Friday, February 27, 2009

Real Madrid v Liverpool - Dr. Joel Rookwood



When deliberating over European football’s most prestigious and illustrious names, the identities of a select group of clubs dominate the mindset. Real Madrid justifiably top that list, with AC Milan and Liverpool completing a trio of institutions which, having won the ‘Champions League’ on five occasions, lay claim to ownership of a European Cup. Ignore individual celebrities, stadium dimensions and global marketing ploys – this quintet of ultimate victories serves as the only mark of greatness. As a consequence, when the paths of any of these clubs cross in a competitive fixture, the eyes of the footballing world are upon them. Liverpool have played AC Milan in two Champions League finals in the last four years, although despite comparable records in the European Cup, Real Madrid have not been regular opponents for Liverpool in recent years. Indeed Liverpool’s only previous European Cup tie against Real Madrid was the final of 1981. That game ended in a 1-0 victory for Liverpool. The ‘Super Sixteen’ round of this year’s competition has seen the two heavyweights drawn against each other again, with Liverpool supporters hoping for a similar outcome against the Spanish champions.



An estimated ten thousand Liverpool supporters travelled to Madrid for the first leg, hoping to witness a famous encounter. A little bored of the monotony of ‘in-and-out’ trips to see Liverpool in Europe, I opted for an extended venture this time around. The prospect of watching Atletico Madrid’s tie at home to the Portuguese champions only added to the sense of expectation. Complications over the fixture list inspired UEFA to ignore their own policy of avoiding having two fixtures played in the same competition in the same city on consecutive nights. That meant that Liverpool’s match against Real Madrid in the Santiago Bernabeu would come just twenty-four hours after FC Porto’s match against Atletico Madrid in the Vicente Calderon Stadium. Pockets of Panathinaikos supporters were also in the city for the first fixture, taking a detour before their match at Villarreal on Wednesday.



Having already been to watch Atletico this season, only a handful of Liverpool supporters opted to attend the Porto match on Tuesday night. I decided I would try to gain entry in the familiar away section. It was not the first time I had been ‘away with FC Porto’. As a nineteen-year-old I spent a winter month inter-railing across Spain, Portugal and Morocco, and on an impromptu visit to FC Porto’s ground I noticed a queue forming. Intrigued and hopeful as to why, I joined it, and when I made it to the front, repeated the same simple line uttered by those ahead of me, passed over the same fee and was handed the same thing – a match ticket. The following night I was bouncing around the away end of Lisbon’s famous old Stadium of Light watching Benfica V FC Porto. It was my first exposure to European football, and after that experience I had the bug.

The Portuguese were well represented off the pitch as well as on it, with a passionate away support, clearly motivated in part by the relatively localised rivalry, cheering on an impressive Porto team. Although the home side took an early lead through Maxi Rodriguez, they failed to control an inventive Porto team. Diego Forlan restored the home side’s advantage, after Lisandro twice drew the two-time European champions level. The 2-2 final score has set up an intriguing second leg at the Estadio do Dragao in a fortnight’s time, with the scenario at the halfway mark surely favouring FC Porto.



The following night, Liverpool entered the famous Bernabeu supposedly a club in disarray. The prospect of playing a Madrid team who had won the last nine matches in all competitions was supposed to frighten the men from Merseyside, who had won just two from their previous nine. A team of talented and experienced players playing in front of 85,000 ‘Real’ fans were supposed to add to the complexity of the task facing Liverpool. Furthermore, reports that Liverpool’s Madrid-born manager was about to resign dominated the press leading up to the match, with some suggesting that leading bookmakers had suspended betting on Rafael Benitez parting company with the club. As our challengers often discover to their cost however, diversity is not a state that crushes Liverpool’s resolve, but strengthens it. A wry smile spread across my face as I read the reports, knowing that the situation would surely be used in our favour. I had seen Liverpool win at Inter Milan last season and at Barcelona the season before, when others had conspired to spoil our chances of success.



Liverpool’s stuttering league form may have slowed the momentum of their push for the league title this season, but one defeat in thirty-two Premier League and Champions league fixtures this season pointed to an inevitable outcome in the Bernebeu. The team were quietly confident. The fans were equally confident, but were far from quiet. The famous ground rocked to the famous sounds of Liverpool for nearly three hours, as Benitez’s resolute team refused to concede any real clear chances to the home side. Yossi Benayoun scored the game’s only goal eight minutes from time, although the collective performance warranted at least a second Liverpool goal. Nevertheless the game and its result provided a timely reminder that Liverpool are the force to be reckoned with this season, and that in European competition, Rafael Benitez is simply the best in business. Rome anyone?

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Super Cup kicks off new J. League campaign

J. League
The Fuji Xerox Super Cup between reigning J. League champions Kashima Antlers and Emperor's Cup holders Gamba Osaka kicks off the seventeenth season of professional football in Japan on Saturday.

The two heavyweights of the Japanese game will meet at the National Stadium in Tokyo, and Kashima will be looking to erase the memories of last year's controversial defeat when referee Masaaki Iemoto took centre stage - sending off three players, awarding a dubious penalty and ordering two spot-kicks retaken during a penalty shoot-out that ended in a pitch invasion.

Sanfrecce Hiroshima won that controversial encounter on penalties, while Iemoto was temporarily stood down by the Japan Football Association following what was a highly contentious refereeing performance.

Kashima coach Oswaldo de Oliveira will hope there is no repeat controversy this time around, although his counterpart Akira Nishino has greater concerns.

New signings Cho Jae-Jin and Leandro both look set to miss the clash through injury, meaning that Lucas Severino and Masato Yamazaki are likely to start in attack for Gamba Osaka. Cho and Leandro were signed from Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors and Vissel Kobe respectively, to bolster an attack that struggled to overcome the mid-season departure of Brazilian front man Baré last season.

Meanwhile veterans Akira Kaji and Takahiro Futagawa are struggling for fitness with the new league season just around the corner, meaning that Gamba are likely to start the Super Cup with a depleted side.

Last season just 27,245 fans turned out in the capital for the annual season-0pener, and with rain forecast and Kashima hosting Urawa Reds in a crackerjack opening day league fixture - even fewer fans may turn out this time around.

Nevertheless both teams will be determined to add another trophy to their collection and fire the first salvo in what looks set to be another long and absorbing Japanese campaign.

Copyright © Michael Tuckerman & Soccerphile.com

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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Darren Fletcher's Home Robbed

Manchester United's star midfielder, Darren Fletcher, had his Bowdon home looted by criminals on Monday, shortly after leaving for Milan with his teammates for the Champions League game with Internazionale.

The robbery was committed by three masked men at the time when Fletcher's mother and girlfriend were present in the house in the Manchester suburb. Both women were threatened with a knife and Fletcher's fiancee Helen had to surrender her engagement ring. Objects like jewelry and watches were taken away by the bandits but luckily no-one was hurt.

The witnesses described the assailants as youths in their early twenties and a police investigation is underway. The Scotsman thus joins the growing group of the Premiership players whose houses have been robbed over the past years. The previous victims include Steven Gerrard, Dirk Kuyt, José Reina, Jerzy Dudek, Daniel Agger, Peter Crouch and Lucas Leiva, intriguingly, all of them Liverpool players during the robbery.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The best league in the world? Colombia's answer to the English Premier League

Colombia's answer to the English Premier League.
The rich legend of El Dorado (Spanish for "the golden one") runs deep in Colombia. The story centres on a South American tribal chief who would cover himself in gold dust and leap into the highland lakes of the country's Cundinamarca and Boyaca regions.

Not so memorable is the British soap opera of the same name which was axed by BBC controller Alan Yentob after running three times a week for a year. The show was meant to bring the glamour and beauty of the Spanish Costa del Sol into British homes but flopped badly.

El Dorado is also the name given to a period of prestige for the Colombian domestic league. In the late 1940s and early 1950s the best players in the world plied their trade in Bogota, Santa Fe and other Colombian cities.

The Dimayor league was set-up and immediately broke free of Colombia's existing amateur football authority. A further dispute with FIFA over the rebel league led to sanctions being imposed on the national team.

These potential problems served only to galvanise those running The Dimayor and with the league bolstered by money from Colombian coffee sales soon the best players in South America were lured in.

Aspects with allowed The Dimayor to flourish included a raft of Argentinean players arriving to play in Colombia that were currently on strike in their home country. This meant the likes of River Plate star Adolfo Pedernera were soon signing up for league founder Alfonso Senior's Millonarios in 1949.

Pedernera was greeting at the Aeropuerto de Techo in Bogota by 5,000 fans and made the club a stack of money on the spot. The modern day equivalent would be a club presenting David Beckham and seeing an instant bump in their revenue as a result.

The Dimayor was forward thinking in its approach to making the game an attractive spectacle as possible to the Colombian crowds. Numbers were displayed on the back of the player's jerseys, two substitutions were allowed per team and professional English referees were employed.

Another point which allowed The Dimayor to bloom was that the teams did not have to pay any transfer fees to clubs such as River Plate because FIFA did not recognise the league and therefore it was outside their jurisdiction.

This meant Millonarios were able to return to Argentina and pluck Alfredo Di Stefano, already well on his way to becoming a star in his own right. Indeed, when Millionarios were at their pomp they fielded a team which included 10 Argentineans.

Imagine the stick Arsene Wenger would get if he put out a team of 10 Frenchman in the Premier League. But then again Millionarios did win four league titles during the five seasons of El Dorado so maybe that kind of success would silence the critics.

Other teams took advantage of The Dimayor's anarchic constitution and began affiliations with the players of foreign countries.

Independiente de Medellin were nicknamed Danza del Sol (Sun dance) because of the 12 Peruvian players on their books and over at Deportivo Samarios de Santa Marta there were 15 exiled Hungarians on the payroll.

Two years after its inception The Dimayor feature 320 foreign nationals, Corporacion Nuevo Cucuta Deportivo signing up 8 members of the Uruguay team that won the 1950 World Cup.

Players from foreign countries tended to remain clumped together in same city. As well as the Argentines, Uruguayans, Peruvians and Hungarians turning out for clubs you could find Brazilians in Barranqilla, Costa Ricans in Bogota and the British in Santa Fe

Independiente Santa Fe managed to bring in Neil Franklin and George Mountford from Stoke City as well as the mercurial Charlie Mitten from Matt Busby's Manchester United. Not to be outdone Millionarios reacted by signing Billy Higgins from Everton and Bobby Flavell from Hearts. Of the British imports however, it was only Charlie Mitten who would stay in Colombia for a full season.

In four seasons at Old Trafford Charlie Mitten collected three league runners-up medals as well as winning the FA Cup while part of Matt Busby's first post-war Manchester United side. In 1950 Mitten was offered £50 a week to play for Santa Fe plus a £10,000 signing on fee, the current maximum wage for a footballer in England £8 per week during the season and £6 a week during the summer.

When Charlie told Matt Busby he was going to leave the Scot was obviously upset to lose his highly talented left winger but when he heard the numbers involved he reportedly told Charlie to get in touch if they needed a manager.

On returning to England after his season in the sun Mitten was treated like a pariah by the football authorities. He was suspended from the game for six months and fined six months wages. He was transferred by Manchester United, who still held his registration, to Fulham.

Although The Cottagers were relegated during his four seasons with them Charlie Mitten chipped in with his fair share of goals and formed a deadly left sided partnership with Johnny Haynes.

Mitten's record of 17 successful penalty conversions with no misses remains a record at Manchester United and before his death in 2002 he explained his success from the spot.

“Looking at the number of penalty misses by the supposedly best players in the world during shoot-outs, I wonder how often some of those players practice what is the simplest trick in the whole of soccer. So many players today run at the ball as if it were a bag of sweets and just whack it.

“You must aim, aim always for the corners of the goal. When I was shooting I wasn’t watching the keeper. I was looking for a place, the hole, where I was going to put the ball.

“You can kick it as hard as you like, but try keeping it a foot high as well. A shot like that is impossible to save - it is a certain goal.”

Mitten managed Mansfield Town, Newcastle United and Altrincham before retiring from football. He remains perhaps England's greatest ever uncapped player.

The El Dorado period of domestic Colombian football was eventually wrapped up after five seasons. Events came to a head when Colombian clubs started to refuse to allow their players leave to represent their countries.

The Pact of Lima was signed in 1951 and Colombian football return to FIFA's fold. For his part in proceedings the founder of The Dimayor and Millionarios chief Alfonso Senior bagged a job with the world's governing body.

The Pact stipulated that all foreign recruits had to return to their country of origin by 1954. Argentines Di Stefino and Hector Rial had other ideas though and went on to form the cornerstone of the great Real Madrid team which won the European Cup every year from 1956 to 1960.

Mitten was also feted by Real Madrid after his time in Colombia but did not move due to his family feeling homesick. Di Stefino himself recalled 'Cheeky' Charlie from his playing days and regrets the Englishman not joining him at Madrid.

"Ah, Charlie Mitten, numero uno. If we have him we never need Francisco Gento. Gento he quick, but Mitten, he more clever."

Copyright © Tim Sturtridge & Soccerphile.com

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Monday, February 23, 2009

Another Korean Heads West

The Korean media are getting a little blasé about it all now. News that Cho Won-hee could be about to sign for Wigan Athletic was well-reported in Seoul but didn't provoke the kind of excitement seen in the past.

Dirty tackle.

It was expected that the defender-turned-midfielder would leave Korea over the close-season. He was at the heart of Suwon Samsung Bluewings' midfield last season and his last action for the club was to celebrate the championship win in December.

Since then, he turned down the chance of a move to Japan, almost headed to Russia, had a trial with Monaco before ending up in the Premier League.

"Won Hee has come and trained with us for the past couple of days and has done really well, we have been really impressed with him as a player and a person and can sign him as he is not under contract with any club," said Wigan boss Steve Bruce.

"We have known all about him because he has played in the Korean team, which is a very decent team, and he is typically Korean in terms of his athleticism and his work-rate. The problem we have got is the work permit criteria because, unfortunately, he missed a big chunk of the international games.

"About ten months ago they had six qualifying games in the space of a month and he missed the lot of them because of injury."

It is hard to know what the knobbly-nosed one is talking about. Korea haven't played six qualification games in the space of a month in recent years. There were six games in the space of five months last year. Cho may have been injured for some but the player, who started as a right-back before becoming a defensive midfielder, has never been an automatic pick, usually relying on others being absent to take his place in the starting eleven.

But he has impressed since moving to the middle of the pitch and looks to be a far better midfielder than full-back. He has energy and spirit in spades and is stronger than he looks.

Questions remain, however, as to whether he has the will to win when it really matters. The last time I saw him was at a charity gala at Christmas. Paired together on stage to play ‘Rock, Scissors, Paper', he was less than half-hearted and very happy to lose and return to his seat as I progressed to the last eight.

Anyway, he should do better than Lee Dong-guk who is now with Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors. The Lion King is looking to restore a damaged reputation in the south-west after struggling with Middlesbrough and then Seongnam.

Lee Young-pyo has also left England but is doing rather better. Since joining Borussia Dortmund, he hadn't missed a league minute until last weekend when he was suspended due to a red card received the previous weekend. It came with a wild kick right at the death. Lee claimed that he never saw the opponent.
Park Ji-sung is still going strong and has featured often for Manchester United of late. His lack of goals remains a cause for concern and that remains the major stumbling block to the star becoming an automatic pick. Still, he is likely to start against Inter Milan in the UEFA Champions League.

Kim Do-heon has been stuttering at West Brom though a serious injury hasn't helped. The midfielder was starting to impress before collapsing to the floor in the first minute of a match at Middlesbrough in October. He has yet to find his rhythm since returning to fitness. Seol Ki-hyeon has been loaned from the bench of Fulham to Saudi Arabian giants Al-Hilal and is doing well in Riyadh.

What of Ahn Jung-hwan? The 2002 World Cup hero decided to leave Busan but has yet not found a new club. The media has been full of rumours of a move to the United States. Despite the weeks of agent activity, sources in the US remain nonplussed as to why the story is still alive.

Things are never simple with Ahn, who knows what goes on in that handsome head of his?

Copyright: John Duerden & Soccerphile.com

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Barry is best: Petrov

Gareth Barry, pivotal to the make-up of Martin O'Neill's high-flying Aston Villa side, is proving to hold significant sway over events away from the football field.

Team-mates Stiliyan Petrov and Gabby Agbonlahor have both this week insisted their long term futures at the West Midlands club hang on whether Barry remains in claret and blue for a possible tilt at the Champions League next season.

Petrov has even made it clear he places a greater importance on the club keeping their best players than discussing his own contract extension ahead of a schedule which sees Villa face fourth-placed Chelsea and a tricky second leg Uefa Cup tie in Moscow in the space of the next week.

Despite a fluent display, Villa only managed to draw 1-1 in the first leg on Wednesday night.

The former Bulgaria national team captain, who rubbished suggestions he's on the brink of agreeing a new £45,000-a-week deal, has blossomed in Villa's midfield this season - after an indifferent beginning to his Premiership career when he rejoined O'Neill from Celtic in 2006.

But Petrov, 29, freely admits the peaks of his own individual form would have been far tougher to scale without Barry alongside him in Villa's engine room.

Petrov considers his midfield partner England's premier international player and even claimed the silky left-sided star has become the first name on manager Fabio Capello's team sheet.

However, the tug-of-war transfer saga between Villa and Liverpool last summer means nothing is now certain for Barry's team-mates when it comes to deciding their own futures.

What is certain, though, is that Barry remaining at Villa Park would have a major influence on which of O'Neill's other leading lights might put pen to paper.

"He mentioned that if Villa show they can fight for the Champions League there would be no point moving. So far we've been showing that," explained Petrov, whose current deal expires in 18 months time.

"We hope he will stay because he's one of the best midfielders in the country and if you have him here you do your best to keep him.

"He's one of the main men for Capello. Even with players like (Frank) Lampard and (Steven) Gerrard - very established names in the national team - I think Gareth is now the first name on the team sheet for Capello because of the way he's been playing and the character he is.

"We try to make it hard for him to choose what he wants to do. We try to show we can challenge the big teams and give him what he wants.

"We will make the decision harder for him if we can stay in the top four. It's up to us.

"The manager is trying to show everybody that he wants to build something big here. And one of the key things is keeping Gareth because he's the most important player at this club.

"If you keep Gareth, the message is that we're aiming for something big next year."

Copyright © Marc Fox and Soccerphile.com

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In Japan revolutions are run at a snail's pace

In Japan revolutions are run at a snail's pace.
If Ernesto "Che" Guevara was alive today, he would find Japan a maddening place to launch a revolution.

It's not because he polarises opinion in The Land Of The Rising Sun. There's no debate over whether he was a freedom fighter or blood-thirsty mercenary on the streets of Tokyo - most young Japanese are familiar with his face only because it adorns the tackiest of designer handbags in the capital's upmarket boutiques.

No, old Che wouldn't find a fervent hotbed of dissent threatening to tear apart the fabric of Japanese society. Conditions are not ripe for revolution here.

Instead what Che would find are tottering elected officials desperately clinging to power. A corrupt and lifeless Liberal Democratic Party guilty of the stilted thinking that sees the country creeping backwards while the rest of the world moves forward. And the occasional drunk finance minister.

It's a bit like how the J. League is run. Plenty of posturing, lots of empty rhetoric, but in the end - no real change.

The "Asian berth" rule is a prime example. It caused a stir when it was announced, because it was supposed to revolutionise the Japanese game. Sceptics, however, wondered if the new rule was legislated solely to expand the J. League's pipeline into the Korean Peninsula. So it has proved.

Far from opening doors to new talent, the Asian berth rule has simply seen the J. League pillage from their neighbours across the way. Clubs in both J1 and J2 have been busy adding to their collection of Korean stars. Omiya Ardija even plumped for a Korean coach - the widely respected Chang Woe-Ryong - while Gamba Osaka's record-breaking deal for Jeonbuk striker Cho Jae-Jin was made under the auspices of the Asian berth rule.

But has anything really changed? Chang Woe-Ryong has already spent the vast majority of his coaching career in Japan. Cho Jae-Jin made his name at Shimizu S-Pulse. And before that, the likes of Hong Myung-Bo and Hwang Sun-Hong long ago proved to Japanese fans that Korean players are amongst the best in the region.

That's scant consolation for the Iranian and Chinese stars hoping to test themselves in one of the toughest professional environments in Asian football - to say nothing of players from the less developed South-East Asian leagues. And what of Australia? Not one J. League club seems to have displayed a genuine interest in signing an Australian player.

If J. League clubs believe that they will have the last laugh thanks to such conservative recruitment policies, the joke is on them.

The Asian berth rule has revolutionised the Asian game. Leagues across the length and breadth of the vast Asian Football Confederation have decided to adopt the rule -and so has the AFC itself, with the rule set to take effect in the AFC Champions League this season. Moreover, the Asian berth rule has awoken two of the J. League's direct rivals from a long, languid slumber.

Faced with the prospect of losing some of its stars, the K-League has reacted swiftly. In came the likes of Australian international Jade North and seasoned Japanese midfielder Masahiro Ohashi - signing on at Incheon United and Gangwon FC respectively. Similar signings appear on the horizon, with Asia's oldest professional league set to replenish its stocks by luring personnel from its nearest neighbours.

After years of torment and turmoil, China's Super League looks to be on the rise again - slowly, to be sure - but it's gradually stirring.

The carrot of a revamped AFC Champions League and the pot of gold it heralds means that more Asian teams are determined to entice quality personnel to their shores. That has seen the likes of ex-Socceroo John Aloisi join Shanghai Shenhua on loan, while arguably the A-League's most explosive talent in the form of Joel Griffiths has joined his brother Ryan at Beijing Guoan.

The danger for the J. League is that by the time it wakes up to the potential talent on its door-step, Korean and Chinese clubs will already have put the infrastructure and scouting networks into place to exploit it. Far from attracting the region's best talent, the J. League could be stuck with making do with the same Brazilian and Korean imports it has always attracted.

The Asian berth rule hasn't revolutionised Japanese football at all. Instead it has prompted more of the same. No lucrative TV deals have been signed, no exotic names have been enticed and no new relationships with foreign clubs have been arranged - as far as anyone in Japan can tell.

If Che Guevara visited Japan today, he would find the same suspicious conservatism and archaic bureaucracy in the J. League that blights the nation's political landscape.

And he would discover that, in Japan, revolutions are run at a snail's pace.

Copyright © Michael Tuckerman & Soccerphile.com

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

World Cup 2010 Tickets On Sale Feb 20th

Tickets for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa are due to go on sale on February 20th.

One of the best places to keep up with all the latest ticketing and security news on the World Cup in South Africa is on the Soccerphile forum.

Ok..there is a small charge to join but this keeps out the time-wasters and trouble makers...plus we'll send you a Soccerphile T-shirt if you let us know your address and size.

We look forward to meeting you on the boards.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Two Koreas Thriving In Group Of Death

Two Koreas Thriving In Group Of Death.
The Group of Death doesn’t seem so scary after all – though the supposed nightmare is only half over. With four down and four to go in the final round of qualification for the 2010 World Cup, South Korea sits on top of Group Two with eight points. The latest point of the octet came courtesy of a 1-1 draw against Iran in Tehran on Wednesday evening.

The hard part is over - or it should be. Three times have South Korea ventured overseas to the home of its three biggest rivals Saudi Arabia, Iran and North Korea (OK, that game was played in Shanghai and not Pyongyang) and the Taeguk Warriors came away with a win and two draws. With three of the remaining four matches to take place at Sangam, Huh Jung-moo's men are on course for a seventh successive appearance on the global stage.

Prior to the match in Tehran, there had been much talk in the media beforehand, more than is usual in Asian football. A lot of it came from the Iranian side, a symptom perhaps of the host’s greater need to win. Whatever the reason, Korea, as the cliché goes, did its talking on the pitch. It may not have been especially articulate or make for pleasant listening but it was full of passion and a statement was made. It was a deserved point for the visitors.

Park Ji-sung, who scored his second goal in three games for the national team, headed home with nine minutes left after Javad Nekounam had put Iran ahead with a fantastic free-kick 20 minutes earlier.

It doesn’t mean that a place in South Africa is a given. Much work is still to be done but coach Huh Jung-moo would have definitely accepted an offer of eight points from the first four games if such a offer had been on the table a few months ago.

"It is only half-time,” said the happy Huh as he stepped through the arrivals gate at Incheon International Airport on Friday. “It was a tough game but it is behind us now. We are focused on the task ahead. The good thing about the games that we have played so far is that injuries have given the younger players a chance and they have grown as players as a result.”

We are now looking at the game against North Korea. We will do our best to prepare well. The team may be a defensive one but it does have the likes of Jong Tae-se and Hong Yong-jo in attack.”

For fans of the beautiful game in the Korean peninsula, it was a good week. Before the Tehran tussle, North Korea defeated traditional Asian powerhouse Saudi Arabia 1-0 in Pyongyang to take second place in the group. It was an insipid performance by the visitors in the Kim Il Sung stadium, though the various layers of clothing worn couldn’t have helped.

If the qualifying stage ended now, the two Koreas would be heading to the 2010 World Cup. For North Korea it would be only a second appearance at the global tournament and if the teams from both sides of the 38th Parallel made it to the world cup, one can only imagine the effect it would have on the Seoul media. Offices in Yeoido and Gwanghwamun would explode.

The Taeguk Warriors are not in action for the next round of qualification on March 28.The players will be able to take a rest and watch rivals do battle elsewhere. Saudi Arabia, who sits in fourth place with four points, travels to Iran where another defeat will almost certainly end chances of a fifth successive World Cup. South Korea would be delighted for the Saudis to take a point from that match. On the same evening, North Korea hosts bottom team UAE. A win for DPRK would likely see the team go top of the group.

That would set things up nicely for a game in Seoul three days later between north and south. It will be some game.

Copyright: John Duerden & Soccerphile

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Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Week in England

The Week in England
Off-field, it was such a colourful week, England's 0-2 defeat to Spain, Fabio Capello's second loss as national team manager, was a mere footnote.

Chelsea's firing of Luis Felipe Scolari and the tug-of-love for David Beckham between LA and AC were bigger news, but the Three Lions' defeat deserved more column inches. Unlike Steve McClaren, Capello has built a formidable team in a short time, a 4-1 away win in Croatia being the highlight so far, and unlike predecessor Sven-Goran Eriksson, in friendlies the Italian plays his strongest team for as much of the 90 minutes as he can.

Seville was a reality check therefore on the perennially fantasizing English, many of whom are already entertaining hopes of lifting the World Cup in South Africa. Spain's technique was superior as always, but their organisation was too, while their formation had a fluidity England can only dream about.

I cannot see how England, however improved they are under Capello, can defeat Spain in a couple of years without a big dollop of luck. It is impossible for England to develop a comparable mobility to give them that extra gear. The Three Lions can probably match anyone else in Europe, but there is also Brazil and Argentina to consider. Of course, myriad factors are brought to bear in a World Cup Finals, and it is a cup competition, with all that that entails.

But on paper, England cannot triumph in 2010.

***

England's biggest star and still the world's best-paid player, has unexpectedly become a tug-of-love case.

David Beckham is owned by MLS but wanted by AC Milan. Clearly his American dream is a bust now he has re-established himself in the national team, an adventure he believed he had reached the end of in 2006. But having signed the deal of the century in Los Angeles, Becks belongs to the Galaxy, for now. So what we have is a football v business battle of ethics, not unlike Kaka's absurd dalliance with Manchester City.

If football has values, Beckham must stay in Milan, full stop. But since the sport has got so deep into bed with the many-tentacled commercial world, Becks' attempts to extricate himself are proving painful. MLS had him as the cornerstone of their expansion plans and are now feeling jilted at the altar.

"They clearly were looking at this as a football decision and we were looking at it as a football and business decision," Tim Leiweke, LA Chief Executive said. "I'm not sure they ever quite understood the magnitude of the losses the Galaxy and the league would have had to bear this season."

But Beckham must part with his US team. To spurn or endanger the chance of playing in his last World Cup would be a disgrace and MLS must realise it is always better to move on an unhappy player, even if he is the world's most important one, before his moodiness affects the squad as a whole.

***

At home, Chelsea fired their third coach in three years, despite still being in the Champions League, FA Cup and Champions League qualifying places. Scolari was given no money to spend in the January transfer window either, which makes Roman Abramovich's decision seem doubly cruel.

The Russian has so far poured over £700m of his fortune into the West London club but this week the Blues also posted an annual loss of £66million, to add to the previous years' deficits of £75m, £140m and £88m. Abramovich has lost at least £12 billion in the last few months' economic slump, and on his fourth Chelsea manager in three years, one can only chuckle at Chief Executive Bruce Buck's description of his boss, in an interview with the Daily Telegraph in 2006:

"He has a very good business sense, a very good feel for people."

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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Thursday, February 12, 2009

Interrogation not required

Interrogation not required.
Australia's courageous Socceroos will wait until after their April World Cup qualifier against Uzbekistan before undergoing the kind of self-interrogation critics of the national side suggest might be needed right now.

Pim Verbeek's side dug deep in Yokohama against Japan on Wednesday night, exhausting even more luck from their depleted reserves to salvage a 0-0 draw. It was the national team's third straight unconvincing performance since sweeping aside Qatar 4-0 last October.

On all measures, the home side should have won and claimed the outright lead of Group A from their closest challengers.

Japan were slicker in possession and frugal at the back where the defenders easily coped with lone striker Tim Cahill. Only poor finishing led to the goalless stalemate which, with three of the final four qualifiers on home soil, clearly suits the top-of-the-table Socceroos.

Australia's finest were central defensive pairing Lucas Neill and Craig Moore, with left-back Scott Chipperfield also worthy of a mention after two months sidelined with a foot injury.

But Neill, who must quickly recover from the 14,000-mile round trip to face Middlesbrough in the FA Cup on Saturday, was nonplussed about Australia's latest indifferent display.

“It's not been ideal - the way we've flown in for a day and then had to play,'' he said afterwards.

“Come the next game against Uzbekistan (at ANZ Stadium on April 1) if we don't perform well we'll have to start questioning ourselves.

"But with eight days to prepare for a tough home game I think you will see a much more attacking side with more chances created."

Verbeek's men could wrap up qualification for South Africa in April - in stark contrast to 2005's memorable double header against Uruguay which went to the wire.

Then, the Socceroos squeezed into only their second finals thanks to Mark Schwarzer's penalty shootout heroics - and that after a long and winding final campaign in Oceania.

The Uzbeks travel to Sydney bottom of the group after their surprise 1-0 home defeat to Bahrain, with victory likely to leave Australia at least six points clear of the third-placed Bahrainis, the team the Socceroos host in June.

“Tonight we won't talk about the negatives," continued the West Ham skipper. “We're just happy to have kept another clean sheet and if we win our next game at home, technically we're probably there.''

No case for the defence

The Newcastle Jets - deposed A-League champions following a disastrous title defence when they won just four times - have commenced the inevitable cull which follows such a lacklustre campaign.

Ahead of their AFC Champions League group opener next month, Gary van Egmond has unveiled a brand new central defensive pairing in Ljubo Milicevic and Ange Costanzo and three new strikers.

Milicevic, a former Australian Olympic captain, has been out of the spotlight since his contract with Melbourne Victory was terminated amid allegations of substance abuse - claims he denies.

Meanwhile, Costanzo arrives from Champions League finalists Adelaide United and further helps soften the impact of losing Socceroos centre half Jade North to K-League side Incheon United.

Van Egmond's overhaul of his forwards after Newcastle scored just 21 times in as many matches last season includes the acquisition of two foreign strikers in Dutchman Donny de Groot and Italian Fabio Vignaroli.

The Jets have also brought in journeyman forward Sasho Petrovski who becomes the first A-League player to represent all three NSW clubs. Petrovski, the one-time Socceroos striker, played for Sydney FC in seasons one and two before joining the Central Coast Mariners.

Joel Griffiths is on-loan to Chinese Super League club Beijing Guoan until the end of the calendar year.

Copyright © Marc Fox and Soccerphile.com

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Japan frustrated by scoreless stalemate with Australia

If the pressure was well and truly on Japan coach Takeshi Okada going into his side's World Cup qualifier with Australia in Yokohama, then the resultant 0-0 draw will have done little to alleviate it.

Japan dominated in front of 65,571 fans at Yokohama International Stadium, but a combination of poor finishing and dogged defending from the Socceroos saw Pim Verbeek's team snatch a hard-earned point.

Missing English Premier League stars Harry Kewell, Mark Viduka and Brett Emerton through injury, Pim Verbeek's decision not to field a single recognised striker from the start spoke volumes for Australia's approach to this clash.

It was left to the Blue Samurai to dictate the tempo as they surged forward in search of an early goal to calm the nerves of the home fans, and they almost found one when Nagoya Grampus striker Keiji Tamada hit the side netting after just five minutes.

Japan frustrated by a dour Australia in Yokohama
Japan's best chance arrived from a Shunsuke Nakamura free-kick, but the Celtic wizard fired his effort well over the crossbar.

When Gamba Osaka midfielder Yasuhito Endo took over free-kick duties late in the first half he failed to even beat the wall - however the diminutive midfielder did manage to sting Mark Schwarzer's palms with a stinging long-range drive with twenty minutes remaining.

For their part Australia managed just a solitary shot on goal for the entirety of the match, as Verbeek's plan to take a point from this tricky-looking fixture came to fruition.

Australia's spoiling tactics were lamented in some circles Down Under, but on the whole the pragmatic Dutchman has received faint praise for taking 10 points from the opening four final round qualifiers.

Japan's next clash is at home to Bahrain in Saitama on March 28, while on April 1 Australia take on Uzbekistan in Sydney.

Copyright © Michael Tuckerman & Soccerphile.com

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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Fifa World Rankings February 2009

In another quiet month, there are no changes in the top 11 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 16th. Russia are 9th with the USA up to 20th.


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

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Last month's Fifa World Rankings

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Brazil bag their 10th under-20 Sudamericano

Brazil have been crowned South American under-20 champions in Venezuela without kicking a ball.

The 2-2 draw between Uruguay and Paraguay meant that Brazil could not be caught at the top of the final group stage. The result delivered Brazil their tenth under-20 Sudamericano and means the squad now travel to the World Cup in Egypt as hot favourites.

Uruguay tried keeping the pressure on Brazil and they took the lead against Paraguay through Jonathan Urretaviscaya in the 13th minute in their final game. The winger who plays his club football in Portugal with Benfica slotted home a cool finish to give Uruguay a dream start.

The joy was short lived for the Uruguayans as Paraguay levelled two minutes later when poor defending allowed Aldo Paniagua in to equalise.

This goal saw Paraguay take hold of the game as they sought revenge for their first round 4-2 defeat to Uruguay. Paraguay took the lead on the half hour mark as Paniagua once again popped up in the right place at the right time.

Uruguay came out galvanised after the break and looked to get back into the game. A bombardment of the Paraguayan goal followed with substitutes Abel Hernandez and Santiago Garcia impressing for Uruguay.

An equaliser eventually came 15 minutes from time when Hernandez struck from range and Uruguay continued to press and look to breach the Paraguay defence for a third time.

A winning goal did not come and Uruguay had to settle for a place at the World Cup rather than claim the South American title.

Four wins on the spin had propelled Brazil to the top of the final hexagonal stage of the competition. Wins over Uruguay, Argentina, Venezuela and Colombia put the Canarinha into such an unassailable lead they were able to lose their final game against Paraguay with the trophy already in their grasp.

After their point against Uruguay it was Paraguay who found themselves with something to play for against incumbent champions Brazil in the last game of the tournament. A win would guarantee Paraguay a place at the under-20 World Cup and keep football in the country riding on the crest of a wave following the recent good results of the senior team.

However Brazil seemed determined to go out in style and peppered the Paraguay goal from the get go. Good efforts from Giuliano and Alan Kardec were saved in style by Joel Silva in the Paraguayan goal and star striker Walter fluffed a gilt edged chance for Brazil.

Joel Silva was eventually beaten in the second half by a wicked free-kick from midfield wizard Douglas Costa, this time it was the woodwork that came to Paraguay’s rescue.

Then the Brazilian goalkeeper, Rafael, was called upon to make a routine save after being a virtual spectator all game and he committed a howler.

This gaff allowed Hernan Perez to fire home and put Paraguay into an expected lead very much against the run of play.

Brazil continued to mount wave after wave of attacks but Joel Silva was not to be beaten and his man of the match performance brought home three points, the runners-up spot and a place at the World Cup in Egypt for Paraguay.

Brazil had previously failed to convince in the first round group stage with a defeat against Uruguay and a draw against Paraguay. Question marks were appearing above much hyped players such as Douglas Costa and Walter.

Their division for the first round stage certainly lived up to its billing as The Group of Death with qualifiers Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay claiming the top three places in the final hexagonal group.

These three teams will now travel to the under-20 World Cup in Egypt later this year along with hosts Venezuela who finished up fourth.

One team that won’t be travelling to North Africa is current under-20 word champions Argentina and participants in the World Cup for the past 16 years.

Argentina’s campaign eventually came to an end with a one-nil defeat to Colombia, the other team to miss out on a World Cup berth from the final hexagonal tournament.

Argentina's exemplary record at this level has seen then win five of the last seven under-20 World Cups but they will not be there to defend their title this time around.

The Argentines only managed to record one victory at the tournament. This two-one win against a Peru team who lost every game was backed up with five draws and three defeats.

Tim Sturtridge

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Monday, February 9, 2009

Azadi Atmosphere Awaits For South Korea

Azadi Atmosphere Awaits For South Korea.
Last week South Korea decided to bid for either the 2018 or 2022 World Cups. Tonight, attention is focused solely on qualifying for the 2010 version as the national team takes on Iran in Tehran.

100,000 fans (all male – though female Korean fans are allowed with headscarves) will cram into the imposing Azadi Stadium in the Persian capital to watch a big match between two of Asia's biggest rivals. It will not be a night for the faint-hearted.

It could have been a lot worse however. The Taeguk Warriors take the field in Tehran with seven points from three games so far, two points clear at the top of Group Two in Asian qualification. The top two teams automatically qualify for South Africa.

Iran is in second with five while Saudi Arabia and North Korea, who meet in Pyongyang, have four each. UAE is virtually out of the running with one.

A win for Huh Jung-moo's men would put them well in control of the group at the halfway stage. As three of those last four games take place in the Land of the Morning Calm, it would be a huge step along the road to 2010. In truth a draw would be more than satisfactory. In three matches in Tehran, Korea has never won. On paper, it is the toughest of the five remaining games.

Iran is a formidable opponent. Javad Nekounam plays for Osasuna in Spain and is one of Asia's best midfielders – powerful and inspirational. Much has been made in the Korean media of the fact that ‘Neka' will be faced by young Seoul star Ki Sung-yung. If Ki – tipped for great things – can hold his own against the Persian Prince on his own turf then it could be a night to remember.

Nekounam believes that older heads than Ki's will struggle at the Azadi Stadium. Park Ji-sung plays for Manchester United, the champions of England, Europe and the world but his Iranian counterpart believes he may struggle to handle the Azadi atmosphere. "Even Park, with his high level of experience, will face a different kind of atmosphere in Azadi. They have never before played under the pressure of 100,000 passionate fans. It will be hell for them," he said.

"I've played in huge stadiums in Spain. But Azadi is odd. They will be awestruck when they come out of the dressing room. Korea will taste the real feeling of loneliness. We have never lost with such fabulous support. Korea will be no exception."

Ali Daei holds the record for most international goals scored and is now the head coach of Iran – coincidentally, denying South Korea's former assistant, Afshin Ghotbi, the job. While the pressure is on Iran to win, Daei is confident.

"South Korea is a good team but I think we are much better than them and can defeat them with our foreign-based players in front of our fans," Daei told Tehran news agency ISNA. "The Iranian media has exaggerated South Korea. I have seen their friendly matches against Syria and Bahrain. They are not as big as what we have been led to believe."

Maybe not but those two warm-up ties extended the Taeguk Warriors' unbeaten run to 17 matches. Daei does have a point as the second of those two matches, a 2-2 draw against Bahrain was littered with defensive mistakes. Those errors need to be ironed out against an Iran team that hasn’t tasted defeat since the quarter-finals of the 2007 Asian Cup - against South Korea.

Park Ji-sung and the other European-based players arrived in Tehran on Monday, giving them little time to acclimatize to the conditions, which include a stadium located 1200 meters above sea level.

That shouldn't be high enough to induce dizziness but three points for Korea in the Iranian capital will put Korea clear at the summit of the group and within sight of their South African objective.

Copyright: John Duerden & Soccerphile

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Sunday, February 8, 2009

2009 J. League fixture list unveiled

2009 J. League fixture list unveiled.
The 2009 J. League fixture list has been announced.

The first round of fixtures heralds a marquee clash between bitter rivals Kashima Antlers and Urawa Reds at Kashima Stadium, while J1 newcomers Montedio Yamagata travel to Yamaha Stadium to take on Jubilo Iwata.

The highlight clash in Round 2 sees Urawa Reds host regional foes FC Tokyo, while Nagoya Grampus travel to ND Soft Stadium in Yamagata as Montedio prepare to host their first ever top-flight fixture.

The announcement of the fixture list was delayed by one week this season to accommodate the complex scheduling of the J2 campaign.

Three new clubs in the form of Tochigi SC, Kataller Toyama and Fagiano Okayama have been added to J2 - prompting another marathon 51-game season.

Opening day highlights include Consadole Sapporo's grudge match with Vegalta Sendai at the Sapporo Dome, while there's a Kanagawa derby in Hiratsuka when Shonan Bellmare welcome Yokohama FC to Hiratsuka Stadium.

In Round 2 cash-strapped FC Gifu welcome fellow strugglers Ventforet Kofu to Nagaragawa Stadium, while Tokyo Verdy host Cerezo Osaka at Ajinomoto Stadium in a match-up between two fallen giants.

With four J. League teams competing in a revamped AFC Champions League this season the format of the Yamazaki Nabisco League Cup group stage has once again been altered, with two groups of seven set to face off for the right to progress to the quarter-finals - while J2 teams have once again been overlooked by the J. League's premier knock-out competition.

Full fixture lists for J1, J2 and the Yamazaki Nabisco League Cup can be found at the J. League's official English-language website.

Copyright © Michael Tuckerman & Soccerphile.com

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Friday, February 6, 2009

Tit-for-tat spats ahead of crucial World Cup qualifier

Tit-for-tat spats ahead of crucial World Cup qualifier.
Japan's upcoming World Cup qualifier against Australia in Yokohama has been punctuated by an on-going verbal stoush between the two sides.

The chatter kicked off in earnest after Japan beat Qatar 3-0 in Doha last November, with a bullish Japan coach Takeshi Okada telling reporters that he wanted to "shut up" the Socceroos.

Predictably his statement was like a red rag to a bull for the Australians, with Socceroos skipper Lucas Neill retorting that his team could be one of the first to qualify for the finals in South Africa in 2010 by picking up three points in Yokohama.

Never short of a quote, West Ham United defender Neill went on to declare that Australia has the "mental edge" over a struggling Japanese side.

"We know psychologically we have a slight edge over them from the World Cup," Neill told AAP in the build-up to an eagerly anticipated clash.

That World Cup reference comes from Australia's epic 3-1 win over Japan in the group stage of the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany - which launched the Socceroos on their way to the second round.

Japan claimed revenge with a penalty shoot-out victory in the quarter-finals of the 2007 AFC Asian Cup, and the tension is building ahead of the latest installment of this burgeoning rivalry.

Just days away from the clash at a sold-out Yokohama International Stadium, Takeshi Okada has softened his tone.

"I need to be careful about what I say now... all I can say is that it won't be as easy as tonight," he told The Daily Yomiuri in the wake of Japan's recent 5-1 friendly defeat over an inexperienced Finland at the National Stadium in Tokyo.

"There were some things we did well today, and some things we didn't.

Thinking about the Australia game, I think we needed to execute better, but the match was meaningful to us."

Okada is under fierce pressure after his side were beaten 1-0 by Bahrain in Manama in an AFC Asian Cup qualifier at the end of last month.

At the same time Australia drew 0-0 with Indonesia in Jakarta, however Socceroos coach Pim Verbeek negated any potential criticism ahead of that clash by naming a side comprised entirely of A-League representatives.

Verbeek has reverted to a largely European-based squad for the match in Yokohama - but they will meet just 48 hours prior to kick-off - handing Japan somewhat of a psychological advantage.

The cagey Dutchman has been quick to turn the pressure back on Japan, however, telling reporters that his team can afford to lose in Yokohama and still qualify comfortably for the finals in South Africa.

Okada, meanwhile, will be desperate for a win - with some sections of the Japanese press calling for his head following a lacklustre qualifying campaign so far.

It all points to a fascinating encounter in Yokohama, although with the top two from a five-team group qualifying automatically for South Africa, both Japan and Australia have time up their sleeves to guarantee themselves a place at FIFA's money-spinning extravaganza.

The Japan - Australia clash will take place on February 11 at Yokohama International Stadium, with kick-off set for 7.20pm local time.

Copyright © Michael Tuckerman & Soccerphile.com

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Thursday, February 5, 2009

Beckham to turn back on American soccer revolution

Beckham to turn back on American soccer revolution.
The majority of the footballing world was put into a state of shock when in 2007 David Beckham announced that he was move to American side LA Galaxy. Many questioned whether Golden Balls any longer had any football motivations other than continuing his flagging England career when the global superstar made the move. Although few could deny that it would have been difficult for anyone to turn down the amount of money Beckham was being offered, with some reports suggesting as much as $250,000-a-week.

When the Galaxy brought in Becks talk was rife that the MLS may soon be in competition with the NFL and the NBA, with soccer replacing baseball as America's national sport. However that may have been a slight over sight because the wave of top quality European footballers who were expected to come in and boost the quality of American soccer hasn't happened. Neither has soccer become the American sweetheart of sport across the pond.

On the field LA Galaxy haven't been the soccer sensation that many had hoped, making the play-offs once since Beckham came to the club and even then being knocked out by the Chicago Fire as the football betting was turned on its head.

It was only Beckham who realised that he wasn't going to be the messiah everyone had expected, acknowledging that soccer would never overtake American football or baseball despite the media coverage of the former England captains move. Now it seems that Becks has given up on his American revolution, much to the apparent disgust of his wife, and is finally going to head back to Europe and play football once again rather than soccer.

Beckham finally acknowledged that he wanted to leave the Galaxy after Wednesday's friendly against Rangers, seemingly fed up with the Hollywood lifestyle and intent on keeping his place in the England side for the 2010 World Cup. Becks' chances of pulling on the three lions jersey at a major competition again were faltering fast but since arriving at the San Siro things have begun to look up

AC Milan have received a much needed boost since the arrival of the former Man Utd and Real Madrid midfielder, having done so well that Carlo Ancelotti feels he can boost his sides football odds for the Uefa Cup by including him in squad for their next round tie with Werder Bremen, despite Beckham's loan being scheduled to finish at the beginning of March. No one expected Beckham to be the on field the success he has been, with many suggesting that Becks had been brought in to boost the Rossoneri's shirt sales.

Now it appears as though Beckham could stay on for the remainder of the Serie A season and potentially beyond that despite L.A Galaxy's protests. So it appears as though Beckham will be leaving soccer in the U.S. in a similar state to the one he found and instead take one last crack at the big time with Milan.

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Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The joy of facts

Football supporters can be cruel. Ask Arsene Wenger.

But often those with a passion for standing on the terraces in the freezing cold also like to think that they provide unrivalled spontaneity and wit.

Fans of Manchester United have these past few weeks demonstrated they can be as quick to exploit an easy target as anyone.

"Top of the league and that's a fact!" United's support have taken to chanting as the team's trademark post-Christmas run chalked up a startling 12th English Premier League match without conceding a goal against Everton over the weekend.

Their mocking, of course, refers to Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez's obsession with facts, and principally his recent rant over the supposed preferential treatment bestowed his major rival by the Football Association.

Until Sunday's last-gasp victory over Chelsea, the Spaniard's pre-planned outburst about United looked on shaky ground. Liverpool had not come out on top in any of their three Premier League games since, being held to draws by Stoke City, Everton and Wigan.

United's weekend win over Everton, meanwhile, was their seventh straight league win and ensured the champions entered February having turned an eight-point deficit into a two-point lead at the summit of the Premiership table - with a game still in hand.

Sir Alex Ferguson noted his side's ruthless streak after they dispatched 10-man West Brom 5-0 a week ago. United's biggest away win of their title defence was, he said, the first indication the team's vast attacking array was finding its rhythm.

The game included Cristiano Ronaldo's first goals in two-and-a-half months plus Dimitar Berbatov's 11th of the season. Four days later Ronaldo scored from the spot against Everton as if to underline Ferguson's point.

They are managing, too, without the sidelined Wayne Rooney and with Carlos Tevez not quite at his finest. But in the languid Berbatov Ferguson has at his disposal a Rolls Royce.

Against a backdrop of Benitez offloading the unhappy Robbie Keane, the other striker signed from Tottenham in the summer transfer window is, in Ferguson's opinion, beginning to motor.

The Bulgarian has found the net five times since Christmas and looks like he's just starting to find his feet at the world champions with United's faithful even beginning to accept his indolence.

“I’m not lazy, I’m just relaxed," argues the striker.

"I watch games and see guys who panic on the ball – they look so nervous on the ball. I sometimes know what I want to do before the ball comes to me."

Copyright © Marc Fox and Soccerphile.com

World Soccer Gifts

Soccerphile has teamed up with "World Soccer Gifts" to give away 2 t-shirts to 2 lucky Soccerphile readers from their site www.worldsoccergifts.com.

World Soccer Gifts

To win a T-shirt of your choosing from their site all you have to do is write a short paragraph about what it feels like to be a soccer fan of your countries National Team.

Be creative, show your passion, express what frustrates you. The best moment of your National team or the worst. Unknown interesting facts and statistics. Describe a game you attended or write a poem. Anything goes. You may attach a personal photo in jpg form of a match you attended or artwork - obviously the photo or artwork will be attributed to you.

For more details go to :

www.worldsoccergifts.com/Competition.html

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

World Cup 2018 & 2022 Bids

So far there have been a dozen bids for the right to stage the 2018 and 2022 World Cup finals.

The following nations have officially tendered their bids to Fifa: Australia, Egypt (2022 only), England, Indonesia, Japan, Qatar, South Korea, Mexico, Russia and the United States have made individual bids.

Netherlands and Belgium, and Spain and Portugal have made joint bids, which are not now favored by Fifa.