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15 years of Hyundai A-League: Vote for the best-ever goal
More than 5000 goals have been scored over the first 14 years of the Hyundai A-League, with so many memorable strikes over that time. From long-range rockets, to flowing team moves and solo stunners, there are a few goals that will live in the memory for years to come. Picking one as the greatest go...
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It’s a problem with a million solutions: how does Australian football produce enough talented young players to propel both the Socceroos and A-League to new heights?
There are numerous resourcing, behavioural and cultural issues at play – and beware of the individual claiming to have a silver bullet that will fix everything – but there’s one key systemic factor that serves as a perhaps the greatest anchor on the next generation.
They don’t play enough games.
Talk to any young player about making the leap from youth to the senior ranks and one observation will be almost universally relayed back to you: there is a marked increase in the pace of the game.
To some extent, there is no meaningful way that players can properly prepare for this – it’s a case of learning on the job.
But until things click into place, the consequences of the lack of games for Australian youth frequently rears its ugly head as, denied the thinking time that being the best at a junior level consistently provides, youngsters pirouette to raw instinct.
This means that all too often their identification of open space to occupy is limited, split-second windows for a line-breaking pass close unused, a momentary avenue to goal provided by a defender is ignored and recognition of attacking runs by the man they are marking are missed.
If instincts have been refined by good coaching and healthy amounts of real-world application, these situations are fleeting and A-League staff will entrust youngsters with increased minutes moving forward.
— Brisbane Roar Academy (@AcademyBRFC) January 1, 2020
But in Australia, the opportunities provided for young prospects to play games and develop good behaviours against the best of their age group, inexplicably shrink as they get closer and closer to senior football.
Instead, many players still rely on habits developed in their early teens; where the games can be more frequent but are often determined not by football acumen but instead by which side has more pace and power (which also plays into which young players are recognised and funnelled into elite pathways).
Australia’s premier youth competition, the Y-League, lasts a total of eight games. Nominally, it’s supplemented by A-League clubs entering their academy side in local NPL, 25-30 game seasons.
Yet, frequently called up to serve on A-League benches during the Y-League campaign and when the NPL and A-League seasons overlap, talented youngsters often miss the chance to see the field or have only received cursory cameos.
Across the 2018/19 Y-League and 2019 NPL VIC seasons, Olyroo and Melbourne City winger Ramy Najjarine played in just 15 games. This was supplemented by the 19-year-old playing 179 minutes of football at senior level.
Sydney FC starlet Luke Ivanovic made 14 appearances across the Y-League and NPL NSW, complimented by just 294 minutes at senior level.
And while there are exceptions that can immediately excel despite a lack of preparatory minutes – Daniel Arzani springs to mind – such players are rare.
What a pass from Daniel Arzani in the lead up to our match-winning goal
— Socceroos (@Socceroos) June 9, 2018
One possible solution may be the creation of a more comprehensive reserve-grade competition – where youth attached to A-League clubs will compete in a longer season.
“For me, what needs to happen as quickly as possible, to start a new wave for the junior players in Australia… is that a reserve grade competition has to happen ASAP,” Socceroos and Olyroos’ Graham Arnold said in December.
“Because still, there are too many kids sitting in the grandstands in suits watching games.
Another fix may very well lie in the implementation of a professional National Second Division – greatly increasing the number of playing opportunities in full-time environments that can be hoovered up by young prospects.
With transfer fees providing one of the cornerstones of club financing for second division clubs around the world, the incentive would also be there for lower-tier clubs to play and develop youth.
Opportunities for loan moves between the tiers – which Socceroo Harry Souttar has benefited from as part of his development in England – would also arise.
Ultimately, Australian youth do have to eventually make that leap and ‘earn’ the right to senior minutes.
However, they have the talent to do so and Australian football can do better to prepare them for that jump.
The post Football: Australia’s youth being robbed of the best chance to succeed appeared first on The New Daily.
On Wednesday morning, news broke that Marco Kurz’s 199-day tenure as head coach of Melbourne Victory was at its end.
Just a week after the hammer blow to Ernie Merrick’s tenure in Newcastle, Victory’s stoppage-time collapse on Sunday evening served as the straw that broke the camel’s back on the German’s time at AAMI Park.
Meeting on Monday in the wake of that defeat, the Victory board made the call to part ways with the gaffer and delivered the coup de grace that evening.
Kurz, alongside assistant coach and long-time collaborator Filip Tapalovic, will depart the club immediately, with assistant Carlos Salvachua – a holdover from the Kevin Muscat days – set to take over for as interim boss.
Ending just before he was set to lead Victory against his former side Adelaide United on Friday night, Kurz’s tenure with the four-time A-League champions ends after just 14 competitive games in charge. He won four, drew three and lost six games in the A-League and exited the FFA Cup against Newcastle Jets in the Round of 32.
Kurz’s time with Victory has been uninspiring and left many Victory fans wanting more, but he has his defenders who point to circumstances at the club that may have meant he never had a chance to succeed.
His tenure, it seems, existed in a grey zone where performances weren’t enough to justify his remaining in charge of Australia’s biggest club, while simultaneously, factors outside his control could be spun into justifying giving him more time.
With the benefit of hindsight, this theme of duelling narratives began almost as soon as Kurz was announced as the seventh coach in Victory’s history during the 2019 offseason.
The German carried with him the magical label of ‘proven A-League performer’ after guiding a defensively sound Adelaide United to the 2019/20 semi-finals and success in the 2019 FFA Cup. It was declared that his tactical acumen would rise to match the increased resourcing in Melbourne.
But naysayers pointed to how his teams in South Australia were utterly predictable in attack, with a lack of penetrative play outside moments of transition, dictating a frustratingly predictable reliance on crosses into the area.
A leopard, they argued, couldn’t change his spots.
An early exit from the FFA Cup was disappointing, but the loss occurred largely before the squad’s major signings had been made. Opening A-League results and performances were well below standard, but he was still integrating his foreign signings and getting his feet under the table.
Foreign players brought in during the offseason – Kristijan Dobras, Jakob Paulson and Migjen Basha – were all failing to have the type of impact foreign players need to have for a club to succeed, but to just what extent Kurz had been involved in their recruitment remained in doubt.
A wave of injuries to key performers such as Robbie Kruse, Andrew Nabbout, Tim Hoogland and, most recently, Ola Toivonen wasn’t allowing him a full deck but, conversely, to what extent was the German’s (in)famous training practices to blame for these injuries?
And though there had been some bright spots in recent months – the 4-0 drubbing of Newcastle the most recent example – how much of that was on Kurz and how much of that could be attributed to the individual brilliance of players like Kruse?
The club currently sits inside the top-six – but only because of the mediocrity of the teams around them,
Ultimately, it appears that Melbourne Victory’s board came to the determination that club such as theirs – where premierships and championships are an expectation and not an aspiration – couldn’t afford to exist in the grey zone.
With cross-town foes Melbourne City and Western United both looking capable of playing finals football, the board decided that a move was needed to cut through the noise and try to reinvigorate the club’s season.
In such circumstances, it’s always the coach who is first in the firing line – a point that a Kurz himself observed many times as the pressure mounted – and as the third-quickest sacking in A-League history it can’t be argued that it’s not a decisive decision.
But now, with either the dead weight or the fall guy – depending on your point of view – exiting stage left, the focus will now shift squarely onto Football Operations Manager Paul Trimboli, CEO Trent Jacobs and Chairman Anthony Di Pietro.
They made the decisive decision to part ways with Kurz.
If the move fails to pay dividends, there is no one left to shield them from scrutiny.
The post Marco Kurz a failure at Victory – or the fall guy? appeared first on The New Daily.
The unhappy reign of Marco Kurz at Melbourne Victory has reportedly come to an end just 13 A-League games into his tenure.
Kurz took over at the traditional powerhouse in June after Kevin Muscat’s departure at the end of last season but the German has paid the price for an inconsistent start to the 2019-20 campaign.
Victory sit sixth on the ladder with just four wins and their haul of 15 points at this stage of the season is their equal lowest (level with 2007-08 and 2011-12).
Kurz’s last game in charge appears to have been the 3-2 defeat to lowly Central Coast Mariners on Sunday.
The 50-year-old was dismissed for arguing with the fourth official on the touchline after Victory conceded two stoppage-time penalties in the loss in Gosford.
It’s understood the decision was made to dismiss Kurz at a board meeting with the club expected to put assistant Carlos Salvachua in temporary charge for this weekend’s match against Kurz’s former club Adelaide.
Kurz, who led the Reds to the 2018 FFA Cup trophy, is the second coach to be sacked this season after Ernie Merrick’s dismissal by Newcastle earlier this month.
Western Sydney Wanderers may have dominated the headlines early in the A-League season, but Melbourne City’s W-League side is staking its claim to ultimate glory.
The three-time champions soundly defeated Canberra United 4-0 on Thursday night thanks to a first-half brace from Kyah Simon and goals from Claire Emslie and Emily van Egmond.
It stretched City’s winning run to seven and sent them six-points clear atop the table – albeit having played once more than Western Sydney.
It also means that City’s rock-solid backline has not conceded a goal since the 40th minute of the 2-1 win over Sydney FC on December 8.
That’s more than 400 minutes of football since goalkeeper Lydia Williams had to retrieve the ball from her own net.
And while it has at times been frustrating going forward – the win over Canberra was only the second time City has won by more than a goal – van Egmond says the best is yet to come.
“It’s taken us a couple of games to get into the swing of things,” the Matilda told Fox Sports after the Canberra game. “We’ve had a lot of our players come in from all kinds of different leagues.
I think now we’re starting to make a statement across the league which is what we want going into the back end of the season.”
City and the Wanderers – who suffered their first defeat of the season thanks to an upset 4-0 defeat to Brisbane Roar on Sunday – have been identified as clearly separating themselves from the pack through the opening nine rounds of the 2019/20 season.
However, with the guest-player contract of Wanderers’ Irish superstar Denise O’Sullivan at its end and the side faltering against Roar, City may now have a leg up in the chase for Dub supremacy.
Sydney FC make it ten games unbeaten
Sydney FC made it ten games unbeaten on Friday night after downing Newcastle Jets 2-1 at McDonald Jones Stadium.
At the end of the second week in January, the A-League looks like it has already found its premiers.
Nearing the league’s halfway point, Sydney stretches its lead atop the A-League table to 11 points and secures a goal difference that is, at minimum, five better than the nearest rivals in third-placed Perth Glory.
The Harboursiders have been an unflinching machine so far in 19/20 – their collection of attacking talent able to convert half chances and win games even when they fail to fire as a collective unit.
So well-established is their system – and their players so aware of their place in it – that the side is a constant threat in every game it plays.
A-League going to the Dogs
On Friday, A-League expansion side Western United announced it would shift its January 26 home fixture from Kardinia Park to the venerable Whitten Oval in Melbourne’s west.
The third stadium – and third AFL oval to boot – that the side will have used in its first season in the league, the move was met with some skepticism by fans.
Why, they asked, would United not look to use boutique rectangular venue Knights Stadium – home of the famous Melbourne Knights – if the club was looking to play in Melbourne’s west?
The club cited logistical challenges of bringing a game to Knights Stadium and that Whitten Oval – a ground with a central-ish location, a sense of intimacy and deep character – should produce an upgraded atmosphere over the cavernous Kardinia.
What just happened?
Just when you think you’ve seen everything that the A-League can throw at you, it finds something new.
Down 2-1 heading into injury time after a desperately unlucky own-goal by Kyle Rowles, Central Coast Mariners looked like extending a run that hadn’t seen them beat Melbourne Victory since 2013.
A VAR review spotted a handball by Victory defender James Donachie and enabled Central Coast cult-hero Matt Simon to thunder a penalty home.
Simon then got involved in a shoving match with Victory’s Adama Traoré that left the attacker’s shirt ripped wide open.
Pressing hard, Central Coast won a dubious penalty when Michael McGlinchey was brought down and up stepped Simon once again – the 33-year-old hammering home.
To top it all off, enraged Victory coach Marco Kurz was red-carded for his furious protests with the fourth official.
It all ended with a 3-2 win to the Mariners that leaves them just two points outside the top-six.
Friday: Newcastle Jets 1-2 Sydney FC
Saturday: Wellington Phoenix 2-0 Western Sydney Wanderers; Brisbane Roar 2-2 Melbourne City; Perth Glory 3-0 Adelaide United
Sunday: Central Coast Mariners 3-2 Melbourne Victory
Thursday: Melbourne City 4-0 Canberra United
Sunday: Western Sydney Wanderers 4-0 Brisbane Roar
The post Round-ball round up: Melbourne City’s clean sheet rolls on appeared first on The New Daily.
Olyroos coach Graham Arnold is happy with his young teams’ continued improvement after a boost to their Olympic qualifying bid with a 2-1 comeback win over hosts Thailand at the AFC U-23 Championship.
Nicholas D’Agostino scored a goal in each half as Australia fought back on Saturday night in Bangkok to put themselves on top of Group A in the competition which doubles as the AFC’s qualifying tournament for the Tokyo 2020 Games.
Thailand took the lead midway through the first half when Anon Amornlerdsak netted but D’Agostino equalised when he fired home two minutes before halftime at Rajamangala Stadium.
The Perth Glory striker then sent a crisp shot past Thailand keeper Korraphat Nareechan in the 76th minute from an Alex Gersbach cutback to secure the Olyroos’ victory.
The Olyroos are now on four points, before they face Bahrain in their final Group A match on Tuesday (Wednesday 12.15am AEDT).
Thailand are second on three points while Iraq, who drew 2-2 with Bahrain on Tuesday, are third on two points.
Arnold said the Olyroos showed great character to come from behind against Thailand.
“It (conceding) took the confidence out of the team for a good 10 minutes or so, but I thought after that, especially second half, we played very well and should have won by more,” he said.
“We have only been together as a team for a short period of time and the 23 players … while they don’t know each other perfectly, you can see the improvement in every game.”
Arnold admitted his side could have had more patience on the ball, which may have helped their endurance levels in the hot and steamy conditions.
“The conditions are very taxing and no doubt there will be more changes for the Bahrain game so that we can get fresh legs on and keep working hard,” he said.
The top two teams from the four groups will advance to the quarter-finals, with the Olyroos aiming for Olympic qualification for the first time since 2008.
The AFC U-23 Championship’s top three teams – the two finalists and the third-place play-off winner – will join Games hosts Japan at Tokyo 2020.
If Japan reach the semi-finals of the AFC U-23 Championship, the other semi-finalists are guaranteed Olympics qualification.
The post Football: Olyroos boost Olympic hopes with away win in Thailand appeared first on The New Daily.
Bruno Fornaroli has continued his sizzling form to help lift Perth to a 3-0 A-League victory over Adelaide United at HBF Park.
Fornaroli notched his fifth goal in five games on Saturday when he unleashed a majestic strike from outside the box in the 44th minute in front of 11,168 fans.
Joel Chianese continued his own hot form with the opening goal.
It was his third goal in three matches, while Spanish maestro Diego Castro was influential as always with two first-half assists.
Chris Ikonomidis was introduced in the 59th minute and scored nine minutes later after a weak effort from Adelaide goalkeeper Paul Izzo.
But Ikonomidis is no certainty to face Western Sydney next week after injuring his left ankle in a dangerous tackle from Adelaide defender Michael Jakobsen.
It was a nasty tackle,” Glory coach Tony Popovic said.”On replay it didn’t look good. It looked like it was from behind. That’s just on first glance when you look up on the screen, but he obviously caught the player.”
Glory’s fifth victory on the trot equals the club’s longest A-League winning run – set twice in the 2015/16 campaign.
Perth, last before their winning run, find themselves in third spot and with a game in hand against second-placed Melbourne City, who are two points ahead.
The Reds have lost four games in a row and five of their past seven – a worrying slump which has dropped them out of the top six.
“The problem is that we are too easy in giving chances away and (Glory) do have the quality to use those chances,” Adelaide coach Gertjan Verbeek said.
“We also had chances but didn’t score.”
With the mercury at 34 degrees at kickoff, Chianese broke the deadlock in the 26th minute after latching onto Castro’s pass and spinning his way into the box.
It was Fornaroli who struck next, with the Uruguayan’s shot from just outside the box taking a slight deflection before crashing into the back of the net.
Ikomidis had seen just three minutes of action in the Glory’s past two games, and the Socceroo made the most of his opportunity when he came on.
The 24-year-old sprinted to reach Grant’s long ball in the 68th minute and arrived at the same time as Izzo.
Adelaide’s gloveman decided against putting his body on the line – a mistake that allowed Ikonomidis to knock the ball forward and score.
Ikonomidis, Chianese, and Fornaroli could have easily ended the match with a brace each, such was the glut of chances Perth created.
The post Football: Hot Perth Glory equals its best run of wins appeared first on The New Daily.
Australia’s increasingly warmer climate is fast becoming an issue for professional sport, with football’s summer scheduling putting it in the front line of change and mitigation.
The heat has already forced some games to be rescheduled in order to avoid the risks to players.
Despite being moved forward until 8.45am, a recent Y-League fixture between Central Coast Mariners and Western Sydney Wanderers still had to be abandoned just after halftime in the face of soaring temperatures.
Even the fans are concerned. Adelaide United’s active support group, The Red Army, announced that it would be boycotting any future afternoon home games played in similar, oppressive conditions following United’s round nine clash with Newcastle Jets.
The recent bushfire crisis has caused games to be cancelled because of smoke haze and air quality has become a regular concern for officials.
“We’ve been confronted with it daily,” PFA CEO John Didulica told The New Daily this week. “We’ve had to speak to clubs on a daily basis on how they’re monitoring training and monitoring the air quality index.
It’s shifted from being this theoretical discussion to being an acute problem.
“Yes, we can triage it in the short term by monitoring processes and putting in some protocols to manage it but what’s the macro answer to this? How do we future-proof our competitions from what we’re seeing at the moment?”
Football in Australia has been a summer sport since the NSL made the switch from the winter ahead of the 1989/90 season.
But the increasing heat is presenting new logistical challenges for the leagues in both the short and the long term.
“There’s not a specific climate change group,” Head of Leagues Greg O’Rourke said. “What there is, is a competition steering committee, which talks about the planning for the following seasons.
“Not just the next one, but the following seasons with respect to scheduling, which takes into account things such as climate change and other parts to the landscape in respect to when the most optimum time is to schedule games.”
Complicating the questioning of scheduling is the growth of the A-League and W-League.
Through southwest Sydney expansion side Macarthur FC, the A-League is set to grow from 11 to 12 teams in 2020/21 and take the number of weekly fixtures from five to six.
Furthermore, expansion of the W-League is also a stated goal for the years ahead and potentially adds a further one or two extra games into the mix; theoretically taking the number of A-League and W-League games every week to up to 12.
But with afternoon time slots becoming increasingly difficult to justify, The New Daily understands that other solutions for staging the extra fixtures are being investigated.
This includes exploring the logistics of playing games later in the evening on Saturdays and Sundays or placing them in timeslots described as sitting on “the shoulders” of the weekend such as Thursday, Friday and Monday nights.
The W-League currently plays one standalone fixture on Thursday nights, while both leagues have staged fixtures on Friday nights – the A-League regularly and the W-League on an intermittent basis.
Another solution, however, could involve the radical action of moving Australian football back to the winter.
A report in the Sydney Morning Herald on Tuesday suggested such a shift would bring Australia’s professional tier back into competition with the AFL and NRL for both attention and facilities, but it would allow the competition to escape the heat and realign it with Asian competitions and domestic lower tiers.
“There are clearly challenges at the moment,” Didulica said of the climate.
“The challenges used to just be constrained to extreme heat on matchdays and the challenges that created logistically and also in terms of the spectacle.
“But I think long-term we need to accept that existentially, the game needs to modify how it does things to deal with what’s coming.
“If we’re being prudent, we need to take a really broad view on how our leagues will operate given the likelihood that more extreme weather is unlikely to be the exception that it may possibly have been in the past.
“Either reconfigure the seasons or certainly develop a real deep dive on the way that we manage our seasons to avoid these extreme, increasingly common weather events or environmental issues.”
A-League Round 14
Friday: Newcastle Jets 1-2 Sydney FC
Saturday: Wellington Phoenix vs Western Sydney Wanderers, Sky Stadium, 2.45pm; Brisbane Roar vs Melbourne City, Suncorp Stadium, 5pm; Perth Glory vs Adelaide United, HBF Park, 7.30pm
Sunday: Central Coast Mariners vs Melbourne Victory, Central Coast Stadium, 6pm
W-League Round 9
Sunday: Western Sydney Wanderers vs Brisbane Roar, Marconi Stadium, 4pm
The post Summer football forced to make new plans to beat the heat appeared first on The New Daily.
Football’s talent production line can sometimes seem to forget that behind every young player there is a dream.
On Friday night dreams were realised by Western United youngsters Thierry Iradukunda and Josh Cavallo.
Their side down 3-0 after being outclassed in the first half against Melbourne City, the pair, alongside youngster Dylan Pierias, was at the forefront of a late surge by the expansion club.
Cavallo – with his first professional touch – and Pierias both won penalties.
Though United lost 3-2, seeing young Australian players handed a chance and seizing it was welcome and makes a good case for the benefit of expansion clubs.
“The big story for our club is the number of young players who got their opportunity today for the future of this football club,” United coach Mark Rudan said post-game.
Cavallo has played for all three Melbourne A-League clubs but, despite developing into a Young Socceroo and winning City’s 2017/18 Y-League Player of the Year award, opportunities had previously been lean under then-City boss Warren Joyce.
Aware that the new expansion side presented his last real chance to succeed in the A-league, Cavallo looked to United.
“[There’s been] a lot of hard work and dedication,” Cavallo told The New Daily. “I’ve worked so hard for this moment and it pays off.
“My stomach turned upside down [when told he was coming on]. You can’t explain that moment.
“I thought I was in a dream. I was very shocked. I’ve been on the bench a couple of times during the season and the time was now.
[The coaches] said to go out there and express myself. They said that you’ve worked hard for this moment so go out and show us what you’ve got.
“I’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time. I won’t let it go any time soon.”
Fires also impacting football
With forecasts predicting extremely hazardous air quality in Canberra, Sunday’s W-League and Y-League fixtures between hosts Canberra and Sydney FC and Newcastle Jets were postponed.
Football clubs at all levels have mobilised to raise money to support fire victims and firefighters.
The Red and Black Bloc, Western Sydney Wanderers and the club’s sponsors collectively raised $48,812.47 in December, and the three Victorian clubs – City, United and Melbourne Victory, came together this weekend to donate $2 for every ticket sold to relief efforts.
The FFA on Sunday morning announced that Rounds 14 and 15 of the A-League season and Rounds 9 and 10 of the W-League season would also be dedicated to supporting those affected.
Professional Footballers Australia and Socceroos goalkeeper Mat Ryan is donating $1000 for every goal scored across the round and members of Adelaide United’s donated $5 for each of the 477 passes the Reds completed against Sydney FC.
Individual players such as Matt Jurman and Ellie Carpenter have also pledged individual contributions, while global megastars Kylian Mbappé, Claudio Marchisio and Paulo Dybala also highlighted the crisis to their millions of social media followers.
Kerr makes Chelsea debut
Sam Kerr’s Chelsea debut on Sunday night (AEDT) marked the start of another journey for the Australian superstar.
The Matildas superstar is perhaps the highest-profile player to ever sign in the English league, which – with Europe quickly emerging as a dominant force in women’s football – is establishing itself as one of the best in the world.
Kerr, who trained with her new side for the first time this week, became the highest-paid women’s footballer in England when she signed a three-year deal believed to be over a million dollars.
She will now focus on helping third-placed Chelsea chase down a top-two league finish that will bring with it Champions League qualification.
Melbourne Victory was the unlikely premier of the W-League a season ago, riding a wave of momentum into a finals campaign that took a rampant Kerr and Perth Glory to end.
But, alas for fans of Victory, off-season upheaval in their playing ranks has seen the club struggle to recapture that same magic in 2019/20, and coach Jeff Hopkins’ side entered round eight in sixth place.
Sunday’s 2-1 win over Newcastle moved them back inside the top four and, with a manageable slate of games ahead, finals is on the agenda again.
Recently shifting to a back-four, preparations are also clearly underway for the return of injured Laura Brock (Alleway) and a solid run to the business end of the season.
Wednesday: Western Sydney Wanderers 1-2 Brisbane Roar 1-2
Friday: Melbourne City 3-2 Western United
Saturday: Wellington Phoenix 2-1 Central Coast Mariners; Sydney FC 2-1 Adelaide United
Sunday: Melbourne Victory 4-0 Newcastle Jets
Thursday: Brisbane Roar 0-2 Melbourne City
Friday: Adelaide United 2-2 Perth Glory
The post Round ball round up: Dreams offer compelling story for A-League expansion appeared first on The New Daily.
It’s been 12 long years since Australia’s men last qualified to compete in football at the Olympic Games and Socceroos coach Graham Arnold says it is a stepping stone that will unveil the next generation of stars.
Unlike in women’s football, in which the Olympics serves as the biggest prize on offer outside of the World Cup, men’s football at the Olympics is restricted, with the exception of three overage players, to U23 tournament status.
Nonetheless, they have still proven themselves as a valuable proving ground for future global icons.
Arnold named his 23-player squad for the AFC U23 Championships – which serves as qualifying for the Olympics – on Monday saying qualification would “be a huge feat.”
“The research that I’ve done and presented to the [FFA] board and presented to the A-League owners shows that since 1992 – when the Olympics became a U23 competition – it’s produced six or seven top Socceroos.
“[Mark] Bresciano and [Vince] Grella didn’t play for the Socceroos until they were Olympians. It’s the next phase in the journey for these kids to become Socceroos.
I truly believe from what I’ve seen – and that’s why I took the job, to work and get to know them mentally – I believe that by the end of 2020 there will be five kids that will be part of the Socceroos squad.
“So, it’s very important.”
Fans at the Sydney Olympics were gifted one-in-a-lifetime sneak previews of the Ronaldinho, Andrea Pirlo, Gennaro Gattuso, Samuel Eto’o and Xavi before they became global megastars, while all-time-great Lionel Messi won gold with Argentina in 2008.
Finishing fourth at Barcelona 1992 with the likes of future legends Ned Zelić, Tony Vidmar, Paul Okon, Tony Popovic and Mark Bosnich in the squad, Australia then began a run of five straight Olympic Games.
Yet a move to the Asian Football Confederation has coincided with Australia’s Olympic dreams being stymied; failing to qualify for 2012 or 2016.
Arnold – who coincidentally was in charge the last time Australia qualified in 2008 – acknowledges there are short-term ramifications for the local competition.
With the A-League not observing international breaks in 2019/20, the 14 A-League players that are part of 23 set to fly out on Monday evening in preparation for the Championships will potentially a month of club football.
Clubs like Melbourne City, who are losing starting goalkeeper Tom Glover, and Wellington Phoenix, who are losing dynamic attacker Reno Piscopo, may be forced to scramble for replacements during the crucial January stretch of the season.
According to Arnold, though, clubs were aware of the greater good that came with releasing their players.
“I went out last September, in 2018, and explained to all the coaches and asked for their support in rebuilding the Olympic team,” Arnold explained.
“It’s not part of my job, not part of my contract but I felt that it was something that I needed to do for the development and for the depth of the Socceroos.
“The coaches from last year were across it and aware of it.
“The only ones this year that have said something about it have been the new coaches that were unaware of it in Erick Mombaerts, Gertjan Verbeek and Robbie Fowler.
“But I’ve spoken to them since and they’re all clear on it now and there are no problems at all.”
Australia is set to commence their AFC U23 Championship campaign against Iraq on January 8 before further group games against Thailand and Bahrain.
A minimum third-place finish at the tournament is required to secure qualification for Tokyo 2020.
Keanu Baccus, Daniel Bouman, Trent Buhagiar, Gabriel Cleur, Nicholas D’Agostino, Thomas Deng, Zach Duncan, Ben Folami, Denis Genreau, Alex Gersbach, Thomas Glover (GK), Thomas Heward-Belle (GK), Jordan Holmes (GK), Jacob Italiano, Joshua Laws, Connor Metcalfe, Tass Mouroukoutas, Ramy Najjarine, Aiden O’Neill, Connor O’Toole, Reno Piscopo, Dylan Ryan, Al Hassan Toure.
Western Sydney Wanderers’ W-League side proved at Friday night’s double header that the investments made in its future are paying dividends.
In the face of the best performance produced by a side in red and black in W-League history, Sydney FC disintegrated as the hosts stormed to an unstoppable 5-0 win.
Rising to second on the table, the Wanderers’ barnstorming start to 2019-20 has established the club as a serious W-League title challenger.
Given Sydney’s capitulation, perhaps only Melbourne City’s galaxy of stars – who mundanely defeated Perth Glory 1-0 on Thursday night – may prove capable of standing against the red and black tide.
That the Wanderers have gone from the bottom of the table in 2018-19 to title challengers in 2019-20 carries with it a certain level of romance.
And for a club long considered to be a sleeping giant of the W-League, it’s a welcome challenge to the established powers of the competition.
But when examining the success of this campaign, there are lessons that carry significant ramifications not just for football – but all sports.
Stinging from a disappointing 2018-19, the Wanderers got serious this campaign.
They invested heavily in the squad and their international talent was bolstered when the core of the NWSL-winning North Carolina Courage – Lynn Williams, Denise O’Sullivan and Kristen Hamilton – were enticed to sign.
Talented locals such as Kyra Cooney-Cross, Alex Huynh, Ella Mastrantonio and Amy Harrison were lured from other W-League sides while key contributors Courtney Nevin and Erica Halloway were retained.
Importantly, the Wanderers women also moved into the club’s newly opened Blacktown-based Centre of Football, giving them the chance to train, recover and prepare in world-class facilities all too rare in the women’s game.
This willingness to invest on and off the field has paid immediate dividends.
It has turned a side of W-League wooden-spooners into one of the best and most entertaining in football, a team capable of winning titles and putting out a product more than worthy of the price of admission.
It’s a template that others should emulate.
Phoenix doing what a phoenix does
A month into the A-League season, it looked like normal, depressing service had resumed for winless Wellington Phoenix.
Though it had been one of the feel-good stories of the league the season before, the departure of coach Mark Rudan, captain Andrew Durante, 2018-19 goalkeeper of the year Filip Kurto and rising star Max Burgess to expansion side Western United cast a bitter shadow over its offseason.
Firepower was lost when Jonny Warren Medallist Roy Krishna and David Williams departed for India, and Sarpreet Singh made the move of a lifetime to German giants Bayern Munich.
Round 5, though, saw the Kiwis finally record their first point of the season – holding out for a 1-1 draw away to Melbourne Victory.
“It’s a start for us,” new coach Ufuk Talay said.
“I think we’ve been playing good football and not getting the results.”
His optimism, as it turns out, was well placed.
Promptly rattling off three straight wins, Phoenix has yet to lose a single game since that fixture and now find themselves sitting in the top six at the end of 11 rounds.
On Saturday, Talay’s side was desperately unlucky to not hand championship favourites Sydney FC its second defeat of the season.
Steven Taylor’s own goal or a point-blank miss from an otherwise excellent Ulises Davila cost the Kiwis.
Talay appears to have quickly instilled within his new side a plan of attack and gotten his players to buy-in, which is more than can be said for some other A-League coaches.
Finals football could be back on the menu.
Round up results … the final scores
Friday: Western Sydney Wanderers 1-1 Western United
Saturday: Wellington Phoenix 2-2 Sydney FC; Melbourne City 1-2 Melbourne Victory; Perth Glory 6-2 Newcastle Jets
Sunday: Central Coast Mariners 2-1 Adelaide United
Thursday: Melbourne City 1-0 Perth Glory
Friday: Western Sydney Wanderers 5-0 Sydney FC
Saturday: Melbourne Victory 0-0 Brisbane Roar
Sunday: Adelaide United 1-2 Canberra United
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