All posts by markfiorenti

Mark Fiorenti on the search for the Socceroos coach

Jan 23 2011 Studio Picturies 040Whilst it was a good result for the Socceroos against Canada, I am not sure we can read too much into this result for the following reasons:

1. The players were always going to be fired up after Holger Osieck was sacked and the shellacking’s the media has served up to the them in the last few days.

2. Canada haven’t qualified for the World Cup so are they a worthy opponent?  Would the Canadians have taken this game as seriously as the Socceroos given the events of the last few days?

3. Canada is nowhere near the calibre of football team that Brazil and France are.  In hindsight, I Holgerconsider Osieck shot himself in the foot opting to play friendlies against these two nations, especially considering: (a) Brazil never take friendlies easy, especially ones they play at home (their fans expect to win all the time!) and moreover, they don’t have to qualify for the World Cup as they are hosts and (b) France were shooting blanks up until last week so the Aussie game would have given them and their strikers, particularly Karim Benzema (who hadn’t scored for the French national team in over 1,000 minutes) some good shooting practice.

I still believe and moreover, am concerned that our national team is in danger of embarrassing itself next year.  Luckily, we have eight months to try and steady the ship and get the broom out to clear some old wood. Lucas Neill and Brett Holman immediately come to mind – they could still be handy squad players, but not starting players in my opinion. The new regime should blood some youngsters like Rogic, Davidson, Lowry and Williams and take a serious look at the problem left back position. McKay is a midfielder and not an option whilst Carney is a shambles.  Lowry and/or Davidson are good options.

Finally, the coach, whoever it is, can start to bring back the competitive spirit and self belief our players have been lacking in recent months.

As for the coach, it looks like it will be a local appointment and moreover, over a five year period.  It graham-arnoldappears the FFA has learned the lessons of the past and the new appointment will incorporate next year’s World Cup, the Asian Cup in 2015, qualification rounds for the 2018 World Cup and the 2018 World Cup, assuming we make it!.

The most likely candidates are Ange Postecoglou, Graham Arnold and Tony Popovic.

tony-popovicPoppa had a great year at the Wanderers last year, especially considering their limited budget and experience and it was in their first season!  Nevertheless, I feel he is still a little too raw.

I don’t warm very well to Arnold, but in his defence he has done wonders at the Mariners considering their limited funds and constant sales. This has forced him to regularly re-invent the team.

I like Ange.  When he joined the Roar they were a shambles – they allegedly had a culture unsuited to top level sport and a number of egos ruled the roost.  He eradicated the culture and cleared out the dead wood in his first season, remembering he was appointed mid way through that season. He then won the minor premiership and Grand Final in his second season and the Grand Final in his thirdange-postecoglou season.  A fine effort!  He then joined Victory and implemented his plan and did very well considering his ideas were quite foreign to the team. Victory are now favourites for this season’s A-League flag.  I also like the style of play his teams adopt.

For me, it should be Ange but I wouldn’t lose sleep if Graham Arnold was appointed.

A “Good” Heart these days is hard to find

Melbourne Heart FC secured its first ever spot in the Hyundai A-League finals after a 2-2 draw against Sydney FC last Saturday night.

The Heart will finish fifth or sixth in the home and away series (which concludes this weekend) and will travel to Perth or Wellington next weekend in a winner takes all elimination final. 

The team has enjoyed a successful campaign this season, registering key wins over reigning champions, Brisbane Roar and ladder leading Central Coast Mariners to loom as a potential dark horse for the title.

Sportzfan Radio congratulates the team on being Victoria’s sole representative in the A-League finals.….

…..Moreover, (drum roll please), it has the honour of interviewing central defender, Curtis Good on this Sunday’s show (25 March)!!

A former Australian Institute of Sport captain, Curtis Good signed for the Heart in February 2011.  Good made his official debut for the club during the round 1 fixture against Newcastle Jets in the current 2011-12 campaign and has been an ever-present at the heart of the team’s defence ever since.  Possessing good leadership abilities, fantastic technical skills and a great sense of reading the game, Curtis Good is a name to look out for in years to come.

Tune in to this Sunday’s show to hear about Good’s thoughts on the Heart’s (successful) season, the feeling amongst the club about being in the finals for the first time, the philosophies head coach, John Van’t Schip has brought to the club (no, not just his impressive tan!) and much, much more.  

The F-Word

A Mining stock collapse, a Heart transplant and a fine Red – The “F Word’s” 2011/12 A-League Preview

Last season the A-League found itself in a morbid state. 

Low crowds, poor management and promotion of the game from Football Federation Australia, a lack of star factor and numerous clubs on the brink of collapse saw the League’s stocks hit rock bottom.

The off season has seen a resurgence and excitement has been building for the season kick off this weekend…

The signings of Harry Kewell by Melbourne Victory and Brett Emerton by Sydney FC, are not only their respective clubs’ marquees, but the entire league’s. Both will boost not only home crowds, but attendance everywhere they visit during the season.

Earlier this week, the new season was launched under the well-entrenched, “We Are Football” slogan.  Launching it at the conclusion of the AFL and NRL seasons was a nice touch.  Kicking it all off with some mouth-watering ties in the coming weeks (the showcase being Melbourne Victory hosting Sydney FC at Etihad Stadium tomorrow night), will certainly help build momentum.

Here’s my look at all the teams and where I predict they will finish in the home and away season:

Wooden Spooners (10th) – Newcastle Jets

Blast away, Nathan….but there appear to be few diamonds in this rough

This season was supposed to signal the start of a new and exciting era for Jets fans…Gone is the unique gold playing strip and fan favourite, Ljubo Milicevic and in comes midfield maestro and Socceroo Jason Culina and new owner, mining magnate, Nathan Tinkler.

Tinkler’s Novocastrian experiment however, is going from bad to worse.  First, the club lost Culina to a season ending knee injury and earlier this week, Manager, Branko Culina was sensationally sacked. 

Where will the goals come from?! Whilst the Jets had the fourth best defence in the league last season, they only managed 29 goals – the third worst in the competition.  The club lacks a predatory finisher.  Losing Culina’s creativity compounds matters.

In order to avoid the wooden spoon, Tinkler will need to spend some of his billions and purchase the playmaker and/or striker the club desperately needs.  The Jets are seeking to have Culina’s contract set aside.  Assuming they are successful, they would, in theory, be able to bring in a new big name player.  As it stands however, the only thing Jets fans can smile about is the reduced admission price policy implemented by “white knight”, Tinkler. 

9th – Wellington Phoenix

New owners, same problems and not a new entity….There’ll be no rising from the ashes for the Phoenix

Unlike the Jets, the Kiwi club has a severe lack of funds.  In fact, the club was only recently saved from the brink of collapse! Moreover, the Phoenix severely lacks squad depth.  Ten players left the club in the off-season – five of which were starting players, yet the club only made six signings due to a limited budget.  Currently operating three players under the minimum 20 player limit of the A-League, the Phoenix will clearly struggle if key players incur injuries.

Their traditional strength at home (the club only lost two matches last season when playing in front of their faithful Yellow Fever) will probably ensure they avoid the wooden spoon.    

8th – Gold Coast United

The only certainty is uncertainty

Australia’s very own Real Madrid have made a positive impact (on the field, anyway) since their inception into the A-League, finishing third and fourth in their opening two seasons.  With a host of big name departures (Shane Smeltz, Bruce Djite, Jason Culina, to name a few) set to be replaced by unknown foreigners and unproven youngsters, the upcoming season will provide the glitter club with their sternest test in their short history.

Despite numerous personnel changes, the defence is largely unchanged and will provide the foundation for success (the club had the third best defence in the league last season).  Nevertheless, squad depth and lack of experience may prove the club’s undoing. 

Colourful gaffer, Miron Bleiberg recently remarked that not even he knew where the club would finish at season’s end, such were the wholesale changes made…“either close to the top or bottom of the ladder!”. 

The F-Word agrees with the latter. 

7th – Perth Glory

Three hours behind…and three points from Glory

The Glory have recruited well in the off season and as such, there is great optimism for the year ahead.  With an abundance of experienced A-League performers heading west (Shane Smeltz, Travis Dodd and Danny Vukovic), the Glory look strong.  Throw in Brazilian attacking midfielder, Andrezinho and current Irish international and former Manchester United midfielder, Liam Miller, it is arguable the club has the best squad in the league “on paper”. 

The problem is, Perth have recruited well in years gone by, but consistently failed to deliver! Moreover, notwithstanding the positive recruitment drive and heavy investment, the club has interestingly retained the services of coach, Ian Ferguson….it’s hard to see a coach who has lost half of his career games turn things around for the West Australians.  The club will improve, but the F-word predicts they’ll narrowly miss out on making the finals.

6th – Melbourne Heart

A (heart) transplant was needed and they appear to have found some donors…the “pace”maker(s) could be the icing on the cake!

The Heart’s recruitment campaign in their debut season was flawed in many ways – too many ageing, slow and injury-prone players.  This term has seen the club receive an injection of younger, fresher and more dynamic players.

David Williams, Maycon and Mate Dugandzic join to form attacking options alongside existing strikers Alex Terra and Jason Hoffman.  Former Melbourne Victory creator, Fred returns to the A-League and will ensure the aforementioned strikers won’t go hungry (who can forget his 5 assists in the 6-0 rout over Adelaide United in the 2007 Grand Final?!). 

With so many new donors, I mean faces, much will depend on whether the Heart pumps collectively. 

The departure of Michael Beauchamp to Sydney FC and the possible transfer of Simon Colosimo to rivals, Melbourne Victory makes the team look quite weak at the back. Diagnosis? A further donor may be required.  

One doubts the Heart will avoid visiting the ER this season, but the F Word believes it will pull through and sneak into the finals.

5th – Sydney FC

There are few “darlings” in this harbour, but quite a few“rocks”

New marquee signing, Brett Emerton may not bring back the bling, but stability he will.  The experience Emerton, Karol Kisel and Nick Carle bring to the midfield along with rising star, Terry Antonis should see the Sky Blues control many games.  Whilst the midfield trio will provide plenty of creativity and drive, Vitezslav Lavicka’s biggest headache will be finding a consistent goal scorer.  Brazilian, Bruno Cazzarine was a useful asset last season but cannot be expected to do it all.  Much will depend on whether Mark Bridge can steer clear of injuries and return to his Newcastle Jets form.

“The Cove” have no such worries in the backline.  The additions of Jamie Coyne, Pascal Bosschaart and Socceroo Michael Beauchamp to a defence already consisting of Shannon Cole, Scott Jamieson and Sebastian Ryall should see the team leak few goals this season.

In short, the team looks like it has enough quality and experience to make the finals.

4th – Brisbane Roar

Beautiful one day, perfect the next

With their fast and fluent, pass and move style of play, The Roar revolutionised the game and took it to a new level in the 2010/11 season.  Whilst the club had star performers across the pitch, much of the success was due to the ideas and ethos of coach Ange Postecoglou.  Roar fans will be relieved Postecoglou steered clear of Melbourne Victory’s fluttering eyelids.  As such, it is not inconceivable that the reigning champions continue their dominance and become the first team in A-League history to win back-to-back titles. 

Notwithstanding this, the off season saw the team lose three highly influential players – inspirational captain Matt McKay and powerful goal scoring duo, Kosta Barbarouses and Jean Carlos Solorzano. 

With several key players now absent, will the team be able to pick up from where it left off? Finals will be a formality, but Brisbane could be surpassed. 

3rd – Central Coast Mariners

Calm seas never made a skilled Mariner….not!

The Mariners were within a whisker of taking the toilet seat home last season and the heartbreaking loss will surely serve as motivation to go one better this time around. 

And there’s every chance they will…..

Whilst most teams in the A-League have seen more departures and arrivals than Heathrow airport, the Mariners have quietly retained their best players and added A-League experience.  While Argentine Patricio Perez has departed, the club loaned back Mustafa Amini after his sale to Borussia Dortmund.  Amini’s presence plugs that gap.  Add to this the key signings of Adrian Pellegrino and Stuart Musialik and the retention of the A-League’s best defence (the Mariners conceded an enviable 31 goals in 30 league last season), the Mariners appear to have balance and mouth-watering depth to finally go all the way. 


  1. The Mariners are in serious danger of losing their underdog tag!
  2. Coming up with a plan to beat Brisbane Roar (the Mariners failed to beat the Roar on 5 occasions last season!).  They need not wait long as they will face their nemesis tomorrow night.

2nd – Melbourne Victory

A cauldron, Special K and a Flying Kiwi – a recipe for success

Melbourne Victory’s off season has been as heavily documented as the royal wedding.  Whilst Victory may not have Pippa Middleton in their ranks, their fans have much to be aroused about…

  1. Over 18,000 members – Victory has the largest supporter base in the A-League and has consistently set membership and attendance records.  AAMI Park (and to a lesser extent, Etihad Stadium) will be consistently sold out. This will create an intimidating atmosphere for visiting rival teams.  Expect Victory to win a majority of their home games;
  2. Harry Kewell – enough said;
  3. Attack – Even prior to Kewell joining, Victory had an abundance of weapons of mass destruction.  It is difficult to see how the team won’t be the league’s top scorers;
  4. Marco Rojas – the livewire Kiwi has been electrifying in pre-season; and
  5. Kevin Muscat – Special K’s retirement should ensure Victory end a majority of their games with 11 men.

The only concern Victory fans may have is a lack of depth in defence.  The possible arrival of Colosimo from the Heart however, would shore things up.

1st – Adelaide United

Balanced, mature and full of depth.  Just the way a good “Red” should be

The Reds have all the hallmarks to go all the way to clinching the minor premiership this year and it’s not hard to see why….

Coach, Rini Coolen has assembled a very balanced and adaptable squad with an emphasis on ball playing defenders and midfielders and a dynamic front third. 

Accomplished Socceroo defender Jon McKain playing in front of the competition’s best goalkeeper, Eugene Galekovic gives Adelaide a strong spine.  In the middle, Coolen has looked to create a more versatile, mobile midfield with the addition of Dario Vidosic and Zenon Caravella. Further up the field, the returning Bruce Djite and last season’s Golden Boat winner Sergio Van Dijk will take some stopping. 

With so many new players on board, it may take the club a few games to hit top speed. 

Pharlap was the same. Adelaide’s strong recruitment in the off-season sees them bound for a top two finish.

2014 FIFA World Cup – “The ‘Slow’ and the Restless” to “The Bold and the Beautiful”…a soap box opera week for the Socceroos

“A week is a long time in football” – author unknown.

The Socceroos are in pole position to advance to the next and final phase of Asian qualifying for the 2014 World Cup.

But not without making a meal of beating lowly ranked Thailand 2-1 in their first qualifying match!

Australia’s performance against Thailand was plain awful and the cause of great distress.  

During the Asian Cup, “The ‘F’ Word” lamented the Socceroos’ use of the “long ball” route to goal which led to nothing at times and the players’ apparent arrogance against inferior opposition.  Those lessons had clearly not been learned…

Down 1-0 at half time the Socceroos appeared unimaginative and one dimensional in their path to goal.  Midfielders Carl Valeri and Neil Kilkenny appeared slow and static and the hopeful strategy of having strikers Josh Kennedy and Tim Cahill getting their heads on the end of a cross or long ball (which were generally woeful) was predictable and constituted anti-football. The Thais, missing a number of their first choice players, were threatening a major upset that was only averted by a second half equaliser from Kennedy and a late, lucky winner from Alex Brosque who found the net after being served by Kennedy, who suspiciously used his arm to deliver the assist. 

In short, the performance provided more questions than answers. Socceroos coach, Holger Osieck himself conceded that one of the few good things to come out of game was the result.  A much sterner test awaited the team in the shape of Saudi Arabia in the city of Dammam on Wednesday morning…

Saudi Arabia 1       Australia 3

Al-Shamrani (65’)     Kennedy (40’), Kennedy (56’) and Wilkshire (77’)

Now that was a better performance from the team!

The Socceroos appeared more cohesive against Saudi Arabia than the team that played against Thailand and played with more purpose and less arrogance amid the desert heat.  Gone were the futile long balls and slow transition from defence to attack and in came a composed, passing game whereby the players were able to dictate the tempo of the match from start to finish.

Nowhere was the difference more evident than on the right flank.  Against the Thais, Luke Wilkshere and Brett Emerton looked more out of place than the writer at an anti-donut rally.  Against Frank Rijkaard’s men however, the duo had more chemistry than “The Curiosity Show”.  Their movement stretched the Saudis, forcing them to take a reactive approach. 

Osieck too, bravely rung the changes and ought to be commended for doing so.  He dropped Cahill and Kilkenny, who were ineffective against Thailand and replaced the inexperienced Matthew Spiranovic with the more assured Sasa Ognenovski.  The tinkering meant Mile Jedinak won back his defensive midfielder’s spot, Matt McKay slotted back into his preferred playmaking role in midfield making way for the fresh and exciting Michael Zullo at left back and Brett Holman played in “the hole” (ie between midfield and defence). 

With six points in the bag, yesterday’s B grade actors beginning to look more accustomed to the big stage and a producer who is able to guide them there, the Socceroos are now in an almost impregnable position to march into the final round of qualification.

I only hope they show us more beauty and less beast on their way there.

The “F” word

Germany vs Australia – A cause for concern to a cause célèbre

“…..the blame no doubt lies with Pim Verbeek and the fearful, naive and nonsensical tactics he employed in that match. Further, Verbeek’s tactics against Germany disarmed the players of their unique and natural cultural qualities, that being their attacking, fighting spirit.  Put simply, he did not believe in the players…..(we need) to recruit a new custodian who, unlike Verbeek, understands and is able to harness the cultural qualities of Australia’s players and moreover, believes in them” – The F Word’s musings in a previous blog.

They say time heals all wounds. 

I agree.

But so too does self belief, a willingness to change and a desire to right the wrongs of the past.

When Australia took to the field against Germany at last year’s World Cup the team appeared bereft of ideas, spirit and passion.  The 4-0 drubbing always meant the Socceroos would need to play catch up football in their remaining two games to secure qualification to the knockout stages of the World Cup.  Despite restoring some pride against Ghana and Serbia, the mountain was insurmountable and early elimination confirmed. 

In recent months, the team, and new coach Holger Osieck, have appeared determined to make a point that they were better than their first-round exit at the World Cup.  First, an appearance at the final of the AFC Asian Cup in January and now an astonishing come-from-behind 2-1 victory over Germany in their own backyard. 

The world’s number three ranked side looked on course to replicate its 4-0 win in Durban as they dominated the first half with their speed, passing and movement on and off the ball and duly went ahead after 26 minutes. But Osieck’s spirited half time team talk sparked the turnaround.  He later told Fox Sports, “…I said (to the players) ‘you can do it’….I told them we are Australia, we are somebody and we don’t have to be afraid of them”.  The Australian players’ actions mirrored those words as they came out of the dressing-room for the second half with a changed approach and a determination to get back into the contest. Playing the ball on the ground and moving it about with short, crisp passing the Socceroos stunned the hosts with two goals in the 61st and 65th minute, first through David Carney and then a Luke Wilkshire penalty, to claim a first ever win over the European side.

Much will be made of the fact the game was a meaningless friendly and that Germany coach, Joachim Low made a host of changes to the side that beat Kazakhstan 4-0 in its Euro 2012 qualifier last weekend.  But given their stature, playing depth and superior head-to-head record, the Germans should have still comfortably beaten the Socceroos.  This was still a side that had Lukas Podolski, Thomas Muller, Miroslav Klose and Bastian Schweinsteiger, all of whom started on that fateful day in Durban.  Finally, no country, regardless of the importance of the fixture would want to lose a game at home.

The surprising thing was that the overall performance of the Socceroos was not perfect. In truth, the Germans completely controlled the opening period and had the better of the contest until the Socceroos equalised.  Further, Mile Jedinak was yet again inefficient and unimaginative in the engine room and gave the ball away too easily, whilst Lucas Neill consistently overlooked the midfield by persistently hoofing the ball forward.

But the fact Australia managed to beat the three-time World champions without playing at its best is a clear indication of how far the team has come as a football nation.  The confidence sapped by Pim Verbeek’s complete lack of faith in the players has bounced back under Osieck and the players are beginning to rate themselves again. With the 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign fast approaching, I have no doubt the national team is heading in the right direction.

Mark ‘The F Word’ Fiorenti

A Heart stopper for this fan

My visit to the heart mechanic this morning didn’t exactly go to plan….

I (unusually) arrived early so I decided to kill the time reading the headlines in one of our leading newspapers…..Whilst the 1.25 litre bottle of water I was drinking may have disguised my morning custard tart and flat white from the impending blood pressure reading, the headline on the front page certainly didn’t.   

“Soccer fans the Worst”.

So a top cop says.

I’m not a police officer, but a fan of the A-League and moreover, the world game, and not here to dispute what the chief says.  I repeat however, I am a football fan….something I’m unsure Victoria Police and large sections of our media fail to understand.  But more on that later…

I am baffled though, why this newspaper felt so compelled to report this story on its front page….  

This, on the same day the A-League finals commence.  Coincidence or conspiracy?Where was the report previewing the A-League finals campaign? Half way through the sports section…..Or the report reviewing the football purists’ wet dream (that is, Arsenal vs Barcelona in the Champions’ League round of 16) and the former’s stirring comeback? It was a mere footnote…..

Or the right of reply to the refreshing and challenging remarks made by former Socceroo, Llubo Milicevic earlier this week in which he stated, amongst other things, many AFL and NRL players allegedly take drugs, yet get away with it because those codes’ stance on drugs being built on thin “ice”.  No pun intended.  I’m still looking for it…..

I did however, read an article the other day in the same newspaper about a self confessed drug and alcohol user and former AFL star whose former partner would rather spend a night with the lions (no, not the AFL club) on their African holiday than him, being offered a lucrative contract to try and do his best Fred Astaire impersonation on Dancing with the Stars  It’s ironic how sections of our media continually throw lifelines to AFL footballers who can’t, nor know, how to control their emotions, yet throws the boot in on passionate and emotional fans at football games! 

This is not the first time my temples have been pounding at the sight of such news….. 

The night after the first A-League and Melbourne football derby was played, sections of our media, rather than embrace the significance of the game, ran beat up stories about alleged violence between sections of supporters of both clubs and how those supporters allegedly vandalised our public transport system.  Yet how many people did Victoria Police arrest that night? One.  It must have been a slow news day….Oh, but the Caulfield Guineas was on that same weekend and 57 people were allegedly arrested for underage drinking.  Well so I heard on the grapevine….. 

With A-League crowd numbers already way down on those of the opening season, sections of our media seem intent on chasing more fans away from the world game.  Even lower crowd numbers are surely to be the consequence of such stories and the heavy handed manner in which the more enthusiastic, active fans are being treated by security staff and police around the country. 

And so to the point I alluded to earlier….. 

Football fans are a rare and unique breed.  Our authorities, media and the administrators of the game cannot expect a passive and sanitised form of support witnessed in other football codes.  Football supporters are, above all, fans.  They have too much pent-up passion to be able to sit there quietly and cheer when the odd goal goes in.  Of course they will get passionate if and when the winning and only goal is scored in the 94th minute of a pulsating context or the referee makes a bad decision which affects the outcome of the game!  

Football fans see themselves as members of the team and will do whatever they can to contribute to the defeat of the opposing team.  Hence the songs they sing, the giant banners supporting a team or player, the horns, the drums and the hardcore fan groups.  The passion extends beyond the field and into the stands and a connection is built that makes every fan more than a mere spectator. 

It is why at many football clubs around the world, like Boca Juniors for example, there is no number 12 squad shirt – the number being reserved for the fans who are collectively seen as the 12th man.  This is non existent in other football codes.  

This does not of course mean that passion which is channelled into violence should be accepted or go uncontrolled. There is no doubt certain fans are tarnishing the A-League brand.  I’m not that ignorant and/or one eyed.  But as a regular attendant at many A-League games since its inception, I cannot help but observe and note a consistent misunderstanding between our authorities and the games’ fans.  Passionate, positive support should not be confused with football hooliganism, an extremely different and ugly beast.  It is this difference that I feel our authorities and media do not fully understand and moreover, embrace. 

Further, I see no justification for an unnecessarily high police presence at A-League games such as the one witnessed at the Melbourne Victory vs Newcastle Jets game last month.  As a friend later remarked, “There was not one hint of violence….That sort of police presence will only fire up fans even more!” 

And let’s not let the flare throwing individual take the headlines away from a game which has given the world mouth watering local derbies steeped in history and many nations joy in times of despair.

Asian Cup – Australia vs Bahrain….The Golden “Mile”, but I’d love a Kilkenny to calm the nerves

On Wednesday morning the Socceroos progressed to the quarter finals of the Asian Cup after beating Bahrain 1-0. Mile Jedinak was once again the hero with his second goal in as many games with a stunning long range effort in the 37th minute. But on the performance shown against Bahrain, the Socceroos’ next opponent, Iraq, the current holders of the Asian Cup, no less, will not be suffering from insomnia….

I’ll start with the lowlights, because they “overshadowed” the highlights….

1. A sloppy and disorganised midfield. I lost count of the number of times our players, particularly our midfielders, either gave the ball away, misplaced a pass and/or failed to assist our defenders by absorbing pressure when the Bahrainis launched wave after wave of attack. It is clear our midfield is unimaginative and that the emphasis is on graft rather than craft. For what Jedinak brings to the team in goal scoring ability and “screening” the defence, his inferior distribution skills makes him a liability when the team wants to dictate matches. Socceroos’ coach, Holger Osieck may have a dilemma on his hands….

2. Lack of squad depth – Osieck was forced to make three changes to the team that drew against Korea Republic, with the injured trio of Jason Culina, Luke Wilkshire and David Carney all replaced by Carl Valeri, Jade North and Matt McKay, respectively. The former trio were all sorely missed. Valeri, whilst high on energy does not have the passing ability of Culina. North, a capable defender, lacks Wilkshire’s energy and running ability. Finally, McKay, playing out of position at left back, was exposed, particularly early on against the Bahrainis. To add salt to the wound, Brett Emerton was needlessly booked and as such, is suspended for Sunday morning’s clash against Iraq. Being without Wilkshire already hurts, but the prospect of being without both he and Emerton means the Socceroos have a very weakened right flank….one hopes our physios are working overtime to get the aforementioned trio back into the starting line up.

3. Missed opportunities by strikers, Harry Kewell and Tim Cahill. Kewell wasted a golden opportunity in the 32nd minute, firing a shot into the body of Bahrain goalkeeper Mahmood Mansoor from close range, whilst Cahill put a header well wide in the second half. Strikers can get very few opportunities. The Bahrain game was no exception. Hence the need to convert the good opportunities! Goals win games – that’s why strikers get paid the most and “pull” all the good looking girls. Against Bahrain however, I wasn’t convinced Kewell and Cahill could even “pull” a beer.

The highlights:

1. Neil Kilkenny. Kilkenny’s 20 minute cameo towards the end of the match was inspiring. It was refreshing to see someone assist our attack. The boy’s hunger for the ball, ability to hold possession and accurate passing ability could be a solution to our lack of combination play in midfield.

2. For the second game in a row….Mark Schwarzer. But for Schwarzer’s three remarkable saves in the second half, the Socceroos would have been sent packing.

3. The Socceroos did not concede a goal. Moreover, they only conceded one goal in all three group games. Put simply, the team is hard to break down and as foreshadowed in my previous blog, the team’s mental fortitude and never say die attitude is an asset no other team in Asia, arguably possesses. Whilst I, along with many Socceroos’ supporters would love our team to emulate Spain’s World Cup winning team of 2010 and “pass and move” their way to ultimate success, sexy football does not always win football tournaments (read: The “Cryuff inspired” Netherlands’ World Cup teams of 1974 and 1978). On the other hand, discipline, unity and self belief can (read: Italy and Germany’s World Cup winning teams of 1982 and 1990, respectively).  In short, it is not inconceivable that the Aussies could simply grind their way to their first Asian Cup championship.

The Aussies will face a stern test against Group D, runners up, Iraq on Sunday morning. Osieck certainly has some work to do, but so too do the players. At the back of their minds will be a chance to seek redemption – the Iraqis played the Socceroos off the park in the group stages of the 2007 Asian Cup, comprehensively beating them 3-1.

But so too did Uruguay in 2001, ultimately qualifying for the 2002 World Cup.

One need not be reminded of what happened four years later….

I’m more excited than the last time I attended an all you can eat buffet.

Mark “The F Word” Fiorenti

Asian Cup – Australia vs Korea Republic…..All square, but oh, how it hurt!

Mile Jedinak’s first international goal for Australia could not have come at a better time when the Socceroos got a valuable and deserving 1-1 with fellow Asian Cup heavyweight, Korea Republic in their Group C clash on Saturday morning.  But Socceroos’ coach, Holger Osieck could have some selection nightmares ahead of the Bahrain clash and beyond…..

The good:

1.        A unique and “un-Asian” style.  Whilst the Socceroos lack the pace, fluency and technique of many of the other teams at the Asian Cup, the team’s never say die attitude, discipline and physical strengths may well give opposing teams headaches when attempting to break down this Australian side.  Jedinak’s equalising goal epitomised the Australian style – Lucas Neill was quick to float a ball across the face of goal from a Luke Wilkshire cross and Jedinak had no right to challenge Korean goalkeeper Jung Sung-ryong for a high ball but did and impressively beat him to it. 

2.        Mark Schwarzer.  Australia possesses the tournament’s best goalkeeper and Schwarzer played a fitting part in the match, saving superbly late on. 

The bad:

1.        Too predictable, too slow and an inept passing game.  Like the India game, the Socceroos, unlike the Koreans, played a long ball game in preference to a short and quick passing one.  The Aussie tactic of crossing towards Tim Cahill and Harry Kewell at every opportunity was clear once again and one wonders whether such a tactic will reap rewards against a more organised and disciplined defence.  Further, the Koreans’ pass and move groove clearly rattled the Aussies, as evidenced by the number of fouls, particularly Jedinak and Ognenovski, committed.  Finally, the Aussies’ passing and cheap turnovers left a lot to be desired at times. 

2.        Poor defending.  Football is one of those rare games where one defensive lapse can be the difference between success and failure.   Whilst the Socceroos’ defending was excellent for a majority of the game, just how five Socceroos’ defenders let Ji Dong-Wong gain possession and cut back to an unmarked Koo Ja-Cheol for Korea’s goal still baffles and frustrates me.  This was the second defensive lapse in two games.  Whilst the Indians failed to capitalise last week, the Koreans didn’t.  Nor will the likes of Iran and/or Uzbekistan (future potential opponents for the Aussies in the Asian Cup).

The ugly:

1.        Injuries to three first team regulars – Jason Culina, David Carney and Luke Wilksire. I have regularly been vocal about the Aussies’ lack of squad depth….the three aforementioned players will be hard to replace if the diagnosis isn’t favourable.  Whilst Valeri is a straight swap for Culina, he lacks his experience. Of greater concern are the full back positions – Carney (a left winger by trade) has become custodian of the left back position by virtue of a lack of competition and options for that berth, whilst Wilkshire, is in my opinion, Australia’s second best and most consistent outfield player.  Second only to Tim Cahill…..Osieck may be forced to re-shuffle and moreover, test the mettle of his pack.

2.        Harry Kewell’s (constant) whingeing.  Once again, it was refreshing to see a fully fit Kewell get the better of his opposing defenders.  His whingeing with fellow teammates, opposing players and officials was however, disappointing. This was not the first time Kewell has brought this ugly side into his game (read: harassing and “touching up” the match officials after Australia’s group game against Brazil at the 2006 World Cup and his verbal tirade against the referee after being controversially, but correctly sent off against Ghana at last year’s World Cup).  Kewell is a professional footballer first, an underwear model second.  He should start acting more like the former and stop dicking around.

All in all, Australia will now fancy its chances to progress to the knockout rounds of the Asian Cup, knowing all but a loss against Bahrain tomorrow morning will be enough to see them through.

But the Asian Cup is to Australia, what the World Cup is to heavyweights Brazil, Germany and Italy.  Qualifying for the knockout rounds should be viewed as a mere formality.  Not reaching the semi finals would be deemed a failure. 

This is when the real tournament starts.

Mark “The F word” Fiorenti

Asian Cup – Australia vs India….An upsize without the Big “Mac”

Australia commenced its Asian Cup campaign with a 4-0 romp against a technically inept India in the early hours of Tuesday morning.  Nevertheless, the Socceroos’ passing game and strike rate needs to improve if we are to progress to the semi finals and beyond of this tournament. 

Socceroos’ coach, Holger Osieck employed an expansive 4-4-2 formation opting for Cahill and Kewell up front (the latter surprisingly in favour of Scott McDonald) and Brett Emerton and Holman pushing high down the flanks and Mile Jedinak partnering Jason Culina in the centre of the park in front of a defensive back four. 

The positives included:

  1. Two goals from Mr Consistency, Tim Cahill, who is surely Australia’s most important player and is now on par to becoming Australia’s highest goal scorer.  The ‘F Word’s man of the match.

2.   A lively performance from Brett Emerton in both defence and attack on the right hand side of the  park.  Cahill’s first goal came from an Emerton delivery, as did Holman’s headed goal.

3.   A fully fit and firing Harry Kewell who scored with a beautifully struck shot.

There were, as alluded to earlier, some concerns though….:

  1. A sloppy and wasteful second half.  Yes, the game was arguably in the bag by then, but the passing left a lot to be desired at times and the crosses did not always find their intended target.  Further, Australia may rue the goalscoring chances it missed if Group C comes down to goal difference.
  2. An inept passing game.  For much of the 90 minutes the Socceroos preferred a long ball game to take advantage of the small Indian players, rather than employ an intimidating, short and quick passing game.  This tactic will not be successful against the pacy and technically sound South Koreans.
  3. Scott McDonald.  “The Mac” lacks bite in attack and yet again, failed to open his goalscoring account for the Socceroos after 22 games.  Against a country ranked 142nd in the world, no less.  Scotty appears incapable of scoring even in the “House of the Rising Sun”.  One must now wonder if he will be given another chance.  Burns, and even Kruse must surely be given a look in….

In short, Australia’s performance was sound and solid but it is hard to imagine the Asian Cup’s other heavyweights “quaking in their boots” after this performance. 

But at least there were clear signs from the players and coaching staff that this team is determined on making up for the disappointing failure of 2007. 

Tougher tests await in the shape of the South Koreans who put in an excellent performance against Bahrain, comprehensively beating them 2-1 and playing the last part of the game with ten men.

I wait with bated breath….

From the colony to the colonised….Football’s not coming home but to new frontiers….and without a dose of “Fair Play” (Part 2)

So, too 2022….

Millions of football fans around the world are still wondering how Qatar ultimately won the rights to host the 2022 World Cup. Yet in the end FIFA was seduced and “sold” by Qatar’s promise of a high-tech tournament. 

I always maintained Australia was arguably punching above its weight in trying to secure the hosting rights to 2022, yet I also consistently argued we had a solid bid and our real and only rival, and favourite, was the United Sates of America.  Exactly how the tiny Emirate state which has a climate conducive to hell on earth and its capital, Doha, is according to Lonely Planet, “the dullest place in the world” secured the rights over the mighty United States is about as impressive and moreover, believable as me getting lucky with Megan Gale.

And Jennifer Hawkins.

On the same night…..

Not only did the win leave me breathless, but more so, the gravity of same – 11 votes in the first round to the United States’ 3….14 votes in the fourth round to the United States’ 8!

Some of the reasons why I was, and will continue to be shocked by the Qatar win include:

-Heat – the average temperatures in June and July are a whopping 41 and 46 degrees celsius, respectively;

-Potential terrorist attacks/threats;

-The fact there will be ten stadiums within a 25 kilometre radius of Doha which was deemed incapable of hosting the (2016) Olympic Games only last year; and

-Restrictions on the consumption of alcohol. 

To counter these problems Qatar has promised, amongst other things:

-Airconditioned stadiums which will be solar powered and therefore, carbon neutral.  What effect will airconditioning have on the “ball”?  It may make the Jabulani (which was used at this year’s last World Cup and branded by many as like playing with a beach ball), appear “normal”?!; and

-Fans will be able to drink alcohol in specially designed areas called “fan zones”.  Will Doha, I mean Qatar, have room to fit these fan zones? Will they be air conditioned too?!

I’ll believe it when I see it. 

For now, it is a fictional tale. 

Just like Qatar’s bid video which was largely set in the future and the country shown as it “might” be in 2022.   

The abovementioned concerns are shared by many, including FIFA.  In fact, Qatar received the worst technical report of all the bidding nations from FIFA (for instance, FIFA labelled the punishing heat “a potential health risk”) and was the lowest ranked by FIFA’s own independent inspectors.

Yet FIFA still awarded Qatar the World Cup!

In the words of Paul Dalligan, “I have now seen it all”.

So, too the conspiracy theories…..I’m no investigative journalist but the following just doesn’t wash with me:

-How secretive was the voting when Qatari state owned broadcaster, al-Jazeera reported the result before Sepp Blatter opened his envelope and informed the world? And what of Qatari officials who were reportedly seen embracing one another and appeared relaxed in the lead up to same whilst Frank Lowy looked like he needed a year’s supply of Gastro Stop to curb his anxiety?

-What did Mohamed Bin Hamman say to Reyanld Temarii (the Oceania member who was suspended from voting for his part in an undercover newspaper sting) when he met him in Kuala Lumpur last week and shortly thereafter, Temarii stated he would proceed with his appeal, thereby allowing Oceania not to be represented in the ballot? Lest we forget that Temarii was quoted as saying he would have voted for Australia.  To add salt to the wound, Hamman supported Temarii’s decision (to proceed with his appeal).  

-The fact the Qataris were able to sponsor the Confederation of African Football Congress on 29 January 2010 and in doing so secured “exclusive” rights to make presentations to African delegates, including FIFA executive committee member, Issa Hayatou.  Does that name sound familiar?! If not, read my last blog!  In short, he has been accused of accepting bribes in the past! Australia, and the other 2022 bidding nations, could only attend the event as “observers” and could not organise press conferences.

Which brings me to my final point….

The integrity of the World Cup bidding process has been damaged and the system of bidding within FIFA ranks must change.

Transparency is needed. 

In awarding the 2022 World Cup to Qatar (and the 2018 World Cup to Russia) does FIFA really care about the fans who have made the game what it is today? It would appear not.  FIFA does not appear concerned if a supporter is subjected to a violent racist attack in Moscow or another dies of heat exhaustion whilst playing, “Let’s find the nearest watering hole” in Doha. I have no doubt that any of the other bidding nations would have delivered a better experience for the football fan than the eventual winners.

The “beautiful” game and its loyal fans, stands to lose.  

Mark “The F Word” Fiorenti