Sunday, 17 November 2013
There are four spots left for European teams at next year’s World Cup in Brazil.
On Friday night the first legs of the play-offs were played and the second leg matches will be played on Tuesday.
Some results looked predictable but some outcomes were perhaps more surprising than others.
Here are summaries of the first legs as well as some predictions on the second legs:
Portugal v Sweden
This match pitted two stars in Cristiano Ronaldo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic against each other. “CR7” scored the solitary goal in a match which Paulo Bento’s side dominated.
Erik Hamren’s side is still in the tie but “Ibra” will need to play a great game for the Swedes to have any chance of qualification. Portugal should be able to hold on and qualify.
Aside from “CR7”, Bento can count on Joao Moutinho, Nani, Raul Meireles and a few others. Hamren lacks another star like Ibra and although Johan Elmander and Sebastian Larsson are decent players, they aren’t world-beaters.
Iceland v Croatia
Lars Lagerback’s side managed to deal with Croatia’s attacks and kept the first leg scoreless. Iceland had to defend after Olafur Skulason was sent-off and Gylfi Sigurdsson came off injured.
The Croatians failed to make their chances count and Niko Kovac’s side must to so in Zagreb. Kovac replaced Igor Stimac recently but the move could backfire if Iceland springs a shock and qualifies for the World Cup for the first time ever.
Greece v Romania
A Greek victory might not have been surprising but the Greeks scoring three might have been. Kostas Mitroglou starred in attack by scoring a brace and veteran forward Dimitris Salpingidis scored the other goal in a 3-1 win.
Despite scoring an away goal, it looks unlikely that Victor Piturca’s team can overcome the deficit in the second leg. The Greeks will probably sit back and defend for the duration. If there is a winner in Bucharest, it will likely be a 1-0 win for Greece.
Ukraine v France
Arguably the biggest shock of the play-offs, Ukraine won 2-0 in Kiev. France was highly-fancied before a ball was kick, especially with the talent at Didier Deschamps’ disposal.
Nasri flopped in midfield but his teammates weren’t much better. Ribery failed to make an impact and Giroud started in attack instead of Karim Benzema.
The Ukrainians don’t have a star like Andriy Shevchenko in their squad but Andriy Yarmolenko is a fine player and Anatoliy Tymoschuk wasn’t even used.
The French need to win by three goals to qualify, which will be a hard task. Perhaps the more technically gifted Benzema should start ahead of the static Giroud for France to have any hope.
Wednesday, 6 November 2013
Ange Postecoglou has named his Socceroos squad for the up and coming friendly against Costa Rica and he has freshened up an ageing team.
Australia plays Costa Rica in Sydney on November 19 and he has picked some local-based players. Hopefully this approach can result in the Australian team looking more competitive.
Here are my thoughts on the squad:
· Mark Schwarzer’s retirement isn’t a bad thing. He is an Australian legend but it’s probably time for someone like Mitchell Langerak to get a chance
· Not seeing Luke Wilkshire and Sasa Ognenovski in defence is a good thing, especially the latter. Ognenovski is 34 years old and he was never a fast player
· Lucas Neill has been called-up but surely his time must be running out. He isn’t a regular at club level and would Postecoglou really want to rely on a 36-year-old at centre-back next year? Neill would probably still be a good presence in the locker room bar his recent rant on young players
· Aaron Mooy was one attacking midfielder that should have been selected. If he can work on his free-kicks, then Postecoglou really needs to take another look at the WSW player
· James Troisi should have received a call-up too. Perhaps Postecoglou didn’t want to show too much favouritism towards Melbourne Victory players
· Postecoglou has selected some players from his former clubs. He selected Milligan from Victory and he picked Ivan Franjic and Matthew McKay from the Brisbane Roar. Having these players will be ideal for the new Australia coach because they will be familiar with his tactics
· With the arrival of Postecoglou as national team coach, McKay should kiss his chances of playing left-back goodbye, which would be a good thing. McKay can play in his natural position
· Aside from Josh Kennedy, Postecoglou hasn’t got a centre-forward that stands out. Will he bring his 4-2-2-2 formations with attacking midfielders and wingers into international football? His striker-less formation would stand-out and if he can somehow get results with it, the formation could be the tactical innovation of the World Cup
Saturday, 26 October 2013
The Brisbane Lions have lost a few youngsters during the trade period but the situation isn't as bad as people in the public eye have made it out to be.
Herald Sun writer Sam Edmund had given the Lions a rating of "F" and they were the only AFL team to receive that mark.
Youngsters Billy Longer, Sam Docherty (pictured), Elliot Yeo, Jared Polec and Patrick Karnezis have gone and in return, Jackson Paine, Trent West and Luke McGuane have arrived at Brisbane.
Admittedly the off-season hasn't been an easy time up in Brisbane. There is a new board present and Bob Sharpless has become the chairman.
Sharpless spoke to David Schwarz on SEN 1116 and when asked about Longer, Docherty and Yeo, who were drafted in 2011, he replied: "unfortunately [in] that particular draft, there [were] probably some players in hindsight that we probably shouldn't have taken".
I disagree with the Sharpless' sentiment but I don't agree with Edmund's belief that they were losses. Longer, Docherty and Yeo were first-round draft picks but Brisbane's squad hasn't been turned upside down because they have departed.
Longer was a disappointment during his tenure at the Lions. He looked outclassed in most ruck contests and he made little impact when he was rested in the forward 50.
Docherty was perhaps used too often as a sub, which isn't ideal for defenders. Former Lions coach Michael Voss would have been better off using a midfielder or forward as a sub but some besides Josh Green, who also could should have been a regular starter.
Brisbane had been using players like Jed Adcock, Pearce Hanley, Ryan Harwood and Yeo has running defenders so one idea would have been to put Hanley in midfield or at HFF in order for Docherty to start matches.
Yeo is probably the biggest loss out of the five because he was a more regular starter for the Lions than the others. He was a useful half-back flanker and looked more promising than the other departures.
Aside from homesickness, it's strange to see Yeo go to the West Coast Eagles. Now that John Worsfold has left and Adam Simpson has become the Eagles' coach, this West Coast side is surely going to be one in a transition phase.
Polec and Karnezis were selected in the 2010 National Draft and they too were first-round draft picks. Both players could have been exciting forwards but Voss didn't play them enough.
Maybe new coach Justin Leppitsch shouldn't have let them go but based on their efforts so far, their departures shouldn't be considered as disastrous.
Polec looked like he was a mix of Josh Green and Daniel Rich. He was like Green because of his pace and flair and he was like Rich because he has a good left foot and he can play on the left-wing. Somehow he struggled to break into the Brisbane team.
Karnezis' case is more bizarre. He had some good performances as a forward and in this year's NAB Cup, he played well on the right-wing. Once the regular season arrived, Voss rarely used him.
Whether those two were homesick or Voss didn't use them properly, losing them hasn't been a good thing but based on their track records, maybe moving to their home states could bring the best out of them.
Brisbane hasn't recruited impressively like other teams but not all is lost. Paine might be given a chance as a key forward, taking pressure off Jonathan Brown in the forward 50 and there might be less need for Daniel Merrett and Brent Staker to play up front. It remains to be seen if Paine can give the likes of Stefan Martin and Jordan Lisle a wake-up call.
West is an ideal pick-up because he was never a regular in what is still an excellent Geelong team and the Lions need a back-up for Matthew Leuenberger in the ruck. This could be West's chance to shine.
Some people might be scratching their heads as to why McGuane went to the Lions. Leppitsch was an assistant coach at Richmond, McGuane's former club and the former Tiger wanted to be united with him.
As absurd as this may seem, he could be the next Zac Dawson. It sounds like an ugly tag and Dawson is a player that wins little admiration from fans. Ross Lyon has managed to make him perform certain tasks for St Kilda and for Fremantle with success and perhaps 'Leppa' will do the same with McGuane at Brisbane.
Most teams in the AFL did well during the trade period and Brisbane did catch the public's attention because the Lions have let go of five first-round draft picks. Despite the losses, it doesn't mean that Brisbane would have been successful if the quintet stayed on.
Carlton and Melbourne in the last decade have proved that recruiting a plethora of first-round draft picks won't guarantee success. Clubs like Geelong and Hawthorn have shown that shrewd recruiting is the way to go.
Brisbane's deals during the trade period may not be an example of shrewd recruiting but a club needs to recruit players that fit the missing pieces and a coach needs to understand the characteristics of his players to mould them into a competitive side.
Leppitisch didn't go after any stars during the trade period but the current crop of players were capable of making many comebacks this season and came close to making the finals.
Players such as Tom Rockliff, Jack Redden and Rich should be approaching their prime, the likes of Leuenberger, Dayne Zorko, Green and Rohan Bewick can keep progressing and the likes of Adcock, Merrett and Staker will provide valuable experience. This Brisbane side is clearly not the finished product but there is potential and its up to 'Leppa' to show that he can make this list of players finals contenders.
Promising youngsters have gone but it does not mean Brisbane has been left with nothing. Perhaps Edmund felt like giving someone an "F" for the sake of it and Brisbane happened to be that team.
Thursday, 17 October 2013
Belgium has qualified for next year’s World Cup in Brazil and Marc Wilmots’ team is considered to be a dark horse for the tournament. Although Belgium has finally qualified for a major tournament for the first time in 12 years, it’s not surprising. With the stars they have at their disposal, the Belgian fans might be witnessing a ‘golden generation’ of their own.
Current Belgian coach Marc Wilmots was still playing for his country when the Rode Duivels controversially lost 2-0 to Brazil in the round of 16 at the 2002 World Cup. Wilmots himself had a legitimate goal disallowed during that match. Fast-forward 12 years and the Belgians look like a team on the rise.
The term ‘golden generation’ can get thrown around quite regularly. England claimed to have one during the 2000s and the same term was used for Portugal and the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. Other teams have had that tag placed on them but it does seem that Wilmots basically has two players for each position in his squad.
In goal Belgium can rely on either Liverpool’s Simon Mignolet or Atletico Madrid’s Thibalt Courtois. Both goalkeepers are currently playing for teams that occupy top spot in the EPL and La Liga respectively.
Mignolet is 25 years old and Courtois is only 21, and if we are to believe that most keepers reach their peak later than on-field players, both Mignolet and Courtois have bright futures ahead of them.
Defensively the Belgians have some quality players but they are perhaps better known for their ability to go forward than to actually defend. Tottenham Hotspur’s Jan Vertonghen can play as a centre-back or a left-back and Atletico Madrid’s Toby Alderweireld can play at right-back or centre-back.
Manchester City’s Vincent Kompany is arguably the most reliable of Belgium’s centre-backs. He can defend, he has leadership skills and he possesses good ball control.
Others such as Arsenal’s Thomas Vermaelen and Bayern Munich’s Daniel Van Buyten aren’t regulars at club level now and their ability to defend is questionable, perhaps even lacklustre. Both defenders are best known for their aerial threat at set-pieces.
Aside from them, there is Hannover 96 full-back Sebastien Pocognoli and Zenit St Petersburg centre-back Nicolas Lombaerts who have been capped regularly by Wilmots. At this stage, it looks like Vermaelen will be confined to the bench, especially if he can’t break into an in-form Gunners side.
In midfield the Belgians don’t have a genuine playmaker or someone who can is known to play in the hole. Eden Hazard can play behind the strikers but he is best known as a winger. Recently Wilmots has used Marouane Fellaini as an attacking midfielder in a 4-2-3-1 formation.
Belgium does have defensive midfielders or central midfielders who are technically skilled such as Zenit’s Axel Witsel, Spurs’ Moussa Dembele and Fellaini. The Manchester United midfielder is probably the pick of the lot and there is more to him than his massive afro haircut. He’s a great ball-winner but he is also great at making runs late into the box and scoring goals.
If it’s not them that Wilmots can rely on, he can also rely on FC Porto’s Steven Defour. That’s pretty impressive if Wilmots doesn’t select Radja Nainggolan, who plays for Cagliari in the Serie A. Perhaps Nainggolan would be better off at a team like Inter Milan or Roma.
Regardless if Wilmots uses the 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 formation, he has some excellent wingers at his disposal. Chelsea’s Kevin de Bruyne and Napoli’s Dries Mertens can play on the right-wing as well as Everton’s Kevin Mirallas. Spurs’ Nacer Chadli has been playing recently on the left-wing but the first choice in that role is clearly Eden Hazard.
Hazard’s brother Thorgan has also won a cap but Eden could arguably be the best Belgian player since Enzo Scifo. The Chelsea winger has won trophies with Lille and with the EPL club and he is only 22 years old.
In the centre-forward position, Belgium has two superb strikers in Aston Villa’s Christian Benteke and Everton’s Romelu Lukaku. Both players are already goal machines in their early 20s.
Perhaps that is the one thing counting against the current Belgian side. There are quite a few players in their early 20s and maybe Brazil 2014 might be too soon for success. Once those guys reach their mid-20s, they could be very intimidating.
A lesser concern is that Belgium rarely scores more than two goals a match but if Wilmots’ team could score more than three goals in matches, it could be a more daunting team to face.
There are many players for Belgium who are playing in big leagues and for big clubs. Wilmots calls-up very few veterans and there is an emphasis on youth. If next year’s World Cup is a warm-up for this Belgian squad, Wilmots’ team might be a bigger threat for the established powers in the future.
Tuesday, 8 October 2013
Holger Osieck could lose his job as coach of the Australian national team if the Socceroos don’t get any results in upcoming friendlies against Canada and France.
Regardless if Osieck keeps his job as Socceroos coach, Australia should use the 3-5-2 from now on. The formation might give opposition teams more space to attack from the wings but it suits the players that are available.
Very few teams play with a three-man defence these day and most of the teams that do are in fact Italian clubs. So why should Australia use a three-man defence at international level?
One of the main concerns for Australia is the defence. Lucas Neill and Sasa Ognenovski are in their mid-30s and pacey strikers can beat them with ease. The Socceroos also lack a quality keeper who plays regularly for their clubs, with Mark Schwarzer and Mitchell Langerak playing second-fiddle at Chelsea and Borussia Dortmund respectively.
I’ve placed Langerak in the photo because Schwarzer isn’t available for the friendlies and he is the likely heir to the Chelsea keeper. When he has played for Dortmund, he has done well to deputise for Dortmund’s first-choice keeper Roman Weidenfeller.
The left-back position has been a major concern for the Socceroos too. Matt McKay has been used as a left-back, which is not his natural position, and Melbourne Victory’s Adama Traore was taken into consideration but he is ineligible because he has played for the Ivory Coast at youth level.
Implementing the 3-5-2 formation would be ideal for the Socceroos because if Mark Milligan plays in the centre of defence, he can support Neill and Ognenovski and function as a ball-playing defender. Milligan’s role would be similar to his role at Melbourne Victory when he plays as a holding midfielder but in this case, he would play deeper.
Instead of having full-backs, the 3-5-2 uses wing-backs and the wide players don’t have to cover as much as full-backs in a back four. McKay would be able to attack more effectively and carry less defensive responsibility. Luke Wilkshire started as a right midfielder so he too would benefit from playing in a more advanced role.
The midfield would consist of Mile Jedinak and Mark Bresciano, with the latter functioning as a withdrawn playmaker. Tom Rogic would play in the hole, essentially making the formation 3-4-1-2. He played in that role with the Central Coast Mariners and with his flair and ball control he would be an ideal link between midfield and attack.
Unfortunately Rogic has been ruled out with an injury for the France and Canada matches so another option would be to use talisman Tim Cahill in a standard 3-5-2 formation and make his late runs from midfield. Rogic does need to get integrated into the Socceroos squad sooner or later because Osieck has been too reliant on veterans.
Offensively Australia has had problems since the likes of Mark Viduka and John Aloisi have retired. Capping Scott McDonald 26 times clearly shows that Australia has lacked a good centre-forward. Fortunately he hasn’t been called-up but aside from Josh Kennedy and Robbie Kruse, most of the forwards are unproven at international or haven’t played in a major European league.
I’ve put Kruse and Kennedy here because one player is fast and technical and the other is a target man. I’d take a punt on Kruse and Archie Thompson because they were teammates at Victory so they would know how their attacking partner players.
Thompson will be 36 next year so he can’t expect to last for 90 minutes in Brazil. If the likes of Adam Taggart and Corey Gameiro can have breakthrough seasons, they could be useful in attack. Perhaps they don’t represent the present but they definitely would represent the future of the Socceroos.
Players like Kennedy and Thompson would be better off being impact players coming on as substitutes and Harry Kewell can’t be ruled out just yet. Now at Melbourne Heart, if he can return to form and somehow stay fit, he would be an excellent super-sub. He is the most talented player Australia has produced and has been important for the Socceroos in big matches.
Osieck might not have much time left on the Australian bench. The Socceroos have had to fight hard for their wins and there are flaws in the team. Australia doesn’t have the squad that it has from the previous decade but the team could be set-up more adequately. Regardless if Osieck stays or goes, a switch to the 3-5-2 formation is worth a try.
Tuesday, 24 September 2013
Robbie Kruse's performance in Bayer Leverkusen's 4-1 win away to Mainz in the latest round of Bundesliga matches was important from an Australian perspective. It was just one game but hopefully it is the start of many because Australian soccer needs someone starring in a big league.
Kruse joined Bayer Leverkusen this year from Fortuna Dusseldorf and the Socceroos forward has made the jump from a team that was relegated from the Bundesliga to a German team playing in this season's UCL. Bayer coach Sami Hyypia has usually used him off the bench but Kruse started against Mainz and scored two goals and created another.
Leverkusen is now one point behind Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich and if Hyppia's side can stay in the title race, it would be a great achievement. It would be more remarkable if Kruse could hold down his starting position too.
To have him make in an impact in such a team is important for the Socceroos because Australia needs top players playing in elite competitions, which the Bundesliga is. It may not have the marketability of the EPL but Dortmund and Bayern reached this year's UCL Final, which must count for something.
German sides are typically well-organised but these days they play with more flair than they used to. Going to the UK looked like an easy way out for Australian players because Australia was a British colony and playing in the SPL or EPL wouldn't require learning another language. By going to Germany, Kruse is adjusting to a different style of football and technique and tactics are important, not just physicality.
Another thing too is that in Australia, the media should make less of a deal about a player receiving matchtime in a big club or a big league. SBS tend to be guilty of this and because of this, Kruse starring for Leverkusen is important. Not only is he playing in a big league but based on the win against Mainz, he can be a key player.
Leverkusen need to keep pressure on Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga title race and it should try and qualify from its group in the UCL. If Kruse can keep starting and maintain his scoring record, it would be ideal for club and country. The Socceroos would have a greater threat than what they do now in attack and with Holger Osieck's reliance on veterans, he could do with an attacker who should be approaching his prime.
It would be wrong to get carried away about one performance against a small side in the Bundesliga but Robbie Kruse scoring for Bayer Leverkusen could result in a brighter future for the 25-year-old. If the Mainz match isn't a one-off, the Australian media can talk about a player making an impact in European competitions, not just about a bloke who was lucky to get matchtime.
Gary Ablett Jnr won his second Brownlow Medal (or Midfielders Award) last night and although it was a great achievement on his part, the story remains the same: rucks, defenders and forwards have a slim chance of winning a Brownlow Medal. Instead of focusing on Ablett Jnr's success, let's look at the rucks, defenders and forwards who polled well.
Matthew Leuenberger from the Brisbane Lions was the best polling ruckman in the Brownlow. He received eight votes and he came equal second with Pearce Hanley for the most votes polled by a Lion in this year's count.
Leuenberger, more often than not, has to carry the workload in the Brisbane ruck and he can score a few goals when he takes a rest in the forward line. If he can improve his kicking, he can be a more imposing player.
Even if Brisbane win more games in 2014 and Leuenberger's performances improve, would he receive more Brownlow votes? Very unlikely because he is a ruckman. He's not the only ruckman to get a small tally of votes. Dean Cox and Matthew Kreuzer only got six votes each, Shane Mumford received five votes and Will Minson in career-best form just got two votes.
No ruckman has won the Brownlow Medal since Footscray's Scott Wynd won in 1992 and aside from him, the Bulldogs have rucks such as John Schultz and Gary Dempsey win the prestigious medal. Minson might improve on his 2013 form but the preference that the umpires have for midfielders means that Minson probably won't join Wynd and co.
Defenders receive little recognition too. Fred Goldsmith was the first full-back to have won the Brownlow Medal, receiving it in 1955. St Kilda's Verdun Howell was the second one to win it, tying with Bob Skilton in 1959. The likes of David Dench, Stephen Silvagni, Matthew Scarlett and Dustin Fletcher never won the award.
Centre half-backs don't much recognition either. St Kilda's Neil Roberts won the Brownlow in 1958 and North Melbourne's Ross Glendinning won in 1983 but the likes of Ted Whitten Snr, Chris Mew and Glen Jakovich never won it.
Out of the current crop, West Coast full-back received four votes last night and remarkably got three of them in one match. Jordan Henderson from Carlton also got four votes and that was really as good as it got for key defenders.
Running defenders don't get much love either. Richmond's Bachar Houli received five votes in this year's count and the likes of Dyson Heppell and Brendon Goddard from Essendon got good tallies because they can play in the midfield. If James Hird played them only as half back-flankers, would they have got the votes that they did? It seems that the next Bernie Smith, Brad Hardie or Gavin Wanganeen won't arrive soon.
Last but not least, there are the forwards. For many years they were the ones kicking the bags of goals but now there is even spread of goalkickers in AFL teams and some key forwards can have some rather woeful kicking.
Adelaide's Tom Lynch scored 10 goals when the Crows thrashed GWS but he only received two votes. The Giants' Jeremy Cameron scored seven goals in his team's loss to Collingwood but he only got two votes as well. Mind you, we should expect that because Kelvin Templeton, Bernie Quinlan and Tony Lockett are rare examples of key forwards winning the Brownlow.
The likes of Gordon Coventry, Jason Dunstall, Wayne Carey and Gary Ablett Snr never won the Brownlow Medal and in recent times, the likes of Lance Franklin, Nick Riewoldt and Matthew Richardson came close but they didn't get the cigar.
Steve Johnson polled the best out of the forwards this year but one could argue that he has the attributes of a midfielder and could play outside of the forward 50. He is in a similar situation to that of Essendon defenders Heppell and Goddard.
Out of the pure forwards, Hawthorn's Jarryd Roughead was the best voted-getter last night with 13 votes and North Melbourne's Drew Petrie received 10. Other than that, it was another uneventful night for forwards.
Hayden Ballantyne from Fremantle was the most impressive small forward in the count. Despite his reputation as a pest, he still polled eight votes. The Cats' Matthew Stokes and the Doggies' Luke Dahlhaus got seven votes each and the latter's votes were more remarkable because he plays in a weaker side than Stokes.
These days the Brownlow has become predominantly a midfielder's award and anyone else has slim chances of winning the medal. Non-midfielders deserve recognition for their efforts and skills but if the umpires don't keep an eye on them, the Brownlow Medal might as well be called "The Midfielders Award".