Saturday, November 29, 2008


Total Football; superb 15 pass goal involving every Perth outfield player, surely goal of the season

EARLIER today I wrote about what at the time must surely have been a candidate for goal of the season, a magnificent spin, carry, fake and guide from Shane Smeltz in Wellington last night. It was a beautiful piece of individual brilliance.

Well, move over Smeltz, enter Nikita Rukavytsya, who tonight, just over 24 hours later, was on the end of a superb team move involving 15 passes and every single Perth Glory outfield player.

Yes, believe it or not, the only player not to get a touch in the move was the Glory gloveman, Tando Velaphi.

Have you ever seen or heard about anything like that?

It’s true.

It started on the hour mark with a quickly taken free-kick in the right fullback spot, the result of Adrian Caceres being caught off-side.

Instead of placing it and wait for his team-mates to shape up up the field, in readiness for a launched long ball, as we too often see in this league, Downey played on with a quickly taken free-kick, rolling it up the line for Pellegrino. He carried it on and darted infield where he squared it for Shroj. Soon it was out on the left where Djulbic, with nowhere to go, decided to put his foot on it and go backwards.

There the trio of Topor-Stanley, Coyne and Harnwell played a neat series of triangle wall-passes at the back, until the skipper, able to turn, played a one-two with Topor-Stanely and burst through the midfield beyond Jedinak.

Here is where Perth got their only touch of luck. Coyne’s first touch from the return Topor-Stanley ball was heavy, but with Shroj distracting Osman, the ball had enough on it to escape the midfielder, and make its way to Trinidad.

The ball was now in the final third.

Ducking infield, the little Argentine, nimble on the ball, with his head up, played it into Rukavystya and kept going. This is when the hitherto patient build-up became a work of art, with the two combining for a dazzling triangle of passes.

Suddenly Rukavystya was on the ball again, facing the goal, but when he looked up, there were still a few white shirts in front of him. Only one Glory player hadn’t been involved in the move.

Rukavystya spotted the huge frame of Eugene Dadi, rolled a short five metre ball into his feet and sprinting into the space, inside the box. There he received a wonderfully weighted first touch from the Frenchmen, straight into his path.

There was still some work to do, but instinctively the Ukrainian born Aussie, scoring goals for fun, hit it first time, with his favoured left peg, and despite the hand from Vukovic, it crept in, thankfully and Glory-ously.

It rarely gets better than that, a move lasting just under a minute, involving all 10 outfield players, the ball moved all over the pitch.

“It’s football at its very, very best,” said Foxsports commentator Andy Harper, and he was spot on.

The only tragedy for David Mitchell was the fact Perth couldn’t kill the game, despite some dazzling football shortly after that goal, for it was surely worthy of winning any game.

Thankyou Perth Glory.

From woeful to wonderful, the two sides of Sydney

A-League round 13 analysis, SFC 1 v QR 1

Tony Tannous
Sydney Football Stadium

FOR just over an hour of last night’s clash at a wet SFS, it looked like Sydney’s season was spiralling out of control in a hurry, from worrying, to bad, to alarming poor.

Nothing was working. The diamond midfield formation, which saw Mitchell Prentice plonked out of position on the right (much as Stuart Musialik had been placed out of position on the left last week), meant that the play was far too narrow.

Shannon Cole, a neat technician, but not blessed with the greatest pace, and still learning the art of defending, was being given a working over by the quick youngsters, Minniecon and Zullo, taking turns. All the while he was afforded little protection by his nearest central defender, the experienced Iain Fyfe, while Prentice wasn’t tracking back.

Queensland were stretching Sydney through their two youngsters, and asking the likes of Miller and McKay to bomb-on into the box and exploit the space.

Sydney were pinned back, and static in the all the thirds. When they did get the ball, their use of it was terrible, and three of their biggest names were the most culpable, Corica, Aloisi and Musialik.

There was the odd sign, like when Bridge flicked in Aloisi, who should have shot earlier, but for the most part it was tentative, insipid stuff, and the Sydney fans let their team know all about it at the break, booing their side off.

On a night when Sydney United (formerly Sydney Croatia) were celebrating their 50th anniversary by including the likes of Manis Lamond, Velemir Kupresak and Zarko Odzakov in their all-time team, one of their greats Tony Popovic was being honoured at the SFS with a guard of honour for his retirement, only 8,500 or so fans on hand, a youth league game played beforehand, and the boos reverberating at half time in the main affair, the memories of the NSL were everywhere. The only things missing were the souvlaki and cevapi stalls.

In any case, Sydney’s confidence had clearly taken a battering from a run which had seen them muster only two wins in nine games, a set of results that saw the back of the club’s previous manager, another from the aforementioned Edensor Park outfit (incidentally, Culina was named the coach of the Sydney United all-time team).

Asked about the obvious lack of confidence on display in the opening hour, Kosmina blamed the press; “Of course it’s partly confidence. When the players pick up the paper every day and you blokes are bagging the shit out of them, what do you expect?”

It’s true, Sydney had been subjected to a barrage of criticism of late, part of it for the substance of their on field performances, but most of it for the resultant reactions from some players, and especially the manager.

After one recent draw with the Mariners, when his side had let a three goal lead disappear in the second half, Kosmina lashed out, first hammering Simon Hill on air, then venting more frustration at a writer.

The football press weren’t impressed. Craig Foster led the defence a couple of days later on The World Game. Jesse Fink followed his lead a few days later.

This scribe, back-of-the-net alumni, was among the many football writers not amused. After all, back-of-the-net is a website which has been covering the game for the past part of a decade, and is run by a band of dedicated football lovers, the likes of Chris Dunkerley, Paul Goodwin and Nick Guoth, who devote countless hours to the game they love, reporting on all the matches, big and small, and asking for little in return.

The criticism of the manager and players was largely deserved, regardless of the pressure everyone at the club is under and fact FC had numerous players injured or suspended, and many others on the way out.

In any case, Kosmina was in a more upbeat mood this time around, and it had much to do with a turn-around in the final half-hour, which was sparked by a scrappy Corica equaliser.

After that, a bit of confidence restored and the game suddenly flowing their way after the belated introduction of Brosque, and some natural width restored to the shape through the forward promptings of Middleby down the left and Cole down the right, FC were much more vibrant, a shadow the team which has been so listless earlier.

Bridge struck the crossbar, Corica got on the end of a wonderful Cole cross before having another effort cleared off the line by Mitch Nichols, and Aloisi so nearly got his toe to one at the back post.

It could have been more than a point, which in truth would have been harsh on a Roar side that had controlled the opening hour and had a golden chance of their own late, when Nichols got on the end of more delightful work from Zullo.

Afterwards, keen to focus on the positives, Kosmina and Aloisi said they were happy with the first half, and used the boos as motivation. At least the hosts stopped the sulking in the second period and showed they’re up for the challenge, an attitude that has been lacking of late.

While the point sent Sydney one spot down, into sixth (Wellington’s win over the leaders sent them above FC), on the evidence of the last half hour their season isn’t over by any stretch, but they will need to produce more of the same and less of what we saw in the opening hour.


MANAGED to catch my first full youth league game prior this match, and overall I thought it was a very decent affair, with some good technique, sound tactics and good organisation.

The competition leaders, Sydney, running away with it (3-0 it finished), weren’t always brilliant, but they clearly have a very deep squad, and had few, if any, weaknesses compared to second placed Queensland, who were weak defensively.

Sydney's defence is very well organised, and catching the eye was the tall central defender Zach Cairncross, a good reader of the game. Impressing in central midfield was the combative Sam Munro, while in front of him was the mobile Chris Payne. Playing in behind Sean Rooney, most good things went through Payne.

Both sides utilised a 4-2-3-1, and the Roar skipper Adam Sarota, playing in the no. 10 role, in behind the striker, was wonderful to watch. The boy with a Polish background is one to watch, for sure.

Others to impress for Rado Vidosic’s side were and Luke Brattan and sometimes first-teamers Chris Grossman and Ben Griffin.


MEANWHILE, this piece can’t go by without a mention for the wonderful Shane Smeltz winner last night, which will take some beating for goal of the season.

Receiving the ball with his back to goal about 30 metres out, with Michael Thwaite applying plenty of heat from behind, he flicked the ball by him, settled, used Fred’s run as a decoy and shaped it around Theoklitos into the top corner. Magnificent.

Mark it down not for the finish, which was masterful itself, but for the sublime first touch, which not only got him around and past Thwaite, but had him bearing down on goal in a flash. Stunning stuff.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

No, I don't mean Manny

ONE day, as I'm surveying the latest 'outcome of the FFA match review panel' press release, I wonder if I'll stumble across the name Muscat?

Friday, November 21, 2008

Ringo and the Ring-ins run rings around the Roos

World Cup qualifier match-day 4, Bahrain 0 v Socceroos 1

MOST of the attention in the post-match dissection of yesterday morning’s 1-0 win in Manama has been on how bad and lucky the Socceroos were.

It is all true of course.

The Socceroos were clearly not at the races. No doubt about it, this wasn’t a performance they’ll want to remember in a hurry.

A neat eight pass build up in the opening minute was about as good as it got for Pim’s men, until of course Mark Schwarzer pumped a late goal-kick long, and Bahrain, for once, panicked. Tragedy for the hosts.

Otherwise it was all the desperate Al-Ahmar (the Reds), who are now very much in the red, and will need to scrap for every point in a group that is now shaping up as a battle between the bottom three for the play-off spot.

Bahrain and Uzbekistan, having played one game less than Qatar, are three points behind Bruno Metsu’s men, and on the evidence we’ve seen, that spot is very much alive.

Certainly Milan Macala can consider himself extremely unfortunate not to have joined Metsu on four points, such was his side’s dominance over the Roos.

Only a lack of surety inside the box cost Bahrain. Nowhere was this more obvious than midway through the second half, when the left-sided flier Salman Isa squared a ball in behind the Socceroos defence for naturalised Nigerian Jaycee John, who somehow missed it.

Maybe it was the bumpy pitch, but this lack of polish inside the box ultimately was punished.

It was harsh on John, who had otherwise been outstanding, popping up left, right and centrally to give Australia’s back four one hell of a headache, perhaps the biggest headache since Sebastian Quintana troubled them in the last phase in June.

The fact Lucas Neill was a part of this back four (he wasn’t on deck in the above-mentioned game) speaks volumes of John’s eye-catching performance, and he wasn’t alone.

Supporting him from deeper in midfield was fellow Nigerian ring-in Abdulla Fatadi, demonstrating outstanding mobility, a physical presence and high technical qualities, while the left-sided central midfielder Mahmood Abdulrahman (according to Simon Hill he is known to his team-mates as Ringo due to a striking resemblance to The Beatles star) was everywhere.

Elsewhere, the Hubail brothers, Ala’a and Mohamed were busy and forward-thinking.

Valeri and Culina simply couldn’t live with the flood of Bahraini attackers bombing on. It was a very attacking Macala formation and the mode was to get the ball forward early, get men forward early, hold up ball and bring the numbers into the game. Sound technique and combination play meant his side were in total control.

Often the way forward was out wide, and the Socceroos just couldn’t stay compact. Early the damage was done down the right, where Fatadi, Mohamed Hubail and Jaycee gave the game-shy Carney and Coyne a working over.

Later the attention was switched to the left, where John, Isa and Fawzi Ayesh had a go at Wilkshire.

All the while the fullbacks failed to get much defensive support from the advanced midfielders Kewell, Bresciano and Cahill, who all seemed very flat, while Kennedy, isolated, struggled with the physical presence of the twin central defender Mohamed Husain and Sayed Mohammed, who picked off everything in the air and took advantage of Kennedy’s lack of touch by always mopping up the second ball.

Both were outstanding, until of course Husain stuffed up deep into stoppages.

On this evidence, Bahrain, if they keep their heads up, can still entertain hope of a play-off spot. Certainly Qatar have slipped from the high standards of their match-day one win over the Uzbeks, and the latest hiding at home to the Samurai Blue was not pretty.

The Socceroos meanwhile, riding three straight wins, sit remarkably close to a second consecutive Cup. Thirty two years was the last wait and we all had to wait right till the end, the last team to qualify for Germany.

Now, with some luck, just over three years on, a win in Tokyo and the Socceroos would just about be the first through to South Africa.

Pinch me and tell me this isn’t a dream.


A FOOTNOTE to tonight's top of the table A-League clash in Melbourne, it's a pity the open, exciting spectacle was ruined by the sight of the Telstra Dome pitch. Disgraceful.

Surely the pitch could have been marked a few metres further away from the dug-out to avoid having to play on something resembling a Tullamarine runway?

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Tactical Analysis - Vidmar didn't go far enough

A-League round 11, CCM 3 v AU 0

IT was a no-brainer really. Not that I'm a betting man, or had any idea what the respective sides were paying, but if you were to ever have a bet on an A-League game, last night's was it.

As I'd noted in my most recent post and a reader noted via a comment this morning, Adelaide have had one hell of a taxing run of late, something like 13 games in just over two months, an average of a game every five days.

It might not be a lot by European or international standards, but for an Australian team used playing just over 20 games a season, about four a month, having to cope with 13 in 60 or so days is massive.

In time - and as the A-League grows, squads grow, other competitions are added and our players adapt to the professional rigours of the "play-recover-travel-play-recover-travel" cycle - it will become second nature, but for now it's time to take stock.

Certainly, given the resource available and the extra challenge of travel times to Asia and back, Adelaide have done an outstanding job of managing their schedule, and Aurelio Vidmar's work in shuffling the deck has been exemplary by Australian coaching standards.

But when the team was announced last night, I have to admit to be shocked Vidmar only made four changes.

The team I'd seen limp through the past two Wednesday nights was clearly in need of a major overhaul. It was time for some good old fashioned Claudio Ranieri style tinkering.

In particular, Ognenovski and Dodd, linked with J-League clubs of late, looked throughout the ACL finals like they could have done with a rest of late, while the Brazilians, Diego, Cassio and Cristiano, haven't been as effective in the past couple of weeks.

Dodd's pre-match sentiments to Brenton Speed were those of man who wanted to be anywhere but at a football match, and he couldn't have been the only one.

As such, last night was a perfect opportunity to freshen things up beyond the return of Costanzo and Galekovic and the introduction of Barbiero and Pantelis. Seeing Salley and Alemao warm the bench, and the likes of Younis and Mullen not even there was an opportunity missed.

These are blokes that have all impressed in their recent work.

Salley was a pivotal member of the side at the start of the season, one the league's best, and was very unlucky (due to red-tape) not to be a part of the ACL campaign. How Vidmar could have done with his fresh legs and muscle against Jedinak and Hutchinson, who dominated the midfield.

Alemao, originally a right back, has made quite an impression as an attacking midfielder of late, and his cameo off the bench set the tone for a much improved second half, while Younis and Mullen have also contributed in recent times.

Make no mistake, Adelaide have one of the deepest squads in the league, and last night was the perfect opportunity to not only test that depth, but keep "the first 11" on their toes.

Granted, the regulars have done the job to date, but football rarely guarantees anything, and when you need a rest, you need a rest.

Vidmar has done plenty right in the past five or six months, but last night wasn't one of his best.

Time now to freshen up, give those that need it a couple of days off, and find out who's fresh and ready for FC next Saturday. A manager's job never ends.

Friday, November 14, 2008

A Red campaign, built on muscle and 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.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Model Mass

AS refreshing, honest and humble an interview as you are likely to see was aired on Foxsports over the weekend.

If featured in the pre-match show of the Queensland Roar vs Melbourne Victory game, and in an era where players are "pumped" completely out of proportion by their player agents and hangers-on, listening to Massimo Murdocca candidly admit he was far from the finished product, that he wasn't quite ready for Europe and the Socceroos, was a strange, yet uplifting, experience.

Rarely, if ever, do we see a such honest appraisal, let alone from a footballer, and especially when so many players, motivated by the bright lights and big dollars, are fed and subsequently espouse false opinion of their ability.

Murdocca doesn't appear to fit that mould.

Long time readers of the blog know how much of a fan I am of Murdocca's energy and buzzability, and how I have been singing he and Matt McKay's praises since the early days of the A-League. The Mass and Matt show I dubbed it a couple of years back, and Murdocca certainly spoke of his affection for his side-kick in this interview, and how he wants to continue playing with McKay for years to come.

Murdocca, as a kid growing up at that wonderful NSL football nursery that was South Melbourne FC, had long caught the eye, and it's been great watching him establish himself in the often helter skelter world of the A-League, which too often demands that a player should resemble the Incredible Hulk.

Murdocca has proved there is room for the little fella, even if he has to run all day!

This year, while McKay has been relatively quiet by his lofty standards, Murdocca has taken his game to another level, and despite not yet having the goals to go with the workrate, there have been assists and the odd 'post'.

Frank Farina appears to have settled on Murdocca on the right side of a midfield diamond. In recent weeks, and especially against Melbourne on the weekend, he appeared to have license to roam as he liked, popping up wide on the right one minute, out on the left the next, and then driving through the centre of Melbourne's defence, attracting the attention of Michael Thwaite, and almost earning a penalty.

On a couple of occasions, almost emphasising his desire to stretch his game, he performed some wonderful work on the ball, turning one way, sending a defender the other. Some breathtaking energy, and remarkably for a player with such as high-octane game, not a yellow card to date, and only two in 61 A-League games (Danny Tiatto take note, or is it too late?)

A week earlier, away to Newcastle, he created one for McKay shortly after rattling Covic's up-right.

Still in his mid-20s despite being around for what seems an eternity, Murdocca still has time on his side, and if his attitude in this interview is anything to go by, who knows where it will take him.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Tactical Analysis; Mariners miraculous comebacks mask defensive set-up

THERE were a lot of positive things written and said in the aftermath of yet another thrilling Sydney-Central Coast goal-fest, and rightly so. Saturday night's game was gripping and dramatic, full of quality, character and all the things we love about the beautiful game.

Not for the first time it featured a remarkable comeback from three goals down from the visiting Mariners.

We only had to cast our minds back a month to the round 7 clash away to Adelaide, where the Mariners again gave away a third shortly after the break, only to mount a Herculean fight-back, demonstrating everything that is so wonderful about their spirit and never-say-die mentality.

Truth is it needn't have been so dramatic and heroic from the Mariners, in either game.

Both times they were the dominant team, controlling the tempo of the game, creating more than their share of chances, only to be on the end of a three goal deficit with half an hour remaining.

The strange thing about both games is that you not only knew the Mariners shouldn't have been three-down, you just sensed they'd come back.

Take Saturday night for example. When Terry McFlynn rounded off a brilliant six-pass counter-attack with what is becoming his trademark scorcher, to make it 3-0, you still sensed Sydney were hanging by a thread, strange as that sounds.

When Stuart Musialik hit the post a short time later, you sensed he might still be punished.

Only some brilliant work from Ivan Necevski, who produced a string of outstanding stops, including two with his right leg, had kept Sydney in front.

Truth is their inexperienced defence had been exposed by the aerial dominance of the visitors, who performed their attacking strategy with aplomb, with Dylan Macallister looking particularly threatening. The only thing missing from Lawrie McKinna's men were the goals, and a spot of luck.

It was the same story four weeks earlier.

So when one came, it was almost inevitable others followed.

Not for the first time, they defied everything we've been brought up to believe about the game; that at 3-0, it's game over!

But the question that Mariners fans and McKinna will be asking is why they were three goals down in the first place, in games they had dominated?

The problem for the Mariners appears to be their stretched shape. Quite simply, they drop-off and defend too deep in transition, and despite dominating the opposition, and creating most of the chances, that invariably gives the opposition too much space on the counter.

When they are attacking and dominating, pressing for goals, it should be a full team press, including the defence pressing up to the half-way line.

That way, as soon as they lose the ball in attack, the whole team can press quickly to win it back. Witness the way that Liverpool do it in the EPL.

Instead, as soon as an attack breaks down, or a corner is cleared, the Mariners tend to drop off, retreating to their 18 yard box. This creates acres between the attack and defence, space players of the quality of Cristiano, Dodd, Diego, Cassio, Corica, Bridge and Brosque will exploit in transition.

Both Sydney and Adelaide had few chances against the Mariners, but seemed to score most of them, emphasising not only the space afforded them, but their own efficiency in front of goals, hallmarks of their respective seasons.

So why do the Mariners drop off, instead of keeping a “high-line”? I sense they have some concerns about their pace at the back. Skipper Alex Wilkinson isn’t the quickest defender around, and with Paul O’Grady (more noted for his aerial prowess and tight-marking than his coverage on the ground) alongside him against Sydney, you sense the Mariners didn’t want to get caught in-behind.

But by leaving too much space in front, Mile Jedinak and John Hutchinson, committed to recovering the deficit, had far too much to do to stop the opposition from countering.

It is something the Mariners will need to address, especially if they go behind. The more they attack in search of an equaliser, the more likely they are to concede chances on the counter if they continue to drop-off when they lose the ball.

This stretched style makes for some gripping, end-to-end football, and we can’t really complain about that, but a more compressed structure might add a few years to McKinna’s life, and a few more points to their league tally.