A-League 1,000: The Coffs Edition

@hamishneal

1,000-ish words, thoughts and musings on round 17 of the A-League which sees the Jets stage a home game in Coffs Harbour and finishes in Adelaide on Sunday evening.

 sydneygoaljan2017thecourier

Melbourne Victory v Sydney FC, Thursday – Etihad Stadium

The irresistible force of Sydney FC meets the immovable object, Melbourne Victory I mean not Etihad Stadium, this Thursday as first plays second. Both sides have scored 36 goals in the league this season but the Sky Blues have conceded only seven and the home side 21. Kevin Muscat’s team fell for the second time in five days when beaten in Perth having lost in Wellington during the week and those results doubled their losses this season, but was it a blip? David Carney scored twice when Graham Arnold’s men won 2-1 in Sydney in November after Melbourne lead 1-0 at the break. Sydney’s defence will have another reshuffle with Josh Brilliante likely to fill in at right back with Ryhan Grant suspended. Victory are getting players back from suspension with Jason Geria and Fahid Ben Khalfallah free to play after sitting out the loss in Perth.

 

Big game for: Exciting contests. Sydney’s matches have been somewhat drab in recent weeks so let’s hope for an end-to-end game here. Might even see some penalty heroics from Danny Vukovic, but will Berisha miss again? 

 

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Double figure goals. Sydney are unbeaten but it’s not with dominant goal-scorers with Alex Brosque, nine goals, the team’s leading scorer four goals behind Melbourne’s Besart Berisha. Somewhere along the line Sydney will need someone to go on a scoring run to keep their record up this season.

 

Newcastle Jets v Melbourne Sheep Cow Whale Ships, Friday – Coffs International Stadium

The weather forecast isn’t great but hopefully a good contest is in store as the A-League heads to Coffs Harbour for the first time. Newcastle will welcome back Morten Nordstrand and, possibly, Wayne Brown so they are far better shape depth-wise compared to the eleven that started the 2-0 loss to the Wanderers. The visitors got lucky to a degree when the Mariners ended the game with ten players after Roy O’Donovan was marched 23 minutes into the game in Gosford and two goals to Tim Cahill proved decisive whilst Newcastle lacked any attacking zip at home. When the Jets and the light blues met in November in the Victorian capital the home side won 2-1 but weren’t overly impressive.

 

Big game for: Goals steaks. The defeat at Campbelltown snapped a six-game streak in which the Jets had scored at least two goals in each match, a run dating back to December 10. With key attackers returning and the visitor’s having logged only one clean sheet all season it’s good news for the Jets.  

 

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Seeing how Michael Valkanis goes for the rest of the season. Just over a month after Wellington appointed the Des Buckingham/Chris Greenacre duo the former Adelaide assistant has, rightly, been given a chance to prove his value in the top role until the end of the campaign.

 

Central Coast Mariners v Perth Glory, Saturday – Central Coast Stadium

With Roy O’Donovan absent the Mariners young attackers will be under pressure here but they hold an impressive record against Perth when playing in Gosford losing only once in 18 league fixtures. This season they have netted five times against Kenny Lowe’s team with a 3-3 draw to open the season and 2-0 win in November. Paul Okon’s side have lacked some cutting edge in front of goal recently but one or two more sharp finishes coupled with another clean sheet for the home side could see them take maximum points. However former Mariner Liam Reddy added to his saved penalty record with his third stop last weekend, but Melbourne did score one after that. His opposite Paul Izzo has had to make 62 stops, the most in the competition, this campaign.

 

Big game for: The kids. The Mariners just missed out on hosting the National Youth League decider after losing 3-0 to Sydney FC in their crucial Conference B game. The Baby Sky Blues will now play Conference A winners with Melbourne’s light blues looking to claim a second title for the club this season. The game is Saturday afternoon in Gosford before the A-League fixture.

 

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Mariners recruiting. Coach Okon has got a win recruiting wise with the club’s skipper Nick Montgomery to take out Australian citizenship this week. The move means the Leeds-born 35-year-old now isn’t considered as taking up one of the five visa spots for foreign players. Okon may wish to plug some holes if he can do some quick overseas recruitment having shifted on some players earlier this month.

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Brisbane Roar v Western Sydney Wanderers, Saturday – Suncorp Stadium

The vexed situation about the use of Jamie Maclaren, and the striker’s future at the club, took another fun twist for Roar fans on Saturday when he popped home the winner late in the game in Wellington. Maclaren is still not in the top eleven for John Aloisi apparently but it’s elsewhere Aloisi is forced to make changes with Corey Brown banned for accumulated yellow cards. The left-back is likely to be replaced by Daniel Bowles but don’t discount Connor O’Toole getting an A-League debut whilst the Wanderer after their win in Campbelltown over Newcastle will look to improve on the 1-1 draw the two sides played out last month in Brisbane when Dimas netted an equaliser 21 minutes from time after Brisbane went ahead when Brown scored seven minutes after the break.

 

Big game for: The search for a striker goes on for the Wanderers. But has Lachlan Scott’s A-League drought ending signalled a run of goals for the youngster?

 

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: The first Asian Champions League game with Australian interest this season. The Roar will host Philippines’ side Global next Tuesday after the team from Cebu City defeated Singapore’s Tampine Rovers 2-0 on Tuesday evening. Should the Roar progress from this one-off game they’ll play Chinese side Shanghai Shenhua for a spot in the group stage of the ACL.

 

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

The Nix were punished for their profligacy in front of goal, particularly in the first half, when Brisbane got all three points in Wellington and the Kiwi side head to South Australia knowing Guillermo Amor’s side turned them over in December 2-0 but they two sides did play out a 0-0 draw on New Year’s Day in difficult conditions. Ninth-placed Adelaide have won only once since they beat Wellington, when they defeated Victoria’s second team two weeks ago.

 

Big game for: Adelaide at home. Sergi Guardiola has played his last A-League game after his loan deal was cut short with the striker to possibly join Spanish second tier club Real Murica. The Spaniard only scored three times in 14 games. But in a possible positive Eli Babalj could join the club in the coming week.

 

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: With five clean sheets this season Glen Moss and Wellington are somewhat of an anomaly to be sitting in sixth with the second most-clean sheets of any club.

 

The betting bit – One serious one not

The Victory have lost big games at their second home this season and Sydney ($2.75), despite their defensive issues, have had some time to plan for this game in Melbourne. This goes into a comedy interpretive design take from the travelling RBB on the A-League’s new logo in Brisbane.

 

Record: 4/16

 

Profit: – $91.30 (ten units per investment)

 

Images via: thecourier.com.au and espnfc.com.au

Golf Capital – Tommy terrific in Abu Dhabi, Tiger heads to San Diego

@hamishneal

A collection of golf news, notes and thoughts for the week from across the globe after action in UAE, California and Singapore. This week sees the return of the LPGA for 2017.

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Opening drive:

 

A final round 67, the best of the day, saw Tommy Fleetwood win in the UAE with victory in the Abu Dhabi Championship. Fleetwood’s triumph in Dubai vaulted him to 53rd in the rankings and secures his European Tour card until the end of 2019 . This weekend’s Qatar Masters is light on for talent compared to last weekend with attention already turning to Tiger Woods’ appearance in Dubai next weekend and it’s an open event with two-time defending champion Branden Grace absent.

 

First-time PGA Tour winner Hudson Swafford booked a trip to Hawaii for next year’s Tournament of Champions with his first top level triumph winning the Career Builder Challenge in La Quinta in the Coachella Valley. Swafford, who has a name which sounds like he should own half of Lincolnshire, broke through in what was his 83rd PGA Tour start. Unlike Justin Thomas the weekend before Adam Hadwin couldn’t utilise his Saturday springboard when he shot 59 to grab the 54-hole lead and finished second to Swafford. Patrick Reed was the best performed of the big names finishing T12 seven strokes behind Swafford.

 

The Asian Tour returned for 2017 and despite the presence of Adam Scott and Sergio Garcia Thai veteran Prayad Marksaeng, 50, saluted in the Singapore Open for his first victory triumph since the Queen’s Cup in 2015. With Scott T9 and Garcia T11. 17 year-old Thai golfer Phachara Khongwatma finished in a group of four players one stroke back from Marksaeng and is now inside the top 200 at 198 six months after he played the British Open having qualified for the prestigious event at the age of 16. He will feature in this weekend’s Asian Tour event the Myanmar Open.

Hyo Joo Kim is the defending champion at the LPGA event is Bermuda which signals the return of the top tier of the women’s game for 2017. Ariya Jutanugarn, who won the money list in 2017, enters as favourite with world number one Lydia Ko yet to return.

 

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 for this weekend’s Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines. The event utilises both the South and North courses.

 

20 and under: Jason Day. The last six winners all played their second round on the north course so with a late first round tee off time meaning he will flip to the north course early on Friday this should benefit the Queenslander who has won here before.

 

20 to 50: Brooks Koepka. The world number 19 will be making his debut for 2017 and hasn’t been flash when contesting this event however Koepka finished 2016 in good shape winning in Japan in his last full field event before a T13 at the Hero World Challenge.

 

20 to 50: Phil Mickelson. It’s rare for a three-time tournament winner to be so wide in the market and after a T21 return last week the course specialist is in reasonable form.

 

100 to 200: Aaron Baddeley finished T8 last year here and as we outlined recently had good form at the end of 2016. Baddeley, 35, has the ‘playing on the north course on day two’ stat on his side.

 

100 to 200:  Bud Cauley. Nine shots off the winner here in 2016 Cauley finished last weekend two strokes behind Swafford and his course experience here in San Diego will be vital.

 

200 to 300: Soren Kjeldsen. The veteran Dane plays well in the Middle East so it’s significant that he’s elected to play here this weekend. If the weather turns nasty like last year his links experience in howling conditions might be useful. However his form having missed the last two cuts and limited experience on West coast courses of the USA is a drawback.

 

Greens in regulation:

Tiger Return Mark 2 2016-2017 Season. It’s a bit of a mouthful but the 40 year-old, set to play four tournaments in a five-week stretch, features in his first full-field event in 19 months. Woods, who could rise to 90 with a win at Torrey Pines heads to the Middle East for the Dubai Desert Classic after this tournament before returning to the PGA Tour’s West Coast swing to the old LA Open, now known as the Genesis Open. This week will give us an idea as to whether his second round 65 at the Hero World Challenge was an outlier, or whether it reflects a moments we can continue to savour perhaps until a return to August in April. Woods won the last of his 14 majors here when he captured the 2008 US Open in a playoff over Rocco Mediate.

 

Tap in:

In reflecting on the failed Olympic legacy for golf in Rio according to reports late last year I didn’t think news related to Olympic golf would crop up until say mid 2019 but instead of the normal ‘pre-Olympics’ venue behind schedule/budget overblown/corruption scandal (circle all appropriate) the venue for golf at the Tokyo Olympics in 2020 (the Kasumigaseki Country Club) has managed to dip it’s two into the ‘gender debate’ with The Guardian’s Japan correspondent Justin McCurry reporting the venue doesn’t allow females to play on Sunday nor afford them full membership. Wakasu Golf Links has been offered up as an alternative due to the fact it’s a public course, as opposed to Kasumigaskei which is a private club. It’s ridiculous given the recent saga with the Muirfield club in Scotland that whichever IGF, IOC or local organising committee member made this decision wasn’t cognisant of the problem this would, rightly, raise. Watch this space.

 

Image via bbb.co.uk/sport

A-League 1,000: The Run Edition

@hamishneal

1,000-ish words, thoughts and musings on round 16 of the A-League which sees the champions Adelaide head to the champions-elect Sydney FC and finishes with the first game of the A-League season at Campbelltown.

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Melbourne Sheep Cow Whale Ships v Central Coast Mariners, Thursday – AAMI Park

After only hosting Michael Valkanis, when he was assistant coach, and his side in round 13 the Mariners are on the road to Melbourne hoping Tim Cahill doesn’t score against them again. The light blues wasted a host of chances, and had one scratched out for offside, before Adelaide came from behind to beat them last Thursday night so they’ve have had plenty of time to lick their wound whilst Paul Okon’s side couldn’t find a way around the Phoenix defence in Wellington on Saturday losing 1-0. The Mariners scored twice in eight minutes at the back end of the game when the sides met in Gosford and given the hosts conceded late to Adelaide as long as the Mariners stay in the game anything is possible here.

 

Big game for: Controversy. For the first time in a few games both Neil Kilkenny and Fernando Brandan are available for the home side. What could possibly go wrong?

 

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: More Ruon Tongyik. The central defender has been a terrific addition to the home team’s defence but his quick thinking to start the phase of play which saw Bruno Fornaroli open the scoring in Adelaide last Thursday looked like that of a seasoned pro – but he’s only 20. The former Adelaide youth player could be rested on Thursday though.

 

 

Sydney FC v Adelaide United, Friday – Allianz Stadium

Goals from two somewhat unexpected sources in the form of Dylan McGowan and Mark Ochieng gave Adelaide their first win this season against an Australian side last Friday but Sydney couldn’t find a way past the Wanderers defence in their 0-0 draw. However Graham Arnold’s side will recall their 4-0 triumph over Adelaide on Boxing Day when Alex Brosque scored twice. Aaron Calver performed well next to Alex Wilkinson in defence as Sydney held out the Wanderers on Saturday but they have more depth now with the addition of experienced Dutch defender Jordy Buis and could go eight points clear at the top with a win here.

 

Big game for: Replacements. Despite the win on Thursday last week Guillermo Amor would have spent at least part of the weekend somewhat glum with the looming departure of James Holland which was confirmed on Wednesday. Adelaide’s, at times, inexperienced bench will need to step up here.

 

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: New visa rules. It was interesting to see Adelaide United chair Greg Griffin criticise the alteration to the visa rules in the A-League which sees one of the five foreign spots having to be allocated to a player from an AFC nation other than Australia from the 2018/19 season. For a side about to enter the Asian Champions League having a player with experience from a particular country of a club side they may draw and the ability to open up a scouting network in that part of the confederation it seems a strange position to take.

 

Wellington Phoenix v Brisbane Roar, Saturday – Westpac Stadium

Having picked up six points in four days to vault them into fifth place the Nix stay in Wellington to face a travelling Brisbane side that have lost their past three games and only beaten the Mariners (twice) away from home this season. An odd quirk of the draw means this is the first time the two sides have played each other in this campaign. Last season the sides played twice in Wellington with a 0-0 draw in January but a 3-2 win to Wellington in October 2015, in a game which Brisbane opened the scoring before a goal from now-Mariner Blake Powell sealed a Phoenix win 12 minutes from time, might be more like the score-line we will see on Saturday.

 

Big game for: Consistent line-up. The form of Wellington’s starters means Gui Finkler is likely to stay on the bench this weekend having featured in an attacking set of replacements on Tuesday night which included Michael McGlinchey

 

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Seeing Brisbane sign an ex player. Maybe not immediately but Queenslander Ben Litfin could join Brisbane again down the track with the NPL Queensland Player of the Year leaving the Phoenix mid-season having not featured at all in the A-League. His pedigree and age, 21, suggest he deserves an A-League shot somewhere.

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Perth Glory v Melbourne Victory, Saturday – nib Stadium

Melbourne’s six-game winning run ended in Wellington and it’s ironic they now head to Perth who book-end that streak having played out a 1-1 draw in early December. Both side’s failed to scored in the second half of that encounter after Besart Berisha cancelled out Andy Keogh’s opener for the home side. Kenny Lowe still has to deal with the impasse over the future of defender Rhys Williams and coupled with the fact Alex Grant, possibly season-ending, and attacker Chris Harold are both suffering injuries the preparation has been less than ideal for the Glory.

 

Big game for: Impact players. Due to accumulated yellow cards Fahid Ben Khalfallah and Jason Geria miss this game for Melbourne, but a rest ahead of the Big Blue could be useful. This possibly allows a player like Mitch Austin, who featured quite a bit in the first two months of the competition to get some more game time.

 

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Consistency. Besart Berisha’s red card was, probably, rightly rescinded on the weekend but the marksmen’s non-ban with the referees decision overturned under the ‘obvious error’ clause shows a stark contrast to the recent non-sanction of Andy Keogh who should have seen red against Wellington a few weeks ago.

 

Western Sydney Wanderers v Newcastle Jets, Sunday – Campbelltown Stadium

After picking up their ninth draw of the campaign the eight-placed Wanderers host the Jets who are two points above them. When these sides meet in October Tony Popovic’s side threw away a 2-0 lead when Newcastle scored twice in the last nine minutes of the match at Spotless Stadium. The positive for the Wanderers is they came from behind to win the first time they played at Campbelltown this season when they beat the Phoenix in FFA Cup in a game which Lachlan Scott scored twice and the youngster has had a role off the bench in recent weeks but with only three shots in target last weekend it’s hard to see the Wanderers scoring three here.

 

Big game for: Finishing. On the Wanderers chances, they had two saved late against Sydney FC when Danny Vukovic pulled off a terrific double-stop.

 

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Seeing some quality finishing. Notwithstanding recent good results the Jets need to be more clinical in front of goal to keep pace with the top six.

 

The betting bit – One serious one not

After a convincing win on Tuesday night it’s Wellington again ($2.50) to beat a Brisbane side that appear listless for large portions of their games into an array of comedy corner flags at the away end in on Thursday night at AAMI Park.

 

Record: 4/15 – pending

Profit: -$81.30 (ten units per investment)

Images via goal.com.au and theguardian.com

Golf Capital – Thomas at the double, Storm victorious in South Africa

@hamishneal

A collection of golf news, thoughts and notes from the week which saw Justin Thomas win again and also featured a playoff in the European Tour’s return for 2017.

 

Opening drive:

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The holiday locale of Hawaii sends most visitors into a relaxed mode but it’s proving a location in which focus and discipline seem to work for American Justin Thomas with the 23 year-old winning for the second week running with a comprehensive seven-stroke triumph in the Sony Open. The early year field was chasing from the off when Thomas became the youngest player to record a 59 on the PGA Tour in the opening round and held steady for the rest of the tournament including posting a record low at 36 holes for the PGA Tour. Justin Rose and Jordan Spieth finished second and third, respectively behind Thomas at the Waialae Country Club which is a solid start for two players looking to add to their big wins in the last two years.

 

The Glenbower Golf Club was the scene of a playoff which saw the unfancied Graeme Storm, who hadn’t won since 2007, vanquish world number two Rory McIlroy despite the Northern Irishman having hit the lead on the back nine of the final round in the South African Open. Storm got the edge on the third playoff hole for his first tour win since he triumphed in France ten years ago. Challenge Tour star Jordan Smith (who we highlighted last week) rallied late in round four but parts of his chipping game let him down. McIlroy, for all his victories, has now lost five playoffs he’s been in with only one victory in six sets of extra holes. Englishman Storm, who only just retained his tour card due to American Patrick Reed’s ineligibility was guided round the course by local caddie Thama Nkonyane who assisted Storm in South Africa when has was an amateur. Nkonyane stepped in with Storm’s regular caddie on his honeymoon.

 

With the main ladies tours still a week away the Asian Tour Singapore’s Open sees a pretty good field on deck for it’s first tournament of the season with Adam Scott, who has won the event three times, plus one-time world number two Sergio Garcia the top hopes at the at Sentosa Golf Club

 

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. We head to the Middle East with the European Tour’s Abu Dhabi Championship which won’t feature McIlroy whose injury concerns during the tournament on the weekend turned out to be stress fractures.

 

20 and under: Rickie Fowler. One American has already won first-up in a full field event 2017 and Fowler is the defending champion here with a T3 and T6 at his last two starts in 2016. However Fowler is yet to successfully defend a title he has won.

 

20 to 50: Matthew Fitzpatrick. There are a range of recent ET winners from late last year returning who didn’t play in South Africa and Fitzpatrick is one of those with the Englishman having won the season-ending event. He was T26 last year.

 

20 to 50: Branden Grace. The South African shot no worse than 68 in Hawaii last weekend to finish T13 so is playing well. Grace, 28, was T5 here last year the week before winning the Qatar Masters.

 

100 to 200: Thomas Aiken. One of our hopes last week the South African was solid in his home open finishing T5 and has three top six finishes to his credit in Middle East events, however he hasn’t won since 2014.

 

100 to 200: Alejandro Canizares. The Spaniard was one of only four players who finished well up the leaderboard (he was T5) here last year who closed with two sub 70 rounds before a T8 at the Dubai Desert Classic a few weeks later. The world 143 has an early tee off time in the first round so a chance to get going first-up.

 

200 to 500: Andrew Dodt. The Australia had a good start in the European Tour at the back end of last year with a T3 at the Hong Kong Open after a second at the Australian PGA. However his record in the Middle East, which includes two missed cuts last year, is worrying.

 

Greens in regulation:

After a convincing victory last year in Minnesota the USA has selected Jim Furyk as their captain for the 2018 Ryder Cup to be held in France. From a strategy point of view it will be interesting to see if he focuses on playing as well in the coming 18 months. Ironically the decision came in the week of Thomas’ heroics with Furyk having carded a 58 and 59 on the PGA Tour in his career. Davis Love III, who crafted key pairings for last year’s win at Hazeltine, stays on as an assistant captain.

 

Tap in:

After the South African Open it’s worth noting one player of interest despite the fact they didn’t make the cut. Johan van der Wath posted a six over for the first two rounds and missed out on weekend action but it was interesting to see a cross-over athlete with the former international cricketer now in his third year playing Sunshine Tour events, mainly on invites. The current world number 1866 had a solid first-class career in South Africa and played county cricket for Northants but famously featured in the one-day international in the Wanderers in March 2006 when the home side chased down Australia’s 434/4 – winning with a ball to spare. Conceding 76 in his ten over spell van der Wath’s 35 runs of 18 balls was crucial as the Proteas overhauled Australia’s total helped largely by Herschelle Gibbs 175 (111.) Van der Wath could feature in the next co-sanctioned event with the European Tour when the Sunshine Tour has the Joburg Open next month. Its’s fair to say his most famous professional sporting moment is behind him but it’s a credit to him he attempted to mix it with the likes of McIlroy and a host of local stars last weekend.

Image via sport24.co.za

 

Bold sporting predictions… for 2037

@hamishneal

Sporting prognostications in January for the year ahead are just about at their statute of limitations but here we go. Predicting Chelsea to win the Premier League, Lydia Ko to claim another major, and Cheltenham Town to make the playoffs in League Two can be somewhat predictable (okay the latter isn’t happening) but what about further in the future?

 

The year is 2037…

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January: Second-term US President Pete Buttigieg implements regulations on NFL sides requiring government health department staff to act as independent assessors on match days. Democrat Buttigieg’s use of a little-known state legislation means the NFL owners’ use of public funds to build stadia means they are required to meet local health standards which Buttigieg gets bipartisan support for. The move comes after the NFL instituted a mandatory three-month stand-down period for players diagnosed with concussion in the previous decade.

 

February: Having announced in December of last year that 2037 will be his last season of competitive golf Day, 49, wins his first major in eight years. Winning the Dubai Masters Day is triumphant in emphatic fashion. With a six-stroke triumph it’s the largest winning margin in the eight years of golf’s ‘fifth major’ since the Elite World Tour was announced at the turn of the decade.

 

March: The Cronulla Sharks complete a treble of rugby league titles in the last six months with their NRL Touch side beating the Adelaide Rams 8-7 in the final of the summer competition to go with wins late in 2036 to their NRL men’s and women’s side who both beat the Perth Rabbitohs in their respective grand finals.

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April: ARU President George Gregan calls a meeting with his NZR counterparts after Netflix approaches him with an offer to buy Super Rugby. The online streaming platform, having originally taken a very cautious approach to sports rights, is looking to expand its portfolio having recently acquired the World Cup of Kabaddi which has proven a great success across its expanding markets in Asia and Africa.

 

May: Leo and Lenny Federer claim a maiden major title winning the Wimbledon men’s doubles crown with father Roger as coach. The victory for the 23 year-old duo means the UAE have their first major tennis title with the family having lived in Dubai permanently since the 17-time major winner retired in 2018.

 

June: The Fiji Waves win Super Netball. With the Trans-Tasman competition having been re-instated in 2025 after several drab years of national-based competitions the Fijian side (made up of Pacific Island representatives) claims their first title having been added to the expanded competition in 2030.

 

July: The Singapore Slingers finish top of the regular season ladder in the Asian Basketball League for the third time in six years. Coach Oscar Forman guides the Illawarra Hawks to the NBL crown and they earn promotion to the ABL for the following season with the Sydney Kings relegated.

 

August: For the first time since it’s inception in the mids 10s the Drone Racing League World Championship is won by an Australian team with the University of Canberra-backed UCAN Stars beating a team from Korea in the final.

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September: The world record in the men’s marathon is lowered to 1hr59:57 – the first time it has dropped below 2 hours in its history. The record has gradually been lowered at least once a year since 2019 by athletes from several nations after American Galen Rupp first broke the existing 2:02:57 record in 2019 (a record which had stood for nearly four years itself.)

 

October: Australia fall 2-1 in their test series to Zimbabwe which sees them relegated to the third division of test cricket. Paradoxically, Cricket Australia’s policy to only select players under the age of 27 for test cricket has seen their national side the ‘Southern Smashers’ dominate international T20 cricket having won the annual World Cup in four of the last six years with victory in Sri Lanka the same month.

 

November: Olympics Blitz celebrates it’s third event with the Olympics off-shoot in it’s infancy. The event came about after the International Olympic Committee purchased the intellectual property to the X-Games in the last decade. Using a purpose built-facility in Utah for the winter event the old X-Games has undergone a revamp with it to run the year following the Summer Games for the ’dry’ events followed  the winter version two years later.

 

December: Socceroo legend Harry Kewell becomes the first Australian to have managed three top-flight sides in England when he is appointed to the role at FC United of Manchester after the club, now ground sharing with the original side they broke away from, parted ways with Ryan Giggs after they failed to win in a match in the first four months of the Premier League season.

 

Images via si.com, wsj.com and abc.net.au

Nine times zero equals 48. A look at Fifa’s World Cup decision

@hamishneal

Nine of the national bodies which voted for Fifa’s extended men’s World Cup of 48 teams from 2026 onwards don’t meet any basic governance standards as outlined by Transparency International in late 2015 which is another blow for the credibility of the expanded tournament and Fifa itself.

 

The reported unanimous vote made in Zurich on Tuesday will see the showpiece finals increase to 80 matches with some teams heading home after two games due to the new structure of 16 groups of three.

 

A vote for self-interest has clearly been made by a host of nations who, looking at basic governing principles, should have no role in the Fifa Council which made the decision.

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In November of 2015 Transparency International produced a report ‘The Transparency International Football Governance League Table‘ for national bodies which, as I outlined at the time, was a poor look for the member nations of Fifa and also the six confederations. The report’s goal was to display which of the national bodies provided the “minimum amount of information necessary to let people know what they do, how they spend their money and what values they believe in.” The four criteria were: financial reports, organisation charter, annual activity reports and code of conduct/ethics.

 

The council is made up of 24 members each – ostensibly – representing their nation plus seven Vice-presidents, the Senior VP, secretary general and Fifa’s President Gianni Infantino. Of those with basic member status not only do nine countries (American Samoa, Congo DR, Cook Islands, Cuba, Cyrpus, Guinea, Ghana, Kuwait, plus the Turks and Caicos Islands) fail to meet any of the four TI criteria a further seven meet only one aspect meaning two thirds (16/24) of the council’s designated members can’t even meet 50% of the standards required for good corporate governance as outlined by TI. Between the seven vice-presidents and one Senior VP four of the eight only meet one of four criteria and just two (England and Canada) score four from four – or 100%. Only Italy and Japan of the 22 designated members score 100% which is a depressingly small figure.

 

Whilst these countries have voted for self-interest, with many having never competed in a World Cup, in the hope they will one day get to such an event (or benefit from a bigger slice of Fifa’s financial pie) it remains incumbent on those nations to prove they wouldn’t squander the extra money they may obtain. Fifa makes a major point now of improved governance under Infantino but nations should not be eligible for a place on the council if they can’t meet basic governance standards.

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The world governing body has made a major point of not wanting ‘government interference’ in sport but I’d suggest nations which don’t meet TI’s criteria shouldn’t be allocated government funding and should be stood down from an Fifa role until such time as they do so. Interestingly the English FA (which scores 4/4) has been threatened with a withdrawal of government funding if it doesn’t reform to standards acceptable by the UK government. This move is largely due to the FA’s bloated council structure with 92 members from top flight to grassroots country FA members. England’s FA at least still meet TI’s criteria but their government is seeking assurances they implement an updated model within this context. If that impost was placed on other nations we could be talking about some time until reform. This is not before looking at TI’s guideline and final recommendations of its November 2015 report which include a recommendation to mandate a change to Fifa statutes to ensure the details of compliance to its four governance aspects are published by nations and confederations.

 

It is worth bearing in mind the figures are taken from TI’s report which was compiled from September to November 2015. The nations may have improved, however, in the current climate if a raft of member nations had updated their governance procedures one would assume they, and Fifa, would shout this from the rooftops. However, a Google search of ‘(insert country here) improve football governance’ shows up nothing of substance for the nations with a zero ranking. Interestingly Kuwait was actually suspended by Fifa for government interference in 2015 prior to the release of the TI report so they are really up against it.

 

TI also ranked the confederations at the time and none meet the criteria, which is perhaps unsurprising.

 

The lack of common sense displayed by the confederations when they vote members as designated Fifa council members was shown in Cairo in September with the Guinea and Ghana members, a reminder both got 0/4 in the TI criteria, were voted on as representatives of the Confederation of African Football. To be fair to the CAF reps it is a poor field they are drawing from in this confederation with (for example) 2010 World Cup host South Africa only meeting two of the four requirements (including no publically available financial records.) As pointed out by NewAfrican Magazine’s Osasu Obayiuwana the reportedly largest sponsorship deal CAF has ever signed hasn’t been revealed with a vague ‘guaranteed’ payment due by the negotiating company noted. Not only should governments play more of a role it is clear Fifa needs to mandate similar standards for confederations or they will continue to put up appointees of questionable ability from federations with an incompetent set of governance standards.

 

The vote for a 48-team tournament proves Fifa, who are actually registered charity, want more profit from World Cups (each participating nation who failed to progress past the group stage at the last World Cup got US$8 million with the winners getting US$35 million) but we know the financial boost national bodies get from this is not, largely, transparent to their members (i.e. grassroots players) based on TI’s report and there still needs independent oversight to implement any change. In the meantime… 16 nations could spend only four days at the World Cup in, probably, the USA in 2026 but how much of the extra money they get will actually go to worthy initiatives such as subsidised coaching/playing fees or a 3G pitch in every town/village remains to be seen.

 

Finally, with no hint of irony the next Fifa council meeting is to be held in Bahrain in May prior to the 2017 Fifa congress. Bahrain scored one from four in the TI governance rankings including not publishing any financial records.

 

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Images via: bbc.com, stuff.co.nz and planetworldcup.com

A-League 1,000: The Chasing Edition

@hamishneal

1,000-ish words, thoughts and musings on round 15 of the A-League which starts in Adelaide on Thursday night and concludes in Newcastle on Sunday. We will also take a look at the deferred game from round seven early next week involving Wellington and the Victory.

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Adelaide United v Melbourne Sheep Cow Whale Ships, Thursday – Beer Sauce Burger Stadium

Adelaide have only scored once in their last four games and face a side who have scored nine times in that period so Adelaide’s keeper Eugene Galekovic is in for another busy night – but that’s not rare for the Reds this season. Interim boss Michael Valkanis guided the visitor’s to their first triumph since they won the FFA Cup when they edged the Wanderers 1-0 in Melbourne on Friday courtesy of an Ivan Franjic wonder-goal. Going with a flat back four worked for them defensively and consecutive clean sheets would be a rarity for the light blues but something that may further boost Valkanis’ (admittedly) slim hopes of keeping the top job. Adelaide see playmaker Marcelo Carrusca return and Iacopo La Rocca is also available again. It’s rare that Adelaide have had a near to their best 11 on the park so far this season but they are getting close.

 

Big game for: Corners. The away side were utterly dominant in attack last weekend despite only scoring one goal, for example they had nine corners to zero in the first half so we can expect more of the same here.

 

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: The A-League cartoon villain, Fernando Brandan, returns from suspension against a club which has it’s own history for serial pests. Interesting times possibly for referee Jonathan Barreiro

 

Melbourne Victory v Brisbane Roar, Friday – AAMI Park

After a charmed run over the last two months or so the Roar now face the free-scoring Victory having lost their last two games and conceded five goals in the process. John Aloisi’s side were caught out by Newcastle on the edge of the area a few times on Saturday, highlighted by Corey Brown backing off before Andrew Hoole scored, so they will need to be on their game here with Victory’s wide-men coming in on the angle. Melbourne and Brisbane played out a 1-1 draw in the opening round with Luke DeVere netting deep into stoppage time after it looked like Mitch Austin had found Melbourne the winner seven minutes from time.

 

Big game for: The table. The breakaway top four could become a breakaway top three with a five-point gap if Adelaide lose on Friday night and Brisbane are beaten here. A big fixture for the chasing pack.

 

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: With trips to Wellington and Perth coming up I’d not be surprised to see Kevin Muscat put some of his stars in cotton-wool. With an ankle concern Marco Rojas might only be on the bench here.

 

Wellington Phoenix v Central Coast Mariners, Saturday – Westpac Stadium

The Buckingham/Greenacre era suffered its first loss on Thursday but head home with three games in the Kiwi capital on the schedule in the next week and a focus on getting a first win in Wellington for this duo but not much time to plan for each opponent tactically. The Nix face the side which had the ‘best’ loss last weekend after the Mariners were beaten 3-2 by Sydney FC but once again gave their home fans great value for money. Roy Krishna’s suspension means ‘Buck-acre’ could return to 4-3-3, or push Adam Parkhouse further up the pitch in place of Krishna. After a 2-1 defeat in which they did not take their chances in the first half they will be looking for a fast start similar to the one they got last time they played the Mariners when they scored inside two minutes in Hamilton.

 

Big game for: Mikael Taveres could come back here for the Mariners having featured for their youth team side on Saturday in a 2-1 win over the Wanderers. (NB: The club now heads their NYL conference)

 

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: The Mariners scoring a penalty. Last weekend we said the Mariners had to take their chances. They had a chance to go level at 2-1 but Fabio Ferreira fluffed his lines with the spot kick and now, as Fox Sports Lab told me via Twitter, has missed two of his six penalty attempts in the last three years for the Coasties. Incidentally striker Roy O’Donovan was successful with his one penalty attempt in that period.

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Sydney FC v Western Sydney Wanderers, Saturday – Allianz Stadium

Graham Arnold’s side kept up their terrific record with a thrilling, if somewhat lucky, triumph in Gosford but enter the Sydney Derby not at their peak defensively now. Danny Vukovic still has eight clean sheets to his credit but Tony Popovic will have been happy to view in person the Mariners tearing apart some parts of the sky blues defense on Sunday. Wanderer Jumpei Kusukami will have looked at Connor Pain making inroads to get the Mariners a penalty last weekend and thought if he can get quick transition service he will be able to make trouble for the home side here. However with their own absences due to suspension the Wanderers could still be up against it

 

Big game for: Squad depth. The game after Sydney conceded the most goals they have in a single game in this current league campaign coincides with their first home fixture without Matt Jurman after he left the club and with Seb Ryall facing time on the sidelines Arnold is set for defensive reshuffle.

 

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Making a statement in the absence of marquees. Jashua Sotirio’s pace helped him score against Perth two weeks back and in the absence of a big name striker the 21 year-old will harness a far bit of the load in attack here.

 

Newcastle Jets v Perth Glory, Sunday – McDonald Jones Stadium

Home after a win at one of their favourite away venues Mark Jones’ side meet a Glory team they beat in Perth only a month ago 2-1 so they should win but this has all the hallmarks of the (cliché alert) trap game. Most of the short-term injuries are behind the Jets but Perth, who also have four wins for the season, are an unpredictable side. With the Rhys Williams saga still ongoing Kenny Lowe at least has a side well rested after they won last Thursday against Wellington.

 

Big game for: Solid at the start. Newcastle conceded first in Brisbane, were behind after seven minutes when they last played Perth and also trailled Wellington twice at home recently before clawing back at point. It’s hard to keep going behind and getting results.

 

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Scenes. The above said… Former Jet Adam Taggart is back having scored the winner last weekend and something is bound to happen. I’m thinking controversial late winner/equaliser.

 

Wellington Phoenix v Melbourne Victory, Tuesday – Westpac Stadium

After their Friday night fixture Muscat’s team head to New Zealand for this game which was re-arranged after the recent major earthquake and associated aftershocks. The Nix will continue to be without Gui Finkler, who returned to Brazil due to a personal matter before the Perth game and is due back in round 16, so it could be a chance for them to solidify their starting line-up to a degree, but they will have Krishna back from suspension. Victory registered a five-goal triumph on Melbourne Cup eve the last time these two sides played with Besart Berisha scoring a hat-trick – two of them penalties.

 

Big game for: Cautions. The Nix have a host of players facing bans for accumulated yellow cards. However missing a game in the middle of a period with three games in eight days might not be the worst thing in the world if any of the players have any niggling injuries.

 

The ‘I’m really looking forward to’ bit: Continued marquee value. Socceroo Oliver Bozanic is a designated marquee but has yet to really dominate consecutive games (yes I realise this is a vague performance metric but we need something to measure a marquee with) this year with the Victory to prove his continued worth outside the cap. Playing the eighth-placed team is a big chance for him to shine.

 

The betting bit – One serious one not

Unlike golf thoughts, which garnered success late last year, I might have to mutually end the contract with this part of the column. Wellington’s great start was to no avail in Perth and this weekend they get a chance to make amends ($1.60) against a Mariners side that doesn’t travel well. Thursday night we are bound to see some crowd antics every time Brandan touches the ball.

 

Record: 3/14

Profit: -$87.30 (ten units per investment)

 

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