Stoke City’s evolution can now begin in earnest. Saturday’s thrilling victory over Chelsea demonstrates we needn’t fear anyone in this league… it also shows fortune favours the brave. When Jon Walters was substituted on 84 minutes Mark Hughes could have been forgiven for utilising a defensive option. Instead he chose Oussama Assaidi and it proved a masterstroke. Assaidi’s winning goal was worthy of winning any match. Sealing a victory against one of Europe’s top teams was an appropriate backdrop for such a moment of opportunist brilliance. There is however, still much to improve. We still give the ball away too easily in our own third of the pitch and in the attacking third our play is often too shapeless. Overall though we’ve now seen what our team is capable of and there is no reason not to maintain the same level of endeavour. If we maintain the same level of ambition we can shrug off the patchy start to the season and develop into a stronger unit. At Hull on Saturday we need to go all out to win the game. If we are as adventurous and resilient as we were against Chelsea we have a good chance of winning any match. It was particularly pleasing that Assaidi earned his moment of glory. Since arriving at Stoke he’s shown fleeting glimpses of skill yet failed to produce regularly. This was especially frustrating as a player like Assaidi can provide some of the extra dimensions we need to progress. Against Cardiff in midweek he was subdued, failing to run at defenders suggested a severe lack of confidence. After the victory over Chelsea Mark Hughes admitted Assaidi was disappointed he’d been left out of the starting eleven but had made it clear he must make the most of any chances he gets to impress. He certainly made the most of Saturday’s chance! From his reaction he enjoyed the moment as much as any of us! Great work Oussama Assaidi, more of the same please!
The World Cup draw has left England with a huge task to progress to the knockout stage of the tournament. Facing Italy Uruguay and Costa Rica will be an uphill struggle. The campaign starts against Italy in the hot humid city of Manaus. Prior to the draw Roy Hodgson was far too talkative regarding his wish to avoid playing in Manaus. While hoping to dodge it was perfectly understandable his words gave an air of defeatism and excuse making before we’ve even reached 2014. Now there’s also the possibility locals will side with Italy which isn’t crucial…. but hardly helps our cause. At least this time the England team won’t be dogged with the inexplicable high levels of expectation that have proved as damaging as they are groundless. Australia also lacked good fortune in the draw…. their task is almost insurmountable. Facing Chile Netherlands and Spain will be a torrid struggle. Anything Australia achieve in Brazil will be almost entirely based on a rigid formation and tactical discipline. You can’t outplay them but you can outnumber them. It will be a huge challenge for Ange Postecoglou and his players but it will prove useful experience to take into the 2015 Asian Cup.
Brisbane Roar sealed their place at the top of the table with victory in Adelaide. It’s been a productive season for Roar so far. Generally the games have been enjoyable and a good advert for football. The A-League reached a milestone on Sunday when Melbourne Victory and Newcastle Jets played the 1000th A-League match. Since the inaugural 2005/06 season the A-League has become a solid part of the Australian sporting landscape. That’s not to say it’s all been a breeze. The embarrassment of expansion clubs folding left a stain on the league and FFA’s credibility. For all that the competition remains intact. Eight years and a thousand games, hopefully our game will continue to grow here.
On the final day of the Brazilian Championship Atletico Paranaense met Vasco da Gama. With Atletico chasing a place in next season’s Copa Libertdores and Vasco da Gama threatened with relegation it was always likely to be an intense affair, and so it proved. In the opening exchanges of the game Atletico took the lead which lead to rival supporters involved in violent exchanges. The match was delayed for over an hour while security forces attempted to seize control of the situation. The violence was so extreme a military helicopter landed on the pitch to take some of the injured to hospital… which led to rumours circulating suggesting (erroneously) some had been killed. While it’s highly unlikely violence on this scale will erupt inside a stadium during the World Cup, it’s hardly the image they wanted to project to the world. Combine this with the threat of protests outside the stadiums and the ongoing confusion over the completion dates for stadium construction, the 2014 World Cup is already proving to be a very confused episode for everyone involved.
The recent stories about spot fixing in football are distressing. A point worth emphasising however is while some players may be corrupt, the vast majority aren’t. If the players concerned are charged and found guilty it could lead to any error or strange result tainted by suggestions of impropriety. It’s crucial to football for this issue to be addressed and perpetrators exposed and punished accordingly. A salient question is how did we ever get to this point? Well, in recent years the finance of football has become increasingly prominent. Broadcasters new deals for TV rights often generate countless headlines and the finance dissected. Many players, at all levels, see contemporaries transfer to new clubs and one can reasonably assume they involve a hefty pay rise. Some (but by no means all) of the aforementioned transfers are no doubt motivated by agents who themselves stand to gain from the moves in question. Sponsors, betting companies, pubs, clothing manufacturers all use football for their own commercial gain. The Championship play off final is one of the year’s annual showpieces. Reaching football’s highest level is an achievement to celebrate yet the build up to the game is dominated by headlines regarding the financial riches at stake. It gets billed as the 20 million 35 million or 50 million pound match… depending on which newspaper you read. In short, football generates billions, of most currencies you choose to name, every year. As corrupt and sickening as it is, if some players have been taking illegal payments…. are they evil or are they just a product of their environment?