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[Feature] South Melbourne in Singapore Cup 2011

Last season, blogger Paul Mavroudis sent me his preview on his beloved South Melbourne FC's maiden Singapore Cup campaign and this time round he took the initiative to pen his thoughts before the Hellas are due to meet Albirex Niigata (Singapore) this coming Sunday at the Jalan Besar Stadium.

Many thanks to Paul for his contribution.

South Melbourne in Singapore Cup 2011
Paul Mavroudis

(Pictured above) South Melbourne (in blue) made their Singapore Cup debut last year against Gombak United
After surprising several people last season after defeating Gombak United in the first round and pushing eventual winner Bangkok Glass in the quarter finals, South Melbourne heads into its second Singapore Cup campaign on the back of an atrocious run of form and injury concerns over several of its best players. While the squad is apparently raring to go, there are concerns amongst the South faithful about how competitive the side will be this time around.

The season started well for South. After winning a pre-season cup tournament, and despite defensive frailties, the side managed to top the standings a third of the way into the 2011 season, the first time the club had been on top of the table since early 2007.

But following a disastrous 5-0 loss to Hume City – which included two red cards and a spate of injuries – South's good early form has disappeared. The side has only managed three wins since mid April, two of those against bottom three sides, and the other a comfortable cup win over a team from several division below.

There has been a high turnover of players in just half a season. Three goalkeepers have been used, players from the junior system have departed for more opportunities elsewhere, the midfield has been wracked by injury and several players have been brought in during a recent transfer window to bolster the side's depth.

The defense has been at the heart of the upheaval. VPL era stalwart and captain Ramazan Tavsancioglu left in acrimonious circumstances before the season started after the captaincy was handed to Steven O'Dor. One time Socceroo, the talented but controversial Ljubo Milicevic, was brought in part way through the season and started brightly, before the seemingly inevitable internal divisions he's commonly linked to saw him leave as well.
Coach Eddie Krncevic (pictured above left) is aiming for better showing this time
The midfield has been wracked by injuries. Defensive midfielder and perhaps the best performed player this season Carl Recchia has been out injured for several weeks, and only made his return last Wednesday in South's shock 2-1 cup loss to Port Melbourne, a team from a division lower. Fellow midfielders Joe Keenan and Yianni Galanos both received serious injuries before the season and have not made any appearances this season.

Last year's Victorian Premier League player of the year Fernando De Moraes has struggled for fitness, and will not be making the trip to Singapore, as he is still recovering from a hamstring injury. His creativity in the attacking midfield role has been sorely missed. Similarly, another attacking midfielder, Marinos Gasparis, has also been the victim of several injuries, and his match fitness must also be under question.

Striker Jesse Krncevic, who played for South in the Singapore Cup in the quarter finals last year, has also had a mixed season. Despite scoring several goals and appearing to have solved at least some of South's scoring issues, he has had long layoffs for suspension – the only benefit being that he will be fit ands fresh for the game against Albirex Niigata.

Still, it might not all be doom and gloom for South. Winger/forward Kyle Joryeff is probably the most improved player, improving his workrate significantly. Goalkeepe Zaim Zeneli, while not being flawless, has at least managed to add some sort of stability to his position. Some of boys from the youth system have done OK, but have struggled to attain consistent Some of the new boys have slotted in reasonably well considering the short space of time.

And the squad is still littered with players with NSL, A-League and overseas experience. As with last year, how they handle another unfamiliar opponent, as well the hot and humid conditions remains to be seen. Melbourne is in the grip of a unusually (even by local standards) early and cold winter, and the rapid adjustment required and the toll on the players fitness may well prove pivotal to the result. South flies up on Friday and returns on Tuesday morning.


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