out of the blocks, much as the Socceroos did in the opening world cup qualifier. There’s little doubt they caught Pohang by surprise, so thumbs up to Aurelio Vidmar for the shrewd tactical work. After that it was very much about the steel; the posts coming to their rescue on three occasions and the central defensive trio of Crosthwaite, Costanzo and Galekovic outstanding in repelling the Steelers, who dominated for the most part As Pippinu pointed out in his excellent summary of the game and Vidmar emphasised in his post match comments, it was great to see United demonstrating the smarts and killing off the game. Djite continues to be a physical threat and take his opportunities.

More interesting work from the Pim; keeping everyone (his players, the opposition and the media) on their toes appears to be the Pim way. Hard to know exactly what’s going on in that thoughtful mind of his, but right now he appears a man in control, and that’s the key. He picked a youthful squad for the Singapore friendly and today went for the Euroroos for the crucial game four days later. Everyone is on notice, and every action is being monitored. Musialik and Joel Griffiths have already paid for some silly stuff.

Messi Moments; Just when it looked like Barca were closing in on Real a fortnight ago, the past couple of weeks have been painful, with the loss of Messi to injury compounded by losses to Atletico Madrid (or should I say, Sergio Aguero) and Villarreal. The little ray of sunshine has been Xavi, proving he can not only get into the box (a rarely seen quality), but score goals (even rarer).

Terrific Torres; and finally, you won’t be surprised to know how disappointed I am about yet another premiership gone begging for the Reds of Liverpool (I’ve lost count), but it’s been just brilliant watching Torres burst onto English football this season, especially over the past month. While his control and turn at the San Siro yesterday was a gem, I loved his dummy on Newcastle keeper Steve Harper on the weekend, just magic. Sorta made me happy I’d chosen the number 9 strip over Stevie G when I chose one for my one and a half year old son in Hong Kong last week. Can’t readily get a junior Torres strip here just yet, but the way the game is going, hopefully that won’t be far away.

Any thoughts on any of the above? or something else tickle your fancy over the past few weeks? Let me know your thoughts.