A-League 1,000: The Gone Edition

@hamishneal

1,000 words, thoughts, and musings on the thirteenth weekend of the A-League. It has already been an unlucky week for some sides with injuries and suspensions.

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Central Coast Mariners v Wellington Phoenix, Thursday- Central Coast Stadium 

New Years Eve sees two sides with only five wins between them this season meet, and they are both coming off three-goal defeats. Normally these games end up been really good right? Wellington will be hindered by the absence of Albert Reira after he was sent off in Adelaide for two bookable offences and Jefffrey Sarpong, who played one of his better games for the club last weekend, is also missing whilst the Mariners are yet to settle on a backline with Tomislav Uskok pushing for a start. The exit of Eddy Bosnar left a huge experience vacuum at the club defensively.

 

Big game for: Tom Heward-Belle. With Paul Izzo suspended for this fixture and the Rio 2016 qualifiers following this game the former Adelaide back-up will be unavailable for a few weeks  The Mariners back-up keeper could get a decent. Knowing he is certain to retain

 

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: A tight contest. The Mariners were edged 1-0 in the FFA Cup contest by these sides and it was a 1-1 draw when they meet in round five, but it was wet that day so maybe not the best form guide.

 

Western Sydney Wanderers v Adelaide United, Friday – Pirtek Stadium

Potentially the game of the round – two last start winners who are almost at full strength offers an exciting encounter. Romeo Castelen’s return was crucial and Scott Jamieson’s free kick just before the break last week will have Adelaide on alert for conceding fouls close to the box. Guillermo Amor’s side benefitted from a strong Bruce Djite performance last weekend and Dylan McGowan was great in defence. The visitors have former Wanderer Iacopo La Rocca and Eli Babalj available again.

 

Big game for: Mark Bridge celebrated the holidays with a bang on Christmas Eve and continues to be one of the most consistent players across the competition. Has now scored in each of his last five starts.

 

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Seeing the Wanderers team, after four changes last weekend Tony Popovic has plenty to ponder for this block-buster clash. Andreu is available again after suspension and with all of the new imports firing it is hard luck on whoever misses out.

 

 

Brisbane Roar v Perth Glory, Saturday – Suncorp Stadium

John Aloisi got one over his old side as Brisbane won 3-1 last weekend and Perth can feel aggrieved they didn’t get more than a point out after a 1-1 draw in Melbourne. Henrique netted in the win and with the imminent departure of some key Brisbane players in international duty it’s crucial he is in form for the Roar. Kenny Lowe’s side have been dynamic in recent weeks with the influence of Diego Castro and Gyorgy Sandor crucial.

 

Big game for: Players backing up. After encountering humid conditions on Saturday Brisbane face 30 C degree heat on Saturday with the game kicking off at 4:15pm local time. After encountering a mild day in Melbourne on Sunday Perth will probably face a warm day away from home here. These are the best two equipped side to deal with this but games should not be kicking off at these times.

 

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: More from the Perth veterans. Richard Garcia’s delivery to Josh Risdon which saw Matthieu Delpierre fell the Glory player and led to the penalty was sublime. The former Socceroo is key for Perth if they are to kick on from ninth spot.

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Melbourne Sheep Cow Whale Ships v Sydney FC, Saturday – AAMI Park

Back at home after a loss, and after Sydney got a smashing win last weekend, is the light blues bubble about to burst? Alex Brosque has injury issues again so will be missing but Sydney romped home last weekend. As much as John van’t Schip’s side might have come back down to earth was beating the bottom side a false dawn? The home side’s youngsters have elevated themselves in recent weeks and that is due in a large part to having a strong bench and competition for spots but the same can easily be said of Sydney.

 

Big game for: Virtually anonymous all season Shane Smeltz could feature here with Matt Simon suspended and the former All White need some goals. If he features with Filip Holosko also returning it will be important. With the Asian Champions League team submission to be considered by Graham Arnold soon, if not already, the 34 year-old All White needs a big performance.

 

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Bruno Fornaroli scored to set an A-League mark to get to ten goals at speed, but his team lost. Like Kobe Bryant breaking any records now for the Lakers in the NBA goals in wins count for his team at this stage.

 

Newcastle Jets v Melbourne Victory, Sunday – Hunter Stadium

The Jets haven’t scored since round eight when Ben Kantarovski netted to grab a draw against Brisbane so Newcastle need something, anything, up top to go their way and with Melbourne’s experienced side coming to town this will be hard. Despite the fact Melbourne are in a form slump one would expect this sort of game to suit their defence. That said Newcastle did get a win against Kevin Muscat’s side in round three in Newcastle. Gui Finkler’s availability will be crucial to the game after the Melbourne talisman missed last weekend’s draw.

 

Big game for: Newcastle experienced players, with David Carney (who did score in that round three game) out it’s important the experience players on attack for Newcastle support the like of Ryan Kitto throughout the game.

 

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Thomas Deng getting a start, it may be a trend across the weekend as A-League clubs look to squeeze the lemon out of their Olyroos representatives with a host of players bound for the Qatar tournament which is the Asian Football Confederation qualifying event for Rio 2016. How many will pick up a hamstring strain in the last 15 minutes?

 

The betting bit – One serious one not:

Welington to give us two on the trot ($2.35) into a comedy Ronaldinho banner at Central Coast Stadium on Thursday.

 

Record: 7/12

 

Profit: 31.95 units (ten units per investment)

 

Images via ultimealeague.com

Countries, people and places – The A to Z of sport in 2015

@hamishneal

A. Apia, The Samoan capital was the opening venue for the All Blacks test campaign of 2015 which commenced in July with a 25-16 triumph over the hosts. The pinnacle for the Richie McCaw-led Kiwis came with a 17-point victory in London over the Wallabies to claim a record third Rugby World Cup. Despite the Samoan tour getting under-written by a local backer games like these should be considered more by tier one countries. Even with the international calendar set up until 2019 surely it wouldn’t be that hard for say France, South Africa, Australia and England to put their heads together to visit each of the Cook Islands, Fiji, Samoa, and Tonga over the course of the next four years up until the next World Cup to be held in Japan.

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B. Simon Brodkin. The British comedian, who goes by the stage name Lee Nelson, flung dollar bills at Fifa overlord Sepp Blatter during a July press conference. Cheers Simon we can all drink to that comedy!

C. Chambers Bay. The golf course in Washington State coped plenty of flak as host of the US Open golf major in June of this year. From tricky greens to rough which had 45 degree angles the course was criticised by many players. It also proved unpopular with some fans who had paid over $200 a ticket when they couldn’t get near many of the greens. That said the challenge of a new course as opposed to regular PGA Tour stops which tend to be on the same courses year on year is worthwhile and interesting for viewers. The tournament was won by American Jordan Spieth who also claimed the Masters this year.

D. Kumar Dharmasena. Dharmasena along with Tim Robinson were the on-field umpires when Ben Stokes became the first English cricketer to be dismissed under Law 37 for obstructing the field in a one-day international. During the game against Australia at Lord’s in September Australian keeper Matthew Wade was vociferous in his appeal after Stokes spun around but threw his hand up and (looking the other way) was struck by the ball hurled towards the stumps by bowler Mitchell Starc endeavouring to get a run out. Third umpire Joel Wilson called it out after the two on-field officials sent the decision upstairs. Stokes is allowed to stave off injury in avoiding the ball. Under the laws of the game a player is out obstructing the field “as defined in Law 33.1, he wilfully strikes the ball with (i) a hand not holding the bat, unless this is in order to avoid injury.” Australia won the match and eventually the series 3-2. Cricket was the winner etc etc.

E. ESPN. The major Disney-backed sports broadcasting network let go two of their best presenters from the TV, podcast and on-line platforms when first Bill Simmons and then Keith Olbermann didn’t have their contracts renewed. The Worldwide leader also had prominent radio/tv host Colin Cowherd depart in 2015. Simmons reminds us, and still does on his new platforms, to not let the ‘theme of the week’ die. Whilst Olbermann is like a sports history lesson, condensing topics into a TV friendly format but in a way which often made me go out and read more about the subjects. Some of their best work is here for Simmons and here for Olbermann. ESPN also axed the Simmons-inspired Grantland which provided a great platform for long form reads on a range of sporting and pop culture topics.

F.Flemington. When Michelle Payne rode Prince of Penzance to victory in the Melbourne Cup at Australia’s headquarters of thoroughbred racing the jockey broke a range of records, highlighted by being the first female jockey to win the multi-million dollar feature. The Darren Weir-trained galloper was assisted on race-day by Payne’s brother Stevie. Payne was a group one-winning jockey before this but this win catapulted her into Australian history.

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G. Gatlin. Justin Gatlin. The US sprinter barred from track and field twice in his career for anti-doping violations won a stack of races in 2015 including the Diamond League season finale in Brussels, but he was beaten by Jamaican star Usain Bolt in both the 100 and 200 metres at the world championships in Beijing during August.

H. Ben Hunt, The Brisbane halfback, who had exceeded expectations all season in the NRL, made a collection of errors in the grand final as North Queensland won 17-16 in extra-time. Hunt’s last misjudgment saw him drop ball from the kick-off of the extra-time period to give the Cowboys great field position to see their co-captain Johnathan Thurston pilot over the winning field-goal in the decider in Sydney.

I. In passing, international cricketer and broadcaster Richie Benaud plus Frank Tyson, Clive Rice, Ken and Tom Graveney; legendary Australian thoroughbred trainer Bart Cummings, jockey Tim Bell, and trackwork rider Friederike Ruhle; Olympic track and field star Ron Clarke; broadcasters Sir Peter O’Sullevan and Jimmy Hill, English jockey Pat Eddery, rugby union legend Jonah Lomu and fellow former All Blacks Norm Berryman and Jerry Collins plus Quirindi player Nicholas Tooth and Devon’s Lily Partridge; rugby league players James Ackerman, Regan Grieve, Hayden Butler, Welsh international Danny Jones, English referee Chris Leatherbarrow and former Great Britain representative Derek Turner; Adelaide Crows AFL coach Phil Walsh; Russian tennis player Violetta Degtiareva; legendary Yankee basballer Yogi Berra and New Zealand representative Lincoln Holdzkom; motorsport’s Jules Bianchi, Justin Wilson and Michal Hernik; football’s Howard Kendall; pioneering golfers Calvin Peete and Louise Suggs; Olympic triathlete and coach Laurent Vidal; boxers Braydon Smith from Queensland and NSW’s David Browne.

J. Billy Joel, The American rock star’s tune ‘We didn’t start the fire’ was the inspiration for one of the great sporting promos of all time. Ahead of the Ashes cricket series Joel’s 1989 hit featured on Sky Sports UK recounting the past glories and of the now almost annual series of the two cricketing rivals. England won the 2015 edition of the series 3-2 with an innings victory at The Oval.

K. Kazakhstan. The nation’s pro cycling team Astana were ‘very much on probation’ heading into 2015 for various offences according to the UCI. Asides from doping rumours the team plumbed new depths of cheating this year when Vincenzo Niabli was thrown off the Vuelta Espana for getting an extended tow during the second stage.

L. Lynch, Loretta Lynch. Dramatic arrests in May and December in Zurich catapulted the scale of Fifa graft and corruption (and yes we can us that without the alleged word because former members of the Fifa Executive Committee have rolled over and squealed in evidence) back into the consciousness of world sport. Almost a constant theme for well over a decade it took until the USA Attorney General Lynch became the face of the multi-national investigation that the whole scale of the controversy was laid bare. Formerly reporters like Andrew Jennings had found key pieces of evidence but the USA and other authorities ability to follow the money will be the key in the potential jail time for many of the figures involved in the scams.

M. Manning, Kerryn Manning. Like 30 year-old jockey Michelle Payne, Manning made history with the equine this year. The fellow Victorian won the New Zealand Trotting Cup in Christchurch and was the first female to triumph in the event in the sulky. In wining with Arden Rooney it was also the first time an Australian-trained pacer had won the New Zealand feature since 1987.

N. Neal. Hamish Neal. Me. Amazingly I shaved off some time from my 2014 effort in the Lake Macquarie Half Marathon. After trundling around in 1hr38.40 I ‘scorched’ the course in 1hr36.42 this August.

O. Osborne. Elizabeth Osborne. The mother of Australian surfer Mick Fanning was the most relieved parent watching their children compete in sport during 2015 after August when the triple world champion was attacked by a Shark whilst competing at Jeffrey’s Bay in South Africa. Fellow Australian Julian Wilson turned his attention from winning the final they were competing to surfing towards Fanning to aide him but event officials were quickly on the scene. Sadly for the family they lost Fanning’s brother Peter in December due to an enlarged heart during Fanning’s final event for the year when he was chasing the world title.

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P. Parma, The prominent Italian football club were declared bankrupt and dropped out of the professional game in June. The club couldn’t pay the 22.6 million Euros worth of debt which was due then out of a total debt 75 million Euros. The club once of Gianluigi Buffon, Fabio Cannavarro, and Juan Sebastian Veron who won the 1999 UEFA Cup final are now residents of the fourth tier of Italian football. A salient lesson for all top sporting clubs.

Q. Queensland. The glittering Gold Coast in the Australian state of Queensland is apparently “ahead of schedule and under budget” for the Commonwealth Games which they are hosting in 2018. I know, don’t laugh, a major sporting event ahead of schedule and not costing more than originally planned!

R. Royals, After San Francisco edged them 4-3 in the 2014 World Series the American League’s Royals saw off the Mets. Making their fourth World Series appearance the Kansas City-based side losing game three of the series 9-3. Venezuelan catcher Salvador Perez from the Royals was named MVP in the 4-1 series triumph.

S. Serbia, Featuring for the first time at football’s Under 20 World Cup the Balkan nation claimed the title with a win over Brazil in the final. In a tournament which saw Argentina tipped out in the group stages the decider in Albany on Auckland’s north shore was settled in extra-time when Nemanja Maksimovic struck in the 118th minute to seal a 2-1 shock triumph. Adama Traore of Ligue 1 side AS Monaco won the tournament MVP as his nation, Mali, finished third.

T. Trump. Donald Trump is probably a better golfer than former North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il but it’s a close run thing in the terms of ‘bad human stakes’ between the duo (Yes I realise KJ2 was actually a tyrant) but the wannabe USA president has reasonable sway in the world of golf and it needs to end. The PGA Tour, LPGA and other groups connected to him must take away tournaments he is connected with. Get your best legal minds on it so it doesn’t cost you a bomb but sort it out.

U. United Passions, in case other major film-makers or production houses were thinking that a movie about the office goings-on of a sporting organisation (even a dodgy one) would be their next block-buster project this film, funded by Fifa to the tune of US$32 million, might have had them thinking twice. It grossed US$918 (yes $918, no million) in a limited opening weekend release in the USA and was panned in the Hollywood Reporter review as a “poorly executed propaganda piece that has all the excitement of a PowerPoint presentation”

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V. Vancouver. The Canadian city hosted the final of the women’s World Cup won 5-2 by the USA. Japan was down and out after the Jill Ellis-coached outfit raced to a 4-0 lead after 16 minutes which included a 13-minute hatrick to Carli Lloyd. The regeneration of this side was already underway prior to this win with players like the now retired legend Abby Wambach used off the bench throughout the tournament. One disappointment out of the tournament is the hugely impressive English players, who came third and were unlucky not to make the final, can’t make the Rio Olympic football tournament as Great Britain (who were given exemption as hosts of the 2012) won’t be around in Brazil. Add Welsh star Jess Fishlock to the England team at Rio and they would nearly start favourites.

W. World Cups. In a year of pinnacle events Australia claimed world titles in men’s one-day international cricket and women’s netball beating New Zealand on both occasions in final’s at home in Melbourne and Sydney respectively. It wasn’t a world cup but Australia’s women’s cricket side (the Southern Stars) won the Ashes 10-6 under the points format inclusive of three ODIs, three T20s and a standalone test.

X. Player X. In our 2014 edition we discussed the match-fixing case of former New Zealand cricketer Lou Vincent. The dynamic batsmen was a key witness for the prosecution in the nine-week case of perjury against fellow New Zealand international Chris Cairns held in London’s Southwark Crown Court. Ex Kiwi all-rounder Cairns, along with co-defendant Andrew Fitch-Holland, were cleared of all charges in late November.

Y. Yokohama. Barcelona won the Fifa Club World Cup final over South American champs River Plate in the Japanese city. Multiple-bitter and sometimes racist Luis Suarez scored five goals in Barcelona’s two games in the tournament. It won’t be recognised as a top sporting effort of 2015 because of the general contempt in which the tournament is held, but it’s a terrific performance nonetheless.

Z. Zadunaisky. Bender Zadunaisky. The fictional con-man was referenced to Alec Luhn when the Guardian journalist encountered a security guard at the Moscow anti-doping facility when the journalist endeavoured to visit the facility as Russia’s alleged state-sponsored doping program was exposed. Luhn’s insight in intruiguing. Others nations were also put on notice over doping violations and standards plus newly-elected IAAF President Lord Sebastian Coe has many questions to answer as the sport unravels at the highest levels.

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Images via ktla.com, theguardian.com, abc.net.au, espnfc.com

 

A-League 1,000: The Festivus Edition

@hamishneal

1,000-ish words, thoughts and musings on round 12 of the A-League which commences in Christmas Eve in Parramatta and finishes on Sunday in Brisbane. Happy football festivus!

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Western Sydney Wanderers v Newcastle Jets, Thursday- Pirtek Stadium

Not quite a bursting bubble for the Wanderers, but a draw in Perth has halted their winning run. However, the manner in which they came from behind to snatch an equaliser nine minutes from time shows the sides’ resolve – and how important Mitch Nichols is. Jason Hoffman’s accumulation of cards means the Jets right winger misses out here, which results in another backline reshuffle with Nick Cowburn moving into the starting eleven. Daniel Mullen is expected back which will be a boost for the Jets and the will build any result on a strong defence but, again, they need more vigour in attack.

Big game for: Seeing what Tony Popovic does with his marquee Italian. Federico Piovaccari came on after 69 minutes in Perth, and despite a recent return to form hasn’t made a starting his own based on his marquee deal. Given rotation, he probably starts here, as does Romeo Castelen.

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Milos Trifunovic started the season all guns blazing, but hasn’t fired in recent weeks. The Serbian could fairly expect to be subbed more in coming weeks as the game wears on if he fails to fire, as Scott Miller looks for variety in attack.

 

Adelaide United v Wellington Phoenix, Saturday – Beer Sauce Burger Stadium

The last time these two teams met there were six goals, as the Phoenix won in Wellington in the first ‘Save the Nix’ game, but even if they aren’t in roaring form attacking-wis,e the Reds are very solid in defense, noticing their fourth clean sheet in their draw against the Jets in round 11. The Phoenix got lucky against Sydney, with Roy Krishna’s late penalty and face a bit of a battle here with Tom Doyle (suspended) and Louis Fenton (ankle ligament injury) missing in defence, so the signs are good for Guillermo Amor’s side.

Big game for: Jeffrey Sarpong. Started in Wellington, and the coming period will be crucial as to whether the former Dutch youth international is retained beyond his current two-year deal (or let loose prior to that), with the one-time Ajax player struggling to find his feet in the A-League.

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Adelaide’s lack of an in form striker is proving to be problematic, after they failed to capitalise on chances in Newcastle. With 50 chances on target this season, and three of their ten goals penalties, maybe it’s time to dip into the market for a guest striker?

 

Sydney FC v Central Coast Mariners, Saturday – Allianz Stadium

Sydney couldn’t get home in Wellington but players like Brandon O’Neill, from set pieces, and Andrew Hoole on the flanks, showed promise. Hoole’s propensity to push forward to play balls in behind the opposition is something the Mariners right-sided players such as Storm Roux could look to exploit on the counter-attack if the Sydney winger is retained after his penalty miss in Wellington. Tony Walmsley’s side still lack something in attack and a lack of experience in defence continues to cruel them in games. That said, it was only one brain snap that saw Brisbane get a win in Gosford.

Big game for: The Sydney strike force. Alex Brosque is back with Filip Holosko suspended and the skipper has a big responsibility here.

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Some better news across the A-League regarding injuries. After Melbourne City’s Corey Gameiro, once of Sydney FC, tore his ACL in late November, Mariners right winger Jake Adelson had news confirmed on the weekend that he had suffered a similar fate. All this after only two seniors games for the 19 year-old who was once on the books of Everton’s academy.

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Melbourne Victory v Perth Glory, Sunday – AAMI Park

Perth will not fear Melbourne here despite the fact they are eighth and their hosts are fifth. Mitch Oxborrow now presents as a threat at set pieces after his great free kick put Perth ahead for a second time before the Glory conceded a late goal to the Wanderers last weekend. Kenny Lowe’s squad rotation has turned out okay in this period for the FFA Cup runners-up, but the scenario around which foreign player goes to make way for Andy Keogh must be affecting team moral. Victory are in uncharted territory, as teams seem to be working out how to penetrate their midfield with greater ease. The absence of Carl Valeri has probably been a major factor in this.

Big game for: Perth’s returning players. Plenty will fall on the shoulders of players like Chris Harold, who was used off the bench last weekend. The regular starters will bring plenty of experience with Harold alone nearing on 100 A-League games.

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Seeing Melbourne’s midfield line-up, who Kevin Muscat puts out, and how they adjust to a reinvigorate Perth outfit.

 

Brisbane Roar v Melbourne Sheep Cow Whale Ships, Sunday – Suncorp Stadium

The Melbourne second franchise look the real deal after a big derby win last week – it’s time to believe in John Van’t Schips side, who will now win the league! Okay that is over the top, but on the evidence to date it would be surprising if the light blues don’t finish in the top four. Brisbane’s concern here will be they dominated possession in Gosford but only slightly bad reads by Josh Rose and Harry Ascroft meant they got a win. Melbourne could already be two goals to the good in this game before something similar happens in the Queensland capital.

Big game for: The Melbourne starting eleven. Unlike some other A-League sides who have been scratching around for bench players, the light blues have experience A-League players waiting in the wings. Competition for places is a great motivation.

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Seeing how Brisbane’s internationals get into the grind of the A-League season as the weather heats up and sides start to work out the like of Corona and Javier Hervas.

 

The betting bit – One serious one not:

We have slipped in the last fortnight and Adelaide are hence barred until they return to winning ways. This week we return to Parramatta with the home side to get up ($1.45) plus Perth unveiling their Santa Keogh on Christmas Eve.

Record: 6/11

Profit: 27.45 units (ten units per investment)

Images via abc.net.au

 

 

A-League 1,000: The Ulsan Edition

@hamishneal

1,000-ish words, thoughts and musings on round eleven of the A-League which also features a catch-up game from round five in Perth. So it’s double Glory and double Victory this week.

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Perth Glory v Melbourne Victory, Wednesday – nib Stadium

Great schedule for Perth – after beating the Mariners on Saturday, they are at home again for the second of three consecutive games at nib Stadium. The return of Gyorgy Sandor helped and they came back well after the Mariners early forays on goal and strike for Roy O’Donovan got the visitors in front. Sandor and Nebojsa Marinkovic (who netted twice last weekend) in the midfield will need to be wary of getting caught on the counter when Perth lose possession on attack as Melbourne have the ability to return serve quickly.

 

Big game for: Team selection. Kevin Muscat will need to pivot his team selections in advance of the Melbourne derby at the weekend, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see Olyroos squad member Giancarlo Gallifuoco get a start. The versatile 21 year-old came off the bench on the weekend and could expect more game time over the course of the next week.

 

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Reading the match reports and catching the highlights/or a replay as I’ll probably spend most of the time watching J-League champions Sanfrecce Hiroshima versus South American club champs River Plate, who meet in a Club World Cup semi-final which kicks off half an hour after this A-League fixture starts.

 

Newcastle Jets v Adelaide United, Friday – Hunter Stadium

Last week we said Melbourne City wouldn’t score five goals in this game. We were right, but it was a close run thing. Newcastle started brightly but went on to lose 4-0 as they slip further down the log and face a surging Adelaide on Friday. Marcelo Carrusca is back in the swing of things in attack but defence will be a key as Guillermo Amor’s side have conceded at least two goals in each away game they have played this season. Newcastle need to work on their timing in attack after they were pinged 14 times for being offside in their lose to Melbourne City.

 

Big game for: Showing decorum #1: Adelaide players were ropable after one of their number was felled by Sydney’s Alex Gersbach. Yes, that tackle was bad but with over half the team rushing the referee and Sydney players it’s lucky physical contact such as a punch or otherwise didn’t occur. If teams persist with that sort of behaviour clubs should be sanctioned as well as players cautioned, or sent off, if deemed appropriate.

 

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Seeing Scott Miller lock the door and throw away the key. A Qatari Star League club is reportedly chasing David Carney and now Ulsan Hyundai appear to have their hands on defender Lee Ki-Je who left Australia on Tuesday evening to travel to Korea for a medical. Miller might get his hands on some transfer fees for what remains of these contracts but if both go it will be a big lose.

 

Wellington Phoenix v Sydney FC, Saturday – Westpac Stadium

Despite some players with more A-League experience in the hot weather of an Australian summer, Wellington wilted in the heat late in Cairns. Actually, they wilted before that with Tom Doyle vomiting prior to the game due to the heat and humidity and not playing in the fixture. Ernie Merrick was rightly annoyed the game went ahead at the kick-off time of 4:15pm, and he has not berated his players as he normally would in the manner of losing after holding a lead at half-time. Merrick could shuffle his side for this game with Matthew Ridenton likely to miss out if Doyle is well. Sydney continues to set themselves out well in defence, as evidenced by the fact they didn’t concede their second goal until deep into time added on in Adelaide, but they need to break on the counter-attack quicker and maybe give Matt Simon more than nine minutes at the end when you are chasing a winner.

 

Big game for: Showing decorum #2: Graham Arnold must really reign it in. A decision in a sporting match is not criminal. Sydney’s creativity in the final third on the other hand…

 

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Jeffrey Sarpong, who played most of the second half, and Blake Powell, who got a run in the last 12 minutes, were seemingly the only bench options for Wellington with Justin Gulley plus Ben Sigmund still hobbled by injury and very much defensive options. Wellington’s bench will be interesting.

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Melbourne Sheep Cow Whale Ships v Melbourne Victory, Saturday – AAMI Park

14 goals in three games, wins in three different cities. No, it’s not the reigning champs Melbourne Victory, it’s their derby opponents we are talking about. John van’t Schip’s side are tearing weaker teams to pieces at will, but face a big test here as they ‘host’ the navy blues. Ivan Franjic is looking very much a part of this team and when Ben Garrucio came on for Connor Chapman, the change was seamless as the 20 year-old was involved in many attacking plays. Muscat’s team will possibly be entering the game on a three-match losing streak so it may be a more circumspect approach with two players sharing the load to close down Aaron Mooy (as Newcastle tried to do last weekend) with Kosta Barbarouses and others needing to find some form on attack.

 

Big game for: The light blues. This is real deal territory now for City. Win here and they are genuine title contenders; lose, and it’s back to been just another team.

 

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Veteran striker Archie Thompson is slated to come off the bench this weekend after suffering a medial ligament injury a few months ago, and the return of the former Socceroos forward is exciting

 

Perth Glory v Western Sydney Wanderers, Saturday- NIB Stadium

The Wanderers will be looking for eight wins on the trot, and the home side might be in search of three straight in the Saturday nightcap. Winger Romeo Castelen is in a rich vein of form for the away side who now rely on players like Scott Jamieson to play more of a part in attack and not just drive it through the centre of the park looking for an opening. Perth will spend much of this game trying to stop the Wanderers from getting crosses in but they do have their own attacking-minded players and maybe a few games in a row is what they need after a run outs was halted on Saturday.

 

Big game for: Andrew Redmayne. At his fourth A-League club and with his team on a good winning run, it would appear unless a disaster occurs the number one spot is his to keep. However Redmayne, 26, now has Liam Reddy looking for a start after joining the club. Not forgetting Reddy needs to dislodge Dean Bouzanis, formerly of Liverpool, from the bench.

 

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: For something new after this game. Perth play next…. the Melbourne Victory. Will either side need to do video work that week?

 

Central Coast Mariners v Brisbane Roar, Sunday – Central Coast Stadium

Elsewhere, I noted Brisbane’s imports may not handle the heat well in Carins last weekend, but I was proved wrong and John Aloisi was astute with his substitutions. Steven Lustica and Jean-Carlos Solorzano both scored as the Roar showed more enthusiasm in the second stanza. The Mariners can play well in patches here, but if they nick an early goal Brisbane still have plenty in hand to be able to come back from behind. Nick Montgomery added some experience to the Mariners midfield in his return last weekend but Liam Rose will need to improve to keep his starting spot after some critical errors at nib Stadium.

 

Big game for: Paul Izzo. The Olyroos squad goal-keeper is now officially the club’s ‘number one’ after the departure of Reddy. It’s a lot of pressure ahead of the January qualifiers next month for the Mariners to play well here before Izzo possibly departs for the tournament in Qatar.

 

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Lots of goals. Whilst the Mariners won’t win anything this season the fans want entertainment if not a win. The days of beating Sydney at home 7-2 are long gone, but a solid effort at the back means they are some hope of a result sooner rather than later.

 

The betting bit – One serious one not:

We should have rode the Wanderers bandwagon and this weekend there are plenty of away teams in the red but for the first time in a while we are going with Adelaide ($1.90) into a ballad from The Squadron at Hunter Stadium to David Carney. Something to the tune of the Fankie Valli and the Four Seasons classic “Can’t take my eyes off of you’ like ‘Don’t leave us Davey.’

 

Profit: 37.45 units (ten units per investment)

 

Record: 6/10

 Images via smh.com.au

A-League 1,000: The Cairns Edition

@hamishneal

1,000-ish words, thoughts and musings on round ten of the A-League which has Adelaide starting the action on Friday before concluding in Newcastle on Sunday.

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Adelaide United v Sydney FC, Friday – Beer Sauce Burger Stadium

We have written recently that both sides were threatening to score a few goals but each side got a 1-0 win last weekend. But the threat seems to be more likely for Sydney. After marquee Filip Holosko spurned multiple chances last weekend when the sky blues beat Newcastle he, and his team, were saved by skipper Alex Brosque’s second-half goal. However Brosque is out this weekend due to a hamstring complaint. Adelaide United struck early but never sealed the deal even allowing for far greater possession and only a few late misses from Perth meant the Reds got their first win of the season. Marcelo Carrusca playing well is hugely beneficial for the Reds but they still don’t look like the FFA Cup-winning side of last year.

 

Big game for: Eugene Galekovic. The Reds shot-stopper is working with an inexperienced centre-half pairing but a clean sheet last weekend is something to build on.

 

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Seeing how clinic Adelaide can be. They won’t get 21 shots on goal in this game so their frontline will need to be more efficient here.

 

Brisbane Roar v Wellington Phoenix, Saturday – Cazalys Stadium

Coming from the atrocious pitch in Albany to Cairns is a challenge for Wellington coach Ernie Merrick but when he was looking at this block of games away from Wellington having three points from the game against Victory was probably going to be a bonus. Roy Krishna’s game suited the wobbly pitch and the Fijian needs to continue to lift as Jeffrey Sarpong, at the moment, isn’t the new striker Wellington are seeking. Brisbane were the most impressive of the sides that lost last weekend and the fact Jamie Maclaren still managed to net proves despite the fact they haven’t won in a month it’s not quite a slump in the true sporting sense of the word.

 

Big game for: Rest and rotation. Substitutes will come earlier than normal here given it is expected to hit 32 degrees and the game is kicking off at 4:15pm local time.

 

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: I was surprised to read Cairns hadn’t played host an A-League game. In the short-lived life of the Fury not dinkum game was taken to the city of 142,000 people which seems odd. Given Brisbane were also the Queensland Roar for a few season it’s surprising the city didn’t get at least one game in that intervening period. So I’m looking forward to seeing what big city/town that hasn’t played host to an A-League gets one next.

 

Western Sydney Wanderers v Melbourne Victory, Saturday – Pirtek Stadium

The RBB-less Wanderers recorded a sixth straight win but will meet cranky Melbourne after the Victorians failed to score in Auckland. Despite conceding 55% of the possession to Brisbane the Wanderers rattled off more shots on target, three, to the visitor’s one and generally seemed to show more impetus in the final third. Melbourne will look to grab top spot back but there is a chance some players might be rested given the Victory play in Perth on Wednesday next week before returning to Melbourne for a Derby. Melbourne rarely loss back-to-back but this is probably the time it happens if at all. Skipper Carl Valeri for the visitors still has concerns around a virus he has been suffering from but it is better news for the Wanderers who have more striking options available with marquee Federico Piovaccari fit again.

 

Big game for: Mitch Nichols. The midfielder has turned things around in the last two season going from Cerezo in Japan, who on the weekend missed at a chance to return to the top flight, to Perth where the attacking dynamo never found form, until now. In big games back-to-back is how Nichols will continue to improve. The 26 year-old needs a big game here

 

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Even allowing for the poor pitch in Auckland Melbourne should have done better. Maybe it’s a post FFA Cup hangover kicking in. I’m interested to see how they respond here.

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Perth Glory v Central Coast Mariners, Saturday – nib Stadium

The Glory host the Mariners as the visitors look to collect a season double over the men from the West. Kenny Lowe’s side are the only team the Central Coast have beaten this season and the gloss of that opening round win has well and truly worn off. Perth had chances to net a winner late in the game againast Adelaide with Reds ‘keeper Galekovic helping lift the South Australians to their first win this season. Anthony Golec will want to show better direction with any late headers but Gyorgy Sandor’s return last weekend was good news for Lowe. Mariners coach Tony Walmsley will have selection choices to make and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a few changes. Jake Adelson, once of the books of Everton, was impressive in his debut and returns to the match-day squad.

 

Big game for: The little things. The Mariners minor errors end up been hugely costly so they need to go back to basics. Jake McGing and Jacob Poscoliero were guilty of that as Melbourne City ran riot over the home side. When you don’t get many chances to score the ‘error value’ of the mistakes you make increases if you are literally passing to the opposition. Perth has six shots on target last weekend so the Mariners must shore things up at the back.

 

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Harry Ascroft will probably look forward to playing a more proactive game this weekend, shuffled into a man-marking assignment the 20 year-old spent the game chasing Mooy and whilst the Melbourne light blue playmaker had a relatively quiet game his side was 3-0 up when Ascroft was removed from that role. I’m not sure if Walmsley will persist with such a move in the future, but Nick Montgomery’s absence made the outcome probable anyway last weekend.

 

Newcastle Jets v Melbourne Sheep Cow Whale Ships, Sunday – Hunter Stadium

Newcastle might have learnt a lesson of the folly of man-marking Aaron Mooy after the efforts of Ascroft and the Mariners on Thursday in round nine so it will be interesting to see the approach Jets coach Scott Miller adopts here. With Leonardo missing he deployed recent recruit Ryan Kitto in the ‘10’ hole but Newcastle struggled to get any traction and it was really only Sydney’s profligacy and a couple of Mark Birighitti stops that kept the Jets in the game. Robi Koren returns here so the Jets arguably meet a ‘better’ Melbourne City side compared to the one that has won their last two games convincingly.

 

Big game for: It keeps coming up but Newcastle’s inability to field the same team in key positions is making things hard for them. Nigel Boogaard returns here with gives some solidity to their spine.

 

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Ten goals in two games is unheralded territory for John van’t Schip’s team but I’d be amazed if they get another five here.

 

The betting bit – One serious one not:

After a Western Sydney win last weekend we switch to the eastern half of the harbour city ($2.50) to win in Adelaide into a commentary reference of ‘Corona in the sun in Cairns’ during the coverage of Brisbane versus Wellington.

 

Profit: 47.45 units (ten units per investment)

 

Record: 6/9  

 Images via smh.com.au and theguardian.com

 

FTSOS Off Topic: Gig Review – Jon Toogood, December 4 2015

@hamishneal

It’s four days later and I’m humming Lucky Man by The Verve (a band from Wigan England) whilst waiting in a coffee shop in Newcastle, NSW and it’s all because of a former handy junior cricketer from Wellington, New Zealand. That’s what great musicians do.

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Early on, a confession. This is my first attempt at a gig review. Musical references have made their way into the sporting blogs I’ve done recently, including an album from The Streets (aka Mike Skinner) which provided the platform for an A-League season preview, but this is my first crack at music in one piece in it’s entirety so be gentle.

 

Kiwi rock god (early hyperbole alert) Jon Toogood performed at the Stag and Hunter in the Newcastle suburb of Mayfield on Friday night with a week left in his current acoustic tour and I went along looking to catch a snapshot of his live work since I last saw him fronting Shihad in 2002.

 

Early on I was reminded of just how old I was when it came to music, the second such occurrence* in my life, when one of the bar staff mentioned his sound-check but that they ‘didn’t know much about him.’ I immediately took this as invitation to launch into an abridged history of his work. When I mentioned the 2002 secret gig in Wellington which I saw the response was “wow, I was only six years old then.” *slumps back to table feeling old.*

 

Unlike a good music reviewer I’m going to bugger up the linear time of when songs were sung at the performance but hopefully you will get the general gist of the gig and jump into a YouTube/Spotify deep-dive on his musical repertoire if you aren’t familiar with it. If you are you probably have the FVEY album on your mobile device already.

 

Toogood, 44, was at his comical best to kick off the show shouting ‘he’s bullshit’ out and asking to bring back the warm-up act (Magpie Johnston from near Singleton in the Hunter Valley) as he himself was being introduced. He then let rip into the show which started with more recent stuff, he has been part of a project called the The Adults, but in the first stanza he did get to Shihad classics early-ish with Pacifier getting a run. Prior to blasting out the epic from The General Electric album Toogood did jokingly note he was against the short-lived name change of Shihad to Pacifier. It’s something he has spoken about before but it was still comical in the context as this wasn’t a straight Shihad show as we were to find out.

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Toogood has gone through many phases in his musical career, some unique, others you get the feeling he shared with other musical acts so when he referenced he had an “Oasis is f**kin cool” phase it was exciting to see how he would weave other artists into the show. The Verve and David Bowie was to come but he also took the crowd on a New Zealand musical journey which included talking about Th’ Dudes. Regaling how the band of Dave Dobbyn (the ‘Slice of Heaven’ guy) tried to ‘crack it’ in Australia before scampering home after less than a month it clicked to a degree and was a reminder that Shihad had to grind to be accepted in Australia let alone before they thought about heading to the USA as they did in the early 2000s.

 

Remembering that Toogood’s Shihad used to play the mega-normous musical festivals like the Big Day Out it was great to see him pull off songs (some his own plus others) in the acoustic environment. Playing some Australian classics, Reckless by James Reyne got a run, was a crowd-pleaser but I Got You from Split Enz also featured (after a vote about which was the cooler Finn brother.)

 

Having lived in Australia Toogood humorously weaved in a thank you for the former Prime Minister Tony Abbott for ‘giving him loads of material.’ The political references are pointed in the songs, maybe not as heavy at something like England Uprise by Nizlopi but strong nonetheless. Toogood is a strong advocate for social justice issues and has been a part of recent collaborations to support charities such as Team Ball Player Thing which was used in advance of the 2015 Rugby World Cup as a pseudo-support song for the All Blacks (there I go slipping back into sport.)

 

For the political references it’s the ability to weave those messages with songs like Pacifier, which Toogood mentioned was inspired by personal and mental health issues around himself and others he knew, and not miss a beat which makes him such an exceptional performer.

 

The following is an extract from an interview given to New Zealand Music site Rip it Up (http://www.ripitup.co.nz/) in 2010 which explains the thinking behind Pacifier. As you read think about the level of detail he goes into and then remember he has done this in various outfits for over two decades creating music and then you get some sort of an insight into how much Toogood is invested in his music and how much of a top quality artist he is at his craft.

 

“Again, this was about another extremely talented person. But this song was not about them wrecking themselves. This was about them being extremely creative and that talent being a bit of a curse because of a mental illness. It was nothing to do with drugs. Well, maybe it was a little bit, but it was more about how inspired people, like genuinely inspired people, tend to not function too well in the real world, because their heads are on another planet. They’re just vibrating on a different level from everybody else, which makes their art or whatever they do really fucking amazing. But it also means that when they try and incorporate that into what everyone else is doing, just a normal day to day life, it doesn’t work out so well. I’ve suffered from depression and anxiety all my life, probably not to the same extent as the person I was talking about, but I could empathize. It’s about trying to put perspective in somebody who has lost perspective.”

Don’t look so worried you know

There ain’t no hurry

Cause life’s supposed to ebb and flow

Now you’re all clear to go

And when you’re out there

No, they can’t catch you

Precious star, you are the best at what you are

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Having run through some of his major musical influences from the past Toogood rounded out the evening with the Motorhead classic Ace of Spades. It was a surprising choice maybe not for the choice of group as you can see the influence of the band that formed in the late 1970s to some of Toogood’s work but that it was such a high-tempo song and to pull it off in an acoustic format was a tough ask. Toogood didn’t let the crowd down.

 

We came to see Toogood but also got Aschroft, Bowie, Dobbyn, and the Finns plus Clarke, Kilmester and Taylor at the end. Not bad for $25.

 

*It’s circa 2005 and I’m heading out at a work program when I was based in Gloucester, England. A colleague grabs a cd from my glove box and puts it in. The work experience student, probably about 15 years old, goes “who are they?” It was the Matchbox Twenty album ‘Yourself or someone like You’

Fifa and nations. How reform starts with a 14-team World Cup

@hamishneal

As Fifa seemingly lurches from crisis to crisis, the latest being more arrests of officials in Zurich whilst they were meeting to discuss reforming the beleaguered organization, football fans have been left wondering how the sport’s governing body can be fixed. The cynical amongst us think a solution is too difficult, but a German-based organisation might have found the solution for us, or at least given us a leg up with how to implement one.

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In November Transparency International produced a report which outlined the parlous state of football governance and finance in member nations of Fifa with a galling number of only 14 of the 209 meeting minimum standards for financial reporting, organisational operations and relevant anti-corruption aspects.

 

The global corruption watchdog, whose advisory council is made up of such luminaries as former President of the USA Jimmy Carter and ex Justice of the High Court of Australia Michael Kirby, which normally deals in corruption with nations as opposed to transparency in sport, and came up with some interesting findings.

 

T.I looked at financial reports, organisational charters, annual activity reports and code of conduct/ethics of the nations. The report was scathing in its assessments of the bodies responsible for the growth of the game across the world.

 

“This lack of transparency and accountability is unfortunately not limited to Fifa’s headquarters,” it noted in a direct challenge to the members nations of Fifa. “This problem is made worse by the lack of information such as audited financial statements by many associations.”

 

Amongst the headline figures:

 

– 178 nations don’t publish annual activity reports

 

– Four of Fifa’s confederations didn’t reveal annual accounts.

 

– 87 nations, including controversial 2022 World Cup host Qatar, scored zero in all four categories.

 

– 42 nations don’t have websites or ones that work!

 

When you consider that each of the member federations of Fifa gets at least US$2.05 million per year to fund activities it’s no wonder money goes missing, and no surprise Fifa is in the mess it is if national bodies are approaching their primary role in such a blasé manner.

 

Even amongst the nations who T.I gave a clean bill of health to more can be done. The report stated; “FAs with a top score still need to reveal much more to the public about their organisation and how they spend the cash that pours in from Fifa headquarters and their own revenue generating activities” That’s the nations that got four out of four! By T.I’s own admission “we set the bar for transparency at a very low level.”

 

The report advised; “Any reform of Fifa will have to make (reforming member federations) a priority.”

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The problems at Fifa come from the top and clearly this report is targeting the member federations, but remember it’s the nations who voted in the current group of executive members and approve ongoing commitments to Fifa initiatives, good or bad, so they must bear some responsibility for this mess.

 

It could be suggested many of the national federation representatives feathered their personal nests whilst a member of the ExCo (Executive Committee), so if their colleagues couldn’t figure out something was wrong they might not be corrupt but they are at least incompetent (or perhaps passively corrupt), which is grounds enough for them to be removed from their roles.

 

Greater scrutiny of finance and related transparency I feel in such a scenario would only be pushed through by a new Fifa regime if a bold move was proposed; barring countries from the World Cup – playing in it and hosting it.

 

Under the current structure of Fifa there are so many poor elements to unpick but any real change is only going to come from getting the nations to get their house in order as well. It’s hardly fair for the 168 national federations that don’t make their financial reports publically available to tell Fifa and their ExCo members to ‘be more responsible with money and don’t take bribes’ when they are offering no transparency of their own with regards to where their own money goes.

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Now a problem with the practicality of barring sides form the World Cup until they get their financial houses in order is that it would be less of a World Cup and more of a European Championship with invitations – sort of like the Eurovision Song Contest, only not as funny.

 

Currently 11 of the 14 federations which meet TI’s standards are from Europe. It would mean England, Denmark, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Ireland, Latvia, Northern Ireland, Norway, Portugal, and Sweden are all off to the 2018 event (which by default will be held in England). Only Japan in the Asian Football Confederation, New Zealand in Oceania Football Confederation, and Canada in Concacaf would be eligible outside of Europe. CONMEBOL (South America) and CAF (Africa) nations miss out altogether.

 

Selling a World Cup to USA broadcasters without a participating USA team is problematic, to say the least, and might result in a discounted rate for whoever is re-negotiating that deal. Should the current TV deal be ruled void by the broadcasters perhaps a skilled negotiator could pitch it to Netflix or similar. This could provide an opportunity for broadcasting executives in the ‘new media’ companies who understand the current digital media landscape to make out like bandits with a cut-price World Cup featuring (arguably) Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling, Joe Hart and Claudio Marchisio still on the pitch.

 

Clearly the prospect of a 14-team World Cup is somewhat odd. However most, if not all, people reading this would agree that something needs to change. At least this offers us a starting point.

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Some sort of grace period would need to be instituted for nations so we would never get to the scenario of the reduced World Cup and the below would be my plan:

 

– Over six years the member federations could implement the proper financial and other organisational protocols and then progress to approval through an external body (we will get to that later.) This would give the relevant local, state, and regional footballing bodies in each country ample time to turf out ineffective board members/staff.

 

– If nations don’t display progress they are placed into ‘footballing administration’. Their local competitions could still continue (many competitions, the MLS for example, operate elements partially if not completely removed from the national body) so the domestic game still occurs but in the background they would need to work on key aspects as outlined to regain international eligibility.

 

– For nations that haven’t made financial records publicly available, they will be required to submit a minimum of two years completed records until that section is ticked off. These would have to be looked at by an independent auditor who is rotated yearly and hasn’t previously worked with that federation.

 

For some nations this would be an easy fix and our 14-team world cup could get to 32 easily (and quickly) if nations like Chile made available financial reports, Scotland produced a Code of Ethics details, and the Ukraine produced annual activity reports and so on. For others the task is a little harder but no-one said organising 209 nations to do anything under a unified system would be an easy caper.

 

Some nations who never have a real chance of making a World Cup would simply have their development funds held in trust until such time as they meet a basic set of requirements. The money would still be there but a percentage could be taken off each year, increasing the incentive for them to right their ship as quickly as possible given they probably wouldn’t make a World Cup anyway.

 

Fifa already does this to a degree in requesting audited accounts from nations before paying them further financial assistance payments, but they have only done this since March this year and it’s not exactly targeting big nations with Trinidad and Tobago, who score zero from four in T.I’s rankings, amongst the nations to have funding halted. But there hasn’t been an over-arching plan which also takes in work around organisational charters, codes of ethics or go as far as to ban them from a world cup. The last major nation to be sanctioned was Nigeria in July of 2014 but that was largely over political interference, although they hadn’t paid their players as well. Either way Fifa overturned the ban five months later.

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A bold plan like this will need strong and trusted leadership. The obvious candidate for my new Fifa Czar would be Barack Obama. The U.S’ current Commander-In-Chief comes out of contract in January 2017 (maybe the Democratic National Convention could send him out on loan in the upcoming January transfer window?) and after eight years dealing with an unprecedentedly hostile congress on Capitol Hill, staring down Vladimir Putin, pretending to like Tony Abbott and dealing with all kinds of Middle East shenanigans, running Fifa might just be the perfect next ‘thing’ for the President after leaving the White House. I will happily shout him a round of golf every Friday if that sweetens the deal.

 

President Obama will need some help. Financially, T.I have contributors from various national governments, primarily via their foreign affairs and trade departments, and are also supported by international accounting firms like Ernst & Young and Price Waterhouse Coopers. Those companies could be at the forefront of guiding the nations without adequate resources to improve their reporting, transparency and oversight standards. If neither of those firms want to get involved in this mess, the T.I results show Scandinavian countries with a virtual clean bill of footballing-transparency health, so to speak. Perhaps a major body from that region could be responsible for this. T.I does, after all, have a Nobel Laureate on their board, so surely the Swedish-based groups have some connections. Or maybe a retired member of one of the Scandinavian FA’s could lead the reform project if President Obama is too busy.

 

Deliberately I have excluded elements such as the Women’s World Cup and youth World Cups because they don’t generate the kind of revenue of the men’s event and a dramatic move which excludes countries from these tournaments would probably do more harm than good, particularly for women’s football.

 

A problem with this plan could be that in December 2011 T.I cut its ties with Fifa, so whether such a distinguished organisation would want to go back to the well again when they could be spending their time on ‘proper’ (non sport-related) activities would be a matter for them. However T.I themselves have posted five recommendations in their report but this plan goes further and attempts to incentivise nations with a penalty which would hit them hard financially and reputational-wise.

 

So there you go. A 14-team, not 40-team, World Cup. New Zealand in a group with Italy who they nearly beat in 2010. I’d be happy with that. But I’d prefer the real deal, like everyone would.

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Images via espnfc.com, b92.net, bbc.co.uk, timeout.com, telegraph.co.uk and stuff.co.nz