Year-ender: The A to Z of Sport in 2016

@hamishneal

Some notes on sport in 2016 as we let the alphabet guide our journey through a year which saw curses broken, corruption exposed and records shattered.

 

A Muhammad Ali. The legendary boxer passed away in Arizona at the age of 74. His funeral was carried live on television stations around the world and there were a host of re-runs of the brilliant ‘When We Were Kings’ documentary. Not just an athlete but a cultural icon and one who transcended his sport the Louisville native will be missed.

B Beauden Barrett. The Taranaki fly half has easily taken over the mantle from All Black legend Dan Carter as the world’s premier number 10 (and number 15 if he needs to play there) and claimed world player of the year honours in rugby union. England skipper Sarah Hunter was female player of the year and Australia’s Charlotte Caslick, thanks largely to gold in Rio, won the sevens female award.

 

C Chicago. Speaking of Barrett’s All Blacks they fell to defeat to the Irish rugby union side for the first time in history beaten at Soldier Field home of the NFL’s Chicago Bears. Chicago is also home to the All Blacks primary sponsor AIG. Steve Hansen’s side beat the Irish a fortnight later on their end-of-season tour but who remembers that after the historic 40-29 result two weeks earlier which was Ireland’s first win in 29 attempts?

 

D Dublin. The Irish Capital. Whilst a host of sporting curses were broken in 2016 the one that lives on into 2017 is the ‘Curse of 51.’ Mayo’s senior (gaelic) football side has been in eight finals since 1989 and has been in search of a win since the last of their three crowns which was won in 1951. The story goes a priest cursed the celebrating winners in ’51 after they upset a funeral ceremony. This year Mayo came back to nab a draw against Dublin in the final at Dublin’s Croke Park before losing the replay by a point.

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E Eagles. Crystal Palace has offered a way back into football for one-match England manager Sam Allardyce after he was sacked as national boss in the wake of the ‘Football for sale’ scandal. Allardyce had, within weeks, of obtaining the England role agreed to meeting football intermediaries to arrange speaking gigs for himself in Singapore and elsewhere. Amongst the secretly-recorded meetings he gave a few involved in football roasting but his advice around third-party agreements to people he’d only met showed a naivety someone of his experience simply should not have. But the threat of relegation was enough for Palace to see him as their saviour.

 

F Caitlin Foord. The Matildas winger and Sydney FC player claimed the Asian Football Confederations’ Player of the Year award in the female category (Omar Abdulrahman of the UAE won the men’s award) Foord, 22, was crucial in the Matildas’ run to the Rio quarter finals before they were beaten on penalties and is among the host of top Australian female footballer who split her time between the W-League and playing overseas.

 

G Laura Geitz, The Queensland Firebirds skipper has finished her elite netball career due to her pregnancy but did so in dramatic fashion as Queensland won the final Trans-Tasman netball title 69-67 in double extra-time beating the NSW Swifts. The tournament now splits into national tournaments which, I think, is disappointing but will allow a tribalism factor in each nation’s re-born domestic competitions.

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H Jarryd Hayne. The former Kangaroos rugby league international played an astonishing three elite level sports in 2016 playing an NFL game for the 49ers on the 3rd of January before he quit to then pursue a brief rugby sevens which didn’t end up in Olympic selection before his six games with the Gold Coast Titans in the NRL. He made a big mistake in the elimination final against Brisbane as the Titans exited this season. The new dad is contracted to play for another two seasons for the Titans.

 

I In Passing. Legendary boxer Muhammad Ali and (only months later) his friend and long-time photographer Howard Bingham, footballers Johan Cruyff, Carlos Alberto,  Cesare Maldini, English pioneer Sylvia Gore, England under 19s player Zoe Tynan, cricketers Martin Crowe of New Zealand, Pakistan’s ‘first star’ Hanif Mohammad plus Australian John Gleeson, South African Lindsay Tuckett, Australian Jennifer Jacobs, former aussie rules player and test cricketer Max Walker, aussie rules premiership winner Bill Barrot plus Laurie Dwyer, Paul Couch and Neville Crowe, swimming coach Forbes Carlile, three-time Olympian and Australian rower Sarah Tait, Irish rugby union player and Munster coach Anthony Foley, NBA Hall of Famer Nate Thurmond, New Zealand jockey Rebecca Black, British jockey Walter Swinburn, and American hoop Garrett Gomez who was a two-time Eclipse Award winner, broadcaster Craig Sager, journalist Bud Collins, cricket commentator Tony Cozier, and Australian sports broadcasting icon Norman May. Also legendary golfer Arnold Palmer, baseballer Jose Fernandez, basketball coach Pat Summitt, NHL legend Gordie Howe, rugby league’s Ron Massey, Brian Johnson, Ronan Costello Grant Cook and Chad Robinson, 22-year veteran of the Harlem Globetrotters Meadow Lemon, sailor Bob Oatley, controversial Australia sporting administrator Arthur Tunstall and Australia’s first female Paralympian Daphne Hilton.

 

J Kris Jenkins. The Villanova basketballer dropped a three-pointer as time ran out in the NCAA Men’s basketball decider which gave his side victory 77-74 over the top ranked North Carolina – the alma matter of Michael Jordan.

K Colin Kaepernick. At various times of the season Kaeprernick was the first string quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers but more prominently, now and in the future, Kaepernick will be known for his social justice work during the year which crystalised most noticeably with his refusal to stand for the USA anthem during pre-season and regular season games. This was to protest a range of social justice issues but the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement.

 

L Feyisa Lilesa. Second in the Rio 2016 men’s marathon the Ethopian crossed his arms above his head at the finishing line in protest at the plight of the Oromo people in his homeland. Sadly, students will write of Lilesa’s signal in future years but his sign was almost glazed over by broadcasters with one vacuous comment at the medal ceremony of ‘he enjoyed his moment on the podium’ almost as if it was deliberately not mentioning the historical protest so as to preserve the ‘perfect’ IOC product. In his most recent comments Lilesa said he is yet to return home. The 26 year-old has a wife and two children, aged three and five.

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M Liam Malone. The 22 year-old Kiwi from Nelson on New Zealand’s South Island won gold in the the 200 and 400 metre events in the T44 category at the Rio Paralympics to go with his silver in the 100 metres when he was beaten by Britain’s Jonnie Peacock. Significantly Malone’s victories both registered Paralympic record times – both had been held by Oscar Pistorious until that point.

N Keylor Navas. The Real Madrid goal-keeper might have thought he was bound for a bit of stick in the Spanish media after Gaku Shibasaki scored two goals past him for J-League side Kashima Antlers’s to go 2-1 up after 53 minutes in Yokohama’s International Stadium during the Club World Cup final. Eventually a hat-trick from Ronaldo from the 60th minute onwards gave the La Liga giants a 4-2 triumph in extra-time.

 

O Open Golf. Royal Troon saw Henrik Stenson win a maiden golf major title with a score of 20 under which matched major records. The Swede and Phil Mickelson raced away from the field in the fourth round with Mickelson’s 17 under final score 11 strokes better than third-place getter JB Holmes.

 

P Prince. The ‘In passing’ entry has been thoroughly depressing to collate in recent years and in 2016 the death of a host of celebrities was immense with rock star Prince amongst those. The Minneapolis-born was a huge supporter of his local teams from the WNBA side to the twin cities’ NFL team. The singer was honoured by the Vikings in their first home game of the NFL season in September following his death in April.

 

Q Carla Qualtrough. The two-time Paralympian, human rights lawayer and as of last year member of cabinet in Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Canadian government. Calgary native Qualtrough sits on the WADA board as a member of government organisations from The Americas. Given the upheaval the organisation has gone through and the relative lack of financial support from governments Qualtrough would seem a logical future leader of the organisation as CEO. Departing CEO David Howman of New Zealand, and also a lawyer, has said the organisation and national bodies need more funds to support anti-doping work.

 

R Anthony Rizzo. The Cubs first baseman nabbed the ball for the final out as the Chicago side roared back from 3-1 down in the best of seven series to claim the World Series in what was a gripping denouement to Major League Baseball and broke the Cubs’ curse but extended that of the Cleveland Indians. Rizzo’s pool room has a marquee item which will be hard to top in the annals of sports memorabilia.

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S Yuliya Stepanova. The Russian 800 metre runner was the athlete-whistleblower at the heart of the ongoing saga involving Russia’s state sponsored doping which has infected most Olympic and Paralympics games this decade and, in some cases, earlier. Journalist David Walsh, who investigated Lance Armstrong for years in writing Seven Deadly Sins is producing a book about Stepanova which will no doubt be a must read.

 

T Toowoomba. Whilst Nick Kyrgios has notoriety as the enfant terrible of Australian tennis the Queensland city of Toowoomba, or at least a tournament held there in 2013, was in the spotlight earlier this year. Former Australia touring pro Nick Lindahl was convicted of match-fixing in April in relation to a futures event he was competing in three years ago in Toowoomba. Lindahl was not the only player to fall foul of authorities of similar offences in 2016 but it was mainly unknowns.

 

U Upton Park. The iconic East London venue staged it’s final Premier League game, but not it’s final match, too much fanfare in May with All Whites international Winston Reid scoring with ten minutes to go against Manchester United for a 3-2 triumph. West Ham’s move to the London Stadium has not started well.

V Viking Clap. Iceland’s run to the quarter finals at Euro 2016 in France became synonymous for the Viking Clap but also bought to light their sensible investment in sport infrastructure and coaching development. Portugal won the tournament despite the exit of this year’s Ballon d’Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo 24 minutes into the final.

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W Tiger Woods. The now 40 year-old returned to the tour after a 15-month hiatus year playing in the Hero World Challenge invitational tournament in the Bahamas. The 14-time major winner finished 15th in the 18 player event but his second round 65 which was bogey-free and his tournament high figure of birdies show maybe the return is not pie in the sky, plus there was an array of ratings records.

 

X Xing Huina. The Chinese runner’s victory in 2004 breaks up the Ethiopian domination of the 10,000 metres at the Olympics with the African nation having won four of the last five editions of the race. This year Almaz Ayana produced a breathtaking effort when she posted a time of 29 minutes 17:45 which took 14 seconds off the 23 year-old record held by another Chinese runner in Wang Junxia. Assuming the time is legit it’s the best effort on the track at Rio at the Olympics.

 

Y Yorkshire. Test cricket has given us some thrilling finishes in 2016 from Mirpur to Melbourne but county cricket’s climax in September will take some topping in coming year. The Jason Gillespie-coaches Yorkshire entered the final day which a chance of claiming a third consecutive first-class title but Middlesex (who were Yorkshire’s opponents) and Somerset were also in with a chance. Middlesex, skippered by Kiwi James Franklin, ended up winning dramatic fashion with 28 balls remaining after Toby Roland-Jones claimed a late hat-trick. The Guardian’s Mike Selvey does the day better justice than I can in this piece.

 

Z Zentralstadion. In the year of ‘football romance’ the former Zentralstadion in Leipzig is home to RB Leipzig who currently occupy second spot in the German Bundesliga. For a brief period before the winter break this season the side, who in 2009 occupied a spot in Germany’s fifth tier, were top despite having only been promoted to the top tier for the first time after they came second in Bundesliga 2 last season. The Red Bull-owned franchised have managed to somehow usurp Bayern Munich as the most hated team in German football.

Images via punditarena.com, sbs.com.au, time.com, and nytimes.com, and coventrytelegraph.co.uk

 

A-League 1,000: The Hot Edition

@hamishneal

1,000-ish words, thoughts and musings on round 13 of the A-League which runs from Friday until Monday and includes a game in Geelong.

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Sydney FC v Brisbane Roar, Friday – Allianz Stadium  

It’s hard not to continue to be impressed by Sydney FC and they host third-placed Brisbane on Friday night with the Roar also playing well, and unbeaten in ten games. An Alex Brosque double highlighted the Sky Blues’ 4-0 win over Adelaide on the same weekend Brisbane got the lead but eventually drew at home to the Wanderers. Earlier this season these sides played out a 1-1 draw with cracking strikes to Josh Brilliante for Sydney FC and Thomas Kristensen for John Aloisi’s side back when Suncorp Stadium was in good order which showed how evenly matched this pair are. Although it’s worth noting the Roar are unbeaten in their last four games against Sydney FC.

 

Big game for: Early goals. Both goals in the last game between the two sides came in the first half

 

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Brisbane’s set piece defending getting back on track as the goal they conceded against the Wanderers was the first they have conceded all season.

 

Central Coast Mariners v Melbourne Sheep Cow Whale Ships, Saturday – Central Coast Stadium

It was only a first A-League goal for Trent Buhagiar which gave travelling Mariners fans much to cheer about on Wednesday night in Melbourne and they now face the other Melbourne outfit after that 4-1 defeat to the Victory. For the visitor’s they will be missing serial diver/general pest Fernando Brandan after he was sanctioned for his scuffle with Dino Djulbic in Tuesday night’s draw with Perth and John van’t Schip has probably given the rest of the team a few days off and just been drilling Bruno Fornaroli on penalty kicks after Liam Reddy kept two of his spot kicks out during the week.

 

Big game for: An effort. With rain and a top of 31 degrees forecast for Saturday Paul Okon’s team will need to display a strong effort, even if they don’t win, for fans to show up again throughout the summer. However given the Mariners conceded five goals the last time this Melbourne side came to Gosford the signs are not good.

 

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Seeing the Victorian tactics. On occasions in the Perth game Fornaroli was tracking back from attack and even Tim Cahill did some key defensive work. Tim Cahill to start at left back here?

 

Wellington Phoenix v Adelaide United, Sunday – Westpac Stadium

These two sides have combined for only four wins this season and Adelaide’s one triumph was in round nine against Wellington. Back at Westpac Stadium for the first time since November 5 the Nix will take heart from the fact they did hit the lead in Newcastle twice and are after an unbeaten month of football however, the Jets did dominate possession which Guillmero Amor’s side have the capability to do. With Kosta Barbarouses now in scoring form Adelaide that’s useful for the home side. It’s worth noting Adelaide were not without chances against Sydney when they were beaten 4-0 but lacked efficiency in their combinations – a problem for both sides.

 

Big game for: Henrique. The championship winner scored twice in the first half when Adelaide beat the Phoenix in early December so he’ll be looking to continue the run.

 

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Kosta Barbarouses will have noticed Filip Holosko made plenty of ground down the flanks in beating Adelaide so the All White speedster will be looking for space on the wing here.

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Western Sydney Wanderers v Perth Glory, Tuesday – ANZ Stadium

After their pulsating draw on Tuesday fifth-placed Perth play again in the east of Australia meeting a Wanderers outfit who sit on the same points (13) but behind the Glory on goal difference by a goal (NB. Newcastle in fourth are also on 13 points) The Wanderers have had plenty of time to recover for this game and despite Kerem Bulut’s departure are the better placed of the two sides here given Perth played in hot weather during the week, have Djulbic banned and a seemingly unhappy striker in the form of Adam Taggart. Tony Popovic’s team have an easy home game here considering those circumstances.

 

Big game for: Red cards. Western Sydney have racked up a high foul count in recent weeks (17 last weekend) and given Perth got lucky with Marc Warren in Melbourne they will probably get unlucky here.

 

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: A win for either side. If this game is a draw, Newcastle are beaten on Monday night plus both Brisbane and Melbourne’s light blues win the gap between fourth and fifth in the competition with stretch to eight points. How about that salary cap eh?

 

Melbourne Victory v Newcastle Jets, Monday – Simonds Stadium

With nine goals in their last three games and not having to travel far for both games in the holiday period Kevin Muscat’s outfit are in a great position for this fixture. Newcastle showed great resolve to come back and nab a draw against Wellington and have managed to score in every game they have played in December bar when Sydney beat them. However in November the Victory beat Mark Jones’ team 2-0 in Melbourne.

 

Big game for: Marco Rojas. Such was the Victory’s dominance over the Mariners the Kiwi Messi was withdrawn with 27 minutes remaining on Wednesday night which is good for Muscat in planning the next few week’s line-ups but could be bad news for Mark Jones’ team here.

 

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Hopefully Newcastle continue to try to get high and wide in this game. They have nothing to lose and are an entertaining side to watch when they remain positive playing out from the back with speed and precision.

 

The betting bit – One serious one not

In position for a result away from home TBB was foiled again. Here we will go for Tim Cahill’s head to nod his team home, and probably more, ($1.50) against the Mariners into a comedy ‘still waiting for ADP to show up’ banner in Gosford on Saturday night.

 

Record: 3/12

Profit: -$67.30 (ten units per investment)

Images via stuff.co.nz and abc.net.au

 

 

 

A-League 1,000: The Holiday Edition

@hamishneal

1,000-ish words, thoughts and musings on round 12 of the A-League which runs from Friday until Wednesday next week with Christmas Eve and Christmas Day not featuring a game in that period.

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Brisbane Roar v Western Sydney Wanderers, Friday – Suncorp Stadium  

These two sides drew last month in Sydney in a fixture which saw Jumpei Kusukami score in the second stanza to cancel out Jamie Maclaren’s first half penalty for the Roar. John Aloisi’s side are unbeaten in nine games but, interestingly, have scored as many goals (15) as the seventh-placed Wanderers this season. Tony Popovic’s side will rue not going 3-1 up in Auckland after Wellington ‘keeper Glen Moss saved the penalty attempt from Dimas but it was again a game in which the red and blacks were caught out but letting an opposition side make too much ground wide on the counter-attack.

 

Big game for: Scoring first. For all the frustrations of not turning draws into wins the Wanderers now have the longest active streak in the A-League (19 games) when they score first that they go one to not lose the game. Melbourne City at 22 games held the record until their Derby defeat.

 

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: More from Thomas Broich – the renaissance. The Brisbane veteran produced a pinpoint cross for Brisbane’s second goal as they won in Gosford on Sunday.

 

Newcastle Jets v Wellington Phoenix, Monday – McDonald Jones Stadium

The Phoenix beat the Jets in Wellington last month courtesy of two goals from Roy Krishna but the Jets, under the stewardship of Scott Miller, beat Wellington twice in Newcastle last season. Significantly in the second of those games Morten Nordstrand, who netted the winner on Friday night, scored twice so he likes playing the Phoenix and is in form. However for Wellington having Gui Finkler playing in role which allows him to drift wider if he sees fit seems to have benefitted them in recent weeks since Ernie Merrick left the club.

 

Big game for: Hamish Watson. The former Hawkes’ Bay United forward would have been happy with his starting spot last weekend but less so when it was announced Shane Smeltz, a Johnny Warren Medal winner, was returning to the club. Watson has two more games until Smeltz is eligible to play to prove he deserves to retain his starting spot.

 

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Recruitment business. Since the Jets didn’t land Smeltz and Mark Bridge appears out of their price-range where do the Jets go in recruiting another forward?

 

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

In Sydney last month Graham Arnold’s side and Adelaide played out a 0-0 draw before the Reds won their subsequent game only to then conceded six goals in losing their next two matches. In the three games the Sky Blues have played since that encounter they have won twice and picked up a draw scoring seven goals in the process. Barring the entry of Nikola Mileusinic in stoppage time it would seem Guillermo Amor has lost some faith in his substitutes with only Ryan Kitto given any major time when he came on with 12 minutes to go. I guess you can’t blame he after he used two subs (Cirio and Kitto) the week prior in a game they got thrashed 4-0 in.

 

Big game for: Paying attention. Amor will be unhappy his side lacked the will or wherewithal to defend the late fast breaks from the Jets which cost them the game in Newcastle. Losing the ball on attack and persistent attempts at a high offside line did not work in the end.

 

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Continuing to see sensible off-field management. With Arnold having inked an extended deal to stay as coach of the inaugural A-League winners it seems odd that, for the first time ever, a Sydney FC coach is secure in their job in the A-League. Only took the harbour city franchise 12 seasons to get to this position.

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Melbourne Sheep Cow Whale Ships v Perth Glory, Tuesday – AAMI Park

In the Melbourne Derby Tim Cahill scored a goal but courted controversy  the following day when he revealed he breached integrity regulations. Given his skipper Bruno Fornaroli swore when getting a trophy recently it’s another ‘please explain’ form FFA HQ for the City Football Group-owned club. Plenty for Perth hinges on how much Diego Castro plays but Kenny Lowe’s team will not be happy with drama around Rhys Williams’ future at the club during the week. However they did win a great contest 3-2 between the two sides in round three.

 

Big game for: Goal droughts. As  pointed out by Greg Prichard on The World Game website Bruno Fornaroli with no goals from open play in six weeks is officially on a goal-scoring drought

 

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: The level of irony in AAMI Park hosting the W-League’s TV match of the round this weekend after this in Gosford for Canberra United’s players is high. Clubs can’t be held accountable for this. The FFA shouldn’t schedule games at facilities which can’t match the standard for the men’s games (ie. more than two dressing rooms.) I’m not sure what is worse. Sub-standard ‘changing rooms’ or 2:30pm kick-offs in summer.

 

Melbourne Victory v Central Coast Mariners, Wednesday – AAMI Park

The ‘Kings of Melbourne’ after they won the Derby face a side they beat 2-0 last time they played so go in heavy favourites. Mitch Austin was a Mariner the last time these sides met in Victoria and he played a key role in a thrilling 3-3 encounter in Geelong before switching to the Victory in the off-season in a move which saw Connor Pain go the other way. Second-placed Melbourne are 11 points above Paul Okon’s side and Besart Berisha likes at scoring this time of year.

 

Big game for: Momentum, or steaming the tide. The Mariners start a horror draw which sees them play them play three of the top four teams between now and January 8 with only one of those games at home.

 

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Seeing the proper records. I thought split A-League records which fail to mention National Soccer League marks were a thing of the past? Thanks goodness for people like Andy Howe who provide us with the proper records including this corker comparing Besart Berisha’s run to 90 goals with some of the NSL’s top goal-scorers.

 

The betting bit – One serious one not

After two defeats in Newcastle recently and with the home side playing well Wellington ($3.00) are rightly outsiders but with competition for spots now on for the visitor’s with a new recruit and players coming back from injuries it’s the Phoenix here.

 

Record: 3/11

Profit: -$57.30 (ten units per investment)

 

Images via fourfourtwo.com.au

 

 

 

A-League 1,000: The Facts Edition

@hamishneal

1,000-ish words, thoughts and musings on round eleven of the A-League which sees the Phoenix stage a home game in Auckland as the first of three fixtures on Saturday.

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Newcastle Jets v Adelaide United, Friday – McDonald Jones Stadium 

Aiming for back-to-back wins, something they only achieved twice last season, the Jets return home after a deserved win in Perth. Mark Jones is slowing getting key players back with Andrew Nabbout and Daniel Mullen key in Perth. To score twice in the first half having conceded early shows a team with an ability to ignore misfortune and stick to their plan. When Guillermo Amor’s side travelled to Newcastle in round one they were lucky to leave with a point as Andrew Hoole should have secured the win for the home side.

 

Big game for: Nigel Boogaard. The Jets skipper wasn’t required off the bench on Saturday night but may play a key role here after another week back at training.

 

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Jesse Makarounas possibly in the goals again. The former Victory player scored, albeit due to a defensive mix-up, when these sides met in round one. He will want to be in the mix again.

 

Wellington Phoenix v Western Sydney Wanderers, Saturday – Mt Smart Stadium

Western Sydney may well be glad to be out of the country for a few days having suffered a second 3-0 defeat at the hands of the Victory last weekend. They produced plenty of chances at ANZ Stadium but lacked quality in the final third. Wellington won handily in Hamilton over the Mariners last weekend with off-season recruit Kosta Barbarouses key in helping deliver their first goal and another ex-Victory player Vince Lia scoring a pearler. Despite the Wanderers winning only twice this season they do still remain sixth and did beat the ‘Nix during the final round of last season 2-0 in Wellington with Brendon Santalab netting twice. So they have recent form in New Zealand.

 

Big game for: The next Phoenix coach. With the club looking to make a decision before Christmas about a replacement this could the final game in which Chris Greenacre and Des Buckingham are the interim bosses. Maybe one of them will end up dropping the interim tag?

 

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Wellington won in Auckland last season in farcical circumstances with a poor pitch and jersey mix-up making up the day when they beat the Victory at QBE Stadium. Hopefully everything is better across town at the home of NRL side the Warriors on Saturday.

  

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

The home side won the first #melbderby of the term in spectacular fashion but Kevin Muscat’s outfit have won as many games, five, as their opponents on Saturday night despite having played one less match. John van’t Schip’s side are a point ahead of their Victorian capital rivals and have had another week of dealing with controversy after one of their matches with Fernando Brandan reprising his role as this season’s pantomime villain (Watch out Brandan! He’s behind you!)

 

Big game for: Marco Rojas. Not needed last week in the end the Kiwi maestro trained earlier this week and should return for the big game after his picked up a hamstring injury earlier this month.

 

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Using facts. Luke Brattan did his best to contribute to 2016’s buzz-word of post-truth when he bemoaned Sydney FC breaking up play during the light blues draw in Sydney. Melbourne’s second team committed 21 fouls on Friday, the most of any A-League side on the weekend.

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Perth Glory v Sydney FC, Saturday – nib Stadium

Andy Keogh’s goals, seven, are joint second top for the campaign‘s Golden Boot award and on track for another run at that crown but Perth are anything but overly impressive as a team hanging onto fifth spot with the Mariners (ninth on the ladder) only three points behind them. Kenny Lowe’s team was beaten 4-1 by Sydney FC last month but two goals in the last ten minutes did somewhat blow out that score. Matt Simon misses the trip west after the shenanigans in Sydney last weekend.

 

Big game for: Liam Reddy. The former Sydney FC shot-stopper played a key role in ensuring Perth weren’t beaten by more last weekend with 11 saves against Newcastle. But…

 

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Goals baby! Perth have conceded 19 goals (joint second-most) and Sydney lead the league in finding the net with 21 goals in ten games. So it’s a busy day again for Reddy in prospect.

 

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

After moving into the top six following round nine the Mariners lost to Wellington in Hamilton and fell back to second-last when they simply lacked any quality link-up play and were profligate on the rare occasions they had with only six shots on goal. Paul Okon will be hoping he can get Mickael Taveres, Nick Montgomery and Jacques Faty all back in his side together but that is not likely to happen until at least January so the home side will have a tough few weeks ahead, more so than normal. Brisbane recruit Thomas Kristensen has been a great addition to the club and he will look to add to his four goals since he joined the club.

 

Big game for: Jamie Young. The back-up Roar ‘keeper nabbed a clean sheet in his first start of the season coming in for the injured Michael Theo. Young only needs to repeat the dose to go joint-second on that tally for the competition this season. Sydney FC’s Danny Vukovic with six clean sheets is four ahead of a clutch of four players all currently on two clean sheets.

 

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Connor Pain not cutting back in. The former Melbourne forward was easy to pick up for the Phoenix defence when, in the first half in particular, he was consistently trying to cut back in on the Phoenix defence. Variety creates chances and execution scores the goals. At the moment the Mariners have little of both.

 

The betting bit – One serious one not

A relatively settled strong home team is always favoured at this time of the year as players eye a busy holiday scheduled on and off the park so Wellington ($2.60) as outsiders here can edge the Wanderers to chalk up another ‘home’ win away from Westpac Stadium for the year. In Melbourne I expect to see a crying Tim Cahill banner in the manner of the ‘crying Jordan’ meme after this week’s promotional exploits.

 

Record: 3/10

Profit: -$47.30 (ten units per investment)

Images via thewordgame.sbs.com.au and fourfourtwo.com.au

 

 

 

A-League: When Harry met the Mariners… or not

@hamishneal

Having eked out nine points from nine games to start their A-League campaign the Central Coast Mariners are better placed than this time last season which saw them on five points entering week ten before eventually finishing well adrift of the other nine sides on 13 points with only three wins all campaign.

 

New coach Paul Okon has got off to a reasonable start in his first senior club management role and several of the side’s draws could have been wins such has been the nature of their games.

 

Given the various competitive disadvantage the Mariners operate with (such as having no big name marquees) it’s not a surprise that striker Roy O’Donovan has called for more recruits and this is where the club’s wider network comes into play. However it seems the club’s most well-known off-field name is missing in action with one-time England coach aspirant and football consultant Harry Redknapp not speaking much about the great work he is doing at the club when given the chance recently.

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - Sunderland v Queens Park Rangers - Stadium of Light

Back in April when he was appointed to the role Mariners owner Mike Charlesworth said of Redknapp, in part “In the interest of assisting our coaches and staff, assisting the Mariners commercially and help to put them on the global map we’ve just made one of our biggest signings and that’s Harry himself joining the Mariners on a part time basis.

 

“Just like (then vice-chairman) Peter Storrie, Harry will be visiting the Coast on at least two occasions during the season and hopefully more during the off season and I think this great news and another huge step forward in the club’s development,” Charlesworth concluded.

 

However Redknapp (when speaking on BBC Radio 5 Live in late October) fluffed his lines somewhat when given the opportunity to promote the 2012/13 A-League championship winners and outline what exactly he has done since been appointed as a football consultant eight months ago.

 

When questioned by host Danny Baker, on what was the most recent episode of The Danny Baker Show, about his current roles as a consultant at the Mariners and a non-league team local to Redknapp. The exchange went as follows. (NB: I’ve cleaned up Redknapp’s stumbles before he gets to certain points.)

 

Baker: “What is this that you do with Wimborne Town and Central Coast Mariners?”

 

Redknapp: “Wimborne is not far from where I live, I live in Poole and Wimborne is a little local club up the road and they were struggling and the people who took over the club asked me if I would (help).

 

“So I said if I can help in any way (I would) ‘I’m busy, I’m not going to be coming to the games or going that often but I sort of stuck my name out.

 

“If I can help them in anyway I do. It’s a good little set-up”.

 

No mention of the Mariners.

It should be noted that the style of program Redknapp was on (when he was promoting a book) is an irreverent light entertainment show notionally about sport and that he wasn’t followed up on about his apparent air-brushing of his role with the A-League side.

 

The ‘good little set-up’ he refers to in Wimborne currently reside in Division One of the Southern League Division which forms part of the eighth tier of the football pyramid in England. The Mapgies are the first ever club from their county of Dorset to win a Wembley decider having triumphed in the FA Vase final in 91-92. Similar to the Mariners the club has had recent financial issues with Redknapp coming on as a director at the club since January when it was revealed the club was in danger of folding over debts worth £110,000

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Back to Australia, Redknapp was appointed largely due to his relationship with Storrie (who recently left the club) and he famously said he wasn’t keen on travelling to Australia that much, if at all, in his role which contradicted some of Charlesworth’s comments. Whilst getting the name wrong of the club (a forgivable error as he is from the south coast of England) Redknapp wasn’t that specific about his role and he added to the intrigue but telling Baker nothing about his relationship with the Mariners.

 

Given Tony Walmsley was axed as the coach since Redknapp’s appointment perhaps Charlesworth hasn’t followed up with his fellow Englishman much and is leaving former Young Socceroos coach Okon to make his own mark

 

Also, if Redknapp wasn’t going to travel the 12 kilometres or so from Poole to Wimborne very often (despite the fact he has other commitments) I wonder if he even travelled to other part sof the UK to meet with Charlesworth.

 

If he has, how often has to spoken to Okon? Does he have an opinion on the Mariners young brigade such as Liam Rose and the recently re-signed Trent Buhagiar? Can he find a guest player to meet O’Donovan’s request?

 

Maybe the one-time Jordan interim coach will come up with a surprising guest player in the coming weeks, ala. Charlesworth’s recruitment of Luis Garcia last season, but his recent comments, or lack thereof don’t inspire confidence.

 

Which does leave the question… when will Harry meet the Mariners? Or will Mariners fans need to buy a plane ticket to catch him at Wimborne’s home ground The Cuthbury?

 

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Images via: zimbio.com, sportsmole.co.uk and hoppingaroundhampshire.blogspot.com.au

A-League 1,000: The Ernie Edition

@hamishneal

1,000-ish words, thoughts and musings on round ten which includes two games at ANZ Stadium and also sees the A-League roadshow head to Hamilton on New Zealand’s North Island.

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Sydney FC v Melbourne Sheep Cow Whale Ships, Friday – ANZ Stadium  

It was mind games central in Newcastle on Sunday as Graham Arnold freshened his side after their FFA Cup Final defeat. This included Filip Holosko missing out on the squad altogether (he’s named to return here) whilst for the visitor’s to Sydney on Friday night they made six changes last weekend prior to their draw with Brisbane Roar which had just the whiff of controversy about it. Having beaten Sydney FC in the FFA Cup decider the Victorians somewhat got lucky against the Roar after Jade North took a dive. Hopefully this weekend goes by without these sort of antics. Last season when the two sides met in Sydney (in round one) it was a 1-1 draw and the visitor’s also drew 1-1 recently in Sydney when they played the Wanderers in round seven.

 

Big game for: Backing up. Who impressed John van’t Schip enough of the fringe first-teamers in Melbourne to earn a repeat start this weekend? Neil Kilkenny is also back from suspension.

 

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Scoring in a big game at the closest thing Australian football has to a national stadium will mark the report card as A + for Tim Cahill’s 2016 in Australian domestic football. To go with a Melbourne Derby goal, Cup win and with his team sitting second in the competition he can’t have done much more.

 

Wellington Phoenix v Central Coast Mariners, Saturday – FMG Stadium

The magical mystery tour of venues for these two sides continues in Hamilton and joins, Nelson, Canberra, and Sydney as one of four cities the two sides have played in during the pre-season and opening months of the competition. The Phoenix were abject at times against Adelaide and Ernie Merrick had quit as coach by early afternoon on Monday. This leaves former Nix forward Chris Greenacre and ex Oxford United boss Des Buckingham in charge on an interim basis as the Nix face a Mariners side who, despite getting beaten by three goals, were not terrible against the Wanderers. Paul Okon’s side could easily have been level at the interval if Roy O’Donovan and then Adam Berry were more clinical after the Wanderers hit the lead 2-1 but such was the lack of finishing prowess even the sending off of Wanderers ‘keeper Jerrad Tyson meant the man advantage for a period wasn’t enough for the home side. The Phoenix won last month when these sides played in the ACT.

 

Big game for: Ankle specialists. Mickael Taveres has left Australia to get treatment in Europe for his ankle injury in a slight on local specialists, especially as the Mariners new Centre of Excellence complex has a medical centre.

 

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Seeing who take the Wellington penalties. Whilst Roy Krishna is the known striker in the team marquee striker Kosta Barbarouses would seem in need of a confidence boost goals-wise. Given Krishna has been underwhelming in recent weeks could the former Melbourne attacker be a better option from the penalty spot for Wellington’s interim bosses?

  

Western Sydney Wanderers v Melbourne Victory, Saturday – ANZ Stadium

Sixth hosts third in the A-League ladder with the away side a chance to be second on Saturday night. Melbourne beat the Wanderers comprehensively in round six but Kevin Muscat’s side will be without Marco Rojas here due to a hamstring injury. However the Kiwi international was also missing from that fixture in November in which German Maxi Beister found the net on his A-League debut and the Wanderers are yet to keep a clean sheet this campaign.

 

Big game for: Nico Martinez. If the Wanderers are to improve on their spot the playmaker needs to step up every week. His attack was terrific in Gosford but playing Melbourne in a fixture of this magnitude is the next tier up in the competition.

 

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Who wins the number nine lotto? Lachlan Scott get the start over Brendan Santalab against the Mariners which would seem a clear indication Tony Popovic thinks the striker can’t play full games. Oh and Kerem Bulut has been named in the squad this weekend.

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Perth Glory v Newcastle Jets, Saturday – nib Stadium

Mark Jones got an early Christmas present with Newcastle skipper Nigel Boogaard, Daniel Mullen and Andrew Nabbout all available for the trip to Western Australia. Speaking of injuries Adam Taggart has been limited in recent weeks due to a calf concern featuring for only 11 minutes when the Glory got a lucky 1-1 draw in Melbourne last weekend against a wasteful Victory outfit. Josh Risdon is due to return for Kenny Lowe’s team.

 

Big game for: Perth have got a good draw facing the Jets here before Sydney FC visit the west. Lowe’s team would want at least four points from the next fortnight or they may struggle to maintain fifth spot.

 

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Much attention this week has been on attacking recruiting with former Jet Mark Bridge and ex All White Shane Smeltz possibly bound for the Hunter. For that to happen the Jets need to have someone leave and Tasmanian Andy Brennan may be given a chance to look elsewhere.

 

Brisbane Roar v Adelaide United, Sunday – Suncorp Stadium

Following the public dust-up between himself and his opposing coach last weekend, John van’t Schip, John Aloisi is back at home with his Brisbane Roar side looking to confirm their spot, at least in the top four. The Roar still have Brett Holman out but the visitor’s have up and down team news with Isaias suspended by Cirio returning. The Roar are unbeaten at home this season and Adelaide’s win over Wellington means they have a chance to get their mojo back.

 

Big game for: Winning again in Queensland. Adelaide won in January last season 4-1. Yes it’s a different team but some key players have recent good memories at the venue.

 

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Do the Aloisi duo stay together? One of the surprising names linked to the now vacant Phoenix gig is Ross Aloisi, the current number two to his brother in Brisbane. Is this his last home game on staff?

 

The betting bit – One serious one not

Perth ($1.70) simply have too good a squad to not start at least winning at home consistently. This will be followed by an ‘Our City’ Tifo or similar at ANZ Stadium on Friday night laying down the fan challenge for Saturday night’s game there.

 

Record: 3/9

Profit: -$37.30 (ten units per investment)

Images via fourfourtwo.com.au and abc.net.au

 

Golf Capital – Matsuyama continues to win, Woods goes low on Friday

@hamishneal

A collection of golf news, including a look at Tiger Woods’ return, plus my thoughts for the weekend’s big tournament – the Hong Kong Open.

 

Opening drive:

 

Ohio native Harold Varner III won for the first time in 85 professional starts as South African Brandon Stone won for the second time in 2016 at the Leopard Creek Country Club in Malelane but both those victories faded into the background with the return of Tiger Woods who finished 15th in the Hero World Challenge won by Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama.

 

40 year-old Woods finished 14 shots behind winner Matsuyama (who, with four wins in his last five individual starts, should be the most talked about golfer on the planet) but it was his second round 65 which gave golf fans, and those who take a casual interest in the game, hope that the tournament comeback wasn’t a waste of time. Let’s put to bed the notion that the event, despite the fact it was linked to Woods’ charity was ‘Mickey Mouse’ as has been mentioned in some outlets. Yes Woods gets in on a sponsors’ exemption (so to speak) but the event in the Bahamas was full of top-liners and was worth over USD 1 million in prizemoney (by way of example most PGA Tour events are worth in the range of (USD 1 million to USD 1.6 million.) Was it the low end of the scale prizemoney-wise? Yes. But was it Mickey Mouse? No.

 

Woods displayed some great iron play at times but he needed it after several woeful tee shots, although he was not alone in taking trips to the fairway bunkers. Even the winner Matsuyama did so. Woods notched 24 birdies so his good was good (including a near hole-in-one on the Friday) but his bad cost him a top ten finish. The 14-time major winner has yet to announce his early 2017 schedule but one can assume it will only feature a handful or tournaments, my guess is five at the most, before the Masters. His recovery will be key and it’s unlikely he plays back to back tournaments.

 

On the Gold Coast Varner overhauled Andrew Dodt, who entered Sunday with a two-stroke lead, to eventually win by two from Dodt with former winner Adam Scott in third. The American’s third round of 67 kept him well in contention as he attempted to improve on his playoff defeat here last year saw and then matched his opening round of 65 to close with a seven under round. Varner’s finish in what was the last Australasian PGA Tour event means two Americans have won European/Australasian co-sanctioned events this season after Brandt Snedeker won in Fiji. This goes with Jordan Spieth’s Australian Open triumph (although that tournament is not linked with the ET.)

 

In South Africa Stone was put under pressure when major winner Charl Schwartzel started well enough on Sunday to join him atop the leaderboard before his round of 67 (which included seven birdies) saw him eventually win by a commanding seven strokes from countryman Richard Sterne as Schwartzel slipped down the leaderboard to finish T4.

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Player performance notes:

Players I’m interested in to see how they go with notes that interest me related to capital investment if that’s your thing. At the time of writing Justin Rose, the defending champion, is due to feature in the Hong Kong Open but his effectiveness after pulling out during the Hero World Challenge with a back injury must be queried. The HK Open will be staged at the Hong Kong Golf Club in Fanling and is co-sanctioned with the Asian Tour.

 

20 and under: Patrick Reed. Reed closed with a four under round to claim a top 10 spot in the Bahamas. The world number eight won the Barclays in August.

 

20 to 50: Scott Hend. A winner this year on the ET Hend also lost a playoff in the European Masters which is a strong event when comparing it to this tournament at the end of the year. Hend didn’t have a great summer in Australia based on his overall 2016 form including finishing T10 (13 shots behind Varner) last weekend.

 

20 to 50: Nacho Elvira. A winner three times on the Challenge Tour (the European Tour’s second-tier) this year. The Spaniard opened with a round of 66 when he played here in 2014 before falling away somewhat but is more consistent nowadays.

 

50 to 100: Thomas Detry. The Belgian, 23, did well in South Africa last weekend to finish third and has rocketed up the rankings to 195 after starting the year well outside the top 1000.

 

50 to 100: Soomin Lee. The Korean shot a final round 64 to finish T3 behind Rose last year and with Rose possibly missing he has a bigger chance.

 

100 to 200: Sam Brazel. The Lismore native had his best year on the Asian Tour in 2015 and finished T18 here. Brazel was ten shots off the lead but fired consistent rounds of 69-67-68-69 and his T15 at the Australian PGA after a poor opening round of 75 was meritorious.

 

Greens in regulation:

The USA tour flips formats with a teams event, the Franklin Templeton Shootout, taking place in Naples Florida at a course which has met with success for overseas players recently. Tiburon Golf Club, home to the PGA Tour’s final event of 2016, staged the LPGA denouement which saw a win in the tournament to England’s Charley Hull whilst Thailand’s Ariya Jutanugarn won the overall season crown. This is possibly good news for England’s Luke Donald and his partner Russell Knox in the two-person 12-team event supported by international diplomat agent Greg Norman. An intriguing pairing is Bryson DeChambeau and Lexi Thompson (who is currently number five in the women’s game.) Speaking of the women’s tour the Ladies European Tour heads to the middle east for the Dubai Ladies Masters where Shanshan Feng is the defending champion however the comparatively low profile event for the women’s tours came into focus in recent days with American Paige Spiranac speaking out against cyber-bullying. Spiranic was responding to a wave of criticism last year when she was invited before a poor opening two rounds. However since then her playing pedigree has improved securing a win on the lower-tier Cactus Tour in the USA.

 

Tap in:

With the PGA and European tour events for 2016 finishing this weekend and seeing the LPGA recently finished it’s qualifying school for 2017 it’s time for Golf Capital to take a few weeks off. Like Tiger Woods we need to rest before a big April in 2017. In the meantime if you are at a loose end and have access to Foxtel (or are good at using search engines) over the holiday period it’s worth having a look at the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary ‘Hit it Hard’ which focuses on two-time major winner John Daly. The popular American is the first golfer to feature in the ESPN series with not even Woods, Jack Nicklaus or Arnold Palmer (despite their transcendent characteristics and careers) having got a run in the format yet. Despite his support for ‘Realtor in Chief’ Donald Trump Daly is an interesting and engaging in the documentary which is worth your time.

Image via boston.com