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A-League starting to play the field as it outgrows its Oranje crush

Thank god for the A-League. After a week which underlined why the Dutch way is often a dull way, the domestic competition has demonstrated – in Adelaide, in Brisbane, in Townsville, in Robina, and in Newcastle – why beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Open, adventurous, and spirited. A league which, in general terms, reflects what Australians like about football is looking pretty good at the moment.There’s the uncertainty. There’s the spontaneity. There’s the honesty. And, yes, there’s the immaturity. The A-League is not all things to all people, but in just its fifth season it continues to make a compelling case. That is, given time, it will become a competition to be proud of. Maybe one of the top five in Asia, despite the strictures of a salary cap.What it needs in the meantime is to be nurtured. Which means all those with a stake in the game – whether they be fans, coaches, the media, players or administrators – need to keep a sense of perspective. Let it breathe, and it will grow.Suffocate it, however, and who knows what might happen. Which is why it was so encouraging to see Aurelio Vidmar, the young Australian coach in charge of Adelaide United, ditch his Dutch system for the match against Sydney FC on Friday night. A small step, but a big statement.Pim Verbeek’s strident criticism of the domestic league has had a ripple effect. Most obviously, in terms of the career choices of players such as Jade North, Scott Chipperfield, Jason Culina and others. Less obvious is the implied message to the coaches. That their teams are tactically naive, technically inept and perhaps even unfit. It’s a message disseminated with great enthusiasm by the usual suspects, mostly Euro snobs in the press box and in the grandstand. Those who see things in a different light are blamed for rewarding mediocrity.Let it be said, the A-League is not mediocre. The clubs, by and large, have an environment every bit as professional as many clubs overseas. What’s not in doubt is that professionalism, as a concept, a way of life, is still a novelty to many Australian players. They will act like professionals when they learn to think like professionals. In a competition only five years old, clearly there is still some way to go.To get there, however, we can’t discard our football culture. That is, a culture which has evolved through the prism of many different ideas and styles. Chances are, the 35 players in the frame to go to next year’s World Cup will have been taught, or influenced, by coaches from a kaleidoscope of backgrounds. Why, then, the new orthodoxy that tells us we should now wed our future to just one?Dutch football has many fine attributes. But it’s not perfect. One of the first things then FFA technical director Rob Baan said when he arrived three years ago was he wanted to see kids out in the parks, learning football in an unstructured way, because Dutch football no longer encouraged or created true creativity.Baan has since left, having claimed credit for a new blueprint that has enshrined the very system he railed against. A system brought sharply into focus by last week’s dreary scoreless stalemate between Netherlands A and Netherlands B – the team formerly known as the Socceroos. A system which has Verbeek replace a holding midfielder with an attacker as he chases a result against Oman, only to then withdraw Brett Emerton into a defensive role in order to keep his beloved 4-2-3-1 formation intact.Is that really the way forward? Not if you listen to the disaffected fans as they streamed out of the SFS, or Etihad Stadium. Which is why Vidmar’s teamsheet against Sydney was such a poignant moment. The Reds fans had had enough of gunshy 4-2-3-1, and he knew it. Finally he reacted, and Adelaide suddenly looked like a team that could score again. Around the country, other coaches have begun to consult their own conscience, and perhaps even the mood of their own players, instead of slavishly following the Dutch manifesto. The spirit of independence, and tolerance, is alive and well. And the A-League’s future is going to be better for it.
Nanjing Night Net

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Killed at prayer: man of peace dies in bloody suicide attack

MOHAMMED SARFRAZ NAEEMI was a thorn in the Taliban’s side. A highly regarded Muslim cleric, Dr Naeemi condemned the Taliban’s suicide bombers and established an alliance of religious groups to campaign against them.Dr Naeemi, the principal of Jamia Naeemi madrassa in Lahore, advocated peace and accused the Taliban of being anti-Islam.But he was silenced by the very tactics he opposed.On June 12, soon after the busy Friday prayers, a teenage suicide bomber walked into the madrassa office where Dr Naeemi was sitting and detonated an explosive jacket packed with nails and ball bearings.Dr Naeemi, 62, was among five people killed in the blast.It was a brutal illustration of what it can cost to stand up to extremism in Pakistan.”My father stood for peace, he was devoted to Islam and to Pakistan,” said Dr Naeemi’s son, Raghib, who has taken over as principal of the madrassa. “It was a horrible thing to see.”Raghib Naeemi, 36, who like his father is from the Sufi-influenced Barelvi school of Sunni Islam, has vowed to continue preaching peace. “I am on the same path of my father.”To his surprise, admissions have increased since his father’s death. “Students are saying they want to go to the madrassa where Sarfraz was murdered.”But the madrassa now operates with extraordinary security. Before Friday afternoon prayers at Jamia Naeemia, the three roads leading to the entrance were barricaded by police who searched all those who attended.Members of Lahore’s elite anti-terrorism commando squad, who wear black shirts with “No Fear” written across their shoulder blades, were among the 35 heavily armed policemen guarding the madrassa and mosque compound. The security included a vehicle parked near the entrance with a mounted high-calibre machine-gun. Two police snipers patrolled the roofs.Despite the heavy security, about 1000 worshippers were at the main Friday afternoon worship at Jamia Naeemia. Dr Naeemi was laid to rest in the grounds of the seminary he led. Many of the worshippers paid their respects at his tomb on their way out.One of them was Usman Aslam Bajwa. Tears welled in his eyes as he stood near the white marble tomb decorated with a garland of saffron flowers and the Pakistan flag. “He was a brave man,” said Mr Bajwa. “He spoke out against the suicide bombers but in the end they got him.”Matt Wade
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Dusty, dangerous work of winning hearts and minds

TARIN KOWT: As the sun lights the distant mountains, a cacophony begins. A caravan of monster trucks, armoured vehicles and tanks is brought to life and warmed – the first nip of Oruzgan province’s bitter winter is already in the air. Shouts rise over the din – barked instructions in Dutch and thick military Strine.Gunners push their heads through the hatches of armoured vehicles and adjust headscarves around their noses and mouths, flimsy shields against the pale fog of dust they are about to raise. Helmets are adjusted and weapons get a final once-over. Drivers run through checklists.MORE AFGHANISTAN STORIESThere’s a last-minute rush to the Portaloos – the only opportunity between sun-up and sundown to visit the toilet without the encumbrance of body armour. Perhaps the queues are extended by the odd bout of nerves. Not that anyone’s admitting that.The convoy of more than 30 vehicles heads ”outside the wire” to a site in the Mirabad Valley 25 kilometres from the vast Tarin Kowt military base – Kamp Holland. But the camp is deep in Taliban territory, so it will take almost the entire day to make the journey – tentative progress rewarded with the discovery and safe detonation of improvised explosive devices planted along the route.For months, Mirabad villagers have been visited by Australians – shadowy special forces moving in and out. But three weeks ago Australian troops began arriving in number by helicopter and overland and dug in to stay. Locals hid in their houses as officers sought out the elders and sat down with the council – the shura – to deliver the news they were here for the duration.With this latest convoy, members of Australia’s Mentoring and Reconstruction Task Force (MRTV) are now well advanced in trucking in the personnel and hardware to establish a new patrol base at the site, which will be home to the Afghan National Army’s 3rd Kandak – an infantry battalion – and later will also host their Australian military mentors.When the base is established and operating, the mentoring task for Australians and other coalition forces is to step back to improve the capability of the Afghan National Army. ”That is ultimately a very obvious exit strategy,” the commanding officer of Australia’s Tarin Kowt operation, Lieutenant Colonel Peter Connolly, said.The Mirabad objective is to provide an outpost from which the Afghan soldiers and their coalition overseers can patrol and try to weaken the insurgent influence which has for the past seven years dominated the strategically important route stretching out to the east.Once the corridor is more secure, the next step will be to bring building contractors, development agencies and Afghan Government officials under the safety of the military umbrella to begin the community building – improving health centres and schools, constructing roads and bridges, extending irrigation and distributing seeds, putting the pieces together to nurture a healthier local economy in the heart of one of Afghanistan’s most impoverished provinces.The philosophy of counter-insurgency argues these are the elements required to win this war – a campaign for ”hearts and minds” as it would once have been known, though that term has been so devalued that it is being deleted from military parlance.As debate rages in Australia and internationally about the effectiveness and the cost of such a strategy – and evaluated against a tighter, targeted counter-terrorism assault on al-Qaeda leadership – there’s palpable frustration within the Tarin Kowt base about perceived ignorance at home of the nature of the fight forces here are engaged in.”You’ve got to approach a counter-insurgency as something that requires patience and takes a long time to get an effect,” says Colonel Connolly. ”But when you can look at it over a period of time, I am very confident we are getting an extremely positive effect. We have moved a long way. I’m quite dismayed by the people who claim that we are making no progress. Three years ago you could not have dreamt of being able to operate in Chora [a former Taliban stronghold] the way we do now.”While the area is still dangerous, it’s considered secure enough to move to the next phase. After consultation with the community on their wish list of priorities, army engineers are completing plans to build a women’s park, cold food stores and to upgrade the health centre.”People are secure enough to say ‘this is what we would like’,” says Colonel Connolly.Until recently, being seen to co-operate with coalition forces was too dangerous. Anxiety about reprisals is running high in Mirabad as Australian soldiers sit down to talk with the shuras.”It has been an insurgent safe haven for a very long time. They’ve become used to their tribal structure virtually being replaced by the Taliban hierarchy … I’m trying to say to them ‘Well, here is your opportunity to go back to the way you were’.”Now I can sense that there are a lot of old men who sit in those shuras whose body language says yes, they are keen. And talk to them individually and they are desperate to take up our offer, but when they are in public they won’t even say it because they are scared … terrified of what might happen to their family if they show support.”Counter-insurgency involves a very high level of threat, says Colonel Connolly. ”We’re involved in fighting regularly.” In Mirabad, he says, already ”we are getting stronger and stronger interaction with the local population”. And meeting intense efforts from insurgents to stop them.”Every day we continue to patrol in very small groups, which involves a certain amount of risk but gets the best reaction out of the local population.”And it is something that will take time – to create the development behind the security that we bring with us, so that we establish a local community that is starting to prosper and supports its government and is happy to stand on its own two feet.”Jo Chandler is visiting Afghanistan with AusAID.
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Pressure piled on Karzai over poll

KABUL: Foreign envoys have stepped up a diplomatic offensive to break the deadlock in the disputed Afghan presidential election and avoid a divisive second round.Senior diplomats shuttled between Hamid Karzai and his rival Abdullah Abdullah encouraging them to strike a power-sharing deal to break a two-month-long political hiatus after an expected announcement of the final election result was postponed on Satuday.An inquiry into electoral fraud delayed its ruling on whether to disqualify thousands of allegedly rigged ballot boxes, but officials have said it is poised to cast out enough votes to deny Hamid Karzai outright first-round victory.Diplomats fear Mr Karzai could refuse to accept such a ruling or a second-round run-off against his former foreign minister, plunging the country into chaos. Mr Karzai has said the allegations of widespread fraud by his officials in the August 20 poll are exaggerated and he has complained that the inquiry into his votes is politically motivated.World leaders are now urging the two candidates to consider a possible power-sharing deal and the rivals have been engaged in intense bargaining, according to officials in Kabul.During the past few days Mr Karzai has spoken by phone to the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, the British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, and the United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon.Dr Abdullah spoke to Mrs Clinton and was visited by Senator John Kerry, the chairman of the US Senate foreign relations committee.Mr Kerry told CNN that President Barack Obama should not send more troops to Afghanistan until it worked through the results of the presidential election. ”It would be entirely irresponsible for the President of the United States to commit more troops to this country when we don’t even have an election finished and know who the president is and what kind of government we’re working with,” Senator Kerry said.Mohamed Mohin Murstal, an MP campaigning for Mr Karzai, said international pressure was directed towards creating a unity government. ”They want us to establish a strong government, a coalition government,” he said.”Mr Karzai has agreed that after the results are announced, he will give the opportunity for all political personalities to be involved in government – but not before.”Dr Abdullah has said he will not discuss a coalition before the results are announced, but has said the situation could change after that.Telegraph, London
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Police seek criminal charges in balloon boy case

FORT COLLINS, Colorado: Police have searched the home of the family in the ”balloon boy” saga after the sheriff said he was pursuing criminal charges in a case that has sparked suspicions of a hoax.The boy’s parents, Richard and Mayumi Heene, met investigators for much of Saturday afternoon amid questions about whether Mr Heene perpetrated a publicity stunt when his six-year-old son, Falcon, vanished into the rafters of his garage while the world thought he was zooming through the sky in a flying saucer-like helium balloon.Sheriff Jim Alderden did not say who would be charged or what the charges would be. His deputies later showed up at the Heenes’ home in Fort Collins with a search warrant. They declined to say what they were looking for.Mr Alderden did not call the hours-long drama on Thursday a hoax, but he expressed disappointment that he could not level more serious charges in the incident, which sent police and the military scrambling to save Falcon as millions of worried television viewers watched.”We were looking at class three misdemeanour, which hardly seems serious enough given the circumstances,” Mr Alderden said. ”We are talking to the district attorney, federal officials to see if perhaps there aren’t additional federal charges that are appropriate in this circumstance.”Suspicion that the balloon saga was a hoax arose almost immediately after Falcon was found hiding in a cardboard box. Mr Heene, a storm chaser and inventor whose family has appeared on the reality show Wife Swap, and his wife had said one of the boy’s older brothers had told them Falcon was aboard the home-made balloon when it took off.Mr Alderden initially said there was no reason to believe the incident was a hoax. Authorities questioned the Heenes again after Falcon turned to his father during a CNN interview on Thursday night and said ”you said we did this for a show” when asked why he did not come out of his hiding place.Falcon got sick during two separate TV interviews on Friday when asked again why he hid.Associated Press
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