Socceroo stars in mammoth upset as Ange’s old assistant takes fairytale to next level: KEEPUP Beyond the A-Leagues

From the J1 League and EFL League One, to the Championship, Women’s Super League, Division 1 Feminine and 2.Bundesliga. KEEPUP has you covered on all the Aussie-related news outside the A-Leagues.

Deng’s Niigata flying under Ange’s former assistant

After five consecutive seasons in the second tier, Albirex Niigata needed a change in 2022. A-Leagues graduate Thomas Deng needed a fresh start too.

After two years at J1 League powerhouse Urawa Red Diamonds, the Socceroos defender made the step down to Niigata to help with their promotion bid.

At the time, Niigata had turned to an unproven senior coach in the form of former assistant Rikizo Matsuhashi. Before moving to the promotion hopefuls in 2021, the 54-year-old had only previously worked at Yokohama F.Marinos as an Under-18 manager and assistant.

But it is at Marinos where he learned from A-League legend Ange Postecoglou. He was part of the 2019 team that won the drought-ending title alongside Peter Cklamovski and Arthur Papas. Before that, Matsuhashi also worked with former Melbourne City boss Erick Mombaerts.

With Deng in defence, Matsuhashi’s Niigata won the J2 League title last year and they continue to make waves in the first division.

Deng, who is back in the J1 League, and third-placed Niigata are the only undefeated team remaining through four rounds following a shock 1-0 win over Kawasaki Frontale after Kevin Muscat’s champions Marinos and Vissel Kobe both lost over the weekend.

Not since 2014 had Niigata beaten Japanese powerhouse Frontale in the J1 League, but that changed on Saturday.

During that drought, Niigata had suffered six defeats at the hands of the four-time champions but they snapped the nine-year drought at home to Frontale.

At the heart of Niigata’s successful promotion, former Melbourne Victory defender Deng played the entire match, helping nullify a team who’ve won two of the past three titles.

With four appearances this season, Deng has already surpassed his previous campaign in J1, having been limited to just two games for Urawa in 2021.

With two wins to their name through four rounds in 2023, unbeaten Niigata are third in J1, only behind Vissel Kobe and Nagoya Grampus.

The resurgence of Luongo

Mass Luongo’s career is slowly on track, but lets rewind back to the 2015 AFC Asian Cup final in Sydney and the world was his oyster.

The former Tottenham youngster had just got his hands on the biggest piece of silverware in Australia’s history, having been crowned the tournament’s MVP under Ange Postecoglou.

His exploits on home soil eight years ago were not only the catalyst for Socceroos success, but they earned him a Ballon d’Or nomination. All while playing in the third tier of English football.

“We were almost embarrassed by it because people say, ‘Mass Luongo, he’s never played in the Premier League, he’s never played for a big club, why are you putting him up?,” Postecoglou told Optus Sport’s Football Belongs podcast in 2021.

“We’re afraid to go that extra step and say ‘Nah mate, you’re wrong.’ 

“I remember with the Ballon d’Or at the time we were embarrassed, it was like a quirky thing we didn’t want to be associated with, that an Australian player has got to that level. We’re not comfortable with it and we should be.” 

Luongo went on to earn a move to QPR in the Championship and the 43-time international – who represented Australia at two FIFA Men’s World Cups but has not wore the green and golden since 2019, even captained the club during his four-year stay in London up until 2019.

But he was slowly weighed down by injuries at Sheffield Wednesday. He did bounce back with a strong showing during the 2021-22 League One season and the club were desperate to re-sign him, though the Aussie departed for pastures new.

A short-term contract with Middlesbrough followed but it did not go according to plan – Luongo failed to make an appearance but he now looks at home at the club where his professional journey first started – Ipswich Town.

The forgotten Socceroo, who spent time on loan at Ipswich from Tottenham in 2012-13, has started the club’s last season League One fixtures having arrived in January.

The 30-year-old is making an impact at Ipswich, who are third in the standings and two points behind Ben Waine’s second-placed Plymouth Argyle.

Luongo played the entire 90 minutes as fellow Aussie Cameron Burgess – a former Australia Under-23 international – scored in Ipswich’s 2-0 win at Bolton Wanderers.

“I knew Mass as a player when he was here before,” former Manchester United coach and current Ipswich boss Kieran McKenna.

“He was a very good footballer then but you can now see the experience he has gathered in his career and the know-how he has.

“He’s always been a good technical footballer and we’re really pleased to have him with us now. He’s bringing a lot to the group.

“We have to remember that the last two starts were his first since May but he has been training well and we’ve built him up. He also brings a lot to the group in training.

“It’s great to see him out on the pitch and you can see how much he’s enjoying it but also how much the other lads are enjoying playing with him.

“He’s a very good player and he’s fit and playing well for us.”

Carpenter’s wild celebrations… in French!

Ellie Carpenter has slotted in seamlessly since joining European juggernaut Lyon in 2020.

She has won numerous titles, including the UEFA Women’s Champions League. However, what’s perhaps been more impressive is her ability to speak French.

The Matildas star, who is well and truly on the comeback trail ahead of this year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup following a serious knee injury, led Lyon’s wild celebrations after topping Fleury 2-1 to maintain their one-point buffer over rivals Paris Saint-Germain in Division 1 Feminine.

Here she is leading Lyon’s celebrations in the dressing room… in French.

Joe Montemurro’s Juventus, meanwhile, reached the Women’s Coppa Italia final.

Reigning Italian champions Juventus – led by the former Liberty A-League-winning head coach – defeated Inter 2-1 to progress 3-2 on aggregate.

Mauk or Messi?

Stefan Mauk is a fan favourite at Fagiano Okayama, and the former Adelaide United midfielder endeared himself further to the J2 League club.

Mauk channelled his inner Lionel Messi with a sublime individual goal as the Aussie opened his 2023 account in Fagiano’s 3-0 win over Zweigen Kanazawa on Sunday.

He weaved his way past two opponents in a wonderful run before slotting the ball into the back of the net.

It was Mauk’s first goal since September last year as Fagiano moved up to fourth in the standings, two points off the pace.

The pacesetters? Mitch Duke’s Machida Zelvia.

A former teammate of Mauk at Fagiano, Duke is yet to score for his first team after joining following the 2022 FIFA Men’s World Cup but he did provide an assist in Machida Zelvia’s 3-0 success against Mito HollyHock.

Peter Cklamovski’s Montedio Yamagata, meanwhile, went down 1-0 to Gunma.

In J1, record-setting Australian goalkeeper Mitch Langerak kept another clean sheet as Nagoya eased past Kashiwa Reysol 3-0.

Since moving to Japan in 2018, the A-Leagues product has posted 70 clean sheets, having set consecutive clean sheet records in 2020 and 2021.

As for Kevin Muscat’s Yokohama F.Marinos, the defending champions lost for the first time this season following a surprise 2-0 defeat away to Consadole Sapporo – who are home to ex-Western Sydney Wanderers favourite Shinji Ono.

Marinos are sixth in the table, two points off the pace.

Aussie trio start in Norway

Nick D’Agostino, Gianni Stensness and Patrick Yazbek were in the starting XI for Viking FK in their 2-0 win over Rosenborg in the fourth round of the NM Cupen.

Already at the club, Socceroo Stensness was joined by former Melbourne Victory forward D’Agostino and ex-Sydney FC midfielder Yazbek during the January transfer window.

The three Australians teamed up to help Viking advance to the next round of the Norwegian Cup.

Elsewhere, Mathew Ryan kept his third Eredivisie clean sheet as AZ Alkmaar edged Groningen 1-0 in the Dutch top flight.

The Socceroo produced a man-of-the-match performance with a big save to keep third-placed AZ within five points of leaders Feyenoord.

In the Premier League, Harry Souttar’s Leicester City are just one point above the relegation zone after losing 3-1 to Chelsea.

As for Patrick Kisnorbo in Ligue 1, his struggling Troyes lost 2-0 at Lorient.

Without a win in 11 games, Troyes are 19th and three points adrift of safety in France’s top flight.

‘I’m buzzing’ – Kerr

Sam Kerr is a player for the big occasion and she was at it again for Chelsea in the Women’s Super League.

In the top-of-the-table battle, the Matildas captain scored the only goal of the game as Chelsea leapfrogged Manchester United atop the standings.

It was a moment of brilliance from Kerr, who has now scored seven goals in six fixtures against United.

“I just love playing at home in front of our crowd and I love big games,” the A-Leagues legend told Sky Sports.

“I find these ones the most enjoyable. I’ll have to watch it back [the goal] but it felt pretty good … I’m buzzing. It was a good team performance.”

Three Australians went head-to-head as Remy Siemsen and Courtney Nevin’s Leicester City drew 0-0 with Clare Wheeler’s Everton.

Caitlin Foord’s Arsenal crushed Reading 4-0, while Mary Fowler came off the bench in Manchester City’s 2-1 win over Brighton & Hove Albion.

McGree wins penalty for high-flying Boro

Riley McGree and Middlesbrough maintained their red-hot form with a come-from-behind 3-1 win at Swansea City.

McGree had been involved in seven goals in his last seven appearances against Welsh teams (five goals, two assists) and while he did not score or provide an assist, the Socceroo won a penalty for Boro.

The Australia international, who was at the heart of Boro’s attacks over the weekend, earned the penalty for the visitors to make it 3-1.

Premier League hopefuls Middlesbrough moved within four points of the final automatic promotion spot in the EFL Championship.

“I honestly didn’t have to say that much at half-time,” manager Michael Carrick said as he praised McGree and the squad following their second-half comeback.

“When the boys come in they were talking and discussing things when they sat down, they were saying all the right things. Of course, I spoke and had a few things to say but I could have let them take care of it themselves.

“They were in a good place and they had played well. They felt it, more importantly, in themselves and the belief was there that we could go out second half and score. That was the beauty of it – they had the belief.

“As much as I can say things and try and give them that bit, but with our experiences of coming from goals down and winning games, that comes from them and you could see the togetherness and spirit in the group. In some ways, they made my job easy at half-time because they manage themselves.”

Meanwhile, Tom Rogic made his first appearance since January as West Brom edged Huddersfield Town 1-0.

Rogic had been sidelined by injury, though the Australian had found it tough to crack the matchday squad prior to his fitness problem.

But the former Celtic star came off the bench late in West Brom’s Championship victory.

A season first for Irvine

It was a special weekend for Jackson Irvine, who did not just celebrate his 30th birthday during the week, the St Pauli captain was also influential as his in-form team recorded their seventh successive 2.Bundesliga victory.

Irvine provided his first assist of the season as St Pauli – also boasting Connor Metcalfe – overcame 10-man Greuther Furth 2-1.

St Pauli are seventh in Germany’s second division, but only two points adrift of fourth place.

Postecoglou’s big praise for Mooy

In a Scottish Cup tie featuring five Socceroos and two other Australians on the sidelines, there was only room for one winner as evergreen Aaron Mooy helped fire Celtic into the semi-finals and in sight of a domestic treble.

Mooy was again the toast of the Celtic manager, his old Socceroos mentor Ange Postecoglou, after his seventh goal since Christmas – and a very fine one – launched the Bhoys’ 3-0 win at a Hearts side featuring four of his Australian international colleagues.

None, though, were in the same league as the 32-year-old veteran in Saturday’s fixture in Edinburgh as Mooy was widely acclaimed as player of the match for another outstanding, controlling display in midfield.

Hearts’ centre back Kye Rowles had a tough afternoon and none of his three Socceroo teammates on the subs bench – Nathaniel Atkinson, Garang Kuol and Cammy Devlin – could make any difference to the one-way traffic when they came on for second-half cameos.

“Yeah, he’s a good player. He’s a very good player,” Postecoglou told Celtic’s YouTube channel.

“He’s really a key contributor to us now. Just as much about his calmness and his ability to not let the circumstances around him affect what he does. He’s a player who’s played at the highest level and you see that quality.”