Thursday, January 5, 2006

Adelaide Defy Critics

A League news
Adelaide Defy Critics

Unfancied Adelaide United have one hand on the as-yet-undesigned Premiers Plate after storming to a seven-point lead in the inaugural A-League with only five rounds to play. Tipped by many as a team destined to struggle given their policy of recruiting players from the former national league, the almost wholly Adelaide-born squad have defied their critics all season long.

An uneventful pre-season (albeit unbeaten) forced most pundits to rule out the aging side coached by ex-Socceroo striker John Kosmina. But a solid start, the replacement of Aurelio Vidmar with former NSL player of the year Fernando Rech and the rise of Chinese international Qu Shengqing have all played a part in driving Adelaide clear at the top of the table. With the premiership all but in the bag, Kosmina's final challenge will be to reenergise his squad ahead of February's finals series.

Adelaide were pillared earlier in the season for an alleged dour brand of defensive football. But with Rech and Qu firing on all cylinders upfront, the shackles have been tossed away. Before the mid-season break, brilliant Brazilian Rech - the former Palmeiras and Internacional striker who Kosmina convinced to return down under after coaching him during a three-year stint at the Brisbane Strikers - struck the winner in a 3-2 victory over closest rivals Sydney FC.

He followed that up with two more opportunist strikes on Sunday against a demoralised Queensland Roar to take his tally to six goals in 10 starts for his new club. More hard working than flamboyant, Rech's brand of samba spirit has catapulted Adelaide to an almost unsurpassable lead. With Romario as his role model, the former World Cup number ten would have been proud of both Rech's goals in the 4-2 demolition of Queensland: the first an intelligent back-post conversion; the second an unstoppable close range header.

The floppy haired ex-Chinese international Qu, though, scored the pick of the bunch as the Roar were blown away with a first-half burst of three goals in 11 minutes after daring to take the lead. Carl Veart controversially won the ball in midfield and fed the striker who, with one quick glance, assessed the opportunity of chipping visiting keeper Tom Willis. He executed a perfectly weighted lob with delightful ease.

Veart is another many thought unlikely to have a significant say in the title race. But from the moment the ex-Sheffield United and Crystal Palace veteran headed the historic first-ever A-League goal in August, he has remained a regular contributor. Of late, that has been in a deep-lying midfield role similar to the one Dwight Yorke has adopted at Sydney FC. Not that it stops him scoring, a converted penalty at the weekend equalling Rech's tally of a round half-dozen.

Another star is captain Ross Aloisi, brother of World Cup qualifying penalty hero John. But speak to any player from Rech to Aloisi to Veart and they'll all espouse the club's formidable team spirit. Adelaide's policy of recruiting players familiar with one another from the old regime doesn't look quite so ridiculous after all.

Nor does the club's decision to stick with John Kosmina as head coach when all those round them were scoring the globe. Englishman Steve McMahon has already left Perth Glory despite leading them into the top four while even German World Cup winner Pierre Littbarski's contract at Sydney is far from assured in spite of recent exposure.

A win over Melbourne Victory in round 17 would have even the most conservative of supporters rubbing their hands. That would stretch the lead to 10 points with second-placed Sydney taking on the third-placed Newcastle Jets this weekend. What is certain is Adelaide will have the premiership wrapped up before the final match of the regular season in early February. Kosmina will be doubly pleased. His side will almost certainly travel to Aussie Stadium in Sydney in round 21 simply to collect the Premiers Plate. No win necessary. Now who wants to criticise that?

Hyundai A-League Summary Round 16

Sydney (28 points), Newcastle (24), the Central Coast Mariners (23) and Perth Glory (23) are all realistically battling for the remaining three finals spots behind Adelaide. Melbourne Victory (20) are hanging in there, while Queensland (18) seem to have blown their chances and the New Zealand Knights (five) are bottom despite holding the Roar and Sydney to creditable draws in recent rounds.

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