Tuesday, August 9, 2005

A-League Season Preview Part 1

With the new season touching distance away, Marc Fox previews the eight teams battling for the inaugural A-League prize.

NEW ZEALAND KNIGHTS

Despite an ordinary series of displays in the pre-season tournament, the New Zealand Knights won’t be the whipping boys many pundits are predicting.

Under manager John Adshead, coach of New Zealand’s national side when the All Whites qualified for the 1982 World Cup Finals, the Knights have recruited deliberately ahead of the inaugural A-League.

In an attempt to avoid the struggles they endured under the guise of the Football Kingz in the now defunct National League, the newborn Knights have picked up a number of players with English league experience.

Most notably, their acquisition of former Wolves and Crystal Palace utility man Neil Emblen, who will line up as a screening midfielder rather than central defender, brings Premier League know-how to the spine of the team.

Further forward, Adshead is relying on Englishmen Sean Devine and Simon Yeo to bang in the goals. Between them Devine – formally of Barnet, Wycombe and Exeter – and ex-Lincoln City sharpshooter Yeo have scored almost 200 goals in the lower leagues.

Meanwhile, tough central defender and captain Danny Hay can count Manchester United, Liverpool and Barcelona as opponents during his brief spell with Leeds United.

Key man: Sean Devine


ADELAIDE UNITED


Adelaide United’s A-League preparations received a setback when veteran striker Aurelio Vidmar announced his decision to retire just 24 days before its opening fixture against Newcastle United.

Vidmar, the well-travelled forward whose position on the starting XI had been under pressure after failing to hit the net in eight pre-season matches, will be replaced in the 20-man squad within the next fortnight but remains as assistant coach.

Even though the 38-year-old former captain had only been expected to play a bit part this season, he had been pressed into action while marquee signing Shengqing Qu reached full fitness.

No doubt contributing to his decision, some sections of the media had been critical of Vidmar and fellow striker 35-year-old Carl Veart’s performances upfront. Questions were asked as to whether the local favourites had the legs to compete in the combative new format.

By stepping down, Vidmar opens the door for the gifted Qu to make an impact worthy of Adelaide’s investment.

The 30-cap Chinese international aside, United’s squad has a substantial South Australian contingent. Coach John Kosmina has convinced Adelaide-born Angelo Costanzo to return home after five years at Marconi with the former Socceroo a vital cog in Adelaide’s engine room.

Moreover, ‘keeper Daniel Beltrame rejoins from Parramatta and young defender Adam van Dommele from Hartlepool United after a brief spell with the English League One side.

Key man: Angelo Costanzo


NEWCASTLE UNITED


Officials at Newcastle United will be trying to suppress a smile that dangerman Nick Carle was overlooked by Socceroos coach Guus Hiddink in the Dutchman’s first national team squad.

The gifted left-sided player should be hugely influential for the Jets by providing the fluency to link midfield with attack. Carle is arguably the most talented homegrown player to feature in the inaugural A-League season.

Saying that, team-mate Jade North was called up to Hiddink’s training camp, with the full-back certain to play a role in the qualifiers against the Solomon Islands in September given Australia’s recent defensive frailties.

Manager Richard Money, a knowledgeable European coach who holds the UEFA Pro Diploma licence, was the final piece of a well-constructed puzzle at Newcastle.

The Englishman arrived in Australia with the foundations of a strong side already recruited including an experienced backbone of Craig Deans, Ned Zelic, Richard Johnson and Ante Milicic.

Zelic, the enigmatic marquee signing who returns home after a decade playing in Europe and Japan, will most likely line-up alongside Johnson in central midfield although can play in defence if needed.

Johnson also possesses bags of know-how from his 12 seasons in England while Deans collected National League titles with Perth Glory in its final two seasons. Striker Milicic only missed out on a Socceroos squad place due to injury.

Key man: Nick Carle


QUEENSLAND ROAR


Despite being edged out of the pre-season tournament at the group stage, the attacking approach of the Queensland Roar will trouble the unprepared this season.

The homecoming of former Marconi striker Alex Brosque, voted young player of the season in the last year of the National League, was a feather in coach Miron Bleiberg’s cap and the 21-year-old forward will threaten from a starting position on the left flank.

Bleiberg’s preferred philosophy sees Brosque joined upfront by a couple of former under-20 team-mates from his time in Australia’s youth set-up – Jonti Richter on the right and Michael Baird furthest forward.

This exciting triumvirate will be among the quickest in the league although they do lack game-time together.

The Roar’s South Korean defensive midfielder Seo Hyuk-Su is another talented addition to Australian football, the former K-League star deployed to protect the back four and get forward momentum moving quickly.

Countryman Shin Tae-Yong is more of a creative influence ahead of Seo. His appearances at two World Cup finals in the 1990s speaks volumes for the former captain of K-League champions Seongnam Ilhwa.

The Roar might be an unfamiliar team with few big names but they aim to take advantage of a rigorous pre-season fitness campaign and the renowned climate of Queensland’s summer.

Key man: Alex Brosque

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