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.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Quarter Final Time in the Copa America

The Copa America looks set to light up the world of football as it heads into the knock-out phase. But the big guns of South American and world football have only just woken from an early tournament slumber. Argentina and Brazil were both looking rather disorientated early and were almost eliminated, but turned their fortunes around with impressive displays in their last group matches - 3 nil and 4-2 victories respectively. Chile are the dark horse so far after claiming two victories and a draw with Uruguay. Arguably the third favourite of the tournament, Uruguay has also struggled to find its feet. The trio of strikers Diego Forlan, Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani did not seem to work and once Cavani was relegated to the bench Uruguay got a victory against the fringe Mexican squad.

Probably the more fascinating story is that of Venezuela. No one would have guessed the lesser known footballing nation would go through to face Chile in the quarter finals. It is a great achievement for the country, but they will face an uphill battle when they take on Chile. Colombia have also shown their qualities, making it through their group undefeated. They have some excellent individuals in Porto duo Falcao and Freddy Guarin, who are a real handful for their opposition. Colombia will face Peru, whom are lucky to scrape through as the second best third place team in the competition (since there are only 12 teams that contest the Copa America, with two invitational spots, the 12 nations are divided into 3 pools with two advancing from each pool automatically and the two best third place teams, based on points, go through to make it into 8 teams that contest the knock-out stage). Paraguay are the other team to make up the final eight, after a stuttering performance in the group stage. They were however unlucky not to beat Brazil in the group stage, after a late equaliser from Fred. Brazil will meet Paraguay again on Sunday evening local time (Monday morning Australian time, but not on SBS because of the women's world cup final) in what should be a cracker of a match.

But the biggest match will no doubt be when neighbours Uruguay take on Argentina. The Argentines will have a slight advantage as they are the hosts, but it isn't too big a journey for Uruguayan fans to cross the border and take over Santa Fe. There are so many players and battles to run the rule over. It promises to be a highlight of the tournament no matter what happens. With a great atmosphere coming from the passionate fans as well, I can assure you there will be drama both on and off the pitch. The key men to this encounter? Lionel Messi for Argentina and Diego Forlan for Uruguay. These two have yet to score in the tournament so far, which is what they do for a living at club level. Both players have, however looked to come deeper into the centre of the park and pull the strings as the number 10's on their jersey's suggest. This will be the match I think where the saying, "cometh the man, cometh the hour" will apply. Whichever team can get their rhythm and passing game up and running the earliest will win. Argentina is my tip, they look like they are starting to gel and Messi seems to have found his home in behind a striker.

In the earlier match on Sunday, I think that Colombia will advance at the expense of Peru. The understrength Peruvians will no doubt take it to the Colombians, but with the excellence of Falcao on their side Colombia will have to much fire power for Peru.

Brazil and Paraguay will provide yet another heavy-weight battle in the quarters. Mano Menezes, Brazilian manager, has chopped and changed his squad every game seeking the right combinations. The Brazilians look most vulnerable at the back and this could promise to be another goal-fest. Paraguay are very good at absorbing pressure and playing on the counter, so this game could play right into their hands. But its hard to go past Brazil, in what should be an end-to-end contest.

Venezuela will have it tough against Chile and I don't see anything but a Chilean victory. Alexis Sanchez looks to be hitting his straps which should be a danger sign not only to Venezuela, but to the whole tournament. Chile has quality players all over the pitch and their class will shine through in this match.

There you have it folks a quick guide to the Copa America, a tournament that brings together some of the most talented, highly paid individual footballers in the world (individual being the key word). There are going to be some great games ahead, I'd advise watching the Argentina V Uruguay game as its going to be brilliant, check your local guides. Brazil V Paraguay should be another belter with plenty of action both on and off the pitch (just look at some of the pictures floating around on the internet of Paraguayan supporters!). Welcome to the longest running international tournament, the Copa America.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Flores bids Adios to Adelaide

Last season's Johnny Warren medalist (Player of the year) Marcos Flores has signed a two-and-a-half year deal with Chinese club Henan Jianye. The Argentine player will earn triple what Adelaide United were offering in his new contract at around $800 000 a season. Flores lit up the A-League in his one and only season with that South American flair football fans know and love. Whether it was freakish passes or scoring superb goals Flores was a genuine star and at times last season, kept Adelaide out of trouble. It is also fair to say that Flores is one of only a handful of overseas players to challenge Melbourne Victory star Carlos Hernandez to being the most successful import player.

A-League fans will be quite aware of his ability, but for others out there who may not of heard of the lad let me show you some of his brilliance. Here is the highlights of a brilliant season:

Impressed? I thought so. Here are his two best goals from last season in isolation:

Not bad huh? Both goals would have many strikers world-wide jealous. Flores will be sorely missed by not only the red army of Adelaide, but the league as a whole. He was a top class player and an absolute pleasure to watch. Muchas gracias Marcos Flores.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Joey's Come Back Against Cote d'Ivoire

The future of Australian football looks promising after a come from behind victory against Cote d'Ivoire. It was fighting display as the Joeys (Under 17's) scored two goals in the second half to cancel out Cote d'Ivoire's opener in the 18th minute. Dylan Tombides was the stand out performer for the Joeys, scoring the goal that sealed the victory with 12 minutes remaining and secured three points in a tough group for the Aussie's in the under 17's world cup.

The first half was very sloppy by the Joeys, it looked as if they were nervous early on. A defensive error by Tom King lead to the first goal as he took too long with the ball allowing Souleymane Coulibaly to take the ball and shoot powerfully with his left foot into the bottom corner making it 1 nil to the Ivorians. There were glimpses of what was to come as Corey Brown delivered a brilliant cross later in the half, but Jesse Makarouns could not rise high enough to connect with it. Cote d'Ivoire kept pressing and had numerous chances denied by some great defending by the Joeys. Cote d'Ivoire kept most of the possession in the first half and it showed as they went to the break with the 1 nil advantage still intact.

The second half was much brighter by the Joey's after a few choice words from manager Jan Versleijen no doubt. A substitution was made by Versleijen in order to freshen things up at the back where Jake Monaco was unfortunately exposed numerous times. Monaco came off for Riley Woodcock and it looked a positive move by the manager. But it had little bearing on the first goal of the half as Makarouns played a neat one-two with Hernan Espindola before smashing home a cracking left foot volley from all of 25 yards making it 1 all. The Joeys then looked to be on the front foot as Makarouns - a Perth Glory signing - got more involved after a weak first half. He went in search of another after receiving the ball on the left hand flank, just outside the box. Makarouns sent in a right foot curling effort that curled away from goal after Cote d'Ivoire 'keeper Konate got his fingertips to it. Versleijen decided to make the most decisive change of the match, however, bringing on Teeboy Kamara for the Joeys and he proved to be a handful. He streaked down the left flank numerous times. Kamara then went on a run where he cut inside looking to shoot at goal from just outside the box before a Cote d'Ivoire defender got the ball. He was tackled brilliantly by a Joey and the ball popped out to the right hand side of the box to a lurking Tombides. He didn't need a second invitation as he drew two Cote d'Ivoire defenders before cutting inside onto his left foot and driving home superbly to score what would be the winner. Cote d'Ivoire pressed late on and produced a wonderful save from Adelaide United recruit Paul Izzo. The Joeys can now build on a much better second half in anticipation of their clash with Brazil's under 17's on friday morning (Australian time). Lets home big Sam Allardyce (West Ham manager) is watching because this kid Tombides is a real talent.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Silly Season Starts

Big names, big money and big clubs, yes its transfer time again. It is set to be a big European summer of sales from the biggest clubs letting go ailing stars and chasing new, young talent. It is also the last transfer window before FIFA's fair play rules come in where clubs are basically not allowed to spend more than they earn - so Manchester City may start slipping back down the ladder. Although the transfer window doesn't officially open until the first of July lets take a look at the deals that have already been done.

The biggest move so far? German shot stopper Manuel Neuer leaving his boy-hood club Schalke 04 for Bavarian giants Bayern Munich. The money involved I hear you ask? Although the deal will not be made official until the 1st of July when the transfer window opens, it is rumoured to be around the £20 million mark. What most people don't understand with football transfers - the casual football supporter - is that this £20 million is not what Neuer gets, this is the fee payed by Bayern Munich to Schalke 04 to secure Neuer's services for the next five years. Bayern Munich have also added Brazilian defender Rafinha to its squad after his unsuccessful stint at Genoa.

Staying with the Bundesliga, young Turkish international Nuri Sahin will be going to the Spanish capital to link up with Real Madrid after helping his team Borussia Dortmund to the Bundesliga title. Sahin is not the biggest name in world football but if he can press his way into Mourinho's starting XI he will be well on his way to super stardom. Also leaving the Bundesliga will be Hamit Altintop, another Turkish international. He leaves Bayern Munich having won six titles with the club, but lets have a look at what he does best:

To the Serie A where champions AC Milan have bolstered their defence with the signings of Phillipe Mexes from Roma and Nigerian international Taye Taiwo. AC Milan have also secured the permanent services of Ghanian midfielder - and star of their 2010 World Cup campaign - Kevin-Prince Boateng. In Italy often clubs will buy players in a 'dual ownership' deal and this was the case for Boateng where both AC Milan and Genoa agreed on a 'dual ownership' deal for him from Portsmouth. To explain a 'dual/co-ownership' deal briefly, a team can offer to 'co-own' a player with a team bidding for a player, in this case Genoa put in a bid for Boateng, Milan offered co-ownership in which they payed the players wages for this season and Genoa except and let the player join Milan for a season. The clubs can then decide where the player will play next season with the help of the Italian football association. In this case AC Milan bought Boateng after a stellar season outright from Genoa. AC Milan however lost midfield maestro and club stalwart Andrea Pirlo to rival Juventus. Pirlo has signed for three years and looks to be a big signing for the Turin giant. Lazio have undoubtedly picked up what will be one of the bargains of the transfer window in Miroslav Klose. The German striker is renowned for his international goal scoring record (48 goals in 98 caps - 14 of those goals coming from the 19 games he has played at World Cups putting him only one goal behind Brazilian super striker Ronaldo) and will be going to Italy without a fee to his former club, Bayern Munich, because his contract expires on the 30th June.

Now to the English Premier League where Manchester United have finally got their target Phil Jones from Blackburn Rovers in a deal expected to be worth £16.5 million. The 19 year old defender will link up with national team-mate Chris Smalling as understudies to the brilliant centre-half pairing of Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand. Fergie has landed yet another gem and this young lad is definitely one for the future. Another one for the future of England is Jordan Henderson who is currently taking part with both Phil Jones and Chris Smalling in the Under 21's European Championship. Liverpool have shelled out a fee of £16 million for the lad from Sunderland. Damian Comolli - Liverpool's director of Football - believes the youngster has the potential to be a star for club and country making him a vital signing for the understrength Liverpool squad.

Finally to the A-League where Gold Coast United has had an exodus of players. Jason Culina has left the club to link up with his Dad - who is Manager - of Newcastle Jets. Shane Smeltz has also left Gold Coast for Perth Glory in a lucrative deal. Bas Van Den Brink has joined Smeltz at Perth after an unsuccessful spell in the Korean League recently. Gold Coast however have made up for these losses only recently as they have got Olyroo (Olympic Football Team Under 23's) hopeful Dylan McGowan on loan from Scottish club Hearts and have landed Dutchman Paul Beekermans on recommendation from former player Bas Van Den Brink. Perth Glory look to be assembling a dominant squad as they added former Manchester United midfielder Liam Miller from Scottish giants Celtic. Miller will get the chance to play his former club straight away in a friendly match between the two sides on July 9th in Perth. Alex Brosque also left former club Sydney FC controversially after receiving a dream offer from Japanese club Shimizu S-Pulse. Brosque however had every right to leave Sydney as he had a buy out clause in his contract that Shimizu met, leaving red-faced. Scouse legend Robbie 'God' Fowler has ended his career after leaving Perth Glory. The striker was expected to go round for one more season with new strike partner Shane Smeltz, but has cited a need to go back to England to be closer with family and friends for his exit. Melbourne Victory have lost captain and club legend Kevin Muscat to retirement. This will have players the league over breathing a sigh of relief after seven seasons of harsh tackling from the defending dynamo. Robbie Kruse reborn at Melbourne Victory has secured a deal with Fortuna Dusseldorf in 2.Bundesliga. The A-League is also awaiting the decision of, arguably Australia's most talented player to ever grace the pitch, Harry Kewell. He has been linked with numerous clubs and could potentially rescue the A-League single handedly with his involvement on and off the pitch. Fingers crossed our Harry comes home for the adoring Australian public.

These are just some of the signings so far in what promises to be a spectacular summer sale. We are yet to see any signings from big-money-spending Manchester City, but that will change sooner rather than later as they pursue a number of targets as they look to strengthen their squad even further for Champions League football next season. Once again Arsenal are going to be put to the test as captain Cesc Fabregas is targeted by home-town club Barcelona for a dream move back. Wenger may be resigned to losing his star midfielder this time round as Fabregas wants silverware. Samir Nasri is another player that is potentially eyeing a move elsewhere, although he says it depends on Wenger's willingness to spend money on strengthening the squad, something he's not good at. So folks sit back and enjoy the ride as the silly season looks set to swing into gear in the coming weeks.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Second String Socceroos Show Depth

After a 3-0 crushing of the All Whites (NZ's mens Football team) and a lively 0-0 draw with Serbia the Socceroos mostly second string squad has shown manager Holger Osieck he has some depth coming into the 2014 World Cup qualifiers beginning in September. Depth will be crucial during a rigorous qualifying campaign which sees the Socceroos cover plenty of miles in travel to some exotic and obscure parts of the Asian continent. There will also be times no doubt where some of our top guns in Europe will not be realised from their club because the Asian and European seasons run at different times. Add to this the fact of life in football of injuries and suspensions, it was refreshing to see players showing they could make the cut at international level.

On sunday the 5th, the Socceroos took on the All Whites at Adelaide Oval. It was pouring rain and very windy but it didn't stop the Socceroos as they cruised to a 3-0 win. Josh Kennedy managed a brace in his return to the national team after injury, scoring his first under rather fortunate circumstances. A poor back pass from Jeremy Brockie to his 'keeper Glen Moss allowed the big lad Kennedy to steal through and pass into the net. He had a golden opportunity not long after his first after being played through by Dario Vidosic but Kennedy could only put it over the top. His second goal however came on the hour after a well worked corner from Vidosic found Kennedy's head for him to bullet into the net. The third goal came from home town hero James Troisi who slotted home from the penalty spot after substitute Robbie Kruse was brought down in the box. Troisi was one of the highlights of the first match playing on the left flank. He threatened the Kiwis many times with his bustling runs and footwork, it was brilliant to watch. He was allowed to play the full 90 minutes by Osieck as well which was a nice touch from the manager. 'Keeper Nathan Coe also got a chance to impress against the Kiwis making some great saves whilst never being under complete threat from the All Whites. Neil Kilkenny, Michael Zullo, Matthew Spiranovic and Jon McKain were all given starts by the manager and played well. Robbie Kruse, Rhys Williams, Dario Vidosic and Alex Brosque all came off the bench during the match and put in solid performances.

Two days later the Socceroos backed up their impressive win over the Kiwis with a entertaining draw with Serbia in Melbourne. Adam Federici - coming straight from England where his team Reading lost 4-2 to Swansea in the playoff for the final place in the English Premier League - put in a masterful display between the sticks to deny Serbia on numerous occasions. Brett Holman was the other star for the Socceroos putting himself about all over the pitch in his usual fashion and creating chances. Mile Jedinak had the Socceroos best chance of the first half only for his shot to be blocked by a Serbian defender. Serbia's best chance was wasted by young starlet Adem Ljajic who shot over the bar in the 40th minute. Federici then put in his claim to replacing Schwarzer when he retires with a brilliant save at the feet of fleet footed Serbian winger Zoran Tosic. He backed it up with a wonderful save from a Ljajic shot just before a flair was thrown at his goal, landing very close. Holman's running was paying off and in the 61st minute he could only manage to shoot over the bar before backing it up three minutes later with a trademark long range shot from outside the box that scrapped the left hand post. Not long after Federici was at it again denying Serbia two more excellent opportunities to go in front. Australia's best chance of the entire match came in the 79th minute after some excellent build up play saw James Troisi free on the left flank and one-on-one with the 'keeper only for him to shoot poorly straight at the 'keeper for a routine save. Dejan Stankovic was instrumental as always for Serbia, but was unlucky not to have the usual fire power in front of him to stick away the chances he provided. Tosic was also brillaint for Serbia, he showed his pace and dribbling ability throughout the match.

James Troisi was the stand out from both matches, after not knowing too much about him before these two fixtures he has certainly left his mark on not only the Australian football public, but the manager Holger Osieck as well. For me personally it was great to see young Rhys Williams back in the green and gold after a horrendous run of injuries that kept him out of football for twelve to eighteen months. He is a very versatile player that can easily cover centre back, right back or a holding midfield roll. Osieck seems to prefer him at right back, where he made both of his substitute appearances replacing Luke Wilkshire. Lets hope Williams can now hold his starting berth at club level for Middlesborough, guiding them to promotion to the Premier League. It was also great to see Josh 'Jesus' Kennedy back playing for the Socceroos. He is a big target man upfront that can cause teams lots of problems, he will be handy in the qualifiers against the smaller Asian defenders. Michael Zullo was also given plenty of minutes during the friendlies which was another great sight. Zullo is now playing at left back for his club FC Utrect in the Netherlands. Osieck also used him there in part of both matches and he showed some good qualities. He certainly has the speed and fitness for the role, but he does need to work on his defending a little more, this will come over time and with experience which he is getting plenty of in the Dutch league. I still do not understand Osieck's choice of Jon McKain, he is too old, too slow and technically not good enough for the Socceroos. The playing time he gave McKain should have went to Spiranovic who is a much better prospect. Spiranovic is only 22 years of age and still has a lot to learn, so why not give him this game time during friendly matches for his development? He played some of the match against New Zealand but McKain got the nod over him against Serbia. It is frustrating to see unfortunately, much like the centre of midfield for the Socceroos. The Jedinak/Valeri combination is not working Holger can you not see it? Am I the only one that can? It is at times very painful to watch, with the pair giving the ball away far too much for centre mids. Jedinak and Valeri are too much a like to be paired together in the engine room, they both play the same role at club level, being the tackler and strong man. It's time for Osieck to drop one of the pair to the bench and play Matt McKay or Neil Kilkenny there alongside Jedinak or Valeri. We need someone in the middle of the pitch that can play a pass and hold possession, it is arguably the most crucial position on the pitch. All in all however, it is refreshing to see Australia going after teams and playing some attacking football. Once Holger realises the central midfield problem and fixes it, we will see a more free flowing Socceroos squad.

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Inaugural Beautiful Game Premier League awards

Yes that's right folks it's time for the first time ever the Beautiful Game Premier League awards. I'm going to also choose the best XI of the season plus some bench warmers because we all know the Premier League can get physical. This will be the first in a series of awards for the leagues around the world. Anyway lets begin with the goal of the season award:
This goes to the one, the only, Wayne Rooney with this pearler from the Manchester Derby
Next award is the Robert Green blunder of the season award, awarded to the biggest 'keeper blunder and this season it goes to Ali Al Habsi from Wigan for this terrible mistake against Manchester City
The next award shall be known as the Roy Kean's Red award, awarded to a player who is a tad loco and goes in for that too rash tackle. Although this tackle was not in the Premier League it was produced from a Premier League club in the Europa league. The award goes to none other than Mario Balotelli for this imitation of his club mate Nigel De Jong's effort in the World Cup final
Here is De Jong's tackle if you were wondering

On to the next award called the Landon Donovan award, awarded to the player who had the worst goal miss of the season. This year it goes to Marouane Chamakh for this absolute howler against Blackpool

The next award is the Bend it like Beckham award, awarded to the player who scores the best free kick of the season. An honourable mention must go to Carlos Tevez's effort against Stoke which was a close second to this one. However the winner was Leighton Baines with this stunning left foot effort for Everton

Everton shot stopper Tim Howard has got the Gordon Banks award for save of the year. It is at 1 min 12 seconds of this video.

Now onto the rest of the awards. We will begin with the biggest flop of 2010/2011 season award and its absolutely no contest for this one. It goes to Fernando Torres. After securing a £50 million transfer to Chelsea at the end of January he appeared 14 times for the Londoners only to score one goal! Oh Fernando.

To the other end of the scale its time to award the bargain buy of the season award. There are a few honourable mentions to be given here. Chiek Tiote to Newcastle was an absolute master stroke and has been solid all season. Peter Odemwingie of West Brom broke the clubs Premier League goal scoring record by netting 15 this year and to think West Brom only shelled out around £2 million for him. But the award goes to wheeler dealer master Harry Redknapp for nabbing Dutchman Rafael Van Der Vaart of Real Madrid for the measly fee of £8 million. He went on to be top scorer for the club with 13 in the league and created just as many, nice work Tottenham.

The debutant or young player of the year was a tough call. There has been a couple of real talents to emerge in the Premier League this season. Jack Wilshere for Arsenal is one, along with Andy Carroll - originally for Newcastle - now for Liverpool but the award has to go to Chicharito (Javier Hernandez) of Manchester United. He also could have fallen into the last award, as Fergie managed to pay only £6 million for his services. The 22 year old Mexican went on to score 20 goals in all competitions and counting with the Champions League final this weekend, not bad for your first season.

Finally we come to the team of the season. There have been some fine performances by players this season so it has been a tough choice. The team is as follows, lining up in a traditional English 4-4-2 formation:
'Keeper: Joe Hart
The lad has been outstanding for this star studded squad. He was introduced last season due to an injury Shay Given - a superb 'keeper himself - and has never looked back. He has managed to keep Given out of the City starting XI permanently thanks to his consistent displays between the sticks. Hart has also landed the English number 1 gig as well thanks to his performances.

Right Back: Micah Richards
Hart's City team mate Micah Richards gets the nod marginally over Branislav Ivanovic due to his consistency and constant starting place in his team. Richards has a bit of pace and quite a lot of strength for a right back and uses it to good effect. The right back position has been the problem area for a lot of squads this season.

Centre Backs: Nemanja Vidic and Vincent Company
Again a Manchester City player makes it, this time in the form of Company. He has been the rock in City's defence this season and could well be on his way to getting the armband depending on Tevez's decision on his future. Vidic needs no introduction. He has been part of the United set up for seasons now and has been the skipper in Ferdinand's absence in a tight nit United defensive unit. Robert Huth and Brede Hangeland narrowly missed out but have been excellent for their respective clubs this season.

Left Back: Leighton Baines
Everton's Baines has been outstanding this season nabbing some brilliant goals, but more importantly was equal third for assists in the league with 11. Not bad from your left back. He also managed to win himself four caps for England for his performances and thats why he beat Ashley Cole to the team of the year.

Right Midfield: Nani
Has been instrumental for Manchester United this season, topping the assists charts with 18. With not much help from his central midfield partners at times, Nani has taken it upon himself to be the midfield maestro that United rely on. 

Centre Mid's: Scott Parker and Charlie Adam
Although both Parker's and Adam's clubs were relegated they were the heart and soul of their clubs fight to stay in the Premier League. Parker won the Football Writer's Association award for good reason working tirelessly for a club that never seemed to gel under Grant's management. Adam was just as important for Blackpool with 9 assists and 12 goals. The Scotsman gave everything for the Seasiders and attracted interest from both Tottenham and Liverpool in January.

Left Midfield: Rafael Van Der Vaart
Although its not Van Der Vaart's favoured position, there was no way he was going to be left out of the starting XI for his efforts this season. 13 goals and 9 assists is a superb effort for adapting to a new league.

Strikers: Carlos Tevez and Robin Van Persie
Yes I left Dimitar Berbatov out of the starting XI, mainly down to the fact he was not consistent enough to warrant a starting place compared to these two. Whilst Tevez's future is still unclear his on field performances show no sign of his indecision off of it. 20 goals and sharing the golden boot with Berbatov is a wonderful effort from the Argentine. City look a completely different side without him in it, his fighting spirit and leadership has been crucial in City's third place finish. Robin Van Persie has assumed the captain's armband in the absence of Cesc Fabregas and boy has he stepped his game up. The Dutchman racked up a tally of 18 goals for Arsenal this season, mainly from the turn of the year as he shrugged off injury and hit form. Mind you he scored the bulk of his goals when Arsenal were under performing as well which is the reason why he is in the squad.

The Bench:
'Keeper: Edwin Van Der Sar
Left Back: Ashley Cole
Centre Back: Brede Hangeland
Centre Mid: Joey Barton
Attacking Mid: David Silva
Right Mid/Striker: Clint Dempsey
Striker: Dimitar Berbatov

Hope you enjoyed the inaugural Beautiful Game Premier League awards, was a pleasure to present them.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Pulsating Premier League finishes

What an enthralling season of football it was. Manchester United wrapped up their 19th title under the guidance of the legendary Sir Alex Ferguson. Blackpool and Birmingham were relegated on the tense last match day of the season along with West Ham the week before. This cost Hammers manager Avram Grant his job. Chelsea's second place finish in the league coupled with their semi-final knock out by Manchester United spelled the end of a productive two year stint in the Chelsea hot seat for Carlo Ancelotti. A cruel decision by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich considering Ancelotti delivered his club their first ever league and FA Cup double last season. Speaking of managers getting the sack unfairly what about Newcastle's dismissal of manager Chris Houghton in December? Newcastle sat in mid-table at that stage and went on to finish there at seasons end despite Houghton's sacking. Chris Pardew was the man to take his place and got a big result in his first game with a 3-1 victory over Liverpool at St James Park. The most ironic part of this victory was that Carroll condemned his future club to a loss with a superb left foot strike from distance.

In total there were six managers relieved of there duties this season, including Ancelotti's 'please don't return' next season. Sam Allardyce felt the full force of new owner Venky when they took over Blackburn Rovers. He was sacked not long after their take over and they appointed his assistant Steve Kean. Blackburn then floated an audacious move for the out of favour Ronaldinho only to be cut down within days of the story breaking, as he announced his return to his homeland Brazil. Kean however did get the chance to bolster his squad in a mad January transfer window, mainly through loan deals that saw crowd favourtie Roque Santa Cruz return from Manchester City for the rest of the season. They also acquired the services of Jermaine Jones from Schalke as well.

However the big news was saved for Liverpool. After a season of utter failure in there high standards, Rafa Benitez was relieved of his duties. Club legend 'King' Kenny Dalglish put his hand up for the job, but former owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett went with former Fullham manager Roy Hodgson - after a stellar season of guiding his club to the Europa league final. This was a move that ultimately back fired on the former debt ridden owners. It also saw the end of their tumultuous reign and the dawn of a 'new era' at Anfield as Fenway Sports Group overturned the clubs debts and took ownership of the club. They gave manager Roy Hodgson a chance to prove himself, however after pressure from Kopites singing Kenny Dalglish's name during matches, saw Hodgson sacked from the job and Kenny Dalglish returning to the job he held twenty years ago. Hodgson didn't have to wait long for a return to the Premier League coaching merry-go-round as West Brom relieved Roberto Di Matteo of his duties in late January and installed Roy Hodgson the next week. Back at Anfield, John Henry - owner of Fenway Sports Group and now Liverpool FC - stamped his authority on the club by making a raft of staff changes that most notably saw Steve Clarke become first team coach and assistant to Kenny Dalglish, Damien Comolli as director of football and Ian Ayre promoted to managing director. The most shrewd piece of business was still to come from the new team. On the last day of the transfer window in January Liverpool pulled off what has turned out to be the most profitable move for the clubs future. They secured the services of Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez from Ajax for $35.4 million (£22.8 million) to partner Fernando Torres, however Torres had other ideas handing in a transfer request to go to Chelsea. Liverpool reacted and told Chelsea they wanted £50 million for Torres. Abramovich obliged and Liverpool went after Andy Carroll to replace him by offering Newcastle a record $54.1 million (£35 million) for a British player. Carroll inherited the famous number 9 at Liverpool but was unable to start straight away due to a thigh injury that limited his appearances to seven at league level (a further two in Europa league) and two goals. Suarez was even more fruitful, making 13 appearances - scoring on debut - and scoring 4 goals and setting up many more. Compare this to Torres who has made 14 appearances for Chelsea and only scored one goal! Just one goal. A flop yes, Liverpool cashed in on his reputation at the right time.

To the statistics, the 2010/2011 season broke the record for the most goals scored in one season in Premier League history. The amount of goals scored this season was 1063, beating the previous record of 1060 set in the 1999/2000 season - a season in which Manchester United won, deja vu perhaps? A particularly interesting statistic points out that the three goals scored to break the record were scored in stoppage time, two of those goals had factors in the fate of teams being relegated as well. It also means that this season had an average of 2.8 goals per match. Chelsea fans can also look back on the first two rounds with misty eyes as their team amassed six goals in each match without conceding one, far from the days when they purchased Fernando Torres eh? Before this season there has never been a round of matches in which every one of the twenty teams had scored one goal, this season it happened twice on the 27-28 November (41 goals scored) and the 7-9 May (33 goals scored). Another record broken this season was the amount of hat-tricks scored, this season 17 were scored. The Premier League's three broadcasters also managed to beat their own individual records for the 'biggest audience for one match' with the BBC's match of the day for the 5th of February attracting 5.49 million viewers, Sky Live managed to get 3.23 million watching the Manchester United V Tottenham match on the 16th January and ESPN Live's broadcast of Wolverhampton Wolves V Manchester United managed 806 000 viewers. Who could forget - especially United fans - Manchester United's 7-1 hammering of Blackburn where Berbatov score one quarter of his twenty goal haul in the league this season? Berbatov showed in that match why he would end up sharing the golden boot with former United player Carlos Tevez - now at Manchester City - at the end of the season. The eight goal games didn't stop there as Everton held on for a thrilling 5-3 victory over new boys Blackpool. But the best come back of the season belongs to Newcastle. Arsenal lead Newcastle 4 nil after 26 minutes of the match. Arsenal's season collapse can be traced back to this match and a couple of others around this time as Abou Diaby was sent off for a silly push of Newcastle's Joey Barton. Barton went on to claim two penalty goals, Leon Best chipped in with one. But the best goal came last as Cheik Tiote smashed home a brilliant left foot volley from outside the area to send the Toon into raptures, and possibly Newcastle's greatest ever draw.

Arsenal's season collapsed not long after this match as they fell to Barcelona in the round of 16 in the Champions League. They also surrendered the Carling Cup (League Cup) to Birmingham after a calamitous defensive era from Laurent Koscielny and Wojciech Szczesny gave Birmingham the trophy. Arsenal's lack of experience and winning mentality have cost them again with another season without any silverware. Their porous defence has been the focus of everyones criticism and very rightly so. A statistic that will haunt most Arsenal fans is the fact they only managed to win two of their last eleven matches. Not good enough to be title contenders and is the reason why they crashed to fourth place after a chance of lifting the trophy.

Manchester City finally managed to win their first trophy in 35 years by defeating Stoke 1 nil in the final. The club also secured its place in the Champions League for next season by overtaking Arsenal for a third place finish. It looks as if City will go on another spending spree to strengthen their squad for Champions League football next season. However one major question remains to be answered, will Tevez stay? The conclusion of the British summer is the only thing that will answer this question as the lad seems to change his mind every few days.

United's season got off to a shaky start by only being able to win at home seemingly. The Rooney controversy then hit mid-season which looked to destabilise everything, however he got what he wanted a new contract worth millions more than what he was already earning. With this United's season rose to yet another title winning season. 'Chicharito' (Javier Hernandez) has to be one of the buys of the season as the 22 year old nabbed a total of 20 goals in all competitions, not bad for a player bought for £6 million. United also have the chance to win their forth European Cup in the Champions League final against Barcelona at Wembley stadium this weekend. It should be another enthralling encounter in a replay of the 2009 final.

Tottenham can only wonder what could have been as they managed to secure fifth spot and a Europa League place for next season. Rafael Van Der Vaart was bought from Real Madrid on the last day of the pre-season transfer window for a fee of only £8 million. It was yet another wheeler-dealer move from Harry Redknapp as Van Der Vaart proved crucial in Tottenham's charge to the quarter finals of the Champions League. They were knocked out by Van Der Vaart's former employer Real Madrid and a lot of the blame has to lay with Peter Crouch's silly double yellow card act at the Bernabeu. It is likely there will be some movement in the Spur's camp in the British summer as numerous players are seeking more game time and Redknapp unhappy at his striker's whom only managed a paltry amount of goals.

The most competitive Premier League season so far has been an absolute joy to watch. With the surrounding soap opera of transfers, manager sackings and new club owners, off field scandals and refereeing howlers fans have had plenty of entertainment. On this final note it's time to congratulate QPR and Norwich City for being promoted to the Premier League for next season. Also good luck to Swansea and Reading as they head for Wembley stadium to compete for the last place in the Premier League next season on the 30th May. Let the silly season of summer signings begin!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Liverpool lay out lacklustre Newcastle

The much hyped return of Andy Carroll against his former club Newcastle provided plenty for Liverpool fans as they romped home 3 goals to nil. It was a dominant performance from the Reds, further highlighted by a lacklustre effort from the Geordies.

The first half was dominated early on by Liverpool with all the possession, the Kop only had to wait 10 minutes for the first goal. Young right back John Flanagan provided an enticing cross from the right flank, that Suarez could not quite reach. It however fell back to last weeks hat-trick hero Maxi Rodriguez who slotted home after a deflection from Newcastle right back Simpson. Jay Spearing - an academy product - one of Liverpool's in form players in recent weeks had some space just outside the box and fired a dipping low shot towards goal that was saved, only just by Newcastle 'keeper Krul who had two onrushing Liverpool players to keep him worried. Liverpool's next opportunity also came from Spearing as he picked out his central midfield partner Lucas. He headed tamely at goal for Krul to catch comfortably and waste a brilliant opportunity to go two goals ahead. Jonas Gutierrez was the shining light for Newcastle in this match, as he caused many problems for John Flanagan in the first half. He was the reason why Flanagan received a yellow card in the first half as well. The first half ended at 1 nil to Liverpool.

The second half began with a brilliant chance for Newcastle to get themselves back in the game with a goal. That man Gutierrez was involved in the lead up play and a cross was delivered from the left flank to a undetected run by Joey Barton who could only shoot wide and waste a superb opportunity. The second half also saw Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish swap young Flanagan to left back to avoid him being troubled by the flying Gutierrez and being sent off with a second booking. Luis Suarez then showed his fight as he chased down a misguided pass on the right side of the field to cut inside onto his left foot and shoot powerfully, only for it to be deflected by a Newcastle defender almost into their own goal. Minutes later Suarez once again chased a long ball that looked to be blocked well by centre back Williamson, only for Luis Suarez to burst around the side and collect the ball racing into the penalty area. Williamson had other ideas as he cynically pulled Suarez down resulting in a penalty for Liverpool and a yellow card for Liverpool. Replays showed that he may have been pulled down marginally outside the box, but the penalty was awarded. Dirk Kuyt slotted the ensuing penalty kick away making it 2 nil to Liverpool. Not long after Kuyt had another chance from a free kick. He was unmarked but facing the wrong way to try and head home. Only minutes later Luis Suarez scored his third goal for Liverpool since joining in January. He dribbled up to the box looking to play a one-two with his team mates, before passing it into a defender. The ball rebounded off the defender into the path of Kuyt who unselfishly passed back to a free Suarez to fire home and give Liverpool an important 3 nil victory, moving them into fifth place. You can watch the highlights here.

Friday, April 29, 2011

El Fantastico Falcao scores four for FC Porto

Falcao, remember the name because this young lad is something special. Falcao managed a four goal haul against Spanish club Villarreal, no mean feat may I add, helping his side to a 5-1 victory in the first leg of the Europa League semi-final.

It was a first half with plenty of chances on offer for both teams, but it was the visitors Villarreal who drew first blood with a delightful cross from Nilmar finding an unmarked Cani in the box to nod home. With that goal came the close of the first half at 1 nil to Villarreal. In the second half it was a completely different story with a fired up FC Porto squad coming out and levelling the scores within four minutes of play. Falcao made a brilliant run into the box that lured Villarreal 'keeper Diego Lopez off his line and drawing him into a contest for the ball which resulted in a highly questionable penalty for FC Porto. Lopez also getting a yellow card for his troubles, he made minimal contact with Falcao. However Falcao slotted home from the penalty spot making it 1 all. The next goal was a case of persistence as a lovely long ball was played to the flying Freddy Guarin who beat one defender with a cut back before releasing a powerful left shot only for it to strike the post, but it rebounded straight back to Guarin who obliged and headed home making it 2-1 for Porto. Six minutes later Brazilian winger Hulk (it is a nickname) turned provider delivering a sizzling low cross that got Lopez off his line and allowed Falcao to strike home and score his second of the night. Falcao then proceeded to score two fine headed goals, not bad for a striker only 5 foot 9 inches tall. In the 75th minute he scored a wonderfully worked set-piece where he steamed onto a lovely weighted ball and headed home making the score 4-1. He capped of his fabulous four goal effort in the final minutes of the match, where he was left unmarked to head home beautifully making it 5-1 on the night.

What a talent he is, the Colombian native joined FC Porto in 2009 from famous Argentine club River Plate. In his two years at the club so far he has amassed a whopping 69 goals from 82 appearances in all competitions. That is over a goal every two matches which is a brilliant return rate. He is the next big thing in world football you can be sure of that. Make sure you remember this lad because come the European summer he is going to be wanted by the big clubs. You heard it here first. Here are ten of his best goals so far as compiled by SuperAlexdu69