Monday, August 31, 2009
Kashiwa Reysol 0 Kyoto Sanga 0
Kawasaki Frontale 1 Shimizu S-Pulse 1
Montedio Yamagata 1 Sanfrecce Hiroshima 2
Saturday August 29
FC Tokyo 2 Oita Trinita 0
Jubilo Iwata 1 Gamba Osaka 3
Nagoya Grampus 1 Albirex Niigata 0
Omiya Ardija 3 Kashima Antlers 1
Vissel Kobe 3 Urawa Reds 2
Yokohama F Marinos 1 JEF United Chiba 1
Kashima Antlers remain top of the J-League followed by Kawasaki Frontale, Sanfrecce Hiroshima and Shimizu S-Pulse. Frontale could only close the gap by one point with a home draw with S-Pulse after Antlers crashed away to Omiya.
Urawa Reds' poor season continues with their 7th successive loss.
Kashima Antlers P24 Pts 50
Kawasaki Frontale P24 Pts 43
Sanfrecce Hiroshima P24 40
Shimizu S-Pulse P24 Pts 40
Gamba Osaka P23 Pts 39
Albirex Niigata P24 Pts 36
Previous J-League results
Friday, August 28, 2009
But North Korea making a second ever appearance at the World Cup? Now that is a little different and made headlines from Argentina to Zimbabwe.
The first time round, it all happened in England in 1966. The unfancied north-east Asians shocked the soccer world by defeating the mighty Italians 1-0. The Azzurri returned home to be pelted by tomatoes at the airport while North Korea progressed to a quarterfinal against Portugal.
There, in the city of Liverpool, cheered on by thousands of English fans that had taken the underdogs to their hearts, the Koreans took an amazing 3-0 lead. It didn’t - it couldn’t - last, and their dreams were dashed by the mighty Eusebio who inspired a comeback and a 5-3 win.
Something similar in South Africa would keep soccer fans north of the 38th Parallel happy for another 44 years. That is exactly what North Korean midfielder An Yong-hak told me recently.
“As a team, we haven’t really talked about our final objective,” the 30 year-old said.
"However, personally, I really want to win games at the World Cup and not just be satisfied with participation. I want to go past the first round of tournament. I know it will be difficult, but I want to win and go to the second round rather than being satisfied saying that it’s okay to draw or to lose just because we are in World Cup.”
The whole nation is already excited and is still recovering from the tension involved in booking the spot in South Africa. With one match remaining in a tight qualification group, North Korea had to go to West Asian powerhouse Saudi Arabia on June 17 and avoid defeat.
It could have been worse. Earlier in the evening South Korea had played Iran in Seoul. An Iranian win would have left An and his team-mates needing victory in Riyadh. With Iran leading 1-0 with nine minutes left at Seoul World Cup Stadium. It wasn’t looking good but then Park Ji-sung struck to score a goal that was cheered all over the Korean peninsula and a hotel in Riyadh.
“I watched the game with my roommate in my hotel room in Saudi Arabia,” recalls An. “(When Park scored) I thought, "Thank you so much, thank you so much." Because that meant we had a great chance!”
Despite only needing a draw and not a win, it was still a tough and tight encounter at the King Fahd International Stadium and Saudi Arabia spent much of the match attacking.
“As the game started, we were a bit nervous, more than a usual game, but we tried to encourage each other and help each other as much as we could. Playing in that match and doing what we did was like achieving my dream. We knew that we had to be as good as could be. We knew that this was our chance to go to the World Cup and we weren’t going to let that go.”
"We all knew that if we won this game, we would qualify for the World Cup. At the same time, we knew that if we made a mistake in the game then we would regret missing the chance for the rest of our lives.”
They didn’t and they won’t. The players did their duty to earn a spot at the biggest sporting event on the planet next summer. Scenes of DPRK joy at the stadium were beamed around the world but it was a restrained occasion for the players.
"If we had been in Pyongyang at that moment, we might have gone out and celebrated,” said An.
"But we were in Saudi Arabia, so we were just delighted with the result in the stadium, and then came back to hotel and went to bed.
“I actually didn’t go back to Pyongyang with the team. However, when the other players arrived in Pyongyang, they received a very enthusiastic greeting at the airport and a lot of people, maybe tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands, came out on the streets and congratulated the team all the way from the airport to downtown Pyongyang.”
Now the hard work starts. North Korea, a team that plays few friendly games, will likely be the lowest-ranked team at the World Cup. Opponents may not know much about North Korea but that advantage will only go so far.
“We need experience. We need many practice games. I think until June 2010, we need to improve ourselves by having practice matches with strong teams such as European, South American or African teams.”
That would be ideal practice for An’s ideal group which consists of, “Brazil from South America, England from Europe and Egypt from Africa. They are the best and it will be very difficult.”
And after that? The midfielder has his eyes on a personal prize.
“I want to play in England's Premier League because I have had seen many games on television. The supporters are passionate, and I like the fact that the fans sit really close to the action at the stadium.
Also, the Premier League is a high level league and has a great history with many famous players. That’s where I want to play one day. I would like to play at any good club in the Premier League.”
Copyright: John Duerden & Soccerphile
Thursday, August 27, 2009
He wasn't the most high-profile star at his A-League club. He's not even the most recognisable player in his family.
But the twin brother to Joel and older brother of Ryan made headlines this month when he swapped A-League club Gold Coast United for Saudi side Al-Shabab after just one game.
Gold Coast pocketed a cool $A650,000 for the transaction, but the ramifications of the move were perhaps not fully understood in Australia.
Al-Shabab's decision to poach the no-frills defender signalled a willingness for Gulf clubs to look Down Under for their football stars.
Now that Gamba Osaka's star striker Leandro is set to leave Japan in a 1 billion yen move with Qatari side Al-Sadd, it could spell trouble for both J. League clubs and those further afield.
When former Nagoya Grampus striker Davi cashed in his yen for the Gulf just as compatriots Baré and Magno Alves had done before him, respected J. League columnist Jeremy Walker wrote, "let them go."
Walker argued that there were plenty more Brazilians to go around the J. League in the future.
But there are only so many Australian-born, locally-produced defenders of the calibre of Adam Griffiths to go around.
As influential Australian writer Jesse Fink has pointed out, an inadvertent effect of the AFC's new "3+1" rule could be the plundering of more frugal leagues by those from the oil-rich Gulf states.
In Emerson, Baré and now Leandro, Gulf clubs have demonstrated a fondness for bustling strikers who provide a physical presence in front of goal.
That's precisely the category that current A-League top scorer Shane Smeltz falls under.
Gold Coast United officials may claim that Smeltz is not for sale "at any price," but these are the same officials who found an offer for Adam Griffiths too good to refuse.
Smeltz will lead the line for New Zealand in their upcoming World Cup qualifying playoff against either Saudi Arabia or Bahrain in October.
What price a Smeltz move to the Gulf states on the back of that World Cup showdown?
Back in Osaka, Gamba will downgrade from star striker Leandro to the slightly less exotic Cho Jae-Jin.
A Korean for a Brazilian - it's a common trade in the J. League these days.
And Australian officials may also find that the departure of Adam Griffiths was a mere precursor of things to come, with the first trickle through the floodgates potentially yielding a torrent.
Copyright © Michael Tuckerman & Soccerphile.com
Monday, August 24, 2009
Harry Redknapp's rejuvenated side secured a 2-1 win at London rivals West Ham to move ahead of Chelsea on goal difference. Spurs start is in stark contrast to this time last season when they failed to reach nine points until November; a run that resulted in the dismissal of former manager Juande Ramos.
Redknapp was brought in to steady the ship but this season his target will be a lot more ambitious and there is even talk of breaking into the top four, after wins against Liverpool, Hull and West Ham.
Just behind Tottenham are Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City who all continued
their 100% records. City and Chelsea both showed their resistance by grinding out victories against Wolves and Fulham respectively, while Arsenal enjoyed a somewhat easier task, as they cruised, as Premiership betting favourites, to a 4-1 win over crisis club Portsmouth.
Arsenal have now scored ten goals in their opening two games but will come up against much tougher opposition next week when they take on Manchester United at Old Trafford. The match will be an interesting test for both sides, with Arsenal written off by all and sundry before the start of the season and United enduring a topsy-turvy start, which has included a 1-0 defeat to relegation favourites Burnley and a 5-0 away victory at Wigan.
Elsewhere in the Premier League it was a good weekend for Hull City, who picked up their first three points of the campaign with victory against Bolton. The 1-0 win came courtesy of two new strikers; debutant Jozy Altidore setting up Kamel Ghilas, with his first touch after coming off the bench.
In the remaining games, Sunderland made it two wins from three as a wasteful Blackburn Rovers slumped to a 2-1 defeat. Burnley kept up their momentum with a 1-0 win over Everton and Birmingham and Stoke served up the first draw of the season in a 0-0 stalemate at St. Andrews.
Gamba Osaka 2 Nagoya Grampus 3
Kashima Antlers 3 FC Tokyo 1
Kawasaki Frontale 2 Montedio Yamagata 0
Saturday August 22
Omiya Ardija 1 JEF United Chiba 1
Albirex Niigata 1 Kyoto Sanga 2
Shimizu S-Pulse 5 Jubilo Iwata 1
Sanfrecce Hiroshima 2 Urawa Reds 1
Kashiwa Reysol 1 Yokohama F Marinos 1
Kashima Antlers continue to lead the J-League followed by Kawasaki Frontale and Shimizu S-Pulse. Urawa Reds' poor season continues with yet another defeat, this time to promoted Hiroshima.
Kashima Antlers P23 Pts 50
Kawasaki Frontale P23 Pts 42
Shimizu S-Pulse P23 Pts 39
Sanfrecce Hiroshima P23 37
Albirex Niigata P23 Pts 36
Gamba Osaka P23 Pts 36
Urawa Reds P23 Pts 34
Previous J-League results
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
When they needed desperately to win, Urawa Reds slumped to one of the most stunning defeats in recent J. League history as the Saitama giants were torn apart by second-from-bottom Kashiwa Reysol.
The 4-1 scoreline is only half the story.
Kashiwa's masterful passing game had the Reds chasing shadows, and when Urawa did pour forward they were hit time and again by Reysol's incisive counter-attacks.
That the J. League's second-from-bottom team could so comprehensively inflict defeat upon one of Japan's biggest clubs is a testament to the competitiveness of the league.
Urawa's loss was their fifth in succession in league action. Coupled with a recent League Cup exit, the pressure has now been piled on German coach Volker Finke.
Missing Keisuke Tsuboi and captain Keita Suzuki through suspension, the Reds also had to make do without teenage midfield star Naoki Yamada - who limped off injured in Urawa's most recent 1-0 loss away at Gamba Osaka.
The return of injury-prone playmaker Robson Ponte to the starting eleven did little to inspire, as the Reds found themselves behind midway through the first half thanks to a fabulous Reysol goal.
Former Juntendo University striker Junya Tanaka only made his debut for Kashiwa in a 0-0 draw in the Chiba derby against JEF United last weekend, but the youngster played his part in the opener as his pass was dummied by Yuki Otsu, who then wheeled away from his marker before collecting Popo's incisive through ball and slotting past Ryota Tsuzuki in the Urawa goal.
Popo was clearly in the mood in front of 38,740 fans at Saitama Stadium, and when the Brazilian played a one-two off a short corner just three minutes later, the Urawa defence was clearly not expecting him to unleash a piledriver that crashed through Tsuzuki's outstretched fingertips and almost burst the back of the net.
Urawa pulled a goal back through talisman Marcus Tulio Tanaka's header from a corner - their first goal in five games in all competitions.
But if Reds supporters expected a fightback in the second half, it failed to materalise, as Kashiwa continued to puncture the Urawa defence with calculated counter-attacking football.
Popo missed a golden opportunity to seal proceedings on the hour mark, as his skidding drive flashed agonisingly wide of the far post.
However former Bundesliga coach Finke must have winced at the sight of ex-Bayer Leverkusen striker Franca warming up on the sidelines, and sure enough the agile Brazilian made an immediate impact when he replaced Popo, with Franca hammering home a twenty yard strike just seconds after Reysol had cleared off the line at the other end.
Urawa's ignominous defeat was sealed when Robson Ponte was dispossessed in midfield, and his former Leverkusen team-mate Franca swiftly released Yuki Otsu, who burst past a tired Tulio before angling his finish across the face of goal and into the bottom corner.
This was a comprehensive defeat for the Reds - who were as lax in defence as they were toothless in attack.
The manner of this defeat will have critics asking questions of coach Finke, and the former Freiburg tactician has an obvious dearth of fresh talent to call upon at his struggling side.
Urawa have now dropped to seventh in the standings on the back of this painful defeat.
Should the Saitama giants miss out on the Asian Champions League for the second year in succession, then Volker Finke may discover that his Japanese journey could be set for an abrupt and unexpected end.
Full August 19 results
Vissel Kobe 1 Kashima Antlers 0
Kyoto Sanga 0 Shimizu S-Pulse 1
JEF United 0 Nagoya Grampus 2
Sanfrecce Hiroshima 1 Oita Trinita 0
Montedio Yamagata 1 FC Tokyo 0
Jubilo Iwata 2 Kawasaki Frontale 1
Albirex Niigata 1 Gamba Osaka 2
Yokohama F. Marinos 1 Omiya Ardija 0
Urawa Reds 1 Kashiwa Reysol 4
All top four teams lost, with league leaders Kashima succumbing to new Kobe coach Toshiya Miura and his side. Gamba Osaka and Shimizu S-Pulse moved into fourth and fifth place respectively on the back of midweek victories on the road.
Copyright © Michael Tuckerman & Soccerphile.com
Monday, August 17, 2009
FC Tokyo 0 Yokohama F Marinos 0
Omiya Ardija 1 Jubilo Iwata 1
Shimizu S-Pulse 1 Albirex Niigata 1
Saturday, 15 August
Gamba Osaka 1 Urawa Reds 0
Kashima Antlers 1 Oita Trinita 0
Kyoto Sanga 1 Montedio Yamagata 0
JEF United Chiba 0 Kashiwa Reysol 0
Nagoya Grampus 0 Kawasaki Frontale 2
Vissel Kobe 0 Sanfrecce Hiroshima 0
Kashima Antlers lead the J-League followed by Kawasaki Frontale, Albirex Niigata and Urawa Reds. Kashima's lead is still 8 points after their win at home to cellar dwellers Oita. Nagoya Grampus are in free fall after another loss at home to Kawasaki Frontale.
Kashima Antlers P21 Pts 47
Kawasaki Frontale P21 Pts 39
Albirex Niigata P21 Pts 36
Urawa Reds P21 Pts 34
Previous J-League results
Sunday, August 16, 2009
Faced with the indignity of not one S-Pulse player making the J. Allstars team, football fans awoke last Tuesday to a sizeable earthquake shattering the peace of their sleepy town.
It'll be a different noise rocking the port city this evening, with all 20,330 tickets snapped up for tonight's "Orange Derby" against high-flying Albirex Niigata.
And Shimizu fans are likely to create a raucous atmosphere inside Outsourcing Stadium Nihondaira, with Kenta Hasegawa's team set to launch a late charge towards the Asian Champions League places.
After some shaky displays at the start of the campaign, the catalyst for Shimizu's rejuvenation has been the outstanding form of strikers Shinji Okazaki and Frode Johnsen.
Many S-Pulse fans felt Okazaki should have been an automatic choice for Oswaldo de Oliveira's J. Allstars select, but the Japan international won't complain about having last weekend off.
Okazaki has formed a lethal combination with lanky Norwegian striker Frode Johnsen, who after a slow start to his Shimizu career has suddenly exploded into life.
Johnsen was deemed surplus to requirements by Nagoya Grampus at the end of last season, but such was his influence at the Aichi-based club, Nagoya have now signed a like-for-like replacement in the form of giant Australian target man Joshua Kennedy.
Former policeman Johnsen has enjoyed a new lease of life at Shimizu, with his goals and assists keeping exciting youngster Kazuki Hara on the bench.
Injury-plagued ex-Urawa front man Yuichiro Nagai is another option for Shimizu coach Hasegawa in attack, but the S-Pulse tactician will be more pleased with the return from long-term injury of midfield lynchpin Masaki Yamamoto.
Shimizu recently knocked Saitama giants Urawa Reds out of the League Cup at the quarter-final stage, while their recent league form has been equally impressive.
Unbeaten in their last five league matches, Shimizu are now fifth in the standings and looking to heap pressure on third-placed Niigata by taking all three points from tonight's blockbuster.
The visitors have been strengthened by the return of influential striker Pedro Junior, but they won't relish a trip to the Nihondaira foothills.
It's all tickets sold at Outsta, for what will be the first of consecutive sell-out crowds at one of the J. League's most atmospheric venues.
Shizuoka rivals Jubilo Iwata are in town for the local derby next weekend, and squeezed in between is a full midweek round of action that sees Shimizu travel west to take on Kyoto Sanga.
In the meantime S-Pulse will be desperate to do the double over Niigata, having earlier beaten the northern side 1-0 at Big Swan Stadium thanks to a Yamamoto special.
Another win here could see Shimizu move fourth, with coach Hasegawa's side looking set to launch their annual late-season charge towards a top-three finish.
Copyright © Michael Tuckerman & Soccerphile.com
Saturday, August 15, 2009
Nothing has ticked me off more this week than the invasive Sky adverts at the railway station where I catch my daily train, in the free newspaper I read on the way to work and even on the internet when I get home.
To add working-class authenticity, a northern voice, presumably Sean Bean's as he did the original ads, interrupts my Spotify playlist to tell me "We know how you feel about football because we feel the same way." Do you bollocks.
I don't feel football should be a vehicle to exploit others' loyalty for financial gain and the political agenda of a vile media baron. And I don't think a TV station should be allowed to own a penny of a football club, let alone all of its biggest one.
Sky muscled itself into bed with football in 1993 by waving enough cash in its face, proving that everyone has their price. The creation of the Premier League began the pricing out of loyal fans, the exploitation of those who stayed, the unsocial scheduling of games for television and the paying of exorbitant salaries to players, creating a false idol of vacuous consumption for children to idolise. How can anyone morally justify earning 200,000 pounds a week? And what does it say about us that our media is constantly splashing stories about overpaid yobs, surrounded by gold-digging bimboes, burning fifty-pound notes in members-only nightclubs for a laugh? Thanks Rupe!
Most appalling of all is Sky's 'year zero' mentality, a deliberate attempt to erase all previous football history in England by quoting statistics which start in 1993, the first year of their exclusive TV contract. Forget Herbert Chapman's Arsenal, forget Stanley Matthews and Tom Finney, 1950s Wolves, Clough's Forest, the mighty Liverpool and the Busby Babes, they do not exist and never did because Sky TV was not around then. Football = Sky TV, got it?
True, the playing quality is higher thanks to the influx of players like Dennis Bergkamp, Thierry Henry and Cristiano Ronaldo, whom we assume may not have come to England without the extra dosh Sky supplied. A number of people make this argument to justify handing Sky the reins of our sport, such as the ridiculous Tim Lovejoy, former Soccer AM anchorman, who recently used an obscenity to describe English football in the years 'BS' - Before Sky. I hope this is the ignorance of youth speaking. Presumably Lovejoy and company never saw the joy of 1980s Liverpool in full flow or the five consecutive European Cups won by three different English teams, an achievement the Premier League has not come close to matching.
More silky foreigners mean fewer Englishmen, and once all the players and coaches are not English, it cannot be an English league anymore and its soul has been sold. Second-place finishers such as Ipswich, Southampton and Watford are gone forever - only a megabucks president can lift clubs like that into the top four today.
Behind the reduced competitiveness, restrictive ticket prices and damage to the national team lies a banal love of making money at all costs, a brutish philosophy our game should not be following. I am not calling for communism - we can be capitalists without being gangsters.
Greed may be Rupert Murdoch's god but it is not mine. A true football fan simply does not feel the same way about the game as Sky's marketing department. I tolerate Sky as long as they know their place but will not pay them to watch their broadcasts - the internet lets me keep my pound from Murdoch's pocket, thank God.
And ultimately the quality of play is not as important to the supporter as the richness of the experience of being a supporter - the value of the bond between clubs and fans, players and fans and fans and other fans, bonds which Sky have cut loose or poisoned.
Sky - you have never understood that. And I am never going to add you as a Facebook friend, so either get out of my game or shut up about being in touch with me, cos you're not.
(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile
Make no mistake. Geniuses achieve wondrous things and Arsenal have won nothing for four seasons. After the Arsenal-Man U hegemony of the 1990s, they now risk being overtaken by Liverpool and Manchester City. In creating an empire and a new castle at Ashburton Grove, Wenger is clearly the Gunners' most important boss since Herbert Chapman, but his trophy-less years leave him too open to flak to justify the genius tag.
Wenger lays his soul open to Matthew Syed over 13 pages here, touching upon his political beliefs (one-world government) and art preference (abstract, though he has never been to Tate Modern) amongst other things. It is an intriguing interview the like of which you could never see Harry Redknapp giving. Wenger, not Mourinho, is the special one.
Wenger finally confesses to lying, ackowledging his 'I did not see it' mantra as dishonest, but also refuses to concede that his buying policy, or lack of it, needs revision, when it was quite evident by the end of last season that for Arsenal, youth is not enough.
I am glad Wenger arrived and stayed in the previously closed-minded world of English football, forging an alternative way of doing things, fulfilling Voltaire's maxim to cultivate your own garden, while bringing many new ideas to the table.
But powerful reservations about him remain, paticularly regarding his apparent dismissal of international football and self-confessed robotic drive to make Arsenal the best, a direction he seems unable to swerve from, even when it seems to most eyes not to be the best route.
Anyone who has lived and worked in London for 13 years and could not show a visitor around because they have never visited the sights themselves is someone I find it hard to warm to.
Whatever one's opinion on the Frenchman off the field, the league does not lie. Wenger bravely predicts in the Syed interview that Arsenal will win the league this year, but should four barren years become five, the mythology of Mr. Wenger will unravel that bit further.
(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
Mexico v USA Azteca Stadium, Mexico City
The real revelation of international soccer this year has to be the USA, who shocked everyone by downing the world's top-ranked nation Spain 2-0 at the FIFA Confederations Cup in South Africa, before leading Brazil by the same score in the final, eventually losing 3-2.
After an impressive quarter-final finish in the 2002 World Cup and a disappointing first round exit in 2006, the States have announced they are gunning once more for football's top table.
Soccerphile spoke to West Ham & USA defender Jonathan Spector on the eve of his team's World Cup qualifier with Mexico at the Azteca about the American surge in South Africa.
"It is certainly a step in the right direction to get to the final of a major competition," Spector told Soccerphile, "but it is not enough to say we did a great job because we need to be looking to actually win once we get there."
Spector shone at right-back for the US in South Africa, providing the killer pass for Clint Dempsey's opening goal in the final, but was burned by a marauding Kaka for Brazil's equaliser.
"Tactically we had a good gameplan," Spector explained, "and we executed it really well. We created the chances mostly on counter-attacks and we finished them well in the final third which was the main thing which had been missing. We are proud of what we accomplished there and extremely disappointed at the same time to give up the two-goal lead we had going into half time."
Many of the Americans were in tears at the end, but the team's heroic feats in the knock-out stages, especially after they had squeezed through the group stage on goals scored, did not go unnoticed.
"It is great that there is a lot of publicity given to the US team," Spector said, "both in the US, which is somewhat unusual still unfortunately, as well as internationally. I think the US gained a lot of popularity and interest. I think we know we have bigger expectations on our shoulders and now it is up to us to keep them there."
The first test of this world-challenging US team post Confederations Cup comes this evening in surroundings which could not be more inhospitable - a World Cup qualifier against arch-rivals Mexico in Mexico City's 100,000-capacity Azteca Stadium.
The States, second in the CONCACAF qualifiers, have less to prove than El Tri, who lie fourth at the halfway stage. Only the top three go to South Africa automatically and the fourth finisher will play off against South America's fifth-best team for the final spot.
"We know it is going to be a difficult," confirmed Spector. "Obviously Mexico is a good team. They’ve got a lot of talented players and you have the difficulties of travelling, the altitude and the fans, but it is like that many times when we go away and we just have to concentrate on our preparation and our own performance and be confident."
While the US have overtaken their southern neighbour in recent seasons, a 2-0 victory at the 2002 World Cup in Korea confirming the new CONCACAF order, they have still never won at the Azteca and have one draw and 22 losses to show for their efforts in that cauldron. Mexico's unblemished home record versus the United States should make them close favourites, coupled with the psychological boon they got from thrashing the US' second string 5-0 in the Gold Cup final in July.
Costa Rica lead the group by two points from the US, with Honduras in third a point ahead of the Mexicans.
Mexico v USA kicks off at 2100 GMT.
(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Sunday, August 9, 2009
Everything is now geared towards next June. Unlike most Asian nations, the Koreans don't even have to worry about qualifying for the 2011 Asian Cup - that spot was clinched automatically after third place at the 2007 version. Coach Huh Jung-moo just has to think globally.
The game against Paraguay marks the first non-Asian opposition for the team since January 2008 – the first game of Huh’s reign. That match against the headline-writer’s dream that is Chile, was also the first and, to date, only loss that the team has suffered under the grizzled tactician.
An inter-continental match-up has been a long time coming. While it is hard to be too critical of that considering that the team has been working its way through the Asian zone of World Cup qualification, Japan has been doing the same but at the same time managed to squeeze games in against teams from Europe, Africa and South America.
Latin American adversaries have often caused problems for South Korea and Paraguay, ranked 28 places above the host at number 20 in the world; will be a tough test as it prepares for vital World Cup qualification matches against Bolivia and Argentina in September. Two good results there should see the boys from Asuncion ascend to the summit that is South Africa.
The Seoul media, and no doubt a good number of young women in the capital, are disappointed that the visitors' best known player and all-round heart-throb Roque Santa Cruz, who recently cost Manchester City around $30 million, is injured and absent.
Manchester United star Park Ji-sung is fit and healthy but he won’t be playing either. With the English Premier League season starting just three days after the match, coach Huh has left the 28 year-old at home in order to stake a claim for a spot in the starting eleven for the English champions.
Huh has no such qualms about summoning Cho Won-hee of, the less glamorous English top tier team, Wigan Athletic as well as Park Chu-young who is starting his second season in Ligue One with AS Monaco.
Lee Young-pyo is not playing in Europe for the first time since the end of 2002. After his spells with PSV Eindhoven, Tottenham Hotspur in London and then last season with Borussia Dortmund, the popular and versatile defender is back in Asia . He recently joined Saudi Arabian giants Al Hilal. After making 105 appearances in the famous red shirt of the national team, the 2010 World Cup will be Lee’s last.
As well as the old boys, there are some very new faces that could be facing the South Americans tonight. Two boys from Busan Lee Kang-jin and Lee Sung-hyun are hoping that they make it across the white line for the first time. Pohang defender Kim Hyung-il wants to add to his solitary appearance.
Much attention was focused on whether Lee Dong-gook would be called up for the first time since the summer of 2007. His 14 K-League goals this season so far have put him in the headlines and as of last week, back in the national team. The Lion King needs to show that he has something to offer but his experience, has scored 22 goals in 71 games for South Korea, is something that the Taeguk Warriors are in need of.
He is set to start and will be partnered by either Lee Keun-ho of Japan’s Jubilo Iwata or Park Chu-young.
All strikers know that a couple of goals in this game against Paraguay tonight or against Australia in September will give them an early claim to one of the two starting spots in offer in South Africa next summer.
It all starts now.
Copyright: John Duerden & Soccerphile.com
Thursday, August 6, 2009
Liverpool may have finally lost Xabi Alonso to Real Madrid after a summer long transfer battle but manager Rafael Benitez has wasted no time in finding a replacement. The man set to fill the void is talented Roma midfielder Alberto Aquilani, who is set for a medical later this week.
The two clubs agreed a fee of around £20million for Aquilani just a few hours after Alonso completed his £30million move to Madrid. A statement on the Liverpool website confirmed that Aquilani has been lined up as a replacement for some time. It said: “Liverpool completed their discussions with Roma once the sale of Xabi Alonso to Real Madrid was finally agreed.”
Manager Rafael Benitez added: “As soon as he [Alonso] told us that he wanted to leave we started working, looking for players”.
Aquilani is a creative midfielder in the Alonso mould and at just 25 years old (three years younger than the Spaniard) could prove to be an inspired signing by Benitez. The Liverpool boss said: “Alberto has a winning mentality and great experience in both Serie A and the Champions League”.
Aquilani has also become a regular in the national squad and has made 11 appearances for Italy since making his international debut in 2006.
“Aquilani has long been recognised as a top class talent in Italy, captaining his country at both Under 19 and Under 21 levels before establishing himself in the senior national side,” said Benitez.
The one concern for Liverpool will be the Italian's fitness record, with Aquilani making just 14 appearances last season due to an ankle injury. However the problem has since been operated on and though he may not be fit for the start of the season, the injury is unlikely to reoccur.
Xabi Alonso was arguably Liverpool's player of the year last season and his transfer was undoubtedly a blow to the club's Premier League title chances but with Benitez moving quickly and decisively to find a replacement of similar stature, there wont be many critics writing them off just yet.
While his two heroic World Cup exits dominated most of the obituaries, his achievements in coaching winning teams in four countries are to my mind his greatest. England is traditionally insular when it comes to the great game it invented and during most of Robson's tenure in charge of the national team, its club sides were banned from European competition, entrenching the cultural divide.
So Bobby's sexagenarian odyssey through Eindhoven, Lisbon, Oporto, Barcelona and Eindhoven again was unique among his Anglo contemporaries. He was born and died a Geordie but secured his place in the manager hall of fame from this exceptional continental interlude in the last quarter of his life. In the first half of the twentieth century a host of English coaches had sailed from Dover to spread the soccer word but come the 1980s there were few working overseas and most of them in the Iberian peninsula such as Malcolm Allison and Terry Venables. Since then, the only Englishman with a comparable international resume would be Roy Hodgson.
Robson was dyed-in-the-wool English before his grand tour and his only overseas playing and coaching experience was with Vancouver in the NASL in 1967-'68. Action for England in the 1958 World Cup followed, plus a glorious UEFA Cup triumph with Ipswich in 1981, but Robson was still regarded as tactically stubborn and too 'English' throughout the 1990 World Cup and even when he announced that joining PSV would "complete my footballing education."
The Dutch tradition of collectivism in the dressing room came as a culture shock to a man used to the manager being the boss, but two titles followed in Holland, a feat he repeated with Porto in Portugal. I recall watching Robson in action as Barcelona coach when Ronaldo scored a hat-trick at Atletico Madrid. He had an unenviable task replacing Johan Cruyff, and despite bagging the Spanish Cup and European Cup Winners Cup, the blaugrana's second place in La Liga meant he had to make way for Louis Van Gaal. In reality, Robson had only been recruited, unbeknownst to him, as a stop-gap before Van Gaal became available, and even first place might not have been enough to save him.
The last stop on his footballing odyssey was his native Newcastle, where his three top-five finishes have risen in esteem since the Toon have fallen on truly hard times.
Robson regarded his eight years as England manager as his pinnacle and rued the shoot-out agony of Turin for ever after. Alf Ramsey won the World Cup for England, but no-one has come closer before or since to matching that achievement than his successor at Portman Road and the FA. The two fell out after Ramsey saw fit to slam Robson in a column for The Sun, a crime he never forgave him for.
As England coach, Robson was the first to suffer a merciless manhunt from the London tabloids, an unrelenting vilification which was visited on successors Graham Taylor and Steve McClaren, both northeners like Robson. By contrast they held their fire from cockney geezer Terry Venables and for a while, Glenn Hoddle and civilised Swede Sven-Goran Eriksson. England managers as fair game in the firing line seems the norm now, but it was Robson's mauling in the mid 1980s which kicked it off, when Rupert Murdoch forced Fleet Street into the gutter.
"Quite ridiculous, outrageous and obscene what happened to me," said Robson in 2003 of his baptism of press fire.
Among the epitaphs, Brian Glanville's treasure chest of memories unearthed Robson's struggles in his first managerial job at Ipswich when he had actual fisticuffs with recalcitrant players, and an England player revolt over the team formation a good five years before the well-documented volte-face at Italia '90, when Chris Waddle and two other senior players persuaded their coach to ditch his beloved 442 and field Mark Wright as a sweeper.
His continental experience, particularly in Portugal, did broaden his tactical mind and he won European Manager of the Year while at Barcelona and a UEFA Order of Merit more recently. And yet no novels have been written or films scripted about his life as they have about the maverick Brian Clough, whose threatening presence kept Robson in a job despite the debacles of Euro '84 qualification and the Euro '88 finals, where England lost all three games embarassingly.
Imagine if his resignation letter had been accepted in 1988 - England's glory at Italia '90 might never have happened.
Had Robson led one of the big five in England he might have been more highly regarded, although Alex Ferguson has been quick to assert there has been no greater man in British football in his lifetime. While not as heavenly as Ferguson or Guus Hiddink then, Robson remains clearly in the first division of European coaches of all time.
What every obituary writer has correctly identified is his shining decency and boundless enthusiasm for the sport. Spanning six decades of top-level football, by the end Robson appeared to belong in another era, but his gentlemanly values are ones we should all emulate, including his Porto and Barca assistant Jose Mourinho. A photo of the two together is now a tableau of contrasting characters.
His three autobiographies are reasonably interesting but tell us less about the inner man than his interviews or the fly-on-the-wall vignettes in Pete Davies' landmark book about England at Italia '90, All Played Out.
Robson schooled some great players including Luis Figo, Patrick Kluivert, Gary Lineker, Romario, Ronaldo and Hristo Stoichkov, and almost everyone who worked with him seems to have found him impossible to dislike. Robson was passionate about performance, but never threw a teacup or turned on the hairdryer. He was more often seen with his arm around a player, encouraging him like a father does his child.
His working-class values of sticking together for the common good and being polite in public were too often mocked. The tabloid press treated him abominably when he managed England, then ate their words when he almost won the World Cup. This week The Sun has been churning out predictable plaudits without mentioning its bilious campaign to get him sacked 20 years ago. Barcelona used him for a season, leaving him to agree with Gary Lineker's assessment that the Camp Nou is "a madhouse". Arnold Muhren, one of his aces at Ipswich, as well as some of his PSV players criticised his tactics, though not his character.
By the time of his final years with Newcastle, Robson had gained the widespread respect he had never really enjoyed before, with the exception of the egregious Toon chairman Freddy Shepherd, whom Robson claimed withheld vital transfer and contract information, before summarily dismissing him in 2004.
A saga of footballing ups and downs therefore, but a great life story by the end of it all. He was a Sinatra fan but Je ne regrette rien could have been as appropriate as My Way at his funeral. Robson suffered too many brickbats but his refusal to lower himself to the level of his detractors spoke volumes about his strength of character as much as his five fights with cancer.
And his results on the field spoke for themselves.
(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile
It works both ways. As well as players like Lee Chung-yong who head west, there are those who come in the opposite direction and come home after stints in Europe.
Last year Lee Dong-gook, who spent 18 fairly miserable months in England with Middlesbrough, came back to the K-League late last year, just in time to spend a short – and fairly miserable time- with Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma. This year though, he relocated to Jeonju and is starring for title challengers Jeonbuk Motors.
Last week, two more came home. Oh Beom-sok is a right-back and has signed for Ulsan Horang-I after his year or so spent in Russia with Samara FC. He is now ready to help an improving Ulsan challenge for the championship play-offs and there is almost half a season in which to do so. Oh was one of the stars of the 2007 Asian Cup due to his indefatigable runs down the wing and his ability to assist in attack.
A bigger story is the return of Kim Do-heon. ‘Hoeny’ as he was known at West Bromich Albion in England after moving west from Seongnam in January 2008, has come home to sign for the K-League champions, and the club where he started his career, Suwon Bluewings.
Kim was unlucky in the Premier League. As West Brom was promoted to England’s top tier in May 2008, Kim started to look like an automatic starter. But then a serious and unlucky injury in October, he caught his studs in the turf and damaged ligaments in his knee, put him out of action until the end of the year – though medical staff at the Birmingham club were amazed at how quickly the midfielder recovered.
The problem was that West Brom occupied bottom spot in the Premier League for almost the entire season and by the time Kim returned, he wasn’t able to get a sustained run in the team. Perhaps coach Tony Mowbray felt that the technically-gifted 27 year old was not suited for a the rough-and-tumble of a relegation battle in England.
As the team slipped back into the second tier and Mowbray departed for pastures new in Scotland, the club wanted to sell Kim and managed to do so to Suwon for around $500,000. That wasn’t the highest bid for the player from a Korean team but Kim wanted to stay in or around the capital.
With Suwon struggling this season, Kim who has played for the club before, will be a welcome addition and his shooting ability around the edge of the penalty area is a weapon that will have the club’s fans on their feet once he gets his eye in. For the moment though, he isn’t looking too far ahead.
"I felt that Suwon were the team that wanted me the most. I know the team well and the coach knows me. I am looking forward to doing my best and helping the team finish in the top six and play-offs,” Kim told local media at his unveiling.
That is looking more and more likely for Suwon after a Saturday evening’s 2-0 win at home to FC Seoul. Kim played the final 23 minutes of that match and his first action back in the Land of the Morning Calm was falling on the floor after a knee in the back from a Seoul defender. It was a typical K-League welcome but a great result. After his time in England, Kim feels that he can handle life at home.
“There were good things and bad about playing in Europe,” he said. “I was able to see for myself international football. On the other hand, I wanted to play many games but I wasn’t able to do that. But due to that experience, I will try to play well in the K-league.”
If he does, he may not only resurrect his international career but may just help Suwon’s season, one that has been forgettable so far, live a little longer in the memory.
Copyright: John Duerden & Soccerphile.com
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
France are in 9th. Côte d'Ivoire are the highest African team in 18th. Russia are 6th, with the USA in 12th.
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There's no such pause in the 51-game marathon that is J2, however, with the second tier of the Japanese game enjoying a full midweek round of action on August 5.
With the J. League looking to penetrate those parts of the sports market denied regular access to the popular baseball and sumo circuits, three new teams in the form of Kataller Toyama, Fagiano Okayama and Tochigi SC were admitted to J2 for the current campaign.
That brought the total number of teams to 18, but with J2 clubs relying heavily on gate takings to remain in business, it also prompted an unwieldy format that sees teams play certain clubs twice at home and once on the road.
A 51-game season might keep clubs with average attendances of around 3,000 afloat, but it's a palpably unfair way of deciding the potentially lucrative matter of promotion - with some of J2's big guns enjoying two home games against their direct promotion rivals.
Changes are likely afoot, not the least because Japan Football League clubs Gainare Tottori, Machida Zelvia, New Wave Kitakyushu and V-Varen Nagasaki have all been approved as J. League Associate Members.
That means that a professional third tier may not be far off, particularly with FC Gifu and Roasso Kumamoto having preceded Toyama, Okayama and Tochigi in recently gaining promotion from non-league football to J2.
Many of these provincial sides are more interested in representing their local communities in a nationwide competition than they are in winning silverware, while crowds of around 3,000 are enough to keep such outfits solvent.
Nevertheless with big guns Cerezo Osaka, Vegalta Sendai and Tokyo Verdy all itching to get back into the top flight, there's still plenty at stake in the fight to break out of J2.
Cerezo lead the way in the current campaign, but hot on their heels are former J1 clubs Ventforet Kofu, Sendai and Shonan Bellmare.
Mito Hollyhock are the league's surprise package in fifth, but there's no joy for former top flight clubs Consadole Sapporo and Avispa Fukuoka - currently languishing in mid-table - while Kazu Miura's Yokohama FC are rooted to the bottom of the standings.
Kataller Toyama lie a respectable ninth, while Fagiano Okayama and Tochigi SC occupy sixteenth and seventeenth place in what is their maiden professional season.
With twenty games still remaining there's plenty of time for Tokyo Verdy and Sagan Tosu to launch late bids for promotion, and with no relegation from J2, Yokohama FC can afford to write off what has been a forgettable campaign.
J1 might be taking a break, but with another full round of J2 action scheduled for August 9/10, there's still plenty of domestic football to occupy Japanese fans over the coming week.
Copyright © Michael Tuckerman & Soccerphile.com
Lung cancer kills Bobby Robson
Universally popular soccer coach Bobby Robson died on Friday from lung cancer he had been suffering from for a long time. Robson was the last coach to lead England to a World Cup semifinals in 1990, and on a club level he achieved even greater results while coaching Ipswich Town, Porto or Barcelona. Robson used to be a great player in his own right, an offensive midfielder who scored plenty of goals for Fulham and West Bromwich Albion, collecting 20 caps for England. Before leading his country to the last eight in Mexico and last four in Italy, he headed a sensational Ipswich Town to an FA Cup in 1978 and UEFA Cup 1981, narrowly missing out on the English championships. After coaching England, he successfully worked in PSV Eindhoven, Sporting, Porto and Barcelona, returning to his homeland for a final stint with Newcastle. His last job was as an advisor for the national team of Ireland, which he held until he was diagnosed with his fifth carcinoma in 16 years. The one that ultimately proved fatal.
Jacko is alive (and stays at Wolfsburg)
Bosnian international Edin Dzeko (pronounced: Jacko) put an end to long speculations regarding his playing destination extending his contract with German champs Wolfsburg until 2013. The sensational goal scorer was linked with several clubs including Milan, and in fact pressured the directors to release him, but the Wolves held firm and proud before the Italian big guns. So Dzeko changed the tune and said, "I'm very happy we agreed terms before the season begins. Now I can concentrate on the Bundesliga and the Champions League." Dzeko and the Brazilian Grafite were the most successful attacking tandem in the European soccer last season and in fact one of the highest scoring in the past 15 years, since the heyday of Andy Cole and Peter Beardsley at Newcastle. Having notched 26 Bundesliga goals in Wolfsbnrg's championship winning campaign, Dzeko also scored 10 goals in 17 games for Bosnia.
Injury ends Larsson's celebrated career
The beloved Swedish forward Henrik Larsson is close to finishing his career after a recent knee injury suffered during a game with Helsingborg. Larsson, soon to be 38, planned to hang his boots at the end of this year, but the injury speeded up his retirement, said an unknownsource to Sportbladet daily. The curly haired finisher had come close to retiring on several occasions, but was always persuaded to continue. After the 2006 World Cup he pulled out of Sweden, but returned just before the 2008 European Championship. Larsson has performed in six clubs, Högaborg, Helsingborg (in several spells), Feyenoord, Celtic, Barcelona and Manchester United. He well be best remembered for his marvellous displays in the green and white Celtic hoops, but his most precious prize has to be the 2006 Champions League with Barcelona, when he set both Barca's goals in the finals against Arsenal.
Man stabbed in the chest for coming late from football
Manchester United's Asian tour, highly anticipated by millions of fans in the East, almost proved fatal for a Malaysian man who had stayed at the stadium a bit too long. The unfortunate husband attended a game between United and a Malaysian XI in Kuala Lumpur (3-2 for the English champions) but failed to hurry home afterwards, preferring to discuss the play with his pals in a nearby bar. Little did he know his wife was waiting for him at home with a knife in her hand. When he finally arrived in early morning, the wife welcomed him with two stabs in the chest, but a speedy doctor's intervention prevented fatal consequences. Head of the local police department said the police were alarmed by an on-duty doctor while no charge were brought against the women for the time being. While the injured supporter was recovering well, United continued their Asian tour with another win against the same opponent.
Terror in Zilina: "Innocent" Croatian fans attacked by Slovak police
Croatian soccer fans have a deserving reputation of bullies and vandals, but they were on the receiving end last Thursday in Zilina, Slovakia, when they were attacked and beaten up by the local police. Croatia's Hajduk Split had been banned from taking their fans to European away games, but about 1000 of them travelled on their own to Zilina for a UEFA Cup game having purchased tickets from Slovak agencies. Still, when the UEFA's commissioner at Zilina's stadium learned the Croats were coming, he requested the organizers to put the police on high alert and prevent the fans from reaching terraces. The 200-strong riot police squad positioned themselves between Hajduk ultras and when they refused to turn round and forfeit their tickets, the police charged mercilessly wielding their nightsticks. The Croats retreated in disarray before coming across a heap of stones near the train station, turning them quickly into weapons. According to the testimonies from the Croatian supporters and media, the Slovaks were pretty indiscriminate in their assault, coming at and hitting even some Croatian tourists who were not even aware that there was a soccer game in the city. Several dozen fans and 54 police were reportedly injured and treated in the hospitals, causing both sides to launch bitter accusations against each other. The Croatian press, usually extremely critical of domestic fans, this time laid the whole blame on the Slovakian police, calling their actions "the terror in Zilina". Hajduk Split sent letters of protest to both UEFA and the FC Zilina, standing up in the defense of their fellow nationals. On the other hand, the Slovakian police claim their actions were justified as the Croatian fans insisted on entering the stadium in spite of UEFA's ban. One thing is certain: the relations between two ultra-friendly nations have been significantly upset as Hajduk ultras are already preparing vengeance against any Slovaks that dare travel to Split next week for the return leg.
Sergiy Rebrov calls it a day
The long-serving Ukrainian international and a former Tottenham player Sergiy Rebrov put an end to his glamorous career whose only dark spots were his less than fortunate spells in the Premier League. Rebrov announced his retirement last week as the fourth most-capped Ukrainian player with 75 caps and the second all-time scorer with 15 goals. To the connoisseurs of the East European soccer, his turmoils at Tottenham and West Ham must have come as a surprise, since Rebrov was a prolific scorer and maker of goals and a perfect partner for the other great Ukrainian player of the recent times, Andriy Shevchenko. The forward started his 18-year-long career in Shahtar Donetsk in 1991, but his most productive periods were the two spells in Dinamo Kiev, for whom he scored 181 goals in 335 games. After a slump in England, Rebrov reinvented himself as an attacking midfielder, notching further honours in Fenerbahce, Dinamo and finally Rubin Kazan. Rubin's sensational win in last Russian championship turned out to be Rebrov's eleventh and last league title, making him one of the most successful European players in the past few decades.
Copyright Ozren Podnar & Soccerphile
Tuesday, August 4, 2009
Grondona, who has seen Argentina in two World Cup finals since taking his post, has called for an urgent meeting with Argentine president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, national Chief of Ministers Anibal Fernandez and Secretary General for the Presidency Oscar Parrilli.
Grondona has picked his time well to petition the government with the Peronista party’s popularity plummeting. In an effort not to lose more public support the government issued their own statement saying they would do everything they could to get the football back on.
What the AFA boss hopes to achieve with these meetings is a tweaking of Argentina’s complicated provincial betting laws to ensure his federation gets a fair cut of the profits which come from gambling on their league. His argument is that people are making tidy sums off the back of their product and the AFA is entitled to their taste.
He also wants dispensation to renegotiated his league’s television deal. It is widely felt that the AFA have been burnt with the current contract and he wants it ripped up so clubs can get more money.
“The moment has arrived to put things in order," Grondona said. “This can be sorted out in one day, two days or several weeks. We have asked for meetings in the coming days but we must put things in order, there's a limit to everything.”
There was no specific date given for the start of the Apertura after the initial delay was announced. Before any football can be played the player’s union must be appeased.
Copyright © Tim Sturtridge & Soccerphile.com
Sunday, August 2, 2009
Kawasaki Frontale 2 FC Tokyo 1
Yokohama F Marinos 3 Kyoto Sanga 0
Albirex Niigata 0 Omiya Ardija 0
Jubilo Iwata 3 JEF United Chiba 2
Sanfrecce Hiroshima 1 Kashima Antlers 0
Oita Trinita 2 Nagoya Grampus 1
Saturday, 2 August
Montedio Yamagata 1 Gamba Osaka 1
Urawa Reds 0 Shimizu S-Pulse 1
Kashiwa Reysol 0 Vissel Kobe 1
Kashima Antlers still top the J-League followed Kawasaki Frontale, Albirex Niigata and Urawa Reds. Kashima's lead has been cut to 8 points after their loss away to Sanfrecce.
Oita Trinita are bottom with 10 points after they beat Grampus 2-1 at home.
Kashima Antlers P20 Pts 44
Kawasaki Frontale P20 Pts 36
Albirex Niigata P20 Pts 35
Urawa Reds P20 Pts 34
Last week's J-League results