Tuesday, September 30, 2008

That was the weak that was

That was the weak that was.
It was not quite as astounding as what went on in the global economy, but the week in football was certainly an eventful one.

I was certainly dumbfounded, but perhaps should not have been, by FIFA's woeful CHF 30,000 ($27,500) fine for the Croatian FA after their fans made monkey noises at black England players last month. That was the minimum fine according to FIFA's disciplinary code. Why wasn't it more, please?

This was not the first time Croatian fans have been found guilty of racism - most recently by UEFA at Euro 2008, so when o when will the soccer authorities accept these weak punishments are no deterrent? FIFA and UEFA anti-racism campaigns are not worth toffee if this is how they react to racist behaviour at their events.

Next in significance for me was the news that Poland & Ukraine have been reprieved as Euro 2012 hosts, even if the Polish FA have been forcibly taken over by the Warsaw government.

Poland was supposed to be the safer hands of the pair, with Ukraine struggling to improve its dilapidated infrastructure and build a new stadium in Kiev for the final. Three and a half years will evaporate in an instant, so UEFA are taking a huge risk. The 36-hour train ride with two changes from Gdansk to Donetsk still looks a bridge too far for fans.

With this news came the announcement that Euro 2016 will have 24 teams, as many as played in USA '94. Plus, South Africa revealed Zakumi the leopard as the 12th World Cup mascot, continuing a tradition which began with World Cup Willie in 1966. We all know World Cup 2010 is Sepp Blatter's baby, but was it him or Zakumi being described in the official literature - “He loves to perform…yet sometimes has the tendency to exaggerate a bit….Over the last years he has travelled the whole of Africa…and wants to make as many friends as possible…He may suddenly fall asleep on the spot at the most random times!” -?

UEFA boss Michel Platini was in fine form slagging off Arsene Wenger in the most acerbic terms, but he has a point: The Arsenal coach has zero sensitivity to the needs of national teams or domestic football traditions. He is, as Platini said, essentially no different to a businessman, morally blind in the pursuit of his personal goals, ignorant of the bigger picture.

In England, the calamity that is Newcastle persists, with everyone turning down the job before Joe Kinnear was hauled out of retirement to pilot the unsteerable ship. Meanwhile, West Ham were the victim of an unprecedented 30-million pound fine for the Carlos Tevez affair. Serve them right, too. They must have known there was something dodgy about Kia Joorabchian and surely misled the FA about the transfer details. FA Chief Lord Triesman put it quite succinctly:

“If it is going to go through the courts it is going to drag on and on. It would be much simpler for people to observe the rules of football.”
Finally, hats off again to Roy Keane. After savaging 'Pirate of the Caribbean' Jack Walker, the Celtic Tiger of Sunderland said he "will not tolerate" some of his fans. Watch this space...

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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Crazy Weekend In Korea

Cho Jae-jin celebrates

“Seongnam are the second strongest team in the league but we are the strongest,” said Pohang Steelers boss Sergio Farias after his team defeated the K-League leaders 2-1 last Saturday. The Brazilian is exaggerating his team’s abilities but at the moment in Korea, just as the weather finally settles into seasonable temperatures, the football scene has gone haywire.

How else can you explain Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors’ 5-2 thrashing of Suwon Samsung Bluewings in the once-feared Big Bird Stadium? Earlier in the season, Suwon couldn’t stop winning and the Motors couldn’t start. Now the Jeonju club collected three successive wins; Suwon have lost five of their last seven.

For the Jeonju-based team, the fried egg on the bi-bim-bap was the five star showing in Suwon, after the meeting between the two earlier in the season had been a bad-tempered one.

In May, the Gyeonngi team went to Jeonju to win 2-1 with the last kick of the game. By that 94th minute, emotions were running high after Jeonbuk striker Cho Jae-jin scored and then, in the view of the Suwon fans, celebrated provocatively in front of the massed blue ranks. Cho told them he was only following what Suwon’s Seo Dong-hyun had done earlier in the game. Suwon fans told him that they would ‘see him at the Big Bird’.

Cho Jae-jin pumped up for Suwon


They came, they saw but Cho conquered. The much-maligned male model was roundly booed and jeered on his return to Gyeonggi but he quickly made the catcalls stick in blue craws. Cho put Jeonbuk ahead and although Suwon soon equalized, four goals from the men in green in ten second half minutes stunned the home fans and kept the visitors’ hopes of a place in the top six and entry to the championship play-off series alive. It was also the most goals that Suwon goalkeeper Lee Woon-jae has ever conceded in a single match.

“I expected it,” smiled Cho after the game, not referring to the 5-2 scoreline of course but the reception from the home fans. “It didn’t bother me. I was just focused on the game. In fact, it motivated me to do better.”

The feeling of defeat is becoming increasingly familiar for Blues boss Cha Bum-keun. “Our condition is poor,” said the legend of Korean soccer. “We have many injuries but most importantly because of results, the atmosphere around the team is bad.”

It certainly is. A comprehensive 3-1 defeat at Jeju United the week previously and a 5-2 thrashing at home at the hands of another mid-table team leaves Suwon’s season in danger of meltdown. It is a big test for coach Cha, one known for buying good players but his ability to build a team is not quite so respected. Runs like the current one happen and are never easy for a coach to break.

The defeat sent Suwon, so long the leaders, down into third place and looking over a shoulder at the approaching Ulsan in fourth.

It is FC Seoul that are the ones to watch. The capital club are unbeaten for 15 league matches and brushed aside Chunnam Dragons 3-0 on Sunday to move above Suwon but below Seongnam. It wasn’t the best of performances for the hosts but confidence is coursing through the veins of the players and with Dejan Damjanovic in great form in attack, Seoul are looking good at a good time.

With Ulsan and Pohang looking fairly safe in fourth and fifth, a number of clubs are chasing the sixth and final play-off spot with all the fervour of a tired Seoul salaryman eyeing a free subway seat in the evening rush hour.

The Uniteds of Jeju and Incheon are in there fighting along with Gyeongnam FC, a resurgent Jeonbuk and an unpredictable Daegu. The play-off system has its critics but there is no denying that at this stage of the season, it provides a fascinating sideshow to the increasingly fierce race at the top.

Copyright: John Duerden & Soccerphile.com

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Monday, September 29, 2008

Weekend of upsets in A-League

Weekend of upsets in A-League.
Last weekend's string of unpredictable results in the English Premier League has been mirrored in Australia proving the A-League remains as competitive as ever.

While Hull City were shocking Arsenal and Wigan upsetting big spending Manchester City, closer to home joint league leaders Sydney FC and Melbourne Victory both lost matches they were widely anticipated to win.

With crowds down significantly on the previous campaign and the introduction of the two new Queensland teams delayed for 12 months, it was not the set of scorelines A-League doomsayers were predicting.

Football's popularity is constantly tested at this time in the Australian sporting calendar.

The traditional football codes - AFL and rugby league - stage their respective showpiece deciders over two weekends in late September and early October while round ball officials simply pray to come through unscathed.

But Adelaide United's surprising passage to the AFC Champions League semi-finals has already propelled Australian football into continental minds this past week. And over the weekend unlikely victories for bottom-placed Wellington Phoenix and erratic Queensland Roar generated more column inches.

Wellington stunned Sydney by coming from behind to register their first win of the season and their first A-League triumph in the calendar year.

Phoenix coach Ricki Herbert had been given the dreaded vote of confidence during the week but despite seven personnel changes - including both first choice central defenders and No.1 goalkeeper Glen Moss - his side prevailed with Tim Brown rifling home a 76th minute winner.

"It's been a difficult period and although there's a long way to go, it's a nice one given the circumstances," Herbert said afterwards. "There's a lot of belief in this group and this was a real testament to the boys. They really stood up for a cause."

Queensland undid 10-man Melbourne with late goals from youngsters Michael Zullo and Tahj Minniecon, a pair of strikes which conjured up more than a hint of a similar turning point last season.

12 months ago, Zullo and Robbie Kruse scored against Wellington on their A-League debuts to propel the Roar into a 12-match unbeaten run which saw them narrowly miss winning the premiership on the final day of the season.

Even coach Frank Farina recognised the parallels and remains convinced his side can push Sydney and Melbourne all the way for the title this year.

"I've told the players over the past few weeks if we continue to play in the manner we have been playing things will turn. Tonight was the night that it turned for us," Farina assured Queensland supporters.

Next up for the Roar is Sydney away this Friday.

Meanwhile, exhausted Adelaide - playing just three days after disposing of Japanese greats Kashima Antlers in the AFC Champions League - put away champions Newcastle thanks to a second-half brace from Brazilian Cristiano.

“They’ve gone through five games in 16 days and that’s a massive effort,” coach Aurelio Vidmar said. "There was a bit of doubt in my mind tonight about how they were going to come up and they were a bit flat.

"But for the boys to go out and really squeeze every last bit of energy they had in their bodies was a superb effort.”

The race to become the league's leading goalscorer is also closer then ever before at this stage of the season.

Six players, from six different clubs, are tied for the lead with four goals apiece including 2007/08 Golden Boot winner Danny Allsopp of Melbourne.

Queensland's Scottish playmaker Charlie Miller scored in each of his first four A-League appearances to break Kevin Muscat's record while Cristiano, Perth's Eugene Dadi, Mariners striker Matt Simon and Kiwi Shane Smeltz complete the list.

Copyright © Marc Fox and Soccerphile.com

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Saturday, September 27, 2008

World Soccer News September 25 2008

World Soccer News September 25 2008.

World soccer news for the week of September 25th

Guti targeted by a hard-fisted stalker

Real Madrid's José María Gutiérrez, better known as Guti, must have been shocked when a former boxer came at him before his team was getting ready to head for a league game in Santander.
Guti had been stalked for some time by the individual, whose name has not been revealed by the Spanish police, but no close confrontation occurred before last Saturday.
The stalker noticed Guti as he arrived at the parking lot in Ciudad Deportiva, Real's training camp, and headed toward him in his vehicle.
In the process, the man broke the security ramp and damaged a couple of parked cars before stopping. The guards called the police and tried to intervene themselves, but the boxer punched one of them in the face with his fist.
However, other guards managed to control the individual and kept him at bay before the police arrived.
Guti filed charges against the stalker for stalking and harrasment, while the guards also presented their own charges for assault and trespassing. The investigation is likely to reveal the motive the man could have for shadowing the Madrid midfielder.

Palermo's boss denies ties to the mafia

Italian soccer club Palermo has no links to the mafia, said their chairman Maurizio Zamparini, denying any contact with the criminal organization, hinted at by some Italian media.
It has been claimed that the mobsters have some influence in the construction of Palermo's new ground and the shopping mall which is planned to be opened within the stadium.
"Mafia has no ties to the club," said Zamparini. "I hope everybody sees that my associates and me are doing our jobs professionally. Although the mafia was created in this city, it does not mean they rule everything that exists here, or that they are related to me in any way."
Two years ago, the former Palermo sporting director received a goat's head in the mail, which is the mafia's way of warning of an upcoming execution.
"If anything similar had happened to me, I would have left. I am clean, and so is this club," concluded Zamparini.

Roman still speechless in London

Russian and other Slavic languages are notoriously tough for English speakers. However, the Slavs usually find it easy to learn a syntactically simpler language like English.
Tottenham's new signing Roman Pavlyuchenko may be an exception to the rule, as he has not yet managed to master English well enough to maintain meaningful conversations with his teammates at White Hart Lane.
According to the Russian newspaper Tvoy Dan (Your Day), the Spurs were wise to include a clause in their contract with Pavlyuchenko, stipulating a fine unless he learned English well enough within his first weeks at the club.
The period has passed and the former Spartak striker still has to use an interpreter to understand Juande Ramos' instructions. Since the Spaniard himself is hardly a great connoisseur of English, the communcation of the two must look hilarious.
Still, the Spurs' bosses are certainly not amused, as the team sits at the bottom of the Premiership table after five matches.

Did Haim Revivo escape to the US because of a mob threat?

Haim Revivo, the former Israeli international, has emigrated to the United States after receiving mafia threats, according to the Israeli media.
The one-time forward for Celta Vigo, Fenerbahce and Galatasaray said he and his family moved because his rabbi had advised him to do so.
It may be true, but for all we know, the advice may have been, "save your skin."
The Yedioth Ahronoth daily published a different story, claiming that Revivo had to leave because the local mafia had threatened to kill him because he had an affair with a mob kingpin's wife.
According to Yedioth, the mafia imposed on Revivo a two-year exile as a way of redeeming himself.
One of the leading players in Israel's history, Revivo played 67 games and scored 15 goals for the national team, including the winner in his country's only win over Argentina in 1998.

Welcome to the Boca Juniors Hotel
The Argentinian club Boca Juniors are very special in many respects. Until recently, they were the only soccer club to have a graveyard exclusively for their fans (in the meantime Germany's Hamburger SV have joined the select group of cemetery-owning soccer clubs).
Within two years, they should also have a hotel carrying their name. The construction works is due to start next month, and should be finished in mid-2010.
The luxury hotel will have 17 floors with 89 rooms, some of which will bear names of Boca's celebrities like Diego Maradona, Alfredo Rojas or Ubaldo Rattin. The building, designed by the Uruguayan architect Carlos Ott, will also boast swimming pools, restaurants and other commercial and entertainment facilities.
The hotel and the graveyard are not the the only two distinctions that set Boca apart; the blue and yellows have also started their own taxi service in Buenos Aires. We bet there are not many River Plate fans among their customers.
In their 103 years of existence, Boca have won a record 18 international trophies, tying AC Milan, and 22 Argentinian titles.

Copyright Soccerphile/Ozren Podnar

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Friday, September 26, 2008

'Cornflake' banishes demons

A-League.
It's been an emotional couple of weeks of Adelaide's Robbie Cornthwaite.

The club's foundation defender has not only found himself unwittingly dragged into a spitting storm but he's also been the target of abuse from his own supporters for scoring a horror own goal in the away leg of the AFC Champions League quarter-final against Kashima Antlers

But on Wednesday night in Adelaide, Cornthwaite banished all those demons with a tie-winning headed goal which secured a 2-1 aggregate win over the 5-time Japanese champions and a passage into the final four.

The relieved 22-year-old Australia defender dived to nod home Cassio's precision centre for the only goal of a pulsating ACL encounter at Hindmarsh, afterwards revealing the anguish he'd suffered after putting through his own net a week before to jeopardise Adelaide's chances of making history.

No Australian club has previously reached the semi-final stage of Asia's premier club competition.

“I did try to put the own goal out of my mind as much as possible but the thing is other people do not let you forget it," Cornthwaite told local football website The World Game. “Even before kick-off while I was warming up I heard one of our supporters urge me 'to score for us and not for them this time'. It's always there at the back of your mind."

The player affectionately known around Adelaide as Cornflake debuted for the Reds as an 18-year-old and has steadily developed into a reliable first-teamer under coach Aurelio Vidmar.

He suffered heartbreak earlier in the year when overlooked for a berth in Graham Arnold's Olympic squad for Beijing after breaking into the under-23s during May and June.

But the significance of being handed the No.2 shirt last worn by retired Reds legend Richie Alagich has not been lost of the lanky defender and he described his well-taken winner against Kashima as an "amazing feeling".

"It’s something I’ll remember for a long time. It was like scripted for me after what happened in the first leg," he said.

The goal will have also erased the tension of a fortnight which has seen Cornthwaite embroiled in a spitting controversy involving Melbourne's Ney Fabiano.

The Victory's Brazilian import was earlier this month banned for nine matches - reduced to six games on appeal - for expectorating on Cornthwaite in the sides' heated round four clash.

Melbourne have since relentlessly proclaimed Fabiano's innocence, pointing to his previously clean disciplinary record and even going all CSI by enlisting a biomechanist and a speech pathologist to support their argument that spittle had been projected because Fabiano was shouting in his native Portuguese.

Cornthwaite has remained tight-lipped on the latest incident in a simmering feud between two clubs which invoke a degree of hostility whenever they meet.

His supporters believe Melbourne's passion to overturn their star signing's ban ignores Cornthwaite's unblemished A-League reputation and the fact that, although occasionally naïve in his defending, he remains a reliable professional.

Few consider Cornthwaite a player who would, or even probably could, fake his reaction to Fabiano's discharge in his direction, whether accidental or otherwise.

The challenge most likely stems from Melbourne's desire to reinforce their encouraging opening to the fourth A-League season.

Top-of-the-table and unbeaten after five rounds despite twice finishing with 10 men, Ernie Merrick's former champions are clearly serious on putting a chequered 2007/08 behind them.

Sydney are level with Melbourne on 11 points with Adelaide four points adrift in third. The Central Coast Mariners and reigning champions Newcastle Jets are tied for fourth place.

Copyright © Marc Fox and Soccerphile.com

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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Zakumi - 2010 World Cup Mascot

Zakumi - 2010 World Cup Mascot Zakumi, a dreadlocked leopard has been unveiled as the official World Cup mascot for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

Zakumi, born on June 16, 1994, when new South Africa emerged after the apartheid regime, is a party-loving animal we are told.

The name is supposedly a composition of "Za", the common abbreviation for South Africa and "kumi" meaning "friend" in various African languages.

The mascot was designed by Andries Odendaal in Cape Town.

World Cup Willie was the first World Cup mascot, created for the 1966 World Cup in England.

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Monday, September 22, 2008

Watford captain calls for replays after phantom goal

Watford captain calls for replays after phantom goal.
Watford captain Jay DeMerit has told Soccerphile only video replays will stop a repeat of the phantom goal 'scored' by Reading on Saturday.

The Hornets were the victims of outrageous fortune in the 13th minute when John Eustace put the ball out of play wide of the post. Working on the advice of assistant Nigel Bannister, referee Stuart Atwell stunned the Vicarage Road crowd and the 22 players, who were running back in expectation of a goal kick, by signalling a goal.

Watford fought back to lead 2-1 before Reading truly stole the points with an 87th-minute penalty. While the refereeing body, the Professional Game Match Officials Board, today confirmed a mistake had been made, the phantom goal still stands and Watford remain victims of a shocking miscarriage of justice.

Hornets skipper Jay DeMerit spoke to Soccerphile and admitted it is tough accepting such a blatant mistake by the officials.

"It was an unbelievable call," said DeMerit. "It was all so confusing and frustrating. The Reading player kicked it back from across the line but why would he have done that if they had scored? The linesman would have been down that corner and right in line with the play, so obviously he would have seen if the ball had gone over the line."

The absurdity of the decision, which Watford boss Aidy Boothroyd likened to a UFO landing at Vicarage Road, adds more weight to calls for video replays in football.
"I have always been in favor of video replays, said DeMerit, who hails from Green Bay, Wisconsin, a stronghold of the NFL, where replays are part of the game.
"The game gets stopped all the time and it doesn’t take that long to see if you’ve made the right decision or not. Or you can even do as the NFL does and have an allocated number of times you can do that. Or, you can waste a couple of minutes arguing instead. And how much time does it take to use the technology? Not that much when goals are critical. For goal-line decisions at least there should be TV replays, to help the officials."

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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Sunday, September 21, 2008

Kashima's Champions League chances crippled?

Kashima's Champions League chances crippled?
Kashima Antlers' AFC Champions League chances have take a severe blow with the news that captain Mitsuo Ogasawara will miss the rest of the season after suffering knee ligament damage in Kashima's 1-1 draw away at Kashiwa Reysol overnight.

The influential midfielder was stretchered from the field after colliding with Kashiwa's Alex in the sixteenth minute, and there was more drama just three minutes later when Kashima fans appeared to strike Alex with a flag-pole as the Brazilian midfielder lined up to take a corner.

The match was played in front of a tense atmosphere at Kashiwa Hitachi Stadium, as scuffles broke out between Reysol and Antlers fans with security struggling to contain the unruly behaviour.

On the pitch Popo handed the hosts the lead midway through the first half, and it took a last-gasp penalty from Marquinhos for Kashima to steal a share of the spoils and keep themselves in the J. League title race.

Kashima will face A-League outfit Adelaide United in the second leg of their AFC Champions League quarter-final at Hindmarsh Stadium on September 24, with the tie delicately poised following a 1-1 draw in the first leg in Japan.

Copyright © Michael Tuckerman & Soccerphile.com

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Friday, September 19, 2008

Premiership Betting 20 September 2008

This week has been one of unremitting financial gloom as banks fail and stocks crash, but there's always the chance to recoup any losses at the expense of the bookies on this week's English Premiership.

The Manchester clubs let us down last weekend and there's more bad news in store as United will go down in a tight struggle at Stamford Bridge. Manchester United have had a poor start to their season. Chelsea are on fire and are good bankers for a narrow home win.

Manchester City should get the better of Portsmouth at Eastlands but they won't, the new signings from Brazil have yet to gel and Robinho is probably wondering what he's doing in north west England..has he got Ronaldo's number for the heated swimming pool? - 1-1 is our prediction.

The north east derby sees Sunderland take on Middlesbrough and a draw looks the likely result to us...maybe a goal apiece in a scrappy, tense affair.

Liverpool should be too good for a battling Stoke City, who very nearly got a point off Liverpool's neighbours Everton last Monday. Coming off two great results at home to Manchester United and away to Marseille in the Champions League, look for Liverpool to win this 3-1.

Arsenal will be recovering from a tiring trip to the Ukraine in midweek, but should still have too much fire power for a struggling Bolton. 1-0 to the Arse is a familiar scoreline with maybe our man Theo Walcott on the score sheet.

In the West Brom v Aston Villa Midlands derby, we're going for a draw. 1-1 in fact. Aston Villa have been good so far this season and the Baggies won at home last weekend. Honours even then.

Everton's trip to the Land of Green Ginger should see them steal the points from a Hull side who won at Newcastle last week. We predict a slide of Lehmann Brothers' proportions for the Tigers from now on in.

Spurs looked good in Europe, just for Juande, but in the Premiership they struggle. Wigan to come away with a point if not more.

West Ham v Newcastle and Blackburn v Fulham, two north v south clashes with lots at stake. West Ham lost their sponsors as the credit crunch hit their package holiday backers XL...Newcastle are in turmoil and were once sponsored by Northern Rock. That says it all...two bankrupt teams should share the points. Fulham are improving but jaunts to the north west rarely lead to points unless they are playing at "Middle Eastlands"...we tip the Rovers to get a return on this one 1-0.

Last week's Premier League predictions

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Relegation rules in tense round of J. League

J.League.
While five teams remain in the hunt for the 2008 J. League crown, several of the league's most recognisable clubs are in serious trouble at the wrong end of the table.

There's an epic relegation six-pointer at Ecopa Stadium in Round 25, where three-times J. League champions Jubilo Iwata host another three-time champion in the form of Yokohama F. Marinos.

Jubilo sacked coach Atsushi Uchiyama after a recent scoreless draw at home to JEF United and replaced him with veteran tactician Hans Ooft, but the Dutchman's second spell in charge of Jubilo got off to a shaky start when the Shizuoka outfit were beaten 2-0 away at Kyoto Sanga FC, with striker Gilsinho missing a penalty for the visitors.

Yokohama F. Marinos also had a change of coach mid-season, but Kokichi Kimura is yet to find a winning combination after taking over from Takashi Kuwahara - ironically a former Jubilo man. Marinos needed a last-minute own goal from Leandro to eke out a 1-1 draw at home to Vissel Kobe last time out, and both teams will be desperate for the three points on offer, with Jubilo currently occupying the relegation/promotion playoff place on 26 points, as they look to leapfrog fifteenth placed Yokohama F. Marinos, who are on 27 points.

Looking to make up ground on the promotion/relegation playoff place are JEF United. One of just six teams to have played every season in the Japanese top flight, the Chiba side gave themselves renewed hope of avoiding the drop by beating Tokyo Verdy 2-0 at home last weekend.

Alex Miller's side may be second-from-bottom, but they take on last placed Consadole Sapporo in Hokkaido in Round 25, with Consadole yet to win a league game at their summer home Atsubetsu Stadium this season.

Australian defender Eddy Bosnar remains confident that his team can stay up, and the Sydney-born stopper has made plenty of sacrifices for the cause, turning down an opportunity to represent his country in favour of focussing on his club's relegation dogfight.

"He (Australia manager Pim Verbeek) wanted to give me a chance to get back into the squad and I didn't go back. I don't regret it at all. It is nice to play for the national team but JEF is the one that puts food on the table," Bosnar told The Japan Times.

Elsewhere Shimizu S-Pulse will be forced to endure a nervy trip to the dilapidated Kobe Universiade Stadium, with Kenta Hasegawa's side sitting on 31 points for the season - the same total as Vissel Kobe. S-Pulse will be itching for revenge after a 1-0 home defeat to Kobe back in Round 16 prompted calls from furious Shimizu fans for Hasegawa to be sacked.

At the other end of the table, league leaders Nagoya Grampus opened up a three point lead over Kashima Antlers last weekend when a Yoshizumi Ogawa strike was enough to see off Gamba Osaka at a packed Expo '70 Stadium. Grampus next host Albirex Niigata at Mizuho Stadium, with Dragan Stojkovic's side aiming for their first J. League title.

There's a derby of sorts at Todoroki Stadium, where FC Tokyo will cross prefectural lines to take on neighbours Kawasaki Frontale. Last season Kawasaki handed out 5-2 and 7-0 thrashings to the team from just twenty kilometres up the road, but FC Tokyo gained a modicum of revenge by beating Frontale 4-2 in an ill-tempered affair at Ajinomoto Stadium earlier in the season, and Hiroshi Jofuku's side will be aiming to do the double over Frontale as they look to make up ground on the top five.

The Saitama derby takes centre stage on Sunday, but unlike in previous seasons Omiya Ardija will not be giving up home advantage in this one.

Omiya have angered city rivals Urawa Reds by opting to play this match at the newly renovated 15,300 capacity Omiya Park Stadium, instead of the 62,300 capacity Saitama Stadium - home of the Reds. That means thousands of Reds fans will be locked out of this clash, but with Omiya in no mood to do their bitter local rivals any favours, security for this fixture is likely to be tight in light of the crowd trouble that marred Urawa's home defeat to Gamba Osaka earlier in the season.

In J2 relegated Sanfrecce Hiroshima are coasting to the title, having hammered second-placed Montedio Yamagata 4-0 last time out in front of 14,392 fans at Yamagata Park Stadium. Japan international Hisato Sato scored his nineteenth goal of a profitable season in that clash, as Hiroshima look set to return to the top flight at the first time of asking.

Elsewhere Shonan Bellmare beat Yokohama FC 1-0 in a Kanagawa derby, while Kyushu outfit Avispa Fukuoka beat Shikoku side Tokushima Vortis 3-1, with on-loan Omiya Ardija defender Daiki Niwa opening the scoring, before former Japan youth-international Mike Havenaar and midfielder Kiyokazu Kudo added further goals for the home side.

The pick of the action in Round 36 sees Vegalta Sendai entertain FC Gifu at Yurtec Stadium, while Cerezo Osaka host Montedio Yamagata at Nagai Stadium and Yokohama FC welcome Sanfrecce Hiroshima to Mitzusawa Stadium.

Mixed results in the AFC Champions League

It was a night of mixed results for Japanese clubs in the AFC Champions League, with the three sides sharing a win, a draw and a loss between them on September 17.

Gamba Osaka came from a goal down to beat Syrian side Al Karama 2-1 in front of 17,000 fans at Khaled Ibn Al Waleed Stadium, with captain Satoshi Yamaguchi and substitute Masato Yamazaki scoring the vital goals for the Osakans.

Kashima Antlers were held to a 1-1 draw by A-League side Adelaide United in steamy conditions at Kashima Stadium, where a pockmarked pitch seemed to aid Kashima, as Adelaide defender Robert Cornthwaite turned an Atsuto Uchida cross into his own net.

That goal came after Adelaide skipper Travis Dodd had given the visitors the lead with a well-taken header, with Antlers striker Shinzo Koroki and United midfielder Paul Reid both missing good chances to score the winner.

Defending Asian champions Urawa Reds went down 3-2 to Kuwaiti side Al Qadsia, with a double from Edmilson - including a goal in stoppage time, keeping the Saitama outfit in the tie.

The return legs take place on September 24.

Japanese players overseasTakayuki Morimoto : Catania

Former Tokyo Verdy striker Takayuki Morimoto scored twice as Catania hammered Serie C side Padova 4-0 en route to booking a quarter-final showdown with Juventus in the Coppa Italia.

Morimoto has fallen down the pecking order at Catania, but after his Coppa Italia goals coach Walter Zenga praised the young Japanese striker, telling reporters; "The plaudits must go to Morimoto for his two goals and I'm delighted for him because he is an honest and hard-working lad."

Makoto Hasebe : VfL Wolfsburg

Overnight ex-Urawa Reds midfielder Makoto Hasebe won a penalty converted by Grafite in VfL Wolfburg's 1-0 win over Rapid Bucharest in the UEFA Cup. Hasebe also played the full ninety minutes in Wolfsburg's most recent 2-2 Bundesliga draw away at Hertha Berlin.

Shinji Ono : VfL Bochum

Shinji Ono may have won a recall to the Japan squad, but the former Urawa Reds midfielder has struggled in the Bundesliga, with Ono coming on for the final fourteen minutes of VfL Bochum's most recent 2-0 win over Westfalen rivals Arminia Bielefeld.

Shunsuke Nakamura : Celtic

Japan star Shunsuke Nakamura recently declared his desire to return to the J. League in January, and the free-kick specialist came off the bench in Celtic's most recent 4-2 win over Motherwell in the league, before playing the full ninety minutes of Celtic's scoreless draw with Danish champions Aalborg BK in the UEFA Champions League in midweek.

Daisuke Matsui : St Etienne

Having joined St Etienne from Le Mans during the close season, Daisuke Matsui has settled in at the one-time European giants, playing the full ninety minutes of Les Verts' most recent 2-0 league defeat away at Caen.

Copyright © Michael Tuckerman & Soccerphile.com

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Thursday, September 18, 2008

GRAND FINAL 2008: Central Coast v Newcastle Jets - Goal

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Footbo

Footbo, a social community network for football fans from all around the world has grown from strength to strength since it was launched in June 2008. And things are about to get even better!

Since its launch coinciding with Euro 2008, Footbo has stamped itself on the online map for football fans. The niche platform boasts an international network entirely dedicated to football and football-specific features ensuring that the football experience is unparalleled and was designed to enable world-wide interaction between football fans wherever they are and whoever they support.

Users have their own personal profile page where they identify their favourite teams and players, as well as choosing who would be their first-choice starting line-up, if they could pick any player. Combined with the latest news and content, updates on fixtures and results, and of course Footbo's flag-ship Prediction League and post-match Player Grading, the set-up is indeed close to being perfect.

Footbo has really come into its own by creating a platform where arm-chair fans have been able to interact with famous football analysts such as Guillem Balague, Raphael Honigstein and Gabriele Marcotti. Add to that the ability for fans to communicate with professional players, as was recently the case with Arsenal and Cameroon star Alexandre Song (who created a profile on the site and wrote blogs from the Olympics where he represented his national team) and Footbo is heading in a direction which will surely raise some eyebrows.

If that's not the kicker, here it comes - very soon, Footbo users will have a whole new world opened up to them. The social network will combine the professional world of football with the amateur one. What does that mean though? Footbo's Amateur Section will provide amateur players of all kind with a platform to show-case their talents and communicate with one another in an authentic environment. And the last sentence doesn't even do it justice.

What more can a football fan or football player ask for? The answer is nothing.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Marseille Vs Liverpool

When the draw for this season’s Champions League group phase took place, I was on an adventure holiday, somewhere in wilderness that is Canada’s Yukon Territory. In a province that is home to more bears than people (a claim my visit served to substantiate), communication with the outside world, particularly that separated by oceanic waters, is often problematic. Consequently, I had to wait until the road I was travelling on brought me to Fairbanks, and the relative centre of civilisation that is Alaska, before I could get an internet connection and discover who Liverpool had been drawn against.

Marseille Vs Liverpool

By that time however, most flights connecting anywhere near Liverpool with anywhere near any of the clubs we had been drawn against, on any date near the respective match days, were either full or stupidly overpriced. To further complicate matters, there was no way of getting in touch with any of the old folks back home, to inquire of itineraries selected by my fellow Liverpool fans. With time at a premium, I made the decision on that ridiculously bright Alaskan night, to book a flight and a hired car, and travel alone to this season’s first competitive European away fixture.

Marseille Vs Liverpool

This year’s continental campaign was to begin at Marseille, a team Liverpool are starting to get to know well. This would be my third trip to watch the Reds play at the Stad Velodrome in six seasons. I opted to fly to Barcelona on the morning of the game, and after a quick scan at the other passengers, it appeared I was the only Liverpool fan on board. So I buried my head in Jamie Carragher’s autobiography, and hardly looked up from take off to landing.

I was half was through the third chapter when we landed, and was in the middle of a story about Jan Molby running rings around Everton centre halves, when I looked to my left and realised I had been sitting next to the great Dane himself. I was almost disappointed, as I had missed the opportunity to quiz the best passer of a ball I have ever seen about his career. I’m sure Jan was quite relieved. He signed my book and posed for a photograph, after which I inquired as to whether he needed a lift to Marseille. But of course, he was being met and was to be escorted on the 300-mile trip up the Mediterranean coast. It would have been a little far fetched to do a European away trip with one of your boyhood heroes anyway. For now at least, it appeared I was destined for solitude.

Marseille Vs Liverpool

I arrived in the French port six hours later, by which time I should have been painfully aware that after a energy-sapping night watching Liverpool beat Marseille once again, I was faced with the same journey home, followed immediately by a full day at the office back in Liverpool. But as my old mate little Danny always said, ‘sleeping’s cheating’. It had been six months since my last European adventure, and the pain of losing to Chelsea in last season’s Champions League semi-final was now consigned to history. Buoyed by our victory over Man United over the weekend, I was looking forward to seeing another Liverpool triumph. The remaining details of the itinerary were from that moment discarded, particularly after I had met up with the few reds who had bothered to make the rip.

The match in Marseille proved remarkably similar to our outing the previous weekend, particularly the opening exchanges. We faced a bright and adventurous Marseille team, who looked destined to threaten the Liverpool defence. That threat was realised on twenty-three minutes, when Cana put the home side ahead and sent the home fans into fits of hysteria. The French side remain one of the best supported in world football, and they must have thought their chances of securing a second victory over Liverpool in two seasons was on the cards.

Marseille Vs Liverpool

Thankfully, Liverpool’s increasingly resilient side had other plans. Captain marvel Steven Gerrard in particular, was in no mood to open the European campaign with a defeat. He scored twice in quick succession to give Liverpool an ultimately decisive lead. His first was a brilliantly taken goal three minutes after the opening strike. His second came from the penalty spot five minutes later, and sent a message to Europe that Liverpool will no longer be reduced to salvaging qualification in the latter phases of the group stage.

Marseille Vs Liverpool

It might be early days, but Rafa Benitez’s side look set to have qualification for the Super Sixteen round of the competition sewn up before travelling to Eindhoven for our final group game. PSV are unlikely to halt Liverpool’s progress in either meeting between the two clubs. New boys Atletico Madrid, who won 4-0 in Holland on match day one, are likely to represent our most serious threat to winning the group. Our next away fixture in the competition is against the Spanish club in five weeks time, a meeting that could decide the order of the top two in Group D. After that, all roads lead to Rome.

Suwon Splutter While Seongnam Soar



It has been a strange K-League season. The constant stopping and starting has robbed the competition of any momentum. A series of World Cup qualifiers in May and June necessitated a break of a month and by the time play started again in July, the Olympic torch was lit in Beijing and tools were downed once more.

Beijing 2008 will receive barely a footnote in the annals of South Korean football history. The draw, defeat and win may have been a better record than any other Asian nation managed in China, including the hosts, but it still meant that the team returned home at the end of the first round.

Coach Park Sung-hwa is escaping to study in England. The one-time Busan boss is a man with many friends in the upper echelons of the Seoul media but couldn’t escape a good deal of criticism. What made it worse, for football fans at least, was the fact that the baseball team returned across the Yellow Sea with gold and met with a heroes welcome.

The 2002 World Cup gave the world the understandable, but misleading, impression that South Korea was a football mad country. It is not. Baseball is more popular. Even before the gold, television ratings are usually around 60% higher for the average baseball match and attendances tend to be higher.

Those Olympic events, coupled with the plodding performances of the senior national team, have led certain sections of the media to say that football is in crisis. Again, it is not but the K-League has some work to do to work its way to somewhere near the hearts and minds of the locals.

Not in Suwon though – the city is still a strong football bedrock in the Land of the Morning Calm. The Bluewings regularly play in front of 30,000 or more and 2008 has been a season to remember for those followers. They watched their team put together a record-breaking 11 match winning streak that sent them nine points clear at the top. If it wasn’t for the play-off system and the fact that there aren’t really bookies in Korea in the English sense, the bookies would have considered paying out.

Suwon players in happier days

To say it has all gone wrong is an overstatement. With three-quarters of the regular season over, Suwon are level on points at the top with Seongnam Ilwha Chunma but the aura of invincibility disappeared in July along with the monsoon weather. A 1-0 defeat at the hands of the struggling Daejeon Citizen was a surprise rather than a shock - Daejeon have a good record against the three-time champions - but what followed was a defeat at home by the same scoreline to rivals Seongnam.

Suddenly the goals from star strikers Edu, Shin Young-rok and Seo Dong-hyun dried up. Only a last-minute strike against bottom club Busan avoided a shock defeat and while Suwon are still guaranteed a play-off spot, form must improve if a fourth title is on the cards. The news that star summer signing Lee Chun-soo is injured doesn't help.

In five games, Suwon have collected just four points. Every team has a blip and as it comes after a run of 33 from 33, it is not a disaster but in the meantime, Seongnam have been on fire. The seven-time champions have won six out of their last seven.

Despite the broken rib of star striker Mota, Seongnam have barely broken their stride. Youngster Han Dong-won has chipped in with three goals in the last two games. Seongnam are looking fresh and confident while Suwon are spluttering. Worse for Suwon is the fact that bitter rivals FC Seoul are in good form and not that far behind in third.

If that doesn’t get the Bluewings fired up for this weekend’s clash on the southern island of Jeju, nothing will.

Copyright: John Duerden & Soccerphile

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K-League Cabore

K-League action with Gyeongnam FC's Cabore to the fore. The Brazilian striker is now in Japan with FC Tokyo after topping the K-League scoring charts with 18 goals in the 2007 season.





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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Theo Walcott

Arsenal's Theo Walcott came to the world's attention after his hat-trick against Croatia for England in the World Cup 2010 qualifying game in Zagreb.

Here's what there is on YouTube of the young man (mostly for Southampton) with music by 50 Cent.




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Saturday, September 13, 2008

Premiership Betting Sept 13 2008

The English Premiership returns this weekend after an exciting week of World Cup qualifiers.

The top two matches on the card this weekend are two games in the North West of England.
The EPL's two richest clubs Manchester City and Chelsea meet at the "Middle Eastlands" and a draw looks like a good bet, with Brazilian Robinho making his debut for City and the home players keen to impress the new owners after the recent Sheikh-up in the boardroom.

Over at Anfield, Liverpool face Manchester United in the hate-filled "Red Derby." Dimitar Berbatov makes his debut for United and Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres are back for Liverpool, but anything other than a draw, possibly scoreless, looks unlikely.

In other games, we're tipping Hull to cause an upset and take a point from crisis-club Newcastle at St. James' Park and for Arsenal to end their run of bad results at Ewood Park with an away win against Blackburn, who's coach Paul Ince might be persuaded by the job vacancy in the North East.

Fulham should beat a toothless Bolton at home and they'll be home wins for Portsmouth against Middlesbrough and Wigan against Roy Keane's Sunderland. West Ham should take a point at the Hawthorns against West Brom, but we tip the Baggies to sneak all three before Zola formally takes over at Upton Park.

A loss at Stoke would send Everton into an early season crisis and that's just what we expect with Tottenham and Aston Villa sharing the points at White Hart Lane but with less goals than when the two teams met there last season.


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Same Again In Shanghai

South Korean soccer.
There was no Shanghai Surprise. The only surprise was that some thought it was going to be any different. It could have been worse though, that was the one consolation for the few South Korean fans who, late Wednesday evening, had sat through a typically turgid Korean Derby. 1-1 was the score between the near neighbors in their 2010 World Cup qualification match in Shanghai, China.

There were less than 1,000 fans present in Shanghai's Hongkou Stadium - a far cry from the 25,000 plus that watched March's match. Apart from the loss of the novelty factor as well as the will to live, the main reason for the difference in the fact that North Korea hiked ticket prices by around 500% for the cheapest tickets -the 'hosts'(the game had been moved from Pyongyang to Shanghai after communist authorities in North Korea refused to fly the southern flag and play the anthem) didn't want their fans to be as heavily outnumbered as before.

The tie was the fourth straight stalemate between the two rivals in 2008 alone but after Hong Yong-jo shot the northern team ahead from the penalty spot in the second half, the Taeguk Warriors were relieved to come away from China with a point.

That came courtesy of teenage midfielder Ki Sung-yung. The FC Seoul player is nicknamed ‘South Korea’s Gerrard’ due to his supposed resemblance to the Liverpool and England star and he showed why after 68 minutes. Chesting down a high ball, the 19 year-old, standing at the edge of the area, swiveled and then volleyed into the bottom corner. The smattering of southern-supporting fans didn’t care that opposition goalkeeper Ri Myung-guk really should have saved, rather than fell over, the low shot.

Four minutes earlier, Hong had put the 1966 World Cup quarter-finalists ahead after he was fouled by southern skipper Kim Nam-il. The busy and speedy Hong was the best player on the pitch and is one that would be welcomed by coach Huh Jung-moo if he ever decided to defect.

If he wants World Cup football, he may find that staying north of the 38th Parallel is a better bet. North Korea sits proudly on top of Group Two with four points from two games, following an impressive 2-1 win in the UAE four days previously. South Korea has one from one and nerves are jangling.

The Seoul media was universally negative about the performance with the word of the night being ‘frustrating’. The headline of the night read: “This isn’t the football we were promised.”

The promised land of South Africa less than two years from now is not an automatic destination for South Korea – it is going to take more inspiration that was on display in China to get there. Coach Huh knows that he is a man under pressure to get a win at home to UAE in Seoul in October.

Huh pointed to the fact that not only was his team missing European-based players such as Park Ji-sung, Lee Young-pyo and Seol Ki-hyeon but just before Wednesday’s match, two-thirds of his forward line, Shin Young-rok and Lee Chung-young were ruled out through injury.

"The sudden injury problems had an influence on the game and put pressure on the players," Huh after the match.

"I am not satisfied with the performance or the result. It was a tough game because of their defence. We knew it would be hard to break down and we tried our best."

Later, Huh tried to look on the bright side. "It's not a bad result all in all. There will be wins and losses in football. I think we have the ability to be a strong side and the players are more than capable."

They are more than capable of defeating UAE in Seoul next month. Failure to do so may not mean the end of World Cup hopes but would almost certainly mean the end of Huh Jung-moo.

Copyright: John Duerden & Soccerphile.com

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Shimizu S-Pulse Fans

Shimizu S-Pulse fans are some of the best in the J-League - friendly, vocal and loyal. They turn up in numbers both home and away.

S-Pulse are having a poor season in the league this year and lost this match away to Nagoya Grampus at the Mizuho Stadium in Nagoya.

Look out for the woman falling off her seat about 60 seconds in.




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Friday, September 12, 2008

Report cards are in as the J. League approaches its final term

J.League
With the international break yielding a positive result for Japan and the autumn leaves starting to make their first appearances on the tree-lined avenues surrounding the National Stadium, attention now turns to the business end of the J. League season.

Five teams are still in with a genuine chance of lifting the trophy, but northern outfit Consadole Sapporo are certainly not one of them. News that the J. League is considering switching to a European-aligned, winter-based calendar will have gone down like a lead balloon in Sapporo, where Consadole habitually spend their summers in the open-air surrounds of Atsubetsu Stadium. The Hokkaido side have been luckless at their traditional summer home this season, and they currently sit bottom of the table, with last season's J2 champions set to make a swift return to the Second Division.

Fellow northern outfit Albirex Niigata have also struggled in 2008. They may be the second-best supported team in the league - only Urawa Reds draw larger crowds - but Niigata have played some awful football under their eternally dour coach Jun Suzuki. Niigata surprised many by finishing sixth last season, but they could become embroiled in a relegation dogfight this time around, and the constant play-acting of striker Kisho Yano has won them few fans this season.

On the other side of the country Ibaraki giants Kashima Antlers are involved in an almighty scrap as they look to retain their title. Oswaldo de Oliveira's men are a point behind league leaders Nagoya Grampus, with eternal rivals Urawa Reds also breathing down their necks. Like the Reds, Kashima also have an upcoming AFC Champions League quarter-final to contend with, and they will hope that Nagoya don't skip away while de Oliveira and his men are battling for continental glory.

Urawa have played some good football this season without ever managing to shake off either Nagoya or Kashima. Coach Gert Engels has some serious concerns up front, where ex-Eintract Frankfurt striker Naohiro Takahara has proved a spectacular flop. Former Albirex Niigata man Edmilson has also failed to impress, and with last season's J. League MVP Robson Ponte having missed most of the campaign so far through a serious knee injury, Urawa have been forced to rely heavily on the injury-prone Tatsuya Tanaka for goals.

City rivals Omiya Ardija have been one of the most inconsistent teams this season. They've pulled off some shock wins against the likes of Gamba Osaka and Kawasaki Frontale, but Omiya fans are the first to admit that the Saitama side have benefited from a kind fixture list. The redeveloped Omiya Park has failed to become the fortress that club officials were anticipating, and while the Squirrels currently sit in the top half of the table, the orange-clad outfit may ultimately succumb to their perennial relegation battle unless Slovenian giant Klemen Lavric starts scoring freely.

Capital club FC Tokyo got off to a blazing start under the auspices of Hiroshi Jofuku, but the team from the blue half of the city have since fallen away - much to the annoyance of Tokyo's passionate fans. Former Gyeongnam FC striker Cabore was the top scorer in the Korean League last season, but the Brazilian has failed to replicate that success in Japan. He has scored just six goals in 23 league appearances for a disappointingly goal-shy outfit that looks destined to finish in mid-table.

Masashi Oguro will hope to start scoring freely soon. The former Gamba Osaka striker was brought back from a painfully disappointing spell in Italian football with Torino, to line up for fellow capital side Tokyo Verdy. He replaced the departed Hulk - who is now at FC Porto - with Verdy having swapped a dreadful start to the campaign for the relative safety of mid-table. Packed with ageing former internationals, Verdy appear to have the experience to maintain their top flight status, not that anyone in the city appears to care; Verdy have attracted some of the lowest attendances in the J. League this season.

JEF United can only dream of the security of mid-table. The Chiba outfit have been anchored to the relegation zone for the entirety of the campaign, with the arrival of coach Alex Miller in place of the sacked Josip Kuze failing to propel United up the standings. The Chiba Dogs were always going to struggle when they sold their five best players at the start of the campaign, but it nevertheless looks like being a sorry demise for one of just six J. League clubs to have played every season in the Japanese top flight, as United fans look set to welcome J2 football to Fukuda Denshi Arena next season.

Prefectural rivals Kashiwa Reysol have carried on from where they left off last season, scrapping and scraping away with a mixture of strength and the occasional sublime. The return from injury of former Bayer Leverkusen front man Franca has helped, and with Japan Olympic striker Tadanari Lee up front Reysol always look a chance of getting on the scoresheet - particularly in front of their vociferous home fans - as Nobuhiro Ishizaki's team settles in for a comfortable mid-table finish.

Kawasaki Frontale were tipped by many for a top-two finish this season, but things haven't gone particularly smoothly for the Kanagawa side. Striker Hulk was released after playing just three games for Frontale - who recalled him from a two-year loan spell in J2 - before coach Takashi Sekizuka stepped down due to health problems. Another striker in Kazuki Ganaha took the J. League to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Geneva to have a wrongful doping suspension overturned, but despite the turmoil former assistant coach Tsutomu Takahata has managed to turn things around. Kawasaki are now poised to strike; they are lying in fifth place, just two points behind league leaders Nagoya.

2008 has proved nothing short of a disaster for Yokohama F. Marinos. The three-times champions were expected to challenge for the title this year, but instead they have spent most of the campaign hovering around the relegation zone. Coach Takashi Kuwahara was sacked and replaced by former technical director Kokichi Kimura, but he has failed to win over disgruntled fans with the Nissan-backed club still struggling near the bottom three. Calls of "they're too good to do down" will ring out for as long as the Tricolore are struggling, but it's been heard all before, as fans of current J2 leaders Sanfrecce Hiroshima will no doubt attest.

Further south Shimizu S-Pulse have also endured a wretched season. The departure of former star striker Cho Jae-Jin has proved a bitter blow in Shizuoka; his replacement Marcos Aurélio has failed to score a single goal, despite being the highest-paid player at the club. S-Pulse have struggled to score goals in the absence of the talismanic Jae-Jin, and a season-ending injury to playmaker Jungo Fujimoto hasn't helped. The only bright spark for S-Pulse fans has been a run to the final of the League Cup, where more than 20,000 Shimizu fans are likely to descend upon the National Stadium to see whether Kenta Hasegawa's team can salvage something from what has been a bitter campaign.

Hasegawa may count himself lucky to still be in employment. Last season it was two defeats in the Shizuoka derby that cost former Jubilo Iwata coach Adilson his job, but this time around officials at the Yamaha-backed club didn't even wait that long, as the axe finally fell on Atsushi Uchiyama with Jubilo Iwata dropping into the relegation/promotion playoff place. Highly experienced Dutch coach Hans Ooft has been called in for yet another spell in Japanese football - he knows the J. League well, and will be expected to lift the Shizuoka giants out of the bottom three come the end of the season.

By contrast Tokai rivals Nagoya Grampus are enjoying a dream run. Long regarded as the archetypal "sleeping giant" of the J. League, fiery Serb coach Dragan Stojkovic - who is regarded as a legend in the city after his playing days at the club - has finally awakened the Toyota-backed outfit from their slumber. Nagoya are currently sitting atop the J. League, having duked it out in a slugfest with Kashima and Urawa so far. When Grampus are not being referred to as a "sleeping giant," they are often being labelled "eternal chokers," and while Grampus are looking good at the moment, doubts persist about their ability to maintain composure until the final day of the campaign.

Gamba Osaka have endured a disappointing campaign that looks set to end with a mid-table finish. Injuries to key players haven't helped - Ryuji Bando has only just returned after missing most of the campaign - while the mid-season sale of star striker Baré to Emirates side Al-Ahli cost Gamba any hopes they had of winning the title. Baré has been replaced by former Yokohama F. Marinos striker Roni, but with talismanic midfielder Yasuhito Endo forced to endure a constant battle against Hepatitus-related fatigue, Gamba will need to conjure a dramatic late surge to have any chance of breaking into the top five.

Kansai rivals Vissel Kobe have cemented their position as the draw specialists of the league. They've drawn nine times so far - more than any other team - and Hiroshi Matsuda's scrappy outfit continue to infuriate Kobe fans with their inconsistent form. In Yoshito Okubo and Leandro, Vissel Kobe possess one of the most explosive strike forces in the country. Unfortunately for Kobe's dwindling supporter base - most of whom lament the involvement of controversial Chairman Hiroshi Mikitani - Kobe's strikers are too often having an off-day, and with little creativity sprinkled throughout the rest of the ranks, Vissel look set to battle it out for another mid-table finish.

Kyoto Sanga FC will be satisifed with a mid-table finish, having returned to the top flight after winning the promotion/relegation playoff against Sanfrecce Hiroshima last season. Some astute pre-season signings in the form of former Gamba Osaka man Sidiclei and ex-JEF United captain Yuto Sato have proved crucial, while the mid-season acquisitions of Hiroki Mizumoto and Fernandinho from Gamba Osaka and Shimizu S-Pulse respectively means that Hisashi Kato's side should have just about enough individual talent to retain their place in the top flight.

Last, but certainly not least, is southern outfit Oita Trinita. Every season the J. League throws up a surprise package from left field, but few would have expected Kyushu outfit Oita Trinita to be in the midst of their best ever top flight campaign. Not only is coach Pericles' side currently sitting in fourth place in the league table, but they also booked a place in the League Cup final, where they will be aiming to win a first-ever trophy. Oita's astonishing turnaround from relegation candidates to potential title winners vindicates the patience of the club's back-room, who stood by Pericles last season when the Brazilian became embroiled in a tense relegation battle. Almost twelve months later the Brazilian tactician is short odds to win the "Coach Of The Season" award, and even if Oita do fall short in both the J. League and League Cup, they will rightly be remembered as the revelation of the season.

In 2005, five clubs were still in the running to lift the J. League title on the final day of the season. That's a scenario that could be repeated in 2008, and while Consadole Sapporo and JEF United look dead-and-buried in the bottom two, there could be more relegation/promotion playoff thrills-and-spills as several of the J. League's biggest names look to escape the potential trapdoor that is sixteenth place.

Copyright © Michael Tuckerman & Soccerphile.com

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Football conquers all

Football conquers all.
England's 4-1 thrashing of Croatia in Zagreb stands out from the UEFA World Cup qualifiers, but it is really too early to book tickets to South Africa, or pass judgment on Fabio Capello, who in the title of Gabriele Marcotti's newly-published biography, is "a winner".

The vast improvement on the same fixture two years ago was manifest, but England are still maddeningly inconsistent. Have we suddenly forgotten the ubiquitous jeering at Wembley and funeral pyre-building in Fleet Street following England's previous game?

France had a dreadful result losing to Austria on Saturday but redeemed themselves slightly by beating Serbia 2-1 in Paris on Wednesday. Denmark excelled in winning in Portugal, but Austria and fellow EURO 2008 hosts Switzerland were beaten on Wednesday, by modest Lithuania and Luxembourg respectively.

More interesting is South America, where Paraguay still head the table, four points ahead of Brazil. The other two qualification places are taken up by Argentina and Chile, with Uruguay in the 5th place play-off spot.

Spare a thought for Oceania without Australia anymore. Seeing New Zealand top with five wins out of five just proves how far that FIFA region has to go.

Perhaps the most interesting World Cup game of the past few days was the USA's first trip to Cuba in 61 years. The Havana of 1947 would have seemed like home, with Al Capone and Co. running the show. While Cuba prevents its citizens leaving its shores, the US prevents its citizens from visiting Cuba, but that did not stop five brave American fans travelling via a third country to attend the game (won 1-0 by the US).

The warm welcome extended to the US squad and fans should send a message to the White House. These five proud Americans felt compelled to cover their faces throughout the game in case they were arrested on their return. Imagine the lunacy of America prosecuting Americans for supporting America.

Football may seem crazy, but not half as much as politics.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Thursday, September 11, 2008

2010 World Cup Qualifiers - Sept 10

2010 World Cup Qualifiers - Sept 10.
On an evening of shock results for away teams in the European zone for qualification for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, England, Scotland, Denmark, and yes, Luxembourg all beat tough teams away.

England, were a different proposition this time around at the Maksimir Stadium in Zagreb, beating Croatia 4-1, thanks to a Theo Walcott hat-trick and a goal from Wayne Rooney.

Scotland won on the road in Iceland 2-1, with goals from Kirk Broadfoot and Barry Robson in Rejkyavik. The biggest shock on a night that saw Denmark beat Portugal 3-2 at the Estádio José Alvalade in Lisbon was Luxembourg's 2-1 win over Switzerland at the Letzigrund Stadion in Zurich. Joint Euro 2008 hosts Austria also came down to earth after their 3-1 win over France in Vienna, when they lost 2-0 away to Lithuania, who have taken a maximum six points from their first two games.

In other results, a Miroslav Klose hat-trick saved Germany from defeat in Finland with the game ending in a 3-3 tie.

France beat Serbia 2-1, Italy edged Georgia by the same score and Russia won a close game with Wales also 2-1.

In Asia zone qualifying games, North and South Korea shared the points in Shanghai - surprise, surprise, with a 1-1 draw in the southern Chinese port city. Australia got their World Cup campaign off to a winning start with a 1-0 success in Uzbekistan in Group 1.

In South America, Paraguay stay top of the group after a 2-0 defeat of Venezuela.

In the CONCACAF zone, the USA had an impressive 3-0 home win over Trinidad & Tobago, to top their group with maximum points.

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Monday, September 8, 2008

Shanghai Surprise? Not Likely...

North an south meet again
South Korea restarts its journey on the road to South Africa and the 2010 World Cup tonight in Shanghai. Pyongyang was supposed to be the location but the qualifier against North Korea has been moved to China as the communist authorities in the DPRK capital refused to fly the Taegukki or play the Aegukga.

It is the final round of qualification for the quadrennial football-fest. South Korea has participated in the last six tournaments and failure to make it a magnificent seventh doesn’t bear thinking about for footy-lovers in a nation that is currently bananas about baseball. The loss of prestige, sponsorships, experience, money and jobs would hit Korean football hard.

Ten Asian nations, in football terms this includes Australia, have been split into two groups of five. The top two in each group automatically book their berths in South Africa. The two third-place teams face each other for the right to take on Oceania’s representative, probably New Zealand, in a winners-takes-all play-off match. On paper, North Korea is the weakest team in the group but it won 2-1 against the UAE in Abu Dhabi last weekend to get its campaign off to a good start. Iran and Saudi Arabia are the other two members of the group and drew 1-1 in Riyadh.

Against North Korea tonight and the next match, at home to UAE in October, the 2002 World Cup semi-finalists need to get some points on the board before the two toughest tests –long and tricky trips to Tehran and Riyadh.

North korea players in training

That is in the future. Now is all about the North Koreans. Unlike the general populace either side of the 38th Parallel, the respective sets of players know each other very well. After not playing at all from 1993-2002, there have been three Korean Derbies so far in 2008 alone. All three finished in ties and while a similar result in Shanghai wouldn’t be a disaster, it would be slightly disappointing. Coach Huh Jung-moo wants victory.

“It is always the same before a big game, we are naturally looking for the win,” Huh told reporters. “As the first game of the final round of qualifying, a victory against North Korea would mean a lot.”

The squad he has selected may not feature European stars such as Manchester United’s Park Ji-sung, Seol Ki-hyeon of Fulham, Borussia Dortmund’s Lee Young-pyo and Park Chu-young of AS Monaco but it does look fresh, young and, dare one say, almost exciting.

A 1-0 victory in Seoul against Jordan last Friday in a warm-up match wasn’t bad at all –though there were few fans there to witness it. There was some slick passing, nice moves and encouraging performances especially from the twinkle-toed teenager Lee Chung-young. The FC Seoul star scored his first goal in the national shirt and is steadily becoming one of the stars of the soccer scene in South Korea.

“It is frustrating that we didn’t score more goals,” coach Huh said after the match. “The players also know that they need to try and score more goals. It was a good workout for us before the North Korea match. Now we are looking forward what should be a good game.”

It probably won’t be. The two meetings in the previous round of qualification which took place in March and June respectively produced a total of no goals and not many more opportunities. North Korea is a team that defends and defends well and it showed against UAE that it can also be ruthless in attack - something that southern strikers have not been accused of for some time.

But even so, a poor result and the pressure will be on coach Huh for the visit of UAE to Seoul in October. If that poor result stretches into a poor start, his job will be on the line. Even a defeat in Shanghai will start nerves jangling inside the Korean Football Association.

The hard work starts now.

Copyright: John Duerden & Soccerphile.com


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