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Dec 17, 2012

Derby lights up Sydney

The A-League Angle delves into the world of Australian football, analysing key talking points from the top-flight club competition Down Under.

Derby lights up Sydney

There is a new must-see event on the already bulging Australian sporting calendar: the derby between Sydney FC and Western Sydney Wanderers.

The latest instalment - the second since the Wanderers' inception at the start of the season - offered a glimpse into the scale and passion on offer as 26,176 fans provided a lively backdrop to a fascinating encounter. The Wanderers showed too much commitment for their eastern neighbours on the night, clinching a 2-0 triumph courtesy of goals to Youssef Hersi and Michael Beauchamp.

However, it was the dedication and colour of both sets of supporters that made the evening memorable. Indeed, it is that passion, which has now been unlocked, which can see the Sydney derby rise to one of the most highly-anticipated events in Australian sport.

In a few more years, as both clubs build their respective storylines, the fixture pitting the blue half of the city against the red and black should be a guaranteed sell-out. And, with a population of four million, it is no less than the city of Sydney should expect.

On the pitch, Sydney FC's woes appear to continue. The high-profile Sky Blues are rooted to the foot of the table once again, but there are underlying signs which will have new boss Frank Farina excited.

Former Socceroo Jason Culina looked as lively as he has in two years following a spate of injury concerns, and with Alessandro Del Piero returning to full fitness and starlet Terry Antonis back from international duties, there is much to like about Sydney's midfield.

Add to that the inclusion of former Shanghai Shenhua striker Joel Griffiths next month, and the spine of the team is suddenly far stronger than it has been through the campaign thus far.

Questions persist over fullbacks Fabio and Seb Ryall, but there is enough quality through Sydney's core to suggest they can be a force in the league yet.

For the Wanderers, marquee man Shinji Ono is beginning to find his groove, with the Japanese legend providing some outrageous touches during the match before setting up Beauchamp to seal the win.

Ono aside, Tony Popovic's men are workmanlike in attitude and application, but in so doing they are also representing their region with pride. Therein lies the most compelling element in the battle for Sydney supremacy: two clubs with very distinct identities standing their ground as the masses within the city select their loyalties.

Over the past two seasons, the rest of the nation has watched on enviously as the Melbourne derby captured the A-League's imagination. After Saturday night's effort, Australia's most populous city now has its equivalent, and the entire competition is richer for it.


Any eyes on ASEAN?

One of the biggest international tournaments on Australia's doorstep is about to reach its conclusion, but have any A-League clubs taken notice?

Hosted by Malaysia and Thailand, the AFF Suzuki Cup has seen Southeast Asia's finest battling it out for intra-continental glory. Thailand will head into the two-legged final - which commences this Wednesday - as favourites against Singapore.

But as a throng of imports showed their wares in the A-League this past weekend, it posed the question whether Australian clubs are looking closely enough at nations within the ASEAN Football Federation. While the influence of foreign players cannot be questioned in general terms, the success of those brought into Australia - as in any league around the world - is hit and miss.

Is it not therefore reasonable that players from countries closer than South America are considered? It may seem a risk, but is it any greater gamble than bringing in a Brazilian or Argentinian?

In terms of economics, those plying their trade in southeast Asia can often make comparative earnings to their A-League counterparts. With a tight salary cap, they are therefore unlikely to find their fortune by moving Down Under. However, for driven players, a move to Australia offers the opportunity to play in a physical league in a country where English is spoken. Surely a good stepping stone to Europe, at the very least.

The one club to have seriously dipped into the southeast Asian player market to date is Melbourne Victory, who had Surat Sukha for two seasons, while Ney Fabiano also joined from Thailand's Chonburi. Victory, who were held to a 1-1 draw with Brisbane Roar on Saturday, could potentially use a central midfielder such as Malaysian captain Safiq Rahim or Shahril Ishak of LionsXII.

The Roar, meanwhile, are owned by Indonesian business conglomerate the Bakrie Group. With doubts over the fitness of key striker Besart Berisha, coach Rado Vidosic would surely love to have someone such as leading Thai scorer Teerasil Dangda, Singapore's Harris Harun, Indonesia's Bambang Pamungkas or Myanmar starlet Kyaw Ko Ko to call upon.

Another club in need of a midseason boost are Melbourne Heart, who face fierce rivals the Victory next Saturday night. Last weekend, they became Central Coast Mariners' latest victims, going down 2-0 as goalkeeper Clint Bolton had a night to forget.

The top-of-the-table Mariners have a transfer policy based around building on young, local talent, with imports generally coming in the form of senior players.

The Heart, though, need a shot in the arm following another sluggish performance. The loss came at the end of a week in which David Beckham cast doubt on a move to Australia, but if the club are looking for a marketing boost then perhaps Indonesian idol Irfam Bachdim could create some of the off-field buzz they crave. As an indication into his popularity, the 24-year-old has more Twitter followers than many of the Premier League and Europe's top clubs.

It is not a magic solution to the A-League's import conundrums by any means, but scouting Australia's nearest neighbours does seem to make more sense than not. Perhaps the Suzuki Cup final will pique the interest of clubs needing some fresh faces in January.


Overcoming adversity

Perth Glory and Newcastle Jets went into Friday's clash in terrible form. The Glory ultimately prevailed 3-0, compounding a torrid week for the Jets after owner Nathan Tinkler faced criticism for his fight with the Australian Taxation Office.

Travis Dodd bagged a brace for the home side, while striker Shane Smeltz netted from the penalty spot. It was arguably the type of match the Glory needed to get their campaign back on track. That their two most dangerous attacking players had their confidence lifted with goals was surely just as crucial as the three competition points.

It is during such difficult times that clubs can find themselves coming together, forming a siege mentality that can prove difficult for opposition sides to break down. The Jets, who face a similarly smarting Sydney FC next week, must find that steel if they are to get their own season back on the rails. That starts from the players having faith in each other.

Wellington are another club enveloped in controversy following their 3-1 defeat in Adelaide. Refereeing decisions and off-field difficulties aside, the Phoenix need to get simple defensive errors out of their game soon if they are to keep pace with the top four.

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