Tuesday, August 31, 2010

ACL still has plenty to offer

Suwon take on Beijing Guoan in the Rd of 16
With no Australian representation left, the AFC Champions League will likely fly under the radar for most Australian sports fans.

But with action set to resume in just two weeks, there is plenty to look forward to.

Strangely enough, the four teams left from East Asia all come from the K-League. It was expected that after Urawa won in 2007 and Gamba in 2008 that we would see a period of domination from Japanese teams. That has not eventuated, instead it has been the Koreans who have taken over.

Pohang Steelers only lost one game on the way to winning the 2009 ACL, a 3-1 loss to Uzbek side Bunyodkor in the first leg of the Quarter Finals. They were able to overcome that, however, by beating the Uzbek’s 4-1 in the second leg to advance 5-4 on aggregate.

This season they are back again and will take on Iranian outfit Zob Ahan FC in the Quarter Finals. Pohang finished second in Group H behind Adelaide United to set up a blockbuster clash with J.League powerhouse Kashima Antlers.

Despite playing away from home they were able to strike early and hold on for a 1-0 win.

Zob Ahan topped Group B ahead of Bunyodkor, losing only once in the group stages. That set up an all-Iranian clash with Mes Kerman in the Round of 16. Brazilian striker Igor struck late to seal the win.

Last seasons K-League champions, Jeonbuk Hyundai, who got over Adelaide in an enthralling battle at Hindmarsh Stadium in the Round of 16, will face off against Saudi Arabian side Al-Shabab.

The Riyadh based side are coached by a man who would be well familiar to Australian football fans, Jorge Forsatti. Ex-Newcastle Jet and Adelaide United player Adam Griffiths also had a brief stint with the club.

One of the more fascinating matches will see an all-Korean showdown between Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma and Suwon Bluewings.

The Bluewings, under new coach Yoon Sung-Hyo, are desperate for continental success and have bolstered their squad over the summer with an eye on winning the ACL.

They have signed Japanese international Naohiro Takahara from Japanese giants Urawa Reds, pulled off the audacious signing of Pohang Steelers’ captain Hwang Jae-won, and Park Jong-jin from Gangwon FC.

Yoon is no stranger to continental success with Suwon, he was an assistant coach when they won back-to-back Asian Club Championship titles in 2001 and 2002. Yoon sees the similarities between then and now.

“We did not get good results in the domestic league in 2001 and 2002 but managed to win the continental title by beating strong Asian rivals. I hope this to happen again this year,” Yoon told the-afc.com last month.

Seongnam have been dominant in the ACL so far, easily finishing op top of Group E, which also contained Melbourne Victory, and easily accounting for Gamba Osaka 3-0 in the Round of 16.

There is also an Australian connection in this match, with towering defender Sasa Ognenovski currently playing for Seongnam.

On form you’d assume Seongnam will get the job done, they currently sit second in the K-League just one point behind league leaders Jeju United, whilst Suwon are struggling in eighth.

Suwon cannot be discounted though. After a shaky start to the K-League season they are regaining ground on the rest of the field are only three points behind getting themselves back into the ACL zone. And with the bolstering of their squad, they could cause an upset.

In the other match, Saudi outfit Al-Hilal take on Qatari giants Al-Gharafa. Al-Gharafa list Iraqi star Younis Mahmoud their books, the striker who lead Iraq to their historic 2007 AFC Asian Cup triumph and are the reigning Qatar Stars League champions.

Al-Hilal are no strangers to success either, winning the 2010 Saudi Premier League twelve times, most recently last season.

Looking beyond having no Australian teams in the competition, the rest of the competition will showcase the finest club football in Asia has to offer.

The four Korean teams will be looking to continue the East Asian dominance of the last three years and crown another K-League champion.

Meanwhile the West Asian teams will be looking to become the first team from West Asia to win the trophy since 2005, when Saudi side Al-Ittihad when their second consecutive title.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Japan opt for Italian journeyman as new Manager

The Japan Football Association (JFA) have finally ended their search for a new manager, by announcing that they have reached an agreement with 57-year old Italian Alberto Zaccheroni.

Zaccheroni is somewhat of a managerial journeyman, having managed 13 teams across his 17-year managerial career.

His most recent gig was as manager of Juventus, where he took charge in January this year, but was unable to turn their fortunes around, finishing seventh in the Serie A.

Zaccheroni is unlikely to receive a work-permit in time to take charge for the Blue Samurai's upcoming friendlies but will likely be watching from the stands. He has reportedly signed a two-year deal worth $2.36m, with a two-year option.

The JFA will hold a Press Conference in Tokyo tomorrow (Tuesday) to formally make the announcement.

Beijing Guoan struggle to keep Championship dreams alive

Beijing Guoan have missed a golden opportunity to close the gap on league leader Shandong Luneng, surprisingly drawing 0-0 with bottom of the ladder Qingdao Jonoon in the Chinese Super League.

Beijing went into the game sitting in third spot and trailing Shandong by 9 points with just 10 games remaining and would’ve reasonably expected to grab all three points at the Qingdao Tiantai Stadium to close that gap.

Instead, Shandong now has the chance to extend their lead when they host Jiangsu Shuntian today. Jiangsu sits in ninth place, but are only four points from the top for and an ACL spot.

It has been a fortuitous weekend for Shandong, who saw their closest rival, Shanghai Shenhua also drop points with a 1-1 draw at home to mid-table side Dalian Shide.

Shenhua took the lead in the 16th minute courtesy of Colombian Duvier Riascos. They couldn’t hold on though and Shide equalised in the 57th minute. It was their Zambian import James Chamanga that put that back on level terms.

Despite both sides having chances, neither side could find the winner and the game ended 1-1.

It wasn’t a weekend for goal scoring in CSL, with only six goals in the seven games played so far.

Shaanxi Chanba, home of ex-Adelaide United midfielder Jonas Salley, defeated Changchun Yatai 1-0 on Friday Night.

Saturday action saw Tianjin Teda defeat Nanchang Bayi 1-0, whilst on Sunday Henan Jianye defeated Shenzhen Ruby, the new home of All-White defender Chris Killen, 1-0, Hangzhou Lucheng and Chongqing Lifan played out a 0-0 draw, and Chris Coyne’s Liaoning Hongyun went down 1-0 away to Changsha Ginde.

That leaves the table, after 21 games (with the game between Shandong and Jiangsu to be played), as follows:

Shandong Luneng* 41
Shanghai Shenhua  38
Beijing Guoan  32
Hangzhou Lucheng  31
Liaoning Hongyun  30
Tianjin Teda  30
Shaanxi Chanba  29
Henan Jianye  28
Jiangsu Shuntian*  27
Dalian Shide  27
Shenzhen Ruby  24
Changchun Yatai  23
Changsha Ginde  23
Nanchang Bayi  22
Chongqing Lifan  20
Qingdao Jonoon  18
* Game in hand

J.League delivers action in spades

It started as a weekend that could shape the race for the Championship. It ended with the race still wide open.

In an enthralling weekend of J.League action, Nagoya maintained their five point gap at the top of the table with a surprising 1-0 win over Kyoto Sanga FC. Surprising for the fact it wasn’t larger given the gulf between the two sides.

In the end the 21st minute strike from Kanasaki was enough to see Nagoya over the line in front of over 13,000 fans at Mizuho Athletic Stadium in Nagoya. Australian and Golden Boot leader, Josh Kennedy put in a full stint but couldn’t get his name on the scoresheet.

In front of over 51,000 at Saitama Stadium, Urawa Reds and Kashima Antlers played out an exciting 1-1 draw.

Robson Ponte fires Urawa into the lead - KYODO PHOTO
Urawa thought they had taken the lead in the 37th minute when a brilliantly delivered set piece from Robson Ponte was flicked on by Edmilson. But his header bounced back off the post and into the grateful hands of Kashima’s Hitoshi Sogahata.
That was about all there was action wise in an otherwise uneventful first half, but the second half was a different story.

Urawa’s claims for a penalty were waved away when Genki Haraguchi went down under Daiki Iwamasa’s challenge, but no more than five minutes later Kashima had a penalty of their own when Sanou clattered into Shinzo Koroki.

Marquinhos, who needed just one goal to take to 100 career J.League goals, stepped up but saw his penalty brilliantly saved by Urawa’s number 1, Norihiro Yamagishi.

Moments later Marquinhos again came agonisingly close when his header came back off the under side of the crossbar and was gathered by Yamagishi.

Yamagishi was proving the hero for Urawa when he made an excellent save outstretched to his left to deny Mitsuo Ogasawara.

After absorbing Kashima’s raids, Urawa started to have a period of dominance that was almost capped off by a superb goal from Tomoya Ugajin. His curling shot from 25 yards cannoned into the crossbar and away to safety.

They would get their goal, however, when Ponte finished brilliantly from the edge of the box in the 81st minute to send the crowd into delirium. Ugajin was almost the hero moments later when he made a dashing run into the box and almost turned the ball in for a second that would have sealed the win for Urawa.

Unfortunately, both he and the ball clattered into the post and he was subsequently stretchered off.
The Reds would suffer the ultimate heartbreak when, in the fifth minute of injury time, the ball fell to substitute Masashi Motoyama on the edge of the box to fire home an equaliser that sent that travelling fans wild.

Kashima’s coach Oswaldo Oliveira was circumspect after the game, but fired a barb at Urawa.

"I think it would have been very bad for us if we had lost, because we had control," he said.

"That's not surprising because I think at this moment Kashima is better than Urawa. We should win the game. But in this situation, a point is good."

It sees Kashima slip seven points behind Nagoya and leaves Oliveira lamenting the sale of their stars Atsuto Uchida and Lee Jung Soo in the summer.

"We miss them because the other teams have grown," he said. "They have brought in new players and at Kashima it has been the opposite. It's difficult."

In other games on Saturday, Cerezo Osaka kept in touch with Nagoya with a comfortable 2-0 win over Omiya Ardija, Vegalta Sendai moved out of the relegation zone, albeit on goal difference courtesy of a 2-1 win over Shonan Bellmare, who are in grave danger of dropping straight back down to J2, Vissel Kobe and FC Tokyo played out a 0-0 draw and Sanfrecce Hiroshima have Croatian Mihael Mikic to thank after he scored the winner just 10 mins after coming on against Montedio Yamagata.

Sunday was a big day of action, with three big clashes taking place.

The first of which saw Yokohama F.Marinos score three times in the second half to defeat Albirex Niigata. Niigata had an early chance when Brazilian midfielder Michael hit the woodwork after just 10 minutes, although were it not for the finger tips of Hiroki Ikura the ball would likely have nestled in the back of the net.

Yokohama then peppered the goal, but struggled to get their shots on target. Niigata should really have taken a 1-0 lead into the break after Marcio Richardes was played in by Hideo Oshima, but with only the keeper to beat, he couldn’t get it past Ikura who saved brilliantly.

It didn’t take Yokohama long after the interval to break the deadlock though. Shunsuke Nakamura played a delightful ball for Koji Yamase who finished with aplomb to put Yokohama up in the 47th minute.

Yamase scores the opener for Yokohama
Just in case his through ball for Yamase didn’t highlight Nakamura’s skill enough, he then fired in a stunning goal in the 71st minute to reinforce his quality. After collecting the ball at the corner of the box, he sized up his opponent, threw in a quick stepover and put the ball to his right and fired home a stunning goal that curled into the bottom corner of the net. There was nothing that Niigata’s keeper Takaya Kurokawa could do top stop it. It had quality written all over it and was a goal worth the price of admission alone.

And then to cap off the day, Nakamura delivered the corner that set up Yokohama’s third, which was knocked home by Aria Hasagawa after, it has to be said, some rather poor keeping.

The win keeps Yokohama within touching distance of the top three and an ACL spot, although with only 12 games to go you’d have to say their chances of closing the 10 point gap to Nagoya and threatening for the title are gone.

Gamba Osaka did as they were expected in front of a packed house at the Expo ’70 Commemorative Stadium, defeating Jubilo Iwata 2-0. They now sit in sixth and like Yokohama, are within touching distance of the top three and an ACL spot.

In the final game of the round, Shimizu recovered from a horror three weeks to record a 2-0 win over Kawasaki Frontale. Jungo Fujimoto opened the scoring in the 16th minute with his eighth goal of the season, whilst Shinji Okazaki finished the job early in the second half with his 10th goal of the season.

The win moves S-Pulse into outright third on 39 points, two clear of Kashima Antlers.

To see all the action from an enthralling weekend of J.League action, tune into Setanta Sports on Thursday night at 7pm for the J.League highlights show.

If you can’t wait until then, visit the following YouTube links for highlights of the following games.

Yokohama F.Marinos vs Albirex Niigata
Urawa Reds vs Kashima Antlers
Nagoya Grampus vs Kyoto Sanga
Gamba Osaka vs Jubilo Iwata
Shimizu S-Pulse vs Kawasaki Frontale

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Just who will coach Japan?

If you thought the FFA were slow in replacing Pim Verbeek after the World Cup, spare a thought for fans of the Blue Samurai.

As of August 28, almost a month and a half since the end of the World Cup, the JFA are yet to announce a replacement for Takeshi Okada, a man maligned by his own fans and who offered his resignation (supposedly as a joke according to the man himself) just a handful of weeks before the World Cup after losing 2-0 to Korea Republic in a warm up game.

Many names have been thrown up, including Chile coach Marcelo Bielsa, ex-Mexican coach Javier Aguirre, Jose Pekerman, Manuel Pellegrini, Ernesto Valverde, Marco van Basten and Victor Hernandez.

The only thing the JFA have confirmed is that Okada’s replacement will be a foreigner, and looking at those names above you’d suggest a South American is likely.

Hernandez was rumoured to have agreed terms a week or so ago, but those calls look to have been premature.

JFA Technical Director, who will take charge for Japan’s upcoming friendlies against Paraguay and Guatemala, is under pressure after returning from a recent month-long expedition to Europe with nothing but a handful of rejections.

Hara, however, is confident that an announcement is not too far away, although he has gone back on a previous statement claiming that Saturday was a deadline for the candidates to let the JFA know of their intentions.

"It is a deadline to hear some kind of response. If they want us to wait a little longer, negotiations will continue," Hara said.

That stance seems to be at odds with the JFA President Junji Ogura, who claims the deadline is even further away, stating that the FIFA dates in October represent the deadline for the JFA.

"We've thrown the ball to the candidates and now all we can do is wait for the reply," Ogura told the Nikkan Sports newspaper.

"It's not been easy this time. If talks break down we will have to go back to square one but I want a new coach in place for the two games in October."

Fans of the Blue Samurai have reason to be dismayed by the lack of action from the JFA, with North Korea the only other World Cup nation remaining to announce their new coach. That greatly reduces the field available to the JFA.

The appointment is an important one for the JFA. Although they failed in their lofty ambition of making the final four of the World Cup, they did have a relatively successful tournament in making the last 16, only falling to Paraguay on penalties in a lacklustre affair.

They also found a potential new superstar in CSKA Moscow midfielder Keisuke Honda.

That said, all the good work from the World Cup will be undone if they leave an announcement any longer. There are just over three months until the Asian Cup, where Japan have been grouped with Jordan, Syria and Saudi Arabia and preparation will be paramount. If a new coach is only in place by October, that will leave him with as little as 3 games to prepare for the Asian Cup. Hardly ideal preparation.

After a disappointing showing at the 2007 tournament, where they failed to finish in the top three, Japan will be looking to make amends and will be considered as one of the tournament favourites in Qatar.

If they don't make an announcement soon though, they risk jeopardising their campaign, and that will only serve to further frustrate the loyal fans of the Blue Samurai.

Friday, August 27, 2010

J.League on Setanta in September

Setanta Sports Australia have just confirmed their schedule of J.League games to be broadcast across Australia in September.

It's good news for fans of Urawa Reds, FC Tokyo, Shonan Bellmare, Kawasaki Frontale, Yokohama F.Marinos and Vegalta Sendai.

The schedule will be as follows:

Mon 13 / Tue 14 - FC Tokyo vs Urawa Reds (DELAYED - Time TBC)
Sun 19 - Shonan Bellmare vs Kawasaki Frontale (DELAYED - Time TBC)
Sat 25 - Yokohama F.Marinos vs Vegalta Sendai (LIVE @ 8pm AEST)

The weekly highlights show, which is shown each Thursday night at 7:00pm AEST will continue giving viewers a great round up of all the action across the J.League, ensuring you get to see your favourite team in action.

Don't forget that this Sunday 29 August, Setanta will be showing delayed coverage of the Vissel Kobe vs FC Tokyo clash from 9:15pm AEST.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

J.League Preview - Round 21

At the end of every season you often look back at a particular weekend as a decisive point in the Championship race.

For the J.League, this could very well be one of those weekends.

Having just passed the half way mark of the season, it may be a little early to be making such claims, but with most of the top teams taking on each other, the results this weekend could be critical.

And the biggest winners could well be the current league leaders, Nagoya Grampus.

Having only lost one of their past eight games, a 4-0 loss to Kawasaki, since the J.League resumed after the World Cup, Nagoya have bolted to the top of the table and sit five points clear of three teams (Cerezo Osaka, Kashima Antlers and Shimizu S-Pulse) who all sit on 36 points.

This weekend Nagoya avoid the Battle Royal at the top of the table, hosting bottom placed Kyoto Sanga FC.

Kyoto have lost all but one of their eight games since the World Cup and haven’t won since Round 4 all the way back on the 27th March when they took all three points with a 3-2 win away to Jubilo Iwata.

With the leagues leading goal scorer in Josh Kennedy, it’s hard to see anything but a rout happening in this game, especially when you consider Kyoto have conceded 16 goals in their last eight games.

In arguably the biggest game of the weekend, fierce rivals Urawa Reds and Kashima Antlers will lock horns (no pun intended) at the Saitama Stadium. Despite struggling for form for most of the season, Urawa is still considered one of the big clubs in the J.League, not least because of their passionate fans who always turn out in large numbers.

Kashima, who may not share the same profile, have something much more important – trophies. They are consistently at the top of the table year in year out and have won the past three J.League titles.

They have, however, hit a bit of a rough patch in the last month and have not recorded a win since the end of July. They will be hoping key men Marquinhos and Shinzo Koroki can begin to find their form from the last few years. If Marquinhos does get on the scoresheet, he will celebrate his 100th J.League goal in just 207 games.

Another crucial match will see one-time league leaders Shimizu S-Pulse, who currently sit fourth, take on fifth place Kawasaki Frontale. Both clubs will be looking to bounce back from disappointing losses last week.

Dane Frode Johnsen and Shinji Okazaki, who ironically scored against Denmark for Japan at the World Cup, will lead the line for Shimizu who, with 40 goals, are the leagues leading scorers.

The final game of the Battle Royal will see Yokohama F.Marinos host Albirex Niigata in a mouthwatering clash at Nissan Stadium. Yokohama sits in eighth spot, just a few points behind the chasing pack, but consistency has been their biggest issue this year. Big wins have been followed up by disappointing losses.

Just a few weeks ago they knocked off Shimizu S-Pulse, but followed it up with a disappointing loss to Montedio Yamagata. It is these games that they would be expected to win that might ultimately prove their downfall this year.

After the off-season signing of Japanese legend Shunsuke Nakamura, big things were expected of Yokohama this season, many thinking they could challenge for their first title since they went back-to-back in 2003 and 2004. But it hasn’t turned out that way.

However, if they get the three points here they would be equal on points with Albirex, who currently sit in sixth and depending on other results this weekend could sit just two or three points from the top three and a potential Asian Champions League place.

Albirex will come into the game with momentum, however, having knocked over two of their rivals in the last two weeks. Firstly, they recorded a resounding 4-1 win over Shimizu and followed it up with a 2-1 win over Kawasaki last weekend.

Those results, coupled with a strong run of form over the last 6 weeks, have seen them rise from the relegation zone, where they sat after going without a win in their first eight games, to a genuine contender for an ACL spot.

In other action this weekend Cerezo Osaka, who have surprised many by currently sitting second, take on Omiya Ardija, Vegalta Sendai take on Shonan Bellmare in an important relegation battle, Vissel Kobe host FC Tokyo, whilst Sanfrecce Hiroshima and Montedio Yamagata take on each other in a mid-table clash.

Rounding out the weekend are the dark horses in all the discussions about Championships and ACL places – Gamba Osaka. They currently sit in seventh, equal on points with Yokohama and this weekend host Jubilo Iwata. Much like Yokohama consistency has been their biggest problem, but a win would put them right in the mix for an ACL spot.

With so many important clashes, this weekend could well decide many teams’ fate. But with 13 games to go after this and knowing the topsy-turvy nature of the J.League anything could, and probably will, happen.

For those with Setanta, their feature match this weekend is, unfortunately, Vissel Kobe vs FC Tokyo, which will be shown on delay at 9:15am on Sunday morning.

Dasher’s Predictions:

Urawa 1-1 Kashima
Cerezo Osaka 2-1 Omiya Ardija
Vegalta Sendai 1-0 Shonan Bellmare
Nagoya 4-0 Kyoto Sanga
Vissel Kobe 0-0 FC Tokyo
Sanfrecce Hiroshima 0-1 Montedio Yamagata
Yokohama F.Marinos 0-2 Albirex Niigata
Gamba Osaka 2-0 Jubilo Iwata
Shimizu S-Pulse 1-1 Kawasaki Frontale

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Join us on Facebook

Dasher's Asian Football Feast is now on Facebook!

Be sure to 'Like' us to instantly receive updates on all our latest blogs and other updates on the happenings in Asian Football.

Visit our page by clicking the link below, or click 'Like' in the box to the right.

You can also find us on twitter by searching @dasher39.


Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The more things change, the more they stay the same

New coach, new generation, same old squad.

For all the bluster coming from the FFA recently about a “new generation” and a “transition” period, at their first opportunity to highlight that new philosophy they faltered, selecting a squad with more players closer to 30 than 20.

Players of the future such as Tommy Oar, Nikita Rukavytsya and James Holland are all surprise omissions, while tried, tested and, arguably, failed players such as North, McDonald, Garcia all get another chance.

I will cut Holger Osieck some slack as he has only been in the job a matter of weeks so won’t have had the opportunity to run his eye over the players of the future.

This is where strong guidance is needed from his assistant, Auerlio Vidmar and FFA Technical Director, Han Berger.

It’s ironic that just last week Berger was lamenting the fact that not enough young players are given an opportunity in the A-League, criticising clubs for choosing foreigners the nod over promoting a promising young talent.

That’s why it’s such a shame that when the FFA was presented with the same opportunity for the national team they failed the test.

Mark Schwarzer isn’t playing and is 37, there is  real chance he won’t be around in 2014 and if his move to Arsenal eventuates, may not be available in January for the Asian Cup. Why not use this opportunity to give Federici, the man earmarked as his successor, another chance in goal.

Harry Kewell at 32 has to be vey doubtful for 2014, and whilst he is a legend of the game, his time in the national team must surely be coming closer to it’s final chapter.

Fox Sports expert Andy Harper was equally disappointed, describing it as a “massive opportunity missed”.

Let’s hope that the few youngsters that are in the squad are given a start and given an opportunity to prove themselves.

Which way will Holger go?

New Socceroos coach Holger Osieck will today name his first squad for the upcoming friendlies against Switzerland and Poland.

Just weeks after being announced as Pim Verbeek’s successor, Osieck will be given his chance to impress his style on the Socceroos.

The most burning question though…which way will he go?

Will he go conservative and select most of the squad who were in South Africa with a sprinkling of youngsters thrown in, or will he go radical knowing he has to rebuild for the future and select a squad made up mostly of youngsters with a sprinkling of experience?

It’s a tough choice as no matter which way he goes he will be criticised.

Without wanting to get splinters from sitting on the fence, I’d like to see him go somewhere in the middle, leaning slightly towards youth.

With one young gun already ruled out in Mark Milligan, I would like to see a squad like this:

Adam Federici
Brad Jones
Mitch Langerak

Lucas Neill
Matthew Spiranovic
Luke Wilkshire
David Carney
Ersan Gulum
Shane Lowry
Ryan McGowan

Tim Cahill
Brett Holman
Tommy Oar
Carl Valeri
Mile Jedinak
Neil Kilkenny
James Holland
Dario Vidosic

Josh Kennedy
Nikita Rukavytsya
Nathan Burns
Matthew Leckie
Scott McDonald

Whilst containing a strong core of players with the likes of Neill, Wilkshire, Cahill and you could throw Holman, Carney and Kennedy into that bracket too, it also has a strong emphasis on youth and the future.

With the Asian Cup only 3 ½ months away, and with World Cup Qualifiers starting just eight months later, Osieck has no time to waste in rejuvenating the squad.

If he sticks to “tried and tested” in order to achieve success in Qatar, he risks not having the rising stars ready for September 2011 when World Cup Qualifying begins.

It may be a bitter pill to swallow for experienced guys like Culina, Kewell and Schwarzer, but as good as they’ve been we need to start looking for their replacements and we’re only going to find them by giving them a chance in games like this.

Over to you Holger.

Australian media need to change focus

For so long the Socceroos were a two-man show in the eyes of the Australian media and a large segment of the general population.

In those days, in the late 90s and early 2000s, the Socceroos were Harry Kewell and Mark Viduka. If neither of those two pulled on the green and gold, attention dropped and any attention the Socceroos did receive dropped even further.

Then came along November 16 2005 and a new bunch of heroes. Suddenly the names people ignored for so long were now household names. Neill, Bresciano, Cahill. At 27, 25 and 25 respectively, they represented the “new” face of Australian Football. The media couldn’t get enough of them, even moreso after their heroics in Germany a year later.

Their feats at club level were, and still are, reported with pride and admiration and deservedly so.

Why then, after generation “next” stood out so much in South Africa and with seemingly every news outlet claiming an upcoming period of transition for the national team, are the deeds of our future national team stars being ignored?

While every movement of Harry Kewell is reported, the feats of Brett Holman, our best performer in South Africa, go unnoticed. Who knew that he actually scored for his club, AZ Alkmaar, in their Europa League Play-Off last week?

While every goal of Tim Cahill is reported, no mention is made of Josh Kennedy leading the Golden Boot in Japan, or of rising star Matthew Spiranovic getting on the scoresheet for Urawa.

Tommy Oar, the name on everyone lips before South Africa, now doesn’t even rate a mention despite game time for FC Utrecht who sit third in the Eredivisie.

Even our most consistent performer of the last four years and one of the “senior” Socceroos, Luke Wilkshire, can’t get a mention for his feats at club level. I’d wager that not many could actually name the team or the league he plays in.

And, regrettably, it’s not just the ‘mainstream’ media who are at fault. Take in an episode or two of The World Game or Fox Sports FC and see if any mention is made of the “other” Socceroos.

Whilst Australia has come forward in leaps and bounds in terms of our coverage of Football, we still find ourselves in the position where the focus is on only two or three players.

It’s time for the Australian media, and that includes most of the Football media, to expand their horizons and give due recognition to the “other” Socceroos, otherwise we’ll find ourselves in the same position where people only pay attention if the “stars” are playing.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Kennedy continues scoring form

The locks may be gone, but the goals keep coming for Socceroos striker Josh Kennedy.

Kennedy scored the third goal in Nagoya’s 3-1 win over Gamba Osaka, a win that moves Nagoya five points clear at the top of the J.League after 20 games.

The goal puts Kennedy clear on top of the J.League’s Golden Boot with 11 goals, one clear of Cho Young-Cheol (Albirex Niigata), Edmilson (Urawa Reds) and Shoki Hirai (Gamba Osaka).

The win was crucial for Nagoya after they blew a chance to put a gap between them and the rest of the field last week, with a shock 4-0 loss to Kawasaki at the Todoroki Stadium on Wednesday.

In his first full season with the J.League outfit, Kennedy has proved a revelation. His aerial threat has caused defences across Japan all sorts of trouble and have them on track to qualify for the 2011 AFC Champions League.

Elsewhere in the J.League, Albirex Niigata continued their climb up the table with a 2-1 win over Kawasaki courtesy of a brace by Korean striker Cho Young-Cheol. Niigata, who earlier last week dismantled one-time table-topper Shimizu S-Pulse 4-1, have now won 11 of their past 12 games and sit in sixth spot on the table, just two points off second spot.

S-Pulse completed a horror week with a 2-1 away loss to lowly Jubilo Iwata who, courtesy of the win, put some breathing space between them and the relegation zone.

In one of the matches of the round surprise packet Cerezo Osaka, who were promoted from J2 this season, completed the double over last season’s champions, Kashima Antlers. The win takes the Osaka outfit equal on points with Kashima, but puts them in second on goal difference.

Other results include wins for Vegalta Sendai, Sanfrecce Hiroshima and Yokohama F.Marinos.

The coming weekend of J.League action promises plenty with heavyweight clashes between Urawa and Kashima; Yokohama and Niigata; and S-Pulse and Kawasaki. With Nagoya taking on bottom of the table Kyoto Sanga, who are in disarray, it’d be a brave man that would bet against Kennedy getting his name on the scoresheet again.

Spiranovic puts himself in Socceroos frame

Fringe Socceroo Matthew Spiranovic has strengthened his claims for a Socceroos call-up after scoring the first goal in Urawa's 4-1 romp over Shonan Bellmare.
After an even first half that saw the teams go into the break at 0-0, Spiranovic broke the deadlock with a flying header in the 56th minute, his first goal for Urawa since he joined the club in January on loan from FC Nurnberg.

The goal broke the shackles for Urawa, who have been in free-fall with only one win in their last 10, with substitute Escudero scoring just seven minutes later. Just over 15 minutes later Brazilian striker Edmilson then put the game out of reach with two goals in two minutes.
The win will ease the pressure on under fire coach Volker Finke, with rumours surrounding his future put on hold for another week.

Spiranovic, who struggled for game time early in the season, restricted to games in the Nabisco Cup, has now started in Urawa's last seven games and seems to have cemented his spot in the middle of the Urawa defence.

After the off-season loss of Japanese international Tulio Tanaka to rivals Nagoya Grampus, Spiranovic looked like a natural replacement. However a small ankle injury just before the start of the season, couple with Urawa's winning form and Finke's resistance to change a winning line-up, thwarted Spiranovic's claims for a spot in the side.

But having proved his ability to get forward and get on the score sheet, a feature of Tulio Tanaka's game, Spiranovic now has a firm grip on the position.

With the Socceroos in action again in just 12 days against Switzerland and with new coach Holger Osieck set to announce his squad in the coming week, Spiranovic, who was left out of the squad for the Slovenia game earlier this month to sure up his spot in the Urawa side, will almost certainly be called up for just his fifth cap for Australia.

With the departure of Craig Moore leaving a vacancy in the middle of Australia's defence, and with Osieck, an ex-Urawa coach himself, just starting his reign, Spiranovic could not have timed his run of form any better.