Monday, December 29, 2008

Gamba and Reysol book season-ending trip to Kokuritsu

Gamba and Reysol book season-ending trip to Kokuritsu.
The long Japanese season comes to an end on New Year's Day, with an exhausted Gamba Osaka set to take on Kashiwa Reysol in the Emperor's Cup final.

Gamba booked their place with an extra-time semi-final win over Yokohama F. Marinos at the National Stadium in Tokyo, with young striker Masato Yamazaki continuing his recent goal-scoring exploits as he found the net after a marathon 116 minutes.

Kashiwa Reysol, meanwhile, came from behind to beat FC Tokyo 2-1 at Ecopa Stadium in Fukuroi in the other semi-final, as the Sun Kings booked an emotional send-off for coach Nobuhiro Ishizaki.

Earlier this month Reysol officials announced that Ishizaki would not be in charge for the 2009 campaign, but despite that disappointment the veteran tactician has managed to guide his side into their first ever Emperor's Cup final.

Tatsuya Suzuki opened the scoring for FC Tokyo - ironically he is on loan from Kashiwa Reysol - but substitutes Franca and Tadanari Ri turned the game on its head as they scored second half goals to send Kashiwa through to the final.

Kashiwa may be renowned as one of the scrappiest outfits in Japanese football, but a hopelessly inappropriate pre-match headline on the Reysol website highlights that J. League clubs have a long way to go to match their more media savvy European counterparts.

The offending Kashiwa Reysol headline
It was the S-Pulse UK Ultras site that brought the offending headline to the attention of the blogosphere, and Reysol officials will hope there is no backlash for their "Final Jihad" headline - on or off the pitch.

Copyright © Michael Tuckerman & Soccerphile.com

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

How To Fix A Match?

K League
Following recent revelations that Chinese gamblers and match-fixers had been active in South Korea's third division, I talked to Declan Hill.

Hill is a journalist who specialises in match-fixing in football and has written a book on the subject called The Fix

If you want to fix a match, what should you do?


You have to think about the hierarchy of the team. A match-fixer is like a spider in the middle of the web. On one side, he has to get the players and referee. It is not easy as he may not know the players. Even if you do, it is not so simple to call them and ask.

So they hire the access. They will him someone who they call ‘a runner’. He will talk to a senior member of the team. Ideally this is a player who had very high status in the team but recently left – perhaps he is also having some financial problems. He perhaps asks his former team-mates to come to a hotel and meet some friends.

The other side of the spider's web is the gambling market. Many of the bookmakers, know both the big punters and the big fixers, so they have to hide their identity. They do this by hiring people they call ‘beards’. Literally, people who disguise who is placing the bets, but with the internet, this is much easier.

How does it work?

The best way is to get a star player and maybe two or three others in a weaker team. Most people think that match-fixing is all about getting a strong team to lose to a weak team but that is not the case. Match-fixers don't care about that – they just want certainty and it is easier to get that by focusing on the weaker team.

For example, if Chelsea were to play Lincoln – I am not suggesting that these two clubs or their players have ever fixed a game either together or separately. - the fixers will focus on Lincoln. They will try to fix it so Lincoln lose in a big way. The fixers say 'look, you are playing Chelsea. You are going to lose anyway. All we want you to do is to lose by many goals.'

The senior player tells the team, 'we are going to lose, why not make some money from this?' So they guarantee a defeat by four or five goals.

Not only is it cheaper to target the weaker team but if you bet $1 million or $2 million on Chelsea winning by four or five goals on the Asian market, nobody would notice as Chelsea are expected to win. When you have certainty, you can make a lot of money.

How big is this market?

It is huge. The illegal Chinese gambling market accounts for around 60-70% of the world's gambling market. This includes places like Las Vegas and the big British gambling companies.

Many Asian leagues have seriously declined in recent years, one reason is the live broadcasts of European football but match-fixing and corruption has really hurt leagues such as China and Malaysia.

The initial reaction in Korea at first was 'why would anyone want to bet on the K3 League'?

I understand that. People in Belgium thought exactly the same when it was revealed that Chinese gamblers were betting on Belgium's lower leagues. It was the same in Finland. These people will bet on anything – U-19, Women's football, leagues in Iceland, anything!

What should Korean football authorities do now?


They should not follow FIFA’s example. They really have had a shameful lack of action. Every pro-league in the USA –basketball, baseball etc – has a security department staffed by former FBI officials and senior cops and it is their job to watch out for this kind of thing.

I don't want to comment specifically on Korea as I have never been there but they can look at the example of Denmark. In Denmark (where some players were recently found guilty of match-fixing), they set up a hotline to the security forces. Players knew that if they were contacted by match-fixers they could call a number immediately and do it anonymously and talk directly to the security. They didn't have to call the FA and worry that some people may suspect them of match-fixing.

My message to Korea is don't underestimate them. They are criminals with money and resources and experience. It is unusual to have a case of match-fixing in the lower leagues and not in the top leagues.

Korea should have senior police monitoring illegal betting markets. In Europe, most football associations are starting to check the markets to see if any strange bets have been placed but they only check the European markets but that is a waste of time – it is Asia where it happens and they don't check those markets.

It should be easier in Korea as the amounts bet on the lower leagues are quite small so it should be easy to see signs of strange bets and match-fixing.

Copyright: John Duerden & Soccerphile


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Sunday, December 21, 2008

Sir Alex sees cup win as fillip for better things to come

Sir Alex sees cup win as fillip for better things to come.
YOKOHAMA - Sir Alex Ferguson added another piece of silverware to his extensive trophy cabinet on Sunday with Manchester United’s 1-0 win over Liga de Quito of Ecuador in the final of the Club World Cup.
The longtime coach of the Red Devils was delighted by the performance of his club and said the win will act as a springboard to better things ahead in 2009.
Following are excerpts from his post-match press conference:

Q: Defender Nemanja Vidic was sent off in the second half. How did that affect your play?
A: It affected the penetration we showed in the first half. After his sending off we had to be more disciplined and make sure we didn't concede. And I began to wonder if we were going to extra time. To play with 10 men with that long to go would have been a long road. But in fairness we played with good expression and still tried to win the match and that's a measure of the ambitious players we have, so I was pleased with the performance.

Q: Wayne Rooney was named player of the tournament, do you think that was deserved?
A: Well I think he was the player of the game, there's no doubt about that. I think he deserved it. Because I think he could have scored two or three times in the first half. It was a very, very good performance from him and a magnificent goal. I’ve seen him do that a lot, coming off the left side and bending it in with his right foot, and it was another example of that ability he has.

Q: With all the talk of jetlag and fatigue, why does Rooney seem have this limitless energy when other players look slightly less energized?
A: Well, people handle traveling differently. I was speaking to Edwin Van Der Sar this morning, and he said two day’s ago he a great sleep but last night he had a terrible sleep. Last night was the first night I slept more than two hours. Everyone’s different. You hope they all can handle it but that’s not the case. I think it showed in the last 20 minutes of the game on Thursday night when the game became too open for us. But tonight our discipline was very good and it had to be because you can’t leave gaps when you go down to 10 men.

Q: Were you more concerned about the offense of Quito than that of Gamba Osaka? You made some changes to your lineup tonight.
A: No, we made one change, Rafael Da Silva on for Gary Neville. I think that was the correct thing to do. At 34 years age, Gary needs more rest now, three days or so. You have to compliment Gamba for the quality of their game. I watched them again today and they could have scored 4 or 5 goals in the first half. Their quality, in particular Yasuhito Endo … nobody on Quito had the quality Endo’s got, for example. You have to admire their quality.

Q: You created a lot of opportunities, especially in the first half, but couldn’t find the back of the net. What were you thinking substitution-wise in the second half?
A: I felt we had to be more disciplined and not to concede. Had we lost a goal we would have lost the game. The important thing was to stay patient and hope either Cristiano Ronaldo or Rooney could do something special for us.
I also thought extra time could have been a big possibility, which is why I didn’t make any substitutions until late in the game.
Once we scored I could think about who could protect the lead and that's why I brought on Neville and Darren Fletcher.
We've only scored 8 goals away from home this season, which is not good enough. But we've played with great expression and imagination and we have players who can entertain and in normal situations we can score goals. Hopefully that will change in the new year.

Q: What does winning this competition do for you as a club?
A: I think it will be a good springboard for us. We’ve come a long way. It may have been difficult for us to go to Stoke (on Boxing day in the Premier League) had we lost. I think it’s difficult to come back after losing a big tournament like this. But we’ve won it, so I think there will be a bounce at the club. It won't be easy, no games in the Premiership are. But it does give us a platform to start playing with a real purpose to our game now and to chase the leaders.
For me personally, I said earlier it would be nice to look back in 30 years and see that Manchester United was world champion. I won't be able to enjoy this 30 years from now, but I will enjoy it next year.

Q: After Vidic’s expulsion, I know you must have been concerned. But what was your mindset keeping Ronaldo and Rooney on and bring Carlos Tevez off?
A: We’ve been in that situation before. Rooney has such great energy to play as an attacker, to defend as a midfield player and he has such a great tenacity to do these things. Tevez was disappointed to have come off, but it was the only thing I could do. But as soon as I took Tevez off I though to myself, crikey, it could go to penalties and I've just taken Tevez off. But of course, Rooney scored the only goal so it didn’t matter.
I thought we played sensible football compared to how we played in the first half.


Q: What was the key to your victory tonight and what is your impression of Quito and the South American style of football?
A: I think the collective spirit of the team won the day, particularly when we went down to 10 men
.
I think it's a fantastic tournament. We’re here because we won the European Cup and we’re here to represent England and Europe. At the end of the day you always expect to play a South American team. Maybe we’ve played against better South American teams in the past … I think we were comfortable winners today but when you get to a final, you have still got to win it. And you can lose games like that because the game was so slow in the first half and although we made chances you start to worry that one counterattack could cost us. And if we had went behind tonight it would have been very difficult for us because the South American mentality is different from other places in that they can defend, as we saw tonight many times.

Copyright © C.G. Williams & Soccerphile.com

Bauza ends impressive stint with Quito on losing note

Club World Cup.
YOKOHAMA - Liga de Quito’s Argentine coach Edgardo Bauza announced that he was quitting the club at the end of the Club World Cup. While Sunday’s 1-0 loss to Manchester United in the final came as a disappointment, the former Argentina national team player nevertheless had an exceptional year with the club, steering it to a first-ever Copa Libertadores win for an Ecuadorian side.
Following are excerpts from his final press conference as Liga de Quito boss:

Q: Despite the loss are you proud of your team?
A: I mentioned earlier that I didn't know what would happen tonight. I am very proud of my players. Both teams came to Japan to win. We were defeated and it's sad. We're depressed but we know we were the underdogs. We are very happy to have come so far. It took about 20 minutes for us to get used to Manchester and the atmosphere. Some of our players played very well in the first half and overall I consider it a draw.
United went down a man and we were unable to take advantage of it. Our counterattack wasn't effective.

Q: Did you feel you didn't take enough risks?
A: We wanted to. I changed from four defenders to three when I brought off defender Paul Ambrosi. In the last 10 minutes we had two or three chances to score and we didn't capitalize. I wanted speedier movement on the flanks and I changed to three defenders, which is the pattern of attack that I prefer.

Q: Your team played very bravely today and you showed that you were equal with United in many respects.
A: I think we have to analyze the game. Were we equal? I don't think so. Our players were looking for opportunities and couldn't. We tried to impose our style but couldn't because of the greatness of our opponent.

Q: What was your overall strategy for today’s match?
A: Actually, our strategy was to try not to retreat too much because United, when they have the ball, always have the ability to score. In the second half I told my players to move the backline higher, but United were using three forwards and Park Ji-sung was there as well so we couldn't do what we wanted on the pitch. I used (attacking midfielder Alejandro) Manso more in the second half to produce more of an attack.

Q: Was your team nervous today?
A: No, for the first 15 minutes we tried to stop United's passing. They created two great opportunities to score. We had to be patient early but we struggled even harder than we expected and had a poor first half. But I thought we had more possession as the game progressed.

Q: What do you say to the people in Ecuador?
A: It's a little complex. First, I am really satisfied to be a part of this team and to represent Ecuador here. It is really important for my career and this experience will remain with all of us. We are sad that we didn't have enough power to win, and I thought we could make United struggle more. They are a great team and we are proud to have played them. I have finished a cycle here and am glad to end my time with the club on this note. I hope the people of Ecuador are happy with our performance.

Copyright © C.G. Williams & Soccerphile.com

Manchester United crowned World champions

Manchester United crowned World champions.
Manchester United have won the 2008 FIFA Club World Cup, beating LDU Quito 1-0 in front of 68,682 fans at Yokohama International Stadium.

Wayne Rooney scored the only goal of the game in the 73rd minute and he was later awarded the Golden Ball award for being named the Player Of The Tournament.

United deserved their win having turned in a dominant performance against the Ecuadorian underdogs, although the reigning European champions were forced to work hard after defender Nemanja Vidic saw red for an elbow to the face of LDU striker Claudio Bieler just four minutes into the second half.

Before that United had enjoyed the best of the action, with the outstanding Wayne Rooney forcing LDU's veteran keeper Jose Francisco Cevallos into an early save with a stinging volley.

Rooney missed an even better chance just before the break when clean through on goal, as his lob-on-the-run landed on top of the net rather than in it.

It wasn't until after United had been reduced to ten men that LDU began to pose a threat, with tricky midfielder Alejandro Manjos driving his team forward.

He saw one long-range effort pushed away by Edwin van der Sar in the 65th minute, with the Dutch goalkeeper proving that he has lost none of his dexterity despite his advancing years.

Cristiano Ronaldo.
With seventeen minutes remaining United finally broke the deadlock, as for once Cristiano Ronaldo eschewed the showboating antics in favour of playing an easy ball, and Wayne Rooney made no mistake as he stroked an accurate finish from Ronaldo's pass into the bottom corner.

A frustrated Alejandro Manjos was then denied again from long-range, as Edwin van der Sar somehow managed to push his right-foot thunderbolt over the crossbar.

With that Manchester United saw victory within their grasp, as the English giants capped a memorable year by adding the world crown to the English and European titles they won last season.

United's victory was a triumph for coach Sir Alex Ferguson, who brushed aside suggestions from a dismissive British media as he added a world title to his impressive swag of trophies - which also includes the Intercontinental Cup won by United in Tokyo back in 1999.

Copyright © Michael Tuckerman & Soccerphile.com

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Gamba third at CWC Nishino underwhelmed

Gamba third at CWC, Nishino underwhelmed.
YOKOHAMA - Gamba Osaka finished third at the Club World Cup with a 1-0 win over Mexico’s Pachuca at Yokohama International Stadium on Sunday.
Afterward, the typically cheerless Akira Nishino gave his thoughts on the match, the tournament and about being “killed” by Manchester United.

Q: Can we have some comments on your impression of the match?
A: Well, I wouldn’t say it was an ideal football match for us today but we were able to play against Pachuca, who play a Central American footballing style. We respect them a lot and are very honored to have played them.
We played three different clubs from three continents at this tournament, all of whom are well-known and respected clubs. We are very happy about that.
At the same time, we played our own game, Gamba Osaka’s style, and we were able to get this result.
Our players were not afraid and they were full of challenging spirit, so I believe this match will lead us to the next step in our development.
Having said that, we lost some players to injury and all of the players are extremely tired now so we were unable to play at 100 percent at this tournament. Under the circumstances, we did our best.
Rather than euphoric, our players are very tired. But with upcoming (Emperor’s Cup) matches, maybe they are not ready to celebrate. We used everything we had at this tournament and I think it was a great experience for Gamba Osaka.

Q: With Gamba finishing third this year at the CWC and Urawa Reds doing the same last year, what does it say about the strength of the J-League?
A: I don’t really care about how the Reds did last year. That has nothing to do with our result today. As representatives of the J-League, yes it was the Reds last year and us this year but our approach is totally different to theirs. We have a different style as a team and as a club.
Of course to participate in this tournament we have to win the ACL and this year three J-League teams participated in the ACL. This year I think the mission of the J-League, to move to a higher stage, was fully achieved by Gamba.
We are sometimes compared to Urawa Reds and what they achieved last season but I’m not really sure it’s an appropriate comparison.

Q: What advice did you give your defenders today?
A: I told them that Pachuca uses short passes and have very good technique. They also have a totally different playing style to Manchester United. I told the defenders to press hard and not be afraid to push forward. I also told them to stay compact along with the midfielders, and to not defend against the players but to defend against the passes.
We were able to do this to some extent, however, they were really good at breaking our formation and creating space. We did well, however, ideally I would have liked our backline to have pressed even harder. In the first half, our backline was about 10 meters behind where it should have been. So in the second half I told them to run more, even if it was quite difficult for them, to move the line up. Unfortunately, they were unable to do so and line retreated even further. But for 10 to 20 minutes we were able to press ahead and respond positively.

Q: When you compete on the world stage again, would you change your approach? Have you learned anything that makes you think you need to change your style when playing against teams from other countries?
A: When we played against Manchester United and Pachuca we had to come up with different approaches. It all depends on who we play against. Of course we do have a basis, our foundation, but we have to be flexible. Depending on the situation, on the opponent, we need different tactics. For those two teams we were able to play with a certain target. Will this work in other matches against other opponents? Not necessarily.

Q: Why did you make the two substitutions you did in the second half?
A: I replaced Ryuji Bando because I didn’t want to be too defensive and I thought he was tiring and not able to run enough. So I replaced him in an effort to get a second goal. By brining on Takahiro Futagawa for Bando, I was sending a message to my team to continue pushing forward.
Bando missed so many good scoring opportunities. He was unable to capitalize, which is what I told him when he came off.
I also wanted to use Futagawa because he was injured in the first match against Adelaide. He can create a lot of chances.
As for bringing Takuya Takei on for Lucas, I wanted to kill the flanks during the last 15 minutes. I wanted our midfielders to be more defensive at that point.

Q: Will you be able to leverage your performance here to your advantage during the upcoming Emperor’s Cup campaign?
A: It was a great challenge for us to play in this tournament and I think we have to analyze the lessons we’ve learned here. Otherwise, there is no point to be at this tournament. We need to reflect but we don’t have the time because we have to play on the 25th against Nagoya. We can’t leverage what we’ve learned here in that match. It is too early. Our players are so tired and it will be very difficult for us to fully prepare for our next match. I just hope my players can fully recover from the fatigue.
But to be sure, our three matches at this tournament will be a great contribution to our development at Gamba Osaka.

Q: I hope my question doesn’t overlap a previous one but … Manchester United killed your movement on the ball. Will you continue playing in the same style or will you make changes to your approach?
A: Are you talking about Manchester United? Do you want me to analyze Manchester United?

Q: No, no, no. What I am saying … I think the match against United really showed Gamba’s strengths and weaknesses …
A: You just told me that Manchester United killed us. That is a horrible thing to say. And I can’t believe you said that. It was a great opponent and we were not sure how we could exploit our strengths. It’s natural that Manchester would come out and try to neutralize our game, but we tried and we scored and we created a number of scoring opportunities. It means something. We learned something. Their style is very simple. One, two, three touches and then shoot. Everybody chased the ball and we learned that if we kept things simple, we could also score. It’s not only about Gamba Osaka. We played against a very good team.
Although we wanted to try a lot of things and had a very good imagination, it’s true that Manchester tried to kill that imagination. But at times we were able to show our game and we got the result we did because of that.

Copyright © C.G. Williams & Soccerphile.com

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Saturday, December 20, 2008

World Soccer News December 12 2008

World Soccer News.
World Soccer News For the week of 12/19

Ferguson labels Real Madrid as "the mob"

It's more than rivalry. It's enmity. It's been simmering some time now and it has escalated this week over Cristiano Ronaldo.
After learning of reports in the Spanish press that Manchester United had agreed to sell Cristian Ronaldo next summer, Sir Alex Ferguson slammed Real Madrid, saying he would never do another deal with "that mob".
Spanish daily El Mundo reported that United and Madrid had reached a gentleman's agreement for Ronaldo's transfer to Santiago Bernabeu next summer.
The agreement was supposed to be kept secret, but at least three Real's directors could not resist chatting about that with their acquaintances.
Now Ferguson says there is no chance he will sell Europe's top player to the Spanish club because of Real's ungentlemanly conduct.
"Do you think I would get into a contract with that mob. Jesus Christ, no chance. I wouldn't sell them a virus," he said in a press conference in Japan where his team reached FIFA's Club World Cup finals against Liga de Quito.
"There is absolutely no agreement at all between the clubs."
Still, could Manchester United's hierarchy have made a deal with Real's Ramón Calderón behind Sir Alex's back?
Why not, since Ronaldo is eager to join one of the few clubs more glamorous than United themselves and the closer his contract due to run until 2012 nears the end the lower his price-tag will be.
As early as next July, the Portuguese will be able to buy off his own contract at the price of his remaining salary of 120,000 pounds per week which must be less than what Real are ready to pay for a regular transfer fee.

Beckenbauer calls Rensing an amateur for Stuttgart blunder

Bayern Munich club president Franz Beckenbauer fiercely criticised keeper Michael Rensing for an error that led to the two point loss last Saturday against Stuttgart.
Bayern were 2-1 ahead until the last minute but then conceded a goal because Rensing, according to Beckenbauer, failed to intervene in time and seize the ball.
"When a keeper runs out from the goal, he has to catch the ball. The way in which he attempted to fist the ball away was amateurish," said the "Kaiser" after the match.
"His criticism is a heap of nonsense. At least three or four players were straight ahead of me. I could not simply push them away. Furthermore, I was fouled and Jens Lehmann (Stuttgart's goalie) confirmed that with me that afterwards," replied Rensing, who succeeded the legendary Oliver Kahn at the start of this season.
"Earlier I was a bit irritated by being criticised, but not any more. Everybody is trying to be clever after the game. In fact my goal is to be Germany's first choice keeper one day," admitted Rensing, brave for standing up to the authoritative Beckenbauer.

Another Eto'os sweet revenge on Real Madrid

The biggest club match in the world, the Spanish el clásico, allowed Barcelona to open a 12-point gap over Real Madrid and cost Bernd Schuster his job at the Bernabeu.

Scoring the opener in the 2-0 win for the Catalan side, Samuel Eto'o showed he had not forgotten Real Madrid's debt for having disowned him on three occasions. In 1999, Madrid loaned him to Espanyol, in 2000 to Mallorca and then in 2004 refused to pay 11 million euros to the same club to buy out the other half of the player's contract.
Barcelona paid the full transfer and carried the big prize, as Eto'o went on to score 94 goals in only 122 Primera división appearances and the equalizer in the 2006 Champions League final against Arsenal.

Since arriving from Mallorca, Eto'o has scored four goals against Real, the first in 2004 at Nou Camp in a 3-0 win, the second the next year at the Bernabeu in a 4-2 loss and the third in late 2005 as Barcelona smashed Real by 3-0 in Madrid.
Three years have passed since that night and Eto'o failed time and time again to add the fourth against his archrivals. It seemed that the drought would continue when the Cameroonian missed a penalty with 20 minutes remaining, but in the 83rd minute he made up for the miss beating Íker Casillas with a marvellously predatory strike.

Ironically, new coach Josep Guardiola last summer thought of getting rid of
the sometimes overly temperamental Eto'o, but changed his mind just in time when noticing the striker's commitment in the pre-season. And the African has repaid him with 15 goals so far in the Spanish league alone. And it's not even Christmas.

Mourinho and Mihajlovic, forever friends

Inter's coach José Mourinho has found an equally sharp-tongued rival in Sinisa Mihajlovic, new boss at Bologna.
Their conflict flared up over Inter's player Adriano Leite, of whom Mihajlovic
said he should not be allowed to practice with the first team on account of his frequent disciplinary breaches.
Mourinho promptly replied to Mihajlovic, former assistant coach at Inter during Roberto Mancini's reign.
"Everybody deserves a second chance. If Inter once allowed their player to practice with the first team even though he had spat at an opponent in the face, why shouldn't Adriano get a new chance?"
The man alluded at by Mourinho was none other than Mihajlovic, who on one occasion spat on Adrian Mutu.
The Serb coach responded vehemently to the Portuguese.
"I cannot discuss soccer with Mourinho because he never played and he does not understand certain things. I did all sorts of stuff in my career which could not be justified and for which I got punished," said Mihajlovic.
"By the way, his remark had nothing to do with what I said of Adriano."
Now it was Mourinho's turn to make fun of Mihajlovic for not working at Inter anymore.
"My assistant today is (Giuseppe) Baresi but Mihajlovic is speaking of Inter as if he was still working here."
Mihajlovic left San Siro last summer alongside his friend, head coach Mancini, to make room for - Mourinho.


Brazilian President happy: Ronaldo, welcome to my Corinthians

Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, President of Brazil, is thrilled that Ronaldo Nazario Lima has signed for Corinthians, the club that Lula has supported since childhood.
"I was greatly pleased by the news. First, because he is a good chap and second, because he has done Brazil great service," said Lula to tv channel Bandeirantes.
"It is true that he has reached the veteran stage (32), so he is likely to score fewer goals than before, but he can still be useful at the club level. I appeal to the fans to be patient with him if he does not start playing great right away."

Somewhat less thrilled are Flamengo fans, who expected Ronaldo to join their team instead of their Sao Paulo "enemies". Some of the Rio team's ultras have even hired a witchdoctor whose job it is to conjure some black magic and prevent Ronaldo from triumphing at Corinthians. Some fans have even expressed desire to see the "traitor" break his leg so he could not make his debut for his new club!

Riquelme on target for inciting violence

Although an idol for millions of Argentinians, Juan Román Riquelme has been summoned to court to answer charges over inciting violence.
Riquelme appeared this week at a misdemeanor court in Buenos Aires under charges of inciting disorder during a league game last November.
The cause for the trial seems trivial indeed. During the Boca vs Rácing game (2-1), a spectator had shouted abuse and made rude gestures towards Boca's players. After volleying the winning goal, Riquelme ran 50 meters towards the stand where the abusive fan was sitting and showed him the finger.
The public prosecutor claims Boca's midfielder "violated two rules, one concerning inciting disorder and other related to the progress of the match."
If sentenced, Riquelme could be fined up to 300 euros or jailed for ten days.
"The fan persistently insulted me and other players. One has no right to grab one's testicles and shout abuse to everybody coming close to the touchline," said Riquelme.
His solicitor believes his client will be acquitted and next to appear in court will be the disorderly fan, a certain Agustín Pozzetti.

Copyright Ozren Podnar&Soccerphile

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Friday, December 19, 2008

Adelaide couldn't give a damn

Adelaide couldn't give a damn.
New world clubs couldn't care less if the Club World Cup is derided by Europe, or the rest of football's established order.

That's the message coming loud and clear from Aurelio Vidmar, a former Oceania player-of-the-year and current coach of Adelaide United following the A-League's club's fairytale final third of 2008.

Adelaide have been the A-League's most consistent performers in the three-and-a-half seasons since the competition's inception and as such deserve the plaudits they've received for themselves and on behalf of the league in general.

However dubious their path to Fifa's showpiece club competition, there is simply no precedent for predicting the advantages of competing in the Club World Cup on a league in its infancy.

Coming hot on the heels of an appearance in the AFC Champions League final simply confirms Australia's burgeoning status in Asia, a confederation they only joined in 2006.

“The tournament has been a terrific vehicle for the promotion of our game back home and it has been a tremendous experience for our club,” Vidmar trumpeted after Adelaide pipped the African champions Al Ahly, of Egypt, in front of 35,154 fans at the Yokohama International Stadium.

Those comments hit the mark back home, right across the A-League.

The Reds might have had their dream tie against Manchester United scuppered by a slim loss to nemesis Gamba Osaka, the recently crowned Asian champions after a stunning final win over Vidmar's side.

But Adelaide came through the tournament with a record of just that defeat in three matches after edging past New Zealanders Waitakere United in the opening game.

At home, they also remain top of the A-League table with a game in hand over closest rivals Queensland Roar and Melbourne Victory, and two on the Central Coast Mariners and Wellington Phoenix.

“By finishing fifth and with our experience in the Asian Champions League, it has really lifted the profile of the game in Australia and it hopefully gives a lot of confidence to the other A-League clubs that they can do well in the Asian Champions League to get to this point," continued Vidmar.

“It has been a tremendous ride which hasn’t been easy but we’ve learnt a lot from playing these games and it certainly puts the club and the game on the map back home.

"When you win games at this level it lifts people’s eyebrows and awareness of what the football can and will be like in the future.”

Meanwhile back in Australia, a betting scandal has engulfed three of the league's protagonists.

Former Australia captains Kevin Muscat and Craig Moore, and Scottish import Grant Brebner, have all been shamed after admitting placing bets on matches involving A-League sides.

Moore and Muscat received small fines and a public dressing down by Football Federation Australia (FFA) for gambling on the outcomes of matches they weren't themselves involved in.

However, Brebner was handed a two-match ban as well as a fine for his remarkable decision to place a wager on his own team, Melbourne Victory, to lose to Thai side Chonburi FC in the Champions League group stage.

The only saving grace for the recovering gambling addict was he wasn't actually selected in the Victory's travelling party to Thailand because of a groin injury.

The 31-year-old former Manchester United trainee is a popular figure in Melbourne and recently inked a one-year extension with the club chasing a second A-League premiership in three seasons.

But what his team-mates will make of the Scot betting on them to fall flat against the Thai underdogs only time will tell.

Brebner said: "I apologise to my club, team-mates, our fans, my family and the FFA for my actions. I want to make sure everyone is aware that I haven’t involved anyone else.

“I understand and accept the consequences that come with my actions.”

You feel the personal cost might be rather more profound.

Copyright © Marc Fox and Soccerphile.com

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

Manchested United through to FIFA Club World Cup final

Manchested United through to FIFA Club World Cup final.
Manchester United eased through to the FIFA Club World Cup final with an entertaining 5-3 win over J. League side Gamba Osaka in front of 67,618 fans at Yokohama International Stadium.

The English giants looked to be cruising when first half headers from Nemanja Vidic and Cristiano Ronaldo gave them a commanding two goal lead at the break.

Gamba pulled a goal back through striker Masato Yamazaki in the 74th minute, and that proved to be the precursor for a crazy spell of action.

United substitute Wayne Rooney scored with what was practically his first touch of the ball, before fellow substitute Darren Fletcher then put the game beyond doubt with a 78th minute header.

Just a minute later Rooney scored his second and United's fifth, as a shell-shocked Gamba defence capitulated on the global stage.

To Gamba's credit they scored twice more over the closing stages, with the inspirational Yasuhito Endo slotting home from the spot after Gary Neville was adjudged to have handled inside the area.

Midfielder Hideo Hashimoto then popped up to score a rare goal and add some respectability to the scoreline - and United's Dutch goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar was nonplussed to have been beaten three times in this wildly fluctuating clash.

Several of the United players complained of jet-lag after the match, with French international Patrice Evra revealing that he had only slept for a total of two hours in the build-up to the match.

Cristiano Ronaldo was another to suffer from fatigue, although he was quick to praise the Osakans, whom he labelled a "very good football team."

The newly-crowned World Player Of The Year was tight-lipped about the prospects of a potential move to Real Madrid, instead preferring to focus on the task at hand.

To a man the United squad have all highlighted their desire to become the first British club to lift the FIFA Club World Cup in its current form, with Sir Alex Ferguson's team clearly meaning business when they take on Ecuador's LDU Quito in the Club World Cup final on December 21 in Yokohama.

That goal is now within reach, with just one more game standing in United's way of being crowned world champions.

Copyright © Michael Tuckerman & Soccerphile.com

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Adelaide United end Club World Cup on high

Adelaide United end Club World Cup on high.
Adelaide United have ended the FIFA Club World Cup on a high after recording a gritty 1-0 win over Egyptian giants Al-Ahly in the playoff for 5/6 at Yokohama International Stadium.

The Australian outfit dominated the opening twenty-five minutes and deservedly opened the scoring through Brazilian striker Cristiano, who set off on a virtuoso run seven minutes in before unleashing an unstoppable strike that flashed passed Amir Abdelhamid and into the top corner.

Adelaide almost doubled their lead through a Sasa Ognenovski header three minutes later, before Cristiano missed a gilt-edged opportunity to double his personal tally on the quarter-hour mark.

Al-Ahly gradually began to assert themselves as the first half wore on but they had little to show for their efforts, and coach Manuel Jose sprung a major surprise as he benched playmaker Mohamed Aboutrika at half-time.

Despite the change Al-Ahly remained lacklustre in the second half, and Mohamed Barakat wasted their best chance when he forced a flying save from Eugene Galekovic with eight minutes remaining.

Adelaide coach Aurelio Vidmar was full of praise for his team, and he hoped Adelaide's win would help raise the profile of the fledgling A-League.

"By finishing fifth and with our experience in the Asian Champions League, it has really lifted the profile of the game in Australia and it hopefully gives a lot of confidence to the other A-League clubs that they can do well in the Asian Champions League to get to this point," said Vidmar.

"It has been a tremendous ride which hasn't been easy but we've learnt a lot from playing these games and it certainly puts the cub and the game on the map back home. When you win games at this level it lifts people's eyebrows and awareness of what the football can and will be like in the future."

In contrast Al-Ahly coach Manuel Jose was scathing of Egypt's domestic media, claiming that reporters had failed to heed his warnings that the Cairo-based club were not the global force that some in the Egyptian media believed they were.

Al-Ahly have now fallen twice to Australian clubs, after they lost the 5/6 playoff to Sydney FC in Tokyo at the 2005 FIFA Club World Cup.

Copyright © Michael Tuckerman & Soccerphile.com

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Fifa World Rankings December 2008

Fifa World Rankings December 2008.
European champions Spain stay top of this month's Fifa world rankings followed by Germany and the Netherlands in 3rd. England are up to 8th place.

Brazil are in 5th. Cameroon are the highest African team in 14th. Russia are 9th.

1 Spain
2 Germany
3 Netherlands
4 Italy
5 Brazil
6 Argentina
7 Croatia
8 England
9 Russia
10 Turkey
11 France
11 Portugal
11 Czech Republic
14 Cameroon
15 Ukraine
16 Egypt
16 Paraguay
18 Israel
19 Nigeria
20 Greece

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LDU Quito through to final as defensive errors cost Pachuca

LDU Quito through to final as defensive errors cost Pachuca.
Ecuador's LDU Quito booked a place in the final of the FIFA Club World Cup with a comfortable 2-0 win over Mexican outfit Pachuca in driving rain at the National Stadium in Tokyo.

A calamitous piece of defending just four minutes in set LDU on their way, as a dreadful mix-up at the back saw an attempted clearance fall to unmarked Claudio Bieler, and the Argentine had an easy task of steering the ball beyond Miguel Calero in the Pachuca goal.

That goal set the tone for the match, with Pachuca struggling to come to terms with the wet conditions in the first half.

Argentine threats Damian Alvarez and Christian Gimenez looked the likeliest source of a goal for Los Tuzos, but the reigning Copa Libertadores champions from Quito managed to hold Pachuca's star men at bay.

Instead it was LDU causing most of the attacking threats, and they doubled their advantage in the twenty-sixth minute after Pachuca defender Julio Manzur handled just outside the penalty area.

LDU midfielder Luis Bolanos stepped up to curl an inch-perfect free-kick just over the wall and into the top corner of the goal, with Pachuca keeper Calero unsighted.

For the second time in the tournament Pachuca found themselves two goals down at half-time, but unlike their thrilling come-from-behind 4-2 victory over Egyptian giants Al-Ahly in their opening game, this time there was no way back for the Mexicans.

They pushed forward in numbers in the second half, but time and again danger man Damian Alvarez and compatriot striker Bruno Marioni failed to force LDU keeper Jose Francisco Cevallos into a save.

Despite dominating possession for the entire ninety minutes Pachuca trudged disconsolately off the field with nothing to show for their efforts, with two defensive errors costing coach Enrique Meza and his team dearly.

LDU Quito will now go on to meet the winner of tomorrow's semi-final between Gamba Osaka and Manchester United, with both matches set to take place at the 70,000-capacity Yokohama International Stadium.

Adelaide United will take on Al-Ahly in the 5/6 playoff in the curtain-raiser to Manchester United's Club World Cup debut, with Al-Ahly coach Manuel Jose under pressure from Egypt's demanding media to claim a result from that game.

Copyright © Michael Tuckerman & Soccerphile.com

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Ferguson to go with tried and tested against Gamba

Ferguson to go with tried and tested against Gamba.
YOKOHAMA—A day before Manchester United's Club World Cup semifinal showdown with Japan’s Gamba Osaka, Sir Alex Ferguson was playing his cards close to his chest regarding his starting XI. He did say, however, that he intended to rely on three of his most experienced players—Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville—to see his club into the final. Following are excerpts from a press conference prior to training at Yokohama Stadium on Wednesday:

Q: Who will you play against Gamba?

A: Well, it's a complex situation. No one's asked me for that information yet, all they've asked me is what I think about the tournament.
I will say this: Berbatov won't play tomorrow. He's been in bed since we arrived. He's picked up a virus. He's not very well at the moment.
Wayne Rooney was injured in training yesterday but hopefully he'll be OK tomorrow. Other than that, everyone is fit.
I can say that we will play some of our really experienced players like Gary Neville, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes. It's a big-game situation and I think their experience will be important tomorrow. Other than that, I've got to decide the rest of the team. But it will be a strong team.

Q: Scholes has recently come back from injury. How important is it for you to have him back in the squad?
A: I think he brings an order to our game at times. We saw that in the second half against Aalborg (in the Champions League last week). He helped us get us back in the match and to gain control of the match. He's been a fantastic player for us, it's hard to measure it other than to say he's always been good for us.
When he was a younger player he used to get us 12 to 15 goals a season, but he can't do that now. And we don't ask him to. But he brings other things to our team-his experience, his ability to keep possession, to control a match. It's a fundamental part of our game. His intelligence on the football field is tremendous.
Over the years when Paul has had injury problems, and he's had a few, he has come back very well. And we've seen in training that he's back to normal. He showed that against Aalborg and we're confident of that. He hasn't lost anything.
Cristiano Ronaldo.

Q: Will Ronaldo play tomorrow?

A: Ronaldo will play tomorrow.

Q: What do you think of the timing of this tournament?
A: In football you don't get a choice. The dates are there and we accept that. There has been some cynicism back home abut this tournament, with some saying we're doing it only for the money (the winner pockets 5 million USD) to play here, which is the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard in my life. We're here because we've been invited here as winners of the European Cup. It's a FIFA-recognized tournament and there's no way we can get out of it. So the criticism is unfortunate. The most important thing about being here is that it's a chance to win something in December. To be world champions in December is a fantastic middle-of-the season boost to everyone and that's the way we look at it.

Q: Do you think you'll ever see players in the vein of Scholes, Giggs and Neville play for a club at such a high level for as long as they have?
A: I think it's unlikely. I think we're a very fortunate club. We're the only club who can do that. Ryan has done 21 years, Gary 19 and Paul Scholes 19 years. And that is exceptional, absolutely exceptional. We hope we can get players who can do that for us on a regular basis but in modern terms and through contracts, I think it's unlikely.

Q: Do you think you've ever had such depth in a squad during your 22 years managing United?
A: No, I think this is our best squad in my time. We've got 23 players here and the only one who lacks any experience at all is our backup goalkeeper Ben Amos, but he's replacing our other goalkeeper Ben Foster who’s broken a finger in training. All the rest are of a high quality and most are internationals. I think it’s only Rafael Da Silva who is not an international.
And there is difficulty in that, of course, because it’s difficult to manage such players. And it becomes a disappointment because you can't play everyone. Here we can have 12 players on the bench but in England it’s only improved this season to seven substitutes. You have no idea how much that helps the coach. I don’t know why, perhaps the structure of the benches and dugouts in England limit the number of subs but to have as many subs as you want at your disposal … You know, to put an international in the stands is in some ways an insult to him. And it’s a problem for me because you feel embarrassed to ask a top player to not be involved in an actual game. They expect to play; they all want to play. I have the best squad I’ve had since I came to the club, but it does create certain management issues.

Q: If Gamba were playing in England, would you say they would be in the Premiership, Championship or some other division?
A: I can answer that tomorrow. Football is that kind of game. I would say Gamba ... the improvement in Japanese football is there for everybody to see. The great advantage is the facilities. The facilities are very good. And there is a genuine enthusiasm among the people, which generates fervor in the country and I think that is the strongest part of the game here.
Watching the video, they have some talented players, there's no question about it. And if you look at Shunsuke Nakamura at Celtic—we’ve played him three times now in the last two or three years—he is proof of the overall quality of Japanese football.

Q: How long can Scholes continue playing at the level he has been?
A: He's not going to improve much now, is he? He's 34 and had some injuries over the years. We hope he can maintain the level he’s been at, a great level, for another year or two. It's tough for players who get injured in their 30s. For Paul, he'll continue to do what he does. I don't see any negatives about his game, so hopefully he can keep it going for a long time.

Q: Do you have any message to the fans who have made the expensive trip here from Manchester?
A: It's something that always amazes me about this club, especially at this time of year. As everyone knows, some families are not in the best financial situation back home but they make the sacrifice. I have great admiration for them. To come this far to watch a football team shows you how much they regard us. And it also tells you something about our football club. I hope they think it's worthwhile.

Q: Do you think Neville has what it takes to regain his spot on the national team?
Q: I think he and Wes Brown are the best right fullbacks. Wes is out at the moment. Gary and Wes both have the problem now that Da Silva has just taken off. But all the players, Gary included, think he is fantastic. In my experience at this club, for a right back to come in and make such an impact is incredible. Gary did the same when he was a youngster, he was part of a group who came in and they were sort of a band of brothers. Da Silva has come in from Brazil, doesn’t speak the language that well, but understands football very well.
So Gary and Wes have a similar problem. If they're not getting regular games from me it makes it difficult for (England manager) Fabio Capello to pick them. I would. I have no problem with it, but Fabio doesn’t know them as well as I do.

Q: Are you looking ahead to the final at the expense of Gamba?
A: We want to win it and I hope I play the right team tomorrow. Sometimes you have to look a game ahead. I want to play a team that can beat Gamba Osaka, and then Sunday, if we’re in the final, I have different ideas.

Q: The No. 7 jersey has been a significant number at United over the years. What was the thought process behind giving it to Cristiano after the departure of David Beckham?
A: Well, No. 7 has been a special number at our club for many years. When Cristiano joined us, Beckham had just joined Madrid. There was an issue of who should get the No. 7 jersey, but I thought a young kid should get it, given that Beckham was a youngster who came through our system. We thought it would be more comfortable for a younger player to take the No. 7 jersey.
But I don’t think Cristiano would have considered it an advantage when he joined us. But over the five years he’s been with us, I’ve seen him develop into the player he is today. But he’s always had certain attributes that have pointed him towards greatness--his amazing skill factor, his speed and his courage.
And in the time he’s been with us, he’s developed what he needed to develop most: his decision-making.
He used to play center forward. And people in Portugal used to tell us he was a great goal scorer. When he first came to us we couldn’t see that. And all of a sudden he just blossomed. In the first season with us I think he scored 9 goals, the next season it was 13 or 14 and the next season it was 20. Then last year it was 42. And that is a testament to a young person who wants to do well. He improves himself by his own determination and ambition and by practicing all the time.

Copyright © C.G. Williams & Soccerphile.com

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Sir Alex gunning for world domination

Sir Alex gunning for world domination.
YOKOHAMA—A day after arriving in Japan to take part in the Club World Cup, Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson spoke to reporters on a range of subjects, from the team’s preparations to the Premier League's controversial idea of holding a 39th round of matches outside of England.
While Ferguson and his yawning retinue looked a little worse for wear after the 12-hour journey, the Scotsman was nevertheless in a jovial and talkative mood:

Q: What is your impression of this tournament compared to the former Toyota Intercontinental Cup, which you won in 1999 by defeating Palmeras?
A: We were the first British team to win (the Toyota Cup) in 1999, and we took great pleasure in it. It can be a great boost in prestige and that's why we want to win it again this year.
It's a very difficult tournament and there are many good teams here. Our game against Gamba Osaka I think will be a very good game.
It’s our first time in such a tournament. When we were here in 1999 against Palmeiras it was a one off. That's why I want to pick the right time for the first match because we very much want to play in the final.
We played the Urawa Reds twice in friendlies and we found them difficult because they were very energetic and technically sound.
Clubs in Japan have made tremendous improvements in technical and organization ability. And their stadia are fantastic thanks to the World Cup. It's a young country in terms of football, but it's an up-and-coming country. They have made terrific improvements.
I expect a very tough game on Thursday and it will hopefully be one we can navigate properly.

Q: What is your assessment of semifinal opponent and Asian champions Gamba, and what is the status of your squad at present?
A: I watched a video this morning of their game against Adelaide and we have a good idea of their game. It's always better to watch a competitive match like that rather than something with nothing on the line.
(Goalkeeper) Ben Foster broke his finger on Thursday in training. But I brought a full squad of 23 and that's why we watch our opponents so closely--so we pick the right team. I can always pick the wrong team, but I hope not to.

Q: There are many in the media who claim this tournament is a hindrance at this time of year. Your comments please.
A: I think the media don't take it as seriously as we do. I think we first took part in the intercontinental competition in 1968 when it was a one-off game, and up until four years ago that was the format. But world football has grown and countries like Japan, Korea and China have developed. And a world championship tournament requires more teams. It's an extra game for us but the prestige attached to it now is far greater than in the past.
Japan is a fantastic country, with fantastic facilities, a very comfortable hotel … everything is comfortable. Yes it's a 12-hour flight, but even that's comfortable. In twenty years’ time for us to look back and see that Manchester United were world champions is fantastic and that's why we've come here to win it.

Q: Which Gamba players do you consider to be the biggest threat?
A: (Midfielder Yasuhito) Endo is their star player. He scored their goal (in the 1-0 win over Adelaide United in the quarterfinals). And they changed his position from behind the striker to the left side but he was still influential.
Also the Brazilian Lucas. He is tall and quick with his feet, which is unlike most Brazilian players. He's very effective.
Two of their midfielders (Hayato Sasaki and Takahiro Futagawa) are also very good, but they will be missing due to injury and that will be tough on them.

Q: What is your secret to managing such a talented and diverse group of players?
The best way to judge it is that I have been at the club for 22 years and the experience is there. And once you handle one personality it prepares you for the next one that comes along. After a while it becomes quite easy. But the most important thing is that the manager's personality must be as strong as all the players.

Q: How have your preparations been, and how do you deal with jetlag with a Premier League showdown with Stoke City scheduled for Boxing Day?
A: Changing the body clock in such a short period of time is the most difficult thing.
We had the players up at 7 a.m. on Sunday morning and made sure they didn't sleep until the plane ride here. We'll change back on Thursday to British time again. The medical side is taken care of the medical staff and I am confident we are doing all that we can.

Q: So does the opportunity to play other clubs with other styles really outweigh the inconvenience of flying out here at such as busy time in the Premier League schedule?
A: Playing different opposition doesn't do us any harm, but the main point is that this is a chance to win a world title. We can become world champions in December but we can't win the Premier League title in December. It is a little bit of a handicap but that's what happens when you are successful. We're here because we won the European Championship and we hope to be in Abu Dhabi (site of the 2009 Club World Cup) next year. The incentives outweigh anything happening in the Premier League.

Q: If you had to play a 39th game in the EPL, which Asian city would you prefer to play it in?
A: I don't think there will be a 39th game, sorry. I'm not in favor of it. If you look at our domestic program, with all those cup competitions, I think it’s impossible.
If you ask me to pick a city I won't, because there are so many good ones in Asia and I don't want to offend anyone.
But I don't think there will ever be a 39th game and I don't think there should be.

Copyright © C.G. Williams & Soccerphile.com

Monday, December 15, 2008

Heart-break for Adelaide as Gamba go through

Heart-break for Adelaide as Gamba go through.
Gamba Osaka will take on Manchester United in a showpiece semi-final at the Club World Cup, after the Osakans saw off Adelaide United 1-0 in front of 38,141 fans at Toyota Stadium.

The J. League side did just enough to see off their Australian counterparts, however Adelaide can consider themselves unlucky after Aurelio Vidmar's men turned in a vastly improved performance from the one that saw United thrashed 5-0 by Gamba in the recent two-legged AFC Champions League final.

How different things might have been had Adelaide captain Travis Dodd not struck a golden opportunity agonisingly wide after fifteen minutes, after the pacy Dodd had done brilliantly to fashion his chance on the counter-attack.

Gamba made Adelaide pay for their profligacy, as the mercurial Yasuhito Endo then started and finished a move in the 23rd minute, with Endo's volley from early substitute Ryuji Bando's intelligent knock-down skidding through the legs of Adelaide's hapless keeper Eugene Galekovic.

There was more heart-break for the ubiquitous Dodd when his header came back off the crossbar just before half-time, as the Reds fought desperately for an equaliser.

Gamba controlled proceedings in the second half, and Brazilian striker Lucas Severino should have put the match beyond doubt when he fired straight at the legs of Galekovic.

Yet the South Australian side refused to surrender, and substitute Robert Younis and captain Dodd both saw efforts go narrowly wide in stoppage time, as Adelaide's evening came to a frustrating end.

Gamba talisman Yasuhito Endo claimed that he was impressed by Adelaide's display, stating that the A-League side had displayed their best qualities in the match.

That will come as scant consolation to Adelaide United, however, with the A-League side now having lost three times in a row to their J. League counterparts.

Copyright © Michael Tuckerman & Soccerphile.com

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Gamba Osaka v Adelaide United World Club Cup

38,141 supporters at a cold Toyota Stadium, just outside Nagoya, saw J-league Gamba Osaka eke out a narrow 1-0 win over A-League Adelaide United in the World Club Cup on Sunday night.



Gamba's contingent of fans were in fine voice throughout and so they should have been as their team now face European champions, Manchester United, in the next round.

Some of the fans seem to have divided loyalties however. One babe dressed in red Santa hat and hot pants was wearing a Cristiano Ronaldo Man Utd no. 7 shirt. Bless her!

Match report to follow.

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Saturday, December 13, 2008

Comeback kings Pachuca book semi-final showdown

Mexican club Pachuca have booked a semi-final showdown with Ecuador's LDU Quito in the 2008 Club World Cup, after they conjured a thrilling come-from-behind 4-2 victory to see off Egyptian side Al-Ahly in their quarter-final clash in Tokyo.

Al-Ahly raced out to a two-goal lead in front of an enthusiastic crowd at the National Stadium, as an own goal from defender Fausto Pinto and another from Angolan-born striker Flavio just before half-time gave the African giants a commanding lead at the break.

Pachuca coach Enrique Meza responded by introducing midfielders Juan Carlo Rojas and Luis Montes in the second half, and the move paid immediate dividends as Montes scored just two minutes after the restart, although his free-kick appeared to take a slight deflection on its way in.

Comeback kings Pachuca book semi-final showdown.
In a classic game of two halves Pachuca equalised through an even better set-piece from Argentine midfielder Christian Gimenez, as he blasted a free-kick over the wall and passed the despairing dive of Al-Ahly keeper Abdelhamid Amir with twenty minutes remaining.

The Mexicans enjoyed a wealth of possession in this match, but despite dominating the second half they were unable to conjure a winner.

Instead Pachuca rode their luck when Al-Ahly playmaker Mohamed Aboutrika went down in the box with eight minutes remaining, but rather than point to the spot Uzbeki referee Ravshan Irmatov opted to brandish a yellow card for simulation.

With a small pocked of Pachuca fans getting right behind their team and the chants of "Ole Tuzos!" ringing around the National Stadium, it appeared only a matter of time before Enrique Meza's team took the lead.

Al-Ahly had struggled to contain the pace and penetration of Pachuca's wide men all game, and with the Egyptians at sixes and sevens in defence the impressive Damian Alvarez turned the game on its head as he scored Pachuca's third eight minutes into extra time - although there was a hint of fortune as he benefited from two lucky ricochets before blasting home on the volley.

Forced to push every man forward in search of an equaliser, Al-Ahly conceded again in the second period of extra-time, as Christian Gimenez scored his second and Pachuca's fourth of the afternoon.

Al-Ahly were disconsolate in defeat but Pachuca fully deserved their win, with the Mexicans keeping their heads and displaying some impressive attacking football, despite being two goals down at half-time.

Pachuca's win sets up a dream semi-final showdown with South American representatives LDU Quito in Tokyo, and Pachuca will fancy their chances of coming out on top of that all Latin-American clash at the National Stadium.

Copyright © Michael Tuckerman & Soccerphile.com

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Thursday, December 11, 2008

PSV v Liverpool - Dr. Joel Rookwood



Consolidating a position at the summit of a league is becoming Liverpool Football Club’s established pattern of behaviour. With Saturday’s victory at Blackburn Rovers ensuring the men from Merseyside remain clear at the top of the Premier League, the next task involved securing first place in group D of the Champions League. This required subjecting PSV Eindhoven, a side who languish in fifth place in the Dutch Eredivision, to their fifth defeat in six European games.



On paper this did not seem particularly likely, when having already qualified for the so-called Super Sixteen round of Europe’s elite football competition, Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez unveiled his squad for the final European tie of 2008. The Brazilian Cavalieri replaced the dependable Pepe Reina in goal, with the unfancied Dossena, Leiva and Ngog also taking their place in the starting eleven. But it was the second half substitute appearances of inexperienced trio Stephen Darby, Martin Kelly and Jay Spearing coupled with the inevitable Liverpool victory that illustrated the gulf in class between the two squads. Liverpool could afford the luxury of offering young hopefuls valuable exposure to continental competition at the ‘highest level’, without compromising a result or the position of Liverpool Football Club. In truth however, this was as much an insult to PSV manager Huub Stevens and his squad, as it was to the credit of his opposite number Rafael Benitez.



Despite conceding the opening goal via a corner that never was, Liverpool recovered to level the game before half time. Lazovic’s opener was cancelled out by former Ajax winger Ryan Babel on his return to Holland. The Dutchman has experienced a dip in form in recent weeks, culminating in an ill-advised request for a loan move back to his former club. But having been told in no uncertain terms to forget about a temporary move away from Merseyside, Babel showed glimpses of guile in Eindhoven, heading Liverpool level in timely fashion during first half stoppage time. The second half illustrated more clearly the chasm in class that currently exists between the evening’s contestants. Albert Riera’s beautifully crafted strike gave Liverpool the lead midway through the second half, with French youngster David Ngog scoring his first goal for Liverpool twelve minutes from time. The third goal confirmed a result that the population of the Philips Stadium knew would prove an inevitability.



The midfield was orchestrated by Lucas Leiva and Javier Mascherano, who captained Brazil and Argentina respectively during the Olympic football tournament in Beijing. Whilst the commanding performance of the latter was expected, the influential role played by the former was considered more surprising by the 2000 Liverpool fans in attendance. The much-maligned Brazilian has not performed to the standards expected of a Liverpool player in recent months, but shone in Eindhoven, clearly relishing the limelight and a break from the incessant pressure that Premier League football brings by definition.



Disappointingly however, Robbie Keane could not add to the four goals his eighteen club appearances have produced thus far during this his debut season for Liverpool, making him a frustrated and frustrating player to watch at the moment. Apologists for the 28-year old Irishman advance claims that he is yet to be given the opportunity to excel in a Liverpool shirt, with Benitez regularly substituting the former Tottenham striker in the latter stages of matches. Yet by the time we were exiting the stadium on a bitterly cold evening in East Holland, it had become overwhelmingly obvious that Liverpool’s quest to remain at the Premier League summit heading into the concluding stages of the season, and to be a similarly commanding position in the latter phases of the European Cup rely on Liverpool’s strikers producing clinical form. As Liverpool look forward to next week’s Champions League draw in Nyon, everyone connected with the club knows the importance of the ten league games that lie between now and the next European fixture in February. If the club have held on to top spot by the time Inter Milan, Sporting Lisbon, Villarreal, Real Madrid or Lyon entertain Liverpool, Liverpudlians might be about to experience something very special indeed.

Adelaide United start with a whimper, not a bang

Adelaide United start with a whimper, not a bang.
A win is a win as they say, but Adelaide United showed little to suggest that they will be a match for Gamba Osaka in the quarter-finals of the 2008 FIFA Club World Cup.

The South Australians laboured to a 2-1 victory over semi-professional New Zealand outfit Waitakere United, but Adelaide had to come from behind to do so as midfielder Paul Seaman gave the Kiwis a shock 34th minute lead.

Five minutes later Adelaide United were back on level terms when an inswinging Paul Reid corner found the impressive Daniel Mullen, and the teenage full-back powered home a bullet header to level the scores before half-time.

Any thoughts of a second half stroll for Adelaide were quickly dispelled as a compact Waitekere defended in numbers and attacked on the break, with Fijian international Roy Krishna causing constant headaches for the United defence.

It wasn't until six minutes from time that Adelaide finally made the breakthrough as captain Travis Dodd flicked on Paul Reid's precise free-kick to end the scoring in the Australian team's favour.

The win came as an obvious relief to Reds coach Aurelio Vidmar, who was quick to praise Waitakere's gritty display.

"They're a smart footballing team with a smart coach and you can see that they've learnt a lot," said Vidmar of the team that also lost out in the same playoff match at the 2007 edition of the Club World Cup."

"They knew exactly how to play. They managed to get a goal and we had to learn to be a little bit patient and I was delighted that we came from behind."

A bullish Waitakere coach Chris Milicich told reporters that he needed just one more year to fashion the Auckland-based upstarts into a team capable of reaching the Club World Cup quarter-finals.

They came close to a monumental upset in this one, but ultimately it wasn't to be for the plucky Kiwi side.

Instead it is Adelaide United who march on, but they will need to improve dramatically if they are to have any chance of beating Gamba Osaka at Toyota Stadium in three days time.

Copyright © Michael Tuckerman & Soccerphile.com

J.League News

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Clock winds down on the FIFA Club World Cup in Japan

Clock winds down on the FIFA Club World Cup in Japan.
The fifth edition of the FIFA Club World Cup kicks off in Tokyo tonight, but for Japan the tournament marks the end of an era. In 2009 the competition will shift to Abu Dhabi, bringing an end to almost thirty years of intercontinental football in the Land Of The Rising Sun. It’s a switch that demonstrates the changing tides of world football.

The first intercontinental clash between European and South American champions took place as far back as 1960, when Spanish aristocrats Real Madrid beat Uruguayan giants Penarol in a home-and-away tie to be crowned the first unofficial world champions. Over the next twenty years a series of increasingly violent clashes saw some European clubs boycott intercontinental football, but a move to the National Stadium in Tokyo in 1980 revitalised the concept.

Played in front of packed houses at the home of the 1964 Olympic Games, the so-called Intercontinental Cup drew thousands of Japanese fans curious to catch a glimpse of top-class football in the days before the professional J. League kicked off. A generous sponsorship deal with Toyota ensured the financial viability of the fixture, and South American teams in particular looked forward to the trip to Tokyo, winning the first five one-off finals played on neutral territory, although their European counterparts did eventually catch up.

The death knell for the duel-continent format was sounded in 2000 when FIFA established a rival eight team Club World Championship in Brazil – leading to the curious position of two world champions being crowned in that year, as Boca Juniors beat Real Madrid in Tokyo, while Corinthians saw off Vasco da Gama in an all-Brazilian final in Rio. The latter was a tournament made infamous by Manchester United’s decision to withdraw from that season’s FA Cup in order to take part in Rio, with United under pressure from an English FA desperate to win hosting rights for the 2006 World Cup.

Bankruptcy of FIFA’s marketing firm ISL meant the tournament did not take place between 2001 and 2004, but with the game’s governing body keen to include a broader spectrum of its members for an intercontinental showdown, the 2004 Intercontinental Cup final – by now played at the 70,000-capacity Yokohama International Stadium – was to be the last of its kind. Fittingly FC Porto lifted the crown, beating Colombian minnows Once Caldas on penalties, as Europe and South America shared twelve wins each during the fixture’s history in Japan.

Since usurping the Intercontinental Cup in 2005, teams from Africa, Central America, Asia and Oceania have all taken part in FIFA’s revamped Club World Cup, but not surprisingly all finals contested have featured European and South American clubs. In 2007 the addition of a team from the J. League was intended to revive local interest in early round fixtures, but ironically no team has actually qualified through the league – with Urawa Reds and Gamba Osaka taking their place in the last two tournaments as reigning Asian champions. FIFA stipulates that only one team from the host country can take part, so the place intended for a J. League team has instead gone to Asian runners-up Sepahan and Adelaide United respectively.

Even the addition of Urawa Reds – Japan’s best-supported club – failed to lift attendances to any great heights in 2007. Some 12,000 empty seats greeted global broadcasters at Toyota Stadium when Urawa took on Sepahan in their opening match last year, although a Monday night kick-off against a team that the Reds had only just beaten to lift the Asian crown meant that hopes of a sell-out crowd were perhaps a tad optimistic. This year Gamba Osaka will make their Club World Cup bow on a Sunday night, and tournament officials will be delighted that their fans do not have quite as far to travel as Urawa fans did last year.

A more worrying scenario could potentially be the semi-final showdown at the National Stadium in Tokyo featuring Ecuador’s LDU Quito and the winner of the quarter-final clash between Egyptian giants Al-Ahly and Mexican upstarts Pachuca. The Ecuadorians are virtually unknown in Japan, but having denied ex-Urawa striker Washington an emotional return to Japan by beating Fluminense in last year’s Copa Libertadores final, tournament officials will hope that Japanese fans get behind the South American underdogs, otherwise their debut in Tokyo could be played in front of a half-empty stadium.

Attendance worries aside, the final Club World Cup to take place in Japan before its switch to Abu Dhabi means that the era of Japanese fans enjoying international calibre club football in their own backyard could be drawing to a close. Although the tournament will temporarily return to Japan for the 2011 and 2012 editions, the parameters of world football have gradually shifted, and the oil-rich Gulf States look best placed to cash in.

With Asian football’s headquarters reputedly on the move to the Gulf and Emirati sheiks investing previously unimaginable sums into English football, the days of Japan hosting the best of European and South American club football look to be winding down. Instead Japanese fans will have to content themselves with a circus of meaningless friendlies or, worse still, a dreaded “39th game.”

Copyright © Michael Tuckerman & Soccerphile.com

J.League News