Sunday, July 27, 2008

King Bosnich back in the black, learning the lessons of life

Tony Tannous @ Bluetongue Stadium

FIFTEEN years ago, at the first leg of the world cup qualifier against Argentina at the SFS, all eyes were on one man, Diego Armando Maradona. He had been drafted back by a desperate Albiceleste after a terrible qualifying campaign had seen their USA '94 hopes come down to a two leg play-off against the Socceroos.

Standing between the might of Argentina and Maradona that night was a young Aussie custodian who had been making quite a name for himself over at Aston Villa. As a budding state league keeper, a few years his junior, I couldn't help but go down the path of hero worship, so I spent the day before the game creating a giant "King Bosnich" banner, and paraded it proudly from my vantage point in bay 24.

Fast forward to the Bluetongue Stadium this afternoon and the King was Back; back from a dark place, back on the pitch, back between the sticks and back to his brilliant best, much like the equally controversial Argentine 15 years earlier.

There was little doubt who the majority of the 7000 odd crowd, and what must have been the biggest media contingent to a pre-season game in Australian football history, had come to see. Ever the showman, Bosnich lived up to his end of the bargain, producing a string of top-class saves, including one from the spot, to help the Mariners to a thrilling 3-0 win over fierce rival Sydney.

Midway through the first half, when Bosnich flew high to tip-over a Terry McFlynn volley, Bluetongue Stadium erupted. Later, in the second half, when he dived to his left to block a Steve Corica spot-kick (pictured above courtesy of John Dewberry of Action Sports Images, and the Central Coast Mariners), the place went potty.

In an around that he produced a couple of other smart saves, one flying to his right to tip over a Mitchell Prentince banana, and another with his feet as he was falling to his right.

Overall, from a technical perspective, the movement of the feet was good without being brilliant. Sharpness will come with more training and games. Bosnich was most pleased about his ability to deal with a couple of Sydney crosses, but, in truth, the standard of Sydney's crossing wasn't the greatest. Better tests will come.

Overall though it was a throw-back to the Bosnich of old, and when he was replaced in the 81st minute, there was a standing ovation all-round, and even a bit of banter from the travelling Cove, which the keeper took in his stride.

Bosnich has been through so much over the past five or so years, he claims he is not about to let any of this get to his head.

In the past, he said, he may have gotten carried away after such a performance. Now he was keen to re-iterate that "one swallow doesn't make a summer", a point he made numerous times in a candid and engaging post-match press conference.

He spoke of the importance of turning up to training on time tomorrow, setting a good example for the kids around him, and starting again.

His goal, he said was "to look good again", to get the chiseled features back and get himself in shape.

Seemingly, he is also on his way to grabbing at least a short term deal with Mariners, who continue to push the "one day at a time" mantra. While Vukovic will be available for the opening two matches, Bosnich should certainly be in better shape by the time the Mariners travel to Suncorp to take on his old national team boss Frank Farina. With Craig Moore and Danny Tiatto also around, that would certainly be a reunion of sorts.

Beyond that Bosnich was non-committal, but made no secret of the fact he still enjoys London and has many friends there. Perhaps in the back of his mind he knew the news of this performance would spread around the world, at least in his old stomping ground. A solid few months here and the next transfer window could indeed be a window back to some unfinished business in the UK.

That would certainly be some way to round out a turbulent career.

He was certainly dressed for the high life after the match, decked out in a smart black suit, with black shirt and black tie, and admitted he held up the media conference because he was blow-drying his hair.

Not a hair out of place, not a sentence out of line. Whether he is up to playing at the highest level again, even he wasn't quite sure, reminding all that he was just happy for now to have his health back and be re-united with his family, who he was planning to celebrate with tonight.

In the battle that is life, Bosnich was just glad to be back in the black.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

No Endo, just Eto'o?

AFTER his recent exploits in the ACL and at last year's Asian Cup, a little guttered there'll be no Yasuhito Endo at the Olympic Games.

But for those of you who have been following the exploits of Uzbekistan's Kuruvchi in the ACL due to the quality of the likes of Djeparov and Kapadze, the news that they've been linked with Samuel Eto'o sure will have grabbed your attention. If it comes off, and Barca have said it's unlikely, it would sure send the frighteners through the likes of Kashima, Gamba, Urawa, Saipa, Al Karama and Adelaide. In the meantime, he's also been linked with the Olympics, so who knows where we'll next see Sam?

Monday, July 14, 2008

Those Eight Mad Minutes in the Fritz Walter...

WHO will ever forget those Eight Mad Minutes in the Fritz Walter? Inside the stadium it was mayhem as thousands of Aussies, this nutter among them, went ballistic, jumping all over anyone in sight. At one point I remember picking up Matthew Johns - aka Reg Regan - who was seated a couple of rows behind, and lofting him above the shoulders. It was nuts.

Those eight mad minutes touched everyone, and now a fellow blogger, Melbourne-based Neil Zimmerman of Victory in Melbourne, has marked Tim Cahill's opener by launching an E-zine named the84thminute.

Neatly constructed (you'd expect nothing less from an architect) with the help of his better half, Caroline, it features analysis, blogger exposed and even follows the exploits of his indoor side as they search for that elusive first win, something most footballers have experienced.

For starters, the analysis section covers a range of topics, including a wrap by yours truly of the Socceroos first phase of qualifiers, Neil's preview of the Uzbeks ahead of the next phase of quals and a review by fellow Melbourne-based blogger Eric Daams of the Melbourne Victory's first ACL campaign.

Meanwhile, learn who Eamonn, of Football in the Capital, would have in his five-a-side team.

It's all there, so enjoy, and if you like what you see and you're keen to contribute, don't hesitate to touch base with Neil via

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Arnold pins his faith in Milligan and a 4-2-3-1

Pre-Olympics friendly, Olyroos 3 v New Zealand 2

Tony Tannous @ North Sydney Oval

BURNS and Djite’s omissions flogged to death, it’s time to move on, so it was refreshing to turn up for this afternoon’s pre-Beijing friendly and finally have some football to sink the teeth into.

Beyond that, it was also a great opportunity to gain some insight into Graham Arnold’s thinking ahead of the games, and some answers for his selections.

Perhaps the most intriguing question ahead of the game was just how Arnold would use the plethora of defenders at his disposal.

In the qualifiers he’d ostensibly relied on the central defensive pair of Milligan and Leijer, the Twin Pillars as I referred to them here, to get the job done. But by drafting both North and Spiranovic into his 18, Arnold gave an indication he was thinking of pushing Milligan into midfield.

That was confirmed here, Milligan, handed the armband, shaping up alongside Musialik in a 4-2-3-1 formation that is all the rage.

It was a departure from the way Australia qualified, where Arnold used one sitter, Musialik, and asked two other central midfielders to bomb-on.

Here it was the two deep midfielders, with Troisi asked to play off the lone front-man, the mobile Rukavystya, a formation in keeping with that of the senior side.

Seemingly Arnold had gone for insurance, hell-bent on ensuring Musialik will be protected and his team won’t be tossed-around in midfield in Beijing, and he touched upon this in his post-match press-conference;

“I’m a big fan of Milligan in central midfield,” he started. “He’s a good user of the ball and can break up the opposition. He’ll be in there to look after the numbers 10’s, the likes of Riqueleme.”

Later, after the press conference, I asked if it was a defensive move given he’d used one holder for qualifying. Not really, he said, if the opposition play with two holding midfielders, Musialik will be asked to push on.

Given the quality of the opposition at Beijing will be a step up from the qualifiers, it’s logical stuff, and pretty much in keeping with the world-wide trend. Later, in the second half, with Australia gaining control, Arnold introduced the more offensive Celeski for Musialik and a more familiar pattern emerged, with Celeski and Bridge breaking forward as Milligan sat (except at set pieces, where he was a menace).

Elsewhere, there was a start for one of Arnold’s favourites, the set-piece specialist Sarkies, who seems to save all of his good stuff for the Olyroos. In truth he has flattered to deceive at A-League level, but whack an Olyroo strip on him and the man becomes a mountain, even as a left-sided attacker.

After warming up with a couple of early free-kicks, he soon plonked a corner onto the head of his skipper and the memories came flooding back.

Then, something we rarely see from Sarkies; he actually hit the back of the net after latching onto a shot from the edge of the box, which proved too wicked for Jacob Spoonley. More of the same in China please.

The fact Sarkies started on the left meant there was a surprise selection in the hole behind the striker, but Troisi grabbed his chance, demonstrating he needn’t be pigeon-holed as a left-sided attacker.

There was also a bit of a surprise on the right side of attack, where Zadkovich did some neat stuff in the opening period before being replaced by Bridge, who went central, allowing Troisi to switch to the left and Sarkies to the right.

It was a fruitful period for the Olyroos, and proved they have a squad ready to adapt to most situations.

Arnold said his main focus in the build-up had been on combination-play and building up his squad’s fitness, and there’s no doubt there were good signs. While the Olyroos didn’t create a truck-load of chances, there was enough promise in the front third to suggest a fit and firing Thompson could bag a few.

“We need a killer,” Arnold said, in reference to his hope Thompson can be that man.

New Zealand certainly had a killer in Brockie, who caught the eye with his movement and classy finishing, giving the new look Olyroos back-four a bit to work on. But ultimately Stuart Jacobs’s men, minus their three over-age players, Nelsen, Killen and Elliot, were undone by the greater mobility, quality and tactical flexibility of the Australians.

So, after the dramas of the past week, some good signs for Arnold. But for now the focus in on building the fitness, currently said to be at 75%, and Arnold made no secret of the fact he’ll be ‘flogging’ the squad with double-sessions for the next few weeks, reminiscent of Hiddink’s work before major championships, and tapering off a week or so out from the Serbia game.

Friday, July 04, 2008

The heat’s on ahead of the Games

A look at Arnold’s Beijing 18

APPARENTLY Djite and Burns can’t handle the heat. Now it’s firmly on Graham Arnold.

Their omission, and that of James Holland, are undoubtedly the most contentious of Arnold’s Beijing selections, but there are numerous others.

Before delving into them, a quick reflection on the Djite/Burns saga, which has got everyone talking.

For starters, I find it hard to totally concur with Arnold’s “conditioning” reasons. There has to be more to it.

Other than for stylistic reasons (ie. the way we plan to play – more on that later), the only logical thing I can think is that it’s a strategic thing from the FFA.

Surely it’s not a vendetta? If Burns and Djite had been advised not to sign for a club prior the games, Zadkovich would also have been left out, right?

So maybe it’s strategic? Given they’ve signed in Turkey and Greece, perhaps the FFA feel they would be doing the players, their clubs and Australia's future a favour by letting them be with their clubs. The logic is it would build relations with Genclerbirligi and AEK (something the FFA under Verbeek have been really big on), allowing Djite and Burns to try and establish themselves in the first 11, thus give Australia a couple more attacking European-based weapons to draw upon in the upcoming world cup qualifiers and beyond.

The theory goes; the worst thing that could happen, both for their development and for the sake of our own player pool is that they go to the Olympics, and then spend months afterwards trying to catch up.

If that’s the case, it’s a gamble either way. What’s to say they don’t spend months on the bench anyway? Having missed the Olympics, that would be a double-whammy.

Anyway, it’s a debate that’s likely to rage, but in the meantime, there is much else to dissect around Arnold’s 18;

Thanks for playing a part; already mentioned the omission of Burns, Djite and Holland, but there are countless others, including Vidosic, Williams, Downes, Dilevski, Broxham, Ward, Zullo, Elrich, Cornthwaite, Boogard, Simon, Hearfield, D’Apuzzo, Hoffman and not to mention Vukovic. It’s always tragic to come so far and get so close, so a big thankyou and ‘keep your head-up’ to all.

Defensive selection; on the surface there appears to be far too many defenders, with central men North, Milligan, Leijer and Spiranovic complimented by wide defenders Zadkovich, McClenahan and Topor-Stanley. Factor in the two keepers and half the squad shape up deep. Ok, perhaps Milligan or Zadkovich can play in central midfield, but given the defence (especially the Vukovic-Leijer-Milligan central axis) was the strongest part of the qualifiers, surprising there are so many. Arnold has been on the record saying he needed to find some solutions in the front third, yet he appears to have stacked the back.

‘We’ve got no left sided players’; that’s been the cry for years. Yet, in this squad there are four left-sided men in Topor-Stanley, Troisi, Carney and Rukavystya, just about every left-sided player we’ve got. Perhaps first choice at this stage is Topor-Stanley at left back and Carney on the left side of attack, but given that Sarkies spent much of the quals out on the left, and appears to be an Arnold favourite (along with Troisi), did we really need four lefties?

Sarkies saved by his set-piece; speaking of Sarkies, for me he’s the luckiest man in Australia, only in the side due to his delivery from corners, which was instrumental in getting the Olyroos to Beijing, but otherwise (in three seasons of the A-League) has been underwhelming. His form for Adelaide in the ACL was poor and Arnold has to decide if he can carry him in the 11 simply for this set-pieces. Surely Holland, handy over the dead ball, would have been a better all-round option, but, of course, he’s probably “too young”, ironic considering he’s a Socceroo.

The style of play; according to Arnold, the Olyroos struggled to bag goals in the qualifiers, relying on set-pieces. He has gone for pace in the front third here, indicating that there might be a bit of counter-attacking going on. Perhaps he’s been sitting back and analysing the Euros, thus the inclusion of the quick Thompson and Rukavystya. If so, it might explain Djite’s omission, but puzzling how Burns would be overlooked from any counter-attacking template. Surprised also there is no change-up battering ram option off the bench, someone like a Djite or Simon. Arnold’s gone for mobility and adaptability all round, and that might be a clever move, especially against Argentina.

Drive out of midfield; one of the features, for me, of the qualifiers, was the drive out of central midfield. It came from the likes of Celeski, Burns and Ward. Given that Sarkies struggles to offer any drive, maybe it’s expected to come from Zadkovich, Kilkenny and Celeski, but Burns has to wonder why he’s not among them. Based on this, he feels he at least should be ahead of Celeski.