Livin’ in a land Down Under

by Back Page Football

A-League fan Darren Lutton gives BPF an insight into goings on in Australia as football takes Queensland by storm.

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What a difference a week makes.  Had this article been written last week the contents would be much different.  The Brisbane Roar had their first win, Gold Coast United had their first loss and the North Queensland Fury gained their first point.

So what of these Queensland teams?  How will they go?  Can they win the league and who should you look out for?

The new franchises for 2009 (Fury and Gold Coast) have affected Brisbane Roar in a number of ways. They’ve have had a name change to distinguish themselves from their banana bending counterparts.  There’s a new CEO.  They’ve lost players and are financially embattled.  For the first game against the Gold Coast they had 19,000 fans.  The past two matches have had less than 8,000 per match; playing at a ground where they need 20,000 to break even.  Alarm bells are ringing.

However on the field there is a lot to like.  Henrique may well be the import of the season.  His darting runs and skill are a delight to watch.  Sergio Van Dijk is an outstanding tall lone striker.  He cops a lot of unfair stick from the fans but he works so very, very hard.  His ability to control the ball with his back to goal is the best in the league.  A lot of what he does goes unnoticed by the fans.  He has scored already this season and looks set to continue the flourish with which he finished last season.  Danny Tiatto is in good form as a defensive midfielder and does the simple things well.  He just needs the discipline to stay on the field for 90 minutes as his reputation as a hothead guarantees him a card a game.  Craig Moore shows that he could yet make it to South Africa for the World Cup.  Then there is the energy supplied by the kids: Zullo, Oar, Kruse, Nicholls.

On the down side I identify two main problems: Charlie Miller and Frank Farina. One look at Charlie and the age old question “who ate all the pies?” is answered.  When he’s not on the field the Roar look dynamic, slick and pacey.  With him on the field they look disjointed and slow.  He is a decent player as his record shows but he just doesn’t fit the system.  Frank Farina was sacked as Socceroo coach for not being good enough.  With a bit of improvement he’s almost found his level.  Miller aside, he has the right system for the team with a great spine and fast young wide players.  However, he let’s himself down by leaving too much space between the midfield and defence.  The Roar are also notorious for losing their shape which leaves them vulnerable and exposed.

With a bit more discipline and organisation, they could be title contenders. There is enough quality in the squad to make the finals and I fully expect them to do so. With a bit more discipline and organisation, they could be title contenders.  But not this season.

North Queensland have Robbie Fowler.  Can you believe it?  What a coup.  He is a true marquee signing.  If you manage to catch a Fury game this season have a look in the crowd.  I guarantee there will be Liverpool and to a lesser extent Man City and Leeds fans at matches whom are there just to watch him play.  He scored a cracker against Adelaide  which showed that he still has the skills and the slower pace of the A League should suit him.

But what about the rest of the team? Well, David Williams is one to watch.  I think he’s in for a great season.  Karl Dodd and Shane Stefanutto provide a good base at the centre and left of defence. Ufuk Talay shone like a beacon when he has played and Daniel McBreen looks to be a good acquisition.  The rest?  Well, there’s a bit to do.  A big problem is the centre midfield and goalkeeping positions.  The Fury have conceded a lot of goals and the finger is being pointed at the defence.  But when a team is losing the midfield as often as they are it’s no wonder they are conceding.  I’ll be polite and say that Paul Henderson in goal has yet to hit form.  Here’s hoping he finds it soon. (look under the couch Paul, maybe it’s there…)

I fully expect them to claim some scalps as the season progresses and the team begins to gel.  However, at the moment they are a disjointed unit.  They are trying to play with the right principles but it’s taking a little while to come together.

Gold Coast United.  Jason Culina. Glamour club. Headline makers. What a shot in the arm for the A-League they are.  A big-mouthed owner, quality players up and down and left and right of the pitch and the mercurial Miron Bleiberg.

Yeah but are they any good? The short answer is yes.  The clinical method with which they put away the Roar and the Fury was pure class.  Sure there was a blip against Newcastle and the end to the unbeaten season.  However, in an away game they dominated possession and got caught out by a great finish on a counter attack.  Hardly a cause for concern.

There are some great players in the squad that are a pleasure to watch.  Scott Higgins has been brilliant in goal.  Jess Van Stratten will have some work to do to displace him when he comes back from injury.  Bas Van Den Brink has been unflappable in defence.  Shane Smeltz has picked up where he left off last season and is banging them in for fun.  He has a good partnership with Joel Porter and they should terrorise opposition defences.  But it’s the midfield where the fun times are.  Pantelidis, Anderson, Caravella and that bloke named Culina.  Oh boy.  How good is he?  He just runs the show.  One interesting thing to note when he plays is when one of his passes doesn’t connect.  Just watch him blow up his teammates for not being on the end of his passes.  Just how long will his team mates tolerate it?  Do they dare bite back?

Fully expect to see the Gold Coast challenging for honours at the end of the season.  All the ingredients are in place.  Expect the Roar to fall short again and don’t be surprised when the Fury upset your team.

Keep an eye out for Darren’s updates throughout the season

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