Posts Tagged ‘Australia’

New faces, patience, sell Suarez, Australia qualify, Brazilian fury

July 11th, 2013 No comments

Mark Hughes has hit the ground running in his new job.  The purchases of Erik Pieters and Marc Muniesa indicates a fresh transfer policy at Stoke City.  As he becomes acquainted with his squad Hughes will see what he needs and it’s reasonable to assume we’ll acquire more new faces before the season opener at Anfield…. but we’ll have to be patient.   Patience is in short supply at times.  With the ongoing flurry of media speculation supporters can feel left behind when signings don’t arrive as quickly as we’d sometimes like.   This is a new phenomenon.  There was a time when, unlike the present day, the months of June and July’s newspapers  contained very little, if any, football news.  International tournaments were covered purely for the football unlike now when the attention on managers and scouts at major football events can give an air of football transfer speed dating!   Stoke City do need more new faces but if they don’t arrive immediately we shouldn’t panic…. whatever the media speculate on!!

We already know that Luis Suarez won’t face Stoke in the first game.  His suspension for biting Ivanovic still has six games to run.  Since the end of last season Suarez has made clear his wish to leave Liverpool.  Rumours abound suggesting Real Madrid want his services and Arsenal have had a 30m bid turned down.  If he is to leave it’s highly unlikely they would sell to another Premier League club.  As yet Liverpool have stated their desire to retain the services of Suarez but they should think again.  Nobody can deny his range of talents, similarly few would deny he is a disciplinary liability.  Since joining Liverpool he has been suspended for 18 matches.  At Ajax he was also suspended for seven games for biting PSV Eindhoven’s Otman Bakkal.  Remember too, at the end of the 2012/13 season Liverpool were forced to play four games without Suarez and came through unbeaten, which suggests they aren’t absolutely reliant on him.  In fact if money raised from a sale was re-invested it could prove to be a huge step forward in Rogers team building exercise.  Luis Suarez is a hugely gifted player blessed with rare skill and an often overlooked work ethic…. but everyone involved would benefit from his sale.

Australia’s World Cup qualifying campaign proved successful following the 1-0 victory at home to Iraq.   Throughout the campaign, head coach Holger Osieck received plenty of criticism for his methods, particularly the refusal to ease younger players into the starting eleven.  Blooding youngsters isn’t easy at international level as the demands can differ hugely from those of the club game.  Overall though, while the campaign wasn’t as comprehensive as the 2010 qualifiers were, the most important aspect is Australia actually qualified with something to spare.  Since being appointed in 2010 Osieck has led Australia to the final of the Asian Cup and now reached Brazil, which is a decent record.  2014 will be Australia’s third consecutive World Cup and after drawing Brazil and Germany in 2006 and 2010 respectively, Aussies can be forgiven if they hope for  a kinder draw in December.

Harry Kewell will return to the A-League for the 2013-14 season with Melbourne Heart.  One of Kewell’s main objectives is to return to form to increase chances of a place at the World Cup.  Some may scoff at this but in an era when the games is saturated with people who know the cost of everything and the value of nothing, it’s refreshing to see a player commiting  himself to earn the opportunity to perform on the biggest stage of all.

South Africa’s qualifying campaign was faltering until they received an outrageous stroke of good fortune.  Bafana Bafana trailed group leaders Ethiopia by five points. However, FIFA found Ethiopia guilty of fielding an illegible player in their match against Botswana and were penalised by having three points taken away.  Ethiopia are still expected to progress but South Africa will be grateful for the lifeline.  One has to wonder of FIFA’s penalty would be so decisive had one of football’s global powerhouses committed a similar offence.

In Brazil, The Confederations Cup was a fantastic tournament.  In the build up much media attention was placed on Neymar.  Having secured a move to Barcelona shortly before the competition many questioned his ability to secure his place amongst the worlds elite. Any fears will have been largely dispelled as he impressed throughout.  The only question  marks over him are 1 his tendency to drift out of matches and 2 the diving and playacting he habitually carries out.  For a player of his immense talent to disrespect his fellow professionals and discredit football is disappointing.  Hopefully next year we’ll see more  brilliance than bluffing.

As good as the football was, the tournament won’t be remembered for the quality of football.  As we know, the  Confederations Cup is effectively a dress rehearsal for the World Cup and the Brazilian people used the world stage to protest against ongoing social deprivation, the scale of which can be seen in sharper focus when considering the billions of dollars thrown at the World Cup and the 2016 Rio Olympics.  Perhaps FIFA and the Brazilian government, knowing  the Brazilian people love football, felt the people would simply accept the expenditure. If that is the case it was a huge mistake by Blatter, current President Dilma Rousseff and her predecessor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva from whom she inherited the responsibility to host these two huge sporting festivals.  If the 2014 World Cup is to run smoothly quick decisive action is required.  If FIFA were to hand over some of the vast profit they expect to make, to provide infrastructure for the people of Brazil it’d be a starting point.


Cup fever, a charming loser and a whinger

February 22nd, 2011 No comments

The match against Brighton wasn’t televised live here in Australia.  It was however shown on a delay at 7.45 on Sunday morning.  The early morning stroll to a friends house in the blazing sun was well worth it.   It wasn’t sweat seeping from my red and white pores….  I’d merely succumbed to a bout of cup fever!   The symptoms  persisted when we eased through to the quarter final.  Despite opposing  defender Tommy Elphicks’s romantic flourish in the build up, contained their threat in comfort.  It was comprehensive and professional showing from Stoke, exactly the kind of showing you’d expect when a Premier League team faces league one opposition.  Three first half headers saw us through with the minimum of fuss, from the moment John Carew gave us the lead we never looked like being cup shock victims.  Brighton keeper Brezovan was overpowered and bruised by our aerial strength and in the second half we were afforded the luxury of being able to play the game out with a rare and pleasing lack of anxiety. 

So for the second year running we have reached the quarter finals of the FA Cup.  And the point has to be made the draw has been considerably kinder to us than it was at this stage last year.   But nothing is certain.  West Ham will be as relieved as we are with the draw.  We still have lot to deal with to reach our first FA Cup semi since 1972.  Memories of Stoke in the FA Cup still evokes more pain than happiness but I can’t help humming Abide With Me!   Even the most hardened cynics (ie me!) have to dream. 

Everton injected the much needed shock factor back into the competition by knocking Chelsea out.  Infuriatingly and predictably,  the media focused on Chelsea’s ongoing stuttering form as opposed to congratulating Everton on such a great result.  While there is little doubt the competition has lost some of it’s gloss, knocking the holders out on their own patch is a commendable achievement.  After going behind some sides would have folded and been satisfied with a near miss but Everton showed admirable resilience by digging in and equalising as they did.  Baines free kick was a beauty too, a beauty for which he hasn’t received the credit he’s really due.  It’d be pleasing if this result puts and end to the plethora of rumours surrounding David  Moyes position as manager.  He deserves much better than that.  Orient have made themselves a fortune by earning a replay at Arsenal.  True to form Wenger came out whinging about fixture congestion but that doesn’t distract from the joyous scenes of Orient’s celebrations.  Those moments are the reason we live this footballing life, Wenger sulking over his multi millionaires having to get their shirts dirty one more time can’t erase marvellous memories like that.

The first knockout games in the European Cup were tremendous.  Top class players at the top of their game.  Each tie so far is finely poised to have second legs full of excitement and drama and perhaps an upset or two.  It demonstrates why the competition is in desperate need of a revamp, the quality of the knockout matches shows how meaningless and tedious so many of the group games are. 

In one of the aforementioned dramatic ties,it was the European Cup defeat to Shakhtar Donetsk that was instrumental in Claudio Ranieri’s departure from Roma.  It’s entirely feasible that Ranieri jumped before he was pushed.  Last season saw Roma challenging for the title, that progression hasn’t been followed up and the manager paid the ultimate price.  Charm and self deprecating wit may make for a media darling but doesn’t necessarily equate to being a manager able to sustain success.  It’s hard to predict where Claudio will turn up next but  it’s unlikely to be Chelsea.  The Italian media is currently swamped with rumours of Carlo Ancelotti heading for the Stadio Olimpico, but a swap isn’t on the cards!  Elsewhere in Serie A, Allegri at Milan has a Pulis / Fuller situation, he insists on playing Pato as sub when he’s clearly the most dangerous striker they have.  Against Chievo Milan struggled and huffed and puffed but Pato was supersub and saved the day with a late winner.  It’ll be interesting to see if Pato satrts in their crucial six pointer top of the table battle cliche fest this coming weekend!

The Old Firm match on Sunday wasn’t actually a match at all.   Celtic’s dominance was absolute.  Bartley’s early booking left him wary of tackling which meant a significant portion of the midfield was conceded.  Celtic used this advantage with great intelligence, able to keep the ball in relative comfort.  They used it enough to effectively have the game won by half time.  Rangers started the second half with a surge but it subsided quickly.  The third goal just gave the scoreline a more realistic complexion and 3-0 up Rangers can feel grateful their defeat wasn’t more emphatic.  This result puts Celtic well and truly in charge of the title race, Rangers games in hand are nullified.  That’s not to say it’s over but Rangers will have to show more of an appetite than they did in this tepid surrender.

A bigot, a hindrance worth winning and talented indifference.

January 11th, 2011 No comments

Back in 1993, our legendary striker Mark Stein assaulted Stockport defender Jim Gannon.  There is no doubt that Stein did strike Gannon (albeit lightly) but what was overlooked by the media, is that Stein had reacted to what Judge Peter Northcote described as ‘extreme provocation’.  The aforementioned provocation manifested itself by the way of racial abuse.  The judge then seemed to dismiss this by telling Stein that this was ‘A burden you must bear’. In the modern age such language would rightly be deemed unacceptable, but it was hardly smiled upon then.  The fact is that Gannon’s bigotry was largely ignored by the press but his vile tirade is a matter of public record.  In court, Gannon’s lawyer said that, yes, his client had abused Stein verbally, calling him “a short, ugly, black, bean-headed tvvat”, but argued that that was the language of the football park…. the same lame justification Jimmy Hill used when defending Ron Atkinson’s racist comments about Marcel Desailly.  Despite this, he stands in a strong position to be appointed manager of Port Vale.  Are the board at Port Vale aware of the incident?  Are they aware of how inflammatory it would be to employ someone who has a record of racially abusing a player based in the same city?               

The festive period was generally healthy for Stoke City.  Following the efficient victory at Blackburn with a defeat at home to Fulham was infuriating of course, but much of that was nullified by the win over Everton.  Despite phases of the Everton game being played in our half, we stifled them and they created very little, especially in the second half.  The ref, for some reason, didn’t award Everton the penalty they should have had in the first minute, and we capitalised on our good fortune.  It’s particularly pleasing that Jonesy opened the scoring.  Against Fulham he was off the pace so to respond in such style was a much needed boost for us all.  Our second goal ended the match as a  contest and all that was left was to play the game out in uneventful safety.  It was also encouraging that against Man United we made them sweat for the result a little bit more.   Admittedly only a little bit, but after the previous visits it’s a huge improvement!  It was fantastic to spend a few minutes in dreamland after super goal machine Whitehead’s equaliser.  It didn’t last longer than a few minutes admittedly, but seeing their anxiety increase in the final minutes showed that we hadn’t rolled over and had put in a strong showing.   On reflection, the best thing about the fixture away to Man United  being over is that we know we don’t have to go there again this season! 
It was a return to the pre Premier league days to be listening to the Cardiff game on the internet instead of watching on television……  hearing the familiar tones of Nigel Johnson were like visiting a dear old friend.  It sounded as if it would have been a decent game for the neutral, but we aren’t neutral!  Our inability to get a winner means we face a replay next week.  If anything symbolises the FA Cup’s waning magic it’s that both Tony Pulis and Dave Jones admitted the extra game will be a hindrance we could both do without.  But nevertheless, it’s a hindrance worth winning, if we were to totally disregard the FA Cup it would be an arrogant mistake.

Despite going behind early Liverpool were the better side in the first half of their tie with Man Utd, until Steve Gerrard undid all his teams good work with that stupid violent attack.  Despite Dalglish’s protestations that vicious assault got the red card it deserved… and with it went Liverpool’s FA cup hopes for 2011.  Whatever is wrong with Torres?  He has the demeanour of a man who would prefer to be elsewhere, maybe Liverpool should grant him his wish and re-invest the proceeds from his sale into rebuilding the team.  There is a precedent.  Groundhog Day could occur, in 1987  Dalglish used the money from the sale of Ian Rush to Juventus to buy Beardsley and Barnes and revamp the team and their playing style, he could do worse than repeat that policy.  Nobody can deny Torres’ immense talent but if his recent performances reflect his attitude, they would be better cashing in and acquiring the services of a striker whose interest level rises above indifferent. 

The Arsenal v Leeds tie was a crash bang wallop of a tie.  8,500 Leeds fans travelled to London to watch a game being shown on TV.  That’s impressive.  Despite the amusement felt at the  2004 and 2007  relegations, their return to the Premier league seems to be a matter of when not if, but with support like that it may not be too far away.

In Qatar the start of the Asian cup has generated unparalleled levels of indifference.  Seeing an international tournament played out to empty stadiums hardly gives FIFA’s choice for 2022 any more credibility.  Australia started with a comprehensive 4-0 victory over India.  The most enthralling point of the tournament so far is that India have a player with the second best ever name for a footballer…. Climax Lawrence!!

Halfway to the magical 40 and Machiavellian administrators

November 30th, 2010 No comments

It’s understandable that a manager wants to defend his team.  It’s easy to appreciate that a manager might want to publicly focus on the positive aspects that come from a game.  But even bearing those things in mind it’s hard to believe that Roberto Mancini seriously honestly believes that Man City deserved to beat us on Saturday.  If so you have to engage, as Tone did, that well worn mantra for all football supporters when a view on a game differs from their own… “What game was he watching?”   To engage yet another football cliche, it was clearly a game of two halves.  There was a story that on arrival on the pitch at the Brit to warm up Balotelli, to the amusement of the Stoke coaching staff, dashed down the tunnel clearly unsettled by the cold.  In the first half it seemed not so super Mario’s discomfort had become a virus which spread throughout the team.  For the first 45 minutes we played with impressive intelligence, one aspect of which was that we allowed them to have the ball where it couldn’t hurt us.  They could indeed play 10 passes in a row but if that’s done in areas which can’t hurt us, and angles are closed to limit their options, why waste energy frantically hassling and clattering?   We paid a  price for our inability to gain a lead from our first half dominance.  For much of the second half we had difficulty breaking forward, but for all Man City’s possession they didn’t create many clear cut chances.  There were several potshots but little seriously tested our defence.  It took a combination of skill and opportunism from Richards to out us behind.  Richards dummy and turn combined with Collins lack of concentration led to a shot on goal he buried in style.  Some might blame Begovic but it’s hard for any keeper to save a shot hit with such power and accuracy.  It looked as if that was that, especially as we seemed unable to rally to launch the usually obligatory  siege on their penalty area.   But in the end, and it really was the end, that marvellous bit of skill from Tuncay let to Ethers ruthless finish to gain us a well deserved point.  So precise was that little piece of Turkish delight (sorry) that Ethers didn’t even have to break stride to take his shot.  There was little time for anything else in the game so all that was left was for Mancini to attempt to rewrite history.  One point that has to be made about Man City is that they do have some great talent in their side, but are a long way from being substantial title challengers.  Stoke away is a serious test of character and how the challenge is dealt with demonstrates whether you have the resilience to stay competitive.  For all the millions spent they didn’t do nearly enough to win this game and in the first half didn’t want to be out in the cold.  Their collection of superstars need to be reminded that points win leagues. not hairstyles.    That puts us halfway to the magical 40 mark.  Lets hope we can maintain the desire of the last four games 40 won’t be too far away!  Well done Stoke, we have a team to be proud of long may it continue.

It’s commonplace for Barcelona to dismantle sides.   The striking difference  this time is that  it was done against a top team filled with stars and a tactical master at the helm.  Aside from the initial humiliation, Real Madrid don’t actually have that much to worry about.  There is still a long way to go and despite the obvious psychological advantage many twists and turns lie ahead.  Many bemoan the fact that the Premier League is unbalanced in terms of TV money distribution, yet in Spain each club negotiates their independent TV rights deal.  This means that Barcelona and Real Madrid can maintain their dominance almost totally unthreatened  by the minions.  There are murmurs that they are both seriously considering sharing some of  the money to assist their poorer brethren, it’s  hard to imagine the English mega giants choosing such altruism. 

It’s pleasing to see the British home office report stating that arrests at football are down 10%.  Apparently, in a World cup year,  there were no arrests for England fans abroad.  Is it the first time ever this has happened?

The announcement of World Cup hosts for 2018 and 2022 is imminent.  It’s actually more crucial for the national football health of Australia to host 2022 than it is for England to host 2018.  In England football exists continues to generate interest and income and remains prominent.   Here it’s different.  The energy and expense that goes into a bid like this is phenomenal and if the show arrives here in 2022 it looks like a shrewd investment.  If the party takes place elsewhere the resources used by the bid could appear to be seriously wasteful.  Bearing in mind the A-league has several clubs in financial disarray, it will be suggested that the money used to fund the bid could have been more wisely spent by helping to provide infrastructure for the game here.  The irony is that while moving to FIFA’s Asian section was an intelligent step to take, if Australia had stayed with Oceania they would be near certainties to host the tournament. 

It’s now highly unlikely the Joeinoz dream of successive tournaments in England and Australia will come to fruition.  Consecutive World Cups in predominantly white predominantly English speaking nations doesn’t sit well with FIFA liking to present themselves and as a globally inclusive entity which is trying to save the world from the tyranny of oppression.  Admittedly this image of universal harmony didn’t stretch as far as asking delegates to consider a nations  history of racist abuse  when voting, but why get off the train when the gravy is still simmering?   Combine this with the sickening way that English journalists  daring to expose corruption in the bidding process has damaged the English bid, it’s unlikely to court favour with those whose gravy train is in danger of being derailed.  The odious Jack Warner of CONCACAF has been wined and dined by David Cameron seeking forgiveness and votes.  It’s increasingly clear that hosting a tournament is little to do with suitability to do so, it’s all politically motivated.  The internal wrangling gives Machiavellian a complex for not living up to itself.

Rejoice…..planet football is almost here!!

June 11th, 2010 No comments

Since South Africa’s bid to host the 2010 World Cup was successful in 2004 it hasn’t always been a smooth road.   In fact at times it has been violently bumpy.  So many doubters (including me) bemoaning South Africa’s hosting as a legacy of advanced madcap Blatterism.  There have been question marks over everything.  Would the stadiums be ready?   Will the lights stay on?   How will the thousands of visitors travel?  Will they be safe when they do so?  Was the talk of England being secretly approached and asked to step in true?  In fact, was there any truth in the rumour Australia had been approached and asked to step in?   Even today, the horrific news of the death of Nelson Mandela’s great granddaughter adds yet another layer to the story.

Watching the fans gathering in Johannesburg is special. Of course, we can easily relate to the spectacle and colour when excited fans congregate for football, but there is another aspect to it this time.   This also symbolises a changed nation. The tyranny of apartheid is in the past and the next month is the biggest moment in African history.  Has the planet ever been so focussed on that continent as it is now?  

After the internal wrangling and political stunts we can soon observe something much more important…..the football!  Enjoy the beautiful football.  Oh by the way, enjoy the ugly football too!!    

In 2 hours  54 minutes and 58 seconds we land on planet football.   ENJOY!!!!

Australia hopes….but doesn’t expect

June 7th, 2010 No comments

In recent years it has been exciting to watch Australia come to prominence in football.   I’ve never known this country as ecstatic as it was on reaching the second round last time.   Finally, after years of administrative haggling, football finally had the profile it deserves.   It also brought the realisation that football, and the World Cup in particular, provided a stage bigger than anything previously experienced.  

This is my home and a place I love dearly so while I can’t quite say I support Australia I do honestly wish them well.  Until they play England anyway!   A good campaign for the national team is good for the game here which, obviously, is good for any football fan.   Each time I walk through my beloved Brisbane the profile of the World Cup is growing. Shopfronts proudly displaying the green and gold and bars advertising live TV showings are more prominent each day.  How many are prepared to stay open until 4.30am to show some matches remains to be seen!!

Anything Australia achieve in South Africa, and contrary to some peoples views I think they have a good chance of reaching the second round, is almost entirely based on a rigid formation.  You can’t outplay them BUT you can outnumber them. Squeezing the opposition in the middle of the pitch and narrowing angles will stifle opposition creativity and help to get on top of them and grind them down. Another advantage of this is the KISS method. Keep It Simple Stupid. If in doubt kick it out.  There will be little scope to make a tactical blunder.   In the build up the media attention is largely focussed on Harry Kewell and will he be ready for the Germans on Monday morning.   It’d actually make more sense not to play him in that.  Why risk another breakdown in a game where Australia will likely be beaten anyway?  The extra days would mean he’s much closer to full fitness when the more realistic goal of beating Ghana arrives on Saturday night.   It’s crucial to use the whole squad and everyone plays a role in a healthy campaign.   But a big injury to Tim Cahill would make a serious dent in the hopes.   He’s crucial.
So next Monday morning at 4.30 it’ll be interesting to see footballs true believers out in force.    And it’s a public holiday so everyone can catch up on much needed sleep afterwards!!

06 Days 18 Hours 54 Minutes to go – Countdown

June 4th, 2010 No comments

The 2010 World Cup in less than a week away.   In South Africa the cast is assembling for the greatest show on earth.  For football supporters here in Australia it means a month of late nights early mornings and self inflicted fatigue.    

I have lived in Australia for just over fourteen years.  The first timezone tournament was Euro 96.  Gazza’s goal against Scotland was a particularly memorable middle of the night mental!!     One benefit is that there are fewer distractions in the middle of the night.   Less chance of a phone call or a knock at the door.    My family and I were visiting the UK during  Euro 2008 and it felt odd to be watching an international tournament while it was  light outside.    Most football supporters here  have adapted to the nocturnal aspect of our passion BUT it is still strange to leave the house at 2am to go to the pub and watch a match!   Being English, and therefore an England supporter, the subject of how to celebrate a World Cup win when the final finishes at 7am isn’t a problem unfortunately.  A more relevant poser is how to get through the day when we’ve just endured our usual penalty shootout pain.  But we’ll keep hoping and dreaming.  And hoping and dreaming…..

One of the many marvellous aspects of our game is the global unity it generates.  So next Friday when South Africa play Mexico think of us watching at midnight.  And we’ll think of those watching over breakfast in San Salvador!!!