The eye of the Tiger

As post season tournaments go the La Liga World Challenge takes some beating. Not for the quality or even the sides involved. No, this is simply for the random nature and complexity of the format. Even the most savvy of football experts I know failed to explain it to me other than it was a chance for some of the lesser La Liga sides to get some sunshine and play a bit of pressure-free football. Valencia in Ohio, Espanyol in Ecuador and Europa League champions, Sevilla in Morocco all playing a single game, if there is a format to the challenge then it’s as clear as mud how it works.

I’ve already made my feelings known about these post-season games but being in Brisbane for a work event when the game between The Roar and Villarreal was taking place was an opportunity not to miss. The games played this week in Sydney with Chelsea and Spurs the guests had been played out in front of huge attendances (83,500 and 71,500 respectively). Would the same interest rub off on the locals in Queensland?

17813466433_d5e84c38f4_kIf Melbourne was an AFL dominated city then Brisbane’s passion was Rugby League. Then Union, Cricket, AFL and finally “soccer”. The Brisbane Roar are one of the most successful A-League franchises, winning the Champions title in 2011, 2012 and 2014. Calling the 52,000 capacity Suncorp Stadium home is both a benefit and a disadvantage for the club. The plus side is the ultra-modern facilities and a passionate band of fans who took up residence in the north stand. With such facilities they can attract commercial revenues that some other clubs can’t. However, with 52,000 seats to fill each and every home, the stadium can sometimes have a sparse feel.

The Suncorp Stadium sits a few minutes walk from the Brisbane River. From the South Bank area of the city centre it’s a short hop over the William Jolly bridge, not forgetting to look to your right as you do and the impressive city skyline. Then up the hill passed the backpacker hostels and all the beauty they bring before you hang a left into Caxton Street, a downhill stretch of superb bars and restaurants that buzz on a match day. The tip here, so the locals tell me is not too peak too early. The trap is at the top of the hill – Honey B’s, which should need no explanation and is best left until after the game when you can share your emotions with the locals.

17811489664_6efc0f8784_k (1)The road wasn’t exactly rocking when I wandered down an hour before kick off. The locals seemed as perplexed as I was about this game. The Australian A-League finished 3 weeks ago with Melbourne Victory taking the crown after beating Sydney in the Grand Final. La Liga concluded 10 days ago with Villarreal finishing in an impressive 6th place and qualifying for the Europa League.

With the rest of my work colleagues deciding to stay behind in one of the steak restaurants up the road I’d gone out on a limb here. We can get good steak, served by some of the “friendliest” waitresses and washed down with some decent local brews any time right? Football with a cold meat pie and a pint of XXXX is much more important…surely?

Brisbane Roar 3 Villarreal 0 – Suncorp Stadium – Wednesday 3rd June 2015
In the 68th minute Villarreal’s night was complete. Two-nil down and any chance of a way back into the game had been lost when Vietta’s “cheeky” chipped penalty clipped the top of the bar. After a long season in La Liga the faces of the players told of a journey too far. The Spaniards had arrived in Australia last week, taking in and beating Adelaide United before arriving on the Gold Coast.

18246292718_52cdca54d9_kThe sparse crowd of just 9,000 suggested a couple of things to a neutral like me. Firstly, based on the comments I heard from a number of fans was that they hadn’t actually heard of Villarreal, which wouldn’t entice them from the bars of South Bank. Secondly, whilst Brisbane Roar get some decent crowds, averaging 11,600 for their A-League games down significantly from last season’s almost record high of 18,000, a post-season meaningless, despite what the marketing spin said, was a game to miss, especially as thirdly, ticket prices weren’t exactly set at a level that would encourage the locals to attend.

This was my first taste of watching an A-League team and I have to say I was impressed. New manager, ex-Portsmouth and Coventry City striker John Aloisi watched on, with former Ipswich Town Dutch maestro Frans Thijssen overseeing his last game in the dug out, the Roar passed the ball up, down, left and right with consummate ease. They were always looking for that killer ball behind the Villarreal back four.

The major surprise was it took 40 minutes (aka two beers) for the home side to take the lead. The intricate Brisbane passing play finally found teenage midfielder Devante Clut on the edge of the area and his shot easily beat Carlos Sanchez in the Villarreal goal. They doubled their lead on the stroke of half-time when Solorzano finished from close range after a sublime pass from playmaker Thomas Broich.

The second half saw much of the same from the home side. Roared on my the noise of the fans from The Den they went in search of the third goal. The boos of disapproval at the decision by the referee to give a penalty against Brisbane’s Hingert when the Argentinian Luciano Vietto clearly dived, as the big screen TV’s verified. However the officials blushes were spared when Vietto tried to take the piss with his resulting spot kick, trying to dink the ball over the Roar keeper. Boos turned to cheers when his kick bounced off the top of the bar and over. To add insult to injury Clut added a third after a well-worked effort a few minutes later.

17813451083_353f6e0908_zThree-nil wasn’t probably a fair reflection of the possession or attacking intent. The Australians dominated a tired-looking Villarreal and could have put them to the sword. But with a watching audience back home, and the Spanish commercial partners invested in the concept of the La Liga World Challenge, perhaps the Australians took their foot off the gas towards the end. I doubt it will be the same situation next month when Liverpool are the guests. That night the stadium will be close to capacity, the fans will be in full voice, the bars and restaurants of Caxton Street will be pumping and Honey B’s will certainly be buzzin’.

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