Friday, January 30, 2009

Shock defeat ramps up the pressure on Japan coach Okada

Shock defeat ramps up the pressure on Japan coach Okada.
A shock 1-0 loss to Bahrain in Asian Cup qualifying has ramped up the pressure on Japan coach Takeshi Okada.

After struggling to see off Yemen 2-1 in their opening Asian Cup qualifier just over a week ago, Japan slumped to a disappointing defeat in Manama - not that anyone in Japan saw it.

For the first time in over a decade a Japan full international was not broadcast live on Japanese TV, after the Japan Football Association failed to reach an agreement with the Bahrain FA over broadcast fees.

Coach Okada will no doubt be pleased that Japan fans were denied the chance to see their team in action, as from all accounts the Blue Samurai turned in a desperately disappointing display.

Salman Issa struck the only goal of the game in the 24th minute at the National Stadium in Manama, and a Japan team missing creative midfielders Shunsuke Nakamura and Yasuhito Endo and striker Yoshito Okubo failed to break down a resolute Bahrain defence.

In the wake of the defeat Okada told Kyodo News, "there were a lot of misplaced passes in midfield and when you make a lot of mistakes things obviously do not go well. It's very disappointing to lose but we just have to look at this as a lesson learned ahead of Australia."

Japan's upcoming World Cup qualifier with Australia in Yokohama looms large for Okada, with growing disquiet surrounding his tenure in charge as national team coach.

The former Yokohama F. Marinos tactician could find his job on the line should Japan fail to record a satisfactory outcome against a team that is fast becoming one of the Blue Samurai's fiercest rivals.

Okada has mounting injury concerns with both Seigo Narazaki and Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi ruled out through injury - meaning that third-choice keeper Eiji Kawashima will continue between the posts.

Japan's last hit out before their Yokohama showdown is a friendly at the National Stadium in Tokyo against Finland, and Okada has named the following squad for both games;

Goalkeepers: Ryota Tsuzuki (Urawa Reds), Eiji Kawashima (Kawasaki Frontale), Takanori Sugeno (Kashiwa Reysol)

Defenders: Shuhei Terada (Kawasaki Frontale), Yuji Nakazawa (Yokohama F. Marinos), Kazumichi Takagi (Gamba Osaka), Marcus Tulio Tanaka (Urawa Reds), Yuichi Komano (Jubilo Iwata), Yuto Nagatomo (FC Tokyo), Michihiro Yasuda (Gamba Osaka), Atsuto Uchida (Kashima Antlers)

Midfielders: Shunsuke Nakamura (Celtic/SCO), Hideo Hashimoto (Gamba Osaka), Junichi Inamoto (Eintracht Frankfurt/GER), Yasuhito Endo (Gamba Osaka), Kengo Nakamura (Kawasaki), Daisuke Matsui (Saint-Etienne/FRA), Yasuyuki Konno (FC Tokyo), Makoto Hasebe (VfL Wolfsburg/GER), Shinji Kagawa (Cerezo Osaka)

Forwards: Keiji Tamada (Nagoya Grampus), Seiichiro Maki (JEF United), Yoshito Okubo (Wolfsburg/GER), Tatsuya Tanaka (Urawa Reds), Shinji Okazaki (Shimizu S-Pulse)

Copyright © Michael Tuckerman & Soccerphile.com

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Thursday, January 29, 2009

Carney's a Canary

Carney's a Canary.
Socceroo David Carney has reunited with former Sydney FC assistant Ian Crook after agreeing a deal to join Norwich City on loan until the end of the English domestic season.

He becomes Crook and new manager Bryan Gunn's first signing since they took charge of the Carrow Road club last week.

Carney has been out of favour with Sheffield United manager Kevin Blackwell this season after taking his place as one of three over-age players at the Beijing Olympics.

Despite playing 26 times for the Blades last year following his switch from Sydney FC, the 25-year-old hasn’t made a single league appearance this term with his senior national team spot coming under pressure from the returning Scott Chipperfield.

And Australia boss Pim Verbeek's recent warning to any Socceroos regulars not enjoying first team football at club level is the clear motivation behind Carney's transfer window move.

"With the World Cup coming up in 2010 he wants to have the chance to show what he can do so he has an opportunity of a place in the Australian squad," Gunn told the official Norwich City website.

"He has a tremendous left foot and is a confident goalscorer who is technically gifted."

Carney made 34 A-League appearances, scoring seven goals, and helped Sydney claim the inaugural league championship in 2005/06.

He was primarily used as a left winger, but has won the majority of his 17 national team caps as a left-back including as a member of coach Graham Arnold's 2007 Asian Cup squad.

"Ian gave a very high recommendation of David and his capabilities and was happy to recommend him to us," said Gunn.

"I know there were other clubs interested in him - both in this country and in Europe - and I really hope he is able to use his abilities to help us in the battle we have ahead of us."

Norwich are in relegation trouble after dropping to 19th place in the English Championship, 14 places below Sheffield United, the club Carney is under contact with until the end of the 2009/10 campaign.

Carney is expected to take his place in the club's squad for Friday's trip to fellow strugglers Doncaster Rovers.

Former Melbourne Victory central defender Adrian Leijer, now at English Premier League side Fulham, is another Australian being linked with a move to Norwich.

Copyright © Marc Fox and Soccerphile.com

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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Manchester, so much to answer for?

Manchester, so much to answer for?
"There was total confusion. Not one of them had a clear idea of what was going on, not a clue." 

Kaka's damning words confirmed the egg is stuck fast to the face of the blue half of Manchester, following a shockingly public humiliation which made City the laughing stock of the soccer world and a source of overflowing schadenfreude from Old Trafford to Olduvai. But are City really to blame for missing such an apparently open goal so embarrassingly?

According to La Gazzetta dello Sport, Italy's ineffable soccer daily, it was Bosco Leite, Kaka's father & Adriano Galliani, the Milan Chief Executive previously in favour of the sale, who pulled the plug.

The Blues did negotiate for a full seven hours in an effort to pull off the deal of the century, before nature demanded an interval.

Having agreed to meet again after breakfast in the morning, City Chief Executive Gary Cook was surprised to receive a late-night phone call ignoring his concerns and instead demanding he put his money on the table with a fat salary offer there and then.

Cook promised to email an offer in the morning, a pledge Leite and Milan chose to spurn. Italian PM and Milan president Silvio Berlusconi then materialized on television minutes later to announce Kaka would be staying at the San Siro. A dramatic transfer tale had run its course.

Manchester, so much to answer for?


Make no mistake, it was not Kaka's Christian faith which led him to walk away, nor was it the love of the red and black tifosi, whose public devotion to a millionaire sports star looked somewhat quaint if not deluded in 2009. Nor was his family's Italian homelife the clinching factor any more than the fact Milan are a top team and City aren't.

Before the whole move buckled, Kaka had spouted the usual platitudes about enjoying his current place of employment, but saying you are happy to stay is not the same as refusing to consider greener pastures.

Every player I have spoken to about transfer rumours repeats the cliché that they are happy where they are and love the wonderful fans, but in reality their ears are eagerly cocked in the hope of a better payday. Milan fans might fool themselves otherwise, but loyalty to the team badge is long gone. What more specious a sight can there have been than of Kaka grinning as he leant out of his window, Milan jersey in hand, as soon as the deal collapsed.

City are the definite losers in this. In labeling the Brazilian star's father as "unsophisticated, unprofessional and greedy," and in accusing the Kaka camp of "bottling it" after AC Milan had given the green light, Cook may well have been a pot calling the kettle black. If it truly was a Cook who spoilt the broth, then his mis-management has set owner Sheikh Mansour's world domination plan back at least a season.

Had Cook issued a politically-correct if unrevealing statement, regretting the collapse of the deal but expressing sympathy for Kaka's wish to stay put with his family, his club would still appear a respectable destination for the world's best.

Instead the Eastlands Chief Executive's angry reaction to the deal falling through hurt the name of the club just at the time it is seeking acceptance as a major player. The Kaka debacle coupled with Robinho's walk-out in the same week was appalling PR.

Yet however clanging City's faux pas with Kaka appeared, however jaw-droppingly their naivety at high table came across, their conduct must be judged alongside that of the player's father. It was Leite's impetuous approach which jarred with the English delegation and in trying to conclude an awesome deal slowly but surely, City surely deserve some credit and not just opprobrium.

Cook was no fool. He knew failure meant he would shuffle home without the big prize and an ocean of ridicule awaiting, but the alternative was to part hastily with £100m without having read the small print. Leite's role in his son's career was important to clarify, and the father's refusal to reveal the fine print of the whole Kaka machine must mean he had vested interests in not letting City market his boy.

Leite had come expecting a cash offer first and negotiations to follow, which would brush over his role. City on the other hand, had tried to wade through Kaka's impenetrable sponsorship commitments and image rights before talking transfer figures. Here was the impasse: City were frustrated at Leite's secrecy, and Leite that City would not tell him where their gold was stashed.

Before arriving in Italy, the Blues had allegedly offered 85 million Euros against a Milan valuation of 150 million, before they raised their bid to 110m. Leite and Milan, for their part, suspected City had changed their mind and would try to broker a smaller figure deal instead.

What transpires then is a cultural clash of business practices more than a nouveau riche dropping clangers on the big stage.

City have had their fingers burnt by this episode and have a job on their hands rebuilding their reputation if they want to snag the top-drawer players in the world.

The blame for the failure might not be theirs, but City's undiplomatic reaction paints them in many eyes as vulgar arrivistes, whose bank balance has gained them entry to the elite, but whose coarse upbringing has left them singularly lacking in the requisite airs and graces.

But they will get over this setback and find their feet as a big player in the market soon enough.

Craig Bellamy, who did join days later for an inflated fee, is more the type of player whom City should be aiming for. Ditto recent buys Wayne Bridge and Nigel De Jong, proven internationals without marquee millstones around their necks.

When such players help City challenge for Europe is the time the oil sheikhs should embark on a hunt for real galacticos. The club will have earned respect for its football and not just its bank balance.

It is still cheerful that a club starved of success should be trying to muscle into the closed shop of the Premier League's Big Four. City will learn from this first failed joust and the lucre is not about to vanish after one slap in the face.

The residual stench from this farrago has yet to disappear, yet queuing up to laugh at the Blues and pile all the blame onto their shoulders is to ignore the facts of how the deal of the decade disintegrated into a pile of caca.


© Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

All Change At KFA As New Year Starts

Chung and Bush share leaving office stories.

As the Year of the Rat gave way to the Year of the Ox in Seoul, Dr. Chung Myung-joon was finally herded out of his office as the head of the Korean Football Association (KFA) to be replaced by Cho Chung-yun.

It really was the end of an era. For the first time in 16 years, Dr. Chung did not be hand out New Year presents to staff at the KFA. Suave, sophisticated and a smooth operator, he is a well-known figure in the world of soccer and is still the vice-president of FIFA. In South Korea, he is just well-known. The son of Chung Ju-yung, the legendary workhorse, entrepreneur and founder of Hyundai, is a figure that, as Koreans say, has very wide feet.

Chung Junior is the boss of Hyundai Heavy Industries, is a member of congress and like his father, unsuccessfully ran for president. For a time in 2002, it looked as if he would make it to the Blue House only to fall with the end in sight. Chung instead became Roh Moo-hyun’s running mate but dropped out the day before Roh won the election in December 2002.

2002 was almost a dream year for Dr Chung. Six months earlier he basked in the national team’s success at the World Cup. He fully deserved the plaudits as he was the man credited with bringing the tournament to South Korea in the first place.

Despite the fact Japan started its campaign two years earlier, Chung threw himself into persuading the world that Korea was the place to be and he did so with energy and guile that even his father would have been proud of. He was vindicated in 1996 as Korea was awarded the tournament along with its neighbor across the East Sea. He was thrilled in 2002 when the team outdid Japan on the field and the nation did the same off it.

It has been a very happy 16 years for me,” Chung said as he departed. “It will be strange not to be the president any more but I am still vice-president of FIFA until 2011 and will be hard at work helping soccer develop.”

Chung’s other activities and connections proved effective in helping Korean soccer develop but that time has passed, or should have. More a businessman and politician than a football guy, Chung brought a new level of politics to KFA House, and another thing he was accused of bringing to the large building in the exclusive Seoul neighborhood of Shinmunro was a number of Hyundai men. It remains to be seen what influence he will continue to have at the KFA – he is now honorary boss – but for now, it is time to give Cho a chance to prove that he can be his own man.

He was certainly out on his own as the results of the election came in. Cho, who has been at the KFA since 1998, defeated rival Heo Seung-pyo in an election held last week by 18 votes to 10.

Thank you for choosing me as president of the KFA,” Cho said. “I am willing to listen to voices from seniors and juniors and I will embrace people who did not support me, as well as those who backed me to develop South Korean football,'' he added.

There are a number of issues that need to be looked into. The way the body goes about choosing its national team coach is clumsy. Last time round it was a major embarrassment played out in front of the world’s media as Dr. Chung dropped the ball and public rejections came from high-profile European coaches.

Broadcasting rights is an issue that was hard to solve given Chung’s connections with the big television networks in Yeoido. Finding the right broadcaster to work with, one that can promote and develop the game is something worth looking into. Improving facilities at the grass-roots and youth level is already happening but input from the top does no harm.

The biggest challenge though is for the new guy is to step out from the shadow and influence of the old guy. Chung Mark II is a possibility. But we will have to wait and see.

Copyright: John Duerden & Soccerphile

Friday, January 23, 2009

Football Connections: Chile and Palestine

Football Connections: Chile and Palestine.
Far from the tinderbox of the Gaza strip there’s a pocket of South America where you can see the Palestine flag flying high and football fans decked out in keffiyeh headdresses.

These fans are the loyal followers of Club Deportivo Palestino, a team that narrowly missed out on Chile’s Primera División last season. They lost to Colo Colo in the championship play-off decider and were denied the third league title of their history.

Chile has the largest population of displaced Palestinians outside the Middle East region and in 1920 a group of them decided to start a football team in Santiago. While in its infancy Palestino competed in the colonial championships of Osorno.

These days home games are played at Cisterna Municipality Stadium and a capacity crowd produces a 12,000 strong sea of red, green and black.

When a national league was established by the Federación de Fútbol de Chile in 1952 Palestino joined the second division and won an instant promotion to the top-flight.

Three years later they won the national championship under the guidance of former Argentine captain Guillermo Coll. Their only other title came in 1978 with a league and cup double, this time with legendary Chilean captain Elías Figueroa at the helm.

Another familiar face to have passed through the ranks at Palestino is former Chilean international midfield Clarence Acuña who had a spell at Newcastle United as well as appearing at 1998 World Cup for Chile.

Despite Palestine remaining unrecognised as a country by everybody from the United Nations to Myspace, FIFA has allowed a Palestinian national team compete in World Cup qualifiers for the last 10 years.

Faced with the problems of assembling a team able to compete within World Cup qualifiers the then Palestine national coach Nicola Shahwan hatched a scheme to tap into Chilean talent with Palestine heritage.

Players from Club Deportivo Palestino and others started to make themselves available for the Palestine national team. Players such as Roberto Kettlun, Pablo Abdulla and Roberto Bishara were able to take advantage of FIFA’s grandparents rule and became eligible to play for Palestine.

These player’s grandparents were not refugees from the 1948 war with Israel but instead Palestine Christians who were forced out by the Ottoman Empire in the 1920s.

The naturalisation of footballers to another country is not a new phenomenon, Alfredo Di Stefano switched his allegiances across the Atlantic many moons ago. Presently, Uruguayan born striker Sebastian Sona’s goals are helping Qatar towards a place at South Africa 2010.

Palestine’s Chilean contingent do however have a genuine historical connection with the area and their link courses through their veins.

Nicola Shahwan and the Palestine FA were finally in a position to field these Chilean-born players in the national team in time for the 2003 Pan Arab Cup in Kuwait.

The West Asian-South American axis of the side managed draws with Jordan, hosts Kuwait and Sudan. Defeat and elimination came after a 3-1 reverse against a strong Moroccan side.

Despite the exit Palestine won plaudits for combining flair and a physical approach which is now the blueprint for the country’s style of play.

Pablo Abdulla’s blond frizzy hair-do, reminiscent of Carlos Valderrama in his pomp, may have looked slightly out of place in Kuwait but the South American posse’s commitment to cause was there for all to see.

Nicola Shahwan had pulled off a masterstroke to get the Chileans involved and Palestine were able to fast forward the development of their national team.

There are seven Chilean-born players currently involved in the Palestine national set-up. They are Club Deportivo Palestino’s captain Roberto Bishara, Roberto Kettlun Pesce, Bruno Pesce, Luis Musrri, Francisco Alam, Edgardo Abdala, Leonardo Zamora.

Some of these names were able to line-up when Palestine played their first ‘home’ game in a newly built stadium in the West Bank last October. The match, attended by FIFA president Sepp Blatter, marked the team’s return from exile.

All of Palestine’s previous home games had been played in neighbouring Jordan and Qatar.

Since establishing the Chile connection the Palestine FA has made further efforts to recruit players eligible through ancestry. An advert in the German football magazine Kicker was taken out with the hope more players would step forward.

But nothing is straight-forward when it comes to Palestine. Two Croatian brothers, one playing in his National League and the other playing for Al Wahada in the Emirates say they received Death threats over the phone, and have refused to play.

With such singular stories it’s little wonder the Palestine football team has attracted filmmakers from all over the world to capture their unique struggle. One such film was a fly-on-the-wall style documentary by Chilean filmmaker Marcelo Pina

Pina grew up in a Chile under the control of General Pinochet and is also well aware of his homeland’s connection with Palestine. The filmmaker was able to use this knowledge and experience to empathise with the Palestinian people as he followed the team’s failed attempt to qualify for the 2006 World Cup.


“It’s not easy when you’re an occupied country. You can talk about how success in football can lift a nation, which is true, but it’s not that simple.

“There’s also the fact that Chile is home to a large population of people whose ancestors had emigrated to South America from Palestine. We now have the chance to highlight their problems. It goes beyond football. We want to show the world the difficulties faced by these people.” Said the Chicago based Pina.

Pina realised soon into his venture that the trials of the football team were rife with material which highlighting the problems ordinary Palestinians faced daily.

There were good times in the campaign such as two wins against Taiwan which included an 8-0 thumping but these moments were tempered by the tragedies which are an unavoidable part of life in Palestine.

Pina watched on as the Palestine captain, Saeb Jundiya, was pushed against a wall and searched by Israeli soldiers just two blocks from his home in Gaza.

“That was the second time in a couple of months it happened to him,” Pina remarked.

Another story involving Jundiya that Pina recalls is when the Palestine players had to think on their feet to reach their goal.

“After the Uzbekistan match, it took us 40 hours to cross the Egyptian border into Rafah. It was only 100 metres from the Egyptian side to the Palestine side. It was jammed with traffic that was not moving. So the players, with their luggage, had to travel that distance on donkey.” Pina said.


Frontman Ziad Al Kourd returned from this game to find his house in the Gaza Strip town of Dier al-Balah had been flattened by soldiers looking for arms-smuggling tunnels. Al Kourd has since been banned from travelling outside Gaza as he is deemed a security threat.

There is certainly more to Palestine football than the joke popular with English fans about being buried in the kit of a supremely talented Geordie. A people are trying their heart out to express themselves through football and this has brought them closer to their not so distant cousins in South American.

Tim Sturtridge

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

The J. League Awards - Best Players

The J. League Awards - Best Players.
Following on from Part I of Soccerphile's J. League awards, this time we take a totally biased and unobjective look at some of the best performers in the league in 2008.

Adopting a one-club, one-player rule meant several glaring omissions - the likes of Kashima's Daiki Iwamasa and Kawasaki's Chong Tese miss out, while others such as Yokohama F. Marinos stalwart Yuji Nakazawa and Tokyo Verdy's Diego were overlooked due to their team's lacklustre campaigns.

No goalkeepers made the list - this is a top ten, after all - and it's a top ten full of grit and guile, with a few surprises thrown in as well.

Without further adieu, here's Soccerphile's 2008 J. League top ten.

10. Hidekazu Otani - Kashiwa Reysol

They may have only finished eleventh in the standings, but Kashiwa's redoubtable captain was a model of consistency for the Chiba-based side.

Demonstrating considerable versatility, Otani operated as either a full-back or a midfield anchor man and his defence-splitting passes and splendid vision were also responsible for much of Kashiwa's best attacking play.

As long as he's at Kashiwa then Otani is always likely to fly under the radar, but new coach Shinichiro Takahashi can expect nothing less than 100% commitment from Kashiwa's outstanding young skipper in 2009.

9. Yuto Sato - Kyoto Sanga

How JEF United could have done with cast-off Yuto Sato during their epic struggle against the drop.

As it was, Kyoto Sanga picked up a real gem in the one-time Japan international and alongside Brazilian veteran Sidiclei, Sato was rock-solid in midfield for the team from the former imperial capital. Another of the league's most under-rated players, Sato went about his business with minimum fuss and maximum efficiency.

He started every single league game for Kyoto, and his cool-head and experience - not to mention a fluid passing game and gritty determination - were largely responsible for Kyoto avoiding relegation with relative ease.

8. Davi - Consadole Sapporo

After netting 17 goals in J2 during their successful 2007 promotion run, Consadole's mercurial striker Davi picked up where he left off in the top flight as he banged home 16 goals in 26 appearances... for a team that finished dead last.

It wasn't just the volume of goals that impressed, as the Brazilian reached into his bag of tricks to turn on the style with several virtuoso strikes.

Ill-discipline eventually let him down as the temperamental front man lost it with both referees and his hapless team-mates - but it hasn't cost him personally - with Davi sealing a lucrative switch to AFC Champions League combatants Nagoya Grampus for the coming season.

7. Yoshito Okubo - Vissel Kobe

2008 was a mixed year for Vissel Kobe's enigmatic Yoshito Okubo, with the Japan international switching from the sublime to the downright stupid in giddying fashion.

Widely condemned for a brutal attack on Oman goalkeeper Ali Al-Habsi during a World Cup qualifier in June, a bemused Okubo then found himself selected as an overage player in Japan's Olympic squad without his club's consent - only to have Vissel turn down the Japan Football Association's invitation.

On the pitch 2008 wasn't Okubo's most prolific campaign - not the least because the former Real Mallorca player dropped back from a striking role to act as a playmaker midway through the campaign - but Okubo was as effective as ever for the Kansai side, chipping in with vital goals, contributing assists and eventually earning himself a multi-million euro transfer to German outfit VfL Wolfsburg.

6. Marcus Tulio Tanaka - Urawa Reds

Love him or loathe him - and there are plenty in either camp - Marcus Tulio Tanaka was once again inspirational for Urawa Reds.

Deployed at the start of the season as a holding midfielder, Urawa's "everywhere-man" then dropped back into his customary role as a combative central defender. The Brazilian-born Japan international also charged forward at every opportunity, with Urawa's lack of firepower up front as much to blame for the Reds' poor season as anything.

His individual displays might not always encompass perfection, but few could question Tulio's commitment to the cause, although some Reds fans could be forgiven for tiring of the histrionics that are always quick to bubble to the surface.

5. Yasuhito Endo - Gamba Osaka

Like a fine wine, Yasuhito Endo seems to get better with age.

The diminutive midfielder was in sparkling form in 2008, and although his team only finished eighth in the J. League, the Japan international was largely responsible for firing his team to an AFC Champions League and Emperor's Cup double.

Endo's influence cannot be overstated given their goal-shy attack, and it is the midfield wizard who cajoles and coaxes the best out of his team, with his incisive passing and unparalleled set piece ability.

4. Hiroyuki Taniguchi - Kawasaki Frontale

Kawasaki Frontale possess such an array of attacking talent that Hiroyuki Taniguchi seems an unlikely choice as their best. Yet the Beijing Olympian enjoyed a stellar campaign in 2008 - capped by an impressive ten league goals from midfield.

Taniguchi possesses more than just goal-scoring instincts, as he constantly harrasses and harries opponents and gets up and down the pitch with his all-action style.

He could add some more discipline to his game, and occasionally his tactical and positional awareness lets him down, but with room for improvement the youngster looks one of the bright sparks of Japanese football.

3. Masato Morishige - Oita Trinita

If Oita's outstanding 2008 was based mainly on defence, then youngster Masato Morishige should take most of the plaudits for the Kyushu-based side.

Playing alongside the more experienced Yuki Fukaya and Taikai Uemoto, the Beijing Olympian was a tower of strength at the back and a constant menace from set pieces, while Morishige tasted the first success of his career as Oita lifted the League Cup crown.

Oita conceded a miserly 24 goals in 34 league games - the best defensive record in the top flight. With Morishige marshalling proceedings at the back the southern club look to be in safe hands, although the 21-year-old is bound to attract attention from some of the league's bigger outfits.

2. Yoshizumi Ogawa - Nagoya Grampus

At times overshadowed by his more illustrious team-mate Magnum, Nagoya's dynamic Yoshizumi Ogawa enjoyed a superb 2008.

The pacy midfielder demonstrated his prowess in front of goal - he scored 11 times in the league - but it was his penetrative wing play and excellent vision that set up countless opportunities for Nagoya strikers Frode Johnsen and Keiji Tamada. Indeed, had Ogawa been afforded more support in the second half of the season, Nagoya could be polishing their first ever J. League trophy by now.

As it was Grampus were forced to settle for third and a place in next season's AFC Champions League. Ogawa wasn't left empty handed, as he was named the J. League's Rookie Of The Year, and deservedly so.

1. Marquinhos - Kashima Antlers

In his eighth season in Japanese football, Brazilian striker Marquinhos finally found his rhythm at his fifth J. League club in the form of Kashima Antlers.

The season got off to a strange start for the 32-year-old when he missed two penalties on the opening day against Consadole Sapporo. It's how he finished that matters, as the Brazilian plundered 21 goals in 30 starts on the way to lifting back-to-back J. League titles with the Ibaraki giants.

It wasn't just for his goals that Marquinhos was named the J. League's Most Valuable Player, as the much-travelled front man demonstrated considerable maturity to help his team to the title, particularly when Kashima lost captain Mitsuo Ogasawara to a season-ending injury.

In a successful year for Kashima Antlers, Marquinhos was the key, and he wins the Soccerphile gong as the best player in the 2008 J. League campaign.

Copyright © Michael Tuckerman & Soccerphile.com

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Novice Socceroos with big shoes to fill

Novice Socceroos with big shoes to fill.
Pim Verbeek has explained some glaring absences in his latest Socceroos squad by saying he's made his choices based on recent domestic form and not international reputation.

Just six previously capped players adorn Verbeek's 21-man travelling party for the opening Asian Cup 2011 qualifier in Jakarta next Wednesday with only two - captain Craig Moore and striker Archie Thompson - possessing any degree of senior international experience.

Top drawer midfielder Jason Culina will come into the Asian Cup qualifying equation at the end of the European season when he joins newcomers Gold Coast United on a three-year marquee deal.

However, that still leaves the Dutchman's cupboard a little bare for the group games against Indonesia this month and Kuwait in March, forcing his selection of a rookie group of national team L-platers.

The squad includes 33-year-old Melbourne Victory midfielder Tom Pondeljak, who won his previous four Socceroos caps in one spell in 2002, well before the arrival of Verbeek. Queensland's Matt McKay was also recalled.

But the greater headlines were generated by those players left out. Newcastle's star turns have clearly been punished for the Jets' terrible championship defence with twins Joel and Adam Griffiths, Mark Milligan and goalkeeper Ante Covic all omitted.

Milligan and Covic were part of Guus Hiddink's 2006 World Cup squad with the 'keeper's absence particularly confusing given none of Verbeek's three replacements have previously enjoyed a taste of senior action.

Covic's Socceroos career is now surely finished.

Adelaide's Sasa Ognenovski will also never experience playing for the green and gold, with the Melbourne-born central defender heading to K-League club Seongnam Ilhwa at the end of the season expressing a preference to play for Macedonia over than his homeland.

But perhaps the biggest surprise is Sydney midfielder Stuart Musialik's fall from grace.

Granted the pre-season title favourites saw their hopes of a place in the A-League finals series extinguished by defeat in Queensland over the weekend. But the 23-year-old was expected to win a berth in Verbeek's party and the snub must be particularly galling.

Musialik had long been whispered as a senior national team figure and was one of seven A-League players called up for Australia's pre-World Cup qualifier training camp last October. He is the only one of the septet not retained for this squad.

The deep-lying playmaker last week predicted the bottom clubs, of which Sydney have surprisingly been one this year, might not feature heavily in Verbeek's thinking. But John Kosmina's side will be represented by first year professional Shannon Cole.

Cole seems highly regarded despite only a recent rise to the top flight in Australia.

Verbeek is a huge fan of his versatility while a Times article by respected football writer Gabriele Marcotti over the weekend placed Cole above the likes of Bruce Djite, James Holland and Matthew Spiranovic as Australian football's chief rising star.

“It’s one of those things where you hear people say all the time, if you told me this 12 months ago I would have said you were crazy, so it goes without saying that it’s not something that I expected at all or considered,” a breathless Cole revealed.

Perth's Nikita Rukavytsya is on standby in Europe because he's in the midst of a month-long trial with FC Twente.

Meanwhile, goalkeeper Danny Vukovic is back from the wilderness after a domestic ban for striking a referee, as is Central Coast Mariners team-mate Dean Heffernan following a horrendous year with injury.

Squad:

Goalkeepers: Eugene Galekovic, Michael Theoklitos, Danny Vukovic

Defenders: Robert Cornthwaite, Tarek Elrich, Dean Heffernan, Scott Jamieson, Craig Moore, Matt Thompson, Nikolai Topor-Stanley, Rodrigo Vargas

Midfielders: Billy Celeski, Shannon Cole, Matt McKay, Tom Pondeljak, Paul Reid, Michael Zullo

Strikers: Daniel Allsopp, Dylan Macallister, Matt Simon, Archie Thompson

Copyright © Marc Fox and Soccerphile.com

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Monday, January 19, 2009

Kaka - you belong to Milan

Barnet, of England’s League Two, have a playing field which is notoriously not level. Games at Underhill, where Arsenal’s reserves also play, can make for entertaining goal-fests but the slope means it sometimes ‘just isn’t cricket’, let alone football.

There is also something clearly surreal about the Kaka saga, whose intricacies have dominated soccer talk this week like a high-profile trial. Because money talks, the deal is more likely to happen than not as long as Sheikh Mansour plonks his loose change on the table, drunk on the dream.

The latest news appears to imply Kaka will be staying at the San Siro, after unsuccessful negotiations in Milan, but City will not give up until their self-imposed deadline of the 28th of January passes. They have too much money not to throw around.

It may be hard for us recessive Europeans to grasp, but Arabs really do have money to burn. In my other job, I meet many a sheikh and an oligarch so Roman Abramovich and Sheikh Mansour’s playboy approaches to football do not shock me. As sweet as it is to see Silvio Berlusconi and Roman Abramovich eating humble pie, this transfer is still the wrong move.

In favour of the move are feelings that AC Milan deserve some of their own medicine after plundering other clubs for years and that Manchester City’s defeat-hardened fans deserve a chance of success for once.

But another crazy-money capture only adds to the too-easily dismissed arguments for a salary cap across UEFA.
Kaka himself may have been in tears this weekend, but his paymasters, AC Milan chief Adriano Galliani and de facto boss Silvio Berlusconi, appear to be ushering him out the door with Euro signs in their eyes. There is nothing illegal about Milan selling their ace, but it breaks unwritten laws of football.

The fact City are four points from the drop zone of challenging for Europe makes this Abu Dhabian folly impossible for the true fan to accept. More than Alf Common’s record-smashing four-figure move in 1905, more even than the Russian revolution at Chelsea -“Terremoto (Earthquake) Abramovich”, as La Gazzetta dello Sport called it, Kaka’s move to Manchester has upset the natural order of the Beautiful Game.

Leave aside the fact that the Brazilian’s salary and transfer fee are obscene at a time of depression in England, and televised suffering elsewhere in the world: In purely footballing terms, this is a bad deal. Unlike Chelsea, Champions League qualifiers and one of England’s top teams when Roman Abramovich’s yacht dropped anchor in 2003, Manchester City remain real underachievers.

This is the straw which should break the back of the camel, before it can enter the eye of a needle: Kaka’s move makes no sense for him in football terms. The boy from Brasilia is 26 and at the height of his powers. One of the world’s best players at one of the world’s best teams, he should not be departing the game’s premier club competition (the UEFA Champions League) and lowering his sights to join a team doddering four points above their drop zone, whatever his super-remuneration will be.

Man City need steel in defence and grit in midfield before they need a Kaka. In fact a major reinforcement in all areas is required to challenge for the Champions League and overtake established rivals with a team built from scratch, a target which seems surely out of reach for next season. And there is no guarantee the Arab arrival will bear sudden fruit. A quick transformation from PL strugglers to CL contenders? I doubt it. In England alone there are five other clubs who will have a lot to say about any new kids on the block.

Kaka at City just does not bode well. The Blues from the Eastlands already have three Brazilians who have fallen out at various times with their coach, and the rainy North-West of England is still no cultural breeze for South Americans, however open-minded and adventurous the well-bred Ricardo Izecson dos Santos Leite is. The expectation level will be enormous on one man and unless there five or six other big-money buys, it could all end in more tears.

For the man at the epicenter of this whole shebang, the risk of failure is just too high.
The sporting world is full of examples of the best players leaving the big stage for a fatter pay cheque, particularly in the days when amateur competition existed alongside professional sports.

Pancho Gonzales was the best men’s tennis player for much of the ‘50s and ‘60s but was excluded from the big tournaments because he played for money. Amateur Rugby Union was resigned to losing its best players to professional Rugby League until it turned pro in 1995, while boxing is a clear case of a pure sport tainted, if not ruined, by the green.

Fans and football’s natural order are upset. I should perhaps be glad one of the world’s best players could be on his way to one of the Premier League’s weaker teams instead of to one of the Big Four, but Kaka’s move to Man City almost makes me want to give up following the game I grew up loving.

Rival clubs do not need wage inflation in a time of recession, and supporters do not want to be told the game is only about money, even if it actually is. We would like to think skill, tactics, desire and coaching still have some bearing on soccer success. But the Kaka deal will definitely happen if the money is right. Milan will take the bait, but what about the player?

Saying your favorite book is the Bible and wearing Christian t-shirts for the cameras leaves one inevitably open to scrutiny. So has Kaka read Jesus’ words in Matthew 19:23-24 (or indeed in Mark 10:24-25 or Luke 18:24-25) – "I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven…it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."

Money can only be your prime motivation in moving down a peg on the career ladder, so don’t be a hypocrite now, Kaka. You don’t have to move to Manchester City. Don’t be bullied by Berlusconi. Respect the wishes of the fans who made all those banners in your honor at the San Siro this weekend and who have marched in protest because they love you so much.

Stay where you are happy, where your family is settled, where you will have the best chance of trophies and where the sun does not shine only on TV. Think of the respect you will earn in Milan instead of the money you could earn in Manchester. Read Jesus’ words again and don’t fix what ain’t broke. Consider it God’s will and he will look after you. You could regret risking it all at Eastlands but you won’t regret staying at Milan.

Go on, prove to us there is more to soccer, and life in 2009, than just money.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

World Soccer News

Friday, January 16, 2009

Preview: South American under-20 championships

For those looking for a sneak preview of the names that will light up World Cups and the UEFA Champions League in the near future it’s eyes down for a full house in Venezuela.

Scorching heat and searing ambition mark the kick-off of the South American under-20 championships in the north-east tip of the continent.

From January 19th through to February 8th youngsters from the top 10 Latin American footballing countries will contest the championship. As well as aiming to achieve glory for their nations the players will also be hoping to leave their mark on the scouts in the stands.

A host of luminaries have already chosen the Suamericano tournament to showcase their talent to the world. Enzo Francescoli, Romario and Adriano have all topped the goal scorers chart at this prestigious championship.

With so much pride at stake the super-powers of South America never take this competition lightly. Brazil have won the tournament a record nine times, Uruguay have seven titles and Argentina have bagged four along the way.

This year’s championship will be contested in three stadiums throughout Venezuela. The three stadiums will be Puerto Ordaz, Maturin and Puerto La Cruz which were all put to use when Venezuela hosted the 2007 Copa America

Venezuela stepped in to host this tournament when Peru were stripped of their right to play host by FIFA last year due to political interference from their football association.

The competition’s format is two initial groups of five teams which play each other once. Group A is made up of Argentina, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia and hosts Venezuela. Group B contains Brazil, Uruguay, Chile, Bolivia and Paraguay. As with every group stage competition the championship has a ‘group of death’ and that tag is bestowed on Group B in Venezuela.

The top three sides in each group then proceed to a final group stage of six teams. The country on top after this six team round-robin will be crowded the 2009 South American under-20 champions.

Only the four top teams from the event will qualify for the FIFA under-20 World Cup in Egypt later this year. Seven of the last eight winners of this youth World Cup have been CONMEBOL sides.

In total the competition will feature a whooping 35 games, an ample dose for any football fan with an eye on the latest players to drop off the South American production line and into Europe’s top leagues.

Team-by-team insight:


Argentina

The Albiceleste come into the tournament with a very strong pedigree. The winners of the under-20 FIFA World Cup in Canada two years ago have Argentina’s 2008 Olympic gold medal coach Sergio Batista in charge. Even though Franco Di Santo and Pablo Piatti have not been released by Chelsea and Almeria respectively the squad is still as strong as any at the competition. Batista was able to prize away Emiliano Insua, the left-back who was enjoying a run in Liverpool’s first team in the Premier League.


One to watch: Eduardo Silva (Lanus)


Bolivia

Oscar Villegas has kept together the majority of the under-17 group which excelled in their age bracket two years ago in Ecuador. Several of the team are also first team regulars for clubs in the Bolivian top-flight. Villegas has been brave enough to include three 16-year-olds in his squad who he believes are ready to step up. Anyone who doubts Bolivia’s ability to go far at the tournament can’t have seen their recent friendly defeat of Argentina.


One to watch: Diego Suárez (Dynamo Kiev)


Brazil

The holders of the South American under-20 championships are never likely to field a weak side. The man in charge of the current Canarinha is national boss Dunga’s right hand man Rogério Moraes Lourenço. All of Brazil’s squad play in their homeland courtesy of the legislation which now makes it illegal for players to ply their trade abroad before their 18th birthday. It’s not even as if the national side were struggling, with seven World Cup titles in the under-20 and under-17 categories already beside their name. The Brazilian youth teams have also managed to collect silverware at a further seventeen South American tournaments.


One to watch: Douglas Costa (Gremio)


Colombia

A tricky task lies ahead for Colombia as first they try to advance from the initial group stage. Coach José Helmer Silva has only recently taken up the post and must organise his troops well if they are to stand any chance in the competition. Failure to qualify for the last under-20 World Cup could provide the spur needed for the only nation to have broken Brazil and Argentina’s dominance of this competition in the last 25 years. Another plus for the Colombians is that their fans do not have far to travel and should turn out in numbers to support their team.


One to watch: Camilo Vargas (Independiente Santa Fe)


Chile

Expectation is high in Chile after the country finished third in the under-20 FIFA World Cup in Canada three years ago. The trouble is that coach José Sulantay and most of the team have since moved on. Replacement coach Ivo Basay must work with the players he has at his disposal to manage expectations as best as he can. Chile have already been robbed of the influential Eduardo Vargas who was forced to withdraw with an injury.


One to watch: Marcos Medel (Audax Italiano)


Ecuador

Many of Ecuador’s squad have already tasted success when their country scooped the gold medal at the Pan-American Games two years ago in Rio de Janeiro. Coached by Julio Caesar Rosero, known simply as The Emperor, Ecuador will be going all out to bag one of the four under-20 FIFA World Cup spots up for grabs. Anything less than qualification for the tournament in Egypt later this year would be viewed as a disappointment for this talented bunch.


One to watch: Joao Rojas (Tecnico Universitario)


Paraguay

With the senior team riding high in the qualifying group for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa it is hoped that success can trickle down to the under-20 squad. Paraguay have not won this competition since 1971 and have failed to reach the last two under-20 World Cups. Argentinean Adrián Coria coaches a team with players who have already left Latin America to play in Europe.


One to watch: Fernando Duarte (Vasco da Gama)


Peru

The Incas have the son of one of their favourite sons in charge of their team at these championships. Although Héctor Eleazar 'Tito' Chumpitaz has never coached at the top level it is hoped he will provide the magic to steer Peru to some level of success. The players will also have extra motivation to succeed after their country was robbed of its right to host the tournament after a dispute with FIFA. Further bad news came for Peru when striker Jairsinho Baylón was ruled out for four months and so misses the championships.


One to watch: Carlos Zambrano (Schalke 04)


Uruguay

Legendary Uruguayan striker Diego Aguirre leads the Celeste in their quest for glory in the 2009 under-20 South American championships. The trophy has eluded Uruguay for the past 27 years but now the country can boast a side with genuine aspirations of bringing the silverware back to Montevideo. Certainly coach Aguirre is not thinking just of World Cup qualification but “to win the Sudamericano” trophy which has escaped his country’s grasp since 1981.


One to watch: Jonathan Urretavizcaya (Benfica)


Venezuela

The hosts will surely never have a better chance to qualify for their first under-20 FIFA World Cup as they are cheered on by their home crowd in every match. The fact that the head coach of the senior team, Caesar Farías, is taking charge of the side for this tournament is testament to how important a good showing is to the nation of Venezuela. With squad members already snapped up by clubs in Italy and Spain the team should be good enough to stay in the competition long enough to keep the locals interested. Also local laws mean more young players now play in the Venezuela First Division and this is bearing fruit for the youth squad.


One to watch: Rafael Acosta (Cagliari)

© Tim Sturtridge & Soccerphile.com

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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Fifa World Rankings January 2009

Fifa Rankings.
In a quiet month, with no changes in the top 14 teams, European champions Spain stay top of this month's Fifa world rankings followed by Germany and the Netherlands in 3rd. England stay in 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 Egypt
16 Ukraine
17 Nigeria
18 Paraguay
19 Israel
20 Greece

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The J. League Awards

The J. League Awards.
With the Japanese season currently ensconced in its long winter hibernation, it's time to look back on some of the movers and shakers of the 2008 season, as Soccerphile hands out its J. League awards!

Team of the year - Oita Trinita

Both Kashima Antlers and Gamba Osaka deserve accolades - the former for winning back-to-back J. League titles and the latter for lifting an AFC Champions League/Emperor's Cup double.

But few could begrudge the nomination of Kyushu club Oita Trinita as team of the season.

Not only did coach Pericles Chamusca transform his outfit from potential relegation candidates to a genuine title contender, but he also lifted the first ever J. League trophy in Kyushu's football history, as Oita Trinita lifted the 2008 Yamazaki Nabisco League Cup crown.

They were rarely pretty to watch - Oita combined the best defence in the league with one of the most goal-shy attacks - but they enriched Japanese football by threatening the hegemony of teams from the Kantō plain. Long may it continue.

Best stadium - Nack5 Stadium Omiya

The name might be tragic, but Omiya Ardija's revamped Omiya Park Stadium wins the gong for the best new top-flight ground - by virtue of the fact that it's the only new top-flight ground.

It was actually inaugurated towards the back end of the 2007 campaign, but this being Omiya's first full season in their new home, the Squirrels earn the crown of best stadium on the basis of a compact design, excellent sightlines and the wonderful standing terraces behind the goals.

Now if Omiya could only fill it to its 15,500 capacity on a regular basis, it may just become the fortress that Ardija officials were originally hoping for.

Best supporters - JEF United

Whether from Chiba, Ichihara or anyone else within the region, JEF United fans packed Fukuda Denshi Arena on a consistent basis, despite the fact that their team spent virtually the entire campaign languishing in the relegation zone.

Full houses at home lead to crucial victories over the likes of Kashima Antlers and Urawa Reds, and when United went 2-0 down to FC Tokyo on the final day in a match they had to win in order to avoid relegation, their legion of yellow-clad fanatics willed the team home to an incredible 4-2 come-from-behind victory.

Ultimately JEF United stayed up by the seat of their pants, and some of the credit should go to their vociferous supporters.

Worst kit - Tokyo Verdy

Tokyo Verdy's monochrome eyesore was a blight on the league. If the dire football on display from Tetsuji Hashiratani's team didn't have neutral fans praying for their relegation, then Verdy's garish green garb surely did.

Biggest dummy spit - Marcus Tulio Tanaka

Marcus Tulio Tanaka's laughable post-match dummy spit after Gamba Osaka had beaten Urawa Reds at Saitama Stadium in May was hilarious... until Tulio's incredible outburst lead to a nasty clash between Reds and Gamba supporters that resulted in 30 million yen worth of fines handed down to both clubs.

Tulio and Urawa team-mate Ryota Tsuzuki top the standings for the most "hysterical dummy spits" in the league, although Reds fans themselves earn a mention for the deafening jeers they lavished on their team following Urawa's stunning final-day 6-1 home defeat to bitter rivals Yokohama F. Marinos.

Worst signing - Marcos Aurélio

Hard to look beyond Shimizu S-Pulse striker Marcos Aurélio, whose zero goals scored despite being the top-paid player at the club inevitably lead to his departure to Brazilian side Coritiba at the end of the season.

Most frequent flyer - Gamba Osaka

Gamba Osaka coach Akira Nishino could be forgiven for despising the sight of airport lounges after his team set off on a jet-setting cavalcade that would have made Marco Polo blush.

After winning the pointless Pan-Pacific Championships in Hawaii last February, Gamba's main source of travel was the AFC Champions League, in which Gamba remarkably won every single one of their away games on trips to Australia, South Korea, Thailand and Syria, as Gamba deservedly lifted the Asian crown.

They also won the Emperor's Cup for good measure, although an eighth place finish in the league provides an ominous warning for those wishing to achieve success both at home and abroad.

Thanks for coming - Consadole Sapporo

No team has been as unprepared for top flight football since, well, Yokohama FC the season before. Yet Consadole Sapporo were always going to face an uphill task.

Their collection of Hokkaido-born misfits and loan-signing cast-offs got off to an inauspicious start when they were belted 4-0 by Kashima Antlers on the opening day - Kashima missed two penalties in that game - and things rarely got much better as Sapporo notched up a mildly embarrasing four wins for the season.

Japanese football is stronger for the presence of the Hokkaido-based side, but until they can sort out some stable finances and uncover some more locally-produced talent, Consadole could struggle to gain a foothold in the top flight.

Most predictable comeback - Sanfrecce Hiroshima

Sanfrecce Hiroshima's romp through the Second Division was as predictable as it was unnecessary.

The southern outfit should never have been relegated in the first place, but after losing the 2007 promotion/relegation playoff to a plucky Kyoto Sanga, Sanfrecce quickly set about pulverising all and sundry on their way to amassing 100 points and 99 goals in J2.

Lead by the prolific Hisato Sato and with a team containing such young talent as Yosuke Kashiwagi and Yojiro Takahagi, Sanfrecce fans will hope to put behind them a wasted year in the bottom tier as Hiroshima look to re-establish themselves back in the top flight.

Biggest heartbreakers - Vegalta Sendai

If Montedio Yamagata winning promotion to the top-flight was the feel-good story of the J2 campaign, then Vegalta Sendai's narrow playoff defeat to Jubilo Iwata earns the "heartbreak award"

The popular northern club are always in the thick of the promotion chase in J2, yet Vegalta constantly seem to fall at the final hurdle.

There's no doubt they have the resources available to clamber back to the promised land, but year after year of setbacks is surely taking its toll, and with the Second Division tougher than ever to get of, it could be a while yet before the citizens of Sendai have the chance to watch J1 football again.

Stay tuned for the next installment when Soccerphile unveils its ten best players of the season.

Copyright © Michael Tuckerman & Soccerphile.com

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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

2010 World Cup Ticket Prices

All prices are in US dollars. Tickets will go on sale in February, 2009

Matches Category 1 Category 2 Category 3 Category 4
Opening Match $450 $300 $200 $70
Group matches $160 $120 $80 $20
Round of 16 $200 $150 $100 $50
Quarter finals $300 $200 $150 $75
Semi finals $600 $400 $250 $100
Third Place $300 $200 $150 $75
Final $900 $600 $400 $150

Monday, January 12, 2009

Spray of sunshine for Argentina’s Primera División

Spray of sunshine for Argentina’s Primera División.
When Argentina's Primera División commences next month referees will be armed with a vanishing spray to keep defensive walls ten-yards back at free-kicks.

The aim is that refs will pace out the yards at dead-ball situations and spray a line on the ground to stop the defenders from encroaching on the set-piece taker.

The line on the pitch will then disappear within a minute without leaving a lasting trace on the pitch. The scheme was successfully trialed in the second division last season and now the Argentina Football Association (AFA) has approved its use in the top flight.

The spray is contained in a 115 gram light weight aerosol can which means referees can carry it on them at all times. It is hoped that the scheme will speed play up by preventing the common disputes which crop up at dead-ball situations.

The AFA hopes the measure will put an end to the days of retaken free-kicks and needless bookings for walls creeping too close to the ball.

The invention is the brainchild of sports journalists Pablo Silva who first had the idea eight years ago when playing in an amateur league.

Silva’s team were 1-0 down when they got a free-kick on the edge of the box in the dying minutes of the match. When the kick was taken it crashed into the wall who had advanced to within three yards of the set-piece taker.

When the referee took no action despite a wave of protest the seedling of the idea had been planted in Silva’s head.

“We lost the game and, driving home later with a mixture of anger and bitterness, I thought that we must invent something to stop this.” Pablo Silva said

Silva also wondered if the problem was confined to football in Argentina or if the same thing happens all over the globe. He decided to undertake a study of behaviour at free-kicks in the professional game worldwide.

“We have observed more than 1,500 matches all over the world and we have studied how long it takes to take the free kick and how far the defensive wall moves forward.

“We have proved this is not just an Argentine problem, it happens everywhere.” Silva conceded.

He hopes that the spray he developed with chemical engineers will catch on all over the world and benefit football as a spectacle.

“Hopefully this can contribute to enforcing the current rules and improve the time that the ball is in play.” Silva said wishfully.

A similar spray has been used in some cup competitions in Brazil for several years now but proved unsuccessful when it was introduced to their league seven years ago. Pablo Silva claims his spray will be much more effective and has been developed separately from its Brazilian counterpart.

“The Brazilian one appeared in 2002 and the substances are completely different. One has nothing to do with the other.” Silva said adamantly.

Watch out for the new invention in Argentina’s Primera División A Torneo Clausura 2009 which commences on 8th February. Keep your eyes peeled though, blink and you’ll miss it.

© Tim Sturtridge & Soccerphile.com

World Soccer News

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Confederations Cup Draw 2009

Confederations Cup Draw 2009.
The draw for the 2009 Confederations Cup was held on 22 November, 2008 in Johannesburg. The competition will take place in South Africa from June 14 to June 28 2009, at four venues: Johannesburg Ellis Park Stadium (62,000 capacity), Pretoria Loftus Versfeld Stadium (50,000), Bloemfontein Free State Stadium (48,000) and Rustenburg Royal Bafokeng Stadium (42,000).

Group A

South Africa
Spain
Iraq
New Zealand

Group B

Brazil
Egypt
Italy
USA

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Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Messi shows off his latest hat-trick in Madrid

Lionel Messi once again showed off his credentials as the most exciting talent on the world stage with a superb hat-trick for Barcelona in a 3-1 win on Tuesday night.

Messi shows off his latest hat-trick in Madrid.


The diminutive Argentine terrorised the Atletico Madrid defence all night before receiving a standing ovation from the Vicente Calderon crowd when he was replaced 10 minutes before full-time.

The result leaves Barcelona well placed to reach the quarter-finals of the Copa del Rey when the teams meet again at the Camp Nou next Wednesday.

The 21-year-old sensation set about his task early in the match with great combination play with Daniel Alves, another of the few Barca regulars to feature in a ‘weakened’ first eleven.

With 11 minutes on the clock Alves fed Messi with a well worked one-two which left the striker clean through on Gregory Coupet’s goal. A cool finish into the near post gave Barcelona an early lead.

The teams continued sparring for the remainder of the first half with Maniche going close for Atletico and Seydou Keita wasteful in front of goal for the visitors.

Messi had to wait until the second half for his next decisive moment of the match.

The Rojiblancos had been reverting to dirty tactics in an attempt to stop the Barca man throughout the game. No surprises then when Messi drew a foul in the penalty area five minutes into the second half.

Again great link-up play between Alves and Messi saw the Brazilian full-back slip a ball into the box for his team-mate. Before Messi had a chance to convert the centre he was pulled down by Dutchman Johnny Heitinga.

Referee Gonzalez had no hesitation in pointing to the spot and sending Heitinga off for an early bath. Meanwhile Messi dusted himself off and slotted home the penalty, sending Coupet the wrong way in the process.

The Vicente Calderon crowd made their feelings clear to the home side with jeers and whistles. This proved a much needed spur to the hosts as they mustered a reply shortly after Barca had taken a 2-0 lead.

Substitute Ujfalusi found room to meet Simao’s corner and nodded it behind Pinto to reduce los Colchoneros’ deficit to a single goal once again.

Messi shows off his latest hat-trick in Madrid.
Messi seemed to take this strike personally and promptly got the ball at the other end, skinned two defenders and thumped the ball past Coupet once more. This time he was denied by the crossbar.

Moments later the mercurial talent received the ball in the box with the game entering the final 10 minutes. Instant control allowed him to dribble around the keeper and poke the ball in the empty net and claim the match ball

Atletico fans were able to put the disappointment of their own team’s showing aside for a second and give La Pulga an enthusiastic ovation when he was subbed shortly after completing his hat-trick.

This sentiment for a phenomenal exhibition of skill was shared by the on looking Argentina national coach, Diego Maradona.

The 3-1 win gives Barcelona their 21st victory in 26 games in all competitions for the season. The Catalan’s are 11 points clear in La Liga and bookie’s favourites to win the Champions League again.

However, coach Pep Guardiola’s was quick to play down his role in Barcelona’s impressive start to the season.

“I was merely chosen to train these players. They are the ones who make the coaching staff look good and they are the ones who make this club great.” The 37-year-old said after the game and added, “My job is to ensure they never lower their standards and that they always have the same winning spirit. I’m just lucky to be able to lead this team.”

The coach also seems keen that the people around him should remain in this same level headed mode. When asked what he had said to Messi after such a dazzling performance he said, “I just shook his hand, just like I would with any player.”

The celestial Albiceleste himself seemed chuffed with the display and reaction of the fans when he was taken off.

“It was a very special moment for me to be given a standing ovation. It’s something unexplainable and a beautiful experience for any player.” The pint-sized marvel said.

© Tim Sturtridge & Soccerphile.com

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Challenges await in AFC Champions League

Challenges await in AFC Champions League.
The draw for the group stage of the 2009 AFC Champions League has thrown up some tough challenges for Japanese clubs.

The opening stages of the Champions League are split into regionalised West Asian and East Asian groups, and Nagoya Grampus will have a tough time of things when they make their debut in the competition.

Dragan Stojkovic's side have been drawn in Group E alongside A-League champions Newcastle Jets, Korean outfit Ulsan Hyundai Horang-i and passionately supported Chinese club Beijing Guoan.

In Group F defending Asian champions Gamba Osaka face a similarly tough task when they come up against K-League runners-up FC Seoul, Chinese giants Shandong Luneng and Sumatra-based Indonesian outfit Sriwijaya FC.

There's a mouth-watering clash of the giants in Group G, where current J. League champions Kashima Antlers will face off against Korean superclub Suwon Bluewings, with Chinese side Shanghai Shenhua also in the mix.

The final place in Group G will go to the winner of a play-off featuring Thai club Provincial Electricity Authority, Singapore Armed Forces and Indonesian side PSMS Medan, with the fixtures taking place in late February.

Kawasaki Frontale will fancy their chances of making it out of Group H, where they face Australian side Central Coast Mariners, Korean FA Cup winners Pohang Steelers and Chinese club Tianjin Teda.

The group winners and runners-up will both advance to the Round of 16, with the tournament kicking off on March 10.

The full draw is as follows:

Group A: Al Hilal (Saudi Arabia), Bunyodkor (Uzbekistan), Al Ahli (United Arab Emirates), Saba Battery (Iran).

Group B: Persepolis (Iran), Al Shabab (Saudi Arabia), Al Gharafa (Qatar), To Be Confirmed

Group C: Al Jazira (UAE), Esteghlal (IR Iran), Al Ittihad (Saudi Arabia), Umm Salal (Qatar).

Group D: Pakhtakor (Uzbekistan), Al Shabab (UAE), Sepahan (Iran), Al Ettifaq (Saudi Arabia)

Group E: Ulsan Hyundai (Korea Republic), Newcastle Jets (Australia), Beijing Guoan (China), Nagoya Grampus (Japan)

Group F: Gamba Osaka (Japan), FC Seoul (Korea Republic), Sriwijaya (Indonesia), Shandong Luneng (China)

Group G: Shanghai Shenhua (China), Kashima Antlers (Japan), Suwon Bluewings (Korea Republic), To Be Confirmed

Group H: Central Coast Mariners (Australia), Tianjin Teda (China), Kawasaki Frontale (Japan), Pohang Steelers (Korea).

Copyright © Michael Tuckerman & Soccerphile.com

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Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Turning tides

Turning tides.
How the saga involving Jason Culina ends will take its natural course. But the fact an A-League side is holding its own in negotiations with the current PSV and Socceroos midfielder is being lauded as a milestone for the domestic game.

Culina is a first choice for national team coach Pim Verbeek and arguably plays at the highest standard of any of Australia's overseas stars in Eindhoven after appearing for PSV in this year's Champions League.

The 28-year-old son of former Sydney FC coach Branko is rarely injured and was one of the country's outstanding players leading into the 2006 World Cup.

His form over the past 12 months for the national team hasn't perhaps maintained that same level. But he has retained his position in PSV's midfield under coach Huub Stevens and has been offered extended terms to remain with the Dutch club when his current deal ends in June.

Reports suggest Croatian outfit Dinamo Zagreb are the other major European player in the hunt for Culina's silky services. But it's the ballsy ambition of expansion A-Leaguers Gold Coast United which has made the overseas heavyweights sit up and take notice.

United have reportedly offered Culina a three-year $3.6 million deal to become the club's marquee acquisition with Gold Coast coach Miron Bleiberg believing the fledgling club have presented the most attractive all-round package.

"My understanding is that we are his top choice but if something comes up that interests him more, then I'll accept it," Bleiberg told the Gold Coast Bulletin.

"To date, the only Socceroos players who have come home have been just one step from retirement. With Jason you are looking at a player in his prime.

"Even at a big club like PSV, he still looks outstanding every time I see him. He would provide the gloss and class I am looking for."

Culina aside, United, bankrolled by mining magnate Clive Palmer's billions, are causing shockwaves around the league some seven months before they officially join the competition for the 2009/10 campaign.

Melbourne Victory and fringe Socceroos defender Michael Thwaite has been the latest big name addition to the Coast's inaugural line-up, a group of players looking increasingly likely to deliver on the outspoken Palmer's promise of winning the A-League title in their maiden season.

Thwaite is another local player who's elected to remain in Australia rather than return to Europe. The 25-year-old was loaned to Melbourne by Norwegian champions SK Brann and was expected to return to Scandinavia at the end of the current A-League campaign before joining the Gold Coast.

Livewire Queensland Roar striker Tahj Minniecon has also had his head turned by the Coast's offer of becoming their inaugural under-23 marquee player. He will double his yearly salary by moving to the Roar's nearest neighbours, but the switch does intensify the hostilities between the pair.

Earlier this season, Bleiberg was branded a clown and a liar by Queensland skipper Craig Moore after the colourful manager claimed he hadn’t tapped up a single member of Frank Farina's current Roar squad.

The usually reserved Moore was moved to rubbish Bleiberg's comments and said he knew for certain the former Roar boss had spoken to team-mates. Minniecon's subsequent move suggests Moore was telling the truth.

Palmer and Bleiberg's continued boastful comments seem set to make the Gold Coast the team most rival sides will take aim at when the new season kicks off this coming August.

They previously announced the signings of Wellington's prolific striker Shane Smeltz and Newcastle's Adam Griffiths, plunging those clubs' playoff challenges into crisis.

Another three currently contracted A-League players have made the similar journey to the tourist strip.

Copyright © Marc Fox and Soccerphile.com

Rafa wishes Insua was left-back at home

Liverpool’s Premier League title assault has been dealt a blow with news that Emiliano Insua will miss the next five games.

The promising defender has been called up to Argentina’s squad for the under-20 South American championships. The three week tournament takes place in Venezuela later this month.

Insua has started the last four games for the Reds and has impressed in an unbeaten spell for the Premier League leaders. He looked to have cemented himself into Rafa’s plans for the foreseeable future.

The left-back will now miss Liverpool’s game against Stoke this coming Saturday, as well as a double header with city rivals Everton, a trip to Wigan and a top of the table Anfield clash with Chelsea.

The call comes as a sign of the full-back’s stock rising for both his club and country this season. Insua, who turns 20 on January 7, has held off competition at Liverpool from Brazilian Fabio Aurelio and Italian Andrea Dossena.

He is also tipped to take over from Gabriel Heinze for Diego Maradona’s Argentina in time for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

However, missing this spell of games for Liverpool could send him down the pecking order for the Premier League title hopefuls once again.

The under-20 South American championships are keenly watched by scouts from the biggest clubs in Europe as it is regarded as a hotbed of cheap talent.

This year’s tournament will run from January 19 through till the final on February 8.

The Merseysiders will also be represented at the tournament by reserve team defender Ronald Huth of Paraguay.

© Timothy Sturtridge & Soccerphile.com

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English Coaches Should Learn Their Trade!

English Coaches Should Learn Their Trade!
Former West Ham and West Bromich Albion midfielder Peter Butler has been coaching for years in Australia, Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia.

The Yorkshireman believes that English coaches should learn the trade before taking top jobs whether they do so in the lower leagues or, following his example, in a different and challenging environment such as Asia.

The 42 year-old has a few ideas that he shared with me - over to you, Peter.

“At the moment we have so many managers getting jobs with so little experience of actually coaching and managing people and it bodes the question in the UK when we are constantly being scrutinized by our fellow European compatriots where are we going and where is this taking us long term?

I left England in 2001 to go to Australia to coach and more importantly learn my trade off my own back in an environment where personal fitness plays a big part. I was intrigued by not just the football set up but how a different country went about things from preparation diet etc (Aussie Rules / Rugby Union).

Not long after I arrived, Australian football went into a restructuring phase and the A-League was born with less teams. Basically, they were trying to take it to the next level to eventually compete with the top teams in Asia, as we speak the game is progressing slowly but nicely.

I learnt a great deal and continued to do so until I left and went to work in Asia. I jumped the gun perhaps but I knew Asian football was on the move. Breaking into Japan, China and Korea for a young coach from Halifax is not easy so I worked in Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia at their respective highest levels. Now I am back in the Super League Malaysia.

I have worked in the region for seven to eight years. I have worked with difficult people, worked for high powered politicians with massive egos. But all my teams progressed either to cup finals and/or promotions. That is not why I did it. I did it to earn my stripes and learn my trade of coaching, managing players, managing difficult people, learning a new language, coaching in a different language.

This experience has been invaluable and something I would not change for the world because I chose to follow my career on a different path, a path where I can honestly say nobody gave me a job on the back of being his mate or ex team-mate.

My old friends in England tell me that I am crazy for coaching out here. But I ask them why? I have learnt more than I ever would have. I have experienced more, seen more, travelled more -I am a better coach than when I left. I am more experienced and wordly and more important I am a better person for it. It’s not all about chasing money!

My first day at West Ham United in 1991 was Harry Redknapp's first day as assistant manager to Billy Bonds.

It was Harry who was instrumental in giving me a chance there and I will never forget what he said to me. 'I have waited many years for this opportunity did the hard yards in the lower divisions and now i have got my chance at a club which is in my blood. I ain’t letting it go.' He is a great guy and I have never forgotten his words.

The late Ray Harford was the best coach that I worked with as a player. He once said to me: 'Peter when you finish playing, get out and coach and coach and coach. You’ll make mistakes as we all do but that’s how you learn. Licenses and fancy training grounds don’t make you a better coach - they help of course - but you don’t start learning to drive until after you have received your license.'

More and more clubs now are giving positions to ex- players with no or little coaching or managerial experience, they see a great player and think ‘he’ll make a good manager’.

But there is a huge difference between being a good player and being a good coach and manager. Harry was an excellent coach in his younger years as was Ray Harford. These people did it the hard way and did the hard jobs and worked their way up the ladder. It’s all about learning your trade you learn something new every day – that’s if you have a open mind and want to.

That’s the problem with the English game I have so much respect for the academy coaches and lads working at the lower levels of the football League. They put so much time in and do many jobs out coaching on cold winter evenings, producing our future players. Every weekend is busy but many of them will never get a chance further up the ladder because they are either not in the loop or don’t know the right people.

It makes me sad when I see some ex-international walk straight into a top job with no experience whatsoever. He takes his mates with him, gets sacked, makes a fortune then moves on again and does the same. Meanwhile, poor all Franky and Freddie at the Leyton Orients and Carlisles of this world don’t have a chance and are without doubt better coaches.

They should make it compulsory for coaches before they step into management to have three years coaching experience down in the football league before they make the step up.

Coming straight into it from playing is not, in my mind the right thing to do. Ideally, they should come and take a secondment attached to a Asian team for six months to see how they react when the President is sending little pieces of paper with the formation for the team in the second half, ringing you up on bench asking why have you not put this player on and done this etc.

That keeps you on your toes! You have to have nerves of steel to work in Asia. It isn’t all about nice beaches, Tom Yam soup and cold Bintang beer!"