Sunday, 14 September 2014
Of the 631 clubs competing in the inaugural FFA Cup, six of the 10 A-League teams remain in contention. The FFA Cup concept is largely based on the English FA Cup and gives an opportunity to smaller grass roots minnow clubs in Australian football to be pitted against their professional and more fancied A-League outfits.
Sunday, 29 June 2014
Park Road in the inner-city suburb of Milton has always been the “unofficial” football precinct of Brisbane.
In the lead up to the 2006 World Cup, I gathered my mates together at Arrivederci Pizzeria, a restaurant that stands alone in my home town as the United Nations of football venues.
It has nothing to do with the coffee, carb lovers' pizza or pasta, but the people and an atmosphere that draw many to watch football there.
Every nation’s flag competing in the World Cup proudly adorns the ceiling as it welcomes its fans. Somehow the homely feel manages to meld the many cultures that define this great country.
Arrivederci is the vision of two hard working migrants, Frank and Rita from Italy, whose deep love of football created a welcoming place for friends to gather and listen to SBS Radio every Sunday evening.
Franco opened the doors to the pizzeria in 1992 and it quickly became the ‘luogo di incontro’ (meeting place) to gather for dinner and huddle around a wireless.
SBS was, and still is, the most important medium in delivering the world game to the footballing masses in this country. Their calls, broadcast in Italian late into the night of Frank’s beloved AS Roma, were an important link to the past but also a window to the future of the game in his adopted country.
In 1994, when Italy played Brazil in the USA World Cup final, the pizzeria opened at the behest of customers, as little or no place existed to watch the action unfold from the famous Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California.
To Franco’s surprise, hundreds of fans turned up, only to see Italy lose the final on penalties. Still an important seed was planted in the community.
It’s not always easy to be a football or soccer follower in this great country of ours. Growing up it was always the other football codes of AFL, Rugby Union and Rugby League that dominated the airwaves and TV screens.
My love affair with the game was spawned as a young keeper playing park football with my mates for a local church league. I was that lanky kid who reluctantly raised his hand when my enthusiastic coach asked, “So… who would like a stint in goals?”
From that moment onward, I showed little or no interest in wanting to push forward. Attempting fancy tricks or juggles with the ball seemed a waste of my time and energy. My focus lay in preventing that balanced leather sphere from kissing the nylon netting.
Since then football has always stuck with me, unlike my locks. My son’s keen interest in the same winter weekend vocation has helped fill the void.
As a bona fide football tragic I love following all my local sporting teams right through to the all-important national teams. But the thing that sets football apart, for me, is the deep feeling I get when I attend a live game or watch it with others - no more so than when it involes the World Cup.
The drama and fun to be had by following the fortunes of minnow countries as they strive to record their own David and Goliath upset has played out since that first tournament back in 1930 in Uruguay.
Which brings me back to the 2006 World Cup and the Socceroos as they battled the might of world football in Germany.
The need for a football watching venue snowballed and got a little out of control. Franco, the Brisbane City Council and police were enlisted to implement a full street closure and erect two giant TV screens for the knockout stage clash between Italy and his adopted Socceroos.
That night 20,000-plus cheering fans gathered to witness Italy beat Australia. My mates can still recall that heartbreaking result vividly as do the majority of Aussie football fans on hand that night. At its conclusion, as the downtrodden but proud Socceroos faithful emptied the crowded venue, there was one happy Aussie-Italian standing by a warm pizza oven with a wry smile.
From such humble beginnings around a transistor radio the ‘other’ football code came of age. Even today, Franco’s deep love of sport and football is evident as you walk in the pizzeria to find yourself immersed in memorabilia.
Then, after many years of dedication to his business and presidency of the Roma Australian Club, Franco sadly passed away in 2007. In what was surely the most heart-warming of tributes, his family travelled back to Italy to scatter his ashes across his beloved Stadio Olimpico in Rome.
Rita and Franco’s passion for the game has passed to their son David who continues his parents’ tradition of providing a great venue to feed the hungry sports-loving masses of this city.
Whether a fan of the Brisbane Roar, Broncos, Queensland Reds, Maroons or Lions you are always welcome to show your passion with fans of a similar ilk.
It is the venues such as these that will always be important to our game. There are the more traditional bars, clubs and casinos attracting their own clientele, but it is the places such as Arrivederci that stoke our love of the game both now and into the future.
Football matches last not much longer than 90mins, but it is those World Cups, European Championships and Champions League finals that live long in the memories of all those who make the effort to experience them together.
Four Four Two:
The Netherlands take on Mexico in this Round 16 World Cup clash at the Estadio Castelao in Fortaleza on Monday, June 30, from 2am (AEST).
The Netherlands have defied many experts’ predictions and seemingly cruised through to qualify top of the Group of Death (B).
No team has scored as many goals (10) thus far in the tournament and their star striker Robin Van Persie was responsible for the second best goal. We all know which was the best goal don’t we?
If you are looking for a major upset in the knockout stage then “exit” written next to Louis Van Gaal’s team would be it.
Despite Mexico only scoring four goals the most pleasing aspect is they have only conceded one goal, putting them equal with only Costa Rica and Belgium.
Their goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa has been a revelation after putting in an acrobatic clean sheet display against favourites Brazil that still has the football world talking.
Head to head
The Dutch have played Mexico on six occasions with the Oranje narrowly ahead on three wins, Mexico with two and only one draw.
The total goal tally between them is shared at 22, so not much separates the two sides.
Remarkably the head to head record in World Cups stands at one draw, when the teams were pitted against each other in the group stage of France 98. On that day scores were locked at two a piece at the end of 90 minutes.
The big issue
The issue facing Mexico is their ability to contain the likes of Arjen Robben and Robin Van Persie and stop them riding roughshod over the potential frailties of a tiring El Tri defensive line.
The big positive is they were able to do get the job done against attacking juggernauts Brazil boasting Neymar, Hulk, Fred, and Oscar and a list that goes on like a broken record.
History doesn’t look favourably on Mexico at the World Cup, however, and the record shows they have only progressed past the knockout stage twice in 13 previous attempts.
The game breaker
It would be silly not to suggest that the class and combination of Van Persie and Robben won’t tear through Mexico like a knife through a soft tortilla.
The reality is the tournament now begins again and knowing it is “do or die” can be a big game changer on the mental state of the remaining teams.
The Netherlands will be at their clinical best, but a surprise packet like Mexico is best avoided for their ability to nullify the rhythm of classy teams. Not to mention they will have huge fan support.
This could be the potential banana skin game for the Netherlands.
Despite their huge haul of goals they are facing a Mexican outfit that has conceded the solitary goal to date.
Despite the World Cup boasting an incredible attacking record so far, the game could easily be shut down by Mexico at the back as they attempt to wear down their opponents with a tough physical in-your-face approach.
They have no doubt studied the tight tactics employed by the Socceroos, while Mexico coach Miguel Herrera has done well to deflect the world’s attention from his playing squad onto himself through his much-loved and enigmatic antics on the sidelines.
A 1-1 result at full time would not surprise, but come extra-time anything could and will happen in this drama filled Cup clash against two such contrasting styles.
Four Four Two:
World cup hosts Brazil take on Chile in this Round of 16 clash at the Estádio Mineirão in Belo Horizonte on Sunday, June 29, from 2am (AEST).
The business end of the World Cup has finally arrived. At this stage there is no second chance, no reliance on the outcome of other fixtures assisting a team’s progression into the draw. Fate is squarely in the hands or feet of the 16 teams left in the tournament.
This World Cup has delivered from day one with most teams adopting a mantra of winning over not losing. To date an impressive tally of 138 goals has been scored at a staggering average of 2.83 goals per game. Many favourites have returned home and sadly no Asian nation was able to make an impact and progress beyond the group stage.
Head to head
The two South American nations have met on 68 occasions with Brazil owning the ledger with 48 wins. Chile has beaten the Selecao on only seven occasions with 13 matches ending in a draw. Remarkably a total of 217 goals have been scored between the teams (Brazil 159 and Chile 58) averaging an incredible 3.19 goals per game.
They last met at the World Cup almost four years to the day in South Africa. Chile will hope history doesn’t repeat itself as Brazil ran out convincing 3-0 winners. England’s Howard Webb also adjudicated that match and will again be called to keep the peace on the pitch.
This game could be more about the fans! The support from both nations inside the Estadio Mineiro will be loud and proud. The pre-match anthems will surely provide plenty of goose bumps to the global audience.
The big issue
A big question will be if Chile focuses on attacking Brazil at their own game or deploying a more physical and disruptive tactic to upset their rhythm. Football lovers will be hoping for the impressive speedy styles of both teams to dominate. If that occurs we could be in for one mouth-watering contest that could end with two physically drained defensive lines.
The game breaker
The footballing cream will rise to the top as these two impressive outfits eye each other off. Neymar has stepped up for Brazil and shares the current golden boot honours with Lionel Messi. His silky skills and runs with the ball leave defensive lines in a cold sweat.
But Luiz Felipe Scolari may choose a different weapon of attack with players such as Hulk, Fred and Oscar looking to stamp their own mark on the score sheet.
While the focus will be centred on Chile’s Alexis Sanchez, Eduardo Vargas and Arturo Vidal up front, Brazil should not underestimate the power of Jorge Valdivia who will have the 34-years-young Brazilian goalkeeper Julio Cesar in his sights and on his toes.
It is far too bold to predict Chile, with Brazil holding such a proud and dominant record over their opponent. Chile performed well enough in the group stage but this match is a giant step up in class over the likes of an inexperienced Australia and a misfiring Spanish.
La Roja has only pushed past the second round of the World Cup once back in 1962 when they finished third in a tournament they proudly hosted. It was Brazil who stood in their way and triumphed 4-2 in Santiago. As a side note, their greatest ever defeat in football came from a 7-0 annihilation to Brazil back in 1959.
A 2-0 result looks likely after a first half that may see both teams' strong emphasis on attack nullified until the game can open up to a more open and entertaining battle.
Four Four Two Australia
Monday, 23 June 2014
Host nation Brazil take on Cameroon in their final Group A game at the Estadio Nacional de Brasilia on Tuesday, June 24, from 6am (AEST).
For Brazil another win should ensure they finish top of the group and progress to play either Netherlands or Chile in the knockout stages starting on Sunday morning Australian time. They should triumph over the winless and goalless Cameroon who have failed to fire at this tournament. But as the World Cup has shown so often, an upset is not out of the question.
The big issue
The big issue is whether Cameroon has the motivation within to finish strongly after their campaign was brought to an abrupt conclusion by a 4-0 thrashing at the hands of a fired up Croatian outfit.
They were also gallant in defeat against Mexico in the heavy rain of Natal, but were fortunate the offside flag limited the heartache to just one goal. To beat Brazil they need to buck their trend and get on the scoresheet early and often.
The game breaker
Hulk looks set to return to the Brazilian team and if he lives up to the hype could put the issue beyond doubt. The team is under immense pressure and despite being unbeaten, look vulnerable and are giving their knockout stage opponents (whoever that maybe) plenty of hope. Mexico was able to shut down their forward line on the back of a goalkeeping master class delivered by Guillermo Ochoa.
For Cameroon it is now or never for veteran striker and Captain Samuel Eto’o. He certainly needs to take charge and lead with his boot and not his mouth. This game will mark his swansong from the World Cup and his tiring legs certainly aren’t what they used to be this time around. All interest will be on whether he can add to his tally of 56 goals from 118 appearances for his beloved Indomitable Lions.
It is simply too hard to go past the class and power of the Brazil team in this one. If they can finally start with a bang then beware Cameroon.
The Selecao has so much more to play for and the squad will be looking to sharpen their form as they move into the pressure-filled business end of the World Cup. Cameroon could be lucky enough to snatch a goal if Brazil switch off.
Judging by the high rate of goals being scored in the group stage, this game should be no exception so a 3-1 score line in favour of Brazil seems accurate but maybe conservative.
Wednesday, 18 June 2014
World Cup 2014: Positive attitude could help Australia to one of the great World Cup shocks against Holland
As footballing pundits in England, Spain and Uruguay are lamenting and dissecting their country’s opening-round losses, Australia maintained a schooner or pint half-full approach on the back of the Socceroos' gutsy performance against Chile.
Despite being 2-0 down 14 minutes into the contest, the new version Socceroos fought on courageously to take the game up to their South American opponents and earn the respect of many Chileans and Australians alike.
Outstanding performances by forward Mathew Leckie and central defender Matthew Spiranovic showcased to the world the fact that Australia possess the necessary football DNA required to perform at the highest level.
It was a signature header from Tim Cahill that delivered the Australia goal on the back of a delicious pinpoint cross from Ivan Franjic. The Socceroos had many chances to equalise but left without a solitary point for their fine display.
Rather than speak of the great effort shown by his players, coach Ange Postecoglou saw it rather as a missed opportunity in the short history of his young charges.
The relentless weight and strength of the Chile attack proved too much as Australia leaked a late added-time goal from winger Jean Beausejour.
Plenty has been spoken of the giant disparity in values between the Socceroos and the star-studded squads of Spain and Holland, however the performance should raise their stock price by the end of the tournament.
The newly appointed captain, Mile “Mike” Jedinak, led a spirited comeback that supporters have became accustomed to over the years. The assignment now gets even tougher after the one-sided Holland demolition of Spain.
A serious question is whether Holland will rest on their laurels and take a more conservative approach or sharpen the scalpel towards another clinical attacking display against their much less fancied opponents. One important statistic giving hope is that Australia have never lost to Holland.
OK, so we have played Holland only three times in friendlies, with one win and two draws, but, hey, we stick to the power of positive thought.
It is this positive attitude adopted by a young team of perennial underdogs that may just help them pull off one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history. The match kicks off in the early hours Australia time, but a cold morning and a high probability of a crushing defeat will never dim the enthusiasm of fans keen to see their footballing heroes face a challenge.
Cahill is arguably the most popular and successful Australian player and his trademark boxing celebration always entertains despite sparking fear into fragile corner posts worldwide.
The main point of difference to the three preceding World Cup campaigns is the high expectation for team success. Most base it on the belief that, as Mark Twain wrote, “it is the size of the fight in the dog rather than the size of the dog in the fight that counts”.
The physical style and heart displayed by the team against Chile has left many feeling optimistic for a bright future under Postecoglou.
Given Australia is not a footballing superpower, the country always punches above its weight in terms of its FIFA world ranking.
This is clearly evidenced by its fourth successful World Cup qualification to the final 32 and onto football’s ultimate stage.
Tuesday, 17 June 2014
Host nation and World Cup favourites Brazil take on Mexico in their second Group A match kicking-off at a more fan-friendly viewing time tomorrow morning, June 18, from 5am (AEST).
Head to head
The teams have met on a total of 38 occasions with the ledger firmly in favour of the Selecao with 22 wins. Mexico has 10 wins and there has been 6 draws. Mexico has only ever beaten Brazil once on their home soil in a friendly way back in 1968 (2-1).
On paper Brazil looks the better team with attacking options littered across the park. Another shaky start against Mexico will be a worrying sign for Coach Luiz Felipe Scolari as he looks to secure top spot in the group and put the nation at ease.
Mexico seemingly had a much smoother start with a comfortable win against Cameroon in very damp conditions and will be hoping to hone their effective ‘play the ball out from the back’ style.
If given too much width or space their deadly counter attacking brand could pay dividends. That being said, execution and mistake free football will be paramount if they are to avoid being on the receiving end of a punishing football master class led by Neymar Jnr and his band of merry men.
The big Issue
The issue has always been what Mexico team turns up. Their inconsistency in tournaments swings from the sublime to just plain average. If Brazil is clinical the scoreboard attendants could be in for a very busy night with the Neymar, Oscar and Fred show taking to the stage in Fortaleza. Restricting soft turnovers and taking advantage of limited chances in the attacking half will be a key if Mexico is to cause a boilover.
Already being blessed with so many wonderful football contests in less than a week, the entertainment value should prove no different. This is a must watch game if not for the fan atmosphere alone. It is the type of match-up that if played in slow motion could somehow appear at normal speed.
For the winner will go the spoils and whoever succeeds in the battle will be assured of their place in the knockout round if the Croatia and Cameroon clash ends in a stalemate.
The game breaker
Mexican Giovanni Dos Santos was dangerous with every run against Cameroon, but his eagerness and timing will need to be measured inch perfect if he is to avoid the scrutiny of the sideline officials.
A hamstring injury cloud continues to hover above key forward Hulk, and his mobility and speed could limit Brazil’s effectiveness in attack. It will be interesting if Scolari risks him in such an important match in favour of employing his potential arsenal as they move deeper into the round of 16. If the star is absent in favour of Ramires, then look for a very “Hulk Mad” performance when he next takes to the pitch.
Prediction: Brazil 3-1 Mexico
The Mexicans always have the ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ character to cause an upset and have done so as recently as the Olympic final in London two years ago when they defeated Brazil 2-1 to claim gold.
History can always be important in predicting the future but I think that Brazil, together with the goal friendly ‘Brazuca’ ball, will continue to find the netting in a measured victory over a spirited and vastly improving Mexico side.