Contributed by: Brett Northey
The 2008 Australian Football International Cup has travelled down to Warrnambool for the crucial final round of pool matches. Based on the original seeding, top plays second in each of the four pools, which should see some great matches, and two of them are really too close to call. Rain greeted the players who arrived via two train services courtesy of V-Line. Wet and windy weather is predicted for Monday's matches, which will test even the best teams and should help the struggling sides limit the damage.
Ireland take on Canada at 11am on Reid Oval. The Warriors had already travelled down to Warrnambool prior to the Cup to get to know the place, play a practice match and make sure the locals are on board for their tilt at becoming the first nation to win the tournament twice. Both teams showed little mercy for new boys Finland, with the Irish having 33 scoring shots to 0, and Canada 40 to 0. Against the slightly stronger Swedes the Irish had 24 shots to 1, whereas Canada had 28 to 2. Both of these combatants rested players in some of their matches. The Northwind seem to be moving the ball slightly more fluently and have great forwards in Cunning and Fleming, but the Irish have a proud history at this tournament and a very strong "spine" of big men. Logic leans towards Canada, but for some reason the intuition says that with the local support the Irish might get over the line. Quite simply a top 4 spot and staying alive for a chance to make the Grand Final is what's up for grabs here. We've thrown a leprechaun in the air and he's come down tails, I think that makes the tip an upset - Canada by 1 point.
Also in the 11am timeslot are a couple of regional showdowns in New Zealand vs Samoa (Walter Oval) and Sweden vs Finland (Mack Oval). The Samoans will take the game right to the Kiwis with very physical play and don't miss the Haka versus the Siva Tau before the first bounce. But the New Zealand team are equally strong bodied, but better disciplined and more skilful with the ball in hand - New Zealand by 60 points, though the margin could shrink if the rain sets in. Sweden has already tackled their neighbours in recent times and should have no difficulty here to register their first win, but hopefully the Icebreakers will score their first goal of the tournament - Sweden by 40 points.
1pm at Mack Oval might see India also get on the board for their first goal in international footy, although Japan's impressive win over Samoa suggests the odds are probably against it. At least a less physical style should help the Indians enjoy the game and see where they could aim to be in a few years from now - Japan by 80 points and securing a final tournament ranking of between 5th and 8th, something their staff have said they would be very satisfied with.
Across at Walter is one of the tournament favourites Papua New Guinea looking to run rings around Great Britain. The Bulldogs were devastated to lose to Nauru, and the likely loss to PNG will send them to a ranking of 9th to 12th. That would be a harsh outcome from a squad that looks to be better than 2005, but is a sign of the improving competition and an awkward but perhaps unavoidable ranking system. Still, the Brits aren't completely out of the equation in this match and should summon all that Bulldog spirit. Expect them to take it to the Mozzies hard early on, but the tip has to be PNG, by 50 points.
And at the same time the blockbuster across at Reid. The strong, ultra serious US Revolution against the rapidly emerging talents of South Africa, seen by some as the AFL's golden child. This clash should be a ripper, with the speed and flare of the Lions against the Revos' big strong bodies and disciplined game plan. The US will bring it on hard from the opening bounce and perhaps it's a harsh call but there's a feeling some of the South Africans won't stand up under the pressure. Again, the winner of this one makes the top four and must be a reasonable chance for the ultimate spot. Momentum is building for South Africa in much the way the Canadians are impressing in 2008. The shots on goal against their opponents total 51 for, 5 against for the US and 66 for and 5 against for South Africa. The Lions might just have too much flair for the Americans, but we can't tip too many upsets and with the US discipline and pressure and an extra day's break, the tip is US by 6 points.
The day concludes from 3pm with two matches that look one-sided on paper. At Walter Oval the battered Peace Team take on the hard bodied yet elusive Nauru Chiefs. Word out of the Nauru camp is that the coaching staff are keen to play this match in good spirit and use it as a learning experience for both sides, with a joint warm-up even suggested. Let's hope that happens and both teams enjoy the match. Based on that the margin might not get too large, and Nauru may well ensure their full rotation gets a good workout. Nauru by 60 points. Congratulations to Nauru if their plans turn out well. Perhaps the AFL could consider an award of some sort for the nation that plays in the best spirit of footy. Of course that's open to interpretation, and the very existence of the Peace Team might be enough to win the award.
And finally at Reid Oval Denmark will be looking to win their first match of the tournament. The Danes were strong at the ball and looked good in patches against the South Africans, but this match will also be a great chance for China to show what they've learnt. Expect an even battle at times, but the Vikings pulling away steadily. Denmark by 60 points.
All in all some great matches on the cards and let's hope the weather is reasonable for a great local turnout.
World Footy News