As one legend walks into the sunset another marches on

While cricket fans the world over have only a few more weeks before the final curtain falls on Sachin Tendulkar’s astonishing career, devotees of the round ball football code here in Australia can delight in the enduring talents of Alessandro Del Piero until at least next May. The Italian lit up the first game of the new A-League season, scoring one and creating the other of Sydney FC’s goals in a comprehensive two nil victory over the Newcastle Jets. In doing so will have delighted both the sky blue-clad fanatics in the cove and the television executives who are this season giving the game its first airing on free-to-air television.

Del Piero’s 19 years at Juventus are as meritorious as Tendulkar’s 24 in international cricket, given the combative nature of Italian football. All the more so as he has always been a marked man, the silky skills and threat he poses earning him special attention from hatchet-men Pietro Vierchowod, Fabio Cannavaro, Jaap Stam and their like. Less than a month out from his 39th birthday Del Piero still appears to be everywhere on the pitch, the speed of his football brain more than making up for that lost from the legs. His goal on Friday exemplified the panic he engenders in the opposition, his marker seemingly covering his run into the box until he was impeded by a team mate convinced more than one defender is needed to stop the Italian maestro.

Alessandro’s master class was one of the high points in a see-saw weekend for Australian game. Big gates in the opening round of the A-League – over 45,000 were at Etihad Stadium for the Melbourne derby on Saturday night – and a pulsating Grand Final rematch were the other highlights. A second consecutive 6-0 drubbing for the Socceroos, this time at the hands of the French, and a lacklustre goalless draw between Victory and Heart in front of such a large and passionate crowd were the minuses. The capitulation in Paris cost Holger Osieck his job: it may result in Ange Postecoglou forsaking his at Melbourne Victory, but only because he is one of the favourites to replace the German in the national role. I have never heard the term “rainmaker” used as often as in the last 72 hours, but I hope the FFA do not appoint a big name manager on a short term contract just for the World Cup. Guus Hiddink did a great job with the Socceroos in South Korea & Japan in 2006, but surely now it is time to make an appointment with the future in mind: Hiddink and other foreign coaches would probably only be interested in the World Cup in Brazil next June – Australia host the Asian Cup in 2015 and will hope to go deep in that tournament, so putting the person who will be in charge then with immediate effect makes more sense.

Joel Chianese was the other star of Sydney’s victory, he looked increasingly dangerous as the second half wore on and it was no surprise he scored the second, when Del Piero dispossessed Jets defender Caravella. Newcastle were competent in possession but lacked a cutting edge. Their fans can only hope their injured strikers return as soon as possible – marquee player Emile Heskey is likely to be out for another month but coach Gary Van Egmond hopes to have Michael Bridges back next week.

The clash between last season’s top two was a high quality contest. The Western Sydney Wanderers shaded the first half, only for Marcos Flores, playing for his third A-League club, to create a chance for Central Coast Mariners early in the second half which was expertly finished by Mitchell Duke. The Wanderers earned the point their enterprise deserved when new signing Tomi Juric expertly converted a Youssouf Hersi cross at the near post with three minutes to go.

Elsewhere a late Ivan Franjic strike gave Brisbane Roar a 2-1 win at injury plagued Wellington Phoenix. The home side battled hard for new coach Ernie Merrick, former title winner when in charge of Melbourne Victory, and did well to go into half time in front. Prolific Brisbane striker Besart Berisha had had a number of chances before the break, however, and netted within a minute of the restart, and the Roar’s experience eventually told. Adelaide United finished with nine men but still beat visitors Perth Glory 3-1, thanks mainly to a scintillating first half performance from Jeronimo Neumann. The Argentine scored twice in the first half hour, sandwiching a Nagai goal for the Glory, and Adelaide looked home and dry when Ferreira gave them a two goal buffer after the hour mark. They had to dig deep, though. They incurred an A-League record eight yellow cards, and Isaias and Boogaard received two each meaning both had to watch their team mates see the side home without them.

Every generation has its heroes, but stars that burn as brightly and as long as Tendulkar and Del Piero are rare. We should thank the Little Master for the pleasure he has given us, even when racking up the runs in Perth or Sydney his innings were a study in how test cricket should be played, and thank our lucky stars we can still enjoy the Italian showcasing his brilliance, on our own shores, for a little while to come.


  1. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Thanks Tim Great Summary I enjoyed you connecting Del Pierro with The Little Master
    The other unfortunate performance of the opening round was by Ben Williams as a fellow umpire referee he wanted to be noticed more than the other prima donna
    Razor Ray ironic that the A league is as healthy as it has eve been while the
    Soccerroos continue to fall away
    Overall a excellent report look forward to reading more
    Thanks Tim

  2. Luke Reynolds says

    Great work Tim, every bit as good as your Rugby reports. Great to have some A-League coverage. I watched two A-League games on TV on the weekend, Sydney v Newcastle and the Melbourne derby. Loved the Sydney Newcastle game, Del Piero is wonderful to watch, his goal was sensational. The derby was just awful, neither team seemed to have any interest in actually winning the game. As a Victory fan it was very disappointing. Great crowds for Round 1, this comp will only get bigger. Keep up the great writing Tim!

  3. Great coverage Tim. Being a non-racing man these days and having given up on cricket (actually cricket gave up on me first) I have been tossing up about whether to give my affections to the Glory, Wildcats or garden this summer.
    I was prepared to give the Glory a try, but that performance was awful. Are they any hope if they lose 3-1 against 9 men.
    Do you have an opinion of what went wrong with the Socceroos? The 2 recent performances against Japan were top notch against quality opposition, then nothing since they qualified. Was Holger that bad? Do the older Europe based players only put in when there is something on the line? Were they coaching themselves in the qualifiers, and they won despite Holger? I just don’t get how you get so bad so quickly.
    Must ask Woosha. Keep the summer football reports coming. Loved it.

  4. Tim Ladhams says

    Many thanks all for your comments, A-League seems to be gaining a larger footprint on our sporting landscape every year.

    Wouldn’t worry too much about the Glory yet Peter – Adelaide have made Hindmarsh a fortress for a few years now, and the second red was only 10 mins before the final whistle so they were able to really park the bus for that period. Not always easy to work out best way to exploit the numerical advantage, England couldn’t score against New Zealand when they had a man in the sin bin in the semi at the Gold Coast 7s at the weekend, and that was 7 against 6 on a full size pitch…..the kiwis do seem to be born with some genetic superiority when it comes to rugby (mind you, they carried off the Booker Prize overnight, too!).

    I don’t think Holger really got to grips with having his top players on the other side of the world and so rarely available to train together. It may indeed be that the performances against Japan were collective will of players with experience in the top leagues and tournaments. No coincidence that Hiddink got the best out of the Socceroos when he’d had them together for a long period of time. That will always be the challenge for Australian coach, at least the new man will have the squad for an extended period in the run-up to Brazil, and that man now looks almost certain to be Ange.

  5. Well done Tim, very well researched and written. The comparison with Tendulkar was very good.

  6. Peter Fuller says

    Valuable record of the first round Tim, thanks. I’m with Heart but missed Saturday night because of a football presentation night.
    It does seem to me that the standard of the comp is gradually improving, and that for the most part, the Australian clubs have been fortunate in the commitment shown by their marquee players. There’s always a danger when sportspeople are signed up primarily as a marketing tool, that they will fail to perform at a satisfactory standard. Del Piero, Heskey, Ono and others have certainly met expectations on the pitch.
    I wonder if van ‘t Schip is too left field to be considered for the Socceroos job. He strikes this (admittedly not well-informed) fan as technically astute, efficient at developing talented young players and with a good handle on who is available at home and in Europe

  7. Tim Ladhams says

    Absolutely right about the marquee signings, Peter, they’ve mostly delivered on and off the field. Your own club has been very unlucky with this year’s new man Orlando Engelaar breaking his leg in a pre-season friendly, but I understand things may not be as bad as first thought: initially thought to be season-ending they now think he might make it back in three months. John van ‘t Schip is a very good technical coach but probably doesn’t have the persona to front up as international manager – I think his current new role overseeing the hands-on coaches and coordinating the youth teams is ideal for him. I reckon it’s only a matter of time before Ange is unveiled as the new Socceroos coach.

  8. Luke Reynolds says

    Peter F I’m stunned you are a Heart fan. A great man once told me everyone looks better in Navy Blue!!

  9. Peter Fuller says

    Caught in the gully with that observation.
    I’d explain it as initially based on Heart’s being the non-Victory. I don’t (didn’t) like Muscat or Geoff Lord (the foundation chairman/owner). I went to a few Victory matches in the early A-League years without ever feeling that they were “my team.”
    I liked the Heart’s claimed playing style – even if they have not really applied it to any effect, up till now – and admired van ‘t Schip. The clincher was the red and white stripes of my tragic team in the EPL – Sunderland “It’s the hope I can’t stand.”

  10. Luke Reynolds says

    Fully understandable Peter. I was very impressed with the way the Heart launched themselves and could well have supported them if they and the Victory had started at the same time. But I was a rusted on Victory fan by that time. And I’d find it hard to barrack against a team that wore Navy and had a white V on their shirt. Probably rare amongst Victory fans, but the Heart are my 2nd team. Being a proud Victorian of course.

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