Thursday, December 16, 2010

Embrace Asia before taking on the world

Australia will be named as host of the
2015 AFC Asian Cup in just 21 days time
It won’t capture the imagination as much as the FIFA World Cup Bid Announcement, in fact there probably wont even be a live announcement on TV and it will only get a passing mention on news bulletins, if it all, but in just 21 days time Australia will be confirmed as the host of the 2015 AFC Asian Cup.

After the disappointment of missing out on 2022 in humiliating circumstances, most people will skoff and say “big deal”, but it is exactly that. It is a big deal.

Some say we were na├»ve in going for 2022 and that we needed to prove ourselves as a Football nation. The 2015 AFC Asian Cup provides us with an opportunity to do just that, but perhaps more importantly it will give us a chance to prove we’re an Asian nation.

Despite rising coverage, Australian’s still largely ignore Asian Football and disregard it as ‘second-rate’. Australia went into the 2007 AFC Asian Cup with largely that attitude. It was presumed we would waltz in and win it at our first attempt without a worry in the world.

We were quickly, and rightly, given a rude shock.

What 2015 will do is showcase the best Asian Football has to offer to this largely uneducated audience. It will, hopefully, break down barriers, remove stereotypes and allow Australia to embrace Asian Football.

It will, hopefully, also allow Asia to embrace Australia.

There is still apprehension to Australia joining the AFC from some quarters. We’re not viewed as an Asian nation. Even Mohammed Bin Hammam, the AFC President who played a large part in Australia being accepted into The AFC, still doesn’t really view Australia as an “Asian” nation, as evidenced by his recent comments.

Frank Lowy & Ben Buckley present Australia's bid for the
2015 AFC Asian Cup to Mohammed Bin Hammam

When asked by respected Asian Football journalist, John Duerden, whether he would give his vote to another Asian nation in the event Qatar were knocked out of the bidding to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup, Bin Hammam replied, “You are considering Australia as an Asian country?”

That answer says so much about Australia’s standing within The AFC.

Australia’s integration into Asia will take years, perhaps decades, before we’re really considered to be a true part of The AFC. We’re one of the only nations within The AFC that I am aware of that doesn’t compete in it’s own regional Football tournament – the AFF Cup (also known as the Suzuki Cup).

Getting full membership of the ASEAN Football Federation and having a team participate in the biennial AFF Cup must be close to top of the agenda for the FFA. It is important politically as well as being important for our football development.

We need our Football powerbrokers to take up key positions within Asian Football and we need to regularly have a member of the AFC Executive Committee.

Talk of Australia needing a seat on the FIFA Exco are massively premature, especially when we’re so weak politically in our own region. Let’s first “conquer” Asia before we think about conquering the world.

And that is what the 2015 AFC Asian Cup will help us achieve. By no means will we have “conquered” Asia by simply hosting the tournament, but we will have gone a long way to improving our standing within the region and our acceptance as an Asian nation – both here and abroad.

That is why hosting the 2015 AFC Asian Cup is a big deal.

 

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Victory require a change in attitude towards Asia

For the third time in four years Melbourne Victory will participate in the showpiece Football tournament of our region – the AFC Champions League.

Expectations were high heading into the Victory’s first campaign, and the club approached the campaign with much excitement and expectation and the fans came out in force for their first taste of Champions League football.

On the whole, it was a respectable effort by the Victory, finishing second in Group G behind eventual champions Gamba Osaka. At that stage, AFC Champions League rules meant only the top team from each group advanced to the Quarter Finals.

The Victory may only have won the two games, but they showed respect for the competition and averaged a healthy crowd of 19,023 across their three home games.

The 2010 campaign could not have been any more different.

The Victory, unlike their 2008 campaign, were in the middle of a A-League finals campaign and faced a schedule that demanded a lot of the players.

But the attitude was different; this time around the club viewed the AFC Champions League almost as a distraction, and the excuses were rolled out from before the group stage even began. Victory admitted defeat before they even started.

And it showed in the results.

A 1-0 loss away to Beijing Guoan was by no means a horror start, and it could have been so much different had Victory converted one of numerous golden opportunities in the final few minutes.

A loss at home to Seongnam, who again like Gamba in 2008 went on to become eventual champions, was compounded by an embarrassing 0-4 loss away to Kawasaki.

The Victory’s only win of the campaign would come against Kawasaki in Melbourne, with Kevin Muscat converting a relatively soft penalty. But for large parts of the game the Victory were under attack and had Mitch Langerak to thank for keeping them in the game.

The club’s pathetic attitude rubbed off on the fans, with an average gate of only 6768. In fact the aggregate gate across all three games (20,304) is only just higher than the average of their 2008 campaign.

The attitude of the Victory was expressed by captain Kevin Muscat after the final home game against Beijing.

"To be honest, playing in Asia, is not all that enjoyable," he told Fox Sports.

"People going down left, right and centre, stalling for time, it's not that enjoyable playing in the Champions League,” he added.

"I think it's evident for people to see. Being involved in it and watching it I can understand why people don't come and watch. People going down... it just seems that authorities can't take control."

It was an embarrassing outburst and one not forgotten by most Victory fans who are now demanding that Muscat not take part in the upcoming campaign given his obvious dislike for the tournament. His shaky form and susceptibility to the quick, crisp movement of the east Asian teams is another factor.

That brings us to 2011.

The official draw for the 2011 AFC Champions League was conducted in Kuala Lumpur last night and the Victory, who qualified as runner-up of the A-League, will, in a strange twist, face the runner-up from the J.League, K-League and Chinese Super League – Gamba Osaka, Jeju United and Tianjin TEDA.

Victory and Gamba Osaka have history, dating back to the 2008 campaign. The two teams played out a thrilling contest at Docklands, with Lucas netting an 89th minute winner for the Osaka outfit.

The Brazilian won’t be back to trouble the Victory this time around, with Gamba confirming that the Brazilian will be cut loose at the end of their current campaign.

But in Takashi Usami and Shoki Hirai they have two young and dangerous strikers, and if a play for Deznan Radoncic, currently at this year’s ACL winners Seongnam, comes to fruition they’ll posses a strike force that strike fear into the Victory’s defence.

In another little quirk, two of Victory’s opponents (Gamba Osaka and Tianjin TEDA) are from cities that have a Sister City relationship with Melbourne.

The draw hasn’t been easy to Victory, but it hasn’t been bad to them either. They won’t face the champion team from Japan, Korea or China as they have in previous seasons.

But all that will be academic unless there is a drastic change in attitude.

Sure, the AFC Champions League may only be in its infancy is a truly professional competition, but to show the disrespect towards the competition that the Victory did last year sends a bad message to the rest of the Asian football fraternity.

With the first game, a tricky trip to Osaka, just over two months away it remains to be seen how Victory will approach this year’s competition.

 

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Where to from here for Australia?

It’s taken a few days, mostly spent moping around, to get over the massive disappointment of Australia missing out on hosting the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

Not only disappointment, but humiliation at being bundled out in the first round with one solitary vote.

But that cannot change, it is what it is, and we must learn from it and get back to growing Football in Australia.

In some ways, it is a blessing that we missed out on the World Cup. It has highlighted areas in the game that need massive amounts of work, and perhaps had we been successful these areas may have received the “papering over the cracks” treatment rather than a full re-plastering.

Not only that, but now the FFA has no World Cup distractions taking away from the A-League and grassroots here in Australia.

In the long run this will be better for Football.

FFA Chairman, Frank Lowy, and FFA CEO, Ben Buckley, will face the media today at a press conference in Sydney. The focus – the future of Football is bright.

Of that there is no question, whether the FFA in its current state is best equipped to make the most of it is another question.

Let’s have a look at some of the big issues, in no particular order, facing the game.


Ben Buckley - his time is up!

1.      Management & Leadership
The most simple question – where the hell is it? Ben Buckley came to the FFA with a big reputation having just secured the AFL a record breaking $780m TV rights deal. But his record at the FFA has been far from impressive. Here are just some of his failures:

  • Pim Verbeek – Despite what some claim, Pim as a Manager was fantastic for Australia. We achieved great results and easily qualified for the World Cup. Whilst I don’t agree with many that Pim continually bagged the A-League, the perception that he did was allowed to continue without any major rebuttal from head office. No one got on the front foot to defend the game from attack after attack and it has suffered greatly.

  • A-League Expansion – This was something that was supposed to grow the A-League. After four successful seasons of growth, the A-League was ready to take the next step and expand, thus growing the sport in Australia. Instead it has been one major, major stuff-up. Gold Coast had an owner that turned their community off the club before a ball had even been kicked (that’s assuming the community actually knew the club existed) and half way through the first season Nth Queensland lost crucial investors and Don Matheson pulled the pin after just one season. There are so many issues I could go on, and on, and on, and on. But needless to say Buckley has well and truly butchered the expansion. That’s without mentioning Sydney Rovers.
With his contract up in just a matter of days, surely the FFA cannot give the man a new contract after the last four years. It’s time for a fresh face to inject some life back into the FFA and most importantly they need to be a face for the game. We continually see Andrew Demetriou, David Gallop, James Sutherland out in the media promoting the game, yet we see nothing from Buckley or new Head of A-League, Lyall Gorman.

2.      Promotion
Apparently there is this Football competition in Australia known as the A-League! Know anything about it? Unless you’re a Football tragic or take an interest in the game, you probably don’t. The A-League was launched with a blaze of sexy, slick advertising which has now all but disappeared.

I cannot remember the last time I saw an A-League advertisement on television (free to air). The fact is the WC Bid consumed so much of the FFA’s time, effort and money the A-League was badly neglected and its obvious that it has suffered badly.

To their credit the FFA at least seem to be trying to find ways to fix it, conducting an across-the-board strategic review of the A-League and engaging the fans and media to discuss ways to growing and promoting the game.

The A-League this season has been by far the best quality, yet the crowds and interest are declining. It doesn’t make sense.

3.      North Queensland Fury
The Fury cannot be allowed to just wither away and die

I beg the FFA – do not let the Fury die. It would be a massive, massive mistake to let the club representing a massive region of Australia just die off. The club is working bloody hard to find a solution to their ownership crisis and believe they have the right framework to move forward. They just need a little help over the next 12-18 months.

The outcry from the community says it all – this club means something to the people up there. You cannot put a price on that. The FFA want the local community to show their commitment by putting their hard earned on the line and turning up to games. But how do they expect people to form a connection and relationship with the club when the place is a revolving door of players and backroom staff.

The Football community up in North Queensland is strong and has produced a number of quality players – think Steve Corica and Michael Thwaite just to name two. It also has a strong aboriginal community and can do crucial work in developing football amongst the indigenous population.

The club has so much potential, we know how mad North Queenslanders are about their sport, just give them some time to get their house in order.


Not everything is doom & gloom though. The introduction of an FFA Cup is a positive step, provided they get the format correct; the nationwide competition review will hopefully lead to a better “second tier” of Football in Australia and the review of the A-League should lead to some promising initiatives.

Together with that with on-field action in the A-League has been taken to another level and will hopefully only get better, we’re starting to attract better quality imports (Broich, Solorzano, Flores, Hernandez etc), we’re a month away from being confirmed as the host for the 2015 Asian Cup and our junior teams and women’s team will play in their respective World Cup’s next year.

The FFA are right, the future is bright, but unless changes are made they wont be in a position to make the most of it.

The ball is in your court FFA – what are you going to do with it?

 

Monday, November 22, 2010

Is the anti-siphoning list good for Football?

Will fans see more of the Socceroos?
It is the one debate that everyone has a strong opinion on and the one debate that, shortly, will be put to bed.

Should Socceroos games be placed on the anti-siphoning list?

For those living under a rock, or outside Australia, the anti-siphoning list is a Government-approved list of sporting events that are “culturally significant” to Australians, and thus, are only available for Free-to-Air (FTA) to bid on.

The current anti-siphoning list expires on 31 December 2010 and the Government are preparing to introduce the new legislation into Parliament this week.

While many argue that having Socceroos games on FTA is crucial as it drastically increases exposure (currently only 34% of Australians have Pay-TV), is placing the Socceroos on the anti-siphoning list the best thing for the sport?

As it currently stands the Socceroos are broadcast on FOX SPORTS as part of a seven-year agreement that ends in 2013. FOX SPORTS paid $120 million for the rights, or just over $17 million a year.

The deal has been a tremendous one for FOX SPORTS with the Socceroos recording the two highest rating shows in history across the entire FOXTEL platform, with more in the top ten.

FOX SPORTS wants the Socceroos and they’re prepared to pay big money for it.

But, by placing Socceroos games on the anti-siphoning list FOX SPORTS are unable to even bid for the rights, therefore reducing the competition for the FTA networks and in turn the money they will pay for the rights. Without competition amongst the bidders, the value of the rights is greatly reduced.

Is that good for Football?

There are important details, however, that cloud the picture even further.

For starters, it is only Socceroos World Cup Qualifiers played in Australia that are on the anti-siphoning list. Away qualifiers and friendly internationals aren’t on the list.

Theoretically, the FFA could sell the rights to friendly games as a separate package. Away World Cup qualifiers are a little different in that generally the FFA buy these rights and then on-sell them, currently to FOX SPORTS.

Again, theoretically, there is nothing stopping the FFA from agreeing to on-sell all these games to a particular network, say FOX SPORTS, and packaging them up with friendly games.

In the course of a year, there would be more away WCQ’s and friendly games than there would be home WCQ’s.

But the question is whether the FFA would want to split up the Socceroos rights, or sell the rights to all games to one network, as they currently do with FOX SPORTS.

But what of the A-League?

Despite a push from ONE HD early in the year the include one game per week from the A-League on the anti-siphoning list, the A-League, it seems will be free from the list and open to a competitive bidding “war”.

Most people recognise that bundling the Socceroos/A-League together is what helped reap the FFA $120m back in 2006, when the A-League was in its infancy.

But with the Socceroos now seemingly destined for the anti-siphoning list and a FTA network, just how much value is the A-League worth on its own? The general feeling is not much, at least not as much as it would be bundled with the Socceroos.

Is getting less money for A-League TV rights good for Football?

The answer, of course, is a resounding no. More and more sports are relying on their television deals to fund the game. Certainly it was hoped the next TV deal for the A-League would help it out of its current financial predicament and put it on the path to profit and, ultimately, a stronger competition.

The FFA recognise the importance of FTA, they have repeatedly mentioned over the last few years their desire to have both the Socceroos and A-League on FTA. But they also want strong competition for the rights to bump up the price they receive.

Ben Buckley travelled to Canberra last week to meet with Senator Conroy, the man responsible for the new legislation, imploring him to keep the Socceroos OFF the list. Buckley, the man who masterminded the AFL’s last deal worth $780 million, knows how important it is to have competition.

Football is not yet at the stage where networks are climbing over themselves to secure television deals, we need all the competition we can get and FOX SPORTS are a big (and wealthy) competitor. Take them out of the equation and all you have left is, most likely, ONE HD.

Given the FFA know how important FTA is, there was a good chance that they would have sold the rights to a FTA network in any case.

Claims that having no anti-siphoning list will lead to all sports simply being sold off to Pay-TV are just baseless scare-mongering.

Every sport knows the value of FTA and they would ensure that the right balance is reached between FTA and Pay-TV. But they shouldn’t be dictated to by a Government, to be even more precise a Minister (it is Sen. Conroy, and Sen. Conroy only, who determines the make up of the anti-siphoning list), on who they can and can’t sell their rights to.

Out of this Football appear to be on the course for less money for Socceroos rights and less money for A-League rights. In return they will get more viewers and exposure for a minimum of 2-3 games a year.

Less money for the FFA means less ability to promote the A-League, less ability to initiate important components of the National Development Plan and National Curriculum, less ability to grow the game at the grassroots.

Is that good for Football?


What I think will happen…
Socceroos games (all) – ONE HD
A-League – FOX SPORTS
FFA Cup – FOX SPORTS
2015 Asian Cup – FOX SPORTS
Asian Champions League – FOX SPORTS

 

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

J.League title is heading to Nagoya

Nakata celebrates his goal for Kashima against Kawasaki
There may still be four games to go in the season, but the inevitable can no longer be denied.

Nagoya Grampus WILL win the 2010 J.League.

They currently sit eight points clear with four games to go and face two relegation threatened teams (in fact Shonan has already been relegated) in their next two games. They won’t drop enough points to give Kashima a sniff.

Kashima’s last hope came over the weekend when they travelled to Kawasaki and Nagoya hosted Omiya Ardija in what was potentially a banana skin game.

To Kashima’s credit, they held up their end of the bargain with a 2-1 win at Kawasaki.

The Todoroki Stadium was packed to capacity for the clash, with a sea of red occupying one end of the stadium as the Kashima supporters travelled in large numbers for the do-or-die clash.

It didn’t start as they would have hoped, however, when Vitor Junior opened the scoring in the 20th minute to give the home side the lead.

Kashima almost equalised a minute later when star striker Marquinhos attempted an acrobatic scissor kick that just went wide.

The breakthrough did eventually come, seven minutes before the half when a free kick from outwide found Koji Nakata unmarked at the back post.

Kawasaki should have re-gained the lead before half time, but first Vitor Junior and then Tukuro Kajima failed to hit the target with two relatively easy attempts.

They were missed that would come back to haunt Kawasaki mid-way through the second half when Kashima, bizarrely, scored a second.

Mituso Ogasawara played in a delightful ball over the top of the defence for Takuya Nozawa to run on to, however coming the other way was Kawasaki keeper Rikihiro Sugiyama.

The players appeared destined to collide, with a third player, Kawasaki midfielder Kengo Nakamura, also coming into the mix. The three players had a coming together of sorts and somehow the ball managed to roll through the legs of Sugiyama into the back of the net.

Not having touched any of the three players, the goal was credited to Ogasawara.

Kawasaki had a couple of half chances late in the game, but couldn’t make any of them count allowing Kashima to run out 2-1 winners.

The Kashima players and fans then waited anxiously to find out the result of the Nagoya-Omiya game taking place at the same time.

It wasn’t the result either group was after though.

Nagoya players celebrate the
winner against Omiya Ardija
Nagoya were missing key players at both ends of the park, with Tulio Tanaka again missing and striker Josh Kennedy also on the sidelines.

The Champions-in-waiting didn’t let that affect them, taking an early lead after just four minutes.

Montenegran midfielder Igor Burzanovic slammed the ball home, after the Omiya defence had failed to deal with the corner situation.

It would be enough to knock the sails out of most teams, but Omiya rallied and started pressing up the other end, twice going within inches of scoring an equaliser.

Their endeavour was rewarded on the half hour mark when Rafael chested the ball down in the box for Naoki Ishihara to slam home the equaliser and stun the vocal home crowd.

But you don’t win Championships with a steely resolve and within ten minutes Nagoya had re-taken the lead through defender Takahiro Masukawa, who headed home from a perfectly taken free kick from Yoshizumi Ogawa.

The match turned even further in Nagoya’s favour just before half time when Korean midfielder Lee Ho crazily lunged in for a tackle from behind just minutes after receiving his first yellow card.

The referee had no other alternative than to show Lee a second yellow card and give him an early shower. After conceding a goal moments earlier, it was the one thing Omiya didn’t need going into half time.

Nagoya enjoyed the lions share of possession in the second half, but couldn’t find a third goal. It mattered little as they held on for a 2-1 win that guaranteed qualification for next year’s AFC Champions League, but more importantly all but guaranteed they will be crowned 2010 J.League Champions.

Gamba Osaka hosted Sanfrecce Hiroshima in what promised to be a fascinating affair at the Expo ’70 Stadium.

Yashuhito Endo

Sanfrecce clung on to faint hope of claiming an ACL spot, sitting five points behind third place Gamba, knowing a win would take them to within striking distance.

Gamba, on the other hand, knew a win would give them breathing space over the chasing pack in third place.

A defensive mistake from captain Tomokazu Miyojin early on almost gifted Sanfrecce an opening goal but Tadanari Lee blasted the ball over after being found free in the box.

It was a defensive blunder, a howler in fact, that lead to the opening goal. This time it was Sanfrecce gifting Gamba with the opportunity.

A wayward back pass missed its intended target and fell straight to Lee Keun-Ho who had the simplest of finishes past the helpless keeper.

Gamba had some nervy moments after scoring, with Sanfrecce forcing Yosuke Fujigaya into a couple of great saves.

Akira Hishino made a change at half time, opting for more experience up front replacing 18 year-old sensation Takashi Usami with Lucas.

It proved a masterstroke when, on the hour mark, Lucas headed home the decisive second goal.

A free kick from the deadly boot of Yasuhito Endo was put into a dangerous position, but ultimately it was a mistake from Sanfrecce keeper Shusaku Nishikawa who started coming for the ball before stopping that allowed Lucas to score.

Having come half way for the ball, Nishikawa left his goal unguarded and Lucas had little trouble in putting the ball in the back of the net.

Sanfrecce continued to have chance after chance, but Fujigaya was a colossus in goals and kept his clean sheet in tact.

Robson Ponte celebrates the
winner for Urawa Reds
Elsewhere on Sunday, Urawa Reds got back to winning ways with a 2-0 win over Kyoto Sanga, a result that condemns Kyoto to relegation and J2 football next season.

FC Tokyo continued to keep their fight for survival alive with a shock 2-1 win at Yokohama F.Marinos. They still have it all to do to stay up, sitting only 2 points above the relegation zone but it is a result that will give the side plenty of confidence ahead of their home clash against Kawasaki next week.

Shonan Bellmare also confirmed their relegation on Saturday when they were thumped by Shimizu S-Pulse 5-0.

Vegalta Sendai faced a tricky match against Jubilo Iwata, who have been in hot form over the last seven weeks. Sendai, however, surprised everyone by cruising to a 3-0 win to all but secure their place in J1 for next season.

Montedio Yamagata and Cerezo Osaka played out an entertaining 3-3 draw, although the Osaka outfit would have been expecting all three points going in. The result leaves them four points behind crosstown rivals, Gamba, in fourth spot.

Vissel Kobe earned a valuable point away to Albirex Niigata in their fight to avoid relegation. They currently sit in 16th spot inside the relegation zone and will battle FC Tokyo to stay up, with both teams facing a tough four weeks to finish off the season.

But the story of the round is Nagoya, who can officially seal the Championship as early as this weekend if they defeat Shonan Bellmare and Kashima drop points at Kobe.

It’s all elementary though as there is now little doubt that Dragan Stojkovic’s men will lift the trophy and be crowned J.League Champions for 2010.

 

Monday, November 15, 2010

Time for re-think on ACL Final

They say you must learn to crawl before you can walk. It is a saying the folk at The AFC would be well advised to take on board.

The final of the 2010 AFC Champions League was played on the weekend at the National Stadium in Tokyo – between a team from South Korea and a team from Iran.

Whilst The AFC is to be commended for their work in reshaping the AFC Champions League, it’s time for a re-think on the neutral venue for the final.

The neutral venue works in Europe – distances are smaller, the competition is entrenched in the Football culture and travel is significantly cheaper – but in Asia that is not the case.

The AFC have got lucky, somewhat, in the last two years by the fact that two Korean sides have played in the final. The distances between the two countries aren’t that great.

Their opponents, however, have quite a distance to travel.

In 2009, Al-Ittihad, based out of the Saudi town of Jeddah, had to travel 9500km for the final in Tokyo. To put that in perspective, that is further than a trip from London to Los Angeles and almost the equivalent of a London-New York round trip.

It wasn’t much better this year either when Zob Ahan had to travel 7900km to Tokyo.

Compare that to Europe where the furthest a team, and consequently their supporters, have travelled for a final (in the last three years) is 2400km from London to Moscow in 2008. That’s roughly the same as Melbourne to Cairns.

Not only is it a disadvantage for the players, it’s a major disadvantage for the fans. Air travel can be relatively cheap across Europe, with any number of low-cost carriers to ferry you between the major cities.

Again, this isn’t the case in Asia. And this is the major reason why The AFC must return the final to a two-legged affair.

The fans are the ones who support the AFC Champions League, and this year they did so in increasing numbers.

Yet when it comes to the final, only a lucky few can afford to make the trip to Tokyo. Not the least because the finalists are only decided a few weeks prior.

The AFC Champions League has made many advancements over the last few years, yet getting fans through the gate continues to prove difficult.

Why then are The AFC taking away the opportunity for the fans to see the final live and expose a new audience to the wonders of the tournament?

It’s fair to assume that both Seongnam are Zob Ahan would have attracted well above their average throughout the tournament (5033 and 6949 respectively) had they had the chance to host a leg of the final.

The final of the AFC Champions League had always been a two-leg affair until 2009 when The AFC opted for a single-leg model to be played at a neutral venue.

Whilst noble in its endeavour, the AFC Champions League just isn’t at the level for a single-leg, neutral venue final to work.

The AFC is taking the AFC Champions League to a new world of professionalism and it is clearly going to take time to grow and prosper. Perhaps in 25-30 years when it has had a chance to do so a single-leg final may work.

But for the time being in the best interests of the tournament and fans, the final must return to the two-leg format.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Will the new owners be good for the Reds?

Adelaide United's new owners are unveiled
The A-League received a big boost yesterday when Football Federation Australia announced it had reached an agreement with an SA-based consortium to take over ownership of Adelaide United.

Having stepped in to take over the club in 2009 when then owner Nick Bianco withdrew his support, the FFA came close to selling the club earlier this year to a consortium headed up by Alan Young, however that deal fell over at the last hurdle.

But will the new owners, headed up by well known South Australian Rob Gerard, be all their cranked up to be?

Unfortunately, even after just one day, I am having doubts.

First their was the claim by fellow investor and new Chairman, lawyer Greg Griffin that, “We're not here to lose money, we're actually here to make it.”

Make money? Owning a Football Club? Perhaps they should ask any of the other A-League owners how that is going for them, or any owner of any Football Club across the world.

Football Clubs are an investment, not a profit-making exercise. How do they plan to make that money? Is it by cutting costs back and running the club on a shoe-string, or by initially investing large sums in order to see a return in the future?

When the A-League was formed we were told clubs would start turning a profit by season five. Only Melbourne Victory and Central Coast have managed to record a profit in the first five years, the rest aren’t even close.

What happens if, after a year or two, they’re still no closer to breaking even (let alone turning a profit), will they stick it out or bail and run like Don Matheson did in Townsville and like Clive Palmer threatened to do on the Gold Coast?

On the plus side, they have said they’ll target a marquee player (hopefully one who is actually a marquee in the true sense of the word), so at least that demonstrates that they are prepared to spend some money.

The other concerning aspect of the new owners is their insistence on linking the club with local SANFL club, North Adelaide.

Three of the four new owners have strong links to North Adelaide, so you can understand their desire for both clubs to work more closely, but is it really going to be beneficial?

Talk of sharing backroom and admin staff is slightly concerning given that Football is now a full-time professional job and “sharing” administration between the two clubs could lead to all sorts of issues.

What happens in winter when SANFL is in full-swing and the A-League is in its off-season, does North Adelaide take precedence over Adelaide United?

I’m not so sure sharing facilities is the right way to go, either.

Adelaide United’s home, in every sense, is Hindmarsh Stadium. They play there, they train there and their administration is based there.

Why possibly move their administration staff from their home and Adelaide’s only decent Football stadium to a new location?

Adelaide is probably the only A-League club that can claim to have a true home ground. They’re the only tenant and driving past it is clear that Hindmarsh is Adelaide United’s ground.

From a study trip to Europe in 2008, Director of Football, Michael Petrillo recommended that Adelaide United consider establishing its own training facility away from Hindmarsh, similar to of AC Milan at Milanello.

This is something that every A-League club should be aiming towards, it has many more benefits that just being a place for the team to train. Central Coast are the first A-League club to head down this path with their Centre of Excellence in Tuggerah.

Yet, as important as this development is, it’s unlikely that it will see the light of day under the new owners plans to share facilities. What use are four or five rectangular training pitches to an SANFL club? In fact, what use is any rectangular stadium for that matter?

Adelaide already use one AFL ground in Thebarton Oval for training purposes, and now it seems likely that Prospect Oval, home of North Adelaide, could become their “home” away from home.

But that is where my issue lies, clubs should be looking to form their own identity, not piggy back on other clubs from another code.

What message does it send to have Adelaide’s premier Football team training on an AFL ground?

Code-sharing is dangerous as inevitably one code will always have to be the dominant one, I’m just not sure which side of the fence the new owners sit.

For the sake of Adelaide United I hope it’s on their side. If not, it could get ugly.

  

Friday, November 5, 2010

History beckons for Nagoya

Will Nagoya be celebrating
this weekend?

Both clubs have been in the J.League since its inception in 1993 and both clubs are chasing history, and their clash this weekend could see one of them achieve just that.

Nagoya Grampus and Kashima Antlers are the two teams in questions and their histories couldn’t be any more different. Nagoya, founded in 1939 as Toyota Motor SC, has never won the J.League. Kashima on the other hand are the J.League’s most successful club.

Seven titles, including the last three, three J.League Cups and three Nabisco Cups. 13 trophies in 17 years, a stunning record in any league.

But this year it is the Nagoya based club that is taking all before it. 19 wins from 28 games tells the story of their dominance. Their target man, the lanky Josh Kennedy, has caused nightmares for defences across the league and leads the golden boot award with 16 goals.

Heading into their clash this weekend, Nagoya enjoy a comfortable 11 point lead over second placed Kashima. A win, whilst not guaranteeing anything, would surely secure Nagoya their first J.League title.

Two of their stars will face last minute fitness tests, with Tulio Tanaka and Mu Kanazaki both trying to overcome injured hamstrings suffered in their win over Vissel Kobe two weeks ago. Latest reports suggest Tanaka could return via the bench, although Kanazaki is likely to miss.

Despite this, with the prospect of clinching the title, especially against the team that has won the last three, I can’t see Nagoya not getting the three points.

Further north, Gamba will be looking to bounce back from a demoralising 2-4 home loss to Vissel Kobe when they travel to the capital to take on FC Tokyo.

Gamba Osaka will be hoping Yasuhito Endo fires
FC Tokyo are trying to avoid the drop to J2 for the first time in more than a decade. Last weekend’s shock win over Shimizu S-Pulse helped the cause, but they still have work to do if they want to avoid the drop.

Gamba players were copped some heated abuse after their loss last week and Akira Nishino’s men will be out to make a point against another relegation contender.

The strike pairing of Shoki Hirai and Takashi Usami, who have scored 14 and 7 goals respectively this season, will likely lead the line for Gamba. Usami starred for Japan at the recent AFC U19 Championships and will need to produce that form to ensure Gamba stay inside the top three.

FC Tokyo will welcome back midfielder Takuji Yonemoto, but will lose Yohei Kajiyama through suspension.

After sacking manager Hiroshi Jofuku in September, the club has got its season somewhat back on track with two wins and a draw from their last five games.

But with Gamba baying for blood, it’ll be a brave man that will back FC Tokyo to take anything from this game.

After winning their first piece of silverware since winning the Emporer’s Cup in 2003, Jubilo Iwata will be on a high when they host fellow mid-table outfit Albirex Niigata.

A win over Sanfrecce Hiroshima in the Nabisco Cup final during the week was a welcome return to success for the club that became accustomed to success in the late 90s and early 2000s.

Jubilo Iwata celebrate their
Nabisco Cup triumph
During that time the club won three titles (1997, 1999 and 2002), three times runner-up (1998, 2001 and 2003), one J.League Cup (1998), one Emporer’s Cup (2003) and the Asian Club Championship (1999).

It is a record that rivals that of Kashima Antlers, yet the club has gradually slipped down the table since and narrowly avoided relegation in 2008 after it finished 16th.

Despite a horror start to the season, just one win from the first seven games, Iwata has slowly recovered and sit in 11th place. Their last two weeks has seen them take all three points against Urawa, take a point against Kawasaki and win the Nabisco Cup.

The club can have genuine ambitions of finishing inside the top ten. Whilst it may not sound spectacular, after their start to the season it would be some small consolation.

They have one of the better front men in the league at their disposal in Riyochi Maeda and as such pose a threat to any team they play against.

Niigata had a similarly horror start to the season, but went on a barnstorming mid-season run that at one stage saw them in with a chance of clinching an ACL spot. However they have fallen away since and are now in a myriad of teams aiming for a top six finish.

Whilst they have no real chance of silverware this year, despite still being involved in the Emporer’s Cup, they have already had a big say in the outcome of this season’s J.League.

A last minute winner against Kashima last week all but ended the Antlers title hopes.

Other games this weekend include Sanfrecce Hiroshima hosting Urawa Reds in another mid-table battle. Sanfrecce will likely be a bit flat coming into the game after their extra time loss in the Nabisco Cup final.

For Urawa, they will be looking to arrest a two-game losing streak that has all but consigned them to a mid-table finish this season. The match is also important for their manager, German Volker Finke. There is still some doubt as to whether the German will keep his job next season and a strong finish to the season will help his cause.

The last two weeks wont have helped, with some reports during the week suggesting that ex-Japan coach Takeshi Okada could be a possible replacement.

Cerezo will take on S-Pulse
Both Shonan Bellmare and Kyoto Sanga are already resigned to the fact they will be playing their Football in J2 next year and both face difficult tasks this weekend; hosting Yokohama F.Marinos and Kawasaki Frontale respectively.

Cerezo Osaka and Shimizu S-Pulse have one chance left to stay in the hunt for an ACL spot when they meet at the Nagai Stadium on Saturday.

Also on Saturday is Vissel Kobe hosting Vegalta Sendai and Omiya Ardija hosting Montedio Yamagata.

But all the attention this weekend will be on the top of the table clash in Kashima on Sunday.

Dasher’s Predictions
Shonan Bellmare 0-3 Yokohama F.Marinos
Cerezo Osaka 1-1 Shimzu S-Pulse
Vissel Kobe 0-0 Vegalta Sendai
FC Tokyo 1-4 Gamba Osaka
Jubilo Iwata 1-0 Albirex Niigata
Omiya Ardija 1-1 Montedio Yamagata
Kyoto Sanga 0-2 Kawasaki Frontale
Sanfrecce Hiroshima 1-0 Urawa Reds
Kashima Antlers 1-2 Nagoya Grampus

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

J.League title Nagoya's for the taking

Josh Kennedy celebrates the
winner against Cerezo Osaka
The J.League title appears headed for Nagoya after a weekend that delivered a number of upsets, allowing Nagoya to extend their lead to 11 points with just six games remaining.

Nagoya went into the round with an eight point lead over second placed Kashima Antlers, who still held out hope of a record breaking fourth straight title.

Both sides faced tricky assignments, with Nagoya playing host to Cerezo Osaka and Kashima making the trek to Niigata for their game against Albirex.

The Nagoya-Cerezo clash was played at Toyota Stadium, away from Nagoya’s normal home stadium of Mizuho Athletic Stadium. It was their fifth game at the larger venue this season, with their previous four games resulting in two wins (vs Kobe and Urawa) and two losses (vs Kawasaki and Kashima).

Cerezo received a boost before the game when Tulio Tanaka was forced to withdraw.

But it was Nagoya that started brightest, with a shot from Keiji Tamada sailing just wide and a header from Mitsuru Chiyotanda well saved inside the first 15 minutes.

The opening goal would soon after though when Josh Kennedy was body checked in the box, leaving the referee with no other option than to blow for a penalty.

And it was the Australian who stepped up to the spot and knock home the penalty and his 16th goal for the season.

Cerezo created a couple of fantastic opportunities in the second half, but there was no way past Seigo Narazaki in the Nagoaya goal, who pulled off a number of outstanding saves to keep the score at 1-0.

Takashi Inui did what many on his side couldn’t just five minutes from time…beat Narazaki. Unfortunately for he and Cerezo the crossbar still stood in the way, with the ball cannoning back off the crossbar to safety.

That was enough to see Nagoya take all three points and go 11 points clear at the top.

In torrential rain Shimizu S-Pulse played host to struggling FC Tokyo. Both clubs were desperate for the three points, but for different reasons. Shimizu were trying to keep touch with the top three in the hope of stealing an ACL spot that looked assured for the first half of the season.

FC Tokyo were fighting to keep out of the relegation dogfight.


Sota Hirayama scored the opener for FC Tokyo

Despite their respective positions it was FC Tokyo that shone brightest early on the dark and dreary day, with Naohiro Ishikawa coming closest with a long range free kick that just went wide after 17 minutes.

Shimizu had their first real chance in the 25th minute, but it was a half chance at best.

FC Tokyo’s domination got the reward it deserved in the 32nd minute when Sota Hirayama headed home from a corner to breath life into the capital clubs fight for survival.

Shimizu should’ve scored before half time, but two guilt-edged chances inside a minute were both excellently saved by Shuichi Gonda.

The home side came out from the break determined to get back on level terms, but it was FC Tokyo that struck first after a defensive mistake allowed Masashi Oguro to tap home a simple goal to give FC Tokyo a surprise 2-0 lead.

Substitute Genki Omae made an immediate impact off the bench, scoring just one minute after coming on to give the home side a chance with 12 minutes remaining.

FC Tokyo put the game beyond doubt just two minutes before time when a long-range free kick bounced awkwardly for Yohei Nishibe who fumbled the ball over the line…or so they thought.

Unspeakably the linesman didn’t see the ball cross the line before Nishibe bought it back in to play and the goal wasn’t allowed. Replays clearly show the ball crossed the line.

It mattered little however as FC Tokyo held on for the final few minutes to record just their sixth win for the season, moving them two points clear of the relegation zone.

Elsewhere on Saturday, Vegalta Sendai surely condemned Kyoto Sanga to relegation after recording a 1-0 win at home and at the same time all but ensuring they remain in J1 next season.


Urawa Reds and Montedio Yamagata do battle

Urawa Reds missed a golden opportunity to climb further up the table after a 0-1 loss at home to Montedio Yamagata. After a strong recovery from a now traditional mid-season slump, Urawa has lost two on the trot to kill off any hopes of a top six, or higher, finish.

Kawasaki Frontale also missed a golden opportunity to put pressure on the top three when they drew at home to Jubilo Iwata.

In arguably the biggest shock of the round, Gamba Osaka inexplicably lost 2-4 at home to relegation-threatened Vissel Kobe. A win would’ve seen Gamba jump to second and go close to securing an ACL place for next season.

On Sunday Yokohama F.Marinos hosted Sanfrecce Hiroshima in what promised to be an intriguing mid-table clash.

F.Marinos, playing at their second home ground of Mitsuzawa Stadium, came within inches of opening the lead early on after a long-range bullet from Norihisa Shimizu sailed just wide.

It would be Sanfrecce that would open the scoring though Yojiro Takahagi after 22 minutes to stun the home crowd.

In a bizarre incident after the goal, the Sanfrecce players took their positions for what looked like an elaborate goal celebration when the referee came over to break up the party.


Yuji Ono scored again for Yokohama

Yokohama equalised in equally bizarre circumstances when a harmless volley was deflected forward by Yuji Ono, wrong footing the keeper and bouncing in to the open.

Both sides created good chances in the second half and just when it looked like it might be headed for a 1-1 result, up stepped Shimizu to smash in a goal from the edge of the box to send to home crowd wild.

That was enough to see F.Marinos hold on for a 2-1 win and move to 45 points, equal with Cerezo Osaka and Shimizu S-Pulse, just four points behind Gamba and Kashima.

The final game of the weekend saw Albirex Niigata host Kashima Antlers in a must-win game for both clubs.

The first half failed to live up to expectations with both sides reduced to speculative shots from distance that never really troubled either keeper.

It took all of two minutes though for Niigata to open the scoring in the second half when a bullet from Marcio Richardes found the top corner.

That prompted Kashima into action and it was just over ten minutes later that scores were level thanks to a classy finish from Toru Araiba.

It looked like Kashima might steal it in the 89th minute, but two spectacular saves back-to-back from Masaaki Higashiguchi saved Niigata.


Niigata players celebrate the winner against Kashima

The saves proved important as Niigata went down the other end to score the winner in the 90th minute. Isao Hommer hammered home the ball after having it cut back for him on the edge of the box.

The Kashima players were left devastated at an opportunity lost.

It sets up the most mouth-watering of mouth-watering clashes next week when Kashima host Nagoya next Sunday.

You’d have to think if Nagoya takes anything from that game the title is theirs…if it isn’t already.