Commonwealth game

It wasn’t all about England v Poland last week in London as the capital hosted another International match.  So we sent our Dagger’s Diary team down to Craven Cottage to investigate.

International football is on a bit of a slippery slope at the moment. The rise to pre-eminence of the Champions League in Europe has meant that, within these shores at least, the international game is not taken as seriously as it is perceived to have been in the past. Obviously for many people, the national team remains as important as ever, but the recent snippets in the media about the possible change of schedule to accommodate the 2022 World Cup has raised the issue of what really matters. The Premier League clearly doesn’t want any kind of switch, although the FA don’t appear to be too fussed, probably because they look like they have lost all control over their creation. From the US , the arguments are whether the World Cup broadcast contract would have to be renegotiated, as a January/February World Cup would clash with the Superbowl. And then of course, there are the Winter Olympics to consider. Someone didn’t do their homework when they elected Qatar to stage that one, did they?

100_7308Although tonight’s game at Wembley is a very vital qualifier, the thorny issue of friendly games is never far from the surface. Every now and again, rent-a-quote managers will say that they should be got rid of, and that they serve no purpose. There was though, a recent suggestion that friendly internationals could become a thing of the past. There is talk of a UEFA European Nations League, with teams put into divisions, and with promotion and relegation, which would run alongside the tournament qualifiers. Apparently, this would not increase the amount of internationals played, but would at least mean a competitive environment for all games, rather than the dull sterile nothingness that accompanies so many fixtures these days. The write up for the plan was featured on the Guardian website in an article by Owen Gibson and Ben Lyttleton, and although it is only at the discussion stage (and there were several others put forward), it might be worth a try.

Tuesday 15th October 2013, Australia v Canada, Craven Cottage

When I was asked if I was going to football on Tuesday night, I replied that yes, I would be going to a game. Most took this to mean that I was heading to Wembley for the England game, but when I announced that I was off to Australia v Canada, most took a second glance, before I told them that it was being played at Fulham. Given my penchant for travelling to far flung games, I’m fairly certain that at least a couple of people thought I would actually be flying to Sydney for this one. I mean, I enjoy my football, but I’m not flying for twenty four hours, just for one game. If there had been a few on offer, then maybe…

The current FIFA world rankings put Australia in fifty-third place, and third in the Asian Confederation. Having already qualified for the World Cup and hosting the next AFC Asian Cup, it means that their ranking might not improve that much, especially with the only competitive games coming in Brazil , before the tournament in January 2015. Canada are exactly fifty-three places behind Australia , in 106th place, which is only enough for thirteenth in the CONCACAF region.

Neither team though are coming into this game in great form. Australia have been duffed 6-0 in their last two games (admittedly against Brazil and France ), but from reading their media reports, it has been the manner of the performance that has been most worrying. This is probably the reason why, with the second of those hammerings still fresh in the mind, they sacked the head coach Holger Osieck and have replaced him with (on a temporary basis), with Aurelio Vidmar.

If Australia have not been at their best recently (four straight defeats since a draw with South Korea in June), then Canada have been poor as well. Their last goal was scored in a March defeat to Japan in Doha , and they have followed that up with six games where they haven’t found the net. In fact, that’s their only goal in nine games in 2013, and in September, were held 0-0 by Mauritania , before losing 0-1 a few days later. For the record, Mauritania are 150th in the world.

Australia and Canada have only met eight times at this level, and six of those were back in 1924, when the Canadian team toured. Two wins each (and one draw) meant a sixth and deciding game, which Australia won 1-0. The last meetings were in 1993, when Australia won a World Cup play off tie on penalties.

If I had researched that little lot before deciding to pay out for my ticket, then I may not have bothered. The prospect of sitting at home, watching England v Poland was not a particularly tempting one (purely for nervous reasons) and if I at least had another game to watch instead of ours, then perhaps the evening wouldn’t be so bad. Of course, I could have stayed in and not watched the England game, but the temptation to switch over during the advert breaks of Rosemary & Thyme would have been too much.

As we leave the train, and start our walk from Putney Bridge , the main thing that strikes us is the lack of anyone about. Normally there would be a sizeable crowd heading from the station, but the fifteen minute walk is undertaken with practically no one around us. It’s strangely eerie as we get to the stadium, with more stewards on duty than customers. Even in the Fulham store, there is as many staff as there are visitors.

100_7310Luckily, Dan has bought his ipad, which means that we will be able to watch the England game if the mood takes us, although one of the stewards informs us that they are planning on showing the game on the screens in the concourse areas.

As kick off approaches, the ipad is out of its cover, and is switched on. We see the kick off from Wembley, and then a minute later, our game is under way. At this point, it is decided that the device should be put away, in case we focus on that game, rather than the one in front of us. As if to emphasize the point, within thirty seconds of kick off, Australia score. Canada are all over the shop on the edge of their area, and a cross from Bresciano on the Australian right eventually finds its way to Jason Kennedy, who heads home. There are quite a few people still coming in with an 8pm start obviously far too early for their schedules, and they have missed the opening goal.

To be fair though, the rest of the half makes you think that they might have been better not coming in. Canada create a couple of good chances but while one produces an excellent save, the second is from a free header in the middle of the goal, which is straight at the keeper, who pushes it over the bar. While De Rosario is trying his best, the rest of the team aren’t up to much. The main danger for the “away” team is Simeon Jackson, but there is a limit as to what he can do, and missing chances like they have will only result in one thing.

That’s not to say Australia are great, because they aren’t much better. Short passing from either side goes astray, both seem incapable of holding the ball for very long, and aside from another glaring miss from Canada , there aren’t many more opportunities in the half. Canada have this idea of trying to build from the back which is all well and good, but on more than one occasion, they quickly lose possession, and often only thirty yards or so from their own goal. It’s poor stuff, and while I quietly ponder to myself why I have bothered, Dan shows his opinion of the game by spending most of the half scouring twitter and checking out the other scores from around Europe .

We are fortunate enough to catch the first goal at Wembley, and that brightens our mood somewhat, but as the players leave the field at the interval, there are already some around us that are making arrangements to go to a bar nearby. It sounds like a much better idea than being here.

There are the normal plethora of substitutions as the second half starts, and none really improve the game, although there are a couple of bright spots. The Australian right back (Rhys Williams) isn’t bad, but looks more comfortable going forward than defending. Lucas Neill is having an easy night of it at centre back, and Marco Bresciano is still a class act, although there isn’t a lot of pace about now. For Canada, Jackson stands out but is replaced in the second half, and after that, most of their shots either head towards the Hammersmith End of the ground without troubling the goalkeeper, or are horribly mis-hit wide of the goal.

Australia score two more in the second half. The first comes ten minutes in, when a shot by Williams is deflected in from in front of the Canadian keeper by Vidosic. Goal number three arrives fifteen minutes before the end, and it is from another header, this time Mathew Leckie is able to out jump a not very impressive defence to complete the scoring. The second half is Australian dominated, and their win is deserved.

Looking at this with one eye at the World Cup is difficult. Australia will probably have appointed a new, full-time coach by then. This team doesn’t look anything like the 2006 vintage which pushed the eventual winners Italy all the way in the second round game. The priority for Australia must be the Asian Cup in January 2015; on home soil they will be expected to progress to at least the last four. On this evidence, winning the tournament may be a bit much, but home advantage, plus more games as a unit will help.

For Canada, it’s difficult to know where to start. Since joining the MLS in 2007, Toronto FC have been a bit of a disappointment, and although they have since been joined by Vancouver and Montreal, a look at their current squad lists shows just over a dozen Canadian players. Progress in the upcoming u17 World Cup would be good, but there is a lot of work to do before the national team emulate the 1986 side, and plays in the World Cup. They will need to get the youngsters more experience, because on the basis of this game, they aren’t up to it yet. Before it gets better for the Canadian mens team, it might get worse.


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