This is my blog on the unpredictable world of football. Hope you enjoy it.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Socceroos struggle against tenacious Thailand

Australia struggled to a 2-1 victory over a tough Thailand squad in Brisbane on friday night. The game was the first fixture in the long qualification process for the 2014 World Cup through the Asian confederation. Big Josh Kennedy and substitute Alex Brosque were the goal scorers for the Socceroos, whilst Dangda scored for Thailand.

The game began in the fashion most people expected, attacking from Australia. However their repetitive crossing from the right flank from the duo of Brett Emerton and Luke Wilkshire became predictable for the Thailand defence. Though they lacked the size of the Australians, the Thai defenders managed to out jump their opponents as well as the fact that the crosses were most of the time poor. Thailand then shocked the home crowd with a quick goal on the counter attack in the 15th minute, taking the lead. The crowd was silent, apart from the vocal away crowd that sung and danced the whole way through the 90 minutes. This was in stark contrast to the home support, whom were almost non existent for most of the match. Australia tried to reply straight away, but found they had plenty of time on the ball, as the Thai team at many occasions had the whole team behind the ball defending. Australia lacked a spark in the middle of the pitch who was willing to take on defenders and were therefore forced wide by the compact Thai defence. This led to the bombardment of crosses into the Thailand penalty area, which they dealt with well. Tim Cahill and Josh Kennedy forced a couple of great saves from the Thai 'keeper, but it was not enough to draw level before half time.

Ex Melbourne Victory player Surat Sukha added to the already disgruntled feeling at the game by showing off his swimming pool artistry - diving. He was tackled fairly by an Australian player in the first half and went down, got up and ran then fell down again feigning injury. He then eventually did it again in the second half, but this time he was taken off on a stretcher injured. He was replaced in the 79th minute to the jeers of the home crowd for his efforts. The referee must have also forgotten who the home team was, it took him until the 84th minute to give out a yellow card to the Thailand team, even though they simulated and nagged the Australians.

It took Australia until the 57th minute to draw level after Matt McKay made a brilliant over lapping run around Brett Holman. McKay made it into the penalty area and shot only to be denied by the Thai 'keeper. The ball rebounded out to the waiting Josh Kennedy, who had the simplest of finishes from inside six yards. Not long after Australia had a goal ruled out from a corner, as the crowd grew further frustrated with the standard of refereeing. However substitute Alex Brosque saved Australia's blushes in the 86th minute when, after that man McKay delivered a superb cross only for Brosque to fail to climb high enough to get a touch. Josh Kennedy was waiting behind and the ball appeared to brush his arm as it found its way back to Brosque who stroked home with his left foot.

It was an uninspiring display from the Socceroos who will need to pick up their game if they are any chance to beat Saudi Arabia on their turf on wednesday. Holger made a few surprise selections that both back fired and worked. Matthew Spiranovic breathed fresh air into Australia's defence as he looked calm and composed on the ball, he also tackled well. McKay proved his versatility once again being played out of position at left back. He was the provider of both goals and was consistent in attack and defence, even though most of the play went down the right flank. The central midfield pairing again sticks out like a sore thumb. Neil Kilkenny was almost non-existent in this match, which is hard work in a position that sees a lot of the ball. Carl Valeri can tackle, sometimes, but he CANNOT PASS. Unfortunately Holger does not seem to want to use new Glascow Rangers recruit McKay in his preferred position in the centre of the park, which is a shame because he is exactly what the Socceroos need there right now. Brett Holman's movement and positioning were again impeccable, as it always is. Apart from that he had a poor game, he must have forgot his shooting boots. Josh Kennedy was handled well by the Thai defence as he and Cahill were marked out of the game at times. Kennedy however stuck up high and drew his markers in well, as Cahill dropped deep to look for the ball later in the game. Both players however were expected to head, head, head and this lack of creativity resulted in a poor showing from Australia.

Hopefully Holger Osieck is willing to make a few changes before the match against Saudi Arabia, because they are needed. The Socceroos were definitely in need of quick striker like Nikita Rukavytsya, but he has been left out of this squad. The sooner Holger starts bringing in these talented youngsters the better.    

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Manchester mauls North Londoners, Rivals draw and everything else in between in round 3

What Manchester City do, Manchester United do it better as City beat Tottenham 5-1 followed by Manchester United's astounding reply with a 8-2 victory over Arsenal. Round three also saw Chelsea leave it late against new boys Norwich, Aston Villa and Wolves draw nil all in the Birmingham derby and Liverpool beat Bolton 3-1. First we'll head to White Heart Lane, where Manchester City turned in a five star display against a weakened Tottenham Hotspurs.

Spurs had to field the ultra attacking Croatian duo of Niko Kranjcar and Luka Modric in the centre of midfield - which was targeted to perfection by Manchester City. City themselves threw new signing Samir Nasri (formerly of Arsenal) straight into the starting line up which created a fabulous front four. The scoring got underway in the 34th minute when former Arsenal team mates Gael Clichy and Samir Nasri linked up down the left flank, before Nasri played a lovely one-two with, another summer signing, Agüero and delivered an even better cross for Edin Dzeko to finish. Only seven minutes later it looked like Peter Crouch would level the scores down the other end with a super header, however it took Manchester City 18 seconds on the counter attack to make it two nil. The ball was played up field after Crouch's header was denied. Nasri again had the ball and delivered a delightful lofted cross that Dzeko did brilliantly to finish. He jumped in the air with his back mostly to goal, before slightly turning his head to allow him to direct the ball back across the 'keeper. It took just under ten minutes of the second half to pass before Dzeko completed his hat trick. Again City's build up play was superb as Agüero casually waited for Yaya Toure to make a run around the outside of him. Agüero passed the ball to Yaya, who in turn dribbled right to the byline before cutting in a low cross for Dzeko to beat his markers and slot home from close range. Just shy of the hour mark City continued with a forth goal, this time coming from Agüero. He played a neat one-two with Nasri before dribbling past a busy Dawson and curling it around Tottenham 'keeper Brad Friedel from an angle. Seven minutes later Spurs got their consolation goal, after a beautiful corner from Rafael Van Der Vaart found Younis Kaboul who headed home to make it 4-1. But in injury time Dzeko added his fourth and arguably his best effort of the afternoon. Dzeko played a one-two just outside the box with Gareth Barry before slotting home with his weaker left foot, although you couldn't tell with that finish. Here are all the goals.

Not long after at Old Trafford, Manchester United were about to highlight all the weaknesses in Arsene Wenger's Arsenal. The scoring started in the 21st minute when Brazilian Anderson scooped a ball over the top of Arsenal's defence (something they don't like at all) for Danny Welback to get in between a defender and the Arsenal 'keeper to nod home. Six minutes later Rooney burst into the penalty area down the left and put in a low cross that was cleared, straight to Ashley Young. Young was given time to switch it back onto his preferred right foot and shoot from well outside the area. However the finish was absolutely superb and an early contender for goal of the season. Not to be out done Rooney added United's third in the 41st minute with a lovely curling free kick from just outside the penalty box. Arsenal scored their first goal of the season in the dying seconds of injury time of the first half. Thomas Rosicky picked out a flying Theo Walcott with a superb pass. Walcott took on his marker and the 'keeper as he shot from a tight angle on the right and slotted the ball cheekily through young United 'keeper David De Gea's legs to make it 3-1 going into the break.

It took until the 64th minute for the scoring to resume through another Rooney free kick. It was very similar to the first one, but this free kick was from a few yards further out. It was another curling effort at the back post and shows what Rooney can do from set-pieces. Only two minutes later United added their fifth of the afternoon as Rooney highlighted Arsenal's lack of a leader/enforcer in defence. He attracted the interest of both Arsenal's centre backs - whilst their wide defenders stayed back - before passing to a completely unmarked Nani who chipped home. Three minutes later Ji-Sung Park added United's sixth goal, as Arsenal's defence was again at sea. The defenders weren't sure what to do as they sat off both Young - who passed to Park - and Park himself. He took a touch with his right foot to shift the ball onto his left and drove home from just inside the box. Arsenal then scored their second and final goal of the afternoon after Jenkinson - a right back who gets forward but can't tackle - delivered a cross to an unmarked Robin Van Persie to slot home at the back post. But the moment all of you have been waiting for is the return of the Joey Barton award (the award for the biggest dive of the week, named after Mr Barton himself because of his theatrics against Arsenal in round 1). This week it goes to Patrice Evra of Manchester United, as after Theo Walcott's lighting quick feet brew up a breeze that saw poor old Patrice swept of his feet inside the Arsenal penalty area. Congratulations Mr Evra. From the ensuing penalty the newest member of the hair plug brigade - Wayne Rooney - completed his hat trick (all from set-pieces) and took United's tally to seven goals. To close it out in Fergie time, or extra time, Ashley Young provided another thunderbolt in trademark fashion as he received the ball in the far corner of the Arsenal penalty area. Young then switched it to his preferred right foot and drove home to make it 8-2. Here are the ten goals in ten minutes of highlights.

Elsewhere in round three of the EPL, the Birmingham derby ended in a dour nil all draw but leaves both Wolves and Aston Villa undefeated. Wigan took their first win of the season at the expense of Championship winners QPR. Franco Di Santo scored a brace for the Lactics, whilst Adel Taarbat only managed to hit the post twice for QPR. Socceroo Brett Emerton's final appearance before linking up with new club Sydney FC ended disappointingly as Blackburn Rovers missed two penalties. Everton made them pay with an injury time penalty that got them the three points and leave the Rovers without a point so far. Chelsea almost came undone at home to newcomers Norwich, but the game was marred by a collision between Norwich goal keeper John Ruddy and Chelsea star Didier Drogba. The latter was left unconscious and had to be stretchered off. At this stage it was 1 all after Jose Bosingwa scored first for Chelsea and Grant Holt levelled after capitalising on an error by Chelsea 'keeper Hilario. Ruddy was sent off after bringing down Ramires in the 80th minute and Frank Lampard slotted the penalty. Juan Mata scored on debut for Chelsea to round off the scoring at 3-1. Sunderland and Swansea played out a nil all draw in Wales, which leaves both clubs with only two points from three games.

Liverpool continued their late win against Arsenal with a 3-1 victory over Bolton at Anfield. The scoring began when Suarez pulled out to the left and delivered a delightful cross to Dirk Kuyt. He in turn found Jordan Henderson who hit it first time, only to be blocked by Bolton midfielder Nigel Reo-Coker. Henderson shot a second time, this time with his left foot and it sailed home into the top corner of the net. The second goal came after a lovely corner by Charlie Adam found substitute Martin Skrtel, whom headed home powerfully. Liverpool's final goal came from Adam himself as he stayed composed from distance and shot home with his right foot. Ivan Klasnic scored a late goal after a rare Jamie Carragher mistake allowed him to do so. Newcastle continued their impressive start to the season beating a sluggish Fulham at St. James' Park 2-1. Leon Best emerged from the big shadow of Andy Carroll (who signed with Liverpool in January) to bag a brace. American Clint Dempsey nabbed a late goal to have Newcastle fans on the edge of their seats. In the final game of the round Stoke grabbed their first win of the season away at the Hawthorn's against West Bromwich Albion. Ryan Shotton grabbed a late goal after coming on as a substitute for Jermaine Pennant.

So there you have it folks, an entertaining round three of the English Premier League. It will only intensify with the closing of the transfer window coming just before the FIFA sanctioned weekend of international games. Bring on round four.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Champions Clamber, City Cruise and Chelsea held by Courageous Stoke

Manchester United escaped with a 2-1 victory over West Bromwich Albion, Chelsea were held to a nil all draw with a determined Stoke, whilst Sergio Agüero made a dream debut for Manchester City. Firstly lets take a closer look at Chelsea's draw with Stoke.

New manager Andre Villas-Boas decided to leave star strikers Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka on the bench in favour of out of form Spanish striker Fernando Torres. Salmon Kalou and Florent Malouda flanked the number nine in a 4-3-3 system that looked more threatening as the game wore on. However Stoke were very compact and defended well against a Chelsea team that looked to play the ball along the deck. Torres showed some great touches - something Chelsea fans aren't quite used to yet. Chelsea also had three genuine penalty claims turned down by the referee, with one of these incidents involving Torres. In the later stages of the game both Kalou and Malouda were replaced by the more distinguished pair of strikers on the bench as Villas-Boas looked to attack Stoke with all his firepower available. Anelka came closest to scoring as he cut in from the left flank on to his favoured right foot and looked to chip Stoke 'keeper Begovic. Begovic however did brilliantly and managed to get a hand to the ball, knocking it against the cross bar. There was bad news for Stoke as inspirational winger Matthew Etherington went off with a suspected broken arm or collarbone. Rory Delap also came off with what looked like a repeat of his hamstring injury leading into the match. Both will be a major loss for Stoke in their upcoming match against Premier League new boys Norwich.

Defending champions Manchester United were lucky to escape the Hawthorns with a victory and it came at a cost. West Bromwich pushed them all the way, but only managed to score from a piece of poor keeping. Rooney started the scoring with a superb left foot drive from just outside the box, he was set up by United's new winger Ashley Young. Twenty minutes later West Bromwich replied when new signing - Sean Long - scored after a keeping error from United's new 'keeper David De Gea. Long cut inside onto his right foot and drove the ball at goal, with De Gea diving over the ball and missing it making the score 1 all. It took United until the 81st minute to win the match when that man Ashley Young was at it again. He surged forward down the left flank to the byline where he drove in a half shot/half cross, for it to be turned in by West Brom defender Simon Reid. However the victory came at a cost for United as they lost their captain and vice captain or there centre back pairing of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic. Ferdinand's injury appears to be the worst with a six week lay off expceted, whilst the extent of Vidic's injury is unknown at this stage.

The 'noisy neighbours' got their season off to a flying start without former captain Carlos Tevez starting. They put the sword to Swansea in the second half laying on four goals to beat them four nil. Big money (£38 million) signing Sergio Agüero came on as a 60th minute substitute for Nigel De Jong (yes our friend that fly kicked Xabi Alonso in the World Cup final), with the scores at 1 nil. He had a hand in all three remaining goals, scoring two himself. His first goal came from a lovely ground cross from right back Micah Richards. Agüero beat everyone to the ball and claimed his first goal for his new club. Next he set up David Silva for a slightly controversial goal. Agüero this time chipped it over Swansea's new 'keeper, Michel Vorm, and then kicked it back over his head for the waiting David Silva to lash home. On second showing, when Agüero kicked the ball back over his head to keep it in play, it appears as if the ball was actually out - the rule being in football for all of the ball to be over the line. However the goal stood and it was three nil, but Agüero was not finished yet. His second goal came in injury time, as he received a pass from Yaya Toure, well outside the penalty area. Kun - Agüero's nickname - then decided to have a pop at goal. He succeeded as the ball went flying into the net from over thirty yards, a superb finish from a world class player.

So that wraps up round one of the 2011/2012 EPL season and what a start. Manchester City were the only team to win at home in the opening round. Tottenham and Everton's match was called off due to the riots in London and there were five draws. An interesting to start to what should be another bumper year of football.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Sunderland Suck Draw out of Liverpool

Luis Suarez's missed penalty early on along with Andy Carroll's ruled out effort have come back to haunt Liverpool as they fought out a 1 all draw with Sunderland at Anfield. It was a game of two halves where we saw the good and bad of Liverpool. They dominated the first half with some really enterprising play, in particular from new boys Charlie Adam and Stewart Downing. But the second half was a different story as they failed to press Sunderland and let them right back into the match.

It didn't take long for the opening day to provide its first talking point as it came after only four and a half minutes of play. Suarez, pressing as always, charged down a long ball from Richardson and broke into space. Suarez had Richardson on his tail, but only the 'keeper - Mignolet - in front. He decided to try and take the ball round the 'keeper in his trade mark style, however he was shoved in the back by Richardson and drew a penalty. Interestingly enough referee Phil Dowd only decided to give Richardson a yellow card. From the ensuing penalty kick Suarez unfortunately cleared the cross bar and Sunderland fans breathed a sigh of relief. Only five minutes later, however Suarez redeemed himself with a neat run onto a well taken free kick from Charlie Adam. The free kick was on the right hand side of the pitch, just outside the box - a left footer's dream. So Charlie Adam, being a left footer, stepped up to deliver a superb driven free kick into the box. Suarez dropped low and got his head to the ball putting it just past the 'keeper to make it 1 nil in favour of Liverpool. In the twentieth minute Adam was at it again delivering a delightful diagonal ball to Carroll who was just inside the box. Carroll had his arm on Anton Ferdinand and he made the most of it diving to the ground as Andy Carroll slotted home with a wonderful left foot drive. The goal was disallowed due to Carroll's 'contact' with Ferdinand. The replays showed it was a very harsh call on Carroll who barely had his arm on Ferdinand. Anton could be up for an early nomination for an Academy award with those acting skills. Henderson and Downing switched flanks numerous times during the match to good effect. Downing popped up on the right flank in the 33rd minute making a surging run from inside his own half. He then skipped past a couple of would be defenders before cutting inside to his favoured left foot and striking a venomous shot on goal only to be denied by the wood work. It really deserved a goal and on another day it possibly would of went in. Four minutes later Lucas pressed hard on Sunderland and won the ball deep in Sunderland's half. He had Suarez to the right but went himself with a low shot that went wide of the upright.

Sunderland then got back into the match, mainly by targeting young Liverpool right back Flanagan. Sebastian Larsson de-possesed him in the 52 minuted and delivered a nice cross to Gyan. Only for him to head it straight to Liverpool 'keeper Pepe Reina. Four minutes later Flanagan was exposed again, this time for poor marking. A thrown in on the left hand side of the pitch was won by Sunderland. A cross was then delivered to the unmarked Larsson at the back post - where Flanagan should have been. Larsson then finished with a lovely right foot volley to square the game at 1 all. In the 60th minute Liverpool brought on Kop favourite Dirk Kuyt in place of former Sunderland man Jordan Henderson. After the change the corner, taken by Charlie Adam, was swung into Carroll who was lurking at the back post only for Mignolet to make a fine save. Twelve minutes later Kuyt passed a neat ball into Carroll who turned his man twice and took a shot with his weaker right foot, only for the ball to hit Wes Brown and flash wide. Liverpool really looked to try and claim all three points, while Sunderland looked to shut up shop and were content with the draw. In the 86th minute Liverpool had one final chance as Meireles - a substitute for Suarez - delivered a brilliant cross to the towering Andy Carroll. He unfortunately headed wide of the goal. Sunderland then had possibly their best chance of the match in the second minute of injury time. Sessegnon ran at the Liverpool defence, but put too much on his pass to captain Lee Cattermole who struggled to get it out from his feet. He switched it to his left and shot well over the bar for a potential game winner. It ended at 1 all in a good match to kick off the English Premier League season.

Lets go round the grounds to look at the scores from the other five matches played on saturday:
Bolton gave QPR a big welcome to the EPL, thrashing them 4 nil. It started out however with a disallowed goal to QPR as Bothroyd was ruled offside by the sharp eyed linesman. Bolton responded with a Gary Cahill thunderbolt from outside the box to open the scoring officially. Bolton's second was an own goal from QPR's new defender Gabbidon who turned a free kick into his own net. Klasinic made it 3 nil with a deflected shot and Muamba completed the scoring after being played in beautifully by his team mates.

Fulham were unlucky not to take all three points at home to Aston Villa. John Arne Riise made his return to the EPL with an unlucky miss after being played clear on the left flank of the penalty area, only to shoot over the bar. Andrew Johnson had a wonderful shot saved by Villa's new 'keeper Shay Given. Zamora also had a point blank shot denied by the brilliant gloves man.

Arsenal's woes from the end of last year seemed to continue as they drew with Newcastle, yet again at St James Park - last time they played there Newcastle came from 4 nil down to salvage the unsalvageable and get a 4 all draw. The game will however be remembered for 'Gervinho-gate', as the Ivorian forward was given his marching orders for a 'hand-on-face' on outspoken Newcastle midfielder Joey Barton. Barton escaped with a yellow, even though he clearly provoked Gervinho. Although Gervinho clearly provoked not only Barton, but the whole of St James Park with his dive - equal to that of Ferdinand's effort in the other match. Barton picked Gervinho up and welcomed him to the EPL, before players rushed in to break up the situation. Only for Gervinho to reach at Barton and possibly laying a fingertip on his face Barton fell to the ground like he had been shot. Barton clearly wins the Academy award for acting this week, and will now be immortalised on this blog with the weekly 'Barton award' - for the player who takes the best dive of that week. Congratulations Joey.

The Wolves got their season off to a positive start with a win over Blackburn, 2-1. Blackburn had an early chance denied by a scrambling Wolves 'keeper Hennesey. However Blackburn made Wolves pay soon after as a long ball found Jason Roberts up front. He brought the ball down well and held off two defenders before playing in new recruit Formica for his first Blackburn goal and Blackburn's first goal of the season. Wolves responded with some well constructed build up play, before English international Matt Jarvis found Steven Fletcher at the back post. He rose above his marker and nodded home to make it 1 all. In the second half Blackburn right back Michel Salgado brought down Matt Jarvis inside the area and Wolves were awarded the penalty. Kevin Doyle stepped up to the spot, but his shot was saved by the evergreen Paul Robinson. The ball went back out into play and a cross found a Wolves player who headed it at goal, only for it to be blocked. Robinson was off his line and the ball popped up to Ward on the edge of the box. He slotted home with a lovely shot to give Wolves the win.

The final match saw newcomers Norwich take on Wigan. De Laet - on loan from Manchester United to Norwich - brought down Di Santo after he broke clear by taking possession off of him. Ben Watson dispatched the ensuing penalty to make it 1 nil in favour of Wigan. Norwich responded with a well delivered cross from Morison that caught Wigan 'keeper Al-Habsi in two minds as he tried to get the ball but only parried into Hoolahan who knocked it into the net to make it 1 all and thats how it stayed.

The remaining games of this round see Chelsea take on Stoke at the Britannia, Manchester United take on West Bromwich Albion at the Hawthornes and Manchester City taking on the first ever Welsh team in the Premier League, Swansea at the newly named Etihad Stadium. The Tottenham V Everton game has been postponed due to the riots in London. A brilliant start to what should be a big season of EPL, stay tuned folks.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Young Socceroos Succumb to Counter Attacking Costa Rica

A Joel Campbell brace inspired Costa Rica to a 3-2 victory over the Young Socceroos despite the bulk of possession being held by the Australians. Campbell's pure class was on display for all during the match as the Arsenal and Manchester United target tormented Australia's lacklustre back four all night. Tommy Oar once again scored for Australia with a neat flick over the 'keeper, while the Australian's second goal was an own goal. Here are the highlights:

The first opportunity of the match once again fell to winger Kofi Danning, who blasted a shot marginally over the cross bar from distance. In the 11th minute midfielder Dimitri Petratos released striker Kerem Bulut with a delightful defence splitting pass. Bulut was one-on-one with the Costa Rican 'keeper and tried to curl it round him, but the 'keeper stuck out his leg and made a vital save. Only seconds after Costa Rica had their first chance of the match as Ruiz was played through, only to hit the ball over the cross bar after Australian 'keeper Birighitti came rushing off his line. Bulut was then at it again minutes later as he knocked the ball round one defender and then cut inside to shoot just over the goal once again. Costa Rica then took the lead from a fortuitous piece of play, as Terry Antonis was de-possessed well inside his own half and the ball was played to Joel Campbell who ran at the defenders. He shifted the ball to his right foot momentarily losing his balance, but not his composure as he cooly switched it back to his preferred left foot and slotted the ball home making it 1 nil. This was the catalyst for an explosive 5 minutes of play, as Australia equalised just 4 minutes later. Rhyan Grant provided a long looping throw in from the right flank of the pitch which was neatly flicked on by Kerem Bulut. Tommy Oar's brilliant run saw him beat his marker and neatly flick the ball over the 'keeper to make it 1 all. Just after this from the kick off, Costa Rica made it 2-1. Jordan Smith once again beat Marc Warren for pace and whipped in a superb cross, where that man Campbell was waiting to finish with a world class side foot volley. Australia had a golden opportunity to once again level the scores as Tommy Oar was free down the left flank and had Kerem Bulut screaming up the middle of the pitch for the ball. However Oar selfishly took a shot at goal which blazed over the top yet again. Bulut was clearly unhappy with Oar's decision as he remonstrated towards him.

The second half saw changes afoot as Australia chased the match. On the hour mark Australia made an influential double change as Bernie Ibini-Isei replaced Kofi Danning and Mustafa Amini came on for Dimitri Petratos. Ibini was an instant success on the pitch as he had pace to burn and looked like a genuine threat. In the 64th minute Jan Versleijen's (Australian manager) decision payed off as Warren played the ball inside to Ibini who in turn played the ball into the centre looking for Bulut. The ball found Fransisco Calvo, who unfortunately turned the ball into the net, levelling the scores at 2 all. Australia then had the confidence and the weight of possession to potentially win the match. This changed in the 71st minute as Campbell had a half shot, half cross cleared away by Birighitti, only for it to find Ruiz who shot at goal. It was denied by some last ditch defending by Melbourne Heart player Brendan Hamill who got his body in the way. The resulting corner however was the winner for Costa Rica, as Campbell found the unmarked Ruiz at the near post for him to head home. It was poor defence from the Australian's at a set piece and was punished by the Costa Rican's. There were a handful of chances for both sides in the last minutes of the match, a lot of Australia's chances coming from Ibini who showed some brilliant skills to release himself or team mates. Bulut however had the final chance of the match as he received the ball just outside the penalty area, he turned inside onto his right foot and shot high and wide.

This was a game the Australian's would feel they should have won, however costly mistakes in defence have once again cost them. Versleijen should be credited for his changes to the team from the first game, as he brought Hamill into defence and Antonis into midfield. Hamill looked a lot more comfortable playing out from the back and was much more confident at defending than Dylan McGowan in the previous fixture. Antonis was the hub of the midfield in this match, despite being to blame for Costa Rica's first goal. He not only pulled the strings in midfield but also provided some great tackles. Versleijen's best call was when he introduced Amini and Ibini in the second half. Both players looked very dangerous against tiring opponents. One disappointment is the fact the only Australian player that presses in the opposition's half is Kerem Bulut. There is no point in him being the only one to press as he then leaves massive amounts of space for the opposition to use. The team should be pressing as a unit or not at all, because they have the capability to do so.

Australia face the uphill task of taking on Spain in the final group match on Sunday morning (Australian time). The Spanish squad contains Sergio Canales from Real Madrid, Daniel Pacheco of Liverpool, Oriol Romeu of Barcelona, Isco of Valencia and Koke from Atletico Madrid. All of these youngsters are potential stars and major threats to the Australians. However both teams will be without one of their most influential midfielders as they face a one match suspension due to picking up two yellow cards in their first two matches. Australia will be without captain Ben Kantarovski, while Spain will be without Barcelona player Oriol Romeu. This could have some bearing on the match. It is a must win match for Australia, whilst for Spain they have the luxury of knowing they will be top of the group no matter what the results are. The Australian's will no doubt have a tough task, but in football anything can happen as long as you believe.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Young Socceroos Snare Lucky Draw

A Tommy Oar thunderbolt free kick has saved Australia from the jaws of defeat in its opening fixture against Ecuador in the under 20's world cup. The young Socceroos turned in a largely underwhelming display against their South American opponents and were lucky to come away with a draw. However what is more worrying, is the fact that the same problems that occurred for the Joeys (under 17's) were re-occurring for the young Socceroos - more about that later. Here is Tommy Oar's cracking 89th minute goal:

Ecuador's goal came in the 24th minute after some brilliant work by striker de Jesús who put in a low cross forcing Australian 'keeper Birighitti into a save. The ball bounced favourably for Govea to finish for Ecuador. Not long before the goal, Montaño shot from range forcing an excellent save from Birighitti. One of Australia's best chances came within the opening 30 seconds of the game when Tommy Oar swung in a sumptuous cross to Kofi Danning at the back post, only for him to shoot over. Danning was at it again soon after playing a chipped cross across goal to the back post where it was cleared off the line by the Ecuadorian 'keeper.

Australia's back four were constantly under threat from the pace of the Ecuadorians. They also struggled to play out from the back - a key component of the new national football curriculum. The young Socceroos looked very much disjointed as they played numerous hopeful long balls to an isolated Kerem Bulut upfront - much like the Joeys in the under 17's world cup. The same cracks are already starting to appear in this under 20's squad and questions must be asked of the coach of both squads - Jan Versleijen.  The Dutchman is highly credentialed in the world of football, but when you play players out of position - Dimitri Petratos was played as a Centre Mid when he is normally played as a winger - and changing the formation your credibility as a coach must be challenged. There is also no doubt the players have to take some of the responsibility as well.

Mustafa Amini showed glimpses of his potential with some great passing, however he looked disinterested in defending at times and didn't help Bulut press the opposition. Dylan McGowan and Trent Sainsbury were continually exposed in their centre back roles, with de Jesús' pace too much for both of them to handle. Rhyan Grant and Marc Warren were also quiet in this match and either looked to play long balls forward or pass back to the 'keeper or their centre back counter parts. Ecuador's high pressure game did not help the defenders, but they needed to find a suitable solution to combat this and they failed to do so. Tommy Oar constantly received long balls that he had to chase or bring down under heavy marking. But once he got on the ball he looked dangerous and won a free kick late on in the first half. His free kick could also be an early contender for goal of the tournament. Birighitti showed that Australia will have plenty of goal keeping options once the great Mark Schwarzer retires with an excellent performance. But the man who changed the game was young Sydney FC player Terry Antonis. He came on for captain Ben Kantarovski in the 59th minute and took charge in a directionless midfield. He provided the much needed link from Australia's defence to its attack. Antonis also looked calm and confident on the ball, hitting players with pin point accuracy.

Ecuador thoroughly deserved the victory in this match. The Australian's should thank their lucky stars for this result. Hopefully Versleijen makes some changes to the starting XI for their next match against Costa Rica on Thursday morning (Australian time). There is a lot of talent in this squad, hopefully Versleijen can harness this and get the players firing for their next match.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Magical Musti

Australia's under 20's world cup team is a team full of potential, but one young man stands out from the crowd - not only due to his hair style. Meet Mustafa ('Musti') Amini, an 18 year old born in Sydney to parents from Afghanistan and Nicaragua. The raw talent also sports a sizeable red afro to match his silky skills on the pitch. This afro could see him being swamped at the world cup, due to it being held in Colombia. Colombia's love affair with afro wearing players stemmed from legendary playmaker Carlos Valderrama whose signature do was the 'fro. Amini, however will be looking to make his own mark as a player after his breakthrough season in the A-League. 'Musti' capped off the season by starting in the grand final against Brisbane Roar and were unfortunate to lose.

His star has risen even further in the off-season as reigning German champions Borussia Dortmund have signed him. He will however be loaned back to the club where he made his name - Central Coast Mariners - for the upcoming A-League season. Amini has also been singled out for praise my senior national team manager Holger Osieck. The attacking midfielder is known mainly for his defence splitting passes, but he can slot home a goal or two check these out for proof:

Amini's career is off to a great start and this tournament gives him the chance to show the world what he is made of. He has some brilliantly gifted players around him in this under 20's squad, lets hope they have a great tournament and do Australia proud.