Monday, December 22, 2008

Pim’s 34, or more

A look ahead to an all A-League squad

WITH the Asian Cup qualifiers fast approaching (the first game in Jakarta is just over a month away, on January 28) and Pim Verbeek at this stage indicating he will be using a team largely comprised of A-League players, it’s time to run the rule over those local players that should be at the forefront of his thoughts.

Word over the past fortnight has been that Verbeek is working towards finalising 34 A-League names for the camp that begins on January 19, and as we’ve seen over the past year or so, he is likely to keep everyone on their toes as he clocks up as many frequent flyer points as Santa Claus over the next few weeks.

Like the man in the big red suit, Verbeek will come bearing gifts, so for these 34 players, and possibly more, it’s time to behave…

Goalkeepers (4)

Vukovic, Galekovic, Velaphi, Theoklitos

With Schwarzer not getting any younger, there is a real need to start grooming a few for the future, post South Africa, and the Asian Cup qualifiers offer that perfect opportunity, between the sticks and beyond. So far only Federici has really grabbed an opportunity (he was outstanding at the Olympics), while Vukovic and Velaphi appear to be the best of the local kids. Vukovic isn’t flying, but he would be number one local at this stage – groom him in the Asian Cup qualifiers and let him punch it out with the likes of Federici, Velaphi and possibly Van Strattan, who will get the chance to showcase his stuff next season. Not much between Theoklitos and Covic for a squad spot at this stage.

Defenders (11)

Ognenovski, Moore, Costanzo, Jamieson, DeVere, Tarek Elrich, Vargas, Matt Thompson, Durante, Adam Griffiths, Kantarovski

About four or five months ago I remember writing that Ognenovski shouldn’t yet be considered for the Socceroos because of his propensity to get the ball, look up and invariably knock a long diagonal ball to no-one. Gotta say, his continuing solid work in defence is starting to over-shadow his distribution deficiencies, which would be exposed at a higher level. With questions about whether Moore (depending on his illness) and North (off to South Korea) will be available, Ognenovski comes right into the mix, possibly even alongside his United teammate Costanzo. One man who should definitely be in an A-League 11 is Jamieson, arguably the find of the season. On the other side, the younger Elrich has caught the eye, while if Verbeek is looking for experience in that area, only Adam Griffiths offers it. One to watch down that side is the kid Mullen, son of Adelaide great Joe, who has really caught the eye in the past couple of months. Ditto Kantarovski, who could soon force his way into Pim’s thoughts, if he isn’t there already. Another youngster impressing is the Roar’s DeVere, who is calm and appears to be learning quickly. On current form, it’s too hard to have Thwaite, but it’s good to see Topor-Stanley and Milligan bounce back over the past couple of months, and both could keep pressing. Plenty of options in central defence, so someone like Iain Fyfe would be unlucky to miss a squad like this. Others in the mix might be CCM’s Porter and Bojic, but the lack of Mariners consistency of late might cost them.

Midfielders (12)

Reid, Jedinak, Caceres, Pellegrino, Dodd, Celeski, Murdocca, McKay, Hutchinson, Barbiero, Zullo, McKain

There has been some great work in midfield this season, right through the league. Even at Perth the likes of Pellegrino and Coyne has been excellent, while Srhoj has been good for the past month. For consistency, the Mass and Matt Show deserve to be in an all-A-League squad at least. Reid, Dodd and Barbiero have been wonderful for the Reds both in the A-League and beyond, while Caceres is one of the very few A-League midfielders with that x-factor, and has proved he can be very effective centrally. While there are more central midfielders than wide men in the above 12, there is enough width with the likes of Dodd, Pellegrino, Zullo and Caceres. While Ernie Merrick has unnecessarily turned Celeski into a defensive man-marking midfielder this season, Verbeek may recognise his ability to get forward, just as we saw at the Olympics. Jedinak stands out as the obvious holder, while Reid should be nearby. Musialik, like most of his team-mates, would be lucky to feature. If Pim wants a couple of attacking bolters, keep an eye on Nichols and Minniecon.

Strikers (7)

Archie Thompson, Joel Griffiths, Rukavystya, Macallister, Simon, Petrovski, Allsopp

Sadly, on current form, it is almost impossible to have Sydney’s Aloisi, Bridge and Brosque in an all A-League 11, let alone in a squad of 34, so it’ll be fascinating to see how Verbeek handles it. The obvious ones making waves are Macallister and Rukavytsya, who may get a starting chance if Verbeek goes with a front three, but that would probably mean there is no room for a wide man like Dodd, who has to be in an 11 on current form. The pace of Thompson, Griffiths and Rukavystya is tantalising, but if Verbeek feels that Indonesian might defend deep, he may be tempted to go with a big man like Macallister, and get others around him. Petrovski should still be in the squad mix given we don’t really have another player of his ilk that can drop off and create things, but his, Allsopp’s and Simon’s chances could depend on what Verbeek does with Aloisi and Bridge.

An A-League 11

So after all that, it’s time to whittle down the above names into an 11, and on current form (it will no doubt change by the time the first qualifier comes around, and I’ll be sure to update this selection closer to the game), and assuming North and Holland are unavailable, here’s one…

A Griffiths----Moore--Ognenovski-----Jamieson
---------Thompson------J Griffiths--------

In case I don’t get the chance to get back on the blog before the year is out, thanks all for your ongoing interest in The Round Ball Analyst throughout what has been a hectic 2008. I do hope you have a wonderful Christmas and that your football brings you plenty of joy in 2009. May I just spare a brief moment to indulge in two wishes for the new year; safe passage to South Africa without the need for any sudden-death heart-stoppers, and a premier league title for Liverpool.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Guess who? Yes Sir, hero Endo

ANOTHER of those sublime team goals that we've grown accustomed to seeing from the Yasuhito Endo-inspired Gamba Osaka in last night's CWC quarter-final win over Adelaide in Nagoya.

It came midway through the first half, and as in this wonderful passage against Melbourne earlier this year, it started at the back and was illuminated by the gifted touches of Gamba's smooth number 7, who set the tempo for the move with his touch, movement and assured finish.

Finding space on the left hand side, Endo brought down a long diagonal switch on the chest and rolled it down the line for the flying Yasuda. Running into a cul-de-sac, Yasuda turned back to his ever reliable playmaker, who was waiting where he'd passed it from.

In a blink he'd received it and shifted it square. Static up until now, he suddenly sensed an opportunity and exploded forward from his position on the half-way line. Moving through the gears, leaving a lazy Travis Dodd behind, he sprinted diagonally, getting on the end of a wonderful one and two touch move, killed with an outrageous no-look header from substitute Bando, sealed by Endo's nutmeg of Galekovic.

Eleven touches from start to finish, three of them from the right foot of the player of the ACL.

Yes, it was a poor piece of defending from both Dodd and young Mullen, but Endo's tempo-setting moment of quality (not his only one of the game mind you!), was enough to book a night out with the other Reds, where his wonderful gifts might attract even more attention.

Up until the goal Endo and Co. had been kept relatively quiet as Adelaide dominated the opening 20 minutes, but the injury to Sasaki around that time forced Gamba's hand, and Nishino gambled.

By bringing on striker Bando for right winger Sasaki, Nishino wrestled the ascendancy, and the extra attention required to deal with a front two gave Endo the space he hitherto hadn't had. Ever the footballer, his ability to drift left and right, and find the space, was ultimately the vehicle to Gamba's control, and, really, they may have had a few more.

Playing without the pressure, the Reds were far better than the stressed Adelaide we saw fumble their way through Waitakere on Wednesday, and the power and aerial presence of Dodd almost made a difference in the first half. Ultimately though, with Endo pulling the strings, and shifting the tempo at will, Gamba looked in control.