Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Everything Bare the defending

Champions League reviews, Liverpool 4 v Arsenal 2 (5-3 on agg.) and Melbourne Victory 3 v Gamba Osaka 4

FROM Liverpool to Melbourne, Anfield to Docklands, from Europe's premier club competition to Asia's replica, rarely has there been a more enthralling and entertaining day of football.

Starting at 4.45am eastern and ending just short of 9.30pm, deep into stoppage time, there were goals galore, more changes to the lead than one could keep count of, and a Brazilian named Lucas in both winning squads, Liverpool's Leiva and Gamba's goal-scoring substitute.

Liverpool vs Arsenal, the second leg of the quarter final was where the fun, at least for a Reds fan, started, Liverpool fortunate start the match level after being second-best at Ashburton Grove a week earlier.

And early on it looked like the Gunners would finally be rewared for their domination of the first leg. In the first 30 minutes here they battered Liverpool yet again, their movement of the ball and off it proving far to hot for the hosts, typified by the wonderful build-up that led to Diaby's opener.

Had Adebayor managed to stay on side a couple of times, they tie might have been buried. The Reds were rocking and never in the match, until half an hour in, when Hyppia took advantge of some sloppy work at the corner from his marker Senderos and Fabregas on the post.

Level on the night, level on aggregate, the confidence was back and gradually Liverpool took control, helped in no small part by the 40th minute injury to Arsenal's influential holder-cum-driver Flamini.

It was the sniff Liverpool needed, and in the second period we finally saw the Anfield and European version of the Reds, pressing Arsenal high in typically relentless fashion, rarely giving them time on the ball.

Soon Senderos (what was Wenger thinking starting him in the centre of defence and wasting Toure on the right? Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but surely Eboue at right back and Walcott on the right) was at it again, allowing Torres to turn inside the box and fire a peach to make it 2-1 (3-2 on agg). Surely the Reds were home!

Behind, belatedly, Wenger reacted, introducing both Walcott and Van Persie, at least 10 minutes late in my mind (at 2-2 on aggregate, they may have been the game-breakers).

Soon Walcott shook-up the tie and gave the visitors the lead on aggregate, going on an amazing slalom run past four men, from the edge of his own box deep into Liverpool's, squaring it up for Adebayor. A little earlier he's fluffed a similar chance. No such mistake this time.

If Torres's strike had been worthy of the winner at one end, then Walcott's run was even more worthy. But the Gunners couldn't hang on, the referee missing a Fabregas tug on Babel outside the box and instead being caught by Toure's proximity to Babel and the Dutchman's fall inside.

It was harsh on the Gunners, and Babel rubbed it in late on, Fabregas again shaken-off by a player seemingly more at peace playing through the middle (yet Benitez continues to use him wide on the left).

Liverpool, pathetic at home, march on and on in Europe, probably keeping their conservative manager alive for another season.

Meanwhile, Melbourne played host to another clash where defence was often a secondary consideration as the lead changed hands on four occasions, the first time very early, the last time too late for the Victory.

Both defences retreating, the gap between them creating acres in the midfield, this was as open a game as you could imagine, the Malaysian referee playing a big part in keeping it going.

Gamba came with a reputation for being frail defensively and vibrant in attack (read this excellent and prophetic preview from Mike Tukerman via Neil Zimmerman's Victory in Melbourne), and they certainly lived up the reputation. Of course, it was their attack which caught the eye, none more than the massive Brazilian front-man Bare, who was a constant headache for Melbourne, both in the air and on the ground.

One of the features of Gamba's game was their use of the flanks, and better still, their delivery from out wide and at the set-piece. Most of their damage was done down the left, where the irresistable wingback Yasuda, he of the orange boots and hair, was super, setting up the winning goal with a brilliant run and ball to the near post, which Lucas expertly angled past Theoklitos.

Earlier Yasuda had laid one on the plate for Bare, who's header looked like it crashed off the crossbar and over the line. Goal-line technology anyone?

While Yasuda's masterful left peg was hitting the spot often, it was Endo's precocious right foot from the set-peice that also proved profitable for Gamba and such a headache for the Melbourne's custodian, the A-League's best gloveman of version 3, but finding the standard in Asia more difficult to deal with (witness Stephane Barga's thunderbolt on matchday 2, matched by Futagawa equally amazing strike in this one).

From one side Endo clipped in a perfect corner to the near post for Bare to attack and catch-out Theoklitos, before shaping one away from the other side, this time for his skipper Yamaguchi to attack. Again Theokiltos was caught out by the quality.

While his two assists will be remembered, it was Endo's all-round variety from the corner flag that caught the eye, whether near post, far post, flat or drifted. Some range, and a reminder of just how impressive he was at the Asian Cup. Also, a benchmark for some of our own set piece men.

Melbourne certainly played their part in an enthralling encounter, and had a couple of their own set-piece specials, albeit from deeper positions (as apposed to the by-line), but no-doubt ran out of juice towards the end. Ever the schrewd match-reader, Paul Trimboli hit the jackpot when he noted Melbourne were inviting trouble in the last five minutes by coughing up the ball coming out of defence.

Perhaps Merrick paid a price for predictably taking off Caceres with 10 to go, for the Mariners-bound man had looked a threat throughout and combined well with Allsopp, who proved a handful in the air.

Elsewhere, Ward and Celeski looked handy on the ball and worked the house down, but the Victory lacked someone to really take control in the centre of midfield. Pace was sacrificed for Pantelidis before the break, but from my view, it was the visitors who shaded it and deserved their win.

Footnote; the late drama and goals continued in the late ACL game between Adelaide and Binh Duong. While Adelaide hung on for a 2-1 win, the real star of the show was the Vietnamese side's South African import, the number 10, Philani. While he was a little lucky the stay on pitch after a late lunge on Galekovic, he deserved his wonderful goal from a free kick with six minutes left. It was another left foot bomb, something our teams are getting used to coping. On the balance of the game, Binh Duong deserved at least a draw. Philani deserved even more.


Anonymous Guido said...

Again great summation of the Melbourne Osaka match. Osaka was the better team, but I thought Melbourne accounted itself well considering that two key players were out.

I think we can say that Melbourne is pretty much out of the ACL, but all of this is a great learning experience for Australian football.

What 'worries' me is though for the future performance of A-League teams in the ACL is the lag of time from winning the thing and participating in the ACL, and the flight of good players after a team wins the A-League. It has happened with Melbourne and with Newcastle to a certain extent.

Thu. Apr. 10, 09:49:00 am AEST  
Blogger pippinu said...

What can one say? Too much firepower, and with Endo in the one in the A-League can whip them in like he can, except Carlos, but there lies another story of woe for Melbourne.

We are undermanned at the moment and we don't get to go two years running like Adelaide, so the experience might end up counting for nought.

It is also starting to become clear that Australian teams are disadvantaged by the timing of the ACL, and that's before we even get to the salary cap.

Pity the crowd wasn't bigger - it deserved to be.

Thu. Apr. 10, 12:34:00 pm AEST  
Anonymous Richard Green said...

The only thing that seperated the teams in the end was the fall off the Victory had in the last 10 minutes, something that makes sense entirely in terms of match fitness.
This, along with the time distance between A-League success and AFC matches is likely to dog A-League teams for ages.

Fri. Apr. 11, 05:57:00 pm AEST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ARe you guys kidding me? Did people actually watch the game

The first 2 melbourne goals were lucky, a goalkeeper error, and there was 2 fouls in the box for the second game.

Just remember Gamba came here after a gruelling week, got used to the conditions and beat a Victory team, IMO Gamba had the better of the game...

I wish Victory all the best in Japan if they play the way they did

Sat. Apr. 12, 05:10:00 pm AEST  
Blogger The Round Ball Analyst said...

Thanks all for your comments, certainly agree that melbourne did really well given the context of their injuries, but i just thought gamba did things that bit sharper, esp their delivery from the by-line, be that general play or the corner...

Also agree that the timing of the acl doesnt suit the a-league clubs, would be great to see newcs and the mariners competing now.

Mon. Apr. 14, 09:05:00 pm AEST  

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