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A-League to continue behind closed doors, condensed season

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Football Federation Australia chairman James Johnson confirmed that the A-League season and W-League final will be played behind closed doors amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Two of 11 A-League clubs are currently in a 14-day isolation, as six rounds of the 2019-20 regular season have yet to be played.

“This is an unprecedented time and extremely complex for the sport and society at large,” Johnson said in a press conference on Monday (Australia time).

Following a game in New Zealand, Wellington Phoenix and Melbourne Victory, now back in Australian soil, are in self-isolation for the next 14 days. Neither team will be able to train during the mandatory quarantine period. The FFA confirmed that games involving both sides in Round 24 and 25 will be rescheduled for a later time.

“The decision to play the remainder of the Hyundai A-League 2019/20 season, and the Westfield W-League 2020 Grand Final behind closed doors was made in consultation with the clubs and in accordance with the latest Federal Government advice,” Johnson added.

“The health and safety of all members of the football community, including players, coaches, referees, volunteers, administrators and fans continues to be of paramount importance. We will continue to work with the Government and seek advice as the situation changes.”

Despite only having six rounds left (30 games) in the season, the FFA decided against suspending the league all together. Instead, the six remaining regular season rounds will be packed into a three or four week period.

“We have got 30 matches left, six competition rounds to go, it is our intent to compress the rest of that season,” FFA’s head of leagues Greg O’Rourke said. “We have spoken to the clubs. And we’re now speaking to the venues to see whether or not it’s possible for us to complete those six rounds in three to four weeks.

“We will also have all our games behind closed doors,” he added.

More coronavirus connections to soccer:

Japan’s Honda excelling in Australia

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Not long after Japanese midfielder Keisuke Honda joined the Melbourne Victory, he mentioned at the A-League season launch that “I’ve made people disappointed, I’ve made people happy … I don’t have any magic.”

Seven games into the season, the 32-year Honda is providing plenty of spark and experience for the second-place Victory, and, despite his comments, a bit of magic and passion for his team and A-League fans.

Honda, who scored 32 goals in 98 games for his national team, retired from international play after the World Cup this year when Japan lost to Belgium in the knockout stage. He was signed as the Victory’s marquee player, meaning his contract was outside the team’s salary cap.

So far, he’s been worth whatever money he is earning.

Honda has played in every minute of each of the seven games and scored four of the defending champion Victory’s 16 goals in the season so far. Even more, he appears to be a driving force on and off the field.

On Wednesday, Honda was selected by Professional Footballers Australia as the men’s player of the month.

He was taken aback when PFA representative Simon Colosimo visited a Victory practice session to make the announcement, but Honda responded in his usual humble way.

“I’m surprised,” Honda said. “I’m happy to receive the award but I am happy more when we win as a team. I appreciate the award and I received it because of my teammates.”

After the Victory beat Western Sydney Wanderers 4-0 on Dec. 1, when Honda opened the scoring in the 11th minute, the Japanese veteran thought there was still room for improvement.

“I’m not satisfied yet, we also made mistakes,” Honda told a local television reporter after the match. “We should not have been satisfied that we were four goals up. Football is entertainment, and our supporters want a full 90 minutes.”

Soon after, a person tweeted: “Rumor has it there’s a 99% chance you’ll fall in love with Keisuke Honda if you watch this interview.”

Another fan responded: “Only 99 percent?” Another added: “Honest, humble and a fan pleaser to the max. Not much to dislike.”

And an American soccer fan posted on Twitter: “We really missed out on getting this guy in MLS.”

His teammates are equally as impressed.

Victory goalkeeper Lawrence Thomas told local media that Honda approached him a month ago with an offer for some advice.

“I think it was maybe the third or fourth round, he came to me after training, maybe two days after a game, and said, `Lawrence, I want to meet you after training and go through some of your options with playing out from the back.’

“We stayed behind for an hour and he talked me through some of the options I should be looking for, what to play. He just has a real passion for the game and he’s incredibly disciplined. I think everyone in the club can pick his brain a bit and really learn how to get to that top level.”

Honda’s English in that TV interview after the 4-0 win was getting close to perfect, and Thomas revealed why.

“I asked him how his English has improved so quickly and he said he wakes up at 5 a.m. and does two hours of English,” Thomas said. “He could probably write a better essay or speech than I can. The day after the game, he comes and does his stuff. I don’t think you get to that level of what he’s done without being consistent and having pride in what you do.”

Thomas said that kind of respect for the game rubs off on the whole team.

“It sets a great example for the young boys and for myself as well,” Thomas said. “He gives his feedback when needed … because he’s played at such a high level.”

Honda and another key 2018-19 signing, 64-cap Swedish international Ola Toivonen, will lead the Victory, who trail first-place Perth by two points and are on a five-match winning streak, into Friday’s match against the Brisbane Roar.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Keisuka Honda’s new gigs for club… and country?

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Keisuke Honda is a busy man.

A living legend of Japanese soccer at 32, Honda has a new club in Australia’s Melbourne Victory.

He’s also the coach and general manager of the Cambodian national team.

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Wait, what now?

Honda retired from international football following the 2018 World Cup, leaving a legacy of 32 international goals in just under 100 caps.

That includes goals in three separate World Cups, which would be enough to brand him an international hero even were he not to carry with him silverware from stints at AC Milan and CSKA Moscow.

So when he left Japan and most recent team Pachuca to sign for new gigs in Australia and Cambodia, it raised more than a few eyebrows. From the AP:

Honda said he and Cambodia’s football association have talked about “how we make Cambodian players grow up for the future,” so he is focusing on how he can raise them to “a good level.” He said he was confident because “they have huge potential.”

“We have trained a very good lot the last couple of days,” he said. “I already found a lot of good players and experienced players and young players.”

Cambodia is ranked 170th in the world by FIFA, and plays its first match under Honda on Sunday against Malaysia. The Malaysians are ranked 171, so watch for the upset, Keisuke.

Cambodia has won just twice since the start of 2017, only defeating Afghanistan and Laos, while losing by five-or-more in three of their 10 losses. All of their players save Thierry Chantha Bin play domestically, and Bin plays in Malaysia.

Plenty of work for Honda. We’ll be watching, and at the very least Honda should be able to open doors abroad for his new charges.

Keisuke Honda signs for A-League’s Melbourne Victory

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Japan star Keisuke Honda has signed for Melbourne Victory as a marquee player for the club in the 2018-19 Australian A-League season.

The Victory confirmed the signing Monday, making the 32-year-old Japanese international the club’s biggest signing in its 13-year history.

Honda told Fox Sports that he wanted a new challenge, “so I’m satisfied,” to be moving to Australia.

“I checked a couple of things — Melbourne Victory is the most successful club in the A-League … they became champions many times.”

Honda is set to arrive in Melbourne next week after commencing negotiations following Japan’s exit at the World Cup in Russia last month.

Victory coach Kevin Muscat said Honda, who moved from AC Milan to Mexican club Pachuca last year, was a proven performer at the highest level and “we can’t wait to see what he can do in Melbourne.

“He brings world-class ability and offers great flexibility in the front third of the pitch,” Muscat said. “It’s obviously an added benefit to have him a part of our AFC Asian Champions League campaign too.”

Victory will kick off its domestic season on Oct. 20 against Melbourne City.

The deal with Honda involved support from Victory, Football Federation Australia and broadcaster Fox Sports. Details of the contract were not released.

Sydney FC to face Melbourne Victory in A-League final

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SYDNEY (AP) Sydney FC will face the Melbourne Victory in next weekend’s grand final of Australian football’s A-League after the top-ranked teams won contrasting semifinals.

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While Sydney was as dominant as it has been throughout a 27-match regular season in its 3-0 win over Perth on Saturday, Melbourne needed a 70th-minute goal from striker Besart Berisha to advance with a 1-0 win Sunday over Brisbane.

Josh Brillante, Jordy Buijs and Filip Holosko scored first-half goals as Sydney continued a seemingly unstoppable drive towards its third A-League title – and its first since 2010. The video referee interceded in two of the goals, making the win contentious, but Sydney still demonstrated superiority over the young, confident and ambitious Perth side.

Sydney lost only once in 27 regular-season matches and will enter the final as a considerable favorite.

Berisha sank the hopes of his former club, Brisbane, with his late strike in Sunday’s second semifinal. While the margin was small, the Victory deserved to win after playing more assertively throughout the match.

Its semifinal victory means that the teams that finished first and second at the end of the regular season will contest the final for the fifth straight year. The final repeats the 2015 showdown between Sydney and Melbourne, which the Victory won 3-0.