In a week when the FFA has announced a new Socceroos coach (Holger Osieck – no, me neither) and national hero Mark Schwarzer edged closer to becoming Arsenal’s latest butter-gloved goalkeeper, the talk in Australian football circles has been dominated by one subject: the overcoat of extrovert North Queensland Fury coach, Franz Straka.
His striped beige sports jacket resembles something Larry David would wear whilst remonstrating with a dentist’s receptionist; an effect that was enhanced when Straka gesticulated wildly to the crowd in the closing stages of Fury’s deserved 2-1 win over Sydney FC on Saturday evening.
Straka was entitled to be excited – after an off-season that saw the Fury come close to extinction, most pundits had written off their chances before a ball had even been kicked. Despite having an abstract approach to defending, their attack has pace, mobility and a youthful zest. Chris Payne in particular shone against his former team, who were punished for their frustratingly conservative approach.
Sydney’s poor start to the season was mirrored by Melbourne Victory, who went down 2-0 at home to Perth Glory. The match was Victory’s first at the new AAMI Stadium, which has the pleasing external appearance of a Bond villain’s moonbase. To mark this occasion, the organisers pinched one of the more annoying visual elements of the recent World Cup and had the players file past a plinth with the match ball atop. For one delicious moment, it seemed that the referee had forgotten to pick up the ball – something I’d wanted to happen at every match in South Africa – but it was just part of a convoluted ceremony that involved Archie Thompson presenting the ball to the officials. Life really is just one long series of minor disappointments, isn’t it?
In celebration of the 40th anniversary of theVictorian government ‘s decision to make the wearing of seatbelts mandatory – and I’m not making this up – Melbourne’s shirts incorporated a white seatbelt design. The obvious joke, and one which I’m not above making, being that Carlos Hernandez’s kit also featured twin airbags and a sizeable rear bumper.
The match itself was notable for the extreme levels of unpunished violence. Perth’s captain Nathan Burns killed eight men in the first half alone. Despite having the appearance of someone who should have a row of colour-coordinated biros along his breast pocket, referee Gerard Parsons was surprisingly lenient. Regardless of protests about Perth’s physical approach, Melbourne were out-thought and out-played. The away side took the lead through a header from Jamie Harnwell (although some letters had peeled off the back of his shirt, so it may have been Harnv ll), and then sealed the points with a long-range shot from Mile Sterjovski, which was followed by an unsettling celebration that featured the whole team squatting by the corner flag as if preparing to deliver a steaming critique of Parsons’ refereeing performance.
The previous evening, Wellington Phoenix and Gold Coast United played out a highly-entertaining 3-3 draw in monsoon-like weather conditions. Playing on what is essentially a bog may not be an issue when the occasion doesn’t warrant the ball being on the ground (rugby matches or New Zealand internationals, for example), but is reasonably fundamental for a football match. Wellington adapted quickly and raced into a 3-1 lead, thanks in part to a brace of goals from Chris Greenacre (who knows what enabled the Wakefield-born Greenacre to be so comfortable in this relentlessly bleak environment?). But as the game progressed, Gold Coast United’s players realised the futility of trying to gently pass the ball through ankle-deep surface water and modified their approach accordingly. Jason Cullina directed a late header into the bottom corner to earn a draw after a resurgent Shane Smeltz had earlier scored two fine goals – clearly he was one of the six people who read my criticism of his performance last week.
Later that night, Melbourne Heart claimed their first A-League point in fortuitous circumstances at Newcastle. Having broken the record for the longest a new A-League team has gone without scoring, and falling behind to a soft Jeremy Brockie strike, Heart appeared to be heading for another defeat. However, under no pressure, Newcastle defender Ben Kantarovski scooped the ball past his own keeper, perhaps succumbing to the kind of impulsive urge you sometimes get to slap your boss in the face during a perfectly civil conversation. Or is that just me? Either way, no-one seemed very impressed.
An exciting weekend of action was rounded off at the Bluetongue Stadium, where Central Coast Mariners drew 1-1 with Adelaide. Something interesting probably happened, but I wouldn’t know as I was watching old episodes of Deadwood. Ian McShane is good, isn’t he? Week Two and I’ve already given up on Adelaide.
Remember, you won’t get A-League analysis like this anywhere else on the internet. Keep reading, Smeltzy.