Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Cahill and Co., and all the Reds

IT was almost a week ago, I know, but life's been hectic, and given that I've promised a couple of TRBA regulars a wrap of the Roos performance in Brissy, here it is, with a bit more on the Reds of Adelaide and Liverpool.

Socceroos v Qatar analysis; In answer to a question on how important Tim Cahill was for the Socceroos, Pim Verbeek told the press on the eve of the game last Wednesday that they'd be in a position to judge about 15 minutes after the scheduled full-time whistle. Truth is, if anyone needed convincing, they only had to wait about eight minutes, as Cahill got on the end of a wonderful move involving a one-two between Wilkshire and Emerton, a beautifully dinked Wilkshire ball into the path of a clever diagonal Carney run and a couple of neat headers from Carney and Kennedy. The finish was classic Cahill. Soon he was at it again, getting on the end of a cross and following in to win himself a penalty (even though I felt he made the most of Abdullah Kone's minimal contact). 2-0, game over. How important is Cahill again? Truth is he wasn't the only accomplished performer on another wonderful night for Verbeek and the Socceroos, one that sets us up beautifully for a South Africa run. Behind him, holding the midfield, was the technical master Culina, begging for the ball and pulling the strings with accuracy. Further back was the returning Moore, who settled after a nervy start, but the real rock at the back was Neill, who I felt did a wonderful job shadowing and frustrating Quintana. Of late, since Moore's 'retirement', Neill has been sitting off and allowing either to North of Coyne to be the man-marker, while he surveys things from deeper. Here, with Moore back, Neill played the role of pest, allowing Moore to mop up. On their right, Wilkshire was again magnificent, combining well with Emerton. It appears a natural combo. Less effective was the left side, but it was hard to be too negative against a Qatari side that was completely outclassed, spooked even. The fact we could afford to carry McDonald said plenty about the opposition, who appear to be world-beaters and play some great stuff against everyone but the Roos. Verbeek's work ahead of the game, in the media and on the white-board, was spot on.

All aboard the Red Rattler; talk about rattling a few cages. Adelaide United's ACL run has been as uplifting as it's been surprising. At the start of the campaign, coming off a disappointing A-League v3, where they conceded far too many goals, Aurelio Vidmar's side was all about being solid defensively, happy to graft its way through the first phase. It wasn't pretty, but understandable. Vidmar said at the time that the attacking structure would follow, and he's been true to his word. Against Kashima, in a gripping return leg of the quarter final, one of the best games I've seen of late, they weren't always in control, but after surviving a few missed chances early, they made Marquinhos and co. pay, proving too physical and powerful, especially on the flanks, where Cassio, Jamieson, Cornthwaite and Dodd dominated. It was some night, and Hindmarsh was rocking. Onto the semi against Kuruvchi, and while the visitors looked in control for much of the opening hour or so, remarkably the Reds won it in a canter. While Cassio and Diego grabbed most of the headlines, for me the real hero was Fabian Barbiero, who was a surprise pick in the holding role but was an absolute monster in the opening hour, sprinting shuttles between Djeparov and Rivaldo. So true was Andy Harper's comment that no player deserved to score more than Barbiero. Not far behind him was the kid Mullen, while Cassio exploded in the second half. Stranger things have happened, but surely the Reds have done enough and appear destined for a final, possibly against the other Reds, Urawa. In truth, the hosts Gamba controlled the first leg, with the magnificent number 7, Yasuhito Endo, pulling the strings, but Urawa survived, and now go to their wonderful Saitama home with an away goal. One of those for Adelaide tomorrow and it'll be just about impossible for the hosts, but given Adelaide's defending in the nine ACL games to date, the three-goal margin should suffice.

The other Reds; without wanting to get carried away too soon, great to see the Reds of Liverpool really giving the EPL an early shake. Truth be told, there wasn't much expectation at the start of this season (compared with the start of last season, when all the hype had the title coming down to a battle between Liverpool and Chelsea, only for Man Utd to beat them both), but Rafa Benitez's men have been showing some real steel so far, and playing some wonderful football to boot. For once, they've even been able to notch an early win over their fiercest rival. Ok, they've had to come back from behind one or two times too often, but the reality of most of those wins, including the one over Man Utd, is that Liverpool were great value for their victory, controlling games and creating chances galore. A couple of the real stars so far have been a couple of the blokes who've had an up and down time at Anfield so far, Xabi Alonso and Dirk Kuijt. The former, said to be on the way Arsenal in the pre-season, has not only been keeping Mascherano out, but has been doing a great job controlling games for Liverpool. Out on the right, Kuijt has been dynamite, and is finally starting to reap the goals his workrate justifies. Behind them, Martin Skrtel was outstanding before injury intervened, and seeing if Agger can fill the void will go a long way to deciding how far Liverpool go. One of the features of the win against Man Utd was the work of the fullbacks, Arbeloa and Aurelio, who have so far provided Liverpool with wonderful drive to go with the defensive steel. It's been a great start, but it's early days, and with Chelsea pending on Sunday, and 20 years of heartbreak to reflect on, Reds fans like yours truly know not to get carried away.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

A crucial three points

Socceroos v Qatar md 3 preview

WITH non-Fifa date away games to follow in Bahrain and Japan, it's crucial the Socceroos build on the wonderful matchday 2 result in Tashkent with the three points tomorrow night.

Pim has certainly been on the front foot this week, with positive rhetoric and a seemingly positive shape set to throw everything at a Qatari side still adjusting to their new manager.

Other than the mooted 4-4-2, perhaps the most talked about selection has been in central defence. Once Moore made himself available, he was always going to be the choice, as harsh as it is on Coyne, who has hitherto taken his chances.

Verbeek would have remembered how Quintana toyed with Beauchamp the second time around last phase, and wanted Moore's experience and comfort on the ground, as well as in the air. Quintana is quick, mobile and strong in the air and you need an all-round defender.

Pim was rightly secretive about his 11 and 18 in today's press conference, but there now appears only one major debate, who will partner Kennedy? Verbeek has made no secret of his love for Holman, so given both Carney and McDonald haven't had much football, don't be surprised to see him get plenty of time.

Cahill ghosting in late to get on the end of crosses or pick up second balls will be crucial, so his battle with the fiesty and much improved holding midfielder Talal Alboloushi will be one to watch.

Metsu will do everything in his power to keep the Roos out early, but is likely to miss Marcone Amaral. The aim, as Metsu has said, will be to 'disrupt', so expect a congested midfield, which could make life a little difficult for Culina and Cahill.

An early goal would be great, but if it doesn't come, Australia must demonstrate control and keep probing patiently. A point wouldn't be terminal, but three would be a great step towards 2010.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

What price the AFC living in Australia?

LOOKS like Mohamad Bin Hammam is shifting AFC headquarters from Malaysia. With Ben Buckley hanging out with the AFC president in London this week, what are the odds on an Australia city becoming headquarters?

Chatting to a few of the Asian delegates at the FIFA Congress in Sydney a few months ago, I didn't sense much of the antagonism that was reported around the time Frank Lowy took us into the Asian Confederation on January 1 2006.

Indeed, like everyone, they were quite enjoying the Australian hospitality and ability to manage events of such magnitude, and didn't appear to be complaining about the distance. The mood towards Australia appeared ok.

Will be interesting to see what transpires on this front, but we know Lowy is an ambitious man, so don't be surprised to see him throw his hat into the ring.

Bin Hammam wants "headquarters in a country that can cater to our functions as a governing body", and while the "two-thirds" vote may have been a stumbling block a couple of years ago, wouldn't it be interesting to test the waters now?

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

A-League Report Card - Part 2

Season 4 review after round 7 - 'Standards on the up'

WHILE the attention for now turns to tomorrow night's mouth-watering Adelaide/Kuruvchi ACL semi and next Wednesday's qualifier against the Bruno Metsu lead Qataris, it's time, already a third of the way in, to take stock and reflect on the A-League season so far.

While crowds, as I hinted in my season preview, are down, I'm glad to say the on-field standard is very much on the up. Across the board there have been some wonderful games, starting with The Benchmark match, Perth v Jets, which I wrote about here. There have been other classics, including the Mariners/Melbourne rd 5 game and the weekend's Mariners comeback at Hindmarsh. Overall, the technical standard and standard of the signings, imports and Aussies alike, is far improved on previous campaigns.

Managers and clubs, it seems, are learning the lessons, and about time I hear you say.

Sydney, at long last, have been producing some very watchable stuff, while Melbourne, despite some ill-discipline, have been back to the dynamic and fluent style of v2. The Mariners are looking good and Adelaide continue to manage the two fronts well. Others, like the Jets, Queensland and 'Nix are yet to fully find their mojo, but are building things slowly. The Glory, on the other hand, are a mess, and that's where I start;

Perth Glory 3/10

A little unlucky, I argued, in the first three games, but their past couple have been rather tragic. Amaral has been missed, but the problems at the back persist, with neither Tarka, Coyne, Harnwell or Topor-Stanley able to organise the unit. Behind them Juric and Petkovic have been poor, so it's time for the kid Velaphi. At least Dadi has been worth watching, and Pellegrino has tried.

Wellington Phoenix 5/10

After the wonderful pre-season, the problems in central midfield were exposed, and the 'Nix have spent chunks of games on the back foot as a result. It's heaped the pressure on the defence, which hasn't been able to handle it. Tim Brown has at least stiffened things up in the past fortnight, while Sigmund and Karl Dodd did well in defence against Sydney and Smeltz continues to be a rare shining light up top. More needed from the likes of McKain, Durante, Daniel and Kwasnik.

Newcastle Jets 6/10

Ever the tinkerman, van Egmond has tried and tried, as he always does, to find a solution to his shape. He's still searching, and not for the first year the Jets imports haven't quite hit the ground running. There's little time in this league, and with Zura and Hakansson hitherto struggling, and Song still trying to deal with the physicality of the league, the pressure has been on Joel Griffiths. He's been a marked man and his injury won't help. But the Jets have been scratching around for results, keeping themselves in the mix, and shouldn't be written off just yet. Improvement is needed, in all the thirds, but van Egmond will continue to prod.

Queensland Roar 6.5/10

Been strong defensively, where Moore and Luke Devere have caught the eye (not to mention Matt Mundy on the debut last weekend), and typically competitive in midfield, where the pocket rockets, McKay and Murodcca, buzz about. But they are struggling for goals from their twin strikers, Reinaldo and van Dijk. Fortunately, so far, Charlie Miller has been sniffing out the goals. Farina appears to be building a very solid and physical unit, which is hard to beat, but right now, with the kids waiting in the wings, the Roar don't appear to have enough 'fantasy' in the front third to run away from teams. Reddy, meanwhile, has been shaky.

Central Coast Mariners 7/10

McKinna tinkered unsuccessfully with a front three in the opening few rounds, but since Jedinak has come back from injury into the holding role and Simon has joined Petrovski up front, the Mariners have looked a far more organised 4-4-2, and have even started knocking the ball about a bit, in scenes reminiscent of season one. Surprisingly, the fulcrum of that recent flow has been Caceres. In the pre-season, it looked like the Mariners would target the flanks through Caceres and Elrich, but the season-ending Elrich injury has caused a major re-think, and Caceres has so far been a find at the head of the diamond. Meanwhile, Simon's finishing and poise in the box reminds me of Bruce Djite's work in the early part of season three. Bojic has been wonderful at left back, while Bozza was good while he lasted.

Adelaide United 7/10

While their wonderful work in the ACL quarters has rightly grabbed most of the attention, Vidmar's men have also been gathering points on the home-front, and are perfectly poised for a post-ACL push. Only once, away to Sydney in rd 5, were their minds clearly elsewhere. Defensively they have been magnificent, carrying on their excellent work from the first ACL phase, with Jamieson, Galekovic and Cornthwaite doing well alongside the physical central pair. The midfield shape is flowing, with Salley in career-best form and Reid a revelation, while Dodd and Cassio provide plenty of quality out wide. With Cristiano banging in the goals, Diego recently back in the fold and Pantelis not far away, there is plenty of front-third quality.

Sydney FC 8/10

Plenty to like about Sydney so far, with much room for improvement. When you think that Aloisi and Bridge haven't yet hit their straps, you know there's more to come. Fortunately others have been filling the void, with Brosque and Corica providing the front third quality, McFlynn and Musialik the midfield stability, while Bolton, Fyfe, Popovic, Cole and Middleby have laid the defensive foundation. The gifted ball-user Cole has been top shelf, a joy to watch over the dead ball or out on either flank.

Melbourne Victory 8.5/10

There have been a few moments of poor discipline, but watching the Victory in season 4 has at times been like rewinding the clock a couple of years to when Fred and Thompson were terrorising sides. Now the terror is being shared among the likes of Celeski, Berger, Kemp, Hernandez, Fabiano, Allsopp, Pondeljak and Thompson, which just highlights the depth at Merrick's disposal. The fact Ward, Broxham and Pondeljak have had to wait their turn, and the eye catching work from Langerak, shows the depth. Meanwhile, Muscat and Vargas continue to offer steel at the back, while Lopez and Brebner provide stability in midfield. Things are ticking along just nicely.