Friday night saw the Adelaide Oval host its first football match since the recent redevelopment works on the ground. The match pitted Adelaide United against European opposition for the first time, in the form of La Liga outfit Málaga Club de Fútbol.
The $610 million dollar upgrade has ensured a top class facility for a high profile match, and United striker Bruce Djite is a fan of the stadium’s new look.
“It looks really good, the surface is fantastic and everything’s set up for a great game of football and I think anyone who comes tomorrow will really enjoy the spectacle,” he said in the pre-match press conference on Thursday afternoon.
The match promised to offer a healthy dose of Spanish influence from both sides, with United coached by Spaniard Josep Gombau, who hopes the match can be a catalyst for increasing crowds during the regular season.
“It’s a football game, we want to try to be competitive, it is our job. We need to make the people enjoy watching the game and maybe after tomorrow, people who don’t usually come to Hindmarsh will come after the season starts.”
Gombau also suggested that the experience gained could benefit a number of United’s younger players, and he wouldn’t be afraid to throw them into the action.
“What we want is to get experience. It’s good experience for all of us. For the club to have these kind of games, and for the players. We have a lot of young players who tomorrow will be in the list (squad) and a few of them will play.”
The game was watched in front of a crowd of 23,254, Málaga triumphed by a scoreline of 5-1, with Bruce Djite scoring United’s lone goal from 20 yards. Málaga lead 1-0 at halftime after an Osama Malik own goal, and scored twice early in the second half through a spectacular Pablo Perez volley and a Luis Alberto free kick, before running away with the match and adding two late goals through young striker Juanmi.
Being a pre-season game the United players and staff will be hoping to take a lot from the experience of facing some hugely talented footballers.
So what did the Reds learn from the match up?
United’s defence remain committed to retaining possession
The Reds employed a short passing approach with clever movement, much like their exploits last season, playing the ball out from defence as they will look to continue this campaign. There were a few moments of worry during the match though, with goalkeeper Eugene Galekovic and defenders Osama Malik and Nigel Boogaard all guilty of coughing up possession on different occasions.
The philosophy will not change, and nor should it. It was this approach that allowed United to wear down and break down opposing teams last season and will work again if exploited correctly. Adelaide coach Josep Gombau has previously said that his sides will always look to build from the back and if the defence can stay composed, they will be a fluid side from back to front once again.
Mark Ochieng is ready for the A-League
Gombau handed new recruit Mark Ochieng a start at right back, and his faith in youth was repaid in spades. A product of the Australian Institute of Sport, Ochieng’s pace and strength on the right flank will give Gombau an extra during the season ahead.
The youngster showed maturity throughout that belied his tender years, and also performed the best piece of defensive work seen all night when he miraculously cleared the ball while facing his own goal. With a superb low ball in from Málaga’s Ricardo Horta cutting out the rest of the Reds defence and preventing Galekovic from coming off his line, Ochieng had to make the crucial intervention to prevent Samu Castillejo from scoring the simplest of tap-ins.
Ochieng’s strong display is likely to mean more opportunities for him during the season and we could well see him feature in United’s upcoming FFA Cup clash with Wellington Phoenix. Ochieng’s substitution at half time indicated Gombau was pleased with the young right back’s performance and wants to keep him fit and fresh for the season ahead.
Djite begins as he means to go on
United’s only goal came from the left foot of striker Bruce Djite and with Jeronimo Neumann’s departure he will need to fill the void up front. Despite starting for large portions of last season, Djite’s goal return was decent but unspectacular five goals. He will need to improve that this campaign if the Reds are to push higher up the table.
The goal came when Djite picked up a loose ball in midfield and burst past an opponent, before firing low between two defenders and into the corner of the net, via the post. The strike combined power and accuracy and was an impressive one given it was on Djite’s weaker foot. A firm fan favourite for his power and tireless work ethic, Djite has the chance to become idolised for another reason if he can find the back of the net regularly in the weeks and months ahead.
After Adelaide United’s first “big hit-out” Tarek Elrich admitted playing against Málaga was a “tough ask”. But he’s looking forward to the season ahead and playing again at the Adelaide Oval.
“For me it was my first time I’ve been out [on the Adelaide Oval],” Elrich said.
“We’ve trained here once it’s a very fast and big pitch, some people aren’t use to, but it was good.
“I think we play Melbourne Victory here in our first game at home, and hopefully we can have a good turnout.”
Adelaide United attacker, Sergio Cirio, wasn’t pleased with the performance saying the Reds found it difficult to compete in the beginning of the game.
“It was a very difficult game, because [Málaga] have good players in their team, and from the beginning for [Adelaide] it was very difficult,” Cirio said.
“We weren’t comfortable, but after the first goal we were better and started to play our own style.
“But in the second half [Málaga] had all the ball and possession, it was not a very good game for us.”