Are the Joeys’ slow starts evidence of a vacuum of opportunity for young Australian footballers?

With the Joeys currently involved in the FIFA U-17’s World Cup, some of Australia’s best young footballers are on show for the first time on the world stage. It is one of the rare opportunities for them to be so. Promising Australian talent is often well and truly distanced from public attention, with few tournaments available for them to show their wares.

All bar one of the U-17’s squad are contracted to professional clubs, with the majority honing their skills at youth level and biding their time before receiving a crack at top flight professional play.

Brisbane Roar’s Izaack Powell and Melbourne Victory’s Birkan Kirdar have both had a taste of the top level, yet for most it is something of a waiting game. That waiting builds frustration and a footballing anxiety to impress.

Such has appeared to be the case for the Joeys in both of their group matches thus far. Jumped early and stunned in the headlights by Ecuador, the young Australians were two goals behind after just nine minutes. There was something of a revival, plenty of possession and a late goal, yet it was a disappointing start to the tournament.

Things began in much the same way against Hungary yesterday. This time it took a little longer, 20 minutes in fact, for a two goal deficit to be established, but the Aussies were once again frantic and energetic without being poised and polished.

Prior to Hungary’s opener in the 14th minute, the Joeys had looked good, really good; seeking to make amends for their opening fixture. However, as soon as the Hungarians found their rhythm, the gaps began to appear and anxiety levels in the Joey’s squad appeared to increase.

What followed was the most stirring of second half comebacks from Australia. A penalty was followed by an equaliser in the 69th and 74th minutes and the Joeys should have won it late. Sadly, the winner did not come and it was to be just a lone point to keep hopes alive in the event.

It appeared clear that the Joey’s lack of experience and competitive opportunities affected their starts to both matches. Once they settled, particularly against Hungary, they looked just fine and the early swagger and confidence prior to going behind returned.

Just three members of the squad ply their trade overseas, with the remainder domestically based and involved in youth structures at A-League or NPL club level.

That essentially equates to players remaining in their home state/city and playing against opposition they know well and on a consistent basis.

A national competition similar to the FFA’s Y-League is required for them to improve, however the financial ramifications would be insurmountable for the clubs. The U-23 League can muster just eight competitive matches for its players; with clubs pooled into regions to restrain costs.

It is an unfortunate curse from which the wide brown land suffers, with airfares, accommodation and equipment expenses making extended national competitions at junior level nigh impossible.

Perhaps the answer lies in FFA supported and federation funded inter-state football, where representative teams from the eight states and territories compete for a national youth championship. School Sport Australia run such tournaments at U-16 and U-18 levels with great success.

Youth level championships would showcase the best young talent available and provide scouts with a centralised venue in which to witness that talent on show. It would expose players to all clubs across the Asian Confederation, something that is becoming increasingly important as the region grows at a rapid speed.

It is a concept that could be implemented across a range of age groups, potentially even as an extension of the U-23 Y-League concept.

It’s fundamental goal would be to have young football talent in Australia playing more often against the best opposition available; beyond club land. Forging further corporate connections, streaming inter-state matches and broadening Australia’s reach across Asia are also potential benefits.

As it stands, Australia’s youth squads are blessed with immense talent, yet appear poorly prepared for the rigours of international football. Increasing their domestic opportunities against elite opposition could go some way to improving performances on the world stage.

Of course, organising and funding such opportunities is another thing altogether.

Stuart is a writer, journalist, blogger and social commentator based in Sydney, Australia. His work can also be found on theRoar.com.au, zerotackle.com.au, openforum.com and on his website, stuartthomas.com.au. You can connect with him on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Fox looking to add virtual fans to broadcast

Virtual fans

Fox in the United States is looking to add fans into their coverage even with empty stadiums, using virtual reality (VR) technology.

According to the New York Post, the media company, along with fellow broadcasters ESPN, NBC, CBS and Turner Sports, are seeking to improve the fan experience at home by bringing in VR technology to enhance their viewing of the game.

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As all sporting events are most likely to only be shown behind closed doors due to the coronavirus pandemic, it is an idea that could serve a valuable purpose for the foreseeable future until it’s safe for spectators to return in mass gatherings.

Fox broadcaster Joe Buck has been adamant in suggesting that virtual fans are something we should expect to see, as broadcasters work out the best way to implement it.

Speaking on SiriusXM’s Andy Cohen Live, the addition of fake crowd noise could add some extra excitement to contests.

“[Virtual fans is] pretty much a done deal,” Buck said.

“I think whoever is going to be at that control is going to have to be really good at their job and be realistic with how a crowd would react depending on what just happened on the field. So it’s really important.

“And then on top of that … They’re looking at ways to put virtual fans in the stands, so when you see a wide shot it looks like the stadium is jam-packed and in fact it’ll be empty.”

The German Bundesliga recently restarted between closed doors, but there was definitely an eerie feeling without the atmosphere.

If you watched the derby between Dortmund vs Schalke, there is potential for crowd noise to be filtered through around the PA systems, as each of Dortmund’s goals were followed by chants by the intimidating yellow wall.

With crowd noise absent completely, it could hinder a club’s dominance at home with familiar comforts, or remove just a little bit of normality during these strange times.

As we’ve seen with Fox, they would just like to make games seem as though it’s like the old times, despite adding the technology being a challenge.

2023 Women’s World Cup: Host to be announced June 25

Australia and New Zealand will find out whether they will host the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup in under six weeks’ time.

FIFA have confirmed the successful candidate will be announced on June 25, following a vote by their council.

Alongside the joint Australian and New Zealand bid, Brazil, Colombia and Japan are still in the running to host the 2023 event.

“We believe that our proven ability to deliver the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 is a key strength of our bid,” FFA Chairman Chris Nikou said.

“Our world-class infrastructure, modern stadia, high-quality football facilities in both Australia and New Zealand and major event hosting experience ensure certainty in delivering the first 32 team FIFA Women’s World Cup.

“From operational excellence, record-breaking crowds, commercial success, strong government support, a warm embrace from our 200 diverse cultures to a genuine profound legacy across the Asia-Pacific region, Australia-New Zealand offers certainty in uncertain times, as well as impact,” he said.

New Zealand Football President Johanna Wood said: “Our proposal offers FIFA a ground-breaking approach to hosting its greatest women’s tournament.  We are two nations from two confederations, united in proposing a historic and exciting step forward for world football.

“We will be a tournament of firsts. The first ever co-Confederation hosted FIFA World Cup, the first ever FIFA Women’s World Cup to be held in the Asia-Pacific region, and the first ever to be held in the southern hemisphere.

“And as important as all of this, we are nations proud of our commitment to equality and fairness and would embody a FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 built on common humanity through football.

“As the world looks to adapt and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, our bid offers an exciting vision to bring the world together As One in 2023 to celebrate women’s football and inspire women and girls around the world,” she concluded.

Stuart Hodge addresses future for Football NSW

Stuart Hodge

Football NSW Chief Executive Officer Stuart Hodge has addressed key topics on the association’s radar in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Speaking on the CDSFA Community Football Podcast, Hodge is keen for the league to restart as soon as it’s safe to do so.

“I certainly think the government have to take in a lot of factors as we’ve seen with the pandemic – anything can change one day to the next,” he said.

“It was a positive step forward that they’ve got the national principles and the government and NSW will now review those and look at guidelines.

“They’ll have to balance that up with other information that they have and state-specific information here in NSW.

“We’re hopeful given that from some of the surveys which we’ve seen that most people are keen to get out and play again.

“The physical, mental and social benefits are well documented, but we have to make sure we do it under the right conditions and that is when the government says it’s okay.”

The flow on effect of the competition’s postponement will be how clubs juggle summer sports with councils if they clash later down the line, something Hodge is aware of.

“It’s a challenge for all of them and we’re in discussions with some summer sports to try and get some principles in place that if we get football resumed, we’ll have some additional time beyond what we normally get,” he said.

“From some associations, the feedback is from councils have been very sympathetic.

“We’ve collectively lost a couple months of the season already so the opportunity to play a little bit later into the year would be welcomed.

“We’re also conscious that we want to try and keep things on track for next year when hopefully we return on time.

“It’s a balance because we appreciate that there’s also participants that are involved in multiple sports so we’re wanting to help them out and not over-burden them.

“Councils also need to turn fields around although I noticed some of them looking magnificent at the moment.

“We’ve had some very big discussions and hopefully it’s just a fair and reasonable approach which is all we’re asking for.”

One of the main issues across all sports due to postponements has been the topic of refunds, with games in professional sport being played behind closed doors.

While there’s still the unknown about when fans can return to grounds in 2020 and beyond, Hodge has clarified how Football NSW will look to navigate through this tricky time.

“I think in the interim if people are facing financial hardship then of course they should be in touch with their club to get a refund,” Hodge said.

“If the season gets underway then we’ll have to redo our modelling and look at what the fee structures are.

“I hope we do get back on the field and we can go down that path – if the season doesn’t get played then everyone will have to sit and remodel what the costs are and things like that.”

Since this podcast was published on 5th May, Football NSW have moved a step closer to resuming training at the very least with the NSW Government confirming an easing of restrictions – taking affect from Friday 15th May including:

  • outdoor gatherings of up to 10 people
  • cafes and restaurants can seat 10 patrons at any one time
  • up to 5 visitors to a household at any one time
  • weddings up to 10 guests
  • indoor funerals up to 20 mourners, outdoor funerals up to 30
  • religious gatherings/places of worship up to 10 worshipers
  • use of outdoor equipment with caution
  • outdoor pools open with restrictions.

In a recent press release, it’s mentioned the Office of Sport is working closely with government agencies about how sporting organisations can safely return to action.

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