A-League 1,000: The second fake money edition

1,000-ish words, thoughts and musings on the coming weekend of A-League action. With just the two fixtures we include a word on the major off-field dramas for a one-time A-League title winner.
Jetting in and out of trouble
Before getting to the two remaining games of round 15 I thought it apt to touch on the fluid situation of the Newcastle Jets.
That in five sacking players, but no going about this through the proper processes of advising the players officially, says everything about how abject the club management is at Newcastle Jets. Without having an in-depth knowledge of the current licence scenario, I am convinced there is a simple solution such as asking the club to present their business plan. This puts footballing aspects, which are actually largely irrelevant in this situation, aside given financial viability and meeting employment legislation are key factors given both have the capacity to hamstring whoever owns the club into the future. The last thing any new owner wants is to be paying off a disgruntled employee after a lengthy/costly court battle.
Surely having a reasonable business plan with sponsorship targets and the like, as well as relevant key performance indicators, is a requirement of retaining an A-League club licences on an ongoing basis.

Looking at coaching staff aspect, Phil Stubbins has marked his card in siding with Nathan Tinkler. He is guilty by association for anything which further drags the club’s name through the mud. It’s not a great career move in a league with limited opportunities where people like Mike Mulvey are still unemployed. I would expect most of the ‘sacked’ players to return under any interim ownership model and I’d not be surprised to see Clayton Zane given a further opportunity as head coach.

The FFA buying the club and selling it on even if it takes 2-3 years is the sensible short-term solution. With a possible look at big local businesses such as Wests Newcastle (licensed club) as partner organisations with a view to a long-term sale to them.

If it doesn’t work out they could relocate the side south west of the city, have the Squadron run them and re-name the franchise the Fassifern Flying Seaman FC as suggested by a one-time Newcastle Breakers fan who was suggesting a merger with the Mariners!

On to the games, only two this weekend:

Melbourne Sheep Cow Whale Ships v Western Sydney Wanderers, Sunday – Melbourne Rectangular Stadium
The changes at the Wanderers continued on Tuesday with confirmation Brazilian Vitor Saba has left the club. Much like the departures of Mensur Kurtishi (Brisbane), Johnny Steele (Newcastle), and Malick Mane (Central Coast) to name just a few, this season proves just how important getting overseas signings right are. Even more so than local signings, the cost involved in acquiring them and the extra expense of settling international players here is Australia (or Wellington) increases the investment, and the risk. This cost becomes more important if the player who we are talking about is a designated marquee player.
The Victorian outfit don’t really have those problems as the fake signing deals of their parent clubs and shady ‘loan’ deals mean international players are out the door before they have time to get a local sim card, or (in the case of Frank Lampard in Manchester) never leave their home country for their ‘new’ club. But we digress, as John Van’t Schip’s side on the other had have recruited an overseas player in the form of Safuwan Baharudin of Singapore. The 23 year-old defender impressed during their mid-season training camp in the United Arab Emirates so it will be interesting to see he adapts to the A-League. Having accumulated 43 caps for the 157th ranked Singaporean side he is clearly experienced, but there hasn’t been a large amount of ‘young’ international defenders join A-League clubs with any deal of success. If not for the ongoing Jets debacle and the Asian Cup, the majority of the focus would be on the winless Wanderers who need a result as they attempt to make a run for the finals and endeavour to find some sort of form before their defence of the Asian Champions League commences next month.
Big game for: The Wanderers forwards. The absence of Socceroo Tomi Juric, who at this point remains a WSW player, will be keenly felt though the addition of Japanese interntional Yojiro Takahagi in midfield, who has now been upgraded to join the full A-League squad, will be of use.
The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: How a ‘match fit’ home side perform. Opposed sessions and some local games, plus a week off seemed to be the formula in the A-League ‘summer-break’ for most sides, but Van’t Schip took a different tack with his side giving them a break by playing two games overseas in Abu Dhabi as part of a ten-day training camp. It’s a completely different approach to Western Sydney, who were looking to alleviate injury issues during the Asian Cup, and may suit Melbourne but I wonder if fatigue will be a factor late in the game on Sunday.

Brisbane Roar v Wellington Phoneix, Monday – Milton Sandpit
A new year a new overseas striker! Andrija Kaluderovic via Swiss side FC Thun looks set to join the Roar with the 27 year-old striker replacing the afore-mentioned Kurtishi, who had failed to live up to expectations under both title-winning coach Mike Mulvey and his replacement Frans Thijssen.
With multiple title-winners Michael Theo and Thomas Broich to return on Monday, plus possibly the new addition, it could be crucial for the Roar, who only sit four points behind the sixth-placed light blue Melbourne. Considering Wellington have netted 28 times this season to Brisbane’s 14 (the Phoenix have played one more game) the possible inclusion of Kaluderovic could be of significant impact and take some pressure of players like Henrique. Wellington have been engaging in alternative warm weather training by wearing tracksuits at sessions ahead of the game in Queensland but, despite the silliness of how that sounds, one would think two-time A-League title-winning coach Ernie Merrick has a fair idea how to win at this time of the year.

Big game for: Wellington’s travelling form. It’s now expected and not hoped Wellington would win a match like this but, coaching change aside, given who they have to return, are Brisbane the ‘nobody believes in us side’ of this year’s A-League? If Kaluderovic is the business and meets replacement Berisha level, a playoff surge is in the offing.
The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: The pitch. After a beating during the Asian Cup, will the Suncorp Stadium surface be any better upon it’s return from a ten-day rest period? It’s worth noting the pitch will have to start coping with the rigours of Rugby Union from February 21, Rugby League from March 5, and with the Roar also embarking on an Asian Champions League campaign from February, it’s unlikely the state of the ground will improve significantly. So really I’m not looking forward to the ground.

The betting bit, one serious one not
Having already seen off Brisbane this season and with fringe players pushing for spots in the Asian Cup break by featuring in the New Zealand domestic top flight competition Wellington to win ($2.75 @ TAB) but like last week first game back scares me.
Profit: 58 units (based on ten unit investment)
Record: 9/14, Adelaide was good but in hindsight Sydney would’ve been better value, however as it was coming off a break it was hard to trust a side that hadn’t won in some time.

Spanning the Cup: For all the tea in Asia #acfinal #irqvuae #ac2015

Spanning the Asian Cup hosts cities of Australia’s eastern mainland states and territories (sorry Adelaide and Perth) throughout the Asian Football Confederation’s showpiece event.

Newcastle –3rd/4th playoff
114th in the world Iraq have the chance to be third best in Asia when they look to snag a victory against one of the darling of the tournaments the United Arab Emirates on Friday evening in Newcastle. With the UAE looking to improve on their rank of 80, Madhi Ali’s side will need to bring back the effectiveness in the final third which netted them six goals in the group phase.

The match completes the hardest stretch a side has had in this tournament, when you consider the 2014 World Cup qualifiers from the Asian Football Confederation, as the UAE have played Iran, Japan, and Australia in successive matches. Radhi Shenaishil’s team have the extra day’s rest which is likely to help them given they looked very much fatigued at stages in their semi-final loss to South Korea. Given the epic clash in Canberra against Iran, and the farcical doping issue saga which followed, the match against the 2002 World Cup co-hosts was always going to a be a tricky prospect and turned out to be a bridge to far. The return of Yaser Kasim is set to help the Iraqis who are looking to add their second medal in recent years having won the continental title in 2007.

As we noted in our #OMAvKUW match report of the Group A encounter in Newcastle, the top line players in Gulf sides need to push themselves so they can advance their national team’s development. Maybe UAE’s Omar Adbulrahman has tried and really failed in those trails he had or maybe he went to the wrong type of clubs (it can happen) either way for this side to maintain a push towards the 2018 World Cup in Russia, he and other key players like fellow 23 year-old Ahmed Khalil must pursue overseas options.

Sydney – Final
After Australia advanced to the final fairly easily against the UAE, the only concern coach Ange Postecoglou looks to have is with defender Ivan Franjic. Elsewhere Mark Milligan was solid but not spectacular in their semi-final win over the Emiratis, so it’s possible Matt McKay may be elevated in his place.

It has been well noted of the Korean’s defense as they are yet to concede a goal in this tournament, but their efficiency in shooting in regards to forcing the opposition keeper into action is a large part of the reason they are in the final. In their last two games they have combined for 27 shots on goal with 14 of those on target so they are bound to keep Australian shot-stopper Mat Ryan busy. Like the 100th ranked Socceroos, South Korea have multiple goal-scoring threats with Lee Jeong-Hyeop, Son Heung-min, and defender Kim Young-gwon goal-scorers in the knockout phase of the tournament.

Bar the quarter final against Uzbekistan, Uli Stielike’s team have scored during the first half in each of their matches and often before the 30th minute, so Australia must be sharp early and can’t afford a scenario like the Chile match in the World Cup when they focused too much on attacking philosophy versus a pragmatic defensive approach.

Australia has the firepower in the final third to breach 69th ranked South Korea’s defence but the crucial element may well be the defensive change which occurs around Franjic’s injury and the link changes this also entails down the right flank into the Australian midfield.

Significantly, the winner of this match will punch their ticket to the 2017 Confederations Cup. With similar geographical challenges as Australia, although not to the same extreme, and a squad unfamiliar with the venues, the importance of the final on Saturday night will confirm a spot in the ‘mini World Cup’ tournament which amounts to an important scouting mission regarding venues and hosts cities for the 2018 World Cup.

After Japan made three of the last four deciders in 2000, 2004 and 2011, this final is also a chance for Australia to assert themselves as the region’s dominant men’s senior side. Can they do so?

Final best
After sending ourselves to the naughty corner for jumping onto a bandwagon we are back on. But this time it is actually with little trepidation. Postecoglou has rotated his team well and I reiterate it’s really hard to win seven games straight at this level.

From Bay 54 and beyond – Socceroos into Asian Cup Final #ausvuae #ac2015

Australia joined Japan in becoming the only nations this century to contest back-to-back Asian Cup finals after they saw off the burgeoning United Arab Emirates side 2-0 in their Asian Cup semi final in front of a record crowd (21,079) in Newcastle for a football international. South Korea, who beat Iraq on Monday evening, lie in wait for a Saturday night match-up at Stadium Australia.


On a wet night two goals in eleven minutes, firstly to Trent Sainsbury (3rd minute) followed by Jason Davidson’s strike, secured progress for Ange Postecoglou’s side who will be looking to overturn their defeat at the hands of Japan in the last continental tournament and try to assert their authority on Asian football.

A dynamic start to the match saw PEC Zwolle defender Sainsbury nod home to send Hunter Stadium into raptures after he was the beneficiary of the ‘double jump’ play with Cahill in some ways the decoy before the former Mariner, unmarked, got an early lead after Massimo Luongo’s corner.

The Socceroos didn’t have it all their own way early as the UAE’s key playmaker Omar Abdulrahman made West Brom’s Davidson look Conference-level embarrassing him twice by either beating him to the ball or skipping past him. On one occasion it helped to set up a chance for Ahmed Khalil who rattled the right-hand upright. However the period of dominance was short-lived.

Swindon Town’s Luongo was provider again in a different style this time when he managed to nudge the ball into the path of 23 year-old Davidson after a goalmouth scramble. Davidson reverted to looking every part the Premier League player when he struck home the goal inside the left hand post for what proved to be the clinching goal.

Australia was in cruise control for a period late in the first half, and certainly for patches in the second stanza, which did make some fans nervy given the fact 2-0 is the most dangerous score in the history of Australian football.* The Emiratis had as many shots as the locals, 11, for the match but one less on target, two. As we stated in our Spanning the Cup preview “their chance to return to ANZ Stadium will likely come down to less than a handful of moments given they have only had two shots on target in their last 210 minutes of football” and it was that handful of chances which lacked quality as their finishing fell short of the mark.

With possibly team changes (such as a start for Matt McKay) in the offing for the side skippered by Mile Jedinak, Australia will look to extend South Korea’s 55-year wait for a third Asian title on Saturday night in the Harbour City.

Madhi Ali’s tyros will stay in Newcastle and meet 2007 champs Iraq on Friday night in an attempt to claim third and cement a rankings boost gained by their efforts to date in the tournament.

*denotes not statistically the most dangerous, just mentally the most worrisome after 1997.

Four things you might not have seen on the TV or heard on the radio:
Throughout the game after Australia got the lead it was interesting to note from my vantage point that the leaders in Australia were extolling their team to keep pushing. One period late in the first half saw Australia cough up the ball in attack, but in looking to close down the UAE counter-attack quickly near the visitor’s right wing deep in their half, five Socceroos (Cahill, Davidson, Jedinak, Robbie Kruse, and Matthew Leckie) converged on the ball. It was probably not surprising that, despite a considerable man advantage of five on three, Jedinak and Cahill were shouting the positional instructions. Which made me think… Is it rude to constantly call Tim Cahill “Australia’s talisman”, as that notes (to a degree) he inspires the team only with his goals? Representing only a small amount of match time it is the moments of urging his team when well away from goal that constantly inspires.

The Wahmbulancers was out in force when it become clearer Australia could play at the smaller then normal capacity Hunter Stadium, but another rule of unintended consequences was that the match day experience was actually better. A packed stadium would have elicited longer queues for everything and whilst additional food outlets could’ve been opened or brought in. It was a pleasant experience to not feel like a sardine.

Mark Bresciano may not feature in the decider but he almost plays a match when on the bench. In warming up he was the first out of the dugout early in the first half. He was the last to sit back down, standing and chatting with defender Alex Wilkinson to dissect a play, before heading back to the dugout at which point he stood up in the dugout for a good few minutes before finally sitting down to conserve some energy. The man has the nervous energy of an 18 year-old.

The jingoism is strong in Newcastle, when in January people are attuned to seeing fans at Melbourne Park clapping double faults of the foreigner playing Australia’s latest rising tennis star. On this occasion it was clearly mistimed UAE passes, when their player was under no pressure, going out which earned raucous applause!

Image via abc.net.au

Spanning the Cup: Hey look the Socceroos are in Newcastle

Spanning the Asian Cup host cities of Australia’s eastern mainland states and territories (sorry Adelaide and Perth) throughout the Asian Football confederation’s showpiece event.

Sydney – Australia Day
Iraq was on cloud nine in Canberra on Friday after the 2007 champions secured shock passage to the last four after winning the first of two penalty shootouts that night.

When Iran’s Sardar Azmoun netted in the first period it looked as if the third of the 2014 World Cup representatives from the AFC were bound for the semi-finals but then the script was turned on it’s head.

South Korea, having faced their own period of extra time would have been content to see the gripping contest in the nation’s capital get pushed into an extra thirty minutes plus the final spot kicks which ultimately sent the Lions of Mesopotamia through.

Radhi Shenaishil’s Iraq have been active in attack in the tournament, letting loose with 32 attempts in their last two games alone, 15 of which have been on target. Granted one of those matches was against the tournament’ rank outsiders in Palestine and the other went two hours but it’s still impressive.

Uli Stielike’s team, like their opponents, have four goal-scorers so enough to worry their opponents who only let one goal past in the group stage.

Scoring three goals against the hitherto unbreachable Iranian defence, despite the fact Carlos Queiroz’s men were down a player, is good form for a semi-final against a side yet to concede in the tournament. In our quarter final preview we noted South Korea would have to win six games on the trot to claim the continental title and after the way the semi-final results fell they are the only side that will need to keep up this streak with every other side having lost once in the group stage.

Newcastle – Not Australia Day
Firstly congratulations to people that supported games in Newcastle and purchased a venue pack, you have now been rewarded with getting to see either Tim Cahill or Omar Adbulrahman twice in four days. Australia’s quarter final triumph came courtesy of Cahill, who reprised his role of ‘the saviour of Australian football for the last decade’ to score twice to see off Alain Perrin’s men. UAE will need to nulify the aerial threat the former Everton man poses (thanks Captain Obvious) but the ‘second ball’ threat of Massimo Luongo and others will also be crucial to shut down.

Defender Walid Abbas can return from suspension for Mahdi Ali’s side and that will be significant as they attempt to stem the likely attacking threat of Mathew Leckie and his colleagues down the Australian right flank, and Cahill when he gets into the box.
Japan had 35 shots with eight on target across the match against the UAE and if they allow similar figures in attack to be replicated one would expect Australia, now with multiple goal-scoring threats, would not be as profligate.

For the 1996 semi-finalists, their chance to return to ANZ Stadium will likely come down to less than a handful of moments given they have only had two shots on target in their last 210 minutes of football.

The link play between Ali Mabkhout, who put his side ahead after seven minutes in the semi-final with what was his fourth strike of the tournament, and the dynamic Adbulrahman will be important for the Emiratis.

Oh and
A notable stat is that three of the four finals coaches are managing their home nation. Only German mentor Stielike would not be considered a local with Shenaishil and Ali born in Baghdad and Dubai respectively with Socceroos boss Postecoglou Greek-born but raised in Australia from the age of five. This is perhaps a salient lesson for the nations in the confederation which insist on a foreign coach. Yes that can bring new ideas, but if you team largely plays in the domestic competition then local knowledge counts. Moreover if your coaches go an experience overseas coaching and return all the better for it.

Oh and – 2
Masking agent methylhexanamine became the focus of the second botched doping issues at the tournament after it was only confirmed on Sunday Iraq player Alaa Adbul-Zahra as unlikely to face any ban over the alleged use of the drug. The last four place of Iraq was in doubt after Iran had fired in a protest at Alaa’s participation in the tournament prior to the quarter final between the two side. In summary, as reported by SBS’s Scott McIntyre, Alaa had a positive A sample when playing for Iranian club side Tractor Sarzi last year but a combination of procedural errors, including no B sample been taken, meant any protest as to regards Iran’s progression in this tournament had to be thrown out. Like the Jordan case earlier in the tournament this has been a wake-up call for the AFC’s anti-doping procedures amongst the AFC itself and member nations.

Semi best
Iran let us down from the spot so we are now 5/7 or 6/8. The obvious pick would be the hosts but moreover I actually like the winner and loser of the semi-final at Hunter Stadium to win the respective matches after the semi-finals. I think they are both playing with confidence now but the best value was early in the tournament.

A-League 1,000: The fake money edition

1,000-ish words, thoughts and musings on the trio of A-League games which start a split round of action this weekend as the domestic competition resumes with four games left in the Asian Cup.

Adelaide United v Newcastle Jets, Saturday – Beer Sauce Burger Stadium
Newcastle has lost players in the last month including Sam Gallaway, Jonny Steele and Marcos Flores, admittedly the latter two haven’t been that relevant for the team given the level of expectation surrounding them but nevertheless it is still a spot that needs to be filled. The Jets have failed to recruit adequately and owner Nathan Tinkler has decided to take a more active role in the organisation. This has resulted in Phil Stubbins saying he was hopeful of recruiting up to four players before the A-League transfer window closes within the next fortnight. However there is a difference between recruiting and upgrading. As a club it’s hard to argue they have progressed in that manner at all since this time last year when almost every other club has. To top it all off former Adelaide player Jeronimo Neumann will be missing as he is yet to recover sufficiently from a dislocated shoulder picked up in the draw against Sydney before the break and James Virgili will be a long-term absentee after injuring an ankle in training in the last week.

Big game for: Paul Izzo was solid in goal for the Reds in the closing weeks of ‘part one’ of the A-League and getting the Jets on their Asian Cup weekend is a bonus for Josep Gombau’s side with Eugene Galekovic unavailable but it’s also a boost for the future prospects of the 20 year-old who is better than at least two current starting goalkeepers in the A-League.
The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Adelaide winger Awer Mabil wasn’t successful in gaining a contract at Ajaz Amsterdam despite a trial in the Asian Cup break period, as a result the Reds are set to retain his services for the balance of the season which is positive news for them and something for the fans to look out for. I also think it’s probably a good move in the long run for the 19 year-old who is yet to play a full season in the A-League.

Central Coast Mariners v Sydney FC, Saturday – Sauce Bottle Stadium
Both sides have been active in the transfer period, Sydney more so given their injury concerns but it’s still not a great deal of time to gel with teammates despite the break. The Mariners for the first time in a while this season have players in goal-scoring form having netted five times in their last three games and coach Phil Moss may be on the verge of ditching the defensive round-about from the first three months of the season having started Jacob Poscoliero, Joshua Rose, Zac Anderson and Eddy Bosnar in the backline for the last two games running. Aside from this game that does prompt the question as to where this leaves Kiwi international Storm Roux? Sydney have had a own rough patch in regards to picking up wins but they have kept clean sheets in back-to-back games and that is significant given they won 2-0 when they met the Mariners earlier this season.

Big game for: Robert Stambolziev, a pacey midfielder adept on the wing is one of three new recruits (along with Senegalese internationals Mickael Tavares and Jacques Faty) who could feature for Sydney. Signed as injury cover after spells in England, Cyprus, and Greece 24 year-old Stambolziev (originally from Victoria) has a short window to impress at the Sky Blues for a more permanent deal there, or perhaps at another A-League side.

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Seeing novelty money thrown around in Gosford – The Mariners ran a good-humoured promotion in the Central Coast Express Advocate during the week emphasising Sydney FC as ‘Bling FC.’ I’m sure it didn’t meet with every fan’s taste but anyone who printed off some money can bring it to the stadium on the weekend to wave at Sydney players. A prize for anyone that gets Sydney coach, and former Mariners mentor, Graham Arnie to sign any of the money. Although after Arnold’s comments in the Advocate and other publications on Wednesday I’m not sure it’s a good idea.

Perth Glory v Melbourne Victory, Sunday – nib Stadium
Having met recently in Geelong we have a good form-line on these two sides despite the break and it shapes as the ‘game of the, albeit abbreviated, weekend.’ Third-placed Melbourne have a tough draw in this period, after this visit west they host the Melbourne Derby before visiting Sydney FC so a point here is imperative to keep pace with Perth who are four points above them on the A-League log. However Perth will be pleased they get to face one of their key titles rivals whilst they are missing Mark Milligan due to the Asian Cup. That said Kevin Muscat’s side (coming into the match off a win) does see Jason Geria, Archie Thompson and Adrian Leijer return but Frenchman Matthieu Delpierre is sill missing. Perth meanwhile have lost Jack Clisby altogether as the defender has joined the other Melbourne franchise, presumably until he gets fake signed by New York City FC.

Big game for: Former Phoenix striker Paul Ifill, made a salient point about the A-League upon his arrival in 2009 that during the hotter periods of the competition the overseas players, and to a degree the locals, can’t keep up the tempo as the weather becomes too hot hence some drops away in form. An unintended consequence maybe that this season will be a good case study for such key/marquee imports across the league. Hence the fact he has missed playing for a fortnight it’s a big game for Andy Keogh who should be refreshed for the match set to be played in 33 degree Celsius heat.
The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Berisha in Perth has late panto season comedy written all over it. It will be great to have a familiar goal celebration back

The betting bit, one serious one not
This is like a first round of a season so tread carefully, don’t overcommit. That said Newcastle are just awful, Adelaide $1.40 at TAB to win plus a clever ‘You’ve got no money’ banner from Sydney FC fans in response to the Mariner jibes at ‘Bling FC.’
Profit: 54 units (based on ten unit investment)
Record: 8/13, More Wellington goodness in season 2014/15.

Spanning the Cup: Eight remain plus nobody believes in us

Spanning the Asian Cup hosts cities of Australia’s eastern mainland states and territories (sorry Adelaide and Perth) throughout the Asian Football Confederation’s showpiece event.

After a period of shifting around venues to start the tournament the White Wolves get back-to-back games in Victoria with the Koreans having to travel from Brisbane. Uzbekistan played their best period of the tournament after conceding a horrendous penalty call against Saudi Arabia in their final group fixture which saw the game levelled at 1-1 before Mirdjalal Kasimov’s men clicked into action. Teams hitting form in the knockout phase of a tournament can forgive group phase blips – Spain vs Switzerland at the 2010 World Cup shows the pressure of not having to win six or more games on the trot, which the Koreans now face. And this is un-charted territory for Uli Stielike’s side who haven’t won two games running at a major tournament since the 2011 Asian Cup, when they went from beating minnows India in the group phase to seeing off Iran in extra-time in the quarter final. However Uzbekistan will have to overturn their own recent history stretching back 21 years to the last time they beat South Korea. Uzbek coach Kasimov rolled the dice big time with progression on the line by benching the talismanic Server Djeparov and Igor Sergeev, who has scored in this tournament, against Saudi Arabia but the gamble paid off and getting on a run is crucial, especially if you happen to fall into the ‘nobody believes in us category’ (think Turkey 2002 World Cup.)

Thursday’s second game pits China, now playing their third game at Suncorp Stadium, against Australia who lost on Saturday night in Brisbane. Chinese skipper Zheng Zi was replaced against North Korea as a precaution by Alain Perrin with a back concern, but the 2013 Asian Player of the Year is expected to be fine for the match-up at the Milton Sandpit. His likely battle with the Australian defence, including Alex Wilkinson who starts in place of the suspended Matthew Spiranovic, will go a long way to determining who plays in Newcastle next Tuesday. The pressure is immense on the home side, with not a lot of winning experience in tournaments. Tim Cahill will likely start and given the experience of Mark Bresciano he will likely come off the bench on what is forecast to be a hot and wet night where one goal might be the difference.

For the second of its last three games, the ACT gets another match of both political and footballing intrigue, following China’s win over North Korea on Sunday night. A defensive juggernaut of the tournament, Iran meet an Iraq side who are looking to improve on it’s exit at this stage in 2011 when beaten 1-0 by Australia in extra-time. Key player Younus Mahmood scored for Iraq on Tuesday evening so the 31 year-old, who has now scored in four consecutive Asian Cups, is in goal-scoring form at the right time of the tournament. Carlos Queiroz’s side, along with Japan, are probably the two sides that have produced the most consistent play across the tournament, whilst also keeping a clean sheet. Sure both those teams have missed chances to win games convincingly but who ever really thought they couldn’t win in any one game, even if they were happy to concede the ball to the opposition more often than not?

UAE dominated possession but not the shots on goal (Team Meli had 12 to the UAE’s ten) in the Milton Sandpit, consigning the Emiratis to second place in Group C and a match-up with the tournament favourites. It’s significant to note that key members of this UAE side played at the London 2012 Olympic football tournament (finishing last in their group behind a strong Team GB, Uruguay, and Senegal), so they are well-schooled in tournament football pressures, but not to the extent of their opponents whose stars like Keisuke Honda are in good goal-scoring touch. Having come into the tournament first-up off an injury Omar Abdulrahman has been key for Mahdi Ali’s side, who were lucky to a degree against Bahrain, and the 23 year-old will need to be at his peak if they are any chance of advancing. UAE had have an extra day’s rest and Japan have played in hot conditions in most games this tournament however that might be the only big advantage UAE have given Javier Aguirre’s side are unbeaten in six international matches. Their time will come but it’s likely not on Friday with Japan solid picks.

Quarter best
A dispute between editorial staff at Spanning the Cup led to Oman getting dropped for our ‘end best.’ (They were replaced by the lesser value China though.) Unfortunately the bandwagon couldn’t handle us and the Socceroo’s loss sees the record 5/6, or 6/7. Take Iran to advance from the quarters to a semi-final in Sydney (NB: that’s to advance so not necessarily to win in normal time.)

A tree falling in the footballing woods? – Oman get a win #OMAvKUW #AC2015

If another international football game occurs in Australia whilst the Socceroos are playing does anyone see it?
The tree falling in the woods question which has plagued humankind for time immemorial appears to have been answered with a solid yes as 7,499 fans turned out in Newcastle to see Oman consign Kuwait to last place in group A at the AFC Asian Cup with the Paul Le Guen-coached side sneaking home 1-0.

As pool play fell into the simultaneous kick-off phase for the Asian Cup Hunter Stadium had the distinction of ‘clashing’ with the Socceroos final pool game, a 1-0 reverse at the hands of South Korea.
I was genuinely interested in the amount and type of crowd that would attend and the turnout was surprisingly good with several locals who I spoke to actually relishing the delayed TV coverage of the Australian national side which they could watch upon getting home after this fixture. (A rule of unintended consequences perhaps for event organisers and those in sport events/coverage roles, delayed coverage of home sides can have benefits in the right context, even in 2015.)
Kuwait were supported by a keen group of 50 or so fans by kick-off, a number which later swelled to about 80, and moved their location in the south-western corner to next to the tunnel due to the sparse crowd in the main stand.
‘The Blue’ started brightly enough, indeed they ended up with 17 attempts on goal to the Omani’s five, but lacked any incisive play in the final third with key attacker Aziz Mashaan often isolated and turned away from goal on multiple occasions when he picked up the ball near halfway. Qasim Saeed, Mashaan’s opposite in jersey number – 10 (but not positioning) tried hard in the first period to no avail. Aziz did lay on a play for Fahad Al Ebrahim who shot wide as Kuwait went close but it was 0-0 at the break.
Oman had the better of the second stanza early on but Kuwait, who completed the game with 59% possession and seven corners to their opponent’s three, still dominated and after a free kick blazed over during the second half it felt as if Nabil Maaloul’s side would breach the defence of Oman.
However against the run of play in the 69th minute Ali Salim broke down the right before Raed Ibrahim cut deep from the by-line for Abdulaziz Al Muqbali to nod home whilst he was moving away from goal.
Oman were sparked and nearly scored again as both sides entertained the crowd in the closing 20 or so minutes with one Omani attacking move cleared off the line.

For the victors on the night coach Le Guen has stated his players need to progress by moving overseas and that was borne out as they ultimately finished third in the group, comfortably next best but well behind Australia and South Korea. However the issue appears to be what incentive the players have to do so. Only goalkeeper Ali Al-Habsi of Wigan plays overseas of the 23-player Asian Cup squad Oman utilised.
Oman themselves are a lesson for Kuwait. The Kuwaitis sacked their coach after a poor Gulf Cup, which included a 5-0 loss to Oman so stability in coaching can be key to developing playing style. However similar to Oman Kuwait’s players may wish to look past the Gulf to expand their footballing platform. The two overseas-based members of their squad play in UAE (Hussain Fadehl) and, ironically, Oman (Musaed Neda) they too could do with expanding their knowledge of the game from learning in more professional envrionments.

Four things you might not have seen on the TV or heard on the radio:

Okay this intro heading is really stretching it given as the Socceroos were playing you most likely didn’t see this game given 269,000 people watched it live on Fox Sports but here goes:

The Socceroos result wasn’t heard at the ground, no halftime or fulltime updates were delivered of the fixture at Suncorp Stadium to the fans in Newcastle so it did try to convey the illusion of the unknown but it’s 2015 not 1915 so the news did ripple around via random conversations in the second half.

Where random football kits go to die, it seems this fixture was the place for people to wear the most obscure piece of football kit they had. After seeing one fan in a Simon ‘Mignolet’ pink/purple-ish Liverpool kit and another sporting a North Queensland Fury cap at the first game in Newcastle Saturday night was a homage to the Socceroos in absentia with at least six different kits (including the checkerboard one) on display.

‘We didn’t realise how far away Newcastle was’ when we talk about events such as this opening up the world to tourists of the competing nations we can now extend that to event staff. As best as I could gather from a conversion near me an accredited official was relaying the story to their Australian friend that the media organisation responsible for coordinating the coverage aspect of the tournament had set up the Newcastle sub team in Sydney. After several long trips a few days running it had become a drain apparently. Has anyone checked if Google Maps are a partner sponsor?

Replays are a must for top level sport now. It is a fan expectation, especially of those that take in multiple sports that basic replays should be available. The premise/reason of not showing controversial off-sides etc due to possible fan reaction is a nonsense (frankly I’m not even sure why it’s a debate.) Maybe you don’t show a dodgy goal six times like a tv network might do so but a minimum on ground should be twice (eg. once from two different angles). That would suffice most attendees.

Image via abc.net.au