Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Marquee fixtures aplenty as the J. League heats up

Todoroki Stadium

Round 19 in the J. League could prove a turning point for several clubs with a number of marquee fixtures set down for the weekend of July 26/27.

The pick of the Saturday fixtures see FC Tokyo host Yokohama F. Marinos at Ajinomoto Stadium, as teams from Japan's two largest cities get ready to rumble in the capital.

After making an excellent start to the season FC Tokyo have fallen away of late, and substitute Shingo Akamine's last minute equaliser in their most recent 1-1 draw away at Kyoto Sanga FC followed heavy losses to both Urawa Reds and Kashima Antlers.

Yokohama F. Marinos are worse off having recorded six straight losses, including two under new coach Kokichi Kimura, whose tactics and team selections appear to have baffled both Marinos players and fans alike.

At Todoroki Stadium sixth placed Kawasaki Frontale host third placed Nagoya Grampus, with both teams coming off last start wins. Kawasaki came from behind to beat Urawa Reds 3-1 in front of more than 50,000 fans at Saitama Stadium, while Nagoya hammered Urawa's cross-town rivals Omiya Ardija 4-0 at Mizuho Athletics Stadium.

Elsewhere on Saturday there's a nostalgia-filled clash between rivals of yesteryear Jubilo Iwata and Tokyo Verdy at Yamaha Stadium, while fourth placed Gamba Osaka host Oita Trinita at Expo '70 Stadium, with Gamba having recently announced plans to build a new 35,000 capacity stadium not far from their current home.

Kashima Stadium

All eyes on Sunday will be on Kashima Stadium, where Kashima Antlers host bitter rivals Urawa Reds. All tickets for this clash have been snapped up with around 40,000 fans expected to descend on Kashima Stadium, as Urawa aim for revenge having given up the J-League crown on the final day of last season to their hated rivals.

Kashima currently top the J. League standings on 34 points, while three clubs in the form of Urawa, Gamba Osaka and Nagoya Grampus are a further two points back. At the bottom of the standings JEF United prop up the table some six points adrift of second-from-bottom Consadole Sapporo, while Yokohama F. Marinos currently occupy the promotion/relegation playoff place, albeit with just under half the season remaining.

League Cup quarter-finals loom large

The second leg of Nabisco League Cup quarter-finals takes place on August 6, with all of the ties still in the balance.

Oita Trinita arguably hold the most commanding lead from the first leg, having scored two away goals in their 2-1 win over FC Tokyo at Ajinomoto Stadium.

Nagoya Grampus will also feel confident of booking their place in the final four having beaten JEF United 1-0 away from home, while Gamba Osaka beat Yokohama F. Marinos 1-0 at Kanazawa Stadium.

The pick of the fixtures will see Shimizu S-Pulse host Kashima Antlers at what should be a packed Nihondaira Stadium, with the tie delicately poised at 0-0 from the first leg. Shimizu have been Kashima's bogey side in recent years, and having beaten Kashima 1-0 in the league at Nihondaira earlier this season, Kenta Hasegawa's side will feel confident of progressing in a competition that arguably heralds Shimizu's best chance of winning a trophy this season.

J. League schedule set for amendment

From 2010 the J. League will align with the European calendar according to Motoaki Inukai, new President of the Japan Football Association.

"Soccer should not be played in the summer. Players can't move well," Inukai told reporters, despite the fact that summer football has proved popular during the J. League's sixteen year existence.

Currently the league runs from March until December, meaning that Japanese players moving to Europe generally do so in the middle of a campaign - a problem that has also plagued J. League clubs in their attempts to sign talent from Europe.

Sorimachi's side gears up for twin test

Yasuharu Sorimachi's under-23 side are shaping up for their final two friendlies before the team jets off to the Beijing Olympics, with Japan taking on the Australian under-23 side at Home's Stadium in Kobe on July 24, before they face off with Lionel Messi's Argentina at the National Stadium in Tokyo on July 29.

Former Albirex Niigata coach Sorimachi is under pressure to produce a winning outfit, but with Japan having been drawn in a tough group that also contains the Netherlands, Nigeria and the USA at the Olympics, his team faces a tough task to reach the knock-out stages of the competition, with Japan hoping for a repeat of their performance at the 1968 Olympics where they took out the bronze medal.

Copyright © Michael Tuckerman & Soccerphile.com

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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Busy Korean Summer Ahead For Some

 Busan boss Hwang Sun-hong
With the temperatures and humidity levels rising all over the Korean peninsula, the nation’s players will be happy that the K-league is taking a five-week break. Recent games have seen most of the 22 on the pitch collapse on the turf in exhaustion as the referee blows his whistle to signal the end.

Not all players will be resting, 18 of them will be heading to China to play in the Beijing Olympics - more about that next week. For those left behind, and especially the coaches, there will be a lot of thinking going on over the next month. Suwon, Seongnam and Seoul may be lording it at the top of the pile but there are plenty of others not so well off.

The one with the most to consider is Hwang Sun-hong. The hero of the 2002 World Cup is one of South Korea’s best ever strikers but his first coaching job is not going so well. Busan I’Park started the season with a win on the opening day against Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors. 14 games later and Hwang is still looking for victory number two following four ties and ten defeats.

Busan has been unlucky at times; playing well against some of the big boys and losing to last-minute strikes. The south coast team, which contains Ahn Jung-hwan, had never been handed a heavy defeat - until last Saturday that is. That was when free-scoring Daegu FC won 4-0 at Busan’s World Cup Stadium. Three of the goals came in the final minutes as Busan desperately tried to get something out of the game. Still, it was a sobering result and the defending was enough to drive long-suffering Busan fans, and perhaps coach Hwang, to drink.

Ahead of Busan in the standings, but only just, are the three Jeolla clubs. Gwangju Sangmu is a perennial struggler and it is no surprise to see the military-run team, reliant on conscripts to the army and unable to sign players, struggle in the nether regions but more was expected of Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors. The Jeonju team is improving slightly but has won just four games in a season when the 2006 Asian champions was at least expected to finish in the top six with such players as Kim Hyeung-bom, Chung Kyung-ho and Cho Jae-jin on its books. Further south, Chunnam Dragons are also struggling. The Gwangyang club has never been one of the league’s big boys but three wins all season is a poor return.

Jeju United spent much of this season languishing near the bottom. Four straight wins in June and July changed all that as Brazilian boss Arthur Bernardes has the team playing some good football and the islanders are outside bets for a top six finish and a place in the play-offs. Incheon United is in the opposite situation. The west coast port city started the season on fire and won its opening three games. Only two more have followed and some of the football on display at the Munhak Stadium has not been especially exciting with an over-reliance on big Serbian striker Dzenan Radonic partly at fault.

Daejeon Citizen is a team usually tough to defeat. The Purple boys squeezed into the play-offs last season but have yet to find the same sort of form this time round. Goals are very hard to come by for Kim Ho’s team with a measly 11 netted in 15 games. A 1-0 win over Suwon the round before last was well-received but the veteran silver-haired Kim has to find some magic from somewhere over the next few weeks.

Gyeongnam FC has been in reasonable form and currently lies in sixth –the last play-off spot. The Changwon-based club has coped well after the coach and its two best players left at the end of last season and new Brazilian signing Indio is starting to impress along with young midfielder Seo Sang-min.

Up the road, Daegu is having a real roller-coaster of a season. The team has scored 31 goals, one more than leaders Suwon but the problem is the fact it has conceded 37. Games involving Daegu are usually high scoring with the Korean duo of Lee Keun-ho and Jang Nam-seok doing the damage only to look on in dismay as the defense is breached once again. If Daegu can tighten that backline without sacrificing its potency in attack, a place in the play-offs awaits.

The two South-eastern coastal cities Pohang Steelers and Ulsan Hyundai are in their usual positions of fourth and fifth. Neither team has impressed on a consistent basis but have enough good players to get the results that will put them in the play-offs. Once you book that ticket, as Pohang knows only two well, anything can happen.

Copyright: John Duerden & Soccerphile.com

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Sunday, July 20, 2008

Team GB? More like Team England with a Scottish manager

One of the most interesting headlines to come out of today’s newspapers was the story that head of the London 2012 committee Sebastian Coe has offered the job Team Great Britain’s football coach to Sir Alex Ferguson.

Now the idea of having a Great British football team has long been suggested but the Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish Football Associations feel the idea would threaten their independence within Fifa. I think what they are really afraid is having none of their players chosen for the squad.

Team GB? More like Team England with a Scottish manager.


As you may know the tournament is for mainly U23 players but each side can include three senior players of their choosing. Now in my eyes I couldn't think of any U23 Scottish, Welsh or Northern Irish that would do better than the English players you can get. As for the senior players well in the past many would have said Ryan Giggs but now he has retired from international football you can discount the Welsh Wizard. Now I know that in four years time things could be very different to what they are now and we could have plenty of young Scottish or Welsh players filling up the ranks of professional football.

However if the British Olympic Association (BOA) had entered a team for this years Olympics you would have to admit that the dominant nationality in the squad would be English. Taking a brief look at the last England U21 team to represent the country last time out, ironically they beat Wales 2-0, and I think you’d say that at least seven players would get into any Olympic squad at this moment in time. I mean would you really leave out Gabriel Agbonlahor or Theo Walcott for David Cotterill or Sam Vokes? To beat on how these players get on next season here are the football odds.

Looking towards the future and you’d think that even four years into the future those three players of any age who could be chosen would be English. Wayne Rooney should still be around then and could you really over look him for Kenny Miller or David Healy for the striker’s position? Now it shouldn’t be overlooked that the English FA has more money to spend and have a bigger pool of potential players to draw from. With the Olympics costing as much as they will it looks doubtful that the BOA will be able to provide that much money for each nation to develop players.

In fact all the money that the BOA will set aside may well end up paying for Sir Alex Ferguson to take charge of the squad because he won’t come cheap you’d think. Ferguson would be an excellent appointment as head coach but how much involvement will he have in actually developing the players that might represent Great Britain? If the Manchester United chief is to retire in three years then that will give him just a year to develop a young bunch of players which might not be enough time when you consider how much time the players will spend at their clubs.

When you think that the players will spend the rest of the time with their national side’s as it will be a European Championship year. The idea of having a Great Britain football dream is a pipe dream, the move to establish one just for the London Olympics will be an impractical one that on paper will ultimately fail. The idea of having a team that everyone can get behind does sound great but there are bound to be nations left out as I have stated earlier meaning that you are likely to lose that demographic of your support.

As much as I want to support this idea it seems that it will be more trouble than it is worth and you’d imagine that it would spark a great club against country debt with many of the Premier League’s top players missing for the start of the season. In fact perhaps Fifa president Sepp Blatter was right for once, shouldn’t they just enter a team with just England players in it to avoid a lot of the arguments that would take place.

If the BOA do decide to press on with a GB football team then you’d imagine that they will create more trouble than the team is actually worth.

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Thursday, July 17, 2008

Mixed Summer Weather For Korea's Overseas Stars

rice farmer Seol.
Football is non-stop these days. No sooner did the European club season finish then the European championships started for 16 nations. Now just days after Spain lifted the continental trophy most clubs have started pre-season training and talk in the big leagues is who will go where before the new season gets underway.

What about South Korea’s overseas contingent? Well, it is a summer of uncertainty for many though that certainly can’t be said for perennial golden boy Park Ji-sung. Slight knee troubles apart, the 27 year-old is set for a good season in Manchester. It is only two months since the attacker collected a second English Premier League medal and less than that since the club lifted the European Champions League trophy.

It was a successful season for Park and next season, providing he steers clear of injury could be even better. This time last year he was recovering from major knee surgery and still five months away from a return to action and the fact that United coach Sir Alex Ferguson was more than active in the transfer market didn’t help. This has been a quiet summer so far at Old Trafford though that could change very quickly if Real Madrid gets its way and buys star player Christiano Ronaldo for a world record transfer deal.

There are likely to be few records broken elsewhere. Lee Young-pyo, who starred at PSV Eindhoven along Park from 2002-2005 is set to leave Premier League club Tottenham Hotspur and return to the Dutch team. After two and a half steady, if unspectacular, seasons in North London, Lee fell out of favor with Spanish boss Juande Ramos around the turn of the year and had to watch much of the second half of the season from the bench. At the age of 31 and with his place in the national team under serious threat, Lee needs to be playing regular football and is keen to head back across the North Sea to PSV and the Netherlands.

Probably on his way out of Holland is Lee Chun-soo. The winger signed for Feyenoord for around $3 million last August. It hasn’t been a successful season for ‘The Millenium Kid’ in Rotterdam. He first suffered from homesickness and then an ankle injury. He is now back in Korea recovering from surgery and he could be about to stay in the Land of the Morning Calm permanently -if any Korean club is prepared to offer the asking price.

Seol Ki-hyeon is keen to stay where he is. The Sniper is still a Fulham player and later this month will tour South Korea with the London club. When the games in Busan and Ulsan are over, he could also be out of the door at Craven Cottage. The powerful attacker hasn’t featured in a league match since January and with boss Roy Hodgson set to splash the cash ahead of the new season, Seol has to show that he is still worth a spot in the starting eleven. He is ready to do just that as he told reporters at Incheon airport last week (looking like a psychedelic rice farmer). “There has been nothing happening, I have just been resting. The important thing from now is to play as well to stay with the team.”


Lee Dong-guk is definitely on the move, the only question is to where? The Lion King’s contract at Premier League club Middlesbrough ended last month with the striker having failed to score a single league goal since arriving in England in January 2007. It was a time to forget for the former Pohang Steelers star who is also banned from the national team until the end of this year. Lee would like to stay in England but anywhere in Europe would be acceptable. Until now however, Japanese clubs are the most interested suitors.

There are no such worries for the ‘fifth Premier Leaguer’ - as he is known by the Seoul media – yet.. Kim Do-heon is a relative newcomer and only joined West Brom on a full transfer in May. The midfielder first headed to England in January on a loan deal. He did enough to secure a permanent deal and the Birmingham club did enough to earn promotion to England’s top division.

There is still much time left this summer for deals to done and contracts signed and it will be interesting to see where the Korean stars end up when the first ball is kicked at the start of the 2008-09 European season.

Copyright: John Duerden & Soccerphile.com

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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Kashima in the driving seat as J. League nears halfway mark

Kashima in the driving seat as J. League nears halfway mark.
Kashima Antlers lead the way as the J. League nears its halfway point, with the defending champions in a familiar position atop the league standings.

Kashima are the most successful club in Japan, and the Ibaraki giants have fired a resounding warning to the rest of the league by embarking on an ominous four-match winning streak. That run includes a 4-0 thrashing away at high-flying Nagoya Grampus and a similarly emphatic 4-1 win over FC Tokyo in Kashima's most recent clash.

Urawa Reds are just two points behind their bitter rivals, however the Saitama side slumped to a 2-0 defeat away at Oita Trinita in their last match, going down courtesy of goals from Shunsuke Maeda and Ueslei.

Third-placed Nagoya Grampus beat ambitious Kashiwa Reysol 1-0 courtesy of a clinical Frode Johnsen strike at Mizuho Athletics Stadium on July 12, while Gamba Osaka have roared back into contention after beating Kawasaki Frontale 2-1 in a hard-fought clash at Expo '70 Stadium, with Brazilian duo Lucas Severino and Bare making compatriot Juninho's goal for Kawasaki redundant.

In the bottom half of the table second-from-bottom Consadole Sapporo thrashed bottom club JEF United 3-0 at the Fukuda Denshi Arena in Chiba, suggesting that JEF United fans had best start planning for J2 football next season. The Chiba side are hopelessly adrift at the bottom of the standings, some nine points outside the relegation/promotion playoff place and a further five points behind Consadole Sapporo - with the bottom two teams suffering automatic relegation.

Just after the halfway point in J2 relegated Sanfrecce Hiroshima look odds on to bounce back to the top flight, with the Mazda-backed club seemingly streaking away in the division. The southern side are lying atop the standings some thirteen points in front of second-placed Cerezo Osaka, and having amassed 55 points from 24 games with a goal difference of +31, it would take a brave punter to bet against Hiroshima lifting the J2 title.

Cerezo Osaka and Sagan Tosu are the nearest challengers, with surprise package Montedio Yamagata and Vegalta Sendai just a point further back.

Newcomers Roasso Kumamoto have struggled with the transition to professional football. The Kyushu-based outfit prop up the standings in J2 having claimed just eighteen points, however fellow newcomers FC Gifu have fared better, having amassed 30 points so far to take them up to tenth place in the fifteen team-league.

Coaching casualties mount

Yokohama F. Marinos have sacked coach Takashi Kuwahara and replaced him with Kokichi Kimura, who steps into his first role as head coach in the J. League.

Kuwahara's dismissal was widely anticipated, with the former championship-winning coach rumoured to be on the verge of the axe following Yokohama's recent 2-1 Kanagawa derby defeat to local rivals Kawasaki Frontale.

A 1-0 home loss to Albirex Niigata at Mitsuzawa Stadium on July 13 was the final straw for club officials, who promptly terminated the contract of a coach who took over from the unpopular Hiroshi Hayano in January.

Meanwhile struggling J2 outfit Avispa Fukuoka have sacked former World Cup winner Pierre Littbarski as coach and replaced him with Yoshiyuki Shinoda. Assistant coach and former Norwich midfielder Ian Crook and strength and conditioning coach Anthony Crea were also sacked, with the duo brought in from A-League side Sydney FC, whom Littbarski coached to the inaugural A-League crown.

Sorimachi names Olympic squad

Japan's quest to name a competitive squad at the 2008 Beijing Olympics reached farcical proportions when Gamba Osaka midfielder Yasuhito Endo was forced to withdraw due to complications related to a Hepatitis C infection.

Endo was hospitalised recently after enduring a gruelling schedule for both club and country, but that did not prevent the Japan Football Association from attempting to name the talismanic Gamba Osaka midfielder as Japan's sole overage representative for the under-23 tournament.

Endo's withdrawal comes hot on the heels of Vissel Kobe's refusal to release their star striker Yoshito Okubo for the competition. Kobe cited a persistent knee injury as their reason for refusing to allow Okubo to play in the Olympics, but sources suggest that the club were privately seething after the former Real Mallorca striker was named as Japan's likely overage representative without prior consultation with Kobe club officials.

Japan will now feature a squad comprised entirely of under-23 players, however there was no room in coach Yasuharu Sorimachi's squad for Kashima Antlers defender Masahiko Inoha. Despite captaining the team throughout the qualifying campaign, the former FC Tokyo star has seemingly paid the price for a lack of football at new club Kashima.

Two overseas-based players in VV Venlo's Keisuke Honda and Catania's Takayuki Morimoto were picked, while Cerezo Osaka teenager Shinji Kagawa and surprise package Yohei Toyoda of Montedio Yamagata represent J2's contribution to the squad.

Copyright © Michael Tuckerman & Soccerphile.com

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Saturday, July 12, 2008

Drunk Referee in Belorussia

The drunk referee in Belorussia is becoming something of a YouTube classic.

Referee Sergei Shmolik was lead from the field and later suspensed by the Belorussian FA.




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Thursday, July 10, 2008

Suwon Look Complete At Halfway Stage


As the K-League reaches the halfway stage, there is one team that looks like 100% champions, one that is setting the bar higher every week. It is a statistic that improves by the week but has become so familiar that it almost ceases to impress. Suwon Samsung Bluewings have won the last eleven league matches. It is a new record and at the moment, it is hard to see when it is going to end.

“The Blue winning machine’” it has been called by some writers who find that match reports when watching Suwon almost write themselves. March 16 was the last and only time in 2008 when the Bluewings didn’t taste victory - a 2-2 draw at perennial title rivals Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma. Seongnam is still in second but lagging a massive nine points behind. FC Seoul is in third.

But at the moment, it is all about the boys from the Big Bird Stadium just to the south of Seoul. Suwon is unstoppable. The latest win was a 2-0 triumph at home to Incheon United. “It was a tough match for us,” said coach Cha Bum-keun. “With the injuries we have, some players were playing out of position and I am proud that they came through and we won.”

“This was a game in which we really needed Mato,” added the boss. Mato is Mato Neretjlak, currently the best central defender in the K-League and one of the best in Asia. If he was Korean then the final stage of qualification for the 2010 World Cup would look much easier but the 29 year-old is a former Croatian international and the man responsible for organizing the Suwon backline along with Korea’s 2002 and 2006 World Cup goalkeeper Lee Woon-jae.

‘We have a good team and are playing well,” Neretljak told me after the match. “I am enjoying my football here and it is a good place to play.”

Mato Neretljak clears the lines

Understandable sentiments. As well as a solid defence, there is an embarrassment of riches in midfield and attack. Lining up in the center are the likes of Cho Won-hee, Baek Ji-hoon and Lee Kwan-woo. Even North Korean midfield lynchpin An Yong-hak barely gets a game. It is in attack though where the team looks more dangerous than last season when it finished second. Seo Dong-hyun and Shin Young-rok are young strikers who have been terrorizing defenses up and down the Land of the Morning Calm. The two haven’t yet managed to break into the national team but with the lack of firepower at international level recently, it should only be a matter of time.

Usually, it would also only be a matter of time before the championship trophy was leaving Pohang and heading northwest to Suwon but in the present system, the top six teams will enter the championship play-off series. Finishing first gives an automatic place in the final but as Seongnam found out last year, it guarantees nothing.

With the league at the halfway stage, the top three seem to be pulling away from the chasing pack and if the trend continues then much attention will be on the teams fighting to fill positions four to six. Daejeon Citizen made a late and dramatic run to squeeze in at the last minute last season and there are a number of teams that could do the same in 2008.

Usual suspects Ulsan Hyundai Horang-I and Pohang Steelers won’t be far away and less regular play-off participants Incheon United, Daegu FC and Gyeongnam are all hovering around the cut-off point. All it needs it a purple patch to push them into the top six spot and a tilt at the title.

The contenders all know however that, like the ultimate boss in a computer combat game, Suwon will be waiting and ready to provide the toughest of tests.

Copyright: John Duerden & Soccerphile

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Tuesday, July 8, 2008

World Soccer News July 7 2008

Football News.
World Soccer News for the week of July 7th

Sensational LDU Quito Latin America champions

Absence of the away-goals rule in the Copa Libertadores finals cost Fluminense of Rio dearly, the ruling helped LDU of Quito to become the first Ecuadorian team to become the winners of the Latin America's premier club competition.
The away game in Quito ended 4-2 to LDU and the return leg 3-1 to Fluminense, which would have guaranteed the title to the Brazilians according to the UEFA's rules...and indeed according to the rules applied in Copa Libertadores in all stages EXCEPT in the finals.
However, the return game went to extra time and then to penalties, where LDU had more composure, winning 1-3.
It was a dramatic match in front of an 85,000 crowd at the Maracana stadium, LDU going ahead in the 6th minute and Fluminense coming back with a hat trick from Thiago Neves. Ironically, it was Neves who missed a penalty together with Washington and Conca, helping LDU take the trophy to Quito.
Ironically, the away-goals rule favoured the Ecuadorians in the semifinals, where it did apply. There they eliminated América of Mexico City with a 1-1 draw away and 0-0 at home.



Wigan renounce Klasnic because England's "too cold"?

Wigan's manager Steve Bruce discarded the signing of the Croatian Ivan Klasnic supposedly because his transplanted kidney would not react well to England's cold weather, wrote The Daily Mail.
According to the British media, Bruce's medical team studied Klasnic's background and determined he was better off living in a warmer climate since his kidney, donated by his father, would allegedly suffer in colder areas.
Curiously, the Croatian striker, scorer of two goals at the recent European Championship, did not seem to be aware of this bit of medical information, although he spent the whole past winter in Bremen, Northern Germany, where the temperatures cannot be that different from those in England.
However, the French team Nantes and the Spaniards of Real Mallorca now seem to be the best placed for hiring Klasnic, who underwent the kidney transplant in March of 2007.

UEFA Cup in for a name change?

UEFA is considering changing the UEFA Cup's name to the "UEFA Europa League" and will vote on the proposal in September.

The plans have been revealed to the press by Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, the acting chairman of the recently founded European Clubs Association. According to "Kalle" Rummenigge, the re-branding is necessary because the current UEFA Cup has developed the reputation of being a second-rate competition.

"We wish to bring back the reputation the competition had ten or 15 years ago," said the German at a press conference at UEFA's headquarters in Nyon.

If the UEFA Cup's reputation among the fans has dwindled then it certainly has nothing to do with the name nor will it be repaired by "re-branding", but by diverting some of the cash flow and glamour from the UEFA Champions League.

Traded your shirt? Pay for it!

The Tanzanian international Nadir Haroub was happy to see Cameroon's Samuel Eto'o accept his proposal for trading shirts at the end of their qualifying game which Cameroon won 2-1.
A surprise awaited Haroub when he returned to Dar Es Salaam: his FA was angry with him over squandering their property and asked him to cover the price of a new shirt.
"We cannot buy new shirts at the end of each game," FA directors told him.
When the FA's unusual request became public, the media launched a campaign for rallying funds to aid Haroub, perhaps not because the shirt is so expensive, but out of spite for the FA.
Then the FA's leaders changed their minds.
"It is good he exchanged shirts with such a famous player. That will help our country become better known in the world," said president Leodegar Tenga.
This might be true, because Tanzania's soccer team is promoting the country's image so well, as they have already lost all chances to qualify for the 2010 World Cup.

Rafael Márquez humbled Messi and Ronaldinho in free kicks

Another Rafael, besides Nadal, shone last weekend. Barcelona's defender Rafael Márquez won the first prize at a tournament for free kicks in Houston.
The Mexican convincingly overcame his mates at Barca, Leo Messi and Ronaldinho, who were booed off the pitch by the crowd. His strongest contender proved to be Jared Borgetti, but the last series tipped the scales in Márquez's favour, bringing him the 1 million dollar prize.
"I'm leaving Houston with a prize I certainly did not expect. I am not a free-kick specialist, since my playing role does not require that," said the Mexican.
The Free Kick Masters 2008 was held at Houston's Reliant stadium with artificial turf and the kicks were taken from 18, 21, 25 and 30 meters.
The goals were defended by renowned keepers like Francesco Toldo, David James and Kasey Keller, while the walls were provided by amateur players.
Messi and a plumpish Ronaldinho were eliminated in the first round after missing all of their eight kicks each.

Stubborn Laporta stays despite no-confidence vote

Joan Laporta and his allies plan to keep control at Barcelona until the end of their mandate in 2010, although 60.6% of Barca's members supported the emergency presidential elections in a referendum held on Sunday.

In order for the opposition leaders' proposal for new elections to prosper, 66.6% of those who turned up had to vote in its favour. Still, 23,870 votes were not enough for the two-third majority to be reached.

Those who expected Laporta to resign as a moral gesture, seeing that the majority of the voters opposed his continued rule, must have been disappointed, but the current president stubbornly pledged to stay for two more years, until June 30th 2010.

The first four years of his mandate were successful as Barcelona won several trophies including two League titles and a Champions League, alongside two narrowly missed prizes. Last season was dismal with no silverware and with the team finishing 18 points behind champions Real Madrid.

Copyright Ozren Podnar & Soccerphile

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Saturday, July 5, 2008

The most boring time of the year

The most boring time of the year.
As we lounge around hoping that the sun will poke its head through the clouds I can’t help but feel fed up with waiting for something to happen in football again. This is by far the most boring time of the year because apart from ridiculous transfer rumours to discuss not a lot is happening at the minute.

There is only so much I can stand of the Cristiano Ronaldo or Gareth Barry transfer sagas. We were all informed that after Euro 2008 the transfer market would pick-up and things would be more exciting and to a point things have improved in that we have actually had some transfers. Just this morning we have seen Turkish side Galatasaray take a gamble and sign Harry Kewell.

This is probably the most interesting completed transfer of the summer because I always believed that Kewell would want to stay in the Premier League or at least in England. However you know it’s a slow news days when top of the BBC Gossip Column is a transfer rumour about Rangers wanting to sign Danny Shittu. If you don’t believe me here it is.

Underneath it though is the news that Peter Crouch is off to Portsmouth, another saga that has gone on far too long for my liking.

On that page the BBC have done a good job in highlighting how much rubbish gets printed in the British newspapers day in, day out. The Sun, Daily Express and Daily Mail all have the news on Crouch’s transfer but they have all given different prices. Now I suspect that one of these will be true and the other two completely made up, which two are false we won’t find out until that transfer goes ahead, if it ever goes ahead. This is just an example of how the newspapers can get away with printing absolute twaddle at this time of the year.

I have come to believe none of it, the number of times I have seen my club linked with a great player only for it to turn out to be just a rumour is unbelievable. I have decided now not to believe anything I read until I see that player holding up the shirt at the press conference. When I was younger I use to get really annoyed at the manager when a transfer rumour didn’t come true because I believed that it was his fault we hadn’t signed this or that player. Now I realise that the only ones I should be getting annoyed with are the players agents who start these tales so their client can add an extra zero to the end of his salary.

For example let’s look at the Peter Crouch transfer again. Everyone has known for some time that Harry Redknapp, the Portsmouth manager, has been interested in Crouch. Yet last week I read a story in a newspaper that Arsenal were now interested in buying Crouch.

This to me is a blatant example of an agent starting a rumour to hurry one club a long, in this case Portsmouth so that they would pay the asking price and the aforementioned agent gets a bigger slice of the transfer deal. I know the debate about agents has been going on for some time but they are one of the things that is currently wrong with football. However I won’t go into that now and instead will stick with the summer transfer market. You can read about the transfer odds here.

I think everyone is getting a little tired of reading the same thing over and over again on the back pages of the newspaper. I think what everyone would like from all the players involved in the on going sagas is a definitive answer from all the parties involved saying if they are going or staying. However even then things are not cleared up.

For example last Friday Emmanueal Adebayor said he was staying at Arsenal but one hour later he refused to deny that he could move to Milan. Now I have read that Barcelona have made a big for the Togo international. That rumour started when Arsenal refused to give Adebayor a wage increase and you’d imagine that the interest from Barcelona would stop if Arsenal gave into those demands.

I really don’t like this time of the year, it really brings outs the ugly side in football where you can see how much money dominates the English game these days. The one thing that is keeping me going through all the rubbish is the thought that football will return very soon and finally we will have something to debate where the facts can not be altered and we get the whole picture.

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EURO 2008 - Goodnight Vienna

Euro 2008.
With the final game of EURO 2008 now over, it is time to breathe in the Alpine air and take stock.

Overall, it has been one of the better tournaments of recent years. The football has for the most part been attacking and open, an improvement on Euro 2004 and the 2006 World Cup and broadly as exciting as Euro 2000, although the final's denouement will colour the final analysis.

I found only France v Romania a turn-off, although Croatia v Turkey would have had me switching channels if I had not been there in person.

Euro 2008 has certainly been a huge improvement on the last European Championships I experienced in person, the 1996 edition in England, which was memorable for too many defensive games and swathes of empty seats in the stadia.

Austria and Switzerland were good, if not perfect hosts. Their transportation was excellent and the fan information next to faultless. As far as I know, no left luggage facilities closed early like Kaiserslautern's at the last World Cup. The accommodation ran out in and around Basel, but anyone armed with a train pass like me could zip to somewhere much nicer like Interlaken, where hotel beds were easy to find.

The size of the stadia was not ideal - six of the eight holding only the UEFA minimum of 30,000 seats, but there will never be stadia big enough to satisfy today's ticket demand, while a rectangular 30,000-seater is the perfect capacity for an excitingly intimate atmosphere, far more fan-friendly than an 80,000-seat bowl could ever be.

Unless every European championship ever after is held in one of Spain, Italy, France, Germany or England, fans will have to accept 30,000 capacity arenas.

Joint hosting might not be ideal in terms of travel - Geneva to Vienna was a 10-hour hike, but take a look at Gdansk to Odessa on the map for Euro 2012 before you throw stones. Or how about Foxboro to Pasadena at the 1994 World Cup.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Euro 2008 was a tournament to savour

Euro 2008 was a tournament to savour.
Back in England a week on from the end of Euro 2008, the tournament still looks as impressive as it did in the Alps. I am not relishing another stolid European club season, dominated by the tawdry money of the big teams, so for the last time, I am looking back on what was a refreshing festival of football, the sort of which comes around only every few years:

How was the play?
Very good, on the whole, refreshingly adventurous and attacking. Only France v Romania seemed to have come from planet boredom. The French appeared to have a cloud over them all tournament, while Romania strangely failed to turn the screw when they needed to in their final group game, so deserved to leave early, too.

Croatia v Turkey was not easy to sit through for two hours, but that was rather down to one team buttoning down the hatches and trying to frustrate another which was playing with winning ambition.

The Dutch were irresistible for two games, while Spain danced their way to the trophy delightfully throughout.

Portugal were also great to watch and Croatia were not bad, while even minnows like Austria and Switzerland showed enough fighting spirit to commend their efforts. Turkey’s late-late comebacks were thrilling, making up for a lack of the beautiful game with exciting attacking.

That leaves Poland and the Czechs as fairly forgettable, although they did at least play to win. Germany, as always, never dazzled but dazed as they ground out more impressive results to add to their endless roll of honour, while Greece could not make lightning strike twice with their safety-first and negative game plans. In their defense, one might argue that Greece were only making the most of their limited options, as were Italy when they kept it tight against Spain after losing playmaker Andrea Pirlo through suspension. The host nations, meanwhile, felt an obligation to their populations to go for broke, given they might not have made it to the finals had they been forced to qualify like the rest of the teams.

In terms of entertainment overall, Euro 2008 unanimously thrilled viewers more than the most recent comparisons, World Cp 2006 and Euro 2004. It was also more open than the average Champions League encounter, which tends to resemble the sort of high-quality but low-scoring encounter that Italy and Spain served up in the quarter-final in Vienna.

Why was this? The cool air and lush grass of the Alpine settings might have helped, but then again the sweltering conditions of USA ’94 produced plenty of goals, while Korea did not seem short of breath in 2002. Some games at Euro 2008 were chilly e.g. it was overcoat time when Spain played Sweden in Innsbruck, but other days were up to 35C.

You can’t read too much into climactic conditions. Euro 2008 was great to watch because the zeitgeist had changed, as it does every few years in football for reasons we find hard to pin down.

After a negative Italia '90 came a positive USA '94. Likewise, come 2008, most of the coaches had decided to win games by attacking first and defending second. Otto Rehhagel’s triumph with Greece in 2004 thankfully failed to inspire others to follow his defensive example. Ambition, the successful coaches correctly concluded, was the way to advance. If the next World Cup has teams as exciting to watch as the Spanish, Turkish, Dutch, Portuguese and Russians were in the Alps, then we are in for a treat.

The play was clean too, with hardly any diving or play-acting, which has blighted previous tournaments. Only when bad-losers Poland tried to make an issue of Howard Webb’s correct application of the laws on shirt-pulling was there any angry argument over refereeing.

The debate surrounding ‘was-it wasn’t-it’ Ruud Van Nistelrooy strike against Italy was more interesting. Given the absurdity of deeming a player lying in a heap off the field as an active participant, the rule surely needs changing to avoid any interminable debate over interpretation, but it looks like FIFA are trying to brush this one under the carpet.

Was there any tactical revolution?

Spain’s victory would have brought a smile to the former FIFA President Stanley Rous, who insisted that at the end of the day, nothing compares to skill. Let us hope Spain's technical prowess and desire to play to feet catches on.

4-2-3-1, a refinement of 4-5-1, seemed to be the preferred system for most teams, with 4-4-2 second, while even the Dutch ditched their old 4-3-3 formation to win games. Spain’s actual shape was more 4-1-1-2-1-1. The anchor midfielder sat in front of the back four (an advanced sweeper if you will) is certainly in vogue, typified by Spain’s exemplary Marcos Senna, who set up as many attacks as he intercepted.

Wingers too, were to the fore, with Roman Pavlyuchenko, Arjen Robben and Cristiano Ronaldo reminding us how exciting wide men can be, as indeed did the previously unheralded Colin Kazim-Richards with a stunning one-off appearance for Turkey against Germany in the semi-final. The overlapping full back is still a potent weapon, as Germany’s Philipp Lahm, Portugal’s flying Jose Bosingwa, Russia’s multi-talented Yuri Zhirkov and an unsung hero, Sweden’s Fredrik Stoor, reminded us.

Spain’s miasmic midfield brought back memories of some of its finest club sides, who proved how switching positions increases the attacking potential. Wide men Andres Iniesta and David Silva requently swapped flanks, while Xavi reveled in his free role, popping up all over the last third of the opposition half.

While we in England make a sport of criticising Latin teams’ lack of recognisable strikers, the mobile centre-forward in the Thierry Henry or Fernando Torres mould continues to impress. Germany reached the final with their real firepower coming from out wide in Lukas Podolski and Bastian Schweinsteiger. The top scorer of the tournament was a penalty-box predator (David Villa) but Spain won the final without him.

Daniel Guiza, Jan Koller and Luca Toni stood out as old style ‘raging bull’ No.9s, but watching the stylistic triumph of the Spanish, you could not help thinking they represented the past in football. If there is still room for tall men up front, then they will have to be skilful on the deck too, like Zlatan Ibrahimovic or Van Nistelrooy, as the physical centre-forward role looks dated.
In terms of height anyway, the short men (Spain) beat the tall guys (Germany) in the final.

Did the finals miss England?

As if. No, the tournament managed quite well without them, danke. When Euro 2008 was about to begin, most Anglos and the land’s breweries no doubt, felt the absence of the three lions quite painfully, but now it has ended, the inital proposition appears absurd.

A happy, party atmosphere engulfed the hundreds of thousands of fans who travelled to Austria and Switzerland, the sort of feeling England’s travelling hordes have yet to master en masse. The boorish and un-sporting attitude of too many England fans was certainly not missed, nor was the jingoistic nationalism of its tabloids. Only the Turkish fans (and at times a few Germans and Poles), failed to tap in to the party spirit, preferring to taunt opposition fans when winning or failing to look on the bright side of life when losing.

Women were more evident than ever at the FanZones, as were ‘adopted fans’, cheering for different countries every night with the appropriate shirts, flags and face paints. This idea of supporting countries other than your own and enjoying the losing as well as the winning is still sadly anathema to most Englanders.

Without England there, real English fans of football could appreciate the games without the nagging influence of the national team’s presence. Those English who travelled to Euro 2008 were true fans of the game. As well as some English supporters, I saw small groups of Irish, Lithuanians and some Colombians, identifiable by their national team shirts, who had travelled to the finals for the love of the game and the pleasant experience it can offer at big tournaments.

After a fun-filled month of mutual camaraderie in the Alps, I came home to watch the final in a London pub amid shouts of ‘f*** off Ballack’, and ‘Torres you c***’ etc, completely the opposite in ambiance to the rest of Europe.

England’s boorishness to the spirit of the game was exposed when the UK tabloids ran several racist articles during the country’s hosting of Euro ’96. Forget the nice stadia; if England wants to host the World Cup again it needs to understand how fandom has moved on.

We did not miss the ridiculously overladen English media expectation, nor the trashy WAGs behaving like it's hen night every night, without a nod of respect to the culture they have landed in.

If we are talking in terms of football, the question looks even stupider. England finished third in their qualification group and not since their 4-1 demolition of Holland at Euro ’96 have ever looked like contributing aesthetically to the world game.

Is Russia about to join the elite in European football?Following Zenit St Petersburg’s UEFA Cup triumph, Moscow’s hosting of the Champions League final, Roman Abramovich’s overflowing bank accounts and the national team’s ride to the semi-final of Euro 2008, one could be forgiven for thinking Russia are about to realise their long-held potential as a major football nation.

Steady on. The UEFA Cup is hardly the competition it used to be if Rangers can make the final. Rather, it resembles the old Cup Winners’ Cup in the quality of teams involved.

At Euro 2008, Russia flattered to deceive - starting badly before improving enormously, only to bow out in the semi-final the way they began the tournament. Their classy 3-1 dismissal of the previously untouchable Dutch will was unforgettable, but one swallow does not make a summer.

The Dutch and Russians had met before of course, in the Euro ‘88 final when Marco Van Basten, the coach 20 years later, scored one of the greatest goals of all time. Like the USSR of 1988, Russia of 2008 at their best were a well-drilled machine, exploiting all areas of the field and compensating for a wealth of individual genius.

Andrei Arshavin of course was one such talent, as was Igor Belanov in 1988, along with Lev Yashin one of only two Russians to win the Ballon d’Or European Footballer of the Year award (Oleg Blokhin was strictly speaking a Ukrainian).

Whether Arshavin or attacking colleague Roman Pavlyuchenko, is truly great I doubt. Arshavin’s age (27) is not important; players flower at different times in their careers. It is rather that he flourished under the shrewd coaching of Guss Hiddink, without whom Russia would not have even made it to the finals. In the event, they scraped in after losing away to England and Israel thanks to England’s inept 2-3 defeat at home to Croatia in their final game.

Russia turned on the gas against Sweden before they neutralized the Dutch courage but their semi-final surrender to the Spanish was such a let-down after those wins that their fans probably deserved a refund from Abramovich. That night, the Russians looked more like a moderately good eleven who had scraped into the finals via some good fortune, but in the end did not really deserve to be eating at the high table. And Arsahvin, the prematurely-crowned king of Euro 2008, was nowhere to be seen.

How was the tournament organisation and fan culture?
Pretty faultless. Two countries with a high standard of living and renowned for punctuality and cleanliness were never going to mess it up. The trains were plentiful, the signposting ubiquitous, the fan zones superb and the accommodation in the cities I visited available, except for around Basel, where not enough had been provided. With a train pass however, it was not hard to hop an hour to another city where there were beds.

That organizers tried to thrust a map and fan guide to the city into the hands of every passenger arriving at Vienna’s Westbahnhof or on nearby tram platforms was proof enough for me of their willingness to help visitors.

Poland and Ukraine, if UEFA does not get cold feet and withdraw their hosting, have got a tough act to follow.

The large fan zones which dominated the city centres of the two countries (I spared a thought for the middle-aged coachloads come to Salzburg to see the Mozart heritage on the day of Spain v Sweden!) should be the model for all future tournaments. Given there are far more travelling fans than match tickets, it makes sense from a security or atmosphere perspective to encourage them to enjoy themselves together in one area. As long as that area is securely monitored with bag checks, stewarding, plentiful big screens, toilets and food and drink outlets, there should be little risk of misbehaviour.

In Austria and Switzerland, there was negligible trouble. I read about a few arrests at Germany v Poland but didn’t see a single incident myself across the tournament and never felt any of the simmering tension present at England games overseas. I felt totally safe and relaxed throughout, whatever fans were in town.

When I was not inside the stadia, I found the fan zones almost as enjoyable. In many ways, it was a more relaxed way to watch a game because you could stand, wander around, sit down on the ground and drink beer or wine without restrictions on warm summer evenings.

What an amazing contrast the public viewing areas in Manchester were on the day of the UEFA Cup final in May. The big screens were the only similarity to the Euro 2008 fan zones. Without any restrictions on alcohol, inadequate facilities and stewarding, plus thousands of Rangers fans stopping the trams from running, the place soon descended into mayhem.

Austria and Switzerland got a lot of flack in the media for having only two stadia with capacities over the UEFA minumum of 30,000 seats, as well as some snide Anglocentric criticisms for having overly-cultural cities lacking the requisite grittiness for football.

It would be a shame if only England, France, Germany, Italy and Spain could host Europe's showpiece football event, while one can hardly complain if a host venue is clean and orderly. Let's see what happens in South Africa in two years' time before we moan about civilised countries.

Was Michel Platini the real winner?

Behind the football, UEFA and FIFA have been rattling sabres over Sepp Blatter’s ‘6+5’ law, which will force clubs to field a minimum four players at the start of a game from 2010/11, rising to six two years later.

Despite Platini’s pleas for the specificity of football to be recognized, he is against Blatter on this issue and in agreement with the European Union, whose laws permit the free movement of EU workers among member states irrespective of nationality. UEFA believes FIFA’s law would harm the UEFA Champions League, lair of wealthy clubs with multi-national cadres.

Unlike the world’s governing body, Europe’s also oversees the world’s biggest club tournament so has to please both the club and country game. As a concession, Platini instead has advocated quotas based on home-grown players irrespective of nationality, which FIFA opposes because it would encourage a scramble for children by foreign clubs.

FIFA’s whole beef is based on the fact international football is suffering from the power of the club game. The jaded European players in the 2002 World Cup helped push their arm, as did the fact England failed to qualify for Euro 2008, despite having two clubs in the final of this year’s Champions League.

FIFA weasels therefore, probably wanted Euro 2008 to be a damp squib, while UEFA hoped for a successful tournament to show national teams could withstand whatever the club game had extracted from their players over a long season.

Battling it out on their home patch – both organizations have their bases in Switzerland, UEFA came out on top. The free-flowing soccer and memorable goals seem to have won the battle, if not the war for now, and Platini, whether harbouring desires for Blatter’s throne in the future or not, has the upper hand.

Are Poland and Ukraine in danger of losing the hosting rights for 2012?Apparently so. Maybe it was the shining efficiency of the Austrian and Swiss settings, but the rumours swelled up in the press rooms in the Alps that Euro 2012 could be headed west after all.

There have been reports of UEFA’s worry at the Kiev stadium's refurbishment as well as the country's political situation, and Platini has just completed a short trip to assess both host nations. A curious story going around is that Scotland and Wales have already been in talks to step in should the visit draw negative conclusions.

Poland and the Ukraine were always facing an uphill task to live up to UEFA standards. Their entire hospitality, transport and stadia infrastructure are some way behind those of Western Europe, and the distances between the venues are far greater than ever seen before at a European Championship.

UEFA have announced a final announcement will be made in September. If they are politely ushered out following this inspection, it will be regrettable, but will come as little surprise.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccephile

Champions of Europe

ADVANCE INFORMATION SHEET

Champions of EuropeTitle: Champions of Europe
Subtitle: The Road to Moscow
ISBN: 978-1-84547-213-9
Price: £12.99
Publisher: At Heart Ltd
Publication date: July 2008
Author: Stuart Mathieson (MUFC correspondent for the Manchester Evening News)
Foreword: Sir Bobby Charlton
Specifications:
PB, 144 (TBC) pages
Size: 246 x 189 mm
Full colour throughout.
Pre-order: 24hr freephone 0808 180 2008, or www.atheart.co.uk/manu

Description:
Celebrate United’s double triumph with this fantastic new book chronicling one of the Reds’ most amazing seasons. Packed with over 150 full-colour photos, some of which are previously unseen, this indispensible guide follows United at every step of their sensational journey. Relive glorious victories over Lyon and Dynamo Kiev. Recall heart-stopping matches against Roma and Barcelona as Fergie’s boys battled for glory. Who could forget the night a nation held its breath as the team finally triumphed at the Luzhniki Stadium!

Each page of Champions of Europe: The Road to Moscow is packed with match reports, pitch-side accounts, interviews and a collection of incredible full-colour team and action shots of United’s best moments in this most memorable of seasons.

Publicity:
-Pre- and post-publication within the Manchester Evening News and regional and national newspapers across the United Kingdom and Eire
-Reviews and competitions within the major football and sporting press and affiliated websites
-Stocking and point-of-sale within bookshops, newsagents, gift shops, libraries, tourist information centers, airports and hospitals throughout the UK
-Book-signings with players and ex-players at major bookshops throughout Greater Manchester
-Extensive TV and radio coverage
-Promotion on MUFC supporters clubs throughout the UK and international markets (eg Australia, Cyprus, France, Germany, Greece, Malaysia, The Netherlands, Scandinavia, South Africa)

Distributor: Vine House, Mullany Business Park. Deanland Road, East Sussex, BN27 3RP.

Publisher: At Heart Ltd, 32 Stamford Road, Altrincham, Cheshire, WA14 1EY

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Fifa World Rankings July 2008

Fifa World Rankings July 2008.
New European champions Spain top this month's Fifa world rankings for the first time ever.

Argentina drop to 6th and Brazil are 4th, Italy 2nd and Germany 3rd. England drop to 15th place just one ahead of rivals Scotland in 16th.

Euro 2008 co-hosts Austria drop out of the top 100 after picking up just one point in their three games.


1 Spain
2 Italy
3 Germany
4 Brazil
5 Netherlands
6 Argentina
7 Croatia
8 Czech Republic
9 Portugal
10 France
11 Russia
12 Romania
13 Cameroon
14 Turkey
15 England

Full world rankings

Last month's Fifa World Rankings

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