Friday, February 29, 2008

Australia World Cup 2018 Bid

Fresh from signing the Kyoto Protocol, warding off Japanese whalers in the Southern Ocean, saying sorry to the stolen generations and doing just about everything his predecessor, John Howard, failed to do in four terms in office, Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd has lent his bookish gravitas to an official bid for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

World Cup trophy at FIFA HQ, Zurich, Switzerland

Rudd has been assiduously building his "sportsman" credentials of late, notably being pictured throwing the arm over in an impromptu cricket match at Parliament House in Canberra and then appearing alongside Football Federation Australia chairman Frank Lowy at last Sunday's A-League grand final. Getting behind a World Cup bid is by far and away Rudd's biggest play in sport so far, yet speculation is rife that privately the FFA knows it has no chance of nabbing The Big One in 2018 and is instead using the bid to make a solid impression for a tilt at 2022.

The fact of the matter is Australia, despite being talked up in some quarters as a possible stand-in host for South Africa 2010 should the Africans fail to get their act together, has a long way to go before it can hope to host an event of such magnitude.

There are very few suitable football stadia currently built and operational, training facilities are thin on the ground (even now for the Socceroos) and, as anyone will tell you who has had the misfortune of braving its CityRail network, public transport in Australia's biggest metropolis, Sydney, is appallingly bad. Any World Cup bid is going to require a massive injection of capital and a hell of a lot of groundwork. But with Labor governments installed in all Australian states, the prospects for cooperation are good.

Even the AFL, Australia's biggest sport, has given the World Cup bid its support.

"We're not sure of what it might mean for us yet, nobody's spoken to us about that, so we'll just wait and see if there are any proposed implications for us," said AFL operations manager Adrian Anderson. Well, Adrian, Soccerphile can start by saying the AFL won't know what hit it when the World Cup comes to town.

The locals' knowledge of the event needs some improving, though. In announcing the news, a Sydney radio station declared Melbourne would even "share" the event with its northern cousin, oblivious to the fact that a World Cup is a multi-city event. This is not the Olympics, folks.

The biggest mitigating factor against a 2018 World Cup in Australia, of course, is the fact Europe will have not played host for 12 years, an eternity in football politics and about as realistic a prospect as Harold Holt emerging from his 41-year dip in the waters off Portsea.

The frontrunner at the present time appears to be England, with Portugal/Spain a close second. Sydney 2000 might have been the most successful Olympics ever, but when it comes to truly big football events the FIFA Congress in May and a likely Asian Cup in 2015 will have to suffice till 2022 rolls around.

© Jesse Fink & Soccerphile.com

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Thursday, February 28, 2008

Let's toast the Premier League's loss, for now

Let's toast the Premier League's loss, for now.
"You can't be in business and ignore the Asia markets," Alexei Lalas told John Duerden in Soccerphile's exclusive interview.

In the process, Lalas hit the nail on the head of why the Premier League is so keen to bring 'Game 39' to the table.

English fans pay scant attention to Asia's love of its football, and I would not mind betting that only a minority of domestic fans are aware that the early kick-offs at the weekend are scheduled with Asia in mind.

They should wake up. On the same day as the FIFA v PL showdown in Zurich was to have taken place, Manchester City were in the Asian press because their Thai owner Thaksin Shinawatra has returned home to face corruption charges, protesting his innocence while speaking of turning the Blues into that now redundant cliche, 'a global brand'. The persistent pull of the billions of potential consumers in Asia was going to push players and owners into the Premier League sooner or later.

And with the sudden advance of technology, the dollars in the East are finally within reach of the clubs in England. The idea of fans waiting until Monday's newspaper to find out Saturday's overseas results are now a quaint memory. The only real handicap the PL has in its global takeover bid is the huge time difference and vast distances to Asia, which prevent its players travelling regularly there to play football.

Although the spectre of a Formula One-style global roadshow has been raised by the Game 39 project, realistically any English team could only play about a tenth of its games in Asia over one season, which would of course mean the club's local fans would miss out on seeing certain teams in town.

The news that the Premier League had voluntarily backed down and cancelled its Zurich meeting after they and the FA had failed to reach agreement, cheered me and the millions of other fans dead against their scheme, but I am not naive enough to believe the idea of overseas games is about to go away.

Premier League Chief Executive Richard Scudamore may argue he was only trying to help the smaller teams by pre-empting any attempts by the big four to sign exclusive deals, but this argument does not hold water.

The big four already take their players to their target markets overseas in pre-season to stuff their coffers.

And I cannot see them unilaterally going overseas to play each other during the season, while the other clubs stay at home. Should such a scenario occur, it would surely be the end of the Premier League and the start of a European League for the rich clubs.

Then again, many of us deep down think that is where we are headed anyway.

The climb-down from Game 39 might be a crumb of comfort in the excessively-commercialised world of soccer we now find ourselves in, or merely just a stay of execution.

Still, it was sweet to see the money men for once rebuffed by those who put football first in their thinking.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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As One Door Shuts…A Nutter One Opens

For some inexplicable reason, the subject of mental illness remains taboo. I am convinced that if we debate the topic in a mature and sensitive fashion, we could raise awareness of the constant unnecessary stigmatisation of these unfortunate lunatics.

I’m not embarrassed to admit that I used to regularly suffer from panic attacks. All it would take was an unexpected knock on the door, and I’d find myself screaming like Andy Cole’s wife. Luckily, the attack would subside once I realised my other half hadn’t arrived home from work early.

As a result of my experience, I feel I’m in a perfect position to reflect upon Paul Gascoigne’s descent into a fruitcake laden abyss. Looking back, all the clues were there: Gazza was fearful of an alien invasion, he was holding conversations with plastic parrots and he fancied Newcastle to beat Blackburn. The Rovers are the only sane betting choice at 19/10.

I can’t help but feel the media attempted to sensationalise Gazza’s problems. It’s not unusual for a man to cry during sex; as Joey Barton can confirm. I’ll be incredibly sore if Middlesbrough fail to beat Reading at 9/10.

It’s been reported that Ashley Cole burst into tears when Cheryl surprisingly decided to reconcile with the incredibly wealthy reserve full-back. I’m guessing it’s not the first time that a handkerchief has come in handy. I’m rubbing my hands together at the 5/2 for a draw between West Ham and Chelsea.

Robbie Keane also bawled after Tottenham lifted the Carling Cup. I find the idea of a male showing such emotion quite distasteful; although if Birmingham beat Tottenham at 3/1, I’ll cry like Liz Hurley’s maid on pay day.

To cap off a disgraceful week for the male race, William Gallas sobbed after kicking lumps out at an advertising hoarding. How surprising: a Frenchman and a pointless strike. Arsenal will demolish Aston Villa at 4/7.

On a brighter note for Arsenal, Eduardo may return to action in as little as nine months. I have to confess to being surprised by the quick turnaround: I’ve been to Selly Oak hospital, and it normally takes seven months just to make it out of the waiting room. You should seek medical attention if you pass on the 4/5 for a Manchester City win over Wigan.

It’s not just the clinically insane and the cast of ‘The Crying Game’ who deserve our sympathy; our thoughts should also go out to players with learning disabilities. It’s rumoured that Robbie Savage was the inspiration for ‘Are you smarter than a 10 year old?’ The genuinely bright will be taking 13/10 for a Sunderland win over Derby.

I thought Wes Brown was a level (if somewhat orange) headed footballer, but he’s clearly delusional if he believes he’s worth £80,000 a week. That kind of money could fund research into psychiatric disorders for a number of years, or settle Wayne Rooney’s tab at KFC. The 13/5 for Fulham avoiding defeat against Manchester United is finger-licking good.

There were many people who believed that El Hadji Diouf may have had a serious mental illness, as he would often dribble more than Cristiano Ronaldo. I’ve been practically salivating over the 5/6 for a Liverpool win over Bolton.

History is like an Alzheimer's sufferer, it will often repeat itself. The last time Everton finished 4th in the Premiership, their neighbours lifted the Champions League trophy for the 5th time. I fancy Everton to beat Pompey at 10/11, but I hope it doesn’t lead to Liverpool fans holding up six fingers; that should really be left to the citizens of Coventry.

Alzheimer's is the latest in a long list of illnesses to plague my father. I look back in fondness to the time when he was just a paranoid schizophrenic - it was nice that he had someone to talk to, even if he was out to get him. People use offensive labels such as ‘nutter’ to describe the mentally ill, but i refuse to pigeon-hole my old man; as he’s also an agoraphobic. I’ll definitely be going out when Arsenal, Middlesbrough, Sunderland and Liverpool land a healthy 10/1 accer.

Copyright (c) Gerry McDonnell & soccerphile.com

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Shielded from scrutiny

A-League news.
The A-League's showpiece finale was a tale of match-costing errors of judgement - and not all of them from the vanquished Central Coast Mariners.

Newcastle's worthy 1-0 win has been somewhat overlooked in the wash-up of a match which unlike previous grand final episodes was decided by individual errors rather than flashes of brilliance.

Topping last season's five-goal haul from Melbourne marksman Archie Thompson was always likely to be a pointless exercise - and so it turned out as the Jets, the better team on the day, carved out a hard-working although ultimately fortunate victory to scoop their maiden domestic title.

Fortunate not because the Mariners had a player, goalkeeper Danny Vukovic, sent off nor because retiring veteran defender Tony Vidmar made a meal of clearing his lines and gifted possession to Australia under-23 striker Mark Bridge who curled a second-half winner.

Fortunate because for consecutive weeks the league's top officials made a perplexing penalty decision in stoppage time. Only this time it irreversibly altered the destination of the championship.

We live in an age where those who admit their wrongdoings are usually absolved if given the floor to explain and seek forgiveness.

The typically upfront Vidmar came clean straight after the match. "A mistake from myself has cost us the game and I'm going to gave to live with that," the third-most capped Socceroo of all-time admitted afterwards. "I'll put my hand up on that."

It would be a particularly vindictive individual to hold that moment of hesitation against the departing Vidmar, one of Australian football's truest champions.

But what of those possibly career-damaging choices made by Vukovic and referee Mark Shield?

Vukovic's heat-of-the-moment decision to manhandle Shield made little difference to the result but its consequence will reverberate around the domestic game for some time.

The affable Central Coast custodian faces missing two-thirds of next season after the FFA handed him a draconian 15-month suspension for striking Shield as he, and his Mariners team-mates, protested the decision not to award a penalty when the ball struck Newcastle substitute James Holland in the box.

TV replays vindicated Vukovic's protests if not his actions.

The 22-year-old, gagged by the Mariners while the club gather an appeal, reportedly later apologised to Shield for losing his cool although that apparently held little sway.

The FFA came down on him like a ton of bricks and have almost certainly punctured his dream of representing Australia at the Beijing Olympics by serving such a exorbitant sanction.

Vukovic's contact with Shield was nowhere near Paolo Di Canio's petulant shove on EPL referee Paul Alcock for which the Italian received an 11-match ban.

And while it's clearly no defence, the protest had plenty of legitimacy. It arose from an unusually poor piece of officiating from the country's top ref when only he and his assistant failed to notice Holland's arm colliding with Tom Pondeljak's corner.

Shield waved away the Mariners' desperate claims, booking John Aloisi and then sending Vukovic packing. Sasho Petrovski is also under investigation for an unwelcome gesture while the club have been invited to explain why they shouldn't be punished for losing control of their players.

The FFA are asking plenty of questions of the Mariners but outsiders are pondering Shield's part in the sorry story.

Vukovic's moment of madness reopens the various debates about the standard of refereeing and the possible introduction of technology.

What needs saying is that the A-League's top officials are considered among the best in Asia and will make as many mistakes at work as anyone else.

That, however, should not shield them from scrutiny.

Let's remember that Vidmar put his hand up, and so too did Vukovic but they'll still continue to pay a heavy price in the months ahead.

Copyright © Marc Fox and Soccerphile.com

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On The Right Korea Path

On The Right Korea Path.
It was a satisfactory six days for new South Korean coach Huh Jung-moo in the sprawling city of Chongqing. South Korea lifted the East Asian Championship trophy for the second time in three occasions. The opening day dramatic 3-2 victory over China was followed by 1-1 draws with North Korea on Wednesday and then Japan on Saturday.

The trophy is not a big deal but the performances of a young and inexperienced team have been encouraging. There is still much work to do but a number of players have emerged from the haze of the polluted megapolis with reputations and confidence enhanced.

Former Korea, and current Australia, coach Pim Verbeek was at the tournament to check out China. The Socceroos will be in the Middle Kingdom in March for a 2010 World Cup qualifier.

The Dutchman was keeping quiet on the Chinese but was happy to see some familiar, and some not so familiar, Korean faces in action. "It was good to watch Korea again and it was good to see them win,” he told me. "I was quite impressed against China - I thought that they did a good job and played well."

"There were lots of young players in the team. I am happy that Park Chu-young is fit and he scored two great goals. The first goal, he showed fantastic timing to head the ball into the net...hopefully he will be fit now for a whole season."

That is unlikely. The striker has already been ruled out of FC Seoul's season opener on March 9 and will play no part in the game with LA Galaxy and David Beckham on March 1.

As well as Park, Yeom Ki-hoon, who was handed his national team debut by Verbeek, showed his versatility in attack. The Ulsan forward scored the goals against North Korea and Japan and is starting to look like he may fulfill his undoubted potential.

There is potential in the team that lifted the oversize trophy last Saturday but some of them are not yet, and perhaps never will be, good enough for international football. That is the whole point of these kinds of games however; it’s a time for testing and trying. March’s World Cup qualification game in Pyongyang will feature a very different line-up.

There is virtually a completely new starting eleven that Huh could call on. English-based stars such as Park Ji-sung, Lee Young-pyo and Seol Ki-hyeon will be certainties for the game. With that match due to played out in front of over 100,000 fans in the North Korean capital, Huh may go for experience. Other 2006 World Cup stars are also likely to be recalled - Lee Chun-soo of Dutch giants Feyenoord, Kim Dong-jin and Lee Ho of Russian champions Zenit St Petersburg and Kim Do-heon of West Bromich Albion.

Cho Jae-jin is another likely recall. The powerful striker ended his three-year stint in Japan last December and since then has spent much time in England trying to do deals with three English Premier League clubs, in order, Newcastle United, Portsmouth and Fulham.

All came to naught and last week the powerful striker joined Jeonju team Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors ahead of the new season that kicks off on March 8.

Cho Jae-jin signs for Jeonbuk

After three seasons and dozens of goals in Japan, Cho needs to show that he can score goals on the Korean peninsula. He struggled to do so in his first spell in the K-League prior to 2004 but a goal or two in Pyongyang at the end of March, wouldn’t go amiss.

Copyright: John Duerden & Soccerphile

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Sunday, February 24, 2008

World Soccer News February 24 2008

World Soccer News February 24 2008.
World Soccer News For week of 2/24

Martin Taylor shocks Arsenal and Croatia

Arsenal's Eduardo da Silva saw his great season cut short as he was cynically mowed down by Birmingham's Martin Taylor on Saturday. The Brazilian's left fibula snapped under Taylor's irresponsible tackle and doctors say that the Gunner, operated on the same evening, will be out of action for between five and eight months.

Arsenal's coach Arsene Wenger fumed over Taylor's dreadful tackle, pleading for a lifelong suspension.
"This guy should never play again. It is horrendous and you cannot tell me he tried to play the ball first. It is unacceptable," said the Frenchmen, who hours later toned down his fury towards the Birmingham player.

In Croatia, the news immediately grabbed all the headlines. Eduardo's former teammates at Dinamo were so shocked by their pal's injury that they lost the league game to Varteks (1-2), their first home defeat in 23 months.

Croatia coach Slaven Bilic was close to tears as he lamented over Eduardo's misfortune.
"He is like a son to me. We grew together, he as a player, me as a coach. Why did it have to happen to our best guy? To the Devil with the European Championship, what I care about now is his health. I hope he recovers as soon as possible," said the former Everton and West Ham defender.

And Martin Taylor? For the Croatian fans he will forever remain a byword for brutality in soccer.

Cruyff and Van Basten to return to Ajax

While still a player, Johan Cruyff oversaw Marco van Basten's debut for Ajax in 1982. Later he coached the talented centre forward at the time when Ajax won the Dutch Cup and the Cup Winners' Cup. Two of the greatest European footballers of all time will reunite again in the following season, Cruyff as director and Van Basten as coach.
This has been announced by the current Ajax board of directors, who plan to retire at the end of the current season to make way for somebody who can hopefully turn the club's fortunes around and make it great in Europe again. Van Basten will coach the Netherlands until the end of the European Championships, while Cruyff will abandon his unofficial role of advisor to Barcelona's president Joan Laporta.

Alternative weapon: brief history of spitting

Atlético Madrid's Sergio Agüero has been banned for two games by UEFA for spitting at Bolton's Matthew Taylor in their first leg UEFA Cup game. Agüero at 20 has already joined an illustrious group of soccer giants who also salivated on their rivals or the nearby grass in the past two decades.
Since the television cameras started to cover more attentively all the events on the pitch, the first notable spitting was performed by Real Madrid's Juanito in the direction of Uli Stielike of Xamax. The German had apparently incurred Juanito's grudge while they both played for Real. Stielike would have the last laugh though with a tremendous tackle on his Spanish foe later on in the game.
The author of the most famous incident of this type was Frank Rijkaard at the 1990 World Cup, spitting several times at Rudi Völler. The latter had previously insulted him, possibly even racially. They were both sent off.
Other famous spitters include Lazio's Serb Sinisa Mihajlovic, who soaked and stepped on Adrian Mutu of Chelsea in 2003, earning himself an eight-match European cup ban.
A year later, Francesco Totti got sent off and suspended at the 2004 European Championship for spitting at Dane Christian Poulsen.

Spectacular homage to Hans Krankl in Vienna

Austria is preparing a charming event to honour Hans Krankl, the nation's most prolific goalscorer since the Second World War. During the Euros, the streets of Vienna will be decorated with hundreds of plastic life size figures of the legendary Hansi.
The organizer of the show, Peter Jöbstl, says that is the way Vienna will welcome numerous tourists who may like to pose by the figure of the cult soccer hero.
After the Championship, the figures will be sold at an auction and during the event they will be fixed onto a 250kg pedestal to discourage the fans from taking them home.
The European Golden Boot winner in 1978, Krankl played at Rapid, Barcelona and Salzburg. Austria will always remember him for the winning goal against West Germany at the 1978 World Cup in Argentina.

Not a joke: lottery to help Brazilian clups repay debts

The Brazilian government has presented a public lottery whose primary goal will be helping Brazil's football clubs to repay their huge tax debts.
The lottery, called timemania (team-mania) should raise 300 million dollars in the first 12 months alone. The winners will share 137 million dollars, while the rest will go to the clubs for the specific purpose of paying their debts to the Public Treasury.
All in all, the clubs will have five years to pay off the debts which amount to 450 million dollars.
Incidentally, the players will be required to write the name of their favourite club on the coupon and the club that gets mentioned the most times in any one round will get 2% of the revenue. All other professional clubs will get just 1% apiece. Since the most popular Brazilian clubs are Flamengo, Corinthians and Sao Paulo, the biggest share will probably end up in their bank accounts.

Embarassment for the tabloids: Guti's "boyfriend" was his sister

Knowing that Real Madrid's Guti is married to tv-presenter Arancha de Benito, the Spanish public must have been shocked by a series of photos showing the blond midfielder in a suspect position with another man, as it seemed at the moment.
Spanish weekly Cuore spotted Guti in a restaurant and shot his "passionate" farewell kiss with a "man". The subsequent story titled "Tender Mr. Guti" effectively shed some doubts as to Guti's sexual preferences.
A day later, the serious daily El País uncovered the true identity of Guti's "boyfriend": the other person on the photos was Guti's short-haired sister!
"What happened in the restaurant was a family dinner during which the members of Guti's family congratulated the girl on her second pregnancy," confirmed the player's manager Zoran Vekic.

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Saturday, February 23, 2008

Time for Tottenham to swap nostalgia for success

Time for Tottenham to swap nostalgia for success.
Andy Greeves

I’ve never been the most patient of individuals and on the eve of watching Tottenham Hotspur in their first cup final in six years, frankly, I’m a mess.

I’ve often heard footballers talk about how they can’t sleep the night before a big match, or how the preparation for a game is much harder than actually playing. It’s the same for us fans. Ever since the final whistle sounded at White Hart Lane on Tuesday 22 January, the night we beat Arsenal 5-1 in the League Cup semi final, second leg, my mind has been focused on nothing other than Sunday’s final. I’ll take this opportunity to apologise to my girlfriend, my family, work colleagues and friends, who have had to endure my hyperactivity and constant cup final talk ever since.

While fans of Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United are all to used to playing regularly in cup finals in recent years, for Spurs supporters, it’s a far rarer experience. Especially for the younger generation of Lilywhites, who have been brought up on the tales of the double side of ‘61, the great European nights and FA Cup triumphs, yet never experienced such success for themselves. Spurs competed in just two finals in the nineties and including Sunday, have managed only a further two in the 21st century. For that reason alone, I think my hysteria ahead of the showdown with Chelsea is fully justified.

Football supporters often assimilate events in their own lives with that of their team. They can remember a certain year on the basis of what kit they were wearing that season or where they finished in the league. I’m the same and in the run up to the Carling Cup Final, I can help but indulge in some shameless nostalgia. My first Spurs final was nine years ago, when we beat Leicester City 1-0 at Wembley. The game was far from a classic and my predominant memories of the match itself are of Justin Edinburgh’s sending off for striking (or should that be stroking!) Robbie Savage’s hair and Allan Nielsen diving to head a stoppage time winner. Moreover, I remember the excitement in the build up to the match, seeing Wembley for the first time and jumping up and down with my dad when we scored. Sol Campbell captained the side that day and who would have thought at the time that, just two years later, he would be turning out for Arsenal instead. I’ve avoided watching too many replays of that game as the sight of Campbell holding the League Cup aloft in a Spurs shirt angers me, in light of his subsequent defection.

Back in 1999, I studying for my GCSE’s, I had massive crush on Britney Spears and thought my brick-sized Nokia 5510 mobile was the best thing since sliced bread. I was using fake ID to get into clubs, had a particularly shocking haircut, encrusted in five layers of wet look gel and unsurprisingly, I hadn’t really had a proper girlfriend. My one true love was Tottenham Hotspur and having started going to games at the beginning of the 90’s, I was already completely hooked by this date. My bedroom was covered in posters, I had a Spurs rug, lamp, bedspread, curtains… the list is endless. David Ginola was my idol and I’ll never forget watching him. One of the most natural footballers you could ever hope to see and a man who could bring life into the most ordinary of matches. To this day, the Frenchman probably rates as my favorite Spur, despite having also seen the likes of Lineker, Sheringham, Gascoigne and Berbatov ply their trade in the famous Lilywhite shirt.

By our next cup final appearance in 2002, things were a little different for both myself and Spurs. I was in my first year of university, handily enough in Cardiff, where the Worthington Cup Final against Blackburn Rovers would played. Glenn Hoddle was still enjoying a honeymoon period as manager of his beloved Tottenham Hotspur and in the semi-finals, we had delightfully beaten Chelsea 6-3 on aggregate. Having a cup final involving Spurs play in Cardiff in my first year their as a student seemed like fate. I could see the Millennium Stadium from the pitches I played football on in university and I lived just a 15 minute walk from town. As soon as we beat Chelsea in the semi-finals, up went the scarves and balloons in my student halls of residence. However, my build up to the big game was far from ideal, when a friend of mine delayed in posting our application for final tickets, ultimately meaning we would miss out. To say I was annoyed with my ‘friend’ is an understatement, in fact I’ve hardly spoken to him ever since.

From the feeling of total jubilation I had experienced only a few weeks earlier, when I was at the Lane to see us beat Chelsea 5-1 in the semi-final, second leg, I now had to resign myself to the fact I wasn’t going to the match. I cut a sombre figure, happy for my team, but ultimately devastated that I wouldn’t be at the Millennium Stadium. My friends, all supporters of other teams, cheered me up by offering to come and watch the game in a pub near the ground. They all promised to be Spurs fans for the day, despite their allegiances with the likes of Oldham Athletic, Bristol City and Sheffield Wednesday. So the Sunday came, I donned my Spurs shirt and bought a programme as if I were heading to the match. I also brought a sign I had written with me which pleaded for a spare ticket and I had £150 in my wallet which I was prepared to part with to get in. I spoke to various touts who wanted £500-600 for one ticket, including Spurs season ticket holders and members that had travelled all the way to Cardiff, just to make a profit rather than go the game themselves. I was sickened by these individuals and despite the fact I wanted to go to the match more than anything, refused to negotiate with these types of characters.

Just as the game was about to kick off, a man approached me offering me a ticket in the Spurs end for £150. I bartered with him and got the price down to £120, at which point I swapped cash for ticket and dashed into the ground. I feel immense sympathy for the thousands of supporters that have missed out on tickets for this Sunday’s game, because nobody should have to pay over the odds to see their team, especially when it is their own so-called ‘fans’ that are ripping them off. Unfortunately, people with a similar attitude as mine will always be part of the problem, in that they will pay what it takes to see their team in a cup final, through love for their team.

After all the stress of getting a ticket, the match proved to be highly disappointing for me and the 30,000 odd Spurs fans that had made the journey to Cardiff. Blackburn won, what was a highly entertaining match, by two goals to one. But having been overriding favourites going into the final, this seemed and ultimately proved to be yet another false dawn for our long suffering supporters. It was also the beginning of the end for legendary players like Teddy Sheringham and Darren Anderton. Despite playing on to this day, the 2002 Worthington Cup Final was their last chance to win something for Tottenham Hotspur, having playing nearly 600 games for the north London club between them in their career. It was also my last opportunity to see Spurs play in Cardiff while living there, as I headed off to London upon graduating three years later.

So for myself, the team and all our great supporters, Sunday’s game is absolutely massive. The front of the official match day programme for the final reads, ‘For today, nothing else matters’. That just about sums it up. I’m preparing for the big day as if it were a wedding. My specially embroidered cup final shirt and scarf have been hanging outside my wardrobe for over a week now and my choice of jeans, footwear and pants has been planned with similar detail. It’s the first final I’ve experienced Spurs going into the game as underdogs., yet ironically, this is by far and away a better Tottenham team than graced the 1999 or 2002 games. It will be time for me to stop the nostalgia as I step out of my door on Sunday, for then, my focus will be entirely on the day. Such single-mindedness will be needed by all the players I’ll be cheering on, if we are to be successful. Old cliché I know, but you go to Wembley to win and this is what I want and believe Tottenham Hotspur can achieve against Chelsea.

Copyright Andy Greeves & Soccerphile.com

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Unlikely hero Blatter has the enemy in his sights

Unlikely hero Blatter has the enemy in his sights.
It has been a rare treat for the used and abused football fan to see the Premier League so humiliated as they have been this past week.

The seemingly invincible money-machine that was born in 1993 has for the first time hit a real brick wall in its quest to rob football of all its traditions in the pursuit of profit.

I have relished watching those whom the PL thought were their friends - the FA, Manchester United etc, turn tail and slam their colonial project.

For challenging their authority, the upstart division's pretensions of grandeur have met a cannonade of criticism from the real powers in the game, who have torpedoed the ludicrous 'Game 39' proposal.

Hopefully now it will sink to the bottom and die next Thursday when PL Chief Executive Richard Scudamore and FA Chairman Lord Triesman come up against FIFA boss Sepp Blatter in Zurich.

Should the PL persist with their daft and ill-conceived plan, FIFA will again lock swords with the PL at their Executive Meeting on the 14th of March and then at their general Congress on the 29th of May. By then, England's World Cup bid will be in the shadow, the last thing the FA wants.
Blatter has been implacably opposed to the idea, digging the knife in by saying it would harm England's 2018 World Cup bid.

For all the Swiss' cronyism, corporate selling-out and Machiavellian machinations since 1998, he is my hero now for telling the Premier League where to go. Driving a wedge between them and the FA and engaging the fans by threatening to lose England the World Cup was the perfect tactic. Attacking your opponent's weaknesses with your strengths is straight from The Art of War.
Blatter seems to have finally twigged that the marriage between football and commerce, which FIFA ran along with for the past decade, will end in tears as the game will sell its soul for good.
After presiding over an amazing corporate takeover of the World Cup, his recent pronouncements have been more vociferous than ever in defence of the international game and protecting the national identity of domestic leagues from the money-men.

At the same time as welcoming Brazil as hosts for the 2014 World Cup, he rebuked the five-times winners for exporting so many footballers around the world and told them to stay at home.
The question is whether these are genuine threats or mere desperate rantings of a man who has lost control of his children.

Should 'Game 39' disappear quietly into the shadows, the Premier League only has itself to blame for not canvassing more support behind the scenes before it presented its plan to the world.

The idea also had a fatal flaw - adding an extra game instead of playing an early-season and thus relatively meaningless regular season fixture overseas, as the NFL did recently in London.

They should content themselves with overseas friendlies and defer graciously now England's World Cup bid is in danger.

Of course, as well all now know beyond question, the interests of the English national team and the whole of the nation's fans are quite opposed to those of the Premier League.

Next Thursday, I want Blatter to blow the Premiership out of the water.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Thursday, February 21, 2008

A Dodgy Ruby and a Stuffed Nan

In a week where Mohammed Al Fayed has pointed an accusing finger at Tony Blair, the Nazis, Dracula and a crocodile, it seems odd that Richard Scudamore has emerged as football’s leading figure of fun.

When a friend told me that Scudamore planned to play a round of matches overseas, I thought it was the worst idea I’d ever heard - and I used to work in a nursery. I say ‘worked’, but it went down as ‘loitering’ on the charge sheet.

The Chief Executive of the Premier League appears to have been influenced by Gordon Gekko’s ‘Greed is good’ monologue from ‘Wall Street’. I’d advise Scudamore against following in the footsteps of Michael Douglas, as he may have to fight off Welsh gold-diggers. Investing in the 8/11 for a Pompey win over Sunderland is a socially acceptable way of increasing your bankroll.

The idea of 10 matches being televised back-to-back genuinely worries me, as I ritualistically indulge in a couple of beers during a game. There’s no way I’ll be able to drink 20 pints, unless i have to spend a night with Kelly Osbourne. I will happily indulge in a celebratory couple when Middlesbrough stun Liverpool at 17/2.

Sir Alex Ferguson condemned his players for showboating in last week’s FA Cup victory over Arsenal, but the unsavoury incident could have been a whole lot worse. Apparently, Wayne Rooney once kept it up with Nani for over two minutes. I’ll definitely be paying for it if Manchester United fail to defeat the depleted Toon Army at 8/15.

When it comes to cool celebrity support, Everton are way behind the likes of Manchester City. The Toffeemen tried to persuade Sylvester Stallone to give soccer a try, but he couldn’t pull it off, which is quite ironic. I’ll happily play with the 9/4 for a draw between Manchester City and Everton.

Blackburn and Bolton have contested the mushy pea derby on 13 occasions in the Premier League, and the team playing at home has never emerged victorious. I’m going to lay Blackburn at 10/11 like it was a legless woman in a nightclub. That Heather Mills certainly knows how to celebrate.

I find the political arena almost exclusively dull, but the revelation that the Home Secretary is an avid Aston Villa supporter genuinely attracted my interest. I have nothing but admiration for the way that Jacqui Smith can juggle her secretarial work with her homemaker duties. I hope she finds the time to back the Villa against Reading at a delightful 7/5.

Playing a home match against Derby is like going on a date with Paris Hilton, you’re confident that they’ll roll over without much of a fight. Wigan are the fortunate beneficiaries of three easy points at 8/13.

There is a direct correlation between a club’s support and the coolness of the team’s nickname. Aston Villa are the evil Villans, Tottenham are the boiling Spuds and Manchester United are the Red Devils. Who in their right mind would choose to be a Cottager? Ashley Cole knows that West Ham are a great bet at 9/5 to beat Fulham.

The bigwigs at Chelsea are still understandably upset after a package containing white powder was delivered to their training ground. They’ve now ordered Frank Lampard to use sugar sachets like the rest of the squad.

The last time Chelsea met Tottenham in a cup match, an irate Spud attacked Frank, which is the actual definition of irony. Chelsea came out on top on that occasion and I can only see a repeat at 11/10 in the Carling Cup final.

The more i consider the potential benefits of the globalisation of the Premier League, the more appealing the idea becomes. The Chinese would be able to relegate the ping-pong ball to a late night entertainment spot, Australians could embrace a sport that doesn’t involve shearing, and the Yanks would learn that real footballers refuse to wrap up like a suicide bomber in winter. I’ll be going off on one if Arsenal fail to beat Birmingham at 8/15.

There is currently an incredible amount of opposition to Scudamore’s thought-provoking proposal, but nothing is insurmountable; with the obvious exception of Ruby Wax. Wigan, Manchester United, Chelsea and Aston Villa form an 11/1 accer that will hopefully remove that ghastly image from my recently tortured mind’s eye.


Copyright (c) Gerry McDonnell & soccerphile.com

Monday, February 18, 2008

Farina's telling silence

Farina's telling silence.
It's common knowledge that Frank Farina hates his compulsory media dealings with the kind of passion normally reserved for the taxman. But the former Australia boss would have despised picking over the bones of Queensland's contentious preliminary final loss even more than usual.

A controversial penalty, his captain's dismissal for a dubious elbow to the face of Jets striker Mark Bridge and barrage of missed opportunities all combined to send Newcastle into this weekend's showpiece final and Farina's mood plummeting.

In fairness, the Roar were gifted as much - if not more - by under-fire referee Peter Green in an error-ridden 3-2 defeat with Farina's side the fortunate recipients of two of the three penalties Green spotted, even if nobody else did.

The first - dispatched by Brazilian Reinaldo - zipped past Newcastle's Socceroos goalkeeper Ante Covic deep into stoppage time after Queensland had looked dead and buried. The second, also from the lanky South American striker, gave them a sniff of an unlikely comeback at 3-1.

But the fact Green squared the ledger by awarding the Jets a soft spot-kick in the first-half of extra time plus Tarek Elrich's blockbuster meant the dream season finale for FFA suits became a reality.

The A-League grand final had already, again controversially, been scheduled for Sydney so the progression of NSW neighbours Newcastle and the Central Coast - despite lower average home gates than Queensland - would have delighted the money men.

And Farina's take on the showpiece decider? "I don't really give a shit to be honest," he said, sidestepping protocol. It's a sentiment Farina has employed more than once in his first full season in charge at the Roar.

All week he'd been asked whether his side could contain their nerves on the biggest day in the club's history. The question had its roots in Queensland's defeat to Adelaide a few weeks previous when former Socceroos hardman Danny Tiatto was sent off for aiming a swing at an opponent. He typically went out all guns blazing in a sideline melee and was banned for two matches.

The league-leading Roar lost the match 2-0 and ended up finishing fourth.

But in fairness it was Green, usually one of the league's more consistent enforcers, who succumbed to the tension of the grand occasion with a nerve-riddled performance which might see him lose pace on the country's leading officials.

He handed out a blizzard of cards including both a yellow then a straight red for Moore, the former Australia captain after Bridge toppled to the turf.

Queensland's Sasa Ognenovski, another who doesn't hide his disgust for the media and a player who's fallen out with even the most affable of his team-mates this season, received his second caution of the finals series and would have been suspended from the grand final had the Roar progressed.

Ognenovski was off the field getting treatment for a head wound when Matt Thompson opened the scoring for Newcastle with Green again coming under some fire for delaying the skyscraping central defender's return.

It was all enough to have Farina privately seething for weeks, but he wasn't going to let on to the gathered hacks.

Earlier this season, the Queenslander was slugged by the governing body for suggesting one referee reacquaint himself with the laws of the game and he was careful with his complaints this time.

"The police watch everything I say, so I can't really comment any more," he said. Asked what he could say about Green's display without falling foul of FFA guidelines on publicly criticising officials, Farina tellingly replied: "Nothing."

Next season is the last under his current deal with the club. After bringing in Moore and Tiatto last year, more big name signings are expected. Farina's contacts from his six years in the national set-up are extensive and the league's reputation continues to grow.

However, the competition may well need to find 46 more top class players next year with fellow Queensland sides Gold Coast Galaxy and Northern Thunder heavily tipped to become the first expansion clubs.

A decision on that will be announced in a week's time following this Thursday's FFA board meeting.

Copyright © Marc Fox and Soccerphile.com

Australian Soccer News

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Koreas Looking Good

Kwak Tae-hwi scores again
That’s the way football goes. From July to February 6, South Korea went 550 minutes of play without scoring. In the past two weeks, the team has found the net seven times.

Kwak Tae-hwi was responsible for the first and the last of those goals. The baby-faced defender headed home the first goal against Turkmenistan in Seoul two weeks ago and then, on Sunday afternoon, he scored in the last-minute to give the Taeguk Warriors a dramatic 3-2 win against China in Chongqing.

That victory came in the first match of the East Asian championships being held in the Chinese city. It was an exciting game. Park Chu-young hadn’t scored for the national team since March 1 2006 when Angola came to a snowy Seoul stadium. On a misty Chongqing day, Park headed home the opening goal at the end of the first half and then was on target in the second half with a lovely free-kick curled home from 25 metres.

Sandwiched In between the two strikes had come two Chinese goals, the first an absolute scorcher from Zhou Haibin, and the game was heading for a 2-2 draw on a misty afternoon. That was until Kwak fired home a fine half-volley to extend China’s winless streak against South Korea to 27 games and, as the Korean media gleefully pointed out, it also continues China’s “Koreaphobia".

There are still two games to play in this four-nation biennial tournament. Next up for Huh Jung-moo's men is a Wednesday night clash with North Korea at the same venue.

Games against the northern neighbors are always special affairs but they are becoming more common. The teams have met only three times in the past 14 years but that number will double in 2008. As well as the game this week, there is the small matter of two qualifying games for the 2010 World Cup that will take place over the next few months.

Those two games make Wednesday’s clash a strange one. South Korea is without any European-based stars for this tournament. The roster is full of inexperienced K-Leaguers. Coach Huh can select a side safe in the knowledge that he will not be giving too much away to his opposite number Kim Jong-hun.

In contrast, Kim’s squad is at almost full-strength and he may be wary of showing too much of his hand ahead of the meeting in Pyongyang on March 26. Two of his team however, are already well-known to coach Huh.

Midfielder An Yong-hak was born in Japan but is a well-established North Korean international. He joined Busan I’Park in 2006 and after a slow start on the south coast; he has become one of the league’s most consistent performers. After 2002 and 2006 World Cup star and South Korean captain Kim Nam-il left Suwon Samsung Bluewings at the end of last season to join Japanese club Vissel Kobe, Suwon coach Cha Bum-keun picked up An as the replacement. The two should face each other on the pitch and An is looking forward to it.

“Kim Nam-il is the best midfielder in South Korea,” An told reporters after the Japan draw. “I want to play a good game against him.

“We watched the first half of South Korea on television and just a little of the second half,” An added. “The fact that they got the winner in stoppage time shows their mental strength.”

Jong Tae-se is another Japanese-born DPRK star. The striker plays for J-League club Kawasaki Frontale and scored an excellent goal in North Korea’s 1-1 draw with Japan on Sunday. Young and full of confidence, Jong also scored against Chunnam Dragons, the former club of southern coach Huh, in the 2007 Asian Champions League. He is hungry and dangerous.

“I am looking forward to playing against South Korea,” Jung said. “The team is similar to Japan in terms of ability. I should have scored more goals against Japan and I will try my best in the next game.”

It promises to be a tight match despite South Korea’s new-found scoring prowess and a draw would be no surprise as powder is kept dry for next month’s crucial clash.

Copyright: John Duerden & Soccerphile


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Friday, February 15, 2008

Interview: Alexei Lalas

Interview with Alexei Lalas.
LA Galaxy are heading to Asia at the beginning of March for a tour that will include stops in Seoul and Shanghai.

Soccerphile.com had a chance to exchange a few e-mails with the owner of the California club -Alexei Lalas.

Lalas, who played 96 times for the US National Team, was, of course, the man behind the David Beckham transfer.

Is Asia important to LA Galaxy’s plans to become a seriously big club?

You can't be in business and ignore the Asia markets. Asia holds huge potential for clubs hoping to expand their brand and business. There is incredible interests in the sport, the teams and the players. Our hope is that when someone in places like Korea, Japan or China thinks about American soccer, they think about the Galaxy. Right now we have the unique opportunity to expose the Galaxy brand to million of potential fans and ultimately customers, and we're not going to waste it.

How can Galaxy maintain the same sort of profile when Beckham retires/leaves?

David is completely unique. His ability to produce on the field, create interest and and generate business off it, is hard to find.

We'll cross that bridge when we come to it. But we're thinking of our next big move. We've set the bar pretty high with David but there will be other stars.

Can Beckham ever repay the investment made in him?

He already has. Some of it is quantifiable and some of it isn't. But there is definitely a method to any perceived madness when it comes to the amount we have invested.

You will play FC Seoul in March...

We're excited to come back to Seoul, Korea. The Galaxy played there in 2003 and it was a great experience on and off the field. It will be the first trip to Seoul of many of our players, including David Beckham, and they are looking forward to experiencing the wonderful football and culture of the country.

What about Beckham is different that the public’s preconceptions? What about him surprised you?

Apart from his family, soccer is really what he cares about the most. He understands the machine that swirls around him and he recognizes the responsibility that comes with it. Class player, class guy.

At first glance, the MLS has many similarities to the Korean league –same number of teams, similar attendances and no promotion/relegation. The last point is the subject of debate in Korea. How about the US? Can a league be strong without promotion and relegation?

There will not be promotion and relegation in MLS anytime soon. We are in sport that is still striving to succeed and our investors have enough to worry about without having to worry about their team not even playing in the highest division.

What is the next step for the MLS to continue its development?

Expansion and more stadiums. At some point we also are going to have to figure out a way to play mid-week games. Our TV rating must increase. I think all of this comes over time, but we need to be pushing at an accelerated rate in order to continue to attract business. We cannot continually rely on being the sport of tomorrow, eventually we have to transition into the sport of today.

What is one (or more) thing that you think the MLS could teach other leagues?

A realistic business plan and a willingness to stick to it are crucial. At times it's painful but it enables you to survive long enough to thrive.

There are few (if any) US players playing professionally in Asia? Is there a reason for this?

I don't think that the Asian leagues look at American players as quality.

LA Galaxy will take part in a pan-pacific tournament with J-League and A-League teams. What is the purpose of this and why those leagues?

It's a league initiative but I think it's wonderful to bring teams from all the regions together. The more integration and competition we can have the better for all league. We love playing against teams from other countries and leagues. It's a great way to advertise your sport a

The J-League started at around the same time as MLS and has become a real success story. Are there lessons that the MLS, or Galaxy, has learned from Japan?

It doesn't happen overnight and you can't build a league with old players looking for a vacation and a big paycheck.

LA Galaxy recently played in Australia and New Zealand – was that a successful trip?

Great trip. We had a wonderful time in both countries and we may return in the near future.

Are there any plans to forge links with any clubs in Asia?

We're always looking for potential partnerships with quality clubs around the world. It has to be the right club at the right time.

There is a large Asian, especially Korean, population in LA. Are there any plans to sign some Asian? Korean players?


Good Asian players are very expensive, but if there was the right player we'd definitely look to sign him. But we still haven't come across the right player.

Why did you appoint Ruud Gullit?

He has experience and he welcomes the pressure of being the coach of the LA Galaxy.

Do you get annoyed with European arrogance towards US football?

Because of our structure, MLS is the most competitive league in the world. It may not be the most beautiful or exciting, but it is the most competitive. There is horrible soccer being played all over the world, and much of it is coming from what many perceive to be the elite leagues of the world. There's no accounting for bad taste.

Copyright: John Duerden and Soccerphile.com



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Thursday, February 14, 2008

Strawberry Fields For Heather

I absolutely despise Valentines Day. Conformity demands that I waste good money on a pointless gift and a meaningless card, even though the wife has spent the last 364 days of the year criticising me for being lazy. I’d happily dump her; but it’s a lot of effort to find someone new.

Paul McCartney has taken the brave step of officially ending his ill-fated relationship. For me, he’s definitely made the correct decision, even if it does cost him an arm and a leg.

While Paul and I understand that love is a complete fallacy, there are still a minority who believe in the romance of the FA Cup. The reality is that the minnows just make up the numbers until the trophy is lifted by one of the big 4, or Liverpool.

Rafa Benitez has pointed the finger at the Yanks for their relegation from the elite. You can blame the Americans for many things: Middle East instability, nuclear war, terrorism, global warming, 9/11 and fat children, but they didn’t rest Torres against Birmingham. I hope Rafa takes the FA Cup seriously, as I’m on the Reds at 1/5 against Barnsley.

The liveliest atmosphere of the 5th Round will probably be at Coventry, where West Brom will be arriving with 8,000 screaming Yam Yams. I’ll definitely be going out of my way to avoid Coventry this weekend; although the words ‘this’ and ‘weekend’ are pretty much superfluous. The Baggies look a fair shout at 7/5 to leave victorious.

David James continues to surprise me. There were times when I thought he would prove a major liability; those times were 1990 – 1996 and 1998 – 2007. With Calamity in this kind of form, you have to believe that Preston have a tougher job on their hands than Helen Chamberlain’s makeup artist. I’ll be made up when Pompey advance at 10/11.

It will be somewhat ironic if Middlesbrough put an end to Bryan Robson’s managerial career. It was at the Boro where Robbo first made his name; I think it was ‘Jim Beam’. Robson may well be interested in the odds for a Middlesbrough win over Sheffield United; 7/5 is a little short.

Cardiff have come a long way since the Sam Hammam era, when new signings were contractually obligated to enjoy a physical liaison with a sheep. That controversial clause was widely criticised at the time, but it did lead to Franck Ribery asking for a trial. Things are a lot more stable at Ninian Park today; they have Peter Ridsdale in the boardroom. The chairman can buy another goldfish when the Bluebirds slaughter the Wolves at 11/8.

Southampton will still be without a manger for their trip to Bristol Rovers. The Saints did try to rehire Glenn Hoddle, but he wanted to discuss his options with a likeminded friend, so he’s waiting for Paul McCartney’s divorce proceedings to end. I’ll be on Bristol Rovers at 2/1 to see off the Saints; although I’ll stay away from the handicap.

After finding the net in his last nine matches, Emmanuel Adebayor will be hoping to reach a perfect 10 against Manchester United. I’m not normally one to boast, but I once dated a German girl who was very close to being a ‘10’. She was extremely arrogant though: she knew she was a ‘9’, and she wouldn’t shut up about it while making love. I’m screaming about the 9/4 for a draw between Manchester United and Arsenal.

Like Helga, Avram Grant always appears deeply unhappy. As an Israeli, Grant has seen some distressing sights through the years, although nothing could prepare him for the picture of the hairdresser who gave Ashley Cole a little trim. I’ll throw up if Chelsea fail to beat Huddersfield at 1/10.

For Cheryl Cole and Heather Mills, Valentines Day will be a depressing affair. My wife will be genuinely excited though, as she loves to eat a mountain of chocolate on this special occasion - it’s a weekday. Cardiff, Chelsea, Liverpool, Middlesbrough and Portsmouth form a 12/1 accer that will allow me to purchase an extra large bar of Toblerone.

Copyright (c) Gerry McDonnell & soccerphile.com

World Soccer News Valentine's Day 2008

World Soccer News Valentine's Day 2008.
World soccer news - for the week of February 14th

Cursed Ronaldo on the sidelines again

A well known scene: a tearful Ronaldo is being stretchered off with yet another injury. The partial tendon rupture of the right knee sustained in the league game against Livorno is threatening the Brazilian with another lengthy break. The Italian web site Datasport inquires openly: "Is this the end for Ronie?"
Milan's ace suffered the injury just two minutes after he came on as a substitute. The unlucky 31-year-old striker was transported to an orthopaedic clinic in Milan where he was subjected to magnetic resonance and other examinations. After the surgery urgently scheduled in Paris he is in for another frustrating rehabilitation.
Hopefully not as long as the one between autumn of 1999 and summer of 2001, during which time he played just one game, indeed only a few minutes of it.


English soccer going non-English, fumes Platini

UEFA's president Michel Platini is not amused by the Premier League's plans to play several games per season overseas to boost income from foreign fans.

One of the all-time soccer giants, Platini called the idea "strange and comical."
"It will never be approved by FIFA, the fans and the national FAs. It's ironic. You already have no English coaches and English players. Soon the English clubs will have no English owners and perhaps your clubs will be playing outside of England. It's a joke."

It may look funny to Platini, but the increasingly non-English team owners look set to make some perfectly serious money by delving deeper into the pockets of the legions of their overseas fans as of 2011.

At least a couple of Englishmen are bound to profit from the idea, notably its creator, the English Premier League (EPL) Chief Executive, Richard Scudamore. Although the home-based fans and the media have been less than friendly towards Scudamore's scheme, the man claims to have garnered support from the current 20 clubs in the Premier League.

"We're confident that we had the support of the 20 clubs and we still have the support of the 20 clubs," says Scudamore. What isn't entirely clear is whether the support will be there after the clubs have listened to what the fans have to say on the matter.

Explosion of attendances in Bundesliga

Soccer is nowhere as popular as in Germany. The Premier League may be the strongest playerwise, but the average attendance in the Bundesliga has grown yet again from last season's 38,191 to 38,529 in the first half of the current season. The 306 games of the first part were attended by 5,894,000 spectators, which is a 3.75% increase on the previous season.
The 2nd Bundesliga is growing at an even higher rate: each game is watched by 17,693 fans, 10.83% more than last season.
The reasons may include new and comfortable stadia, an exciting and uncertain competition and the high population figures: Germany has over 80 million inhabitants. By the way, the average ticket price is an acceptable 21 euros, 35% of what a ticket costs in the Premier League!
Italy has also registered a growth. After last season's dismal average of 19,181, the return of Juventus, Napoli and Genoa has prompted the attendance to rise to an average of 22,504.

Top five leagues

Country Average

1. Germany 38,529
2. England 34,400
3. Spain 28,700
4. Italy 22,504
5. France 21,800

Pelé suggests free kicks without the wall

The greatest player of all time, the Brazilian Pelé, plans to revolutionize the game of soccer by suggesting to FIFA an essential rule change: no wall for the free kicks! Pelé conveyed the idea to FIFA on the occasion of the last Executive Committee meeting in Zurich. There are two versions of the modification: removal of the wall for all free kicks or only if the foul was committed by the last defender outside of the penalty area.
"The new rule would enable a harsher punishment for the offender. If there is a wall in place, the attacking side practically loses the advantage. Should FIFA accept my proposal, the number of fouls will drop and the most talented players will find it easier to score," says The King.
Perhaps the real thing would be to enable the shooter to choose whether the rivals should place the wall or not, since some players are specialized for hitting the ball just right so that it bypasses or crosses the wall on the way to the net.


Real Madrid's lucky 13th

Although Real Madrid's eight point advantage over Barcelona gained last weekend is what really matters, Real's fans celebrated the spectacular 7-0 win over Valladolid.
That was the 13th 7-0 win for the Madrid team in the Spanish championship, exactly six years after a similar win over Las Palmas when Fernando Morientes scored five goals. But, that season the title went to Valencia, not Madrid.
Valladolid conceded seven goals to Real Madrid in the autumn of 2003, with three goals by Raúl, who is particularly inspired against Madrid's Castillian neighbours. With his two goals last Sunday, Raúl's tally against this team has risen to 14. Incidentally, the scoreline equalled Valladolid's worst defeat ever, suffered 50 years ago against Atlético.


Johan Cruyff advises Barca against Mourinho

A faction within Barcelona's board advocates hiring José Mourinho as early as next July. The current coach Frank Rijkaard is not immediately threatened by dismissal since his team is still present on all three fronts, but he is aware that the vice-chairman Ferrán Soriano is lobbying in favour of Mourinho. Soriano appreciates his coaching methods, leadership and familiarity with Barcelona from the time when he worked as Bobby Robson's and Louis van Gaal's assistant.
However, Barca's former player and coach Johan Cruyff is said to be putting the brakes on Mourinho's arrival. According to the Spanish press, the influential Dutchman has advised the chairman Joan Laporta not to sign Mourinho on grounds that his coaching style is not compatible with Barca's cheerful and offensive play. Another reason could be the desire to protect fellow countryman Rijkaard.
Mourinho (44) has been a free agent since he parted ways with Chelsea last September.

Copyright Soccerphile and Ozren Podnar

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Fifa World Rankings February 2008

Fifa World Rankings February 2008.
There is little change in the top 20 teams of this month's Fifa world rankings. Ghana burst in to the top 20 after the African Cup of Nations they hosted and came in third. Cameroon, who Ghana defeated in the 3rd/4th play off are 19th.

Argentina are number one followed by Brazil and Italy. England are in 11th place, Scotland 14th and the USA 26th.

1 Argentina
2 Brazil
3 Italy
4 Spain
5 Germany
6 Czech Republic
7 France
8 Portugal
9 Netherlands
10 Greece
11 England
12 Croatia
13 Romania
14 Ghana
14 Scotland
16 Mexico
17 Cameroon
18 Turkey
19 Bulgaria
20 Poland


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Last month's Fifa World Rankings

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Signed England Shirt

Purchase a signed England shirt.

England home shirt (L size; short sleeves) signed by signed by John Terry, Steven Gerrard, Paul Robinson, Joe Cole, Stewart Downing, Michael Carrick, Ledly King, Frank Lampard, Scott Parker, Peter Crouch, Jermain Defoe, Darren Bent, Jermaine Jenas, Michael Owen and David Bentley.

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Friday, February 8, 2008

Ghana Exit African Cup of Nations

Ghana Exit African Cup of Nations.
Cameroon's victory over Ghana has silenced the nation. Now people are facing up to life in the real world as their dream of lifting the trophy has come to an end. Walking back from the stadium to Osu, where every other time there has been people "jubilating" (yes they use this word a lot over here) all over the place, people discussed the tactics and decided who was to blame. I saw the previous day on TV politicians defending John Mensah's red card as an act he had to commit, they went into great detail as if they were the managers of the team. Such is the fever that had gripped the nation. From my own personal point of view the fever is also much better!

In truth I think this sending off coupled with a lack of quality strikers was the reason for ghana's exit. With Mensah absent Essien was asked to play a much deeper role, and was unable to support the attack. Cameroon took their chance.

The 5p.m. start times have meant that people have struggled to get to the games in time for kick off as they rush from work. In Kumasi, the locals, unwilling to pay the price of 4 cedis (about 2 pounds) would wait until the gates were opened around twenty minutes from the end and pour in in their thousands to catch just a glimpse of the action.

When you realise that a normal working wage is just 5 cedis a day you begin to understand their predicament. The Local Organisation Committee (LOC) has come in for severe criticism for its pricing policy and distribution of tickets. Tickets were meant to be available through Banks and Post Offices, people spent hours queuing but were frequently disappointed as either tickets never materialised or there were insufficient numbers available to meet demand. Yet come match day there were people on the street happy to sell tickets above face value, especially to the foreigners who would pay the inflated prices.

For any locals getting their hand on tickets the chance of a 10 cedi profit (2 days work) gave them a dilemma. Support their national team which they do passionately, or take the money to live on. Just yesterday a friend had his rent increased from 40 cedis a month to 60 cedis (a 50% increase without any warning).

Here children often fail to complete their education as they need to support themselves by selling items on the market, as a result many lack the basic skills which we take for granted back home. Last July the currency was devalued - 10,000 old Ghana cedis now being worth 1. The people have struggled to understand the change and still talk as though they are dealing in old cedis. Thus causing great confusion to myself when I am asked to pay a grossly inflated price.

At the end of the year a presidential election is due. The people here are hoping that this will bring a change in the current unemployment system, cost of electricity (which is paid for just now but not necessarily provided) and improvements to transportation links. I would also hope that work is done on the open drains which encourage mosquitoes and increase the risk of malaria for all.

Finally the people are growing restless with the current Government especially after it was revealed that they had lost (!) millions of old cedis which were to be burnt, and the police (or "one cedis" as they are known - one cedi being the amount required to bribe them) who recently, it was revealed had captured a large amount of narcotics. The bust was under surveillance but the drugs were found to have been replaced, presumably finding their way back on to the market.

The Government has proudly supported the football team during its African Cup campaign, it is now time for it to support it's own people.

© Ross Clegg & Soccerphile.com

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Filling Hiddink's shoes

Filling Hiddink's shoes.
Socceroos coach Pim Verbeek didn't quite measure up to his illustrious predecessor in charge of South Korea. On Wednesday night, Verbeek retried Guus Hiddink's shoes on for size as Australia mounted their maiden World Cup qualifying campaign through the AFC.

If Verbeek's 3-0 victory over Qatar wasn't quite enough to prove the bulk of his doubters wrong, it must have gone mighty close.

There will still be those - the cynics who harboured a personal preference of the shining CV of Omar (formally Philippe) Troussier over Hiddink's countryman and former assistant - who might remain unconvinced.

Let's see how Verbeek's inevitably jetlagged Socceroos handle the altitude of southwestern city Kunming in their first AFC qualifier overseas against China next month, they might remark.

But most of the 50,000-plus clad in the green and gold at the Telstra Dome in midweek, not to mention a host of interested TV viewers, will be jointly relieved and excited by a ruthless first-half display which saw the outgunned Qataris put to the sword in the opening 33 minutes.

The first test of the unheralded Verbeek was always going to be his wider influence in the boardrooms of Europe's grandest.

His sway over the often reluctant full-time employers of Tim Cahill and the like increased in magnitude when the Dutchman, in what has already become typical of his forthright style, discarded virtually every one of his original A-League contingent, labelling them not up to international standards.

Only Queensland's Craig Moore made Verbeek's first starting XI, excelling alongside captain Lucas Neill in central defence. Although whether the former skipper and 2006 World Cup goalscorer is truly considered a member of the A-League gang is doubtful.

In any case, Moore, 32, pulled the pin on his national team career immediately after the match.

Verbeek also showed his ruthless streak in quietly electing not to call-up Harry Kewell - to surprisingly little fanfare - and then axing Norway-based defender Michael Thwaite after he'd already completed the arduous trip home.

"I have better players in his position," was the coach's blunt assessment. "That’s the only reason. Michael did well at training and I really appreciated that he took the time and energy to come here but I have better players in his position. That’s football."

It would take a narrow-minded individual not to spot Verbeek gently asserting his control over a notoriously big-headed bunch.

Another absentee was Mark Viduka. The Newcastle United frontman played against Middlesbrough in the Premier League the Sunday previous with Boro goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer proving the flight home possible by doing it himself.

However, while Viduka's self-imposed international exile continues, Verbeek is not prepared to give up on him without a fight.

The Dutchman made a public play for Viduka's future services in the wrap up of the Qatar victory and said he would fly to the north east in person to share a coffee and a chinwag.

"Mark is always on the list," Verbeek clearly stated. "I would prefer to have five strikers to choose from and it's always better that players have a headache over fighting for their position than coaches have a headache."

Viduka might be on his shortlist, but at 33 this year and with first team football under Kevin Keegan at Newcastle no certainty, Verbeek needed to trial Plan B and stylishly did so in Melbourne, Viduka's hometown.

After toying with the idea of playing just one up front, he paired long-haired Karlsruher SC targetman Josh Kennedy with Scott McDonald, the stocky Celtic forward who hasn't stopped scoring in the SPL since moving to Glasgow in the off season.

Kennedy headed the opener from Brett Emerton's whipped delivery while McDonald was a menace all night, supplying the low centre which Cahill dummied for Mark Bresciano to tuck away for the clincher.

PSV's Jason Culina, in a holding midfield role, also received plaudits after the game, as did revitalised left-footer David Carney, now at Sheffield United in England's second tier.

Kennedy and McDonald aside, the names weren't actually that different from the failed Asian Cup campaign last July. But the attitude was.

However, with just one full training session to work with a group he'd mostly never before met, the nagging feeling about Verbeek's influence hasn't instantly gone away.

The March 26 game in China is another non FIFA-designated matchday which means Verbeek will have a similarly limited time with his players to prepare.

But at least for the next month or so he has, as Hiddink did before, Australia's goodwill behind him.

Copyright © Marc Fox and Soccerphile.com

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Thursday, February 7, 2008

Wayne drops keep falling on my head

I am no stranger to a lazy stereotype. I’m half-Irish and I’m married to a Scot, so some people believe we stay at home all day smoking crack and peeling potatoes; which is only half true.

It could be worse though, I could be bald. Britney Spears was considered a wholesome entertainer when she had flowing locks; but the moment she showed solidarity with the follicly challenged, the authorities took her children away.

It’s not just tubby Americans who persecute the hairless. When Andy Johnson had a little decoration on his head, he was awarded penalties and his goals were allowed to stand; now he’s shunned like Lewis Hamilton on a weekend trip to Majorca.

Personally I think it’s a case of raging gingerism, as baldness is their only legitimate hope of a life free or mockery. I’ll make a stand against these peladophobic gingerphobes by supporting AJ’s Everton at 4/7 against a struggling Reading.

Ryan Babel is another player who deserves our sympathy. Rafa perplexingly continues to bench the flying Dutchman: the only way he’ll be promoted to a starter is if he bumps into Frank Lampard. Chelsea will devour the struggling Reds at a mouthwatering 11/10.

Harry Redknapp has hit the jackpot with the signing of Jermain Defoe. The Pompey manager is just like King Midas - it’s believed that the King’s son was a real nause. I’ll be droning on endlessly about the 9/4 for a draw between Bolton and Portsmouth.

Derby were a lot less successful with their attempts at January shopping. Paul Jewell signed Laurent Robert on a free transfer; I think he overpaid. Tottenham are the weekend banker at 8/13 against the awful Rams.

Birmingham were dealt a knockout blow by a player named Villa last week, so it was a typical Derby match. It’s just one win in eleven matches now for the Blues; West Ham look a great shout at 17/20 to increase the pressure on the Big Eck.

Premier League attendances now average 36,000 a match, which is a 50 year high. The figure would have threatened the 40,000 mark, if it wasn’t for Middlesbrough. One man and his dog will see Boro destroy Fulham at 10/11.

Roy Keane will be looking forward to reuniting with Steve Bruce, as they haven’t seen each other since filming Cinderella. I’ll turn into a pumpkin if Sunderland fail to oblige against Wigan at 23/20.

The loss of Agbonlahor will be a massive blow for Aston Villa. Gabby has aggravated a hamstring - he accidentally knocked his pint over. The return of Young will soften the blow for the Villans; the tactically shrewd Martin O’Neill will bamboozle Kevin Keegan’s Toon Army at 10/11.

A hamstring injury has also ruled the influential Tomas Rosicky out of Arsenal’s match against Blackburn. Rosicky is known as ‘little Mozart’, due to his ability to orchestrate the midfield. Personally, I’m a big fan of Chopin: I often buy a big bag of potatoes. I can definitely handle the 4/11 for an Arsenal win over Blackburn.

After a protracted saga, Manchester City have finally signed Benjani, and I can claim with little fear of contradiction that Pompey’s loss is Manchester City’s loss. An Elano-less, Benjani-full City will almost certainly lose out to Manchester United at 1/3.

Wayne Rooney will miss the Manchester derby after receiving a booking for hurling his considerable weight to the ground last week in an alleged act of simulation. Rooney would never cheat, so I can only conclude that the referee cautioned him for his ginger stubble and an increasingly receding hairline. Aston Villa, Tottenham, Everton, Middlesbrough and West Ham form not only an outstanding 16/1 accer; it’s also a symbol of hope for our continually oppressed pool-ball headed brothers.


Copyright (c) Gerry McDonnell & soccerphile.com

Fabio Capello First Match For England

The Swiss Roll for Fabio's First Outing

As debuts go, Fabio Capello's as England manager was reassuring but ultimately meaningless.

After the misery of the Croatia defeat at the same venue in November, Wembley's sell-out crowd was happy to witness a victory instead, but the contest will pass quickly into memory.

As if it needs repeating, Steve McClaren and Graham Taylor both won their first games in charge but ended their reigns in humiliation, while Alf Ramsey lost his but ended up winning the World Cup.

England's 2-1 win on Wednesday was unremarkable. Capello's men dominated the first half hour territorially, although Switzerland looked the more incisive in the final third.

Jermaine Jenas finished off a smart passing move five minutes before half time to give his Italian boss the first goal of his reign, and when Capello replaced the goalscorer and Joe Cole on 57 minutes, it seemed the game would wind down for the remainder into the slumber England friendlies often serve up.

Plaudits, therefore, to Switzerland's Eren Derdiyok for making a match of the occasion when he lashed a snapshot past David James a minute later - the goal of the evening.

England responded confidently and were ahead again in the 62nd when Steven Gerrard, the Man of the Match, powered through the Swiss backline before laying the ball off to Shaun Wright-Phillips for an easy tap-in.

Wayne Rooney and Joe Cole underlined why they should be next on the teamsheet after Gerrard; Rooney with some deft flicks and impromptu shooting and Cole with some dogged foraging down the left wing, including the incursion which lead to Jenas' goal.

If David Bentley is David Beckham's natural replacement on the right, he must improve his crossing to finally dislodge Goldenballs from the running. After one especially overhit centre, the fans in the adjacent corner serenaded the Blackburn midfielder with 'there's only one David Beckham'.

Capello's England has only just begun the metamorphosis from also-rans to contenders, but there were still some interesting hints of things to come. England might have kicked off with some misplaced passes and nervy indecision in defence, but did not resort to aimless long balls like they did against the Croats and showed some rare understanding of the phases of the game as it went on.

Instead of just attacking stubbornly for 90 minutes, for a spell in the first half the Three Lions played keep-ball Latin-style, although their failure to advance out of their own half soon had the crowd jeering, perhaps provoking them to respond with a goal.

For much of the opening 45, Capello's men showed the importance of playing in the opponents' half and when leading in the second, they did well by taking the game to the Swiss instead of sitting on their advantage and counting down the clock.

While England never looked like losing to Switzerland - the Euro 2008 joint-hosts lost at home to the USA in October and are ranked 44th in the world (England are 12th), they also did nothing to dazzle the spectators or stake a claim to be up there with Europe's best.

Still, I think we would settle for humdrum 2-1 wins all the way to the World Cup final in 2010.

If there was anything revolutionary in the air, it was the disciplined regime initiated by the much-travelled Italian, which may have had a knock-on effect on the fans, too.

No one can reasonably complain if he opts to call his captain 'Gerrard' instead of 'Stevie G', orders the players to keep to rigid meal times like friars in a monastery, and, at long last, has sent the WAGs, agents and assorted hangers-on packing from the team hotel.

The much-trumpeted minute's silence to commemorate the 1958 Munich air disaster was barely 30 seconds, and was interrupted by two or three morons, but only two or three, which amid 86,857 at Wembley is not a bad ratio.

For the first time in my Wembley memory, I heard nobody in my section boo the visitors' national anthem. I also failed to spot any flags emblazoned with the names of banned Ulster terror groups, and heard no bone-headed renditions of 'No Surrender to the IRA'.

Looking around the gleaming new arena with its magnificent architecture, I wondered if at long last the boorishness that has dogged England’s fanbase for years was finally withering away in the face of a new era.

What surprised me most, though, was glancing to my left and finding my eyes fixed upon the familiar form of one of the world's greatest coaches, looking unfamiliar in an England tracksuit, but brooding over his troops with his reknowned intensity.

Sterner tests will come, beginning with the trip to Zagreb to face Croatia on the 10th of September for a World Cup qualifier.

So far, so good: Capello has a 100% record. And for a non-English speaker picking up a team strangled by player egoes, and a nation demoralized by their failure to perform, he has showed an encouraging desire to do things his own way.

Assessments will change when the meaningful games arrive in the autumn, but for now, Fabio's road looks the right one for England.

Scoring –
ENG – Jenas 40'
SWI – Derdiyok – 58'
ENG – Wright-Phillips 62'

Line-ups -

England: James, Brown, Ferdinand, Upson, Ashley Cole (Bridge 73'), Bentley, Jenas (Wright-Phillips 57'), Gerrard, Barry (Hargreaves 73'), Joe Cole (Crouch 57'), Rooney (Young 87').

Switzerland: Benaglio, Lichtsteiner (Behrami 46'), Senderos (Grichting 55'), Eggiman, Spycher, Inler, Gelson (Huggel 84'), Barnetta, Yakin (Margairaz 63'), Gygax (Vonlanthen 46'), Nkufo (Derdiyok 46').

Att: 86,857.