Sunday, January 23, 2011

Brisbane Roar – Last Season’s Chumps to This Season’s Champs

Rewind to this time last season for the Brisbane Roar FC.  The Ange Postecoglou revolution had just started and a faltering Brisbane Roar were already looking to build for next season. After the end of yet another disappointing season, the Roar finished a lowly ninth out a possible tenth on 30 points, two points below A-League debutants and rivals North Queensland Fury with many whom had predicted would end up with the wooden spoon.
 A tremulant end of, close and off season saw many players come and go, most notably the release of Former Socceroos Craig Moore and Danny Tiatto and the releases of Scottish international Charlie Miller who left mid-season to rivals Gold Coast United and goalkeeper Liam Reddy to Wellington Pheonix. The club also saw the talented trio of Michael Zullo, Adam Sorata and Tommy Oar transferred to Dutch club FC Utrecht, while talisman striker Serjio van Dijk switched sides and joined Adelaide United. Other players were also released, retired or had their contracts mutually terminated, so this in turn left a “skeleton squad” with a lot of work for Ange Postecoglou and his backroom staff to rejuvenate a squad that has in the past shown so much promise, yet failed to translate it into tangible results.
In what was the busiest off season for any of the A-League clubs (bar new boys Melbourne Heart FC and the North Queensland Fury v2.0), the club from Brisbane saw an introduction of 12 new faces including:

- Michael Theoklitos from Norwich City in England
- Shane Stefanutto from North Queensland Fury
- Erik Paartalu from Greenock Morton in Scotland
- Thomas Broich from 1. FC Nuremberg in Germany
- Jean Carlos Solórzano on loan from L.D. Alajuelense in Costa Rica

A great work ethic, fuelled by desire to rid their tag of the league’s perennial underachievers saw the Roar get season off to a blistering start, drawing against rivals Gold Coast United in the opening round before going undefeated until Round when losing 2 – 1 to Melbourne Victory.
  The Roar have (at the time of publishing) gone a remarkable A-League and Australian football record 23 games undefeated, beating the previous record of 21 set by APIA Leichhardt in 1987.

But what is the secret to their success? What is about this Roar side who have captivated audiences, pundits and naysayers alike with their very attractive brand of attacking football (no, the Barcelona FC comparison will not be alluded to) that have made them a shining example of Australian football? It’s hard to pinpoint exactly, but it can come down to a few reasons.

The first is the introduction of a coaching revolution. The 2009/2010 team was compounded with an aging squad, unsettled by divisions in the squad and the infamous Frank Farina incident. When Farina was released just over midway of the season, the Postecoglou revolution set about changing the dynamics of the squad by cutting out the deadwood and introducing young, hungry players as well as quality imports. Postecogolou has a tremendous track record of working with youth squads, being the Young Socceroos U-20’s coach for seven years (2000 – 2007) as well as coaching NSL powerhouse South Melbourne FC to two NSL titles. He is noted for identifying and developing young players and using them to their maximum capabilities, and haven’t the results payed dividends. Players like Mitch Nichols and Luke DeVere have really flourished under the Postecogolou revolution, proving how important it is to have an injection of youth in your first team squad.

The second is the addition of quality players, both Australian and overseas players. Who’d of known of German midfield dynamo Thomas Broich in Australia before he was signed by the Roar? Exactly… It’s the proper selection of finding imports (not just scouting them on DVDs and YouTube) that have added a much needed zest to the squad. Broich, working alongside fellow midfielder and team captain Matt MacKay have supplied the Brisbane attack with much needed service, while bagging a few themselves. Broich’s mastery of the ball from the centre of the park has played a great role in why the Roar are probably the most potent team in the league this season. On loan and in form striker Jean Carlos Solórzano got off to a slow start but has proved to be quite a handy signing, constantly challenging for golden boot honours. Partnered with the now departed Reinaldo, they formed a very attacking and lethal strike force which could punish any defence.
The return of Michael Theoklitos to the A-League from Norwich City has reaped massive rewards as his dynamics, marshalling of the defence and consistent upon consistent performances are a real reason why the Brisbane defence refuses to leak so many goals. With players like Erik Paartalu and Shane Stefanutto in front of him, the Roar defence has turned from last season’s chumps to (inevitably) this season’s champs.

So with the minor premiership basically all but wrapped up, the Brisbane Roar have proven that with the proper mentality, proper coaching and a balanced playing roster, a team can go from perennial underachievers to the envy of all clubs in the league. The challenge now  remains for the boys from Brisbane is to maintain their hot form well into the finals series.

By Marcel Abboud - Football Correspondant and Facebook follower

Spanish Premiera - Almeria vs Real Madrid - Review

Real Madrid has suffered a setback in their title ambitions with a 1-1 draw against Almeria, who are currently bottom of the La Liga table. A stubborn Almeria side prevented Los Blancos from securing all three points, despite the away side having an abundance of opportunities to grab the winning goal. Esteban Granero’s equalizer for Madrid cancelled out Jose Ulloa’s opener, but the result could nonetheless prove to be costly for Mourinho’s men in their pursuit to regain the La Liga title.

The first half was undoubtedly a quiet affair, with Los Blancos controlling play but unable to break the deadlock. The best chance of the opening 45 minutes fell to Angel Di Maria; a brilliant low ball by Kaka found Ronaldo who nearly slotted the ball past Diego alves, only for the goalkeeper to make a stunning close-range save. When the ball fell to Di Maria, the Argentine failed to capitalize on this golden opportunity with a mis-kick. The somewhat dull first half included very few other chances, with Almeria attacking mainly on the counter-attack.

The second half began with Madrid far more enthusiastic and lively than Almeria, and a Xabi Alonso long range strike and Sergio Ramos’ header nearly gave the away side the lead. Not long after this Kaka made way for Karim Benzema, despite the Brazilian being much more effective on pitch than fellow midfielders Mesut Oezil and Angel Di Maria. However, it was not long before the hosts surprisingly grapped the opener, courtesy of a run from Pablo Piatti who stormed into the penalty box before the ball fell to Ulloa who calmly slotted home past Casillas.

A tactical substitution soon followed, with Ricardo Carvalho and Granero on for Raul Albiol and Marcelo respectively. Real Madrid’s attempts to find the equalizer began soon after, with Ronaldo looking to respond immediately with a low shot at Alves’ near post. The ball was then ultimately diverted wide of the post by the goalkeeper’s foot. However, Madrid were not the only attacking side and Almeria could have been two goals up when Vargas controlled a cross field ball well and turned past Carvalho, but the ball was trapped under his feet before he could find the chance to have a shot at Casillas.

While Madrid continued to venture forward, they never really tested the Almeria defence or Alves, with Benzema barely touching the ball.

Los Blancos then soon challenged for a penalty when Ronaldo was brought down by Juanma Ortiz from behind, but the referee ordered play to continue, much to the dismay of the Madrid supporters. The equaliser was coming though and when Benzema did well to hold off two defenders from outside the box, he flicked it to the onrushing Granero who hammered the ball into the back of the net above Alves’ head.

With both teams aiming to find the match winning goal, tensions were high in the Stadium de los Juegos Mediterráneos, but neither team seemed to be able to break the deadlock. It was not until the very end during injury time that Ronaldo had two free kicks in ideal positions, with the second attempt striking the cross bar. Xabi Alonso latched onto the rebound with an excellent strike, but when the ball was blocked it was all over. The conclusion of the game was a bitter affair, with Casillas and Fabian Vargas coming together and having a heated argument, only for their teammates to come to their defence in what was an unsavoury end to the match.

The result leaves Madrid trailing Barcelona by 4 points at the top of the Primera table. Jose Mourinho will undoubtedly hope that his side’s title ambitions have not been dented, although overhauling the points deficit will be no easy task for Los Blancos. Almeria, on the other hand, still remain rooted to the bottom of the table, two points from safety. This particular result will surely provide them with a much needed confidence boost ahead of this week’s Copa del Rey clash with Deportiva La Coruna.

Final Score: Almeria 1 - Real Madrid 1


By Alexander Novo - Spanish Correspondant

Friday, January 21, 2011


As you may have noticed Play the Advantage has not been able to update you with the latest football news. Our writers are currently on holiday and we would like to give them a well deserved break from both their work and their writing. We will be back up and running in the next few days. Thanks for all you support. Keep the articles flowing!


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Monday, January 17, 2011

Roque Santa Cruz loaned out to Blackburn Rovers

Manchester City reject Roque Santa Cruz has returned to the club that brought him to England on a loan deal. Santa Cruz has been unhappy at City, often left out of the squad in favour of Carlos Tevez, Baotelli and with recent signing Dzeko this looks to continue.

The Paraguayan will hope to get regular playing time at the club as he continues to try and re-discover the form that made him wanted across Europe.This is the second time Cruz has been at the club after signing from Bayern Munich before he went on to then join Manchester City.

He and Blackburn will want to make the deal permanant if Santa Cruz once again finds his prolific scoring form.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

A-League Round 23 - Sydney FC vs Melbourne Victory - Review

Two of the some of the A-League’s biggest clubs met at the Sydney Football Stadium last night (15/1/2011) in what can be effectively called Sydney FC’s “do or die” match against their arch rivals Melbourne Victory for a chance to qualify for the finals series.

A very frenetic, sometimes physical match ended with both teams taking a share of the spoils in a pulsating 1 – 1 draw that surely left many Sydney FC fans with their hearts on their sleeves. For all the Sky Blues’ possession and domination in the first half, they were unable to break down a stubborn Melbourne Victory defence. A few reflex saves by Petkovic saved the blushes of what looked like a depleted Victory backline, missing the services of inspirational hardman Kevin Muscat (suspended) and young defender Adrian Leijer.

Great lead up work from Hirofumi Moriyasu saw his shot come back off the post while a great header from Brazilian Bruno Cazarine was saved by the boots of Petkovic, arguably the two best chances of the first half. Melbourne lacked vigour in the opening stages and at times couldn’t keep up and stop the quick feet and creative work of sometime Socceroo and man of the match Nicky Carle.

The second half was a completely different story and the Sky Blues were made to pay for their lack of a finishing touch as on the Victory came out blazing with Melbourne coach Ernie Merrick making a very attacking substitutions in the way of Mate Dugandzic and Matthew Foschini. Carlos Hernandez slipped through the ball for a quick Victory counter as Danny Allsopp made his return the Australian domestic football scene scoring a looping deflected effort past Sydney keeper Liam Reddy.

Melbourne then sparked into life and absolutely dominated the remaning proceedings, as Sydney FC’s touch seemed to have gone passed them. An absolute air-swing by youngster Dimitri Petratos in the final third of the game could have sealed it for the homeside, but it was not until the introduction of right back Shannon Cole that Sydney FC showed some determination to at least snatch a draw. His delightful lead up play and resulting shot just ended up wide of the Victory posts, a bright moment in what was a dull half for the reigning champions.

When it seemed the game was set to end in the Victory’s favour, Finnish import striker and fan favourite Juho “The Surgeon” Mäkelä excellently latched onto Nicky Carle’s shot-come-pass to slot it passed the Victory, grabbing a late equaliser in the first minute of extra time to send the crowd of over 11,000 into raptures.

The pre-game press was dominated by Sydney FC’s CEO Edwin Ludgt coming out and saying that his side will “smash” the victory, but yet even though the Sky Blues managed a late and dramatic draw, it was the Victory who really come out as victors here. They further cemented their top six aspirations and at the same time have crushed their rivals’ very slim chances of ever making the finals series.

So for Sydney was it one point gained or two points crushed? In retrospect, all signs definitely point to the latter.

By Marcel Abboud (Facebook Follower) and Football Correspondant

LUHG Mokum

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Cahill supports Queensland Flood Relief Appeal

As we've earlier reported Queensland has been hit by a flood of massive proportions. The widespread destruction has resulted in the loss of many lives, thousands of homeless, lost businesses and has even affected football in the area with Queensland's iconic Suncorp Stadium going under water.

Everton striker and Australian international Tim Cahill has shown his support in the relief appeal. Cahill's initiative invloves an Ebay auction for the "opportunity of a lifetime". Tim is offering a chance for two people to go and watch him play for Everton in the Premier league. His package includes two flights, accomodation, box seat tickets, Cahill's signed boots, team signed Everton jersey and a chance to attend a team training session. All proceeds from the raffle will obviously be donated the relief appeal.

Bidding has resembled rapid fire as the price of the experience moved past the 400000 Australian Dollar mark. Along with this football Australia has donated $100000 and pledged all ticket sales next week to the cause.

Cahill is currently in international duties with the Socceroos in the Asian Cup.

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Lukaku interest generates a £25.2 million price tag

Sensational 17 year old Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku has been tipped to leave Anderlecht this January as he generates interest from the biggest clubs around Europe.

Clubs including Real Madrid, Chelsea and Liverpool have expressed their interest to sign the teenager. However Lukaku wishes to stay in Belgium until he completes his schooling and turns 18. This decision was welcomed by the club who have already turned down offers in the previous transfer windows.

Lukaku has indeed expressed his will to sign for Real Madrid in the past. However according to Anderlecht they believe that he would be better suited to the style of the Premier League.

Lukaku's tall figure makes him a defenders worst nightmare, his shooting ability and pace will certainly take him far into the future, where he may just be able to establish himself as one of the world's best players.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Alex Terra on Fire in the A-League

Brazillian import Alex Terra has prodcued a spectacualr goal in his sides 1-1 draw.

Check out the goal below.

Steven Pienaar transfer offer accepted

According to Everton manager David Moyes midfielder Steven Pienaar may be on his way out this January after the club accepted a bid from a club agreeing to sell.

The club that the South African is destined for is still unknown however he is still yet to agree to individual terms. Moyes claimed that he was going to be moving only to a bigger club and that he will fit in well if the deal goes ahead.

The money recieved from the deal will be a much needed boost for Everton. The club rarely has money to splash out on the market with, so the selling of Pienaar may just see some new blood arrive.
Pienaar has been a star performer for the toffees since arriving from Borussia Dortmund a few years back.

The deal will be completed by the end of the January transfer window if all goes well.

Italian Serie A January transfer window roundup

We take a look at the clubs looking to make a move for a player, and those looking to offload those not performing very well.

Ac Milan: Milan have already made a move and have successfully signed Antonio Cassano from Sampdoria on a free loan deal. However with a lengthy injury to Silva, Milan may just sign a centre back to help fill in the ranks. Van Bommel has been at the top of Milan's wish list.

Inter Milan: Once again Inter look to spend little on the market. Although the defending Italian Champions are also in the hunt for Van Bommel. Inter continue to cultivate their youth and alot of young buys may be on the cards including Luc from Feyenoord. An audacious comment about bringing Ac Milan's Pato to the otherside of Milan look to have gone astray.

Juventus: The Turin giants have a string of injuries to deal with this season. Especially upfront where only two of their 6 strikers are fit. Juventus have been linked with a host of big forwards including Suarez and Benzema. They have also been in the hunt for a right back and that looks to almost be complete with the club confirming that they are in talks with Barzagli of Wolfsburg. It also looks like Juve will be offloading some under performers including Amauri and maybe Grosso.

Roma: Roma have loaned Cincinho to Villarreal just recently and will look to replace the Brazillian. Vucinic has also been tipped to leave the club. With growing German interest the right sum of money could see him leave Rome. Julio Baptista has left Roma so they to may be looking for some fire power upfront. Fiorentina hitman Alberto Gilardino has been tipped as a possible replacement.

Napoli: Napoli are trying to cement their position in the Serie A top four. Although interest in their stars Hamsik and Lavezzi may just prevent them from doing this. Interest from Juventus in the Slovakian and Premier League interest in the Argentinian may just see a large sum of money arrive at Napoli this January.

Palermo: Javier Pastore has been valued at 80 million by his club, nevertheless interest from Chelsea, Real Madrid and Barcelona is still present. Pastore has guided Palermo to a strong league position. They are very keen on holding on to the young superstar.

There looks to be much movement in the Serie A this January and Play the Advantage will try and ensure that you hear about every move as it happens. If you are looking for news for smaller Italian clubs let us know and we will take a look deeper into the Transfer window.

News from La Liga in the coming days.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Premier League January transfer window roundup

We take a look at the clubs looking to make a move for a player, and those looking to offload those not performing very well.

Arsenal: Arsene Wenger came out after his sides' 1-0 loss to Ipswich claiming that he was looking at offloading "flops" as he labelled them. Players that look to be leaving the Emirates include Arshavin, Almunia, Bendtner and Denilson. Arsenal were in the hunt for a centre back, Liverpool's Daniel Agger was apparantly in talks with the club regarding a loan deal.

Chelsea: Creativity has been lacking upfront of recent and Chelsea will be looking to add some spark in the midfield. A big name looks to be arriving at Stamford Bridge, Kaka may just be the player Chelsea need to contest the title. Interest in Bosingwa from Italy may just see Chelsea looking for a wingback also.

Liverpool: Kenny Dalglish came out this week saying that he content with the squad at hand. Nevertheless Liverpool have been linked with a number of strikers to help bring some goals to the club. Amauri and Suarez have been reported to be of interest to the Reds. Torres may also be on the move after a poor season this year. Fullbacks Glen Johnson and Daniel Agger have been attracting attention from Juventus and Arsenal.

Manchester United: Alexis Sanchez has long been tipped to join the Red Devils and this January the deal might be set in stone. Per Mertesacker has been linked with United as a busy schedule will see Ferdinand and Vidic needing rests. Wes Brown has attracted the interest of Tottenham and may just leave by the time the window closes.

Manchester City: Eastlands has already seen Edin Dzeko arrive this window however, City will look to unload from their surplus of strikers. The first to go look to be Adebayor and Santa Cruz who have not been getting as much playing time as a player of their calibre deserves.

Tottenham: After a stellar start to the season Gareth Bale has attracted the interest of the biggest clubs around Europe. However Tottenham will not let their wing man go. Tottenham have been in the hunt for David Beckham of late and a move to the club looks unlikely, but Beckham desperately wants to return to England, so stay tuned.

Aston Villa: Lyon have confirmed talks that midfielder Jean Makoun is in talks with Villa. They were also linked with an audacious loan move for Real Madrid's Karim Benzema but Jose Mourinho has looked to quell the talks. Blackpool's star performer Charlie Adams has also gained the interest of Villa scouts.

There looks to be much movement in the EPL this January and Play the Advantage will try and ensure that you hear about every move as it happens. If you are looking for news for smaller EPL clubs let us know and we will take a look deeper into the Transfer window.

News to come from Serie A and La Liga in the coming days.

Coppa Italia - Juventus vs Catania - Review

Juventus have put a two loss streak to an end, by comprehensively accounting for Catania in their Coppa Italia round of 16 clash. The Bianconeri scored two goals through wingers Pepe and Krasic. Although another injury, this time to newly bought Luca Toni will dampen spirits. Catania offered little on the night, giving Buffon an easy return to Italian football.

Juventus looked good from the onset with Milos Krasic returning to his deadly form constantly causing trouble down the wing. Although it was Catania who would almost go ahead with Delvecchio not being able to finish from inside the box, then again from a header which sailed well over.

Juventus were under pressure again although this time Luca Toni went down injured, providing Del Neri with another attacker who would be missing through injury. It was Alberto Aquilani who came on for Toni .

The Old Lady put the injury behind them going on to take the lead through a well worked goal. Inspirational captain Alessandro Del Piero, jerked inside the box, turning away from his marker. The veteran then expertly set up a ball over the top to Krasic who finished on the volley with ease. It was almost Del Piero assisting another teamate just two minutes later as Marchisio was stopped trying to round the keeper.

Juventus went on to dominate possession for the remainder of the first half. They came out in the same form in the second. After winning a few consecutive corners Simone Pepe latched onto a Chiellini header to the back post to also volley the ball into the net, much the same as teamate Krasic.

Juventus saw out the remainder of the match, much the same way they went about gaining the lead. Dominating possession whilst ensuring that their passing was accurate and creative. Felip Melo muscled out the Catania midfield and Juventus looked to be a revived team after their loss to Napoli last week.

Juventus face Bari this weekend and will hope to turn the tides on a first matchday loss.

Final Score -       Juventus 2        Catania 0
                            Krasic 35
                            Pepe  54

Man of the Match - Alessandro Del Piero (Juventus)

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Asian Cup 2011 - Australia vs South Korea - Preview

In what should prove to be an exciting encounter for both fans on opposite ends (and the spectating neutral), Australia will come up against what is probably their hardest test thus yet in the group stages when they take on two time former Asian Cup champions South Korea. There’s a lot at stake for both teams as a win will secure either team’s passage into the knockout stages of the tournament, while the looser will have to see how results come to fruition with the group’s remaining  games.

Coming from a convincing 4 – 0 win over India in Group C’s, the Socceroos will have it all to do when the face a strong South Korean side who, with a win over the Socceroos, can secure their passage into the knockout stages of the Asian Cup. Although India showed a lot of courage, they were in reality a few classes below the “new found attack prowess” of the men in the Green and Gold. The combination of Harry Kewell and Tim Cahill leading the attack reaped great dividends, as the Australian midfield fed and supplied the back of the Indian net with an abundance of goals. While the Australian defence had next to nothing to do during their encounter with the Bhangra Boys, it can be said that they were found wanting when India did manage to produce a few counter attacking opportunities. This will be severely tested against the speed and agility of South Korea, who are known for the high work rate and their speed within the midfield. Though Australia possess the physical strength and height (thanks to players such as Sasa Ognenovski  and Tim Cahill) to out muscle their opponents, this proved to be the opposite as the last time these two sides met, South Korea came out as convincing 3 – 1 victors.

Although defeating fellow knockout stage hopefuls Bahrain 2 - 1, the Taeguek Warriors were given a run for their money as it turned out that the men from the Gulf were no easy beats. The South Koreans tasks will be made just that much harder as starting centre-back Kwak Tae-Hwi was shown a straight red and given his marching orders after conceding a late penalty. Many Manchester United fans and football enthusiasts will recognise a familiar face as inspirational leader and team captain Park Ji-Sung looks to further galvanise a strong midfield, all the while using fellow English Premier League player Lee Chung-Yong of Bolton Wanderers fame on the right wing. Known to be lightning quick on the break, Lee will be hard to shut down along with the rest of the Korean attack with the Socceroos needing to sure up their defences if they are to withstand the quick feet of the men from the East.


A great, attacking game should ensue with not only both sides having a lot riding on the outcome of this game, but the makeup of the entire Group C. A win will see the victor progress, while the looser will be sweating results elsewhere.

By Marcel Abboud - (Facebook Follower) - Football Correspondant

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Arsenal fails to dominate in the Carling Cup, whilst Liverpool continue to slip in the Premier League.

Action from England saw a couple of fixtures take place overnight. The most prominant being Liverpool's league match with Blackpool and Arsenal's clash with Ipswich in the Carling Cup.

In Dalglish's first league game as the Red's manager Liverpool were looking to put the first half of their season behind them and begin a climb up the ladder. It looked to be a promising start for the away side as in the third minute, out of form striker and Spanish international Fernando Torres found the back of the net after just 3 minutes.
Although Liverpool failed to push forward after the goal, preferring to sit back and try and hold out for the rest of the match.

Blackpool on the otherhand looked very lively in attack. Gary Taylor-Fletcher equalised for the promoted side and the game looked to be turning in Blackpool's favour. The Liverpool defence looked non existant in Taylor-Fletcher's goal as a lazy midfield failed to track back, mixed with a bit of luck he easily slotted the ball past Reina.

Blackpool continued to dominate the match and almost went ahead just minutes after the halftime restart, online prevented from some excellent keeping from Reina. Although all the attack from Blackpool would pay dividends as later in the first half a long Blackpool pass was headed onto Campell who added to the score sheet with an unstoppable header. The goal proved to be the winner as Blackpool inflicted yet another loss on Liverpool. Liverpool stay on 25 points just four away from relegation.

The coaching change in Liverpool highlighted that the issue isn't with the quality of coaching, but maybe with the players.

Home advantage counted in Ipswich as Arsenal were defeated 1-0 by the home side in the Carling Cup. Arsenal have alot of work to do in the second leg tie as they were comprehensively dominated by the Suffolk side.

Hungarian striker Tamas Priskin was by far the best player on the pitch as a goal late in the second half saw the underdogs, defeat a fairly strong Arsenal side. Looking to win their first piece of silverware in five years Arsenal started with Arshavin and Fabregas to help bolster attack. Althpugh Ipswich went closest to scoring in the first half, with Arsenal's best opportunity coming from a freekick which resulted in nothing.

The scond half saw play open up as Ipswich stunned the Gunners by holding a majority of the possession. They were rewarded with a goal when a nicley played through ball found Priskin and he cooly slotted the ball home to stun the travelling fans and send the stadium into raptures.

Arsenal will most likely play a full strenght squad in the second leg to try and turn the tie in their favour and bring home a trophy to the emirates.

Football in Lebanon...Fair Play for None…

It’s been well documented in the media that the A-League crowds for the 2010/2011 season are drastically lower than previous seasons, with fans not turning up to games for one reason or another. Many say its due to the league being “stale” or the level of play isn’t “exciting enough” or they blame it on the timing, weather and the lack of promotion. While football in Australia tends to fair not as well as an Australian football fan would like in comparison to other national leagues, it certainly has made an impact since the sport’s overhaul in 2005.

But while many tend to complain about the crowd numbers but yet lack the “proactiveness” to do anything about it, spare your thoughts for the Middle Eastern nation of Lebanon.

It’s certainly a country that loves its football, but in Lebanon the sport is in trouble, thanks largely to the politicisation of the game and fears for the security of spectators.

In this tiny nation of just over four million people, football is one of the most popular sports, and any game played could easily fill up any stadium. Unfortunately for the fans of the world game, due to the tense and sometimes violent political atmosphere, they are forced to either watch from nearby apartments, wait outside their stadium, or view proceedings on live television.

Introduced to the country in the late 1800’s by foreigners and made popular by the immigration of Armenians to Lebanon and while under the French Mandate, The first competition was played out in 1934 and in 1936 Lebanon joined football’s governing body, FIFA.
Football is played everywhere: from the parks to the streets, it’s not uncommon to see a game being played amongst friends and youth. But while the playing of the sport is widespread, its active support of its league is dwindling.

For more than three years now, the Lebanese Football Association (LFA) has imposed a ban on spectators out of fears that sectarian violence could break out. This decision was made in the aftermath of the 2006 Israeli war as the government concluded that large gatherings of football fans, many of whom are divided amongst religious and political affiliations, would be best avoided due to the prevailing tensions.

In Lebanon, where politics dominates life, many teams are backed by political parties or religious groups. For example, Al-Ahed is backed by the political party Hezbollah through their television station Al Manar; former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri supported both Al-Nejmeh and Al-Ansar; Shabab al Ghazieh is a Shia Muslim team from the south; Druze politicians support Safa Beirut while Christian majorities support both Club Sportif La Sagesse and Salam Zgharta. The lack of funding of the game has paved the way for such groups (whether for noble or other purposes) to step in and take control of the clubs.

“There are always political problems because every team belongs to politicians and the fan starts to hit each other with cans, sticks, guns or anything else,” says Badwi Al-Maarrawi, a Salam Zgharta fan in the northern town of Zgharta. “The soccer in Lebanon is going down, there is no advertising, no money and no government support.”

Many teams choose players not on their skill and ability, but on their political backing and religion. “There are a lot of good players [in Lebanon]. Some of them go to Germany to play in the Bundesliga, but here there is no support for teams, no budget…” explains Mr Al-Maarawi. Many parties use the teams as a form of political propaganda, with the stronger teams paying bribes to politically aligned teams to roll over and lose, a sign of the political tug-of-war in Lebanon. A victory against a rival team is a victory over a team’s political and religious foes.

For many, the only way to watch their teams play is either through live television, listening to it on radio or for the die-hard ones, sneaking past security to watch it live.

Violence has broken out in the past as gun incidents and fan troubles are common, with players and coaches sometimes targeted. In 2007, Hussein Dokmak and midfielder Hussein Neim (both of Al-Nejmeh), along with Serbian manager Nenand Stavric were all killed in a roadside bomb blast on their way back from training, the very same bomb that killed politician Walid Eido.

Information about the sport inside Lebanon is scarce on the internet. The LFA doesn’t have an operating website; the only official link to FIFA is the organisation’s webspace on the FIFA website. A Google search comes up with either out-dated match reports about various club exploits or of American football being played in Mt Lebanon in Pennsylvania, USA.

Any curious-minded individual would in their first instance turn to Wikipedia to satisfy their curiosity about the sport, but yet the information on some of the various clubs/players/seasons are horribly outdated (with some information still up from 2007) or are incomplete. Most websites that do provide weekly updates are (rightly so) in Arabic, but even some of the clubs websites like Al-Nejmeh haven’t been updated since 2007.

Even though the fan ban doesn’t extent to the national team, support is still not as strong as it could be. While football is a passion for many, the Lebanese team, currently ranked 154 with fellow minnow teams like Chinese Taipei and Myanmar further up the ratings ladder, suffers from lack of funds and lack of support from its own people. Teams like Brazil and Germany are followed passionately by the whole nation due to their international exploits, with towns littered in their colours and flags. Yet fewer than 800 turned up to see Lebanon face Uzbekistan in a qualifier for the FIFA World Cup at the Camille Chamoun Sports City Stadium in Beirut, which can fit just under 50,000 people.

“Many people follow teams like Brazil and Italy in Lebanon and whenever they play, it’s like a carnival atmosphere,” says Nicholas Toubia, an architectural student and a Lebanese football fan. “There are many flags put up on homes when they play, but when Lebanon plays many people either don’t know or don’t care. For many, Brazil is their national team.”

So as the war wounds in this tiny nation are slowly healing, its football continues to die a slow death. So next time the fans of Australian football berate each other for not turning up to games and conjuring up excuses for not turning up, just spare a thought for their Lebanese counterparts sitting on the fence trying to watch their team play.

By Marcel Abboud - (Facebook Follower) - Football Correspondant

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Floods and Football

For our international readers around the globe, you may be unaware of the current disaster occuring in Australia. Play the Advantage is a football site based in Australia so it is only natural that we offer our support to the flood disaster, by generating awareness in the global community.

Queensland is often referred to as the sunshine state however over the past few weeks extensive rain has caused 75% of Queensland to flood. The disaster has cause much grief to residents and Australian's alike. Amongst the anguish Australia's A-League has also been affected by the rising water. The Football match scheduled to go ahead between the Brisbane Roar and Wellington Phoenix was postponed for two reasons, including the fact that resident cannot access public roads as well as the issue of the pitch being under water.

Although the game is the least of the states worries and what will certainly be on the mind of the players is the welbeing of their friends and families. The devestation has caused much damage to the agriculture industry as well as businesses around the CBD. With Brisbane being under water Queensland has come to a halt, as people wait for the water to subside.

For those of you interested in helping out the flood victims we have provided the link to the Red Cross donation site.