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’.

Post-season Blues….and Citizens and Spurs

A weeks after the end of the season used to be the reserve of testimonials for long-serving players and club officials. Football has moved on, and the likelihood of a player staying at one club for 5 years, let alone a decade is very rare. Look at the final top four in the Premier League – John Terry at Chelsea (11 years since debut) is the stand out exception to this; Man City could boast Micah Richards (10 years) although 179 appearances in ten years and spending the last season on loan to Fiorentina, whilst Arsenal of course have the £2m a year forgotten man (by most outside of the Emirates anyway) Abou Diaby who made his debut in 2006.

This week Crystal Palace honoured the service of their long-serving keeper Julián Speroni who had made over 350 appearances since joining the club in 2004 with a testimonial against former club Dundee. However, Palace appeared to be the exception rather than the rule of playing post-season games with any altruistic meaning.

Yet twenty four hours after Palace honoured their keeper, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur were due to play games of their own. This time it wasn’t to honour a particular player, or reward any member of the club for long service. In fact it is hard to think of any reason apart from a commercial obligation why they would be heading to Canada and Malaysia respectively.

The clubs will argue it is all about building a fan base in new markets, but does that really stack up? With the Premier League season done and dusted less than 72 hours previous, why would Manchester City decide it was a good idea for their squad to fly 3,500 miles to Toronto? Assuming they left on Monday, that’s quite a strain on the players having just completed a full season, and one that was proceeded for many of the players by the World Cup in Brazil and also included a mid-season game in Abu Dhabi against Hamburg. Straight after the game in Toronto they then head to Texas (a mere 1,500 miles) where 24 hours later they take on Houston.

Tottenham Hotspur haven’t exactly been brimming with joy at the prospect of another Europa League campaign next season. Back in April Mauricio Pochettino admitted the Europa League is a hindrance to a Premier League club’s domestic aspirations, yet the club have already headed East for a game in Malaysia on Wednesday before flying onto Australia to take on Sydney on Saturday. They will be joined down under by Chelsea who also take on Sydney on Tuesday night after a stop in Thailand to play the”All Stars XI” on Saturday. It’s hard to have sympathy with the clubs when they complain about fixture congestion then take off on such trips.

What makes these trips even more strange in terms of their timing is a number of the players will be included in International squads for friendlies being played on the 6th and 7th June.  England, Republic of Ireland, Brazil, France, Argentina and Ghana are all due to play that weekend, putting further strain on the players.

These post season games seem to be a growing trend. Not that it detracts from their pre-season games – Manchester City will be heading to Australia to take part in the newly expanded International Champions Cup, taking on Roma and Barcelona in Melbourne, whilst Chelsea play in the North American edition against New York RedBulls, PSG and Barcelona. Spurs will be one of the other four current Premier League sides heading Stateside  as they take on the MLS All-Stars at the wonderfully named Dick’s Sporting Goods Store Stadium in he equally brilliantly named Commerce City in Colorado.

Football is a highly competitive global game on and off the pitch, but do these post-season games really help the players, who are the profit generators when viewed with commercial glasses on? Do you think Mourinho, Pellegrini and Pochettino have the same enthusiasm for these trips as adidas, Samsung, Nike, Etihad, Armour and AIA have? In some instances the club’s have to perform based on clauses in hugely profitable commercial partnerships, underlining the shift from the people’s game to a game dominated by money. That’s not a surprise. Tomorrow’s avid Chelsea or Man City fan is just as likely to live in Shanghai as he is in Streatham or Stretford, snapping up all the club have to offer in a digital format such as the ability to watch these games exclusively in the club’s online TV channel.

Tickets for the games in Thailand and Malaysia aren’t cheap. When Chelsea play in the Rajamangala National Stadium on Saturday in the Singha Celebration Match (Chelsea’s Global Beer Partner), tickets range from around £10 to close to £80, which is almost a third of the average monthly income in Thailand. Even Arsenal cannot boast that price to income ratio yet! Meanwhile over in Selangor where the average Malaysian earns approximately £900 per month, tickets for the AIA Cup (Spurs shirt sponsor) game will cost between £10 and £75 although there are no concessions at all.

I’m sure the fans who are following their teams across the world will enjoy the opportunity to visit some new cities, whilst the marketing officials and PR companies will do their best to get players to look happy at choreographed public appearances. The clubs will stand firmly behind the pretext of building their brand in new markets, but does this simply add more weight to the stealth plans of Game 39 once more?

Postscript – 28/5 – Man City’s game at the BBVA stadium in Houston was postponed after the team arrived in Texas due to issues with the pitch.  Well, that was worth it then.

Go on my Son

You make your own luck in this world, goes the saying and to an extent I’d agree. I’m a firm believer that luck is no more than a by-product of good planning, hard work and patience. In terms of being in the right place at the right time for football, I can wheel out a few good stories – many revolving around work trips where there just happened to be a game on whilst I was visiting a particular city (only 19 slices of “luck” in 2014) but on the other hands I’d also missed out on a few games. Los Angeles, India and Australia were three such destinations that fell into the “must try harder” pot.

Last summer I’d had the pleasure in visiting Australia for the first time. We’d just made a big investment into Melbourne so I traveled down under to see how they were getting on. The trip took place slap-bang in the middle of the World Cup which was both a blessing and a curse. Plenty of football on the TV, albeit it at stupid o’clock, but the domestic leagues had shut down for the duration of the tournament. Whilst watching Australia’s nail-biter against Holland in a Gentleman’s Club (not my idea but when needs must) and England’s painful demise against Uruguay in a casino was all very well, it wasn’t the real deal. We did manage to snag (tip for you travelers – snag refers to a sausage in Australia, not a catch) some tickets to watch AFL at the Melbourne Cricket Ground which was a great night out but it wasn’t real football despite was any Victorian (resident of the state of Victoria and not a very very very old person) will tell you.

So when a request came through on the bat phone to go back to Australia to present at a conference or two I of course consulted the fixtures before I said yes. As luck would have it Melbourne would be hosting not one, two but three major sporting events in the same week in the same place. Luck? Absolutely. Australia was hosting the Asian Cup across four cities (plus the town of Newcastle) and in the week I’d be arriving there would be two games as the very descriptive Melbourne Rectangular stadium, sandwiched between a Big Bash cricket match at the MCG and the Australian Open tennis championships. Somewhere in there I had to fit in some client meetings and delivering a key-note speech at two seminars.

16144165128_1e8c8e5d5c_kThe moving of the first event from Melbourne to Sydney meant I’d be missing not only the Jordan v Japan game as well as the very important Big Bash game between play-off chasing Melbourne Stars and already qualified Perth Scorchers. Hmm. But on the plus side I would be having lunch under the Sydney Harbour Bridge with a view on the Opera House. Was that any consolation? What do you think? But at least I’d had the forethought to grab tickets for Australia’s triumphal quarter final tie back in Melbourne on the Thursday night. After winning their opening two games convincingly all they needed was a draw against South Korea to ensure the festival of sport would continue in Melbourne. Of course, they lost meaning that we’d now be watching South Korea v Uzbekistan. Someone up there wasn’t playing fair.

Exactly thirty hours after leaving TBIR Towers I touched down at Sydney airport. It doesn’t matter how comfy the seats are, or the choice of films and TV shows, 19 hours sitting on any airplane isn’t fun. Boredom sets in relatively quickly, and if you happen to be sitting next to Mr Snorey Smelly Feet well good luck in trying to get some sleep! I was well excited to be going to Sydney, even if it was only for 24 hours. It’s one of those cities where you see the icons, the sights and have a mental image of what it’ll be like to be standing in front of them. One of my Australian colleagues summed up the difference between the two cities as follows:-

“Sydney’s like your pin up fantasy girlfriend” a work colleague told me, Great looking, with world class boobs you’d want to show off to your mates. But Melbourne’s your childhood sweetheart you will always love, and will always love you when you make that walk of shame back late at night”

As if the sunshine, the scenery and the thrill of experiencing something new weren’t enough, another glimmer of good news reached us. Our final meeting of the day had been cancelled, meaning we could fly back to Melbourne a few hours early MEANING the Big Bash was back on!

16336240445_c1544b231b_kAn hour after I landed at Melbourne I was entering the finest cricket ground in the world. Free transport from the city centre, tickets for £10, drinking encouraged. This was like watching our original Twenty20 competition before the counties got very greedy. As you’d expect the crowd was boisterous fuelled by the music and fireworks that accompanied an away team wicket (there was only 2) and a home team six (there wasn’t many of those at first either). Melbourne Stars, captained by Luke Wright and featuring the leading run scorer in the competition, Kevin Pieterson, needed to spank the visitors to have any hope of a home semi-final (and thus another game to watch at the weekend!). With 6 overs gone in their return innings, chasing an impressive Perth score of 179/2, it was all going wrong for The Stars. Wright fell very cheaply then Pieterson arrived at the crease to great expectation, only to depart 1 ball later to ridicule. He was, after all as the chap next to me said, “An arrogant Pommie bastard”. Fair point.

It was tempting to head off early, with it being obvious to even the most ardent fan that 150 more runs in 11 overs wasn’t going to happen. But as the sun fell, Peter Handscomb took centre stage, hitting 108 not out including five sixes in the last few overs to see the Stars home to the most unlikely victory with 3 balls to spare.

Cricket ticked off it was time for the main event. The Asian Cup organising committee had also bet big on it being Australia and had upped ticket prices according (although AU$69 or £35 for a top-priced ticket is hardly Premier League pricing). Demand was high initially although the (legal) secondary market picked up once it was clear it would be the Koreans rather than the Australians who would be in town. With a few thousand tickets still left to shift on the day, the organisers cut ticket prices to stimulate demand, although their claims of a sell out were premature with a few thousand seats empty still at kick off.

Football is one of the biggest growing sports in Australia. Despite the time zone difference and a decrease in the number of Australian players plying their trade in England, the Premier League still pulls in the audiences and some papers dedicate a full page a day to the goings on the other side of the world. However, with the U.S. open in town, the Asian Cup had passed many locals by despite the Australians coming into the tournament as joint favourites with Japan, who they lost to in the last Asian Cup final in Doha in 2011.

The Rectangular Stadium normally goes by the name of AAMI Park and is the newest sporting venue on the Melbourne skyline. Opened in 2010 it is now home to two football teams, Melbourne Victory and another Manchester City franchise, Melbourne City as well as the rugby teams The Rebels (League) and The Storm (Union). Crowds for the tennis and football mingled outside the stadiums, with the Koreans, many dressing down for the occasion (not that anyone was complaining) coming out in huge numbers. We took our seats with a beer in each hand (Yep – that’s also allowed, as it is at all sports here) and looked forward to getting behind the White Wolves and whether they could pull off a shock. They’d came close to qualifying for the FIFA World Cup in Brazil, losing in the Play-Offs. The tournament threatened shocks-a-plenty so could this be the their moment to shine?

South Korea 2 Uzbekistan 0 – The Rectangular Stadium – Thursday 22nd January 2015
It may have taken almost 110 minutes to finally wear down the White Wolves but the Fighting Tigers did their job and would be heading to Newcastle to take on the winner of Iran versus Iraq. As football matches go, this was up there with one of the best. The sight of the Uzbekistan players laying prostrate on the field after Bayer Leverkusen’s Korean centre-forward Son Heung-Min broke the deadlock in the last minute of the first period of extra time.

They’d given their all, even had a few chances of their own in the dying seconds where they could have won the game. They’d be able to return home with their heads held high but this tournament was only ever going to be won by one of three countries win this tournament and Uli Stielke’s men were one of those. Their last tournament victory was over 50 years ago but this time the German had added maturity to the squad that grabbed Olympic Bronze in London in 2012.

16339947472_63c8828689_zIgnatiy Nesterov was the stand out star of the show. The White Wolves keeper pulled off save after save in normal time to deny the likes of Lee Keun-hoo and Nam Tae-hee although some poor finishing also conspired to keep the score goal-less.

It was good to see the locals getting into the spirit. A group of young girls all dressed in Aston Villa shirts gave some glamour to a dull subject, whilst a Man Utd fan wearing nothing more (it appeared) than a slightly over-sized shirt with “Horny Devil” on the back was keeping someone in a constant supply of beers as she skipped up and down the steps. It was a fine evening for sightseeing I can tell you – even ignoring the Melbourne skyline peaking over the top of the deconstructed football stands(take a leather football, cut it open, make a short of hat and that’s the sort of shape if the stands).

Uzbekistan were hanging on as the ninety minutes ticked down. They put everyone behind the ball although Turaev wasted a great opportunity with a back-post header with 12 minutes remaining, and then danger man Rashidov teed up Nam who completely fluffed his lines.

In extra time you simply had the feeling that it would be Korea’s night and in the 104th minute the Uzbeki full back, and winner of the most expensive shirt back, Shukhrat Mukhammadiev lost possession as he dribbled out of his own penalty area, allowing Kim Jin-su to run at the defenders and his deflected cross was nodded home, Brooking-style, by Son Haung-Min.

Despite their attempts to pull themselves back into the game, Uzbekistan simply ran out of steam. Whilst a second goal, a superb effort from Son again that saw him collapse with a mixture of cramp and emotion.

It was a brave effort, but one that ultimately saw the White Wolves fall short. It was a mark though of how far they had come as a nation. Their focus will now be on qualification for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia. With three of the four places almost a shoe-in for Australia, Japan and South Korea, they’d be potentially fighting it out with the other quarter-finalists Iran and China as well as the surprise packages who reached the last four, United Arab Emirates with their bags of money and Iraq with their bags of spirit.

To complete my trip we headed down to the Australian Open on a vet hot and sunny Sunday. Tickets were plentiful for ground passes at just £30, which gave you access for all bar the two shoe courts. Take note Wimbledon. There was none of this stuffy attitude we see in the UK, with most fans heading to the Heineken village where live music, alcohol and decent food provided a great accompaniment to the tennis in the big screens. Australia knows how to throw a party and doesn’t ever need an excuse to throw one.

On the twelfth day of TBIR Christmas – The best things about football in 2014

So here it is – our final award for 2014, despite the fact we are now six days into 2015.  But football is the gift that keeps giving so here is my last offering for this year.  My three favourite moments from my footballing year.

3rd Place – New York Cosmos
Back in August on a regular trip to New York I got the opportunity to tick not one, but two things off my lifetime wish list.  An opportunity to see the famous New York Cosmos was obviously the main agenda item here (complete coincidence that they were playing in the very week I was over), having grown up reading about the mythical team from the 1970/80’s in the NASL with Pele, Beckenbauer and of course Barrow’s finest, Keith Eddy.  Now back in the second tier of US football, the good times could be coming back, especially after announcing the signing of Raul.  But this wasn’t a night to remember.  A dull 0-0 draw played in a school’s athletics stadium but it was still “the Cosmos”.  And the second thing?  Getting to ride on one of those yellow American School buses I’d seen so often in films.  Oh, and I took a pretty good picture.

2nd Place – Lewes v Dulwich Hamlet and Maidstone United
2014 hasn’t been the best year for The Mighty Rooks but for five glorious days back in March we were the best team in the world.  Well, perhaps in the Ryman Premier League anyway, as the top two came to The Dripping Pan and were both dispatched goal less and point less.  Luck?  Nope – I’m putting it down to the fact we (OK, I) scouted them both on a number of occasions.  Being taught how to scout is like being tutored in how to drink a fine wine.  Once learnt, you will never watch a game of football in the same way, unable to make remarks incomprehensible to the people around you such as “look at how the number 9 leads with his left arm” or “the keeper won’t come if it’s 6 yards out”…And I bloody love it.  The warm, satisfaction you get after the team has put in place tactics based on your knowledge and won!  That’s why those two games are so special…we wont talk about Grays or Wealdstone away though.

1st Place – The World Cup 
14268867827_784aff2d77_kFor four years I moan about our elite players, their attitude and generally the beautiful game being corrupted by billions of pounds.  Then, every two years a major tournament comes along and everything is right with the world. I came very close to being in Brazil.  Very close in an all-expenses paid trip to Sao Paolo to write about it, sort of way, but passed up the opportunity and Rookery Mike went instead. We haven’t spoken since.  Due to my travelling schedule I spent nearly the whole of the tournament in various corners of the world.  Germany’s demolition of Portugal in their opening game of the tournament was shared with a couple of hundred German fans in a bar in Singapore at 1am then being featured on local TV.  Watching Australia and then England make their early exits from the World Cup at 5am in the morning in a Melbourne casino, with an endless supply of Coopers Ale or watching the Brazilian demolition in a bar in Eindhoven with a German Hen party.  The actual games weren’t bad too.

Our highlights of 2014 can be viewed here, all in one handy little spot.

So see you all next year – one year older, one year wiser, one year damages by poor performances by our respective sides on the pitch.

Five things from….Australia 2 Netherlands 3

Here is some good advice when you have travelled to the other side of the world.

  • Try to get back into a regular rhythm of sleep as soon as possible to reduce the pain of jet lag
  • Avoid coffee and excessive alcohol
  • Avoid heavy, stodgy food that will keep you up

So it probably wasn’t wise to decide to head out to a bar in Melbourne at 1.30am to watch this game, having not slept for a couple of days due to travel.  Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but so too is beer, football and hundreds of screaming Australian girls.  Irresponsibility wins hands down.  But I had missed a whole day’s worth of World Cup action travelling yesterday (hence no updates) so I was determined to get back into the World Cup swing, albeit watching the games all through the night.

This promised to be a fantastic, colourful match with a couple of the best supported teams in the tournament clashing in Port Alegre.  The Australians knew that defeat would almost spell curtains, whilst the Dutch knew a win would almost certainly take them through. AND can we talk about beer?  No shortage of outstanding brews on “home turf” for this one.

download1. The Australian Adrian Chiles – We all love Adrian don’t we?  His cute face, his knack of asking a question and then answering it himself and then THOSE shorts.  Having watched a few games across the world this week on TV we don’t know how lucky we are. I mean, take the Australian Sports anchor for their World Cup coverage – Lucy Zelic. Highly respected as a sports presenter, knowledgeable about the game and not wearing shorts. British TV, best in the world.

2. THAT volley – If I was still a little sleepy then Tim Cahill’s volley woke me up and the whole of the Central Business District here in Melbourne.  The chap next to me got so excited he gave me a big hug when it flew in off the bar.  “Believe” he said to me, throwing a pint of Red Spice Ale down my white T-Shirt.  One of the goals in World Cup history?

3. Hoof it – The Australians are frustrating to watch when they defend, neatly summed up by their fans in the bar who added a soundtrack of “no, No, NO…just bloody HOOF IT OUT” every time the Dutch broke.  All three Dutch goals came from defensive indecision and sometimes winning games is as much about being functional as it is being technical. Bring back Lucas Neill I say.

4. Dutch fans blending in – The camera panned round the stadium and for a brief few seconds it appeared that a big bit of the stadium was empty.  It wasn’t.  It was the Dutch fans, dressed in orange who had taken on the appearance of chameleons and changed a fetching colour of orange in the hot sunshine.  Nice tan lines.

5. Time to say goodbye – The good thing about the World Cup is wall to wall football for a month.  The bad thing is sometimes results make games meaningless.  The surprise win by the Dutch over the Spanish meant their victory tonight means they only need a point maximum versus Chile to go through.  That is assuming Spain do not win their game on now versus Chile.  If the Chileans win, then both Spain and Australia would be on their way home less than a week into the tournament.

Beer World Cup

Back at last….Only 17 different Australian beers on offer in the bar I watched this in, compared to two Dutch beers (Heineken and Grolsch).  The best of the Aussie brews, the Cahill to relate it back to the side, was a Red Spiced Ale which was, as my new learned Australian friend told me was “bonza”.  He was right.  As good a contest as it was on the field, with the Australians just taking this one.

Australia 4 Netherlands 3


Five things from….Chile 3 Australia 1

We should’ve all packed up and turned off the TV long before this game started. Surely nothing could beat THAT game and you could imagine ITV’s producers trying to think of ways to suggest BBC’s coverage of the Spain v Netherlands game was nothing compared to what we could expect from this game. Alas I’d failed to find any Chilean beer in SE9 so the Beer World Cup would take a brief diversion for the game in the exact centre of South America in Cuiabá.

1. Lucas Neill – when Panini brought out their sticker album for the World Cup they had included Lucas Neill. This shocked me in two ways. Firstly the horrible memories of seeing a player who makes BFF look like he’s been at Weightwatchers huff and puff around Upton Park. Secondly, up until a few weeks ago he was still registered to play in England, with Watford. Must have been a bad season for the Hornets. Good old Lucas was on an eye watering £60k per week six years ago at Upton Park.

2. Globe trotters – the Australian squad play in thirteen different countries. That takes some beating and may explain the fact that for the vast majority of the game they played as complete strangers, often bring eight men behind the ball in the final third yet Chile still dominated possession – with 74% of the ball at half-time.

3. Rubbish use of advertising – What’s that all about? As anyone who works in the domain name world will know, the new .futbol domain is available AND McDonalds own it. So why not use it? Relevant, catchy and easy to remember…Rainham Steel, Rainham Steel, Rainham Steel.

Marco4. A Chilean player called Gary – Seriously?  That’s like having someone born in Nottingham called Marco.  I can only assume he was named after a famous Gary from the late 1980’s.  There could only be one man – Gary Coleman from Different Strokes or perhaps Gary Lineker after his Golden Boot performance in Mexico in 1986…which was ten months before he was born…Interesting.

5. Thank God for goal line technology – Just four games in and FIFA can breathe a sigh of relief when Wilkinson clears off the line and the referee gets a message to say “no goal”.  Goal shouted the Chilean fans, who according to certain newspapers all looked like this.  No goal said GoalControl thanks to their secret eye in the net.

The Beer World Cup

With a lack of Chilean beer in the World Cup fridge we had to turn to Current Mrs Fuller’s wine cellar (cupboard under the stairs). And what did we find? A cheeky Chilean Casillero del Diablo, the official wine of Manchester United no less, and a Hunter Valley white. One glass of each? Go on then…

Chilean Red 2 Australian White 2

The fact we hadn’t chilled the white counteracted the fact the red hadn’t had time to “breathe”. Even so it was a tight run contest with nothing coming between the two apart from a bowl of spicy Jalapeño pretzel pieces at half time. A bit like watching an episode of Emmerdale when you are in a Bond marathon…it’s OK but you’d rather go back to seeing 007. Normal service will be resumed tomorrow.

The Kit World Cup – Day two

Nike – 6pts
adidas – 3pts
Puma – 3pts


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.