Saturday, April 19, 2008

Off-season’s off the radar as the round-ball rolls in

For now, Australia feels like the centre of the football world

GROWING up as a football fan in this country even a few years ago, every May would approach with both the anticipation and enthusiasm of a kid on Christmas Eve and the wary knowledge the fun wasn’t gonna last forever.

The excitement came from the fact we were about the bare witness to what SBS soon dubbed the Mad Month of May, a calendar chock-full of European finals and live early morning or late broadcasts. The despair came from the fact we knew it would be a few months before the European and local seasons would be back in full swing, and that wait was often unbearable.

Of course, every second year there was a World Cup or European Championship to quench the thirst in the interim, but the period between the end of May (end of European season) and end of August (start of new season) invariably seemed liked an eternity.

Gradually, over the past few years, as Australia has engaged with football world, the 'off-season' has been getting shorter, so much so that this year, the Mad Month of May is just the prelude to what must surely be one of the craziest and busiest periods in Australia's football history.

Come the first day of June and the Socceroos will embark on a four game, three week, odyssey from Brisbane to the Middle East and back to Sydney in order to get through to the next phase of world cup qualifiers, which will start later in the year (fingers crossed we are there).

Of course a week or so prior to the June 1 game against Iraq in Brissy, the Socceroos will play host to Ghana in a friendly in Sydney, a prelude to a week in which all the heavy hitters in the world game will be in the Harbour City for the FIFA Congress.

The night FIFA’s think-tank winds up, on May 30, the old lady, Juventus, visits the Victory in Melbourne.

Two days later, on the same days the Socceroos host Iraq up North, the great Zinedine Zidane, my favourite all-time footballer, is said to be playing an exhibition game in Sydney. You beauty.

It’s crazy stuff – three big games, in three cities, all on the same weekend.

By then, the Victory and Adelaide United will have completed the first phase of their ACL campaigns, hoping there will be more action in the coming months.

If all this Australian action isn’t enough, there are three full weeks of European madness between June 7 and 29 in the shape of Euro2008. Madness indeed.

While July looks relatively quiet in comparison to the two previous months, it soon picks up again in August with the Olyroos going to the Beijing Games, where the football program begins two days prior to the opening ceremony, on August 6.

In the meantime, the Olyroos will warm-up for the Games by travelling to Malaysia next month for the inaugural Intercontinental Cup among the likes of Argentina, Nigeria, Croatia and Ghana.

Meanwhile, our other national teams will not lying idle. The Joeys will be in action in Indonesia in July and Uzbekistan in October, the Young Socceroos will be on deck in Saudi Arabia in December, and the female sides, the under 17s, the Young Matildas and the senior side are all either currently on deck or soon will be.

The Matildas, so eye-catching at last year’s World Cup, will be in Vietnam next month for their second stab at the AFC Asian Cup.

And if all that’s not enough, before we know it, A-League v4 will be back in August….

How on earth can we keep up?

Times sure have changed.

What are you most looking forward to over the next few months and what’s your football calendar like?


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