Thursday, April 22, 2010

What can football do to save itself?


Don’t you like it when pretentious writers use some obscure foreign reference to start a “This is what I think about stuff” story that then doesn’t really make sense to the point and theme of the story?
I don’t like it, I love it!
So without any more waffling I present ‘esprit d’escalier,’ which translates to the wit of the staircase’, and usually refers to the perfect witty response you think up after the conversation or argument is ended.
It’s the answer you cannot make, the pattern you cannot complete till afterwards it suddenly comes to you when it is too late.”
So there you go you can impress your hipster friends with some French speak, while you eat that slow cooked meal at the trendy Lesbian cafe which you arrived with on your single speed bicycle.
What has suddenly come to late is that after five years football is not earning nowhere near enough what it is spending.
What must have been Frank Lowy, John O’Neil and Matt Caroll been thinking when they first negotiated the TV deal five years ago?
Especially when the deal was negotiated before theSocceroos scored their first ever World Cup goal, before they won their first ever World Cup game game and before they qualified for their first ever World Cup Round of 16 match.
Frank Lowy is Australia’s richest man and you don’t get that rich without being able to negotiate. However, the truth regarding football’s TV deal is that it pulled its pants down too early and left them down for too long.
When Harry Kewell scored that goal against Croatia to take the Socceroos into the knockout stages of the World Cup, Foxtel must have looked at the TV deal with big smiles on their dials while the FFA suits must have been looking down at their ankles feeling the breeze.
I have said this before and I’ll say it again, that John O’Neill’s best work for Rugby came while he was working for the Football Federation of Australia, having negotiated a deal that took the FFA’s biggest asset away from Free to Air and onto Pay TV, which has only a 25% take up of the Australian population.
Let’s look at the TV revenue numbers:
AFL $780m for 5 years, or $156m per year
* Rugby League $500m for 6 years, or $85m per year
* Football $120m for 7 years, or just over $17m per year
Football can only spread $17m to its now 11 clubs. Dusting off the calculator, that works out to $1.5 million a club.
Some reports have come out recently that it costs $8m a year to run an A League club. Did anyone look at the expenses and revenues columns and see a big red number at the bottom of the page?
Some pundits have said that football needs to get a stronger foothold in the mainstream media. Don’t hold your breath.
The mainstream media will not give any favours to football.
They have other sports they need to peddle.
A recent Tim Cahill documentary features Timmy on the way to a Socceroos World Cup qualifier against Uzbekistan last April. He is flicking through the sport’s section of the Sydney paper the Daily Terror and laments the lack of coverage of football.
After flicking through pages of Rugby League, Netball and Sailing he finally finds a Socceroos article, Tim holds up his hands in defeat and says: “what do we have to do?
So the mainstream media doesn’t care, crowds are dropping off, and the clubs are losing money. What can football do to save itself and shut up the prophets of doom?
All we can do is hope and wait.
First, we hope that the Socceroos do well at the World Cup beginning in June and that this reminds the Australian sporting public of the chaos, beauty and awesomeness that is football. And that this emotion and goodwill then flows through to the A-League.
We hope that Australia wins the bid the bid for the 2018/ 2022 World Cup and wait for the decision by the 24 man FIFA executive in December, then finally we wait until the new TV deal comes up in a couple of years that will hopefully secure the A-League’s stability.
Otherwise, I’ll be looking for the French phrase that translates to “we are f****d” (nous sommes baisés).

Friday, April 9, 2010

Half Time Heroes World Cup Anti Interview England

Half Time Heroes Anti -Interview with English Football Fan Dave From Bow in East London

No, I’M Jack the Ripper 
Who wants to beat England? I know I do! The World Cup draw means that a potential round of 16 clash between the Socceroos and England is a real possibility.

Also the World Cup bid for either 2018 or 2022 will be decided in December this year and this pits Australia directly against England. I spoke to a well known media personality in England about  Old Blighty’s chances at the World Cup in South Africa and for the World Cup bid.

Half Time Heroes: England’s World Cup group compared to some other teams was relatively easy with USA, Algeria and Slovenia. Will England win the World Cup? 
Dave from Bow in East London: One problem is we love the underdog to win in any team competition, so with our ‘team of life’ it’ll be hard not to support Slovenia and Algeria for at least part of each match. Will England win? Don’t you remember 1966?

HTH:Who do you think are your key players?
DFBIEL: Simon Cowell (pictured below) and the commentator from the 1966 match who uttered the immortal phrase “they think its all is now” (a piece of commentary anyone living in England will hear about 25 times a day from the start of the tournament)

HTH: England’s main weakness is having to cope with the pressure from themselves and an expectant public what’s the hubris level like this time?
DFBIEL Hubris? after 1966? No chance.

HTH: As an Englishman would you have preferred an English manager as opposed to the current boss Italian Fabio Capello. 
DFBIEL: The Romans, ice cream, Isabella about the end of the list for interesting Italian exports. After all, We didn’t need an Italian in 1966.

HTH: The World Cup bid for 2018-2022 has England as the favourites for winning in 2018, Australia is not for behind in terms of the current odds but even as an English man you must admit that Australia should host in 2018 and England can have it in 2022. It would be much better in warm welcome country as apposed to cold and rude Old Blighty, wouldn’t you say?
DFBIEL: I had no idea we were even in the running, and I think you forget global warming in your calculations there, my son - England will be a warm and tropical climate by then. I’ve got an Aussie mate who thought everyone hated him for the first year of living here because everyone was so rude to him at work and down the pub.

Then he realised it was just our sense of humour he didn’t get and everyone had liked him all along. If, for the sake of argument I can say he represents all Australians, I’m not sure that a nation which is thin skinned, and is a bit slow on the uptake is an ideal host for a multi-cultural sporting event. And we have form hosting the World Cup, I think it was in 1966, by all accounts a very successful tournament.

HTH: What would you say if the Football Federation of Australia used this Bill Hicks joke to sell Australia as a better World Cup destination than England?

Bill Hicks On Convicts being sent to Australia:
“Let me get this straight... You keep the shitty food and the shitty weather and we get the Great Barrier Reef and lobsters the size of canoes? ...I’m Jack the Ripper! --No, I’M Jack the Ripper!”

DFBIEL: You don’t get the joke do you? It’s not about us, its about you

HTH: David Beckham and Posh Spice; 
 too much is not enough or leave me alone already? 
DFBIEL: Who’s asking?
(pictured left, Posh reckons that England is in pole position to win the World Cup in South Africa.Photo of Posh by Darkness Blackheart)

HTH: The English Wags (wives and girlfriends) get as much coverage as the players what do you think of this recent phenomenon in football?
DFBIEL: We’ve always liked a bit of glamour and a touch of class in our game (see 1966 final for instance), and if our team isn’t supplying it, then all power to the WAGs I say.

HTH :What would you say is the current vogue in hooliganism fashion? The  polo t-shirt, loafer wearing skinhead apparel, or the Chav, tight jeans and hoody over the head type look?
DFBIEL: Something with big pockets coz you have to dig deep to fork out enough readies to see the inside of a stadium these days.

Interview featured in Half Time Heroes January

Half Time Heroes Interview with World Football News Reporter Neil Cordy

Neil Cordy is an ex AFL player who currently works for Channel 10. His sporting career began when he debuted with the Footscray Football Club in 1979 . Neil went on to play 139 games for the Bulldogs and remained with the club until 1986 before he made the move to the Sydney Swans in 1987.  He played 96 games in total until 1993 then retired. Channel 10’s dedicated sports channel ONE will screen a magazine style football show in February where Neill will contribute some stories. Half Time Heroes had a chat about his football experiences the chances of the Socceroos @ the World Cup and the new football show that has fans of the world game in Australia buzzing!

Half Time Heroes: So I here you’re a football fan?
Neil Cordy: I’ve been a football fan virtually all my life. Since I was a teenager I started following the English First Division in the 70’s. I used to watch Match of the Day on the ABC at 6pm and I subscribed to shoot magazine. It was great publication. I read it religiously.

West Ham was the team I followed, I used to watch The Big Match also on the ABC and it was produced by London TV. So we got all the London teams.  West Ham was a very attractive team to watch. Trevor Brooking was an outstanding talent, they also had some great characters in the team like Frank Lampard Senior. They also had one of the first black players in the top flight there, a player called Clive Best. They were quite a charismatic team. But what’s happened over the last two decades is that I have tended to follow Australian players.

Socceroos Chances at the World Cup in South Africa 
HTH:You witnessed the World Cup in Germany 2006, how do you think the Socceroos will fare at the World Cup in South Africa this year?
Neill Cordy:  I hope we advance to the next stage, but I think it’s going to be a bigger challenge. I think we have a more difficult group this time than the one we had in Germany. The other thing is our playing group has barely changed from that time. 
Some of them are a little bit best past their prime.

HTH: So do you think the Socceroos are four years older rather than four more years experienced?
NC: The experience is good. The thing that concerns me more is that I would like to see more emerging talent coming through. There certainly isn’t very much emerging talent coming through the Socceroos. I think they are certainly capable of getting through to the next round but I would have liked to see more pressure on the incumbent guys to hold their spots. There really isn’t a lot of pressure on any of those key players.

HTH: With the current playing group being the same as last world cup in Germany 2006, do you think the players will use the frustration from the last moments of the Italy game when they take the field in South Africa? 
NC: I don’t think it will be a factor in the players’ minds. It’s not a good source of motivation that sort of thing. Feeling like you have been wronged by the refs.,well that’s football.

HTH: A lot of athletes always say that they don’t feel motivated by revenge but surely revenge is a factor in South Africa?
NC: Who are you going to get revenge against, the referee? Cause he was the one who made the call. It doesn’t pay to get angry at that stuff. You get some good calls you get some bad calls and you take it and get on with it. What they should take away from that is a belief that they belong there. 

Had they got to the second half of extra time in Kaiserslautern they could well have been playing the Ukraine in the quarter finals then who knows what could have happened.

Germany 2006
HTH: You were in Germany 2006. Tell us your favourite moments?
NC: The first one was the Japan game. The eight minutes where we came back from 1-0 down to win 3-1 was unforgettable and the second was In Stuttgart when Harry scored the equaliser and we got through to the next round.

I have another one that was brilliant for all the people who were there. After the final whistle against Croatia all the Australian fans stayed in the Stadium. The players went in for 15 minutes and then came back out again and did another lap while  all the Croatian fans were leaving. And the Socceroos came out to the ground gain while they  were playing ACDC.  I remember the songs. You shook me all night long and TNT. Possibly that moment was the best of the lot.

HTH:  Do you think  we are going to beat that moment, it was the first time we were at the world cup for 32 years?
NC: No well that’s the thing it’s unlikely that will ever be recreated again. I can’t see us being away from the World Cup finals for another 32 years again and having the heartache that we had over all those years. It’s hard to see it happening again. So it’s going to be very difficult to recreate that atmosphere that we had in Germany and also that night in Sydney when we qualified

The night of qualification for mine in Sydney was the best of the lot.  Atmosphere wise . That was the moment for me. It was brilliant in Germany but that moment when John Aloisi scored.......... in my sporting life, that was it, number one.

HTH: Did you ever think Australian football could provide you with such moments after those earlier disappointments?
NC: Yeah I did. I have been to most of Australia’s big World Cup qualifying matches, I didn’t go to the Scotland matches.  But I went to the qualifying game against Argentina in 93, I was in Melbourne for the Iran game (groan) in 1997, and I was at the Charlie Yankos match where we beat Argentina 4-1 at the Gold Cup. Particularly the Argentina match and the match against Iran. If you were there you understood what the game was capable of delivering  in terms of a sporting experience was at the home legs for the Uruguay matches and lucky enough to be in Montevideo in Uruguay in 2005.

HTH: That would have been incredible?
NC: It was. An amazing place Uruguay, it hosted the first World Cup in 1930 and looks like it hasn’t had a coat of paint since. It was an unforgettable match. 

I remember reading somewhere, afterwards that the last 20 minutes in Montevideo where Tony Popovic and Tony Vidmar where putting their bodies on the line and kept the away leg at 1-0 was the reason we got to the World Cup. That qualification process could have been two or three goals down and heading to Sydney but they held them out and they kept the game in reach. 

Once you experience a few of those games it didn’t surprise me because the thing that happened at the ANZ stadium that night. All those other matches were all part of it. The four legs against Uruguay (2001-2005) the two legs against Iran (1997) the two legs against Argentina (1993) they all contributed to what made it so special on that night.  Because it was everything. All those decades of frustration, they were relieved.

World Football News
HTH: All football fans are buzzing at the news Channel 10 is going to air a football variety show shown on the dedicated digital free- to- air sports station One; can you give us more information?
NC: Sure “World Football News” will be starting on February the 8th.  It will have a mixture of International and Australian content. With panelist discussing issues with stories and features. It will be a combination of all those things. We will have an English based reporter who will be catching up with a lot of our guys that are playing overseas.

HTH: A League highlights as well?
NC: Yes it will have A League highlights from the weekend’s matches.

HTH: That’s great. With German and Italian football and FA Cup now being shown on 10’s digital free to air channel One, does this mean that 10 will be looking to add more football content particularly  since the rapid increase in popularity of Football in Australia over the last five years or so?
NC: Yes, no doubt about it.

HTH: So with the advent of the A League, Socceroos qualifying for World Cups  the demand is rising for football and Channel 10 seems to be leading the way regarding getting it on to free to air?
NC: They are definitely interested in it. The current deal has a number of years to run  but 10 is interested in football in Australia.

HTH: Channel 7 has the Tennis and Channel 9 has the Cricket, could you see Football being on Channel 10 over the summer months?
NC: Why not?

HTH: Why not indeed! You mentioned before that when English football that was shown on the ABC  it was very popular in the 70’s and 80’s. Recently SBS has been the lone free to air station, basically speaking to the converted. This new show will no doubt spread the football message to new fans.
NC: Massively, it’s going to be fantastic for Football. It’s  a major free to air network, and more Australians will be able to watch Football full stop. Pay tv is in less than 25% of Australian homes,what free to air gives us is all of Australia, not just the converted.

AFL and World Cup Stadium Issue
HTH:  As an ex-AFL player what did you think about the FFA and the AFL arguing in public? And will affect Australia’s bid for the World Cup?
NC: I’ll say a couple of things about that. I think we are actually going to win the bid. I genuinely believe we will win it for 2022.  It just stacks up right. We are the right country at the right time. 

From Andrew Demetriou’s point of view I haven’t heard him ask any unreasonable questions. I think it’s not unreasonable to ask for some more detail and I don’t think he is necessarily trying to undermine the bid. But I think it is reasonable to ask what is required, so they can get their games in order. It’s a big thing that they going to have to work around and in co-operation with. So he obviously thinks they haven’t been given enough detail from the FFA. I haven’t heard him ask from anything that I have read in the media any unreasonable questions of the FFA.

HTH: Do you think the FFA and the AFL could have aired these questions and comments in private? And do you think the reason why Andrew Demetriou went public is because privately the communication with the FFA wasn’t working, he had no other choice?
NC:I think that is exactly right. Judging from what I read because this has been going on for over 12 months since the first announced the bid and they (THE AFL) have been asking for details and clearly they haven’t been getting them, not what they need anyway.

Another relevant question you can ask, if the bid process has been going on for 12 months why do we have you have a brand new dome facility in Melbourne which isn’t going to be appropriate for the World Cup?

HTH: That would have made the Etihad stadium dramas non -existent if they made it a bigger stadium.
NC: Exactly, All they needed was an extra ten thousand seats. The number one issue that you deal with is appropriate venues and if they hadn’t started to build, you would say hang on guys, how much is that capacity? And it if it’s not going to be suitable for a World Cup let’s get some plans where it is. What a waste of money!

HTH: It seems pretty stupid, thinking about it now,  the FFA planned for Etihad when they could have used the new dome stadium which was practically made for viewing football
NC: Yes exactly they would then have two venues.  The MCG and ANZ in Sydney would have been used to hold all of Australia’s matches as they would be sell outs.  If you got a 40,000 stadium in Melbourne you wouldn’t need Etihad and the AFL can run it’s competition using Etihad stadium.

HTH: So back to what you said about the World Cup bid I agree Europe gets it in 2018 and the Aussies hopefully get it in 2022.
NC: Let’s just hope we live that long mate.

HTH: Yes let’s hope we do. On that note thanks for talking with HTH.
NC: No problem Con, nice chatting with you.

Half Time Heroes World Cup Interviews Socceroos Group D Serbia

The Beli Orlovi (White Eagles) of Serbia are a new football country. Disbanding from Montengro the former Yugolsav republic makes it World Cup debut in South Africa. Serbian blogger for Nikola Burazer spoke to Half Time Heroes direct from Belgrade and gave some valuable insights and information about the Socceroos Group D final opponents.

I hope you are reading this Pim?

Half Time Heroes: After the World Cup draw was announced, some dubbed Group D containing the Socceroos, Germany, Serbia and Ghana has the third group of death. What was your first reaction when you saw the draw?
Nikola Burazer: To be honest, the first thing I felt was relief. In the 2006 World Cup we were placed in a group with Argentina, Netherlands and Ivory Coast, a “Group of Death” by all standards, to it was nice to be in a group not labelled as such. But, I have some real respect for all of our opponents in the forthcoming World Cup and I don’t think Serbia has an open road for qualification to the next round. 

Although both Ghana and Australia are weaker teams on paper, they are both capable of making a misery out of our World Cup dreams, I even dare to say that football style difference make our clashes against Ghana and Australia virtually unpredictable. That’s why I felt pretty uncomfortable, and to be totally honest, I still do.

HTH: What’s been the reaction by the management of your respective teams? Do they see the Socceroos as a threat?
NB: The management’s reaction was reasonably optimistic. Germany is of course, labelled as a main threat, with Ghana being our direct rival to qualify from the group. Australia isn’t mentioned as much, the focus was on our chances to battle it out with Germany for the top spot with qualification itself being a pretty achievable feat.  This might smell of arrogance to some, but this Serbian team currently has a great degree of self-belief and high hopes for this tournament, so any other reaction would’ve been false modesty from the management.

HTH: Who do you consider to be your key players and what are your teams main strengths?
NB: I think that we actually have two pairs of key players. The first is a defensive pairing of Manchester United’s Nemanja Vidić and Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanović, while the second are our regular wingers, Standard Liege’s Milan Jovanović and CSKA Moskva’s Miloš Krasić. The first two are the backbone of our defense, while our winger duo represents the source of our offensive power. Jovanović is a “Player of the year” in Belgium and has recently signed a pre-contract with Liverpool, while Krasić also represents a highly sought-after commodity. 

If I had to chose one key player, it would be him. Miloš Krasić is probably our best player on the pitch for the last few years, so yes, he could be considered to be THE key player for Serbia at the World Cup.

HTH: Any weaknesses that you care to quietly mention?  A dodgy keeper or a suspect defender perhaps?
NB: An excellent keeper with a tendency to make horrific mistakes. Vladimir Stojković has proven himself lots of times in the national team, but I doubt there are any Serbian fans out there not worrying about whether he will make a blunder or not. In a game that could’ve destroyed our World Cup dreams, his mistake gave France a goal in Belgrade. I don’t want to bash a player that has played so well for the team with some magnificent saves, but Stojković really is a goalkeeper that does make blunders from time to time, so he could be considered as a potential weak link in our team.

HTH: What do you know about Australian football and are there any players you think your team should keep an eye on?
NB: Regrettably, I don’t know much about Australian football except for their feats in the last World Cup, and of course, some of Australian key players currently playing in Europe. Players like Harry Kewell, Mark Bresciano and Tim Cahill ring a lot of bells, but I haven’t watched the Australian team play recently to be able to see where the main threat comes from. Australia has a team to be respected, that’s for sure.

HTH: How do you think your team will adapt to the conditions in South Africa where teams can expect  high altitude,  differing weather conditions and those ubiquitous vuvuzelas that will be blasting for the whole game? 
NB: As long as the pitch is in perfect shape, there are no excuses. There are some difficulties with the weather, 
altitude and those omni-present vuvuzelas, but all the teams have the same conditions to play in and I wouldn’t like to see any whining in the media by our team if things go wrong. 

Serbia will have their final preparations in the mountains of Austria, probably to adjust to similar weather conditions. Our team has already had the privilege to play in South Africa last August, defeating the hosts in a friendly and having their first taste of South African winter. I think it should be alright.

HTH: Australian fans have bought tickets in large numbers. What kind of support can your team expect in South Africa?
NB: I highly doubt there are going to be many fans travelling all the way from Serbia to South Africa in order to support our team, but we do expect quite a large number of our supporters to be there. South Africa is a home to many Serbians and people of Serbian descent who are delighted to have the chance to see our national team play over there. It may not be as if we are playing at home, but it will probably be close as it can get to this.

HTH: Are you happy with the coach and the way the team is playing leading in to the world cup and is there anything you would change?
NB: Radomir Antić has been a wonder-maker for Serbia since he took over the team at the start of the qualifiers, overly criticising both him and the team would be highly unfair. He created the team spirit we have desperately lacked, built a highly functional offensive unit with lots of goal-scoring capabilities and returned the cult of the National team to the entire nation. His results and achievements have been so impressive that, regardless of some bad decisions and tactics in some individual games, there isn’t anything I would change in his general approach and tactics that he tries to employ. 

But, if I needed to make one single remark on his management of the team, I would point out at the lack of concentration our defense seems to having from time to time, unacceptable when the quality of our defensive players is taken into account. Antić needs to solidify our defenses if he wants our team to compete with the best.

HTH: Tell us the  player in your team that annoys you the most and why?
NB: A tough question. Sincerely, there aren’t such players in the team, most of the players capable of making me really angry are also capable of doing some great things. I’m trying really hard, but I can’t name a single player that plays in the first team and annoys me on a regular basis. Marko Pantelić seems to get close, but he’s also one of my favourite players, so he doesn’t really deserve such a negative label. 

HTH: The player you like the most?
NB: This is an even tougher question. I guess it’s a three-horse race between Miloš Krasić, Milan Jovanović and Branislav Ivanović. I’ve already labelled those three as key players, and I can’t really decide between them. But if I had to chose one, I’d name the most underrated of the three, Milan Jovanović. The world is yet to see his capabilities when he starts playing for Liverpool after the World Cup, but I hope he will shine even more at the tournament proper.

HTH: Lastly please give me a prediction on how your team will progress and also who will be the winner and loser of the World Cup?
NB: Well, a part of me fears the worst, a repeat of Germany 2006, while the other part dreams of us fighting for the title. But let’s be realistic: I think we will qualify from the group as a second placed team and then bow out after clashing with England. I think we could go a step further if we manage to claim the top spot in the group, but we have too many issues with playing with the top sides for me to dare to predict anything more than that. 

An elimination from the first knockout round remains the outcome with the highest possibility. And if I had to predict the winner, I’d chose Brazil. There’s a tradition in the last few decades that says European teams don’t win World Cups outside Europe, so that leaves us with Brazil and Argentina as realistic candidates. But, as this is a special World Cup by all standards, I believe miracles can happen. Maybe the football world is getting near to some great surprises like the one when Greece won Euro 2004. To be honest, I have a feeling this is going to be a World Cup to remember. 

Half Time Heroes World Cup Interviews Socceroos Group D Ghana

Gary Al-Smith is an Accra-based sports journalist and writes for kicker Magazine, ESPN and is the Ghana blogger for

Are you reading this Pim?

Half Time Heroes: After the World Cup draw was announced, some dubbed Group D containing the Socceroos, Germany, Serbia and Ghana as the third group of death. What was your first reaction when you saw the draw?
Gary Al-Smith: First reaction: damn! And it was that because I felt this to be a great chance for Ghana to show the world what we’ve got to offer once more after the Germany 2006 experience. Don’t forget that this was before most of our players started falling off injured like flies so my confidence was justified I think.

HTH: What’s been the reaction by the management of your respective teams? Do they see the Socceroos as a threat?
GAS: Since the World Cup was introduced 79 years ago, it has been dominated by Europe and South America. As South Africa 2010 nears, bold predictions of a first African win have already started. Leading the way is Abedi Ayew Pele, three-time African Footballer of the Year.

“We definitely will have one African team that goes far and when I say goes far I mean as far as raising the trophy. When I make this prediction people laugh, but I believe it.”

Generally, the football populace now has even more trust in this side especially after surprising even Ghanaians with the runner-up slot at the recently ended African Nations Cup in Angola.

HTH: Who do you consider to be your key players and what are your teams main strengths?
GAS: Michael Essien, obviously. Currently our most popular player around the world by a mile. Then we’ve got the so-called ‘core of the Germany 2006 team’ who are still around: Sulley Muntari (Inter Milan), Stephen Appiah (Bologna), John Mensah (Sunderland) and John Painstil (Fulham).

At the time of writing this Q&A, all three are injured but they’ll surely be back and ready for the mundial. Yet, we cant help but notice the growing wave of (justified?) views that Appiah and Mensah should not be added.

They cannot seem to put together seven or eight straight games without injuries – just check the records.
The strength of the team has for years been the midfield, yet the Nations Cup has shown a collective defensibility in the side that we haven’t seen in about ten years.

That said, this Ghana team is in transition and there are some great players coming through who may explode in South Africa. Eight of the team that won the Under-20 World Cup in Egypt were in Angola and some of them are really giving the coach headaches because he is suddenly spoilt for choice in certain areas.

HTH: Any weaknesses that you care to quietly mention?  A dodgy keeper or a suspect defender perhaps?
GAS: Straight up. It’s the left back. It has been our problem for ages. The coach said in December: “We have always had problems with the left back slot so this is a chance to try other players in that position,” he said.

About four players have been used in that role in the last few months and many teams find that as Ghana’s Achilles heel. However, certain players in the local premier league are mounting a strong challenge for that slot and fingers-crossed, we may get a natural left-back soon.

Striking is also a headache. We rely heavily on the midfield for goals. Strikers usually don’t bang in much however Kevin-Prince Boateng (Portsmouth) would soon be given the okay to represent Ghana. And Mario Balottelli of Inter is being persuaded to feature for us. Now that would be some attack!

HTH: What do you know about Australian football and are there any players you think your team should keep an eye on?
GAS: Australian football has been introduced to us in the last few years with a few games we’ve played together recently: drew 1-1 in November 2006 and Australia beat Ghana 1-0 in May 2008. However you’ll agree that times have changed since then and June 2010 will be a different ball game.

HTH: How do you think your team will adapt to the conditions in South Africa where teams can expect high altitude,  differing weather conditions and those ubiquitous vuvuzelas that will be blasting for the whole game?
GAS: Ghana camped for two weeks in the north-eastern town of Nelspruit in South Africa to acclimatize with regional conditions before the Nations’ Cup. Our FA has also booked the place in advance for the World Cup so it should be a familiar place for most of the team – that is if the bulk of them are chosen from the team that went to Angola.

HTH: Australian fans have bought tickets in large numbers. What kind of support can your team expect in South Africa?(Ghana football fan in Germany 06 pic by Dario Sarmadi.)
GAS: We’ve got Supporters Unions that have been planning meticulously for the event. They went to the Nations’ Cup also to have a feel of the terrain. As to the ordinary man, South Africa 2010 has engendered many businesses here to spring up and travel packages are already available. Come the start of the World Cup, Ghana would have a good representation, no doubt especially as the country has a decent population in South Africa.

HTH: Are you happy with the coach and the way the team is playing leading in to the world cup and is there anything you would change?
GAS: Personally, except for one or two issues, the way he led the team to Angola pleased me. He played to our strengths and everyone agreed that the tactical discipline in this side was a new sight, to be honest. Let me say here, that the team that is playing now would not be the same as what will be seen this summer. Key players are injured and when they come, they’ll take their spots because we need the experience.

HTH: Tell us the player in your team that annoys you the most and why?
GAS: That should be Haminu Draman. He runs with the ball for miles and gives it away and his shooting is disastrous. Yet, he has proved very useful. You may see him in South Africa because though he blows hot and cold, he runs at defenders a lot and is able to create spaces for others.

HTH: The player you like the most?
GAS: Now that’s hard. I can’t say, though I can tell you I have a very high regard for Michael Essien and Kwadwo Asamoah (Udinese) at the moment. Samuel Inkoom gets a mention and of course Anthony Annan and Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu. Those last two are all Essien-lite!

HTH: Lastly please give me a prediction on how your team will progress and also who will be the winner and loser of the World Cup?
GAS: Let’s begin with winner: I’m seeing Brazil or Argentina. Ghana should go into the second round by the scruff of our neck and maybe then, the dream ends. Yet, I said the same thing before they went to Angola and see where they got to? The final! Maybe, a repeat is in order…you never know.

This Interview appeared in Half Time Heroes February

Half Time Heroes World Cup Interviews USA

Daniel Seco is editor in chief of:           His cellphone once went off during a press conference with US coach Bob Bradley. Seco is still feeling the after effects of such jackleg-esque move. Reports remain unconfirmed if Bradley “wakes up in the morning feeling like P-Diddy.”

Half Time Heroes: Compared to some other groups you must have been happy with scoring Group C? You have the glamour game with England and you could say that Algeria and Slovenia are not really World Cup heavyweights are they? So what was you first reaction?
Daniel Seco: When I first found out that the US would be playing in Group C, my initial reactions were that of relief and optimism. We have a great first match against England and the other two teams are extremely beatable. While we might not win the group, I’d be surprised if the USMNT doesn’t advance to the next round.

HTH: What’s been the reaction by the management of the USA when they saw the draw? Save for England does your Coach Bob Bradley see your group C opponents as a threat?
DS: The words “cautiously optimistic” come to mind. Granted, what the team says to the media and what they really feel are two different things. I would surmise that my sentiments and theirs regarding the draw are probably pretty close.

HTH: Before the World Cup draw was made four years your then coach Bruce Arena said he thought that Australia would be one of the weakest teams, this caused Australian fans to get a bit agro. It ended up that the USA was knocked out of the group stage and the Socceroos made the round of 16. Care to make any such claims this time round?
DS: I’m not Bruce Arena as I generally have respect for all teams that have the wherewithal to actually make the field of 32. Simply put, best of luck to the Australian team.

HTH: The USA and Australia have many similarities when it comes to football. The first is a lot people in both countries love calling it Soccer (weeven have t-shirts that say It’s not Soccer Mate!). What’s your opinion on that? The second is that football/soccer is not the most popular sport in both countries. In Australia it faces radical opposition from so called local sports like AFL and the Rugby codes sometimes to the point of sabotage and getting into the mainstream media is a challenge. How is football in USA responding to challenge of your other big other sports?
DS: Soccer continues to grow in America. Hopefully Major League Soccer can continue to grow and become more commonplace in the everyday sports conversation. We’re still  a long way off, but soccer will become a major sport in America sooner rather than later.

HTH: It seems that the World Cup bid is shaping as a European tournament in 2018 and the 2022 tournament looks like a face-off between the USA, Australia, Japan and South Korea. How is your bid going? And how the hell will you guys me able to afford it, isn’t the country broke?
DS: I’d like to think we have a great shot to secure the bid for 2022. Just look back to 1994 – America hosted one of the most successful World Cups in history – even if the mascot was ridiculous. America is broke, but we’ll find a way; we always do.

HTH:  What is your honest assessment of the quality of the MLS on the field and off the field?
DS: The league is struggling a bit as the players and owners are trying to come to an agreement over contracts and free agency. I think the product on the field is adequate and should continue to get better. Will it ever become the EPL? Of course not, but it doesn’t need to be. The fans are good and continue to be supportive of their teams. You have to love what the supporters in Seattle and Philadelphia do for their respective teams.

HTH: David Beckham brought a lot of attention to US Soccer  on and off the field. One ofmy favourite moments was David Beckham trying to teach Snoop Dog’s kids to play fooball and then going out and eating some fried chicken after. Did the Beckham experiment work in your opinion?
DS: I always appreciated Beck’s style of play, but as one of my colleagues puts it: “He’s a philanthropist, socialite and sometime soccer player.”

HTH: Back to the World Cup, what are your teams main strengths?
DS: We have a great goalie, strong midfielders and a defense that continues to improve.

HTH: Any weaknesses that you see in the team? 
DS:An inability to score goals. I’d love to discover that Wayne Rooney is actually from Bergen County, New Jersey. Alas, he is not.

HTH: How do you think your team will adapt to the conditions in South Africa where teams can expect high altitude, differing weather conditions and those ubiquitous vuvuzelas that will be blasting for the whole game?
DS: The Yanks are a professional bunch. There’s no reason to believe it will affect them any more than any other team. We’ll be fine.

HTH: What kind of support can your team expect in South Africa?
DS: I imagine the U.S. will have a strong presence in South Africa. We’re sending two of our writers, but I won’t be making the trip. Hopefully we’ll have more supporters there.

HTH: Are you happy with the Coach and the way the team is playing leading in to the World Cup and is there anything you would change?
DS: I respect Coach Bradley a great deal and think he is the right man for the job. The team has dealt with injuries fairly well and seems to be in a great place to make a run come June.

HTH: Tell us the  player in your team that annoys you the most in team USA and why?
DS: Wow, great question. There are so many players to choose from: Dempsey, Landon, Junior Bradley. All of these guys can be great, but often disappear, disappoint or disgust me from time to time.

HTH: The player you like the most in team USA?
DS: Jozy Altidore, our young striker, has shown a lot for his 20 years of age. If the Yanks want to play well in South Africa, it relies on Altidore’s ability to score goals. 

HTH: Any good young players to watch out for?
DS: Besides Altidore, Junior Bradley is still pretty young and a major part of the team. Let’s just hope he doesn’t get a few silly red cards that have him on the bench early and often.

HTH: Lastly please give me a prediction on how your team will progress and also who will be the winner and loser of the World Cup?
DS: Spain takes it and England implodes early. As for the Yanks? I won’t say where they will end up in terms of a round, but they will surprise people with their play.

Half Time Heroes Interview World Cup Brazil

Duvel Pierre is a law student and resident of Kansas City, Missouri. His mother’s family is from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He has been the writer for the Brazil World Cup Blog for over a year.  

Half Time Heroes: What was your first reaction upon hearing that Group G contained your country Brazil, surprise finalist North Korea, African heavy weights Ivory Coast and one of your fiercest football rivals Portugal? Portuguese midfielder Simao told FIFA .com recently that : “It’s the toughest group at the competition” Do you agree with him?
Duvel Pierre: Its a difficult group, no question about it. When it originally came out I thought it was the group of death. I worry a little more about the Ivory Coast than I do Portugal, who we crushed 6-2 in our last match against one another. However, Ivory Coast underachieved at the African Cup of Nations. They have star power in a few positions, but this is not a complete side.

So to answer your question, after thinking about this longer, I think Group D is the group of death. You have three nations who reached the Round of 16 in 2006, plus an extremely talented Serbian team.

HTH: What’s been the reaction by the management of the Brazilians? Does your Coach Dunga see your group G opponents as a threat?
DP: I think the overall attitude from Dunga and company is that the group is what it is. There wasn’t a panic, and he fully anticipates winning this group.

HTH: Everyone loves the Brazilians for their Joga bonito and all that but what about this team? Do they still have the same strengths that has characterized Brazilian football over the years?
PT: I think the team still plays with flair, but Dunga has certainly brought a more disciplined brand of football to the national team. One characteristic about this team versus the past, is that its world class at three of the defensive positions and keeper. Julio Cesar was arguably the top keeper in the world in 2009. Lucio is in top form, and was outstanding at the Confederations Cup. The other central defense spot is played by Juan, Thiago Silva, and Luisao, all excellent defenders. So this is certainly a newer strength for the national team.
One past strength that is probably lacking would be in the midfield. Brazil under Dunga relies on the counter attack and plays with two defensive midfielders, Gilberto Silva and Felipe Melo. Kaka and Elano/Ramires make up the other two spots. Brazil basically plays a 4-3-1-2 with this lineup. As a result, the midfield is very dependent on the play of Kaka. Dunga’s tactics have made some matches a bit of a grind. It might not be as fun to watch at times, but this style has been successful in the modern World Cup.

HTH: Any weaknesses that you see in the team? Does stories like Robinho buying bags of condoms during the World Cup qualification series and partying with the boys after the game while his club team cannot find him, and tales of Ronaldinho’s partying worry you?  Can Dunga keep the teams discipline?
DP: I think Dunga can keep this team disciplined during the World Cup. We didn’t hear of any incidents when the team was in South Africa for the Confederations Cup. The CBF has picked a small town in Angola as their training site immediately before the tournament starts. I saw a picture of the hotel they will be staying at during that time period and it probably is the worst hotel anyone on the national team has stayed during their careers. In comparison, the team trained at posh spot in Switzerland in 2006.
The national team has been focused when it counts under Dunga. There was a big backlash against the partying after 2006. As a result, I think everyone will take a serious, business-like approach to this summer.

HTH: Speaking  of Ronaldinho he is in great form for AC Milan but Dunga does not appear to like him? Will he make the World Cup squad for South Africa?
DP: Dunga has obviously been asked this question a lot. He has been rather defensive when the question comes up. He has only given very general statements about Dinho not being in his plans right now. I think when all is said and done Dunga is going to have to pick him. The team currently is a Kaka injury from throwing in the towel for 2010. Even if Dinho is not in the starting XI, at his current form he is capable of replacing Kaka.

HTH: Brazil played Australia at the last World Cup and I’m sure some players from that group game still have the scars to prove it. What do you know about Australian football?
DP: I know that it is an improving brand year after year. Pim Verbeek has maintained the progress that was made under Guus Hiddink. I think there is quality in the midfield with Tim Cahill and the very underrated Mark Bresciano. If Australia makes it to the knockout stages again I would not be stunned.

HTH: How do you think your team will adapt to the conditions in South Africa where teams can expect high altitude, differing weather conditions and those ubiquitous vuvuzelas that will be blasting for the whole game?
PD: Well we obviously had the benefit of getting a taste of these conditions during the Confederations Cup. Additionally, during qualification, we have to go Quito and La Paz, two cities with insanely high altitudes. Its a challenge, no doubt about it. However, Brazil is probably more prepared to handle the conditions than any nation except South Africa clearly.

HTH: What kind of support can your team expect in South Africa?
PD: Brazil is the most popular national team in the world. I think in every match, except perhaps the Ivory Coast match, the crowd will be overwhelmingly supporting the team. 

HTH: Are you happy with the Coach and the way the team is playing leading in to the World Cup and is there anything you would change?
PD: Dunga has produced results, plain and simple. We won the Copa America, the Confederations Cup, and finished first in the daunting South American qualifiers We won in Argentina for the first time in a billion years. In 2009, the team was very consistent in their play. My problem with Dunga is the player selections more than anything else.
Julio Baptista is a good example of this. Here you have a player who never starts for his club team. Only really plays in the last couple minutes of Roma matches, if at all. I think he has scored once this year for Roma. However, he is selected over Diego and Ronaldinho. He is the guy that will be called upon to replace Kaka if he were injured, and you would be crazy to think he is capable at pulling that off.

At left back, Dunga has played musical chairs at this position. In the last two years we have seen Filipe, Marcelo, Juan, Kleber, Michel Bastos, Andre Santos, Gilberto, and Fabio Aurelio get called up to the national team to try and nail down this spot. Fabio Aurelio’s call-up was for the England friendly, but he had to pull out with injury. If you are uncertain about a position, I think it makes to most sense to pick our most experienced and consistent player in Fabio Aurelio, but for whatever reason Dunga is thinking of something else.

HTH: Tell us the player in your team that annoys you the most and why?
PD: Robinho. The guy shows up to play in the big games, however he is garbage at every other time. Nilmar has outplayed him on the national team for the past year in my opinion. His step over move is the worst kept secret in sports.

HTH: The player you like the most?
PD: Lucio. World class player. Absolutely consistent. Monster in the air, and makes a huge runs down the pitch. John Terry has nothing on Lucio.

HTH: Any good young players to watch out for?
HTH: Well Nilmar is still fairly young. I think he is a guy who could have a big tournament. Michel Bastos, who has been stellar at Lyon this year is another. I think he could be the starting left back this summer.

HTH: Lastly please give me a prediction on how your team will progress and also who will be the winner and loser of the World Cup?
DP: I think that Brazil will host the 2014 World Cup as the cup-holders. I think the Ivory Coast match will be difficult. However we know Lucio, as he did this week in the Champions League, will neutralize Drogba. I fully expect us to win all three group stage matches. In the final, I have gone back and forth on who will be the challenger. Spain is the attractive pick, but I don’t think they’ll get there. Like the 1994 World Cup I think we’ll face a tough Netherlands side in the quarters, and in a surprise, will play Italy in the final again.

Half Time Heroes World Cup Interviews Germany

JAN DALDRUP is the German blogger for the excellent World Cup web site The March issue of Half Time Heroes focuses on the World Cup favorites Germany Italy and Brazil as the count down to South Africa gets closer.

HALF TIME HEROES: After the World Cup draw was announced, some dubbed Group D containing the Socceroos, Germany, Serbia and Ghana has the third group of death. What was your first reaction when you saw the draw?

JAN DALDRUP: I thought that this is a group where Germany can’t afford a slow start into the tournament. Most parts of the team need to click straight away, otherwise Germany could be in for a rude awakening.

HTH: What’s been the reaction by the German management team, do they see the Socceroos as a threat?

JD: The management was relieved that some of the - on paper - big names were drawn into the other groups. But they were also careful to point out that Serbia, Ghana and Australia shouldn’t be underestimated. Australia wasn’t mentioned/singled out in particular though.

HTH: Who do you consider to be your key players and what are your teams main strengths?

JD: Michael Ballack has proven that he is still the one to pull the strings in the center of midfield. Young creative midfielders like Mesut Özil - or potentially Toni Kroos - will also be key to a good tournament for Germany.

A main strength of the team is an offense that can break most defenses both through the center or from the wings with a series of quick passing moves. You can check out the goals against Russia in both WC qualifiers as good examples. Otherwise the team has been a big work-in progress to really single out other qualities. I wouldn’t predict what other qualities the team can bring to the table in time for the tournament.

HTH: Any weaknesses that you care to quietly mention?  A dodgy keeper or a suspect defender perhaps?

JD: The fullback positions (minus Philipp Lahm) are still a weak spot. There are enough talented central defenders available, but Jogi Löw has struggled to build a strong defense with them nonetheless so far. 

There are still some question marks over who might partner up with Ballack in the center of midfield and a couple of strikers aren’t having the best of times at their clubs or are still coming back from long term injury.

HTH: What do you know about Australian football and are there any players you think your team should keep an eye on?

JD: I don’t follow the Australian league and I only kept an eye on the Asian World Cup qualifiers in terms of results. I haven’t seen Australia play 90 minutes of football since the last World Cup. In other words, I really don’t know a lot. I know that Australia has kept it Dutch in terms of coaching and I could name a few players. 

Though, I don’t follow any of the teams/leagues they play in to know whether they are in or out of form etc. In short, Australia will be a surprise package for me.

HTH: How do you think your team will adapt to the conditions in South Africa where teams can expect  high altitude,  differing weather conditions and those ubiquitous Vuvuzelas that will be blasting for the whole game?  

JD: I would be surprised if any of the things you mentioned really caused a problem. Wintry temperatures also won’t affect the team.

HTH: Australian fans have bought tickets in large numbers. What kind of support can your team expect in South Africa?

JD: Initially a rather lukewarm response had been reported, but it seems sales have picked up. I recently read an article that around 7,000 of 21,000 tickets available to German fans had already been sold.

HTH: Are you happy with the coach and the way the team is playing leading in to the world cup and is there anything you would change?

JD: No, I’m neither happy with the coach nor with the way the team is playing. Most of the games have been lacklustre and forgettable affairs, problems in the defense couldn’t be fixed, Jogi Löw’s man management kept being rather underwhelming etc. I have to arrange myself with Jogi Löw’s coaching and decision making, but I have hope that a very strong generation of young players can give a rather dead team the fresh impulses it needs for a successful World Cup.

HTH: Tell us the  player in your team that annoys you the most and why?

JD: Heiko Westermann. He is a cool guy and all, but he’s not one to anchor a defence and Jogi Löw for some reason seems to think otherwise.

HTH: The player you like the most?
JD: Miroslav Klose. An experienced, quiet, cool team player who doesn’t just boast an amazing goal record but also sets up almost as many goals for others.

HTH: Lastly please give me a prediction on how your team will progress and also who will be the winner and loser of the World Cup?

JD: I currently find it difficult to predict how Germany will do. With the team that made it through the qualifiers, Germany won’t achieve a lot. With a fresh and revamped side Germany could once again challenge for a top four finish.

 Well, Spain or Brazil is probably the easy answer for World Cup winner, and in reality it will probably be a surprise team like France.

Half Time Heroes World Cup Interviews Italy

Julian De Martinis is an avid Italy and Roma fan and one of two bloggers who writes for the Italy WorldCupBlog

HALF TIME HEROES: What was your first reaction upon hearing that  Group H contained your country Italy, Paraguay, New Zealand and Slovakia. Pretty easy hey?
Julian De Martinis: Considering the alternative draws that we could’ve had, I was pretty happy. Italy managed to avoid most of the big guns- France wasn’t placed into their group, and  both Brazil and Argentina were also avoided. That being said, this group does have quite a bit of quality running through it. Paraguay had a tremendous qualifying campaign, beating both Brazil and Argentina.

Italy fans know how good Marek Hamsik is, so his Slovakia team is no pushover either. But, all in all, about as good as it could’ve been. If any team made it as far as the group stage, it means they are pretty good at the least, so while I don’t think it’s a piece of cake I do think we avoided the Group of death for the first time in at least 2 tournaments.

HTH: What’s been the reaction by the management of the Italians? Does your Coach Marcelo Lippi see any of your group H opponents as a threat?
JDM: Lippi is always a tough character to read. He tends to do what he wants, and given his resume, I personally give him the benefit of the doubt. Many Italy fans think he’s stubborn and over-reliant on age to the detriment of incorporating youth, as the core of this Italy side is the same that won the World Cup four years ago.

Italy are notoriously slow starters at tournaments, and with the first game being against Paraguay- probably the toughest opponent in the group-I don’t think Lippi will under-estimate our opponents.
I think Lippi knows that you really can’t afford to underestimate anyone at the World Cup, so he’ll probably put out his strongest XI from the first game onward.

HTH: The Italians are the current wold champions but your team is getting older.  Your strength has always been your defense. Can the heroes of the last World Cup Cannavoro, Buffon, Matterazzi, Totti, Del Piero do the business again? Will they even make the squad?
JDM: Out of those five players, only two are certainties to make the squad- Buffon and captain Cannavaro. Materazzi is all but out of national consideration after the Euro debacle, and Del Piero seems to have been written off by Lippi. Totti is another case, but it depends on whether or not he returns from international retirement- if he does I fully expect a call up.

But either way, the heroes of the last World Cup almost have to be the heroes this time around because so many of the players are the same. Buffon is going to have to repeat his heroics and Pirlo will have to dictate the midfield tempo once again. Luckily, a few stars have broken out since, chief amongst them Giorgio Chiellini. But yes, I think that Lippi will probably stick with the same core so they’ll have to repeat that. Whether or not they can is another question, but Italy is tough to write off. Experience is very important, too.

HTH: Any potential weaknesses that you see in the team? 
JDM: Zambrotta and Grosso seem to be Lippi’s first choice wingbacks, but their defending is quite poor and leaves massive gaps at the back. The worst problem may be that we don’t really have a striker to build this team around. Toni and Gila never really cut it, but one of them will probably be a starter –if not both- come this summer. The lack of cutting edge up front is definitely going to be our biggest problem at the World Cup.

HTH: Italy famously knocked out Australia at the last World Cup with a disputed penalty decision. Was it a dive by Grosso? Reflecting back what did you think of the Australian team that day?
JDM: I’ve seen the replay quite a few times and I’m on the fence. Grosso definitely went looking for a penalty but from some angles it’s hard to tell. Without video replay, referee’s decisions have to be accepted and this is just part of the game.
That being said, Italy was down to 10 men for most of the match. Australia weren’t poor by any means but their inability to capitalize on it is what truly cost them that match- not the penalty.

HTH: How do you think your team will adapt to the conditions in South Africa where teams can expect high altitude, differing weather conditions and those ubiquitous Vuvuzelas that will be blasting for the whole game?
JDM: Honestly it will be tough for an aging squad to adapt. On the other hand, some of these players have a ton of experience playing in venues all over the world, so I expect that adapting is second nature to them. Lippi needs to get the team there early enough so their bodies can become used to the conditions, but I don’t really see this being a factor in how the Cup goes. It’s going to affect everyone equally, except the African teams, so it’s not an excuse for a poor performance.

HTH: Are you happy with the Coach and the way the team is playing leading in to the World Cup and is there anything you would change?

JDM: I trust Lippi because his football knowledge is a million times what mine is. I don’t think his tactics are bad at all, but I do think he places far too much trust in aging players. I would give youth a run out, especially in defence. Santon and Motta should get a shout, as well as Balzaretti and Cassani of Palermo. It’s really too late to change the team now and throw on newcomers right in the middle of the world’s biggest competition without any experience.

HTH: Tell us the  player in your team that annoys you the most and why?
JDM: On the national team it’s Di Natale. He’s a fantastic club player but he’s shined very few times for the Azzurri and almost never in the games that truly count. I just think he’s too old to be on the team and epitomizes Lippi’s trust in age over youth.

HTH: The player you like the most?
JDM: Has to be Pirlo. He’s the Xavi to the Azzurri, the gears that turn the clock of the midfield. Without him we often look static and lost. Always raises his game when we really need it and his vision is superb. Might be getting on in age but in his position it’s rarely a problem- just don’t ask him to defend.

HTH: Any good young Italian players to watch out for?
JDM: Bucketfuls. Giovinco, De Ceglie, Candreva, Balotelli, Santon, Motta, Pazzini, Rossi, Bonnuci, Ranocchia… if Italy don’t do well this World Cup, the next world cup could be a real chance to win. The entire defence will likely be overhauled and it seems like another golden generation of defenders is just waiting to shine.

HTH: Lastly please give me a prediction on how your team will progress and also who will be the winner and loser of the World Cup?
JDM: I hate these things because I’m superstitious, but I think we have a shot of winning it again. That being said, the final will be someone vs Argentina (yes) with Maradona writing the fairytale of a lifetime.

Interview was first published in March Half Time Heroes

Sally Shippard Half Time Heroes Interview

THE Matilda’s Sally Shipard
Takes the Road less Travelled

Matilda’s star Sally Shippard is a perfect representation of that famous Robert Frost poem The Road Not Taken. Leaving her spot in the Matildas, Sally took a break not long after playing in World Cup and went overseas to travel. Half Time Heroes will be hearing from Sally as she will be HTH’s embedded reporter as the Matildas attempt to qualify for the Women World Cup in Germany 2011.

Half Time Heroes: So Sally you left the Matilda’s at age 20/21 to do what a lot of young Australia’s do and that is go and spend time travelling overseas. That was almost straight after the amazing World Cup experience where the Matildas made history by making the next round and then were narrowly defeated by Brazil in an amazing game . The whole country was behind you at the time, a documentary was made. It seemed that everything was going to plan; why the decision to take a break then?
Sally Shippard: All that aside I needed my break. I had always said to myself if I wasn’t enjoying football and life with football then I would step away. I was happy with the teams progress and obviously thrilled with the world cup efforts and direction womens football was taking. But it wasn’t enough to keep me here training once if not twice a day...I lost the passion for it I suppose...I was no longer that little girl who I remember so fondly ‘falling in love with the game’... I was unhappy and unhealthy.

HTH: I read that during your travels you spent time in Spain and you were contracted to a Futsal team in Barcelona and like a lot of young Aussie footballers you had some drama’s, care to elaborate on your experience over there?
SS: Spain was incredible and yes...I had some trouble with the club ‘releasing’ me upon my return. I had intentions to play over there...I could feel the passion building again...who wouldn’t be influenced by the football culture in Barcelona of all places... in turn I didn’t want to be away from Australia for another eight months...having already back-packed for eight months...there were ‘verbal’ agreements for the contract made, however no contract was signed. They took the case to one of the head judges at FIFA, his ruling was that there was NO contract.

Too late though as I’d already missed out on playing with Canberra United...trained with them week in week out anticipating I’d be cleared. But never was. That was certainly a testingfew months. Certainly stronger for it...the body had a good few months to train so looking back as frustrating as it was... It was good in relation to my body considering I hadn’t kicked a ball for so long.

HTH: How does it feel to be back training/playing with the Matildas again? Like a family reunion of sorts?
SS: It feels unusual...I know I have experienced it all before...but for some reason this time if feels much more raw...I’m much healthier, older and have acquired a greater balance with my life...I love being back in the environment of the national team...and it is a very exciting time for football in Australia. Only in sport have I ever felt such a natural high after a big win or a hard session. Nothing beats it.

HTH: Tell us your thoughts on the W League and what do you think of the quality?
SS: Having spectated the previous 2 years of the w-league...apart from my levels of frustration last year, I have enjoyed myself immensely. Obviously with the league being so fresh, the first couple of years will provide a foundation for us all to build on. Our girls who play overseas have managed to convince several internationals strengthening the league. The younger girls coming through the ranks are fast, skillful and good to watch. Small steps, but I can see it being mostly successful. We must be successful at the international level for it to continue to blossom. And for that to happen we need a strong competitive it all goes hand in hand really.

HTH: The National Team has some crucial qualfying games coming up in Asia. The Matilda’s recent two game series where you drew one game and won the other in a recent series against North Korea must give the team confidence for the upcoming matches?
SS: We have a tough group this May in China. It sounds quite silly but in a month and a half our fate for the World Cup next year will be decided. We have qualified before - so for us ‘older’ players we know the feeling...we are training well at the moment and obviously our strong performances over the past 2 months have boosted our confidence. A lot of hard work to do in the meantime, but I can’t see why we won’t be playing in Germany next year at the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup.

Interview First Published in Half Time Heroes March