The A-League’s seventh season kicks off this weekend and, for fans of the round ball code, this season is as highly anticipated as the first inaugural edition from 2005. The quality of football last campaign was better than anything previously seen from a domestic competition on these shores, however the improved spectacle didn’t receive adequate attention from mainstream media and Australian sports fans remained largely unaware of what they were missing. This was reflected in the decreasing number of paying patrons each week, with average attendances dropping to their lowest level in the lifetime of the A-League.
Unsurprisingly, one thing that has put media focus on the league for the upcoming season has been some marquee player signings. Harry Kewell is Australia’s greatest ever soccer player and he returns home at age 33 to showcase his immense skills before his body starts packing up. Some are arguing that Kewell’s best is long since behind him, but they are overlooking a very successful stint with Turkish giant Galatasaray, where Kewell averaged over 30 games and 10 goals per season in his three years there. The other big fish returning to the small pond is veteran Socceroo Brett Emerton. Emerton returns after a successful nine year spell at English Premier League club Blackburn Rovers. For the duration of his time in England Emerton was a regular first team starter and is still in good touch, as exemplified by his late season goal against Manchester United in May, which nearly stopped the Red Devils from winning the league title. Another Socceroo, Dario Vidosic rejoins the A-League after an up and down four year stint in Germany. Unlike Emerton and Kewell, Vidosic is in the prime of his career, at 24 years of age, and could yet be the best buy of the lot.
CHEEKY ROUND 1 A-LEAGUE MULTI
Andy’s Bet: Melbourne Victory, Brisbane and Gold Coast all to win @ 8.75 (Sportingbet)
Newcastle Jets v Melbourne Heart (AEDT 1630)
It is difficult to fathom that the Newcastle Jets are a professional sporting club, because their build up to the new season bordered on the shambolic this week. Coach Branko Culina was sensationally sacked just days out from this season opener and their marquee player Jason Culina – son of Branko – had his contract terminated due to a long term knee injury. The Culina saga has soured an otherwise sweet pre-season for the Jets, who were unbeaten in their twelve pre-season matches. Melbourne Heart coach Johan Van’t Schip will have learnt a few lessons from the club’s debut season last year and they should improve this season. Former A-League crowd pleaser Fred is back in Melbourne, although this time with the Heart and not the Victory. Given that Newcastle are without a head coach and were a low scoring team last season, I expect this to be a tight, cagey affair and thus I’m tipping a draw.
Andy’s Bet: Under 2.5 goals @ 1.66 (Centrebet)
Melbourne Victory v Sydney FC (AEDT 1830)
Kewell-fever will sweep Melbourne’s Etihad Stadium this Saturday night. The left-footed wizard will start in the A-League for the first time, probably bringing an extra 10,000-15,000 fans through the turnstiles. Kewell will likely play in an attacking midfield role, sitting in the hole behind the two strikers, likely to be Archie Thomson and one of Danny Allsop or Jean-Carlos Solorzano. Sydney provide plenty of attacking threat themselves and much will hinge on the ability of coach Vitezslav Lavicka to get the best out of ultra-talented attacking midfielder Nicky Carle. Melbourne should be good enough to win at the even money odds offered and Harry Kewell has often risen for the big occasion in his career, so I fancy him to find the net on debut.
Andy’s Bet: Melbourne to win @ 2.10 (Sportingbet)
Andy’s Bet: Harry Kewell to score anytime @ 6.50 (Sportingbet)
Brisbane Roar v Central Coast Mariners (AEDT 2045)
In an ironic twist, this grand final replay has been relegated to second-choice status on Saturday night, with the Kewell and Emerton fanfare drawing all attention to Melbourne. Those who do stick out the Saturday football marathon (this is the final installment of three consecutive matches) will not be disappointed. These sides met a whopping six times last season and there was drama on each occasion, notably Brisbane’s stunning escape from a two goal deficit during extra time in the grand final. In the off-season the Roar lost influential trio Matt McKay, Kosta Barbarouses and Jean-Carlos Solorzano from their championship winning side, but they have some new talent ready to step up. The Mariners will be without captain and defensive pillar Alex Wilkinson to a broken arm, while Mustafa Amini’s afro won’t be sighted in the midfield as the talented youngster is also injured. I’m going to keep backing Brisbane until they give me a reason to stop!
Andy’s Bet: Brisbane to win @ 2.20 (Sportingbet)
Gold Coast United v Wellington Phoenix (AEDT 1700)
I am almost more excited by the Gold Coast than any other club this season. I know Melbourne and Sydney have got the wow factor with their marquee signings, but United have topped up an already talented squad with a few of the brightest stars from their successful youth team. A youth team which has won the past two National Youth Leage titles. These fresh faces could be the next crop of Socceroos, so I am hoping they make an instant impression. United’s visitors this Sunday are Wellington, a solid team again last year, who made the finals for the second successive season. As has been their trademark, the Phoenix were near flawless at home and calamitous on their travels. Paul Iffil remains the club’s talisman, but he is approaching veteran status now and his young protégé Marco Rojas has left the club to join the Melbourne victory. Tony Warner in goal and Dani Sanchez in attack could prove shrewd winter signings by Wellington coach Ricki Herbert, however there has been many more departures than arrivals.
Andy’s Bet: Gold Coast to win @ 1.90 Sportingbet)
Andy’s Bet: Gold Coast to be leading 1-0 at half time @ 3.75 (Sportingbet)
Perth Glory v Adelaide United (AEDT 1930)
Round 1 concludes with this cracker from NIB Stadium in Perth. Both sides have done some good business in the off-season. Perth added goal scoring machine Shane Smeltz and Irish international midfielder Liam Miller, while Adelaide have gained Socceroos Dario Vidosic, Jon McKain and Bruce Djite. There was one extra transfer move sure to be a talking point for this match and that was former Adelaide skipper Travis Dodd heading west to the Glory. Dodd’s switch adds extra spice to an already delicious contest. Given the quality throughout each squad, I think both teams will make the finals and that makes this a tough one to pick. I am going for Perth because I they’ll be given extra impetus from a boisterous home crowd. Smeltz is a proven goal scorer in the A-League, so he’s great value to knock in a goal at any time in the match.
Andy’s Bet: Perth to win @ 2.50 (Centrebet)
Andy’s Bet: Shane Smeltz to score anytime @ 2.55 (Centrebet)