Tuesday, 8 April 2014

World Cup 2014: Time for a new Australia as Harry Kewell is the latest ageing stalwart to retire from the game

Australia coach Ange Postecoglou has a number of difficult decisions to make as he looks ahead to Brazil and beyond

No fairytale finish: Harry Kewell lured a new generation of Australian fans to football  Photo: REUTERS

The era of World Cup campaigns of the past is slowly morphing to a new future for the Socceroos. The ageing stalwarts and stable choices have seen the writing on the wall or decided to call it a day as new coach Ange Postecoglou looks ahead to Brazil and beyond.

Following Mark Schwarzer back in November, it was Harry Kewell’s turn last week. The former Leeds United, Galatasaray and Melbourne Heart midfielder drew the curtain on a wonderful career that saw him gather 56 caps for his beloved Socceroos.

Kewell’s record speaks for itself. As a player, he lured a new generation of non-footballing types in following the game here and abroad. His legacy to the game in Australia was wide reaching from his early days with Socceroos team-mate Mark Viduka at Leeds United to proudly wearing the red jersey of Liverpool on 98 occasions.

The weight surrounding Kewell’s future centred on whether he could regain the form and fitness needed to represent his country for one last time in Brazil. Like in life, sporting fairytale finishes are few and far between. Despite his fine unwavering service to his country, time eventually ran out for the man they called “H”.

Captain Lucas Neill’s plight is looking more desperate by the hour with the veteran defender agreeing to a last ditch month-long loan deal with English Championship battlers Doncaster Rovers.

The Socceroos now prepare for a farewell friendly against the Bafana Bafana of South Africa in Sydney on May 26. Following the miraculous “game of two halves” Ecuador experiment last month, Postecoglou will be looking to settle on a final squad and will have all his fingers and toes crossed against further injury woes

An entire Australian football community sighed when learning that the injury to the most valuable hamstring of Socceroos star Tim Cahill wasn’t as bad as first feared. Cahill left the pitch early after straining the muscle against MLS side Chivas USA. Initial reports said he may miss the World Cup, but Postecoglou can now breathe a little easier knowing the prognosis will sideline the dynamic midfielder for two to three weeks.

The big question though is who will be wearing the gloves in Brazil. The long and necessarily dormant succession plan kicked in after Schwarzer’s predicted retirement from International football.

A young Maty Ryan has been the front-runner since joining Belgian Jupiler League side Club Brugge this season as their new No 1. The side have only conceded 28 goals in 29 games this season with Ryan claiming 10 clean sheets including five straight over the November to December period.

Most agree a starting keeper should be at the peak of their powers and banking plenty of regular game time. Mitch Langerak’s moment of madness against Ecuador highlighted by a defensive brain fade left the vastly inexperienced back line struggling for cohesion. His "overzealous" challenge marked a player in need of game time – something he is not getting too much for his adopted club side Borussia Dortmund.

A positive sign for Socceroos fans and the Football Federation of Australia (FFA) is Australia have claimed second place to the USA in total ticket sales for the World Cup. Aussies to date have secured 40,681 tickets across various matches over the tournament despite their almost impossible “Group of Death” draw with Spain, Holland and Chile.

With the AFC Asian Cup tournament to be hosted by Australia in January next year, organisers will be encouraged by fan numbers desperate to watch the Socceroos both in Brazil and back home down under.

And finally … The Socceroos have unveiled their new “away” strip to the world.

Launched on April 2, Nike claim: "The new dark 'obsidian blue' away jersey was inspired by the design worn by Australia when they qualified for their first-ever finals in West Germany 40 years ago.”

The shirt boasts a stylish and modern yellow johnny collar, as another reference to the iconic 1974 national team.

It may not dazzle like the Dutch orange or sizzle with the red of Spain, but both kits represent a valuable connection with the pioneers of the past through an innovative futuristic design.

The “obsidian blue” doesn’t quite roll off an Aussie tongue like the more favoured dinky-die “green and gold” kit but one thing is for certain/; The contingent of Aussies in Brazil will cheer loud and proud and be “True Blue” to their cause.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Waltzing Matildas outdanced by Brazil

An enthusiastic and vocal crowd of 2,583 turned out in force to support the Matildas on a steamy day in Brisbane. The game was high in skill and attack despite the tropical storm hitting the pitch and forcing many fans to seek shelter high in the stand midway through the first half.


Despite a torrid week of media speculation surrounding a fall out between the playing group and coach Hesterine De Rues, the Matildas put in a spirited performance and showed plenty of heart in the contests for possession. The big problem for the Matildas wasn’t the enthusiasm but their execution.

Playing in conditions that would rival their Asian Cup locale of Vietnam, both teams managed to control the ball well despite the greasy conditions.

Football Federation Australia (FFA) boss David Gallop was in attendance for the first of the two warm matches that are the precursor to the Matildas all important defence of their Asian Cup crown next month.

Sadly all the pre-game talk had been squarely focused on new coach Hesterine de Reus who is now subject of an internal investigation centering on player disharmony following her perceived tough coaching style.

At the post match press conference, de Reus was happy to answer questions on whether the allegations has disrupted her team’s preparation this week. The Dutch coach is very keen to see the matter resolved as soon as possible and sees it as a huge distraction as the team aims to finish strongly with the sole aim of qualifying for the next years FIFA World Cup in Canada.

“I didn’t read anything, I’m totally focused on the job I had to do here.” She said.

The players however were keen to deflect any talk of the alleged squad rift rather preferring to concentrate on what played out on the park against the classy South American side.

Temeka Butt’s tireless running proved a headache for the Brazilians and her combination with Emily Van-Egmond is one to watch closely when they come up against their tough Asian Cup Group opponents Japan.

Elise Kellond-Knight and Kate Gill also impressed after creating plenty of fine attacking runs and will take plenty of heart from matching the skill level of the sixth ranked team in Women’s World Football.

The physicality of the Matildas showed through as they outmuscled their more fancied opponents in many of the contests. There will be no doubting coach De Rues will attempt to fine-tune the set pieces and shooting drills could well be the order of the day as they look to find the net in Wednesday’s match.

Both teams had numerous opportunities in an entertaining first half until a damp pitch slowed the pace but not the enthusiasm as the teams went to the break locked at nil all.

Brazil finally gave the scoreboard attendant something to do in the 67th minute when Debora “Debinha” Oliveira took on Matildas keeper Brianna Davey in a one on one contest to score and briefly silence the large contingent of Australian fans.

The goal seemed to lift the Matildas to find the equaliser as they built more pressure in the dying minutes of the match.

Kate Gill's hot shot from a sharp Kellond-Kinght cross was blocked before Michelle Heyman then pounced on a sloppy back pass only to find her shot miss the target as the match wound down to the final whistle.

The signs are great for the women’s game in this country and the narrow loss will give the team confidence as the continue building momentum.

For now though it is all about Wednesday and for coach Hesterine De Rues a win on the field will do plenty to deflect some of the attention and headlines away from her management methods.

Matildas: Brianna DAVEY; Teigan ALLEN; Clare POLKINGHORNE (C); Elise KELLOND-KNIGHT; Emily VAN-EGMOND; Lisa DEVANNA; Tameka BUTT; Alanna KENNEDY; Steph CATLEY, Katrina GORRY; Michelle HEYMAN

Brazil: Fabiana SIMOES; Bruna BENITES; Andreia ANDRADE; Thaisa MORENA; Tamires GOMES; Debora OLIVEIRA; Miraildes MOTA; Rosana AUGUSTO; Cristiane ROZEIRA; Thais PICARTE; Andressa ALVES

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