Sunday, 15 September 2013

Goalkeepers Come and Go In A-League Return

Here is the lowdown on the all the goalkeeping comings and goings over the winter hiatus. I relish any opportunity to talk candidly about the A-League’s often forgotten warriors and what to expect from our glove-men this season.

Picture: Courtesy of Brisbane Roar

It is less than four weeks away and already anticipation is building for the new A-League season. The off-season has dragged on longer than a Kevin Rudd Election concession speech and players, managers and more importantly the fans are keen as curry for season nine to kickoff.

The growth and popularity of the game in Australia has been impressive but unsurprising. The product is now the envy of rival codes on and particularly off the field.  The success of the new Western Sydney Wanderers franchise on the back of their loyal supporter base ensures the strength of football at the grass roots in the west is in safe hands.

Season 2013-14 will see a few changes in goalkeeping personnel but most clubs remained unchanged, pleasing most managers. The retirement of goalkeeping icons Clint Bolton (Melbourne Heart) and Mark Paston (Wellington Phoenix and NZ All Whites) has left their clubs with enormous gloves to fill. However their successors have plenty of runs on the board and top-flight experience to ensure a smooth transition. Andrew Redmayne (Heart) took over from Bolton during last season and performed confidently despite his side’s overall finish in ninth position. Paston’s replacement Glen Moss had some tough times when called upon and will be looking to impress following the signing of young Lewis Italiano from the Perth Glory as his back-up.

The big news in the off-season was the transfer of Central Coast Mariners Grand Final winning keeper Maty Ryan to Belgium based Club Brugge. In a positive move, Ryan has been starting as the number one keeper since the season opener with his side sitting in third position after six matches. His departure from Gosford will leave a large hole as his 11 clean sheets last season was only matched by Western Sydney Wanderer’s veteran Ante Covic. Mariner’s manager Graham Arnold sought the services of A-League journeyman Liam Reddy to team with keeping incumbent Justin Pasfield. Pasfield stood in for Ryan on four occasions whilst on international duty with the Socceroos and his stats ensure he will be hard to displace as the number one after only conceding twice. Reddy knows he is walking a career tightrope with a zero tolerance policy being adopted by the club that threw him a lifeline.

Elsewhere in the league the goalkeeping rosters have remained intact providing stability for clubs. This season sees the return of Ben Kennedy to the Newcastle Jets after a lengthy stint on the sidelines following knee surgery. Kennedy will find it tough regaining the top spot ahead of Mark Birighitti who recently made his senior Socceroos debut against China in the final match of the 2013 East Asian Football Cup. Birighitti is a tough customer and I’m predicting a big year for the 22 year old as his confidence swells from his time rubbing shoulders with the Aussie football elite.

 Picture: Courtesy of Brisbane Roar

Eugene Galekovic (Adelaide United), Michael Theo (Brisbane Roar), Nathan Coe (Melbourne Victory and Danny Vukovic (Perth Glory) all go around again with Galekovic continuing to improve better than an aging Barossa Shiraz. Galekovic’s fine form last season went a long way towards being called up to the national squad for the successful World Cup qualifiers alongside Mark Schwarzer. His outstanding efforts at the back against South Korea in the East Asian Football Cup match rewarded him with an impressive international clean sheet.

The upcoming season could be a giant litmus test for the many local keepers wanting to gain a spot in the Socceroos squad for next year’s World Cup in Brazil. With Schwarzer stating it is his last campaign, Holger Osieck or whoever is at the helm, has a huge selection dilemma ahead of them. Do they choose from the wonderful local talent of the A-League or venture abroad to the likes of Mitch Langerak (Borussia Dortmund) or match hardened Maty Ryan (Club Brugge).

Based on past heroics and performances it is difficult to go past the ever-reliable Schwarzer, but consideration should also place emphasis on picking a keeper in good form and playing solid football every week. This could be big question mark hanging over Schwarzer as he plays second fiddle to Petr Cech at Chelsea.  With Brazil looming he could struggle to gain valuable pitch time that helps build the sharpness and confidence needed to excel.

For now it is time get the couch cushions fluffed and position the all important TV remote within arms reach as this season promises to attract plenty of interest from both here an abroad. The new “Free to Air” broadcast deal with SBS will prove to be an important move by the FFA to bring the A-League into more living rooms across the country each and every week. Be sure to tune in for the first game between Sydney FC and the Newcastle Jets from 6.30pm from the Allianz Stadium.

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UEFA Champions League group phase kicks off

Besides the FIFA World Cup, no football competition draws as much interest from the global football community than UEFA Champions League. 

UEFA Champions League group phase kicks off

Managers and players see it as club football’s Holy Grail and the most difficult prize to win.
The trophy rates highly on the priority list for players and managers alike but to club owners the financial reward can help strengthen a cash starved balance sheet. 

Qualification to the Group Stage ensures a lucrative €8.6m windfall with clubs receiving further cash incentives upon winning through to the knockout phase, quarters, semis and ultimately the final.
The Champions League brand is enormously popular and last season’s final between German giants Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund attracted a global audience in excess of 150 million viewers across 200 countries.

Twitter and Facebook continue to experience massive global traffic, as multiple-platform participation becomes the norm for viewers craving interaction with like-minded football fans.

Group draw results:

Group A
Manchester United, Shakhtar Donetsk, Bayer Leverkusen, Real Sociedad.

Group B
Real Madrid, Juventus, Galatasaray, FC Copenhagen.

Group C
PSG, Benfica, Olympiakos, Anderlecht.

Group D
Bayern Munich, CSKA Moscow, Manchester City, FC Viktoria Plzen.

Group E
Chelsea, Schalke, FC Basel, Steaua Bucharest.

Group F
Arsenal, Marseille, Borussia Dortmund, Napoli.

Group G
Porto, Atlético Madrid, Zenit St Petersburg, Austria Vienna.

Group H
Barcelona, Milan, Ajax, Celtic.

Arsenal, Marseille, Dortmund and Napoli arguably drew the toughest group and progression could ultimately come down to head-to-head records. 

Plenty of expectation awaits a group promising to entertain both off and on the pitch.
A must watch for all football ‘hipsters’ is a Borussia Dortmund home game. 

Westfalenstadion in Dortmund has an atmosphere rarely seen in world football and the ‘Yellow Wall’ of fans in the southern terrace is not to be missed.

The most open of groups is Group G with Atlético Madrid, Porto, Zenit St Petersburg and outsiders Austria Vienna. 

Atlético have a strong squad and have commenced their La Liga campaign with a very top-heavy goal differential. 

A match-up with Porto will be the highlight as both teams play an attacking style that will see the goalkeepers kept busy.

EPL heavyweights Chelsea, Manchester United and Manchester City were dealt favourable draws and should progress through to the knockout rounds.

The Champions League always has potential for the odd ‘banana-skin’ fixture as teams can struggle with the tedious private jet travel demands.

Current champions Bayern Munich could make life difficult for City after their disappointing showing last season under Roberto Mancini.

Finally the Group attracting plenty of attention boasts the richest footballing talent on the planet.

The Real Madrid forward line has been bolstered by the recent world record transfer (€100m) signing of Welsh born Gareth Bale in the transfer window.

The question of many is will the marriage of Bale and star striker Cristiano Ronaldo deliver a tenth European title to the Bernabeu faithful? 

Italian Serie A titleholders Juventus will ensure another classic arm wrestle between the two teams of vastly contrasting styles. 

Both legs will draw an enormous worldwide audience that will see the many coffee-fuelled cafes across the country filled to capacity before the long working day begins. 

Be sure to rest up well and hit the pillow early as the first group stage fixtures kick-off in earnest from September 18 and 19 from 4.45am AEST.

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