World Cup Rank Bank – Australia

Gotta love them ‘Roos. Personally, I have a soft spot for Australia when it comes to professional sport. They’re just great craic, aren’t they? If it’s not their cricket fans giving the English players hell during The Ashes, the anarchy of Pat Cash climbing through the throngs on Centre Court, or indeed the thongs of their Women’s Beach Volleyball team, it’s a Mark Bosnich green card marriage. Their footballers travel to Russia as the rank outsiders in what is officially the tightest group. But this isn’t their first rodeo, and their fans will be expectant, as the men from Down Under compete in their fourth successive finals.

 

Manager: Bert van Marwijk

The Aussie’s are managed by Dutch Football’s answer to Elvis and Michael Jackson, in father Bert van Marwijk and son-in-law Mark van Bommel. The paralleling of van Bommel and Michael Jackson entertains me. They have an unbeaten record at the helm, certainly at least in part thanks to the fact they haven’t yet had a match – van Marwijk announced his first squad for friendlies with Norway and Colombia last week. In the Dutch man, the ‘Roos are tapping into a vast wealth of international management experience. After guiding his compatriots all the way to the final in South Africa in 2010, he also secured Saudi Arabia’s qualification to this year’s tournament, oddly. Failing to agree a new contract with the Saudi’s in the aftermath of their qualification, van Marwijk left his role in the Gulf, but his physical and dynamic brand of football could well be a perfect fit for the Australians.

 

Star Player: Tom Rogic (Celtic)

Playmaker Rogic is a wholly biased choice, after his beautiful solo effort pulled the Hoops back on terms last Sunday in the Old Firm game, but he will play a central role if the Aussies are to have any success in Russia. He’s one of a number of recognisable names in their midfield, including the likes of Huddersfield’s Aaron Mooy, Villa enforcer Mile Jedinak and of course Premier League legend Tim Cahill, who has recently rocked back up at Millwall. Rogic and Mooy will look to lay on chances for goal threats Matthew Leckie and Tomi Juric up front, but for now, lets just drink that goal in again…

 

Record v Ireland: Won (1) Drawn (0) Lost (1)

Twice, Australia have made the trip over in international friendlies. Goals from John O’ Shea and Clinton Morrison secured a come-from-behind victory back in August 2003, a brief release from the terrible Euro 2004 qualifying campaign. Good man Mick. They returned again in August 2009, this time to Thomond Park, where Australia were to run out comfortable victors – Tim Cahill getting a brace on the night.

 

Little Known Fact: Hello, Goodbye at the FFA

So try to keep up. Five months ago, Australia claimed passage to Russia after a rousing second leg play off victory over Honduras in Sydney. Hurrah say all those at the Football Federation of Australia. Six days later the bombshell of coach Ange Postecoglou’s tearful resignation seemingly threw plans for the finals into the wind. However, in the months leading up to the decisive play off, conjecture was growing that Postecoglou was beleaguered with his country’s top job. At the end of January, the FFA announced that Bert van Marwijk would step in on an interim basis to negotiate preparations for Russia and the finals themselves, an exciting coup for all involved. But like a night I once had with a girl from Sweden when I was eighteen, the excitement will eventually lead to an all too brief affair. That’s because last Sunday it was announced that Graham Arnold, manager of Sydney FC, was to step into the breach on a long term basis after the World Cup. Many aren’t happy. Roberto Mancini and Marco Bielsa had been touted for the job, not to mention the questionable form of Arnold’s Sydney side since the start of March – one draw and three defeats could have come at a more convenient time one imagines. I’d imagine this is what arranged marriage feels like.

 

How Will They Go?

Despite being the lowest ranked team in their group, the distraction of the rotating coaches, and having to take on the delectable French, I actually feel Australia could cause a few surprises. Given that experience and creativity in their midfield, the games against Denmark and Peru could be extremely tight affairs, especially if van Marwijk and van Bommel have enough time to put their physical stamp on the team. Certainly, the 100/30 that Bet Victor are offering on them to finish Top Asian team at the tournament could prove a shrewd investment.

Prediction: 2nd – ballsy and outlandish statement. How very Australian of me!

 

Long Drawn Silva Saga Set to Continue

I never had the patience for reading Treasure Island – or any book that happened to grace the modular reading lists from A-Level English through undergraduate. I had more to be at.

Back then, Wikipedia proved a potent ally – a quick scour for plots and themes would just about see me through. “When will I ever have to personify the characteristics of Long John Silver in real life?”, I would chortle, whilst the doorman at the Hatfield House Bar, in the heart of Belfast’s student quarter, bid me adieu.

Oh yes, in the heady days of 2009, no one had ever had to deal with the misfortune of hearing of Marco Silva, never mind coming up with a good old literary pun with which to beat him with.

Having anchored at Estoril on the Portuguese Riviera, no one could have imagined back then that almost a decade later, the journeyman right back, who had only ever managed two outings in the Portuguese Primera Liga during a mundane playing career, would hold Premier League giants by the proverbials.

Silva’s meteoric, and oft times chaotic, rise to the top of the European game as a manager is undoubtedly unique. Taking up the reins at Estoril not long after he hung up the boots, he only suffered four defeats in his first twenty four league games in football management, securing the second division title in the process. An unprecedented fifth place finish and qualification for the Europa League in the following season and the big ships were taking notice.

Sporting Club chose to take the gamble. A year into a four year contract, it became hilariously obvious they wish they hadn’t. Despite having secured the Portuguese Cup, Sporting’s first trophy in nine years, four days previously, he was sacked for not wearing a club suit in another cup game. Right…

Undeterred, Marco set sail. Firstly to Greece, managing not to balls up Olympiacos’ annual procession to their domestic title, before unbelievably landing at the most golden of golden coves – the Premier League. That post-dated another strange departure from Piraeus, resigning during the reigning champions preseason tour of Austria. In fairness, winning a one team league wouldn’t exactly get me tingle-tipped either. Beggars couldn’t be choosers at Hull City, however. Languishing at the foot of the table, and with a family of rockets in the boardroom, Marco was given the mandate of saving the sinking ship. He didn’t. Everyone drowned.

That should have been it, surely? With Marco? Surely, that was it?

Cue another set of questionable owners, cue another stepping stone Premier League club. Not unlike his one-legged namesake from Treasure Island, Silva couldn’t miss the opportunity to further his interests. It came as no surprise then, that he eventually came to see Watford less Robert Louis Stevenson, more Awkward Lanky Richarlison. When heavyweights Everton flirted and winked, Marco grinned nervously and played with his all natural brunette hair. When Papa Pozzo didn’t approve and grounded Marco in Hertfordshire, Marco did what Marco seemingly does best. With all the dignity of a love scorned teenage girl, Marco raised hell. Rumours abound, that by the end of the run of only one win in eleven games that saw his tenure at Watford come to an end, Silva was refusing to take training.

And here we are – not a month on from his latest self-progressive plundering, and we stand at quite a disturbing moment in time. Marco Silva, the one-time weary old sea dog who lumbered round small Portuguese ports, is now, perhaps, the most eligible admiral on the high seas.

And what’s more infuriating – at least Steve McClaren knew he was shit. Silva’s behaviour is more akin to that of another arguably self-absorbed Iberian in Mourinho. But as football begins to fall in love with another sharp suited, brown eyed and lusciously haired “Portu-geezer”, someone must take their hand out of their pants for a second and face a few facts.

What has brought Silva to this point? If it’s trophies – it’s two league titles in Dog & Duck leagues and a cup win at a team where they couldn’t wait to get shot of him. If it’s style of play – what has he proved in England to make him worthy of such high praise? I count one relegation and a win ratio of one in every three. If it’s potential – surely homegrown developing talents such as Eddie Howe and Sean Dyche are far more deserving of their chance at a top English club.

There’s always the chance of lightening striking twice, and it’s football after all, so why not? But if José is Blu-ray Disc, Silva, for now, is your five movies for a tenner, market stall copy. A pirate.