Keepers to the fore as Ange bows out with a win

Before the Socceroos became regular qualifiers for World Cups and the A-League a lucrative destination for international stars nearing retirement, Australia’s most notable footprint on world football was its goalkeepers. Mark Bosnich, John Filan, Brad Jones and Zeljko Kalac all excelled at big clubs in Europe’s top leagues. And on the evidence of the latest round of A-League games the keepers winning plaudits overseas now – Mark Schwarzer and Adam Federici in England and Mitch Langerak playing in Germany’s Bundesliga – will have plenty of competition when new coach Ange Postecoglu names his first Socceroos squad.

Newcastle goalie Mark Birighitti repeatedly kept out home side Wellington Phoenix to ensure the Jets a share of the spoils across the ditch in Napier. Danny Vukovic made a miraculous save in the final minute of the game in Perth to deny Melbourne Heart’s David Williams what looked like a certain equaliser. And Eugene Galekovic had a fine game despite ending up on the losing side as Adelaide United lost one-nil at defending champions Central Coast Mariners, his contribution ensuring a tight scoreline despite the home side dominating the game and creating a host of chances.

Both keepers were also impressive in the round’s biggest game on Friday night, as Melbourne Victory boss Ange Postecoglu signed off as an A-League manager – for the meantime, at least, and, Socceroo fans hope, for many years – with a win over his previous employers Brisbane Roar. With both sides producing the attacking, quick passing football ingrained in their players by Postecoglu, this was an entertaining game and both goalies were kept busy. Michael Theo had to be on his game straight away, sprinting off his line in the second minute to prevent Costa Barbarouses latching on to delightful through ball from Mitch Nichols, as the Victory looked to ensure their manager went out on a high note from the off.

Theo was called upon a number of times to ensure the Roar went into the break level, though he will be disappointed that James Troisi was able to squeeze home what proved to be the game’s only goal from a narrow angle soon after the restart. After an hour he compensated with a stunning save as he managed to get a fingertip to a Mitch Nichols curler which looked bound for the top right-hand corner. Between the goal and that save, at the other end, Nathan Coe saved smartly from the dangerous Ivan Franjic to keep the Victory in front. There were emotional scenes as the final whistle confirmed a one-nil win for Postecoglu – the outgoing coach thanked his players and staff to a man and lingered in front of his army of fans behind the goal.

The absence of Besart Berisha, and events elsewhere, confirmed the other truism of the weekend – that most A-League teams rely on their marquee players for success. Despite the coaches talking up the depth of their squads and assuring fans they do not rely on one player, the reality is different. Brisbane Roar played some good football against the Victory but badly missed the cutting edge Besart Berisha gives them. The Albanian has scored over fifty times in his first two seasons with the Queenslanders, and his presence is vital to turn their approach work into the goals it merits. Despite the Heart narrowly missing out on a point, due to Vukovic’s late save, Perth Glory bossed that game and the Melbourne team will be praying Harry Kewell recovers from the whiplash injury he incurred in the first game of the season for their trip to Brisbane next Sunday afternoon.

The most telling tale of the marquee players’ importance, however, came in the Sydney derby. Over 40,000 people turned up at the Sydney Football Stadium and they saw Japanese superstar Shinji Ono inspire Western Sydney Wanderers to victory over a Sydney FC side rendered impotent by the absence of Alessandro Del Piero. Ono planted a vicious, dipping free kick onto the head of Iacopo La Rocca who nodded the Wanderers in front after barely ten minutes, and followed up with a piece of individual brilliance before the half-hour mark to make the three points safe. Ono juggled past two Sydney defenders and volleyed the ball into the corner as he fell to the ground.

A forty yard thunderbolt from Nicola Petkovic which cannoned back of the bar aside, Sydney FC failed to make any impression on their neighbours and look rudderless without Del Piero. Although the game was one-sided the pulsating atmosphere created by a record crowd for an A-League game at the venue, and the typical derby commitment out on the field – seven yellow cards were shown by referee Stele Delovski as he strove to keep control – shows the Sydney against Wanderers clashes are rivalling the Melbourne derby between Heart and Victory for intensity and passion.

Brisbane Roar remain top of the table with six points after three rounds of the A-League season, but some big guns are hot on their tails. Last year’s grand finalists, Central Coast and the Wanderers, and the Victory remain unbeaten and all three are only a point behind Brisbane having secured their first wins of the season. It is likely Kevin Muscat will have officially been appointed Ange’s replacement as Victory coach by the time they entertain the Phoenix on Melbourne Cup Eve – after six years as a player at the club and three years as assistant coach he should not find the transition too arduous.

Comments

  1. Luke Reynolds says

    Tim, for mine Galekovic is by far the best keeper in the A-League and has been for some time. Big fan of Langerak, surely he will be the main Socceroo keeper sooner rather than later.

    Muscat is ready, working under Postecoglou would have been ideal for his coaching preparation. Interesting to see how a contending team copes with the loss of a high profile well regarded coach very early into a new season.

  2. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Thanks Tim as a huge fan of , Eugene Galekovic it seems strange that he is not
    playing overseas have you got any thoughts ?

  3. Tim Ladhams says

    Thanks for your feedback guys. I’m surprised Galekovic didn’t go overseas this year – only supposition but perhaps the fact that the new Adelaide boss was a keeper and comes with experience coaching at Barca tipped the balance in favour of him staying and signing the three year extension.

    I really think he might now be in pole position for the no 1 Socceroos gig, Ange is more likely to pick someone playing week in week out against quality forwards like Schmelz, Berisha, Del Piero and Heskey rather than guys warming benches in Europe – even if they are the benches of Chelsea and Dortmund. Langerak needs to overtake Roman Weidenfeller as first choice pdq to ensure he is heir to Schwarzer’s throne, otherwise I reckon the job’s Eugene’s.

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