Friday, October 8, 2010

Important weekend ahead for Football in Australia

Heart and Melbourne Victory prepare for tonight's
first ever Melbourne Derby in the A-League
Is this weekend the turning point?

The point where all the negativity surrounding Football in Australia disappears, replaced by a renewed sense of optimism.

I think I speak on behalf of all Football fans when I say – let’s hope so!

The A-League has copped a hammering from all quarters so far this season, and I am not going to pretend that the league isn’t without its problems. It is. But it must also be remembered that the league is only five years old. Growing pains are to be expected.

But what a wonderful sight we will see tonight when
Swan Street
(aka AAMI Park) will be packed to capacity for the first ever Melbourne derby. The atmosphere inside the stadium will be something that Football has rarely seen in this country.

This stadium, it should be remembered, was built largely off the back of the success of Melbourne Victory.

In giving Melbourne a proper Football stadium, the A-League has already been a success.

FFA Chairman Frank Lowy is in no doubt the A-League is here to stay, telling those in attendance at last night’s Australian Football Awards that, “…the A-League is here to stay, will succeed and will achieve its objectives.”

Perhaps this Derby is the kick start the league needed this season.

Whilst most eyes will be centered on Melbourne tonight, a Football match in the small Chinese town of Zibo is also crucially important for Australia.

It’s not a final, it’s not even a quarter-final or semi-final, but tonight’s clash between the Young Socceroos and Korea Republic in the U19 AFC Championships could go a long way to deciding the fate (in the immediate term) of a talented generation of Australian footballers.

The Young Socceroos prepare for action
at the U19 AFC Championships

The winner of tonight’s clash will qualify top of Group D, thus avoiding a tough quarter-final clash with perennial underage powerhouse Japan. It’s a clash both sides want to avoid, and for good reason. Whilst they have never won the tournament, Japan have finished runner-up in five of the last eight editions.

A top place finish will mean a clash with either the UAE or Vietnam, and an easier path to the all important semi-finals. Qualification for the semi-finals guarantees a place at next year’s U20 FIFA World Cup in Colombia.

Given the talent in this squad – Leckie, Oar, Kantarovski, Bulut to name just a few – it would be a travesty if this group of players did not play at an U20 FIFA World Cup. Jan Versleijen’s men have a slight edge given the fact a draw will be good enough to see them qualify top, but it won’t be easy.

The experience gained from playing at an U20 FIFA World Cup will be invaluable, especially for a handful of players who will do so for a second time (Kantarovski, Oar), especially one on South American soil given some of these players will likely feature for Australia at the 2014 FIFA World Cup (should we qualify).

Also this weekend, the Socceroos are in town, playing host to Paraguay. Whilst the game may be a “friendly”, the action on the pitch will be important.

Over the last 18 months, the Socceroos have lost their box office allure. Many point the blame at Pim Verbeek’s dour tactics, others at an overkill of games in one particular area. For whatever reason, the ‘Roos aren’t as popular as they once were and there is a chance the Melbourne Derby could draw a bigger crowd.

But if the signs from the first two games are anything to go by then the Socceroos under Osieck look to be a more attacking unit. Australia rejoyced in the performance against Serbia at the World Cup, and if Australia can continually put on performances like that, it won’t be long before the crowds come flocking back.

With this weekend our first chance to see the Socceroos on home soil under Osieck, first impressions are important. Let’s hope the attacking flair shown in Switzerland and Poland finds its way to Australia.

Equally important is what will be happening behind the scenes this week. Make no mistake about it, this game is not just a friendly, a chance for the players to cut their wares against a top international opponent. There is a particular reason that Paraguay was chosen as an opponent.

That reason is a man by the name of Nicolás Léoz.

CONMEBOL President Nicolás Léoz

Léoz is President of CONMEBOL, the confederation that controls South American Football and is also a powerful member of the FIFA Executive Committee. The same committee that will vote on the hosts of the 2018 and 2022 FIFA World Cup’s in December.

It is widely reported that CONMEBOL’s three FIFA Exco members – Léoz, Julio Grondona from Argentina and Ricardo Teixiera from Brazil – will vote as a bloc come December. So getting Léoz onside goes a long way to securing their all important vote.

Australia is going all out in its bid to win Léoz’s vote. In September FFA CEO Ben Buckley travelled to China at the same time that Paraguay were playing a friendly there. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out why Buckley was there.

If Australia can impress Léoz enough during his time here it may help in convincing him, and CONMEBOL, to give their vote to Australia.

At all levels of the game, this weekend is important. Whether it is the turning point, only time will tell.


No comments:

Post a Comment