Friday, January 23, 2015

Australia & New Zealand December/January 2014/5

A total of 15 matches, including 8 A-League and 7 in the Asian Cup, plus some tennis.

I made the long trip to Australia from London via Singapore, arriving on Christmas Day.

Sky blues blues.

26th December 2014  Sydney 0 Adelaide Utd 3    A-League 14,214  (c. 40 away)

Boxing Day in Sydney was a lot busier than when i arrived the day before.
Downtown was thronged with shoppers at the sales with the queue at Louis Vuitton being especially long.

Beforehand I had strolled around the impressive Darling harbour area where, again, the locals packed the ferry boats.
Meanwhile other types of boat were starting out in the Sydney to Hobart yacht race.

I watched from a distance.

While I had a closer view of the football at the Allianz stadium.

On the walk from central station I stopped at the ‘Cricketers’ for a glass of wine and my first sample of an Aussie pub.

On to the match - and it was in the end a comfortable victory for the higher placed Adelaide.

But perhaps the outcome could have been different if Elrich had been sent off when bringing down a home forward just outside the area - he only got yellow.

That was in a first half that Sydney had edged although the visitors did have a good chance when Djite was put through.

The second told an alternative story with Adelaide scoring three times.
However a couple of the goals were marginal offsides and the last goal, put in by speedy sub. Mabil was in the final minutes.

The headed effort by Sanchez, from a Jeggo cross, did add some quality.

So overall an unbalanced result that left United six points behind Perth at the top of the A-League.

Hare Krishna.

28th December  Wellington Phoenix 1 Western Sydney Wanderers 0  A-League  8,606 (c. 20 away)

From Sydney to the capital of New Zealand via Auckland to see the only team in the A-League from outside Australia.
The Phoenix play at the Westpac stadium which is a short walk from downtown, through the station.

In cloudy conditions the home side started brightly and went ahead when Fijian Roy Krishna followed up to score after his penalty was parried by Ante Covic.
The award of the spot kick was disputed by the visitors and it was hard to tell for sure if the striker had really been tripped.

However that goal decided the outcome even though both sides had various chances to add to the total.
Opportunities fell to the other strikers, Tomi Juric for the Wanderers and Nathan Burns for the home side.

The result seemed harsh on the visitors who, after the initial half hour or so, certainly had their share of the play.
Winger Nikita Rukavytsya showed particular speed down the left and one of his breaks could have produced a result.

But, despite a good chance being saved by Glen Moss at the last knockings, in the end Western Sydney went away empty handed and they remain rooted to the bottom of the table, and still without a league victory.

I stopped for a beer on the way back to my hotel and watched some of the cricket highlights on TV.
Earlier I had visited the excellent national museum which features comprehensive historical background to the country and the culture.
(a country that because of its remoteness seems only to have been settled some 800 years ago) - in comparison the first aborigines explored Australia about 40,000 years ago.

New Zealand certainly makes much of the Tolkien sagas including in the amusing Air NZ flight safety briefing.

Though you correspondent failed to meet any hobbits reminders of Middle Earth are ever-present as is the Maori culture and language.

Phoenix are buoyed…. by Boyd.

31st December 2014  Adelaide Utd 1 Wellington Phoenix 3  A-League  10,060 (c. 20 away)

Back to Oz and the Coopers Stadium in Adelaide for my final match of 2014.

Both sides had to make changes for this match and it resulted in a game that lacked some quality and featured lots of errors.
The first period ended goalless but wide-man Mabil did hit the post for Adelaide.

The home side did have more possession and probably edged the chances.

However the second period turned around with Wellington going ahead after Kenny Cunningham latched onto a ball that broke to him following a somewhat comical stumble by a fellow forward.

United would equalise after good work by Mabil down the right allowed Cirio to convert from close in.
But the New Zealanders soon restored their advantage following a defensive error.

Substitute Tyler Boyd benefited and he would also apply the final touch near the end to seal the victory.
That was following a frenetic finish with the home goalie going up for corners - without success.

So the Phoenix moved up to third and the local fans could concentrate on the year-end fireworks.

Good ‘Poznan’ but poor game.

1st January 2015  Western Sydney Wanderers 0 Central Coast Mariners 0    14,137 (c. 200 away)

Back to Sydney for the first match of the New Year.

And this time to Parramatta to see the Wanderers.
Where there was a pleasant atmosphere amongst the restaurants and bars on the way from the station to the Pirtek stadium.
Not many were without a red and black shirt (admission - I didn’t)

You have to admire, and to some extent wonder, at the success of a club that was only formed less than three years ago.
Already A-league winners, Asian Champions League holders and Cup finalists as well representing Asia at the Club World Cup.

But on this steamy evening they failed to look like champions of any sort.

From eleven league matches the Wanderers have only scored six goals and garnered four points.
Their best opportunity fell to Nikita Rukavytsya but he failed to connect with a right wing cross.

Otherwise there was a headed chance for Torpor-Stanley and various (poor) free kicks by the Mariners.
The visitors also tested Covic, but he blocked both efforts.

But generally the meaningful chances were few and the quality moderate.

That was despite typically enthusiastic support from the black and red block and an entertaining ‘poznan’ later in the match.
Good numbers came from the Central Coast and they would have been fairly happy with a point in a game that will not live long in the memory.

Glory for Glory.

2nd January  Melbourne Victory 1 Perth Glory 2   21,289

Victory travelled south to Geelong to play this match against the league leaders.
And a good many fans made the journey to the wide open spaces of the Simonds stadium, but they would return home disappointed.

Perth got the job done early in the first half with two well taken goals, firstly by Irishman Andy Keogh then by Chris Harold.
The second followed a misjudgement by Nathan Coe in the home goal.

I guess this illustrated why Glory are top and many of the other A-League sides struggle - Perth could their convert chances.

Victory, however, did respond with one second period effort - from a soft-looking penalty shot home by Albanian Besart Berisha.
Experienced striker Archie Thompson did also go close for the home side but it was not near enough.

With a fine of $20,000 to be extracted if flares were lit inside the stadium the ultras confined themselves to lighting some outside the ground and on the nearby station platform,

Where you correspondent endured an annoyingly prolonged trip back to Melbourne due to initial delays and in particular a lengthy wait due to a bushfire - something that doesn’t happen too much in London.
At least the free trams were running and the transport staff also gave out free water to those in need.

Chances go begging.

3rd January  Sydney 0 Newcastle Jets 0   11,377

The Sky Blues also chose to play in an alternative location to their usual home.
In this case in the pleasant seaside town of Wollongong.

The local stadium boasts an old style grass hill/bank along one side and, perhaps surprisingly in this day and age (of health and safety), this was packed with fans.

This was a game that reinforced certain stereotypes about the A-League - at least to this observer.

And that is the inability to take chances and the lack of quality in taking free kicks.
The former was definitely confirmed with numerous gilt-edged opportunities being spurned, especially by Sydney in the first half.
They should have been two or three goals ahead by the break.

But they contrived to miss and when they did get the ball in the net, via a great Janko volley, it was ruled (perhaps unfairly) to be offside.

So the Jets survived and went close themselves later on, particularly when Jeronimo circled the wagons and got in a header.
And there were better efforts from captain Brosque and Ecuadorean Substitute Montano.

But all to no avail.

As for the weather - thankfully a sea breeze cooled things down for those in the stands.

I strolled back to my local hotel and partook of a couple of glasses of shiraz before bed.

Duke lords it in Gosford.

4th January  Central Coast Mariners 2 Melbourne City 0  7,409 (c. 80 away)

This time to another ground near the water, in Gosford - a train ride from Sydney.

Gosford apparently doesn’t get too cold, maybe 14 degrees in winter, and it certainly wasn’t on this Sunday afternoon.

So Damien Duff and ex-West Brom player Robert Koren might well have felt the conditions.
They produced some nice touches but not enough to influence the result.

Home striker Mitchell Duke was the centre of attention for the first hour of the contest.
He struck the two goals, helped by some pretty inept defending.

Then he was involved in a clash with the advancing City keeper, Velaphi, who received a red card for his recklessness.
That happened outside the area and the free kick came to nothing (as did most)

But it left the City ten men looking unlikely to retrieve the situation and so it proved with the Mariners able to hold on comfortably.
They were helped by their goalie Liam Reddy who made one excellent save from a Mooy effort.

Many of the kids, and some adults, joined in the ‘pirate-themed’ day making it a carnival style
day out (with echoes of the MLS)
Back in Sydney I settled for an early night.

Adelaide continue their jinx on Glory.

5th January  Perth Glory 1 Adelaide Utd 2   9,699 (c. 20 away)

Perth in Australia is not like its namesake near Edinburgh where a temperature of 44 degrees would send the Scots into meltdown.

Here it felt like an oven for a while.

And the kickoff for this A-League match was put back half an hour to compensate (a little) for the conditions.
By the time the game started, at 5.30pm, it was probably around 34 degrees.

We did have two drinks breaks to give the players some respite.
The heat no doubt, and their busy schedule, contributed to this being a game too far for league leaders Glory.

They began well enough with striker Keogh setting up Marinkovic to drive in the opener from the edge of the area.
And the Irishman also had an opportunity to chip the away goalie, but he shot over.

Adelaide had also begun well and they achieved parity when Garcia of Glory gifted Goodwin an easy chance to convert.
The visitors, who are the only team to defeat Perth this season, went ahead soon after the break.

It was fine move down the right culminating in Djite providing the pass for Jeggo to score.

We then a period of open play but no more goals.

The result was deserved for United who were generally in control for much of the second half, making some useful substitutions with Mabil and Sanchez both playing their part in occupying the home defence.

I wiped away the sweat and cooled down with a Korean meal and later a mojito back near my CBD hotel.

This was the last of my A-League matches.

6th & 7th January Hopman Cup tennis  Perth Arena

Canada 2 USA 1  (4,000)  and GB 1 Poland 2  (3,000)

I stayed in Perth for a few more days and was able to take in a couple of Hopman Cup tennis sessions.

In the first matchup Serena Williams was far from her sharpest and she lost easily to Canadian Eugenie Bouchard.
Vasek Pospisil took care of John Isner in the second game and it was only in the doubles that the US pair got going.

That was certainly watchable especially seeing the extreme difficulty Bouchard had in trying to return the Isner serve.

The Wednesday morning encounter saw Agnieszka Radwanska prove too consistent for  Heather Watson but Andy Murray reprised his Wimbledon semi-final defeat of Jerzy Janowicz.

That set up the deciding mixed doubles in which the Poles were too solid for the British pair.

Tiger Tim.

9th January  Australia 4 Kuwait 1  Asian Cup  Melbourne   25,231

And so to the Asian Cup 2015 which began  in cool and showery Melbourne.
This was the first time Australia had staged a major soccer tournament and they had reasonably high hopes of lifting the title.

Prior to the football we had a fairly brief opening ceremony of music and dance.

The Aussies included Tim Cahill in their lineup and he would prove the catalyst for the reaction that followed a shock early Kuwait goal.

Cahill drove in the equaliser from a Luongo cross as the men in yellow stepped up the pace and pressure.
And just before the break Luongo himself rose, a la Cahill, to head in the go-ahead strike.

The second half saw the Australians consolidate victory with first a Jedinak (of Crystal Palace)  penalty, after Kruse was tripped, then following good work by Leckie a conversion by Troisi.

So an excellent start for the Socceroos who also struck the woodwork a number of times.

The crowd contributed ‘Aussie Aussie Aussie’ at times but otherwise, apart from the roars when the goals went in, were lacking some animation.

Back in central Melbourne, via the tram, the torrential rain precluded much post-game activity.

Yu the man.

10th January  Saudi Arabia 0 China 1  Brisbane   12,557

The Brisbane stadium, home of the ‘Roar’, is an impressive three tiers although it was far from full on this Saturday evening.
A lot of those present were Chinese.

They saw their team develop some chances down the right wing with Zhang and one involving Wu that was poked wide.
While the Saudis showed some nice touches often prompted by ‘no. 10’ Nawaf.

Following a cagey first half the Gulf team pushed back their opponents and secured a penalty when Hazazi was brought down in the area.
The same man stepped up to take the spot kick but his weak effort was easily blocked.

However it still seemed that the Saudis would prevail, not least from a breakaway when they had four attackers against two defenders.
But that finished with an indecisive shot and it was left to a long range deflected free kick from Yu to decide the outcome with about ten minutes remaining.

Emirates top in Gulf Derby.

11th January  UAE 4 Qatar 1  Canberra  5,513

The Australian capital hosted this Gulf encounter featuring countries whose squads comprised players only from their home leagues.

Despite that the UAE in particular included some players that would stand out.

Highly regarded midfielder Omar Abdulrahman reprised his skills previously seen, by yours truly, at a past Gulf Cup.
That is a fine touch and a great left foot plus a marketable haircut.

His combination with strikers Khalil and Mabkhout enabled the UAE to win convincingly.

But the win came after they had gone behind to a goal from Khalfan who nicely followed up a shot from Muntari that the goalie only parried.

However it was Qasem in the Qatar goal who would have a worse time being culpable for a couple of the UAE replies.
Khalil converted the first two goals and Mabkhout the next two to complete a comfortable victory.

Qatar offered some threat later on through sub. Ismail down the right and they did hit the post but generally they were second best.

I was back in the centre of Canberra and had some refreshment in the somewhat quirky bar of the Mercure (which used to be the more famous Ainslie) hotel.
That was after I had managed to avoid  the swooping birds, as mentioned by warning signs on the nearby streets.

Canberra on this Sunday night was not exactly whooping let alone swooping.

Japan follow the script.

12th January  Japan 4 Palestine 0  Newcastle  15,497

The was an historic match for Palestine taking part in the first Asian Cup finals.

And in a way the script was already written - a comfortable win for the more favoured Japanese against a plucky but limited Palestine team.

In breezy conditions at the Newcastle (or Hunter) stadium the Japanese were well in control from early on after Endo shot past a static Palestine goalie.
They added a couple more before half time with Okazaki neatly diverting a Kagawa effort
and Honda converting a penalty.

Any chance of a Palestine revival was extinguished when Yoshida headed in five minutes after the break.
And also when Mahajna received a red card for two indiscretions.

It seemed that Japan would score six or seven but to their credit the ten men restricted the score to four and even might have got a consolation from the tall Albahdari.
A scramble near the end in the Palestine area summed up their resistance albeit against a Japan team that often stayed in second gear.

Back near the centre of Newcastle (not perhaps the most salubrious of Australian cities with its coal mining history) I partook of some glasses of wine.

Aussie, Aussie, Aussie (Aussie)

13th January  Australia 4 Oman 0  Sydney Olympic stadium  50,276

I’d arrived back in Sydney in time to watch some of the Sydney International tennis tournament being played in the same Olympic complex as the football.

There I saw some women’s doubles followed by part of the Leonardo Mayer (he of the single handed backhand plus some Argentinian fan support) vs Julien Benneteau mach.

Later in the big stadium Australia’s second match in Group A attracted over 50,000 fans.

And, apart from the first and last minutes, they saw a dominant performance by the Aussies.

After Mat Ryan saved an early shot the Socceroos took over going ahead when an unchallenged Sainsbury header was put in from close range by McKay.
That was followed by a Luongo pass to Kruse whose effort went through Al-Habsi.

Milligan added a third from the spot, just before half time, when Cahill was held in the area.

The Aussies continued their control in the second period with Kruse going close again before Leckie set up replacement Juric for the clincher.
(again coach Postecoglou used his subs well)

Al-Habsi was kept busy in a game that augured well for the Socceroos progress.

The fans hubbub confirmed their appreciation.

Afterwards, on a hot, humid day, a few of us enjoyed a beer near ‘central’.

DPR errors costly.

14th January  North Korea 1 Saudi Arabia 4  Melbourne    12,349

This match was memorable for being much better than might have been forecast, helped by the fact that both teams really needed to win..

Also memorable was the question asked by a broadcaster prior to the start:-
(to a young Aussie girl in the crowd)

Q:  So who is your favourite DPR Korea and Saudi Arabian player ?
A: (not unreasonably) Never heard of any of them.

Her partner, heroically, mentioned Hazazi - the guy who missed a penalty in the previous game.

The Koreans did have Kwang Ik in their team providing an echo back to the much more famous Pak Doo Ik of 1966 World Cup renown.
But otherwise they were not exactly household names.

Hopefully they will still be in households rather than gulags after their performances at the Asian Cup.

It started promisingly enough when Ryang followed up a Waleed parry to put the hermit kingdom ahead.

But gradually the Saudis exerted more pressure and they levelled when playmaker Nawaf fed Hazazi.

The second half proved a disaster for DPR with defensive errors allowing Al Sahlawi to score twice.
He might have got a third but scuffed his shot wide.

The final nail in the coffin for DPR was via a penalty from Nawaf Al-Abid that hit both posts before it was scrambled over the line.

Some crowd entertainment was provided by a group of Melbourne Victory fans in a corner of the stadium.
But not many (and presumably none from Pyongyang), amongst a reasonable turnout, were actual fans of the two protagonists.

I was able to get back to the centre of Melbourne before the kitchen closed at the Sherlock Holmes pub.
And whilst enjoying my meal I watched some of the China v Uzbek game before the locals switched over to the cricket.

Princes of Persia.

15th January  Qatar 0 Iran 1  Sydney  22,672

My final match of this tour and the seventh at the Asian Cup.

After a run of 4-1, 4-0, 4-0 and 4-1 it was perhaps inevitable that the games would return to ‘normal’ with a much more cautious encounter.
Particularly in the first half which had little goalmouth action.

The outcome was decided by Sardar Azmoun who controlled a cross, turned and poked a shot past Qasem on 52 minutes.

That cranked up the noise amongst the very large Iranian contingent who provided superb support in Sydney.

Substitute Reza Ghoochannejhad, often combining with ex-Fulham player Dejagah, had some half chances as the game got stretched later on.

But one goal was enough for the Iran win and the elimination of Gulf Cup champions Qatar.

And so a final beer or two on the way back to the Ibis and then a return via Hong Kong.


Australia - reflections on the country and the football.

Coming from the UK Australia does feel linguistically comfortable (more so than,say, the USA)
and for those who travel frequently, and are monoglot, that does mean you can fit in easily and obviously have no problem reading the newspapers.

Comparisons with the USA are inevitable.

The centre of cities, being of similar vintage, resemble America albeit without the gun culture undertone.

However there is a cultural difference because in many places Australia feels like a suburban place.
With plenty of space available you see numerous bungalows in seemingly idyllic settings, especially for bringing up kids.

What it lacks, perhaps, is that cafe society of the warmer places in Europe.
And more restaurants that keep their kitchens open beyond 9pm.

Perth seemed particularly quiet to this visitor, but even in central Melbourne kitchens were closing quite early. 

Another cultural aspect was the obvious realisation that you are in an Asian country.

As to the football the A-League can also be compared with the MLS.
It offers football of a comparable standard although it lacks the headline stars (.eg Beckham, Henry) of the American leagues.
The stadiums usually fit the requirements.

But in Australia the fans are generally better in that they ‘get’ the game much more than those at most of the MLS games
Both leagues have similar problems in competing with more established local sports..

Because of geography being in Australia means you are a long way from home and you do feel out of synch with the agenda-setting activities in Europe and the US.
While you sleep the world moves on.

That to many is an advantage but to others perhaps not.

For sure you experience great, sometimes too hot for this correspondent, weather and well organised infrastructure with a tinge of over-regulation.

Its likely I will return for football and to experience more of the wide range of sport on offer.

more pictures at

No comments: