2018 FIFA World Cup – Preview and Predictions

The biggest sporting event this year, the 2018 FIFA World Cup is about to begin on Thursday (Friday morning) in Russia with the host nation taking on Saudi Arabia at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, and after a qualification campaign around the world that produced many shocks and surprises, with the likes of the United States (for the first time since 1986), Chile (reigning Copa America champions), and Italy (for the first time since 1958) failing to qualify for Russia 2018, the 21st FIFA World Cup is one that is wide open.

The likes of defending champions Germany, 2014 finalists Argentina, led by Lionel Messi, five-time world champions Brazil, 1998 champions France, as well as the Cristiano Ronaldo-led Portugal, the 2010 champions Spain, the highly-talented Belgium, and the 1964 world champions England are all considered among the favourites for football’s showpiece event.

Germany come into the 2018 FIFA World Cup as the No.1 team in the world according to the latest FIFA World Rankings, and the defending world champions have retained nine players from their squad in 2014, and after blitzing qualifying, winning all 10 matches, the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup champions look to be in prime position for a tilt to win a fifth World Cup, which would equal Brazil’s record.

Argentina are another one of the genuine contenders, with Lionel Messi leading his country for the second-straight World Cup at his fourth World Cup, and after retiring from international football very briefly after the heartbreak of losing the Copa América Centenario final to Chile on penalties, in which he missed Argentina’s first penalty in the shootout, he returned to international football, and after an always tough qualifying campaign in South America, Argentina managed to secure their passage to a 12th-straight World Cup after defeating Ecuador in Quito thanks to a hat-trick from Messi, scoring seven goals in qualifying overall, on what was a dramatic final day in CONMEBOL qualification.

Brazil, however, had an easier path to Russia 2018 after comfortably topping South American qualifying after failing miserably at both the 2015 Copa América, where they were knocked out in the quarter-finals by Paraguay on penalties, and the Copa América Centenario, where they failed to get out of the group. However, under Tite, Brazil have looked like a completely different team, winning 17 of the 21 matches they have played under Tite, only losing once. And, despite Neymar coming into the World Cup a touch underdone after three months out with a foot injury, you sense Brazil, as they really always have been, are one of the strong favourites.

France are also primed for a challenge, especially after making the UEFA Euro 2016 final at home, while Portugal, who defeated France to become European champions for the very first time, are capable of achieving anything if Cristiano Ronaldo is at the top of his game.

2010 champions Spain are also contenders, but you feel they are still going through a transition phase after their “golden generation”, while Belgium and England, who are both in the same group (Group G) are dark-horses should a path open for them, particularly for Belgium, who should be ready to make a serious challenge for the Cup, while for England, I think they can also go far, but I think 2022 in Qatar will be a better bet for England should the influence of Pep Guardiola, who coaches Manchester City, spread across English football fully.

However, the likes of Switzerland, Poland, Peru, Denmark, Uruguay, Mexico, Colombia, and Croatia are capable, on paper, of putting up a huge challenge to the highly-fancied teams.

Switzerland, Poland, and Croatia have been consistent teams in Europe for a number of years, with Denmark also being a dark-horse to go deep in Russia 2018. Uruguay qualified second in CONMEBOL qualifying behind Brazil, with Colombia managing to qualify automatically after a 1-1 draw with Peru, who also managed to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup after knocking out Chile via that draw with Colombia, before defeating New Zealand (2-0 on aggregate) after a scoreless first leg in Wellington.

However, if a team outside of Europe and South America is going to win the World Cup for the first time, it will be Mexico, who have qualified and participated in the last seven World Cups, including this one, as well as being exposed to South American football on a semi-regular basis by playing in various editions of the Copa América, and with world football getting ever closer, you feel like within the next two to three World Cups, someone from outside of Europe and South America is going to win it, and given their consistency over many years, you think Mexico will be that nation outside of Europe and South America to conquer the final frontier first.

As for Australia, I think despite the natural optimism for the team in Australia, I think they are going to struggle to get out of Group C, featuring France, Denmark, and Peru, due to the late change in coaches, as well as the inability to get team chemistry on the field to a high enough level under new coach Bert van Marwijk, because of the late change of coaches and possibly the lack of fitness of some players, to beat France, Denmark, and Peru to make it through to the knockout stages.

However, Australia must build on this campaign, their fourth World Cup in a row, and their fifth overall, and look to build to the future, to build their own team with their own unique style, and to live and learn over a long period of time, to start filling in the puzzle pieces of an infinite journey towards World Cup glory. Australia’s dream must be to win the FIFA World Cup within the next 20 to 40 years, and to become the first team from the AFC to do so!

However, should Australian football not go down this path, it will be impossible for Australia to achieve World Cup glory.

So, who is my tip to win the 2018 FIFA World Cup?

After thinking about this for a little while, and although I concede they may not have the strongest squad on paper, compared to the other pre-tournament favourites, I have got this gut feeling that Argentina are going to become world champions for the third time.

With the world of international football getting ever tighter, and Russia 2018 will be overall the closest yet, it is going to come down to the players who will produce their best in the key moments, or produce a piece of individual brilliance to move their team through to the next round of the competition and potentially to World Cup glory, and in my opinion, this FIFA World Cup will be Lionel Messi’s tournament, taking out the Golden Ball for the second-straight World Cup and the Golden Boot, but this time, like his hero Diego Maradona in 1986, Messi will take Argentina, after 32 years, to unforgettable World Cup glory!

 

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2018 UEFA Champions League Final – Preview

At 9:45pm on a Saturday night (4:45am Sunday morning AEST) at the NSC Olimpiyskiy Stadium in Kiev, the final of the world’s premier club competition takes place. It is of course the 2018 Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) Champions League Final between Real Madrid C.F., who are looking not only to win their 13th European crown, but to also become the first club since FC Bayern Munich in 1976 to win the European Cup on three-straight occasions, and the first team in the UEFA Champions League era (since the start of 1992/93) to do so, and Liverpool F.C., who are in their first Champions League final since 2007, looking to win their sixth European crown, and their first since 2005, when they came back from three goals down at half-time against A.C. Milan in Istanbul to take it to extra-time, and then penalties, where Jerzy Dudek was the hero, saving three penalties to give Liverpool European glory for the fifth time.

Real Madrid C.F. come into the 2018 UEFA Champions League Final after failing to win either the 2017-18 La Liga crown, in which they finished third, 17 points behind eventual champions F.C. Barcelona, and three points behind cross-city rival Atlético Madrid, or the 2017-18 Copa del Rey, where they were knocked out in the quarter-finals by CD Leganés, a team which finished one place, but 14 points above the relegation zone in La Liga, over two legs on away goals (2-2). And despite winning the UEFA Super Cup for the third time in four years, the Supercopa de España, and the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) Club World Cup for the third time in four years, you sense that Real Madrid C.F. must win the UEFA Champions League title for the third-straight time if Zinedine Zidane is to keep his position as coach at arguably the world’s biggest and most prestigious club! And, that is a scary thought in so many ways.

Liverpool F.C. come into the 2018 UEFA Champions League Final after finishing fourth for the second season in a row in the English Premier League, but went out in the third round of the English Football League (EFL) Cup at the hands of Leicester City (2-0), and in the fourth round of the Football Association (FA) Cup at the hands of West Bromwich Albion (3-2), but have had a great run in the Champions League under Jürgen Klopp, who of course took Borussia Dortmund to the 2013 UEFA Champions League Final at Wembley Stadium in London, where they lost to FC Bayern Munich. Regardless of the result in the final, Liverpool F.C. are certainly on their way back up to the top of European club football!

Looking at their runs to the final in Kiev, Real Madrid C.F. finished second in Group H behind Tottenham Hotspur on 13 points after winning four of their six group matches, defeating Borussia Dortmund and APOEL FC both home and away, while having a draw at home and a loss away from home against Tottenham Hotspur. And while they had a comfortable time of disposing of Paris Saint Germain F.C. (5-2 on aggregate), Real Madrid C.F. had a much tougher time in the quarter-finals against the team they played in the 2017 final, Juventus F.C.!

After winning the first leg away from home 3-0 thanks to a double from Cristiano Ronaldo, and a goal from Marcelo, the second leg at the Santiago Bernabéu proved way tougher than they had expected, with Juventus F.C. fighting back through a first half brace from Mario Mandžukić, and a goal with 29 minutes from Blaise Matuidi to equalise the scores on aggregate! Only a goal in the eighth minute of stoppage time in the second half from Cristiano Ronaldo saved Los Blancos from a potentially embarassing exit!

Then in the semi-finals against FC Bayern Munich, after a 2-1 victory in the first leg at the Allianz Arena with goals from Marcelo and Marco Asensio either side of half-time in response to a goal from Joshua Kimmich, the second leg back at home proved an even tougher affair with Kimmich scoring the first goal to level the scores on aggregate, but Los Blancos having the advantage by away goals, before Karim Benzema scored a crucial double to give Real Madrid C.F. a 4-2 lead on aggregate! James Rodríguez, who was on-loan from Real Madrid C.F, scored with 27 minutes left to give FC Bayern Munich a fighting chance. However, Zidane’s team of champions held on to book their spot in a third-successive final.

Looking at Liverpool F.C.’s run to the first final held in the Ukraine, the Reds finished on top of Group E ahead of Sevilla FC, FC Spartak Moscow, and NK Maribor with three wins and three draws, including 7-0 wins against NK Maribor away from home, and FC Spartak Moscow back at Anfield. And after disposing of FC Porto 5-0 at the Estádio do Dragão, and by the same score on aggregate, Liverpool F.C. met with English rivals Manchester City F.C. in the quarter-finals to produce a performance over two legs which stunned the footballing world!

The first leg at Anfield was a dominant 3-0 win with first half goals from Mohammed Salah, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Sadio Mané, giving Manchester City F.C. a huge mountain to climb in the second leg, a mountain which looked possible thanks to an early goal from Gabriel Jesus. However, after Manchester City F.C. manager Pep Guardiola was sent off, and to the stands at half-time for dissent towards the officials, Liverpool F.C. snuffed out any chance of a comeback with goals from Salah and Roberto Firmino to complete a remarkable 5-1 win on aggregate, and move through to the semi-finals to face A.S. Roma.

The first leg was at home again for the Reds, and they duly took advantage with five goals in the first 69 minutes, a first half double from Salah, a goal in the 56th minute from Mané, and then a brace completed in the space of eight minutes by Firmino to give themselves a huge advantage. However, two crucial away goals from Edin Džeko and Diego Perotti cut the margin to three heading into the second leg. At the Stadio Olimpico, Liverpool F.C. had a 2-1 at half-time on the night (7-3 on aggregate) with goals from Mané and Georginio Wijnaldum book-ending a own goal by James Milner giving the Reds a close to insurmountable lead! However, A.S. Roma had their own plans, with a goal from Džeko giving them some hope, but despite a late double from Radja Nainggolan, it was too little, too late for A.S. Roma as Liverpool F.C. booked their return to European club football’s biggest showpiece!

Looking at the key players for the 2018 UEFA Champions League Final, despite all of their high-profile stars, Real Madrid C.F. will be looking once again for Cristiano Ronaldo to stamp his mark on the big stage once again in his sixth UEFA Champions League final (two with Manchester United F.C., and four with Real Madrid C.F.), coming into the final as the competition’s leading goal-scorer with 15 goals, and has scored four goals in his previous five finals! However, the Reds will look to defeat a team of champions with a effort defining a champion team, with Mohamed Salah (10 goals and four assists), Roberto Firmino (10 goals and eight assists), Sadio Mané (nine goals), and James Milner (nine assists) all starring for Liverpool F.C. in their 2017-18 UEFA Champions League campaign!

So, who am I predicting to win?

I look at Real Madrid C.F. and their record, and you know that Los Blancos are a big match team, and one that you would expect to win given the situation and the circumstances surrounding such an occasion, but my gut feel tells me somehow, some way, Liverpool F.C. are going to do it! Real Madrid C.F. have not lost a European Cup final since 1981, winning the last six finals they have made, but I sense that the Reds are going to do it, and cause one of the greatest upsets in the history of football!

 

 

2018 FA Cup Final – Preview

On late Saturday afternoon London time (early Sunday morning Australian time), and in the aftermath of the royal wedding, the 2018 Football Association (FA) Cup final takes place at the home of football Wembley Stadium for the 12th FA Cup final at the modern Wembley in a re-match of the first FA Cup final played at the modern Wembley Stadium between Chelsea F.C., who are looking to win their eighth FA Cup, and their fifth at the modern Wembley, and Manchester United F.C., who are looking to equal Arsenal’s record of 13 FA Cup crowns on Saturday, but had only won one FA Cup at the modern Wembley.

Chelsea F.C. under Antonio Conte have had what has been a disappointing season by their standards, failing not only to defend their English Premier League crown, but also finished just outside of the top four in fifth to miss qualifying for the UEFA Champions League next season. In their only season back in the UEFA Champions League, Chelsea F.C. could only make it into the Round of 16, where they were defeated over two legs by FC Barcelona (4-1 on aggregate), but managed to make it to the English Football League (EFL) Cup semi-finals, where they were defeated by Arsenal F.C. over two legs (2-1 on aggregate), so this is Chelsea’s last opportunity to win a trophy this season after finishing runner-up in the FA Community Shield to Arsenal F.C. (1-1, 4-1 on penalties) before the start of the season.

The road to the final for Chelsea F.C began in the third round began with a 0-0 draw with Norwich City F.C. at Carrow Road, which resulted in a replay back at Stamford Bridge, and after a 1-1 draw after extra time, Chelsea F.C. won the penalty shootout (5-3) to secure their passage through to the fourth round. In the next two rounds, they defeated both Newcastle United F.C. (3-0) and Hull City A.F.C. (4-0) at Stamford Bridge to progress through to the quarter-finals, where they met Leicester City F.C. at the King Power Stadium.

After a goal from Álvaro Morata put Chelsea F.C 1-0 up after 42 minutes, Leicester City F.C. responded via a goal from Jamie Vardy with 14 minutes remaining to take the quarter-final tie into extra-time, where a goal by Pedro at the end of the first period of extra-time handed Chelsea F.C. a place in the FA Cup semi-finals against Southampton F.C. at Wembley Stadium. After a scoreless opening half, Chelsea F.C. took full control of the semi-final via goals from Olivier Giroud just after half-time, and Morata late on as a substitute for Giroud to book their spot on English football’s biggest day!

Manchester United F.C. under José Mourinho have had a strong season in the English Premier League, but finished 19 points behind their dominant cross-city rivals Manchester City F.C., who became the first team in the Premier League era to reach 100 points in a season. And after finishing runner up in the UEFA Super Cup to Real Madrid C.F. (2-1) at the start of the season, Manchester United F.C. haven’t come close to winning a trophy, being knocked out in the fifth round of the EFL Cup by Bristol City F.C. (2-1), and knocked out in the Round of 16 in the UEFA Champions League by Sevilla FC (2-1 on aggregate).

Manchester United F.C. road to the final was relatively smooth, with a third round win at home (Old Trafford) against Derby County F.C. (2-0), a fourth round victory against Yeovil Town F.C. (4-0) at Huish Park, before heading to the Kirklees Stadium to claim a fifth round victory over Huddersfield Town A.F.C. (2-0) to move through to the quarter-finals, where they met Brighton and Hove Albion F.C. at Old Trafford.

It was a match where Romelu Lukaku scored his 11th goal in 12 FA Cup matches in the first half, before a goal late from Nemanja Matić secured Manchester United F.C. a spot in the semi-finals against Tottenham Hotspur F.C. at Wembley Stadium. However, after the first 11 minutes, Manchester United F.C. were trailing by a goal to nil after conceding their first goal of this season’s FA Cup after Dele Alli finished off a wonderful cross from Christian Eriksen, but responded 13 minutes thanks to a goal from Alexis Sánchez, before a goal midway through the second half by Ander Herrera allowed Manchester United F.C. to book their date with Chelsea F.C. in the 137th FA Cup final.

So, looking at the actual match-up between the two teams, the key players that Chelsea F.C will be looking to are Álvaro Morata, who has scored 15 goals in 47 matches across all competitions, Eden Hazard, who will play his 300th match for Chelsea F.C. on Saturday, has scored 16 goals in 50 matches across all competitions and will be looking to hit top form ahead of the World Cup campaign with Belgium, Willian, who has scored 13 goals across all competitions this season, and will be a key player for Brazil in Russia, especially given the injury and fitness clouds surrounding Neymar, Olivier Giroud, who has been very good since joining the club from Arsenal F.C. in January, as well as Marcos Alonso, who was named in the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) Premier League Team of the Year for the 2017-18 season.

While for Manchester United F.C., goalkeeper David de Gea has been a superstar at the back, keeping 18 clean sheets in the Premier League this season, and was selected in the PFA Premier League Team of the Year, but in terms of the rest, Romelu Lukaku has starred, scoring 27 goals in 50 appearances, including five goals in as many appearances in the FA Cup, Nemanja Matić has been superb in the midfield, while Alexis Sánchez is a big match player, and will be looking to shine on English football’s biggest stage.

The tactical battle between the two managers in Antonio Conte and José Mourinho will be fascinating given their great desire to claim a trophy to perhaps save them from any possibility of the axe. However, it is more likely that Manchester United F.C. will have greater patience, and will give Mourinho more time to find the success they have struggled to find since Sir Alex Ferguson, regardless of the result on Saturday, compared to the owner of Chelsea F.C. Roman Abramovich, who won’t tolerate the failure to pick up silverware, and perhaps Conte, regardless of the result on Saturday, and given their failure to qualify for the UEFA Champions League next season, might jump before he is pushed.

This season, Chelsea F.C. and Manchester United F.C. are one win a piece against each other heading into the FA Cup final, and in head-to-head matches in recent years, Chelsea F.C. have won eight of the last 15 matches against Manchester United F.C., but have lost two of the last three encounters. Overall, Manchester United F.C. have won 77 of their 179 encounters against Chelsea F.C. across all competitions, with Chelsea F.C. winning 53 times, and there have been 49 draws between the two clubs.

However, it will come down to who is the better team on the day, and while I think Chelsea F.C. will be strong, I think José Mourinho will deliver Manchester United F.C. their 13th FA Cup to equal Arsenal’s great record in a tactical masterclass against Conte and Chelsea.

 

 

 

2018 A-League Grand Final – Preview

It is the biggest annual occasion in Australian football, but for the city of Newcastle, which will host its first A-League Grand Final, it will be its biggest football, and perhaps sporting occasion since the 2015 AFC Asian Cup semi-final, which Australia won comfortably over the United Arab Emirates (2-0) on-route to becoming the champions of Asia for the very first time after joining the AFC officially back at the start of 2006.

However, at McDonald Jones Stadium in Newcastle at 7:50pm on a Saturday night, it will be the Newcastle Jets under A-League coaching legend Ernie Merrick, a man who has won the A-League Championship (Grand Final) twice with the Melbourne Victory in 2006-07 and 2008-09, that will be taking centre stage in front of over 30,000 people, up against the Victory, who are coached by the man who captained the team under Merrick in their championship successes in 2006-07, 2008-09, as well as in their losing grand final effort in 2009-10 in Kevin Muscat, a man who has already won an A-League Championship as a coach back in 2014-15, as well as the FFA Cup back in 2015.

For the Melbourne Victory, success is expected for arguably the most-decorated club in Australian football since the A-League began post the NSL back in 2005-06, with three A-League premierships (regular season) (2006-07, 2008-09, 2014-15), three A-League championships (grand final wins) (2006-07, 2008-09, 2014-15), and one FFA Cup (2015). If the Melbourne Victory were to win the grand final, they would become the most successful club, in terms of A-League championships, in history!

For the Newcastle Jets, just being competitive has been the main aim for the club ever since they won their first and only A-League championship back in 2007-08, the third season of the A-League, and this just the second time they have made the A-League finals series in the last 10 seasons.

The club has had to deal with the hangover of winning the A-League championship, which sent the club to their first wooden spoon in 2008-09, and then their first appearance in the AFC Champions League in 2009, where they made it through to the Round of 16 under Gary van Egmond, but were beaten 6-0 by the Pohang Steelers.

After this, van Egmond left the club to take up an important developmental role with the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS), and was replaced Branko Čulina, the father of Jason Culina, who played 58 internationals for Australia, and joined the Newcastle Jets, but didn’t play a game for the club in 2011.

After just making the finals in 2009-10, the Jets missed the finals in 2010-11, but before the start of the 2011-12 A-League season, Nathan Tinkler, who had taken over the ownership of the club from Con Constantine in September 2010, sacked Branko Čulina from his coaching post four days before the start of the season, while he was at the A-League season launch, and beginning the process of having the contract of Branko’s son Jason set aside due to his long-term injury, and nepotism shown by Branko by signing Jason, even though he was out with a long-term injury, according to Tinkler, then-CEO Robbie Middleby, and the club’s advisory board.

After a brief caretaker stint from Craig Deans (three games), Gary van Egmond returned to the club as the ownership struggles of Tinkler began to surface, and thus the chances of the Newcastle Jets being successful under van Egmond for a second time began to go up in smoke. After keeping away the doubters for a long time, van Egmond was eventually and inevitably sacked on the 20th of January, 2014.

After Clayton Zane took over in a caretaker role for the rest of the 2013-14 season, Phil Stubbins took over for the entire 2014-15 A-League, but after the club’s worst season, was removed from his post after Nathan Tinkler was stripped of the club’s ownership licence, and the FFA took over the ownership of the club in May 2015.

After a further season of toil under Scott Miller, the FFA sold the club to Martin Lee and the Ledman Group on the 14th of June, 2016, and for his first move, Lee sacked then-current coach Miller just a month before the 2016-17 season, hiring Mark Jones as the new Jets coach. However, after a disappointing season, Jones was given the boot, and current coach Ernie Merrick became the man charged with taking the Newcastle Jets back to the top, and what a job he has done so far!

Second on the A-League Ladder, qualifying for the second preliminary round of the 2019 AFC Champions League, qualifying for the A-League Grand Final, in part thanks to one of the all-time great goals by Riley McGree, who is on loan from Club Brugge, and now an opportunity not only to win their second A-League Championship, but to upgrade to a spot in the group stage of the 2019 AFC Champions League.

So, who will become the champions of Australia?

It is so difficult to pick because I think both teams are evenly matched on paper, but perhaps the Melbourne Victory have the necessary experience on paper with the likes of Leigh Broxham, Kosta Barbarouses, Carl Valeri, James Troisi, Besart Berisha, Leroy George and even Terry Antonis, who turned from villain to hero to help Kevin Muscat’s team through to the grand final after scoring the winning goal in extra-time after scoring an own goal in second half injury-time to take the semi-final to extra-time.

However, the Newcastle Jets also have star quality though the likes of McGree, Daniel Georgievski, Nigel Boogaard, Nikolai Topor-Stanley, Roy O’Donovan, and Dimitri Petratos. I guess the big news story in grand final week will be the quad strain for goalkeeper Jack Duncan, and whether he can be fit in time for Saturday. Most people think he is no chance of playing, but the man himself is not giving up, but they have a perfect replacement in the experienced New Zealand goalkeeper Glen Moss.

Looking at the statistics of the two coaches in the years when they have won the A-League Championship, Ernie Merrick’s record as coach of the Newcastle Jets in 2017-18 hasn’t been as good in comparison to his championship years with the Melbourne Victory in 2006-07 and 2008-09.

However, it is better than Kevin Muscat’s, especially when you consider that his championship with the Victory was a shorter time ago, back in 2014-15.

However, grand finals are based on who is better on the day, and when I look at the two teams, I can’t help but feel that the success of the Newcastle Jets after years of turmoil has come just a little bit too soon, and despite the huge optimism and vocal support of the Jets across all areas, I feel like the Melbourne Victory, despite going to extra-time in the semi-final against Sydney FC, were dominant against the now-former champions, are the team with the slight edge.

Despite the Newcastle Jets leading the head-to-head battle this season against their grand final opponents by two wins to one, my gut feel tells me that the Melbourne Victory will claim the A-League championship for the fourth time, and become the most successful club, in terms of championships, in A-League history.

For the regional Australian city of Newcastle, and the supporters of the Jets, I hope I am wrong, but I feel Victory will claim the first grand final held in Newcastle.

The stadium issue in Sydney

Back in December 2014, I wrote an article on The Roar about the stadium issue in Sydney, and talked about the various options for sports stadia developments in Sydney.

I talked about ANZ Stadium, and the options for redeveloping the Olympic Stadium that has delivered Australia so many wonderful sporting memories. I talked about the options for Western Sydney, for which they have now decided to go with demolishing and building a new stadium on the land of the old Parramatta Stadium, as well as the options for Allianz Stadium, and for Brookvale Oval, a ground clearly in need of rejuvenation!

However, it has only been in recent times that all the stakeholders have moved to decide which stadiums should be redeveloped or built in Sydney.

As I briefly mentioned before, work on building the new Western Sydney Stadium on the site of the old Parramatta Stadium is well and truly underway with the 30,000-seat stadium set for completion in 2019, but news on the futures of ANZ Stadium, also known as Stadium Australia, and Allianz Stadium, also known as the Sydney Football Stadium, have been recently announced.

ANZ Stadium is set to be demolished and rebuilt into a 75,000-seat stadium, and reconfigured into a rectangular field, meaning that only sports played on a rectangular field, like rugby league, rugby union, and football can be played at the stadium. The stadium is set to feature a retractable roof, meaning that matches can be played in perfect conditions all year round. Construction works will begin in late 2019.

This is a slightly different plan from the one I talked about the stadium back in 2014, which planned on catering for all sports, including Australian rules football, and cricket, as well as having the possibility of hosting major athletics championships, such as the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) World Championship, due to the ability of being able to reconfigure the stadium from a rectangle to an oval, and vice-versa!

I would prefer that a redeveloped ANZ Stadium was able to cater for all sports (both rectangular and oval), and even if the cost of redevelopment is slightly more than to demolish and rebuild, would it matter if you had more sports and more teams using the venue on a regular basis?

I am not sure if I agree with the New South Wales (NSW) Government’s decision to demolish and rebuild ANZ Stadium, but I certainly agree that Allianz Stadium needs to be demolished and rebuilt, with construction works for Allianz Stadium beginning at the end of 2018.

The stadium is riddled with so many violations of safety standards, including violations Occupational Health and Safety (OH&S) Standards, and is not compliant with the Disability Discrimination Act in terms of offering the amount of seats/spots for people in wheelchairs to watch their favourite sports from a great vantage point.

In addition, I have heard that the standards of media facilities at Allianz Stadium is poor, as referenced by Phil Gould back in September, and with so many issues with the stadium, it is time for Allianz Stadium to be rebuilt!

However, the issue I have about the rebuild of Allianz Stadium is not that it is going to be rebuilt, but the eventual seating capacity of the new stadium is going to be around 45,000, which is roughly the same amount as it is right now, where in logical reality, it should be at least 5,000 to 10,000 more than that!

Overall, I fully agree to Allianz Stadium being demolished and rebuilt, but I think it is a massive call to demolish and rebuild ANZ Stadium, and I still believe that it should be a unique stadium that has the ability to cater for a multitude of sports, in all shapes and sizes, and that this could be down by a major redevelopment of the stadium, rather than a total demolition and rebuild job.

Don’t be surprised, perhaps in the near future, that if Sydney wants to host an IAAF World Championships, a Commonwealth Games, or even an Olympic Games that people will start complaining that Sydney doesn’t have an adequate, as in modern, stadium to host these kind of events, and that a brand-new stadium would have to be built, one that is extremely expensive, to cater for these kind of events, even though those same people complaining supported the decision of the NSW Government back in 2017 to demolish and rebuild ANZ Stadium into a national stadium catering for just rectangular sports!

 

 

The destiny of Australian football

Tonight, the destiny of Australian football, and of the Australian national football team goes on the line tonight in the second leg of the AFC (Asian Football Confederation) Fourth Round playoff in the qualification process for the 2018 FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) World Cup against Syria after a one-all draw in the first leg in Melaka in Malaysia, and there are a number of questions that have to be answered.

Will this be the last match for Ange Postecoglou as coach of the Australian national football team?

Will this be the last time Tim Cahill plays for Australia?

Will this be the last match that Mark Milligan plays for Australia?

Will Mile Jedinak ever play for Australia again? Jedinak is not a part of this squad due to his ongoing struggles getting over a groin injury.

Looking at the situation around Postecoglou, he has publicly admitted that he will quit his post at the end of the 2018 FIFA World Cup cycle, but whether that would change if Australia qualifies for Russia, or does well in Russia next year remains to be seen.

However, there are a few key questions that Postecoglou must answer, and address tonight.

Will he stick with his 3-2-4-1 formation?

Will he continue with his ongoing emphasis on having his team play a possession-based, high intensity style of game?

Will he be tempted to make some “out of the box” positional selections with his team?

As far as the formation is concerned, Postecoglou seems adamant that the 3-2-4-1 formation is the right way to go, given the players that he has, and the skill-sets that they have, particularly in the middle of the park.

However, this is not the formation I would use, especially in a national team set-up, where players have to come in, and perform straight away. You have got to use the KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) approach, but also give each player what they need to perform well at the same time.

Postecoglou, in my opinion, has made his tactics far too hard and difficult for his players to understand within a short space of time.

The most common formation used in the game of football today is the 4-3-3, and that is the formation I would use if I was coaching Australia.

However, as far as his team’s philosophy playing a possession-based, high intensity style of game, Ange Postecoglou has always got this spot on! And, in addition to this, he has the types of players in the national team who want to play this way, and love playing this way.

Postecoglou has gifted players, especially in attack, and in midfield who are good, potentially even great, with the ball at their feet, like Aaron Mooy and Tom Rogic in particular. The best way, and perhaps the only way, to use these skills to their fullest benefit is to play a possession-based, high intensity style of game.

However, are certain players playing in the right positions to allow the formation (3-2-4-1 or 4-3-3) and game style to work? Will he be tempted to make some “out of the box” positional selections with his team?

Judging by Postecoglou’s attitude throughout his coaching tenure with the Australian national football team, he is very stubborn and not willing to adjust his plans to much, especially in regards to where his players are best-suited, yet is willing to change his formation just because it has worked for someone else, even though it hasn’t been successful for too many teams at international level.

As I said before, I would use a 4-3-3 formation with the Australian national football team, but I think the most critical factor is the positions certain players play within the team.

While many people are talking about the prospect of Tim Cahill starting, the most important player within the team for this match, and going forward is Tom Rogic, and I feel that he has been under-used, and been placed into positions where he can’t use his full array of skills.

While he has been termed as an attacking midfielder, I feel the best position to use Rogic is as a false nine in a front three in a 4-3-3 formation, and barely anyone has realised that this may be the best way to utilise his skills.

Then you can use players who are speedy, such as Mathew Leckie and Robbie Kruse, up front to their best benefit. Then this snowballs into the midfield with Aaron Mooy and Massimo Luongo playing similar roles to what Xavi and Andrés Iniesta played in the glory days for Spain and FC Barcelona, and then through the rest of the team.

Then you have created yourself a team that has every chance of being success just by making a couple of adjustments, lifting the players within the squad to a whole new level.

In terms of answering the questions about the futures of Tim Cahill, Mark Milligan, and Mile Jedinak, if Australia were to not qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, their international careers are probably over, and if this is the case, the new coach who comes into replace Ange Postecoglou has got to make clear his playing and selection philosophy straight away, so that players understand what is required (and beyond) to be able to realistically expect to be playing for Australia.

The new coach must also address the issues within the youth pathways to ensure that Australia produces great young players who have the ability, and inspire to play on the world stage on a consistent basis, both at club and national team level.

However, Australia must first worry about tonight, and getting the result that they need to move through to play the fourth-place CONCACAF (The Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football) team in the CONCACAF-AFC playoff.

A scoreless draw, or a win would ensure Australia’s spot in that playoff, but a loss or a score draw greater than a one-all draw (e.g. 2-2, 3-3, etc.) would see Syria through to the CONCACAF-AFC playoff. A one-all draw after 90 minutes (regulation) would mean that we would go to 30 minutes of extra-time (15 minutes each way), and then possibly a penalty shootout should scores still be level at the same score that it was after 90 minutes, which means the away goals rules still applies in extra-time, should we get to that point, so if someone scores in extra-time, the result of the tie will be decided by the end of extra-time.

The destiny of Australian football is in their hands tonight!

 

My thoughts on the Australian Football Team

Before I start, I want to make it clear that the Australian Football Team still has an opportunity to make the 2018 Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) World Cup in Russia by firstly winning a two-legged playoff against Syria, the third-placed team from Group A from the third round of qualification in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), and then a two-legged playoff against the fourth-placed team from the fifth round of qualification in the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF), likely to be against either Panama, United States, or Honduras.

However, there are many issues within the Australian Football Team after failing to qualify automatically for the 2018 FIFA World Cup despite defeating Thailand a week ago in Melbourne, and despite losing just one match in the third round of qualification, but with five wins, four draws, and a single loss from the 10 matches they played in the third round of qualification, Australia didn’t quite maximise their opportunities that they had to qualify for Russia 2018, and in a couple of those draws, they were quite lucky not to lose.

So, what are the issues the Australian Football Team need to rectify to give themselves the best chance of qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup?

Well, the playing style of the national team is definitely not an issue! Ange Postecoglou and his team are taking the right approach with their fast-paced possession/passing-based pressing game, but I think he is starting with the wrong formation.

I believe Postecoglou should start with a 4-3-3 formation, at least in the earlier stages of a match, and if his team needs to chase goals, then he can change to a 3-4-2-1 formation, a variation of the 3-4-3 formation, which are both formations that are more offensive-minded in approach, but are both more unstable defensively compared with the more traditional 4-3-3 formation.

However, I believe Postecoglou is missing a trick or two in regards to the selection and starting position or roles of certain players, particular one crucial player, one game-breaker, and no one has picked this up. No one from Fox Sports, no one from Nine’s Wide World Of Sport, no one from SBS The World Game, no one from anywhere and of any supposed expertise has picked this up, and with a 4-3-3 formation, it would be the perfect way to use this potential superstar to his fullest ability.

That player is Tom Rogic!

Rogic, in my opinion, should be used as a false nine, and I have believed this for quite a while!

Rogic is the best player within the Australian Football Team set-up with his feet, and has the speed, trickery, and tactical ability to be playing as a false nine. Rogic is a similar style of player in my opinion to a Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo, and must be used in that way.

Rogic must be the focal point of an attacking raid, and must be able to receive the ball early, and with some space to allow him to run at defenders, who are often back-tracking, fearing about what he could do, beat and get past them, and aim to have a shot on goal at the end of the play, or to suck in defenders to give opportunities for his two teammates joining him in the front three, who would all be allowed to float around into different areas on the pitch to create opportunities for each other.

Why both Ange Postecoglou for Australia, and Brendan Rodgers for Celtic F.C. haven’t cottoned on to the idea of using Rogic as a false nine in their teams I have absolutely no idea, given their knowledge and thirst to play and coach possession-based, attacking football, and especially in regards to Rodgers at Celtic F.C. considering that Scottish football has been in the doldrums for a very long time, and something must drastically change within Scottish football if they are ever going to regain any sort of credibility on the world stage again.

Back to the Australian Football Team, and the type of players that could joining Rogic in that front three are the likes of Mathew Leckie, Robbie Kruse, and Tomi Juric just to name a few, the players who have high work-rates, plenty of speed, and have the ability to latch onto passes from either the midfield, or from Rogic to have goal-scoring opportunities of their own, or create opportunities for Rogic to score.

Someone like Tim Cahill would be used off the bench to change the game as an impact player, especially when Postecoglou wants to change his tactics in search of more goals.

When looking at the midfield three, one of the midfielders would be used in a defensive role, while two would be used in a more attacking-minded role. The two midfielders I would use in the more attacking roles would be Aaron Mooy and Massimo Luongo. They would play similar roles to the likes of Xavi and Andrés Iniesta, with Mooy playing more of the Xavi role, who like Mooy, his strongest asset was his passing game, while Luongo would play more of the Iniesta role, who like Luongo, has had the ability to run, pass, and often at the most crucial times, especially in the big matches, score a match-winning goal, or a goal to put his team in-front.

In terms of the defensive midfielder, I have got two schools of thought on this.

The first school of thought would be to use Mile Jedinak as that defensive, holding midfielder, and I believe Jedinak has a similar skill-set to a Yaya Touré, who actually started out as a central defender, before moving forward to a defensive, and then an attacking midfield role. Yaya Touré is versatile in that regard, and like Jedinak, is brilliant at taking set-pieces and penalties.

The second school of thought would be to use Mark Milligan in that role, similar to a Sergio Busquets or Philipp Lahm type of player. The height of Milligan sits in-between the height of Busquets and Lahm, and has probably had a similar career progression to a Lahm, starting out as a right back before moving into the middle of the park as a defensive midfielder, but Milligan, like Busquets, spent time early on in his career as a central defender before moving into the midfield.

Milligan has a similar skill-set to Busquets and Lahm, great positional sense, defensive ability, tactical sense and verstality, and has a wonderful ability to read the game so well.

I have no outright preference for who gets the role, although when you break it down, Milligan is probably better on the ball that Jedinak, and Jedinak probably has the skills and the height that would fit more typically into a centre-back role, but Milligan has had more experience in a central defensive role, and despite his short height, would have a greater understanding on what it takes to play in the position.

However, whoever misses out on the defensive midfield role I would select as one of the centre-backs, and beside him I would have someone who has always played in that central defensive role, probably Trent Sainsbury.

As for the right back and left back positions, I want players who are quick, and can assist regularly in attack, as well as be strong in their defensive responsibilities. Milos Degenek appears to be the clear choice at right back, but at left back, there is plenty of competition, but at this stage, I would go with Alex Gersbach as Brad Smith is out of form and not playing regularly for his club, while Gersbach is playing regularly and is in great form.

As for the goalkeeper, I would keep the status quo in Mathew Ryan.

While many of you may not agree with my suggestions, particularly in regards to Tom Rogic, you can definitely see that I have a vision, and a vision that could see Australia qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, and possibly do well if they get there!

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Before I finish this post, I want to mention that I am looking forward to the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) Champions League group stage getting underway tomorrow morning Australian time (Tuesday night European time) with a number of big matches on Matchday One, most notably Barcelona and Juventus tomorrow morning, and Liverpool up against Sevilla on Thursday morning Australian time (Wednesday night European time), which are just a couple of the big matches coming up this week in the best club competition in the world. I cannot wait!