Monday, February 13, 2006

Bad Timing Opens Doors For Locals

Haphazard scheduling has forced Australia into naming an experimental 18-strong travelling party for next week's Asian Cup qualifier with Bahrain.

Somehow the Socceroos' opening participation since being welcomed into the Asian confederation at the start of the year doesn't fall on a FIFA-protected match date, a ruling which means clubs are not forced to make players available for national team duty the way they are on official FIFA dates.

And while the management of the 24 AFC members who open their 2007 Asian Cup qualifying campaigns are scratching their heads over that decision, they have another quandary to contend with. Next week is also chock full of European club competition making a mockery of the AFC's midweek scheduling for what is expected to be Australia's toughest assignment throughout the six-match preliminary phase.

Among those players unavailable because of Champions League or UEFA Cup duty are regular first-teamers Mark Viduka, Mark Schwarzer, Scott Chipperfield, Harry Kewell, Jason Culina and Zeljko Kalac. Meanwhile, Blackburn, Everton and Parma have also taken advantage of FIFA's relaxed rules to stop the likes of Brett Emerton, Lucas Neill, Tim Cahill, Marco Bresciano and Vince Grella linking up with the squad.

The conclusion is sure to leave the Bahrainis happier than the Australians.

In all, of the 18 players head coach Guus Hiddink selected for the second leg of the World Cup playoff against Uruguay late last year, only two - Tony Vidmar and Josip Skoko - remain. Even Hiddink himself is tied up with the first leg of PSV Eindhoven's Champions League tie with Lyon leaving assistants Graham Arnold and Johan Neeskens in charge.

The Aussies, though, are well versed in coping with player absences. And as always, when the door shuts for someone, it opens for another.

In the squad announced on Friday, the Socceroos have welcomed six newcomers including a credible four from the Hyundai A-League. In total, an unprecedented eight players have been selected from the local competition, something nobody dared dream during the dark days of the former NSL.

Among those, Adelaide United defender Michael Valkanis will hope to make his full international debut aged 31 while 20-year-olds Spase Dilevski and Nick Ward have enjoyed rapid promotions from the under-20 squad which competed in the World Youth Championship last year.

“I am thrilled that we have such a strong team even without some of the boys who are tied up with European commitments,” said Arnold who will take the reigns as the senior coach on the night.

“Several of these players have been very close to earlier selection and now their time has come. With Guus having made it clear that the team for the World Cup in Germany is in no way settled, we are setting the scene for a very competitive selection for June.

“Bahrain is on form the hardest team we will meet in the Asian Cup qualifiers - having narrowly missed World Cup qualification in the play-off against Trinidad and Tobago - and we are impressed with what we have seen in the extensive footage we have of their recent matches.

"It will take a team as strong as the one we have selected to test them to the full when they are playing at home.”

Ante Covic (Hammarby, Sweden), Michael Petkovic (Sivasspor, Turkey)

Michael Beauchamp (Central Coast Mariners, Australia), Alvin Ceccoli (Sydney FC, Australia), Jon McKain (Timosoara Politechnica, Romania), Jade North (Newcastle Jets, Australia), Michael Thwaite (FC National, Romania), Michael Valkanis (Adelaide United, Australia), Tony Vidmar (NAC Breda, Holland)

David Carney (Sydney FC, Australia), Spase Dilevski (Queensland Roar, Australia), Ahmad Elrich (Fulham, England), Josip Skoko (Stoke, England), Nick Ward (Perth Glory, Australia), Luke Wilkshire (Bristol City, England)

Alex Brosque (Queensland Roar, Australia), Brett Holman (Excelsior, Holland), Scott McDonald (Motherwell, Scotland)

Hyundai A-League Summary Round 21

Adelaide United (43 points) ended up coasting to the premiership despite a final round defeat to second-placed Sydney FC (36 points) ending their record nine-match unbeaten run. The Central Coast Mariners (32 points) and Newcastle Jets (31) completed the line-up for the final series which will culminate in the Grand Final in the first week of March.

Perth Glory (29 points), Queensland Roar (28) and Melbourne Victory (26) were the Australian-based sides to miss out while the beleaguered New Zealand Knights (6) finished a distant eighth. Assistant coach Tommy Mason was the first casualty - but certainly not the last - of a dismal inaugural season.

Hostels in Australia - Hostelworld
Hotels in Australia - Expedia UK
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