Stepping Up A Gear

I haven’t been able to get to blogging for a couple of weeks, but I can see why after three Brisbane Roar defeats in a row it would look bad. Forced to watch away games on TV is bad enough, to have to sit through them is another thing altogether. I think it’s why the Shaftson Hotel is the place to be for away games, so we can at least console each other.

Hey I’m down in the mouth a bit about their current form, but I have to say, despite the results, they still look like one of the best sides in the League. Admittedly the 4-1 defeat to Heart was pretty (very) painful, however it showed the coach what’s missing. Steel. Heated, forged and hammered steel. It’s like they’ve had it too easy in the playground so far and need to harden up enough to get their LCM bar back off the big kid. They’re playing lovely football. Most days it would be winning football, but the entire A-League has stepped up. There’s quality everywhere. I honestly don’t remember so many good games this early in the season before this year.

Fan or not, from a just less than objective football perspective, I believe Roar will be in the running again come the season’s finish. They’re too good a side not to be. Granted they’re not putting teams away just now. They’re more than capable, they’re just not finishing as well as they can. We’re not talking about kids who won’t eat their dinner here. It’s not for the want of trying, or because they don’t like what’s in front of them. The effort and frustration was written all over Besart’s face at the Adelaide game – he should have had about six. On a day when it was going right, he would’ve. We must remember Berisha and his colleagues set the standard and now everyone (well almost) is playing at the same level. The onus is on them to raise it again, the testing question is whether they can or not.

They’re just learning some lessons along the way.

Western Sydney were up for it. Brisbane took it for granted. They have a right to have an attitude, they are back to back Grand Final winners. But it’s no good being champions if you can’t get fired up. It was a big win for the Wanderers – maybe even the platform for a reasonable inaugural campaign. This one was about learning not to take things for granted. Turning up isn’t enough.

Adelaide scored a screamer, but really Brisbane had them covered. The goals wouldn’t come. Perseverance and patience is what they should be taking from this game. Heart breaking that Rado’s laddie scored.

Heart was the kick in the pants that’s been coming since the season commenced. Too many close things had made the boys a little complacent. This might be the wake up they need.

With the sparkling Italian and his diamond studded, if less than successful entourage in town this week, it should be a game with goals.

Regular shugmcgowan blog followers will know the wee yin (coming up for 10) played for a bit, and gave it away for the violin (‘because of the boys, Dad’). After her trips to the games at the end of last season, she was up for a season ticket this time round. And at 50 bucks for the whole season who can blame her – astonishing value – even if you get one for the kids now, its still an incredible bargain! She was happy with a game, scarf and face paint. For an extra 50 bucks on my season ticket, she got an ‘In Rado We Trust’ t-shirt, a cap and more face paint. She’s absolutely mad for it now – best of all it’s become about more than just the chips and soft drink. She was disappointed with the defeat against Adelaide, but thought the crowd were FANTASTIC (the Den in particular). Loved it so much my wife is taking her this week while I’m in Sydney. The wife doesn’t mind, she thinks Del Piero is a bit of all right.

The reason I mention it here is because I think the Hyundai A-League is getting to a place where it has everything, old players making a contribution, young players developing, smart coaches and the touch of romance some older Leagues lost a long time ago (You can’t beat the romance of Celtic beating Barca right enough). Most importantly, as it turns out, there’s something in it for every kind of fan.

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As gutted as Burns?

A historic win for Western Sydney Wanderers saw them score their first goal and gain their first win. It was more remarkable; the goal, the sword, was put to lacklustre champions Brisbane Roar in their own back yard. It was something of a surprise, and more of a shock. Brisbane didn’t play badly. Western Sydney were resolute. They closed the shop, let nothing through. They did this by shutting down Brisbane in the middle of the park. Something few teams have been able to do in the last two seasons.

Mark Bridges took his goal well, even though it was a free header. I was gutted (about the defending and the goal!) but not as gutted as Jacob Burns during his post match interview. Perth were robbed in Sydney. At 2-1, Del Piero’s boys stole a big result against the odds. At 3-1, Adelaide United were just as ‘lucky’ against a solid Pheonix. It was a game that saw the word Jeronimo develop a new meaning. It was something like ‘Charge!’  – apparently it now means ‘Dive!’ as well? A blazing free kick separated CCM from a broken Heart. And the Jets, through the hot to trot Heskey, soared to victory against, well, Victory. There’s a clear-out coming there. It’s just a question of whether it’ll be fast enough.

A lot of talk about referees this weekend… From people on losing sides mostly. It might be because the whistle blowers have made a few honest mistakes, but it could also be that this is the tightest Hyundai A-League competition ever! With everyone turning over every one else, it’s shaping up to be a corker. The pressure’s on extra early this season and the only people it’s good news for is us fans. Long may it last!

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Pheonix flight suspended

The Roar looked like they were suffering from Jet Lag when their game in Wellington kicked off. They were sluggish next to Wellington’s sharp incisive runs. The likes of Fenton and their quality Belgian, Huysegems (now pronounced: He’s a Gem) – no waffle – saw them carve their way behind Smith and company too many times for a Roar fan’s liking. The keeper formerly known as Theoklitas was forced into a number of remarkable saves and in doing so underlined why there are four Grand Final medals in his sock drawer.

Roar lost an easy goal but, in Champion fashion, ground out the pressure and nicked one back. A deft touch from Besart (working like a farmer’s dog) saw the ball rise above and drop behind the fairly hapless Wellington keeper. That’s three goals already this season. Despite the blond tips, he’s become a striker any club would if they could. The commentator noted he’s the kind of love/hate player who polarises fans – he wasn’t suggesting Roar fans and every one else, but you could tell he was thinking it!

The second half had fewer highlights; Steffanutto’s headclash with Totori (wouldn’t fancy one of those), the return of the Slippery Fish – Henrique – made a wee bit of a splash and the industrious iFill (Apple’s first footballer?) was kept at bay. The game dried up a little. The Roar, working hard for their point, were the better team again. Three for three so far, even though its only earned them four points. They may not be sitting at the top of the league at the moment, but there’s a definite sense that they’ll get there soon enough.

Most importantly for me, this is the third week in a row that the A-League has been absolutely buzzing. A third in a row we’ve been offered plenty quality football. If the competition keeps this early promise, the club level game could make its most significant mark on the Australian sports landscape.

Victory bounced back from their worst ever defeat and toppled the League leaders, Adelaide. Two bitter derbies provided some hair-raising entertainment. Del Piero showed his worth. Again. The F3 derby saw Heskey earn his wages for the Newcastle Jets in a controversial 2-1 win over the CC Mariners (Arnold’s face was tripping him as usual). The first Hyundai A-League all Sydney clash had all the hallmarks of a down and dirty derby, the kind that sees grudges carried for years! It wasn’t a classic, but it was a cracking game in a very healthy atmosphere. I’ll leave the week’s round up to the astute Tom Rio (over at, I just wanted to pass comment. This is the most excited I’ve been about the A-League. Two Fingers to the doubters!!

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In Rado we trust!

Ange Postecoglou return to brisbane was always going to be an interesting one. Considering his new side’s week 1 performance, no one expected him to be given such a stern reminder of what he left behind, and the job he has ahead of him. Brisbane Roar looked every bit the back to back Grand Final winners they are. Better than last season? Its early but they’re worth a bet. Victory’s heaviest defeat was a sweet opener for Brisbane 17,000+ home crowd.

Five goals, not including the two disallowed. Brisbane could have had more too.

After the stramash during the week, “In Rado We Trust” was sported on a number of home made t-shirts. When questioned on the radio, big Theo suggested it was just some of the players showing their support for the manager. Not an exercise in feather ruffling – though it managed plenty of that. Rado is well liked among the players, Ange was too. But he left. And whatever the reason – frequent appearances on the ABC’s Offsiders or Fox Sports might be a clue – it would’ve been a difficult one. He served the club well, built a squad of players and moved on. He should get some thanks for that, but I still laughed when I saw the banner that upset security. The Brisbane fans did not prepare a friendly welcome. The image of Ange’s head was unfurled, and I thought maybe they aren’t so unfriendly after all, until I read the words…”Without us, you’re nothing”. 

He might be feeling like that now. 

Something else…I watched Flores for 10 minutes before watching Broich for 10. I just focused on those two players for twenty minutes like one of those player cams. Broich was active, spritely and always looking for the pass, trying to support his team mates. He looked the entire value of his marquee wages. Flores looks great too. Vision, touch and beautiful passing ability. The difference, and it may just have been the two goals between the teams at the time, he looked like he’d given up. No chasing back, constantly bitchin at the refereee and linesman for the slightest offence, he looked miserable. Ange has work on his hands there.

With their top man acting like a 13 year old who’s mum revoked permission for the One Direction concert, Victory were always going to struggle. Had Brisbane been in the same position, I can’t see them rolling over so easy.

Mitch Taylor won man of the match, but 4 or 5 Roar players could have had it. No Victory player. A telling difference.

In other moments, there was a smoke flare, opened in the den and pumped onto the pitch, and a lunatic from the stands sprinting across he crowd. Security, clearly not the sharpest, caused more trouble than was necessary, or worth, when they tried to pull a banner from the fans. Five goals without reply and enough entertainment in between, Hyundai A-league has returned to Brisbane, I almost forgot how good it could be!

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A-League Results run against the tips…

The A-League kicked off this weekend with its biggest combined attendance for week One. Over 93,000. Clearly I wasn’t the only person hanging out for the football season to burst into life.

West Sydney made strongest debut since the League began against a very good Central Coast side. Adelaide didn’t have time to change out of their strips from the ACL Quarter Final and still convincingly beat the Jets and Heart took some from an entertaining win in the Melbourne Derby. Biggest crowd of the weekend there with 42,000 (at an A-League game!) Del Piero, Ono and Heskey, the Marquee signings all made appearances with varying degrees of impact, but were outshone by Pheonix’s quiet, big money, goal-scoring Belgian, Huysegems.

Brisbane‘s visit to Perth seethed with the post-Grand Final tensions. Glory snatched a good goal in the closing minutes. Perth fans will see it as sweet revenge after their heart-breaking defeat 168 days ago when the Roar lifted the Trophy. It was a well-worked header from Perth’s point of view and a studded blow to the soft parts for the Roar. The draw would have been a fair result. Brisbane looked every bit the team they were last season, but left with nothing except one of football’s lesson for life: untaken chances will always lead to suffering.

Talking about suffering, Besart got some brilliant stick from the crowd – a banner with the words, “And the Oscar Goes To…” accompanied with a picture of the Albanian international in full flight when he won that controversial penalty. A plane circled the stadium with a banner with something similar. Thing is, I was at the Grand Final, while Perth might feel aggrieved they lost it, if Besart hadn’t won the penalty, the Roar would still have won the match. In fact it would have taken until today for Perth to get a winner. But, I wouldn’t want to take the sugar from the Glory fans bitterness, Perth look good for a Finals place this year.

I think Brisbane will have a great season. I think the A-League will have its best yet. Big stars, big crowds and great football. After just one round, this is looking like an awesome tournament already!

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La Furia Roja


Spain 4 -0 Italy

Great final. Exhibition football from Spain, Italy played well too, but no team on earth can compete with the Spanish when they are on the form they displayed in the game that clinched their third international title in a row.

Four good goals from four different players in four distinctly different positions highlight the breadth and depth of their quality. It was awe-inspiring. The score might suggest a walkover. It was not. Italy could have had a bag of goals. First minute in the second half, 2-0 down, they almost snatched one. They had some good spells throughout and should feel no shame. The Spanish played tenaciously, skillfully and characteristically possessively. On losing the ball they reclaimed it quickly, their passing game and ball control is sublime.

It was funny listening Clever Andy Cole and Gaz McAllister, looking erudite in comparison, berating other pundits for accusing the Spanish for being boring, as if one glorious performance had wiped their short-term memories of a stultifying semi-final, of the strikerless grit and drudgery they’d offered in earlier rounds. It’s the team-sized version of their view on Ronaldo and a lesson for the future. Play beautifully, even if its just once, and everything else will be forgiven. Iniesta (who was consistently excellent) pipped my pick Pirlo to player of the tournament – only because the Spanish midfield denied Andrea any opportunity to get beyond his own half in the final. As a result of their victory, but probably more because they literally are the best team in the World, Spain are favourites for the 2014 World Cup, but hey, the ball is round.

Dennis captured a cracking line up of the best and worst of the games and the players. It was a great tournament. I’m looking forward to couple of nights of decent sleep.

Thank you for reading.

All of my Euros 2012 posts were cross-posted on the footy almanac

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Riots in Brisbane?

Semi Final 2

Italy 2 -1 Germany

Such was the surprise and exuberant outpouring on the streets of Brisbane yesterday morning, one of the local radio stations reported news of a riot. There were a few blindingly shocked moments between hearing about the ruckus and connecting it to the result. Large swathes of the B-Vegas Italian community had camped in venues showing the event and just before a decent hour for breakfast, the ‘Forza Italia’ brigade broke upon an unsuspecting in-bound mid-morning city traffic. Boots on bonnets, flags on shoulders, tears in the eyes. Brilliant.

They have every right. Their team deservedly won their place in the final by taking the game by the scruff and shaking it as hard as they could for the whole first half and more than a few minutes of the second. Even when the momentum was wrestled from their clenched fingers, they still looked dangerous on the counter. With Low’s team looking susceptible, they really should have won by more than they did.

For their part, Germany burst yet another of my worthless predictions for the 2012 European Championships. I would not wish to take any credit from the Azzuri, but the Germans were close to dreadful in the first half. They could not have kicked their own arses or, importantly, get the ball from Pirlo. My pick for player of the tournament had his best performance yet. Montolivo had another very solid game in a succession of them and Buffon pulled off a couple of world class sizzlers. The boy Balotelli lived up to his billing and shone like the light football needed after the drudgery the night before. Towards the end, the Germans got stronger, but what team could give the Italians such a lead in the first half and still hope to win.

The final is something of a tantaliser. Del Bosque will do his best to smother the air around Pirlo and cross his fingers Balotelli does not repeat his first half performance. Expect a strikerless Spain try their best (and it’s a very good best) to pin down the old guards in the Italian midfield.

I dare not suggest who will win what looks to be a classic. The ball has proven over and again that it is very round. I do know if the Italians are victorious, commuters and local radio station callers will be on their toes.

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