Friday, November 14, 2008

A Red campaign, built on muscle and defence...now for the finesse!

Wrapping up Adelaide's ACL campaign

ADELAIDE United may well have suffered a 5-0 aggregate hiding at the hands of a wonderful Gamba Osaka side in the ACL final, but I reckon everyone involved should take a bow for brilliant and surprising campaign.

Admittedly, there is much to learn for Adelaide and Australian football, and Gamba had already demonstrated over two games against Melbourne (despite the spin from Ernie Merrick) that they are a class above us technically, but as they say in the classics, Rome wasn't built in a day.

Indeed, as Adelaide City great Joe Mullen confided in Mike Cockerill, Gamba have deliberately been working towards this for years, and it's time for us to take similar measures.

Mullen's meeting and the fact he initiated it is a good sign. Hopefully the administrators at both club and governing body level follow his lead and build a technical template that can stand the test of time and ensure that A-league clubs regularly feature in and win ACL finals on the merit of their football. SSG's are a step in the right direction, but more will need to follow.

The news that technical director Rob Baan is on his way home, without really infiltrating and influencing the development pathways, isn't such grand news. While his biggest legacy will be SSG's, a wonderful addition to the landscape, the job of shaping the technical development of the next age bracket, those below 15 and over 9, looks like it'll be left for another man!

It will come, but it will take a bit of time, and ensuring the right people are driving that development pathway is paramount.

The fact we are not where we want to be just yet makes Adelaide's job of reaching the ACL final all the more remarkable.

Hands up anyone who realistically thought, at the start of the comp, that Adelaide would get out of their group, let alone make it through two two-legged play-offs!

Coming off a disappointing A-league v3, Aurelio Vidmar and Phil Stubbins got cracking, and started building from the back. In came big Sash Ognenovski, who had an outstanding ACL campaign up until the point he was linked with a move to the Urawa Reds.

Tactically, Vidmar built a disciplined template that took United all the way through six group games and four play-offs; defend deep, stay compact, congest the midfield and spring forward through the power of the wide men and central striker.

Realising that his men weren't going to compete technically with the better credentialed opponents, Vidmar utilised the one feature of the Australian game that slighter Asians have hitherto struggled to cope with; muscle.

Against Kashima, in the quarter final, Ognenovski and Costanzo each took turns to batter the Kashima strikers early, and they basically melted from there. The drive and power of Dodd did the rest.

It had been the same for much of the campaign; most sides simply couldn't live with United's aerial prowess and run.

Indeed, when fellow blogger Jesse Fink dropped me a text late in the first half of the first leg of final, confidently predicting it was already over, I noted my surprise at the lack of physicality from United. It was a point Vidmar touched upon in his post-match comments, when he expressed surprise at the "timid" first half display.

Indeed, heading into Wednesday's 2nd leg, and no doubt realising that his men were a step below Gamba on a technical level, Vidmar noted the modus operandi would be physical and direct.

The early goals, a result of some average work from the back three of Ognenovski (poor header for the first), Valkanis (slower than a turning bus for the second) and Birighitti (hand too strong for the first), killed any such ambition, and the fluid Gamba controlled the match from there through the wonderful work of Hashimoto, Myojin and Futagawa in midfield, Nakazawa and Yamaguchi at the back, Lucas up front and Yasuda and Kaji on the flanks.

For once, Endo didn't have to do anything.

In truth, Adelaide were not only exposed technically in the final, but mentally they looked like a team that had played their final in getting there; they looked tired, with a couple of players maybe even distracted by the attention from J-League clubs.

They should learn from that, and Vidmar's matter-of-fact analysis is encouraging. Few excuses!

In time, the best Australian sides will compete with the best Japanese sides on a technical level, but we shouldn’t take this for-granted. Steps need to be taken, tough decisions need to be made.

One day, the dream should be for an Australian side to not only win the ACL, but win it playing Gamba style football.

4 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

As always Tony, thank you for the balanced commentary. Top piece.

BC

Sat. Nov. 15, 08:57:00 am AEDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am not convinced. Japanese players always have been good on the ball but this is not a recipe for successful football. I have seen the National Japanese team outplayed and outmuscled many times. What the A-league needs to do is increase the salary cap and the player quota. Having 15 players available for a final with a 17 year old keeper is just not competitive enough.

Sat. Nov. 15, 10:49:00 pm AEDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Like you said, Adelaide sure looked tired in both legs of the final and again last night.

The captain's pre-match interview said it all really.

Sun. Nov. 16, 07:19:00 am AEDT  
Anonymous hoodooguru said...

I've just read Rebecca Wilson's rant on the ACL final that was in the News Ltd papers this weekend.

Your reasoned analysis has (almost) removed the foul taste that it left in my mouth.

Sun. Nov. 16, 12:45:00 pm AEDT  

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