Monday, 2 February 2015

Australia Worthy Winners of 2015 Asian Cup

Australia was the worthy winner of this year’s Asian Cup after it triumphed on home soil against South Korea on Saturday night.

There were doubts before the Asian Cup because Ange Postecoglou’s team underperformed in the pre-tournament friendlies but Australia played well throughout the tournament.

Although other nations had players with greater technique or flair, Postecoglou regularly stuck to his principles and the Socceroos played with skill and attacking intent. When his high-possession game wasn’t working though Postecoglou’s side were able to work hard or be pragmatic to win matches.

The Socceroos outclassed Kuwait and Oman in the group stage but then they lost 1-0 to South Korea in the final Group A match. It didn’t matter because Australia had a couple of solid wins against China and United Arab Emirates in the quarter-final and semi-final respectively.

Australia nearly blew it in the Asian Cup Final after Son Heung-Min cancelled out Massimo Luongo’s first-half goal but James Troisi was the hero, scoring the winner in extra-time in what proved to be a hard-fought encounter.

Many players stood-out in this Australian team. The dependence on veterans like Mark Bresciano and Tim Cahill was not particularly heavy and the new generation of Socceroos emerged in the Asian Cup.

Mat Ryan was a bit shaky at last year’s World Cup in Brazil but he was very reliable at the Asian Cup, making some fine saves and he also charged out of his box at the right time. The 22-year-old is proving to be an ideal sweeper-keeper and a quality replacement for Mark Schwarzer.

Under Holger Osieck Australia had an ageing defence but Postecoglou has relied on younger defenders since his appointment in 2013 and now he is seeing the benefits.

Ivan Franjic, who played under Postecoglou at Brisbane Roar, and Matthew Spiranovic were fine performers in the tournament at right-back and centre-back respectively.

Trent Sainsbury also played well at centre-back but his performances will be remembered more because of his first goal for Australia against UAE and also because his sublime through-ball allowed Luongo to turn and score the opening goal in the final.

Jason Davidson replaced Aziz Behich at left-back in the latter stages of the Asian Cup and his performances were very impressive. He created Cahill’s second goal against China and he scored the second goal against UAE. Under Osieck he looked jittery and nervous but the son of Socceroos great Alan looks very confident on the ball these days.

The midfield was not constant but everyone was able to perform their roles when an opportunity arose. Mile Jedinak was the anchor in midfield, Matt McKay and Mark Milligan were energetic box-to-box midfielders and Luongo surprised everyone by becoming the Player of the Tournament.

Luongo had great stamina, great ball-winning ability and superb ball control and demonstrated that he should be playing at a much-more prestigious club than Swindon Town in England’s third division.

Cahill still provided moments of brilliance and scored vital goals for Australia but the attack showed that it was not too dependent on him over the course of tournament.

Robbie Kruse scored an excellent goal against Oman and he showed some decent dribbling skills. If he passed more or shot earlier, he could have been more dangerous.

Mathew Leckie failed to score a goal but he impressed people with his pace and energy. With better positioning and ball control, he could really tear defence apart.

Tomi Juric usually came off the bench but he sealed the 4-0 win against Oman and set-up the winning goal for Troisi in the Final.

Troisi himself also scored against Kuwait and performed well as a sub throughout the tournament. After flopping in Italy, Troisi was given a chance to shine at Melbourne Victory by Postecoglou and now he is taking his chances for Australia.

Although the players performed admirably, Postecoglou deserves praise for his coaching. Instead of playing ultra-defensive or relying on long-balls, he has encouraged his players to play a short-passing game.

He has also forced the retirements of former Socceroos stars but he has discovered young Australian talent playing around the world and Socceroos fans now have a new generation of heroes to cheer on.

Thanks to Postecoglou and these emerging stars, Australia showed that it deserved to win the 2015 Asian Cup.

Friday, 17 October 2014

My 2014 AFL Trade Period Review

Although most of the action occurred in the closing days, there were many positives to take out of the 2014 AFL Trade Period.

My impression is that many quality trades were made over the last fortnight and the players who moved can make great contributions for their new clubs.

Brisbane will probably be the most satisfied of all the 18 clubs after recruiting Dayne Beams from Collingwood and Allen Christensen from Geelong.

The Lions already have quality midfielders like Pearce Hanley and Tom Rockliff, emerging youngsters like Lewis Taylor and James Aish and players like Matthew Leuenberger and Daniel Rich will return from injury.

Beams adds more star quality to the Brisbane midfield and so does Christensen. The former Cat can also play as a small forward so if he can shake off his injury concerns, he can add more pace and flair to Brisbane’s forward 50.

The Beams move to Brisbane allowed Collingwood to get Travis Varcoe from Geelong, Heritier Lumumba moved from the Pies to Melbourne and Mitch Clark was traded from the Demons to the Cats.

Varcoe has battled with inconsistent form and injuries during his time at the Cats but he can provide some spark in Collingwood’s forward line which has been missed since the retirements of Alan Didak and Leon Davis.

Lumumba is another proven player that Melbourne needs and he will give more run out of the Demons defence.

Clark has battled with depression, but if he can overcome his personal battles, he can form an excellent key forward partnership with Tom Hawkins. “Tomahawk” is a more traditional key forward who relies on his physical strength and “Clarko” can depend on his athleticism and mobility.

A move that would have raised eyebrows is Tom Boyd moving from Greater Western Sydney to the Western Bulldogs and Ryan Griffen going in the opposite direction. Both players wanted to leave but Boyd going to the Bulldogs for $7 million for seven years has left some people scratching their heads.

The move wasn’t a straight swap but both clubs can still feel happy about the move. Boyd is an unproven player but the next Western Bulldogs coach can build the forward line around him and he should get plenty of game time.

GWS still lack stars and there are too many unproven players on its list but Griffen is the type of player the Giants need. He is an experienced player and a star player at that.  

Ruckman Luke Lowden was traded from Hawthorn to Adelaide. He made an impressive debut this season with the Hawks but he has not played since his three-goal haul against West Coast.

Lowden can provide support for Sam Jacobs in the ruck and he can also help Taylor Walker and James Podsiadly with the goalscoring load at Adelaide.

Now 23 years old, Lowden has been in the AFL system for five years but he has struggled to gain playing time ahead of David Hale, Ben McEvoy and Jonathon Ceglar at Hawthorn. Playing for the Crows should give him the opportunity to shine at the AFL level.

One of the last moves completed was Paddy Ryder’s move from Essendon to Port Adelaide. He will take the pressure off Matthew Lobbe in the Port ruck and Ken Hinkley’s team should fancy themselves for the premiership.

The Bombers have got Jonathan Giles from GWS as a replacement for Ryder and they have also got midfielder Adam Cooney from the Western Bulldogs.

The ASADA supplements scandal will play a huge part in which players the Dons can use in 2015 but despite the loss of Ryder, they now have a promising ruckman and an experienced midfielder who can fill the roles of players who might be suspended.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Belgium Lacked Ideas at the 2014 World Cup

Belgium is out of the World Cup after losing to Argentina in the quarter-finals but a lack of experience as well as a lack of ideas played a part in Rode Duivels elimination from the tournament.

Marc Wilmots’ team had won all four of its World Cup matches it had played at Brazil 2014 until facing the Albiceleste.

A solitary goal from Gonzalo Higuain was enough to give Argentina the 1-0 win but the scoreline does not reflect the gap in quality between Argentine coach Alejandro Sabella and Wilmots.

Both Sabella and Wilmots had great players to work with but Wilmots had the younger roster at his disposal. Belgium had the third-youngest team at the World Cup with an average age of 25.5 years.

It was Sabella who played his cards right when the two teams played against each other in Brasilia. Even when Higuain scored after eight minutes, he looked happy to keep that lead.

Argentina could have won by more goals if it really wanted to or if luck went its way. Higuain hit the crossbar in the second half and Lionel Messi was denied a goal at the end after he was one-on-one with Belgian goalkeeper Thibalt Courtois.

Belgium, on the other land, was slow and predictable whenever it had possession and despite trailing throughout the match, the Rode Duivels lacked urgency. There is no doubt that Belgium has some gifted individuals but they could not provide the magic needed to get a result for their team.

This game had probably exposed the shortcomings of Wilmots as a coach. Throughout the tournament, he relied on his substitutes to change the game for his team and against Argentina, it did not work. Argentina was solid at the back and goalkeeper Sergio Romero was not forced into making any breathtaking saves.

There has been criticism of Wilmots’ usage of four natural centre-backs in defence and that there weren’t any natural full-backs used by him. Jan Vertonghen can advance from defence from his natural role at centre-back but he did not do too much as a left-back at this World Cup.

This is where Wilmots should have used the rigid four-man defence to his advantage. The defenders could have stayed back and his forwards could have stayed in the final third and press the opposition defence.

Kevin De Bruyne was a fine performer as an attacking midfielder and Dries Mertens was more suited to a super-sub role instead of being a starter but the Belgian attack lacked great flexibility and movement throughout the tournament.

It’s debatable if anyone else had better wingers to work with than Wilmots. Aside from De Bruyne and Mertens, Wilmots could count on Kevin Mirallas, Eden Hazard, Adnan Januzaj and Nacer Chadli to provide trickery or pace down the wings. For a team with many wingers to work with, the Belgians were too slow and unimaginative.

Wilmots was the assistant coach of Belgium for three years before getting the head coaching role in 2012. Since taking over, he has been credited for uniting the Walloon-speaking players and the Flemish-speaking players in the team.

Wilmots may be good at being a man-manager but he has shown a lack of tactical nous. If he is going to coach Belgium at Euro 2016, he needs to make changes to his squad or tactics.

If he keeps relying on his star players to constantly create chances out of nothing, Wilmots could end up being the coach that prevents this team from being great instead of being the one to properly nurture its talent. 

Friday, 27 June 2014

Suarez suspension given by FIFA was lenient

The suspension that FIFA handed out to Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez was too lenient.

Suarez has been banned for nine competitive fixtures for the Uruguayan national team and he has also been banned for another four months from any type of football activity. FIFA also gave Suarez a fine of 100,000 Swiss Francs (AU$118,763.90).

It is a very soft punishment by FIFA after he had bitten opposition defender Giorgio Chiellini in Uruguay’s 1-0 win against Italy at the World Cup.

This is not a new thing for Suarez because he has committed this offence on two previous occasions at club level.

In 2010, he had bitten PSV Eindhoven midfield Otman Bakkal when he was an Ajax player. The KNVB suspended Suarez for seven Dutch Eredivisie matches and he was labelled by the Dutch press as “The Cannibal of Ajax”.

Last year Suarez had bitten Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic in an English Premier League match and he was suspended for 10 matches by the FA.

Before the sentence was handed down, there were reports that said Suarez was going to be banned for two years for biting Chiellini.

A lengthy suspension like that would have been appropriate because it would mean that FIFA would be taking a real stand against this sort of behaviour.

FIFA likes to promote “fair play” and place great emphasis on it. A two-year suspension for Suarez would have been FIFA’s way of saying that the concept of fair play is something it takes very seriously and that the bite on Chiellini is the antithesis of fair play.

Sports athletes are meant to be role models for young children and there is nothing conventional or saintly about the way Suarez acts. His actions send a wrong message to children worldwide.

Italian kids could assume that it is a common act for opposition players to bite them. Uruguayan kids could believe that biting an opponent is OK as long as it helps your team to win.

Then there are the developing nations in Africa and Asia who are still trying to learn more about the game. If a child from one of those continents saw what Suarez did, he/she could think that it is just a part of the game.

Biting offences aren’t the only wrongful deeds that Suarez has committed. He was sent-off in the 2010 World Cup Uruguay v Ghana quarter-final for saving a shot like a goalkeeper on the goal-line. Asamoah Gyan missed the resultant penalty in extra time and the Celeste won the game on penalties.

He was suspended for eight EPL games after racially abusing Manchester United’s French defender Patrice Evra and he was also suspended for one match after sticking his rude finger up at Fulham fans.

It is disappointing to see that someone as talented as Suarez needs to resort to this kind of behaviour. He is a match-winner thanks to his prolific goalscoring but he has that “win at all costs” mentality too.

Regardless of how talented a player is, he should not commit acts of cynicism or anything that is downright despicable.

FIFA should have taken a stand against Suarez so he could stop committing such distasteful acts on the football pitch. A nine-match suspension is soft.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Spain Must Bring in the New Generation Now

Spain needs to make changes and bring in the next generation of stars after being eliminated from the World Cup.

La Furia Roja is out of Brazil 2014 after losing its first two matches to the Netherlands and Chile, making the 3-0 win against Australia an irrelevant one.

The Spaniards were considered to be a contender to win the World Cup and even become the first team since Brazil in 1958 and 1962 to win back-to-back titles.

Coach Vicente Del Bosque relied too much on some of the stars from the past and it backfired on him and his team. Spain’s tiki-taka football looked slow, static and predictable against the Dutch and Chileans and the reliance on the veterans played its part.

Iker Casillas had arguably his two worst performances as a professional goalkeeper when the Netherlands thrashed Spain 5-1 and Chile disposed of the Spaniards 2-0. Casillas lacked confidence and his errors played a huge role in Spain conceding as many goals as it did.

Midfielders Xabi Alonso and Xavi are in their early 30s and the World Cup looked like one tournament too many for them. They could not handle the physically stronger Dutch players or the faster Chileans.

Fernando Torres was another player who should not have played at the World Cup. He did score against Australia but the match was a dead rubber. He has not been impressive since becoming a Chelsea player in 2011 and he has looked like a shadow of himself for the last few years.

If selecting those veterans was a mistake, Del Bosque’s worst mistake has to be convincing Brazilian striker Diego Costa to switch allegiances.

After playing a few friendlies for Brazil, Costa was Spain’s centre-forward at the World Cup and it was an unsuccessful move. He won a penalty against the Dutch but he failed to score in the tournament.

It’s puzzling to work out why Spain would call-up Costa in the first place. Cesc Fabregas did well in the false nine role at Euro 2012 so why change a winning formula? Even if Del Bosque wanted a more traditional centre-forward, he could have used a Spanish-born player like Alvaro Negredo or Fernando Llorente.

Negredo scored nine goals in 32 EPL matches as Manchester City went on to win the Premier League title and Llorente scored 16 goals in 34 matches as Juventus went on to win the Serie A title.

Llorente is not the only Italy-based player who should have gone to the World Cup. Right-winger Jose Callejon and central midfielder Borja Valero were worthy of selection too.

The Serie A is not as strong as it used to be and Spaniards usually struggle on the Italian peninsula but Callejon and Valero merited spots in the Spanish squad.

Callejon scored 15 goals in 37 matches for Napoli in his first Serie A season and Valero has been Fiorentina’s midfield general for the last two seasons.

Spain has plenty of depth in central midfield and most of the players are in winning teams but Valero has been a real standout in the Serie A since arriving in Italy two years ago.

The Spanish need to bring in more stars from their youth teams now. Players like Marc Bartra, Gerard Deulofeu and Thiago Alcantara probably weren’t good enough for this World Cup but they are the type of players La Furia Roja could be relying on at Euro 2016 and Russia 2018.

Spain still had some youngsters who were good enough to play at this World Cup such as Iker Muniain, Isco, Alberto Moreno and Daniel Carvajal.

Athletic Bilbao midfielders Ander Herrera and Ander Iturraspe are in their mid-20s but they too could have made Spain’s final 23 for the World Cup.

Del Bosque was perhaps spoilt for choice but he probably should have left out some of the old faces when he selected Spain’s squad for the World Cup.

This marks the end of a generation and a new one will be expected to emerge. The players are there but regardless if Del Bosque stays as coach or a new one comes in, the newcomers must play ASAP.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Tabarez should set the Uruguay team up like this against England

Uruguay needs to get a result against England if it wants to progress beyond the group stage at the 2014 World Cup.

La Celeste lost 3-1 to Costa Rica on Saturday and Los Ticos were able to expose the weaknesses of Oscar Tabarez’s side.

Tabarez has called-up too many veterans from his country’s 2010 World Cup campaign and the team has not got many youngsters available.

Diego Forlan was Uruguay’s star four years ago but he is now in the twilight of career and Tabarez cannot rely on him to score goals or even create them. Aside from a few free-kicks and a deflected shot on goal, Forlan did little against Costa Rica.

Fernando Muslera was quiet in the first half but in the second half he could not handle the Costa Rica shots.

Joel Campbell starred for Los Ticos in attack and his pace gave the Celeste problems. The Uruguayans will probably struggle to deal with the pace of Raheem Sterling and Daniel Sturridge when they play against the English.

Costa Rica exposed Uruguay’s weakness at defending from set-pieces. Christian BolaƱos took free-kicks from the wings and one of them resulted in a goal scored by Oscar Duarte.

Tabarez is a pragmatist and sometimes that can backfire. A coach will create roles for players and they don’t work. Martin Caceres is a right full-back but he played on the left. Now that Maxi Pereira is out for the England game because of suspension, Caceres should play in his natural position.

Christian Stuani played as a right-winger but it is not his position. He might have done well against Jordan in the World Cup play-offs in that role but his best role is as an out-and-out striker. If he has to play, he is better off coming off the bench.

I have suggested that Uruguay should use the 4-4-2 formation against England. This formation will be similar to what Tabarez used four years.

The formation was a 4-4-2 cum 3-4-3 in 2010 but this time Tabarez should use a 4-4-2 formation that becomes a 3-4-1-2.

When Uruguay moves to a 3-4-1-2, Alvaro Gonzalez and Walter Gargano would protect the defence but Caceres and Alvaro Pereira would run down the wings and Gaston Ramirez would play behind the strikers.

Ramirez is a false right-winger in my formation. His role would involve him starting from the wing but he would be given freedom to roam in the middle of the attack. Caceres would patrol that right flank and move into midfield when Ramirez attacks.

This is the main difference with the formation in 2010. Forlan started in attack but he could drop back and play as an attacking midfielder.

I would start Jorge Fucile at left-back but he would move into the centre of defence when Uruguay has the ball. Off the ball, he should limit the space to Sterling to do any damage.

One of the other main differences is that Edinson Cavani was used as a right midfielder in South Africa and he would join the attack whenever possible. Here he should just stay in the forward line and finish whatever chances he gets to score.

Luis Suarez will be the key for Uruguay because if he is fit enough, he can win the game on his own yet he needs to be given the right platform to perform.

England’s young team should be able to beat Uruguay’s veterans. If Tabarez sets the team up like this and Suarez is fit, there could be some hope for the Celeste.

How can Greece beat Japan?

Greece needs to get a result against Japan in its Group C match at the World Cup.

The Greeks looked outclassed in their 3-0 loss against Colombia but they did have some of the possession in the first half.

Fernando Santos’ team lacked quality finishing as well as some flair against the Colombians but it should fancy its chances against the Japanese.

Japan became more defensive after Keisuke Honda scored the first goal in its game against the Ivory Coast and then the Elephants came back and won 2-1.

Greece’s players look more built than Japan’s ones but there are other reasons for anyone to tip the Greeks to win this match.

For the Ethniki to obtain a win, Santos will need to make some changes to his squad. He has been reliant on veterans and now he needs to freshen up the team.

My proposal is instead of using the 4-4-2 or 4-3-3, Greece should line-up in the 4-2-3-1 formation. Panagiotis Kone would play closer to the opposition penalty box and Georgios Samaras could patrol the left flank.

Georgios Tzavellas should start as the left-back. Jose Cholevas struggled at Euro 2012 and was replaced by Tzavellas. At that time, the move worked and if Santos makes that change for the Japan game, it could work again.

Cholevas is weak defensively and leaves too many gaps for opposition right-wingers. Tzavellas has shown that he is better at international level and he could even take the free-kicks.

Panagiotis Tachtsidis should be brought into the starting line-up. I consider him to the Greek Sergio Busquets because of his tendency to pass sideways and backwards.

Tachtsidis has started to play more forward passes than the Spanish midfielder since moving from Catania to Torino in Italy’s Serie A and he could the type of player to help maintain Greece’s passing fluidity.

Ioannis Fetfatzidis aka “The Greek Messi” would be an ideal option to replace Dimitrios Salpingidis on the right-wing. He has the trickery and the pace to unsettle opposition defenders.

Salpingidis has been a talisman for the Greek national team but Fetfatzidis represents the present and future of Greek football.

Kone would be best utilised if he played closer to goal. He was Greece’s best player against Colombia and he was the Ethniki’s best offensive threat.

During his time at Serie A club Bologna, he has had a habit of scoring spectacular goals. Perhaps with better supply against the Japanese, he can replicate the magic with the Greeks.

Samaras should not start as a support striker and he should play on the left flank. He can patrol the left side of the pitch, he has great stamina, a great work ethic and fantastic ball control. His finishing leaves a lot of be desired though so he better off creating chances than finishing them off.

For all the changes and additions to the Greek team, the real key is to start Kostas Mitroglou in attack ahead of Theofanis Gekas. The veteran striker has never starred at a major tournament for Greece and he was the Ethniki’s weak link against Colombia.

Mitroglou was Greece’s hero against Romania in the World Cup play-offs, and even if he is not 100 per cent fit, he would surely present a greater threat to the Japanese defence than Gekas.

Greece has been reliant on experience and defensive tactics but Santos needs to bring in younger players to help implement offensive tactics.

If he makes these changes, Greece could have what it takes to beat Japan.