Monday, November 30, 2009

J-League Results November 29

J-League Results November 29.
Sunday November 29

JEF United Chiba 0 Oita Trinita 2
Yokohama F Marinos 2 Shimizu S-Pulse 0

Saturday November 28

FC Tokyo 1 Vissel Kobe 0
Jubilo Iwata 0 Sanfrecce Hiroshima 1
Kashima Antlers 5 Gamba Osaka 1
Kawasaki Frontale 1 Albirex Niigata 0
Nagoya Grampus 2 Montedio Yamagata 0
Kyoto Sanga 1 Urawa Reds 0
Omiya Ardija 1 Kashiwa Reysol 1


Kashima Antlers are in pole position two points ahead of Kawasaki Frontale. Both teams won so the J-League is now a two-horse race. Urawa Reds lost away in Kyoto, while there were wins for Nagoya Grampus, Sanfrecce Hiroshima, FC Tokyo, Oita Trinita and Yokohama F Marinos.

Leading Positions

Kashima Antlers P33 Pts 63
Kawasaki Frontale P33 Pts 61
Gamba Osaka P33 Pts 57
Sanfrecce Hiroshima P33 Pts 53
FC Tokyo P33 52
Urawa Reds P33 52
Shimizu S-Pulse P33 50
Albirex Niigata P33 Pts 49


Leading scorers

Jubilo Iwata's Ryoichi Maeda has 20 goals so far this season after FC Tokyo's Naohiro Ishikawa has 15.

Ryoichi Maeda, Jubilo Iwata 20
Edmilson, Urawa Reds 17
Juninho, Kawasaki Frontale 16
Naohiro Ishikawa, FC Tokyo 15
Shinji Okazaki, Shimizu S-Pulse 14

J-League News & Views

Previous J-League results & news

Sunday, November 29, 2009

FA Cup 3rd Round Draw 2009

Accrington Stanley or Barnet v Gillingham

Aston Villa v Blackburn Rovers

Blackpool v Ipswich Town

Bolton Wanderers v Lincoln City

Brentford v Doncaster Rovers

Bristol City v Cardiff City

Chelsea v Watford

Everton v Carlisle United

Fulham v Swindon Town

Huddersfield Town v West Bromwich Albion

Leicester City v Swansea City

Manchester United v Kettering Town or Leeds United

Middlesbrough v Manchester City

MK Dons v Burnley

Notts County v Forest Green Rovers

Nottingham Forest v Birmingham City

Plymouth Argyle v Newcastle United

Portsmouth v Coventry City

Preston North End v Colchester United

Reading v Liverpool

Scunthorpe United v Barnsley

Sheffield United v QPR

Sheffield Wednesday v Crystal Palace

Southampton v Rotherham United or Luton Town

Staines Town or Millwall v Derby County

Stockport County or Torquay v Brighton

Stoke City v York City

Sunderland v Oxford United or Barrow

Tottenham v Peterborough United

Tranmere Rovers or Aldershot Town v Wolves

West Ham United v Arsenal

Wigan Athletic v Hull City

Friday, November 27, 2009

Day of reckoning on blockbuster J. League weekend

Day of reckoning on blockbuster J. League weekend.
Don't bother heading out to Omiya Park or Todoroki Stadium with no ticket this weekend - J. League games there are already sold-out.

A ticketless trip to Kyoto's Nishikyogoku Stadium is similarly inadvisable, as is venturing out to Yamaha Stadium in Iwata.

And there will be plenty of fans at Kashima Stadium, where big guns Kashima Antlers go head-to-head with fellow title-chasers Gamba Osaka in a clash of the titans.

Welcome to the penultimate round of the J. League - a day of reckoning for several of Japan's biggest clubs.

The match of the round undoubtedly takes place at Kashima Stadium, where defending champions Kashima meet Gamba Osaka.

An unprecedented five-game losing streak midway through the campaign threatened to derail Kashima's season, however Oswaldo de Oliveira's team have fought back venomously to regain control at the top of the standings.

They have third-placed Gamba Osaka standing in their way in this round, with mercurial Gamba playmaker Yasuhito Endo named the AFC Player Of The Year at an awards ceremony in Kuala Lumpur in midweek.

All tickets have been sold for Kawasaki's vital Todoroki Stadium showdown against Albirex Niigata, with Kawasaki desperate to beat the dour northern side and hope that Gamba do them a favour in Kashima.

At the other end of the table, Omiya Ardija's 'Noda Line' classic with regional rivals Kashiwa Reysol will go a long way to sorting out the final relegation candidate for 2009.

Omiya must avoid defeat to guarantee their top flight survival, however Kashiwa are currently in form, as the Chiba side chase their third straight victory in this game.

The Sun Kings must win both of their remaining two league games if they are to avoid making the drop into J2 alongside local rivals JEF United and the hapless Oita Trinita.

A big crowd is likely to descend upon Nishikyogoku Stadium in Kyoto for Sanga's final home game of the season against Urawa Reds, with Volker Finke's star-studded Reds enjoying somewhat of a resurgence, as they look to sneak into the top three at the last possible moment.

Another packed house should turn out at Yamaha Stadium in Iwata to witness 42-year-old one-club man Masashi 'Gon' Nakayama play his final game for his beloved Jubilo, as they welcome Sanfrecce Hiroshima to the compact venue.

Sunday's games see Yokohama F. Marinos take on Shimizu S-Pulse, while relegated pair JEF United and Oita Trinita meet in Chiba.

However, it's the Saturday schedule that looks set to enthrall, and it sets up another fascinating round on the final day of the season.

More than 60,000 fans will turn out at Saitama Stadium next weekend to see if Urawa Reds can end the championship hopes of bitter rivals Kashima Antlers, as Kawasaki Frontale and Gamba Osaka both wait to pounce in another thrilling climax to a J. League campaign.

Copyright © Michael Tuckerman & Soccerphile.com

J.League News

Thursday, November 26, 2009

FC Seoul Are Out And Senol Gunes Is Off

FC Seoul Are Out And Senol Gunes Is Off.
With the benefit of hindsight it was written in the stars that FC Seoul’s season would end last Saturday after losing to Chunnam Dragons in the first round of the K-League’s championship play-offs.

Seoul thought they shouldn’t have needed to play the match at all. The capital club spent the whole season slugging it out with Jeonbuk Motors at the top of the K-League and expected to go straight to the final, or at least, the semi-final.

That all changed on the last day of the season as Seoul conceded a last-minute goal at home to Chunnam Dragons. That 1-1 tie saw Seoul slip into third. That finish meant Seoul had to negotiate the entire play-off series.

As luck would have it, the first play-off opponent was Chunnam. And Chunnam was the last. For Seoul, it is very much a case of what might have been. For much of the season, the red-and-blacks looked the likeliest champion but when the push came to the shove, the team didn’t quite have the indefinable quality that champions need – the ability to dig in and fight for everything.

The game again finished 1-1 after 90 minutes. Seoul’s penalty area was the least crowded place in the whole city after 12 minutes and Chunnam striker Lee Gyu-ro took advantage to fire a fierce shot low into the home net. Three minutes later however, Seoul drew level. A delightfully measured slide-rule pass from Ki Sung-yong gave Jung Jo-gook an easy chance from close range.

The excitement didn’t last and the game drifted towards penalties. Two Seoul players missed the target completely – Kim Sung-yung and, dismally, Lee Jong-min. Ki Sung-yong saw his kick well-saved. It was the last action for Ki in the Seoul shirt. He has already signed for Scottish giants Celtic in a $4 million deal and heads to Glasgow at the end of the year.

Kwak Tae-whi scored the winning penalty. The international defender has spent much of the season battling injury but was fresh as a daisy as he shot home emphatically against his old club.

"The players were confident about defeating FC Seoul before the game,'' Chunnam coach Park Hang-seo said."They figured out their opponents and were more confident. We will focus on regaining our fitness level for the second round match on Wednesday.”

The match was the last in the three season tenure of Senol Gunes. It was a widely expected that the man who took Turkey to the semi-finals of the 2002 World Cup would be off home at the end of the season.

Hometown club Trabzonspor had come knocking earlier in the year but now the Korean contract has ended, Gunes is free to head home back to the Black Sea and that is where he will probably be seen very soon.

“I am leaving but I will never forget the fans in Seoul and my time here,” Gunes told Seoul's official site.

“We have come a long way together and I am sure that next year the club will keep improving and Seoul will become champions.”

That didn't happen under FIFA's coach of 2002 and the team also exited this year's Asian Champions League at the quarter-final stage.

“Though I had a very happy three years here, I am sorry and frustrated that we didn’t win. This year was especially disappointing and I am sad as anyone.”

While Seoul missed out on a first title, Gunes did enough to give the capital club a reputation for playing decent football and giving young footballers a chance. The likes of Park Chu-young, Lee Chung-yong and Ki Sung-yong become well-respected players around Asia and have all earned big money deals in Europe.

The challenge for the new coach is to help the many young players at the club reach the same level.

Gunes will not be in the Land of the Morning Calm to see which of the three teams remaining lift the K-League trophy. Seongnam conquered Incheon United after a penalty shootout despite having two defenders and their coach sent off. A subsequent and narrow win over Chunnam Dragons has earned a semi-final match against Asian champions Pohang Steelers.

The rested Steelers are strong favourites against a weakened and tired Seongnam side and should win through to the final where Jeonbuk Motors are waiting.

Copyright: John Duerden & Soccerphile.com

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Debreceni Vasutas Sport Club V Liverpool FC Dr. Joel Rookwood



There was something vaguely recognisable about Ferihegy Airport as I left the terminal building yesterday morning en route to central Budapest. The last time we had visited the Hungarian capital was during a painfully long European trip, the type only the UEFA Cup can serve up. It was an era that predated the continent’s current accessible, extensive and affordable budget airline network, and we inextricably chose Budapest as a suitable city from which to embark upon an overland journey to Sofia for the UEFA Cup tie against Levski in 2003. We seemed to overlook the fact that an entire country lay in between Hungary and Bulgaria. It proved to be an adventure of bribing corrupt officials, crashing into trams, sleep deprivation, uninsured driving and eating horse burgers for tea, a journey which also involved driving the length of the country formerly known as Serbia and Montenegro. The flashback inspired by the familiar landscape of greater Budapest was a reminder of a journey that seemed to epitomise the UEFA Cup experience, as a collection of epic expeditions into the unknown.



Since those mediocre (albeit memorable) days when the UEFA Cup represented the sum total of our realistic European ambition, Liverpool have been spoiled with success. In a re-evaluation of contemporary club status, failure to reach the final of the Champions League has been re-conceptualised as just that, failure. And yet, as a consequence of an uncharacteristically poor start to this season’s continental campaign, demotion into Europe’s secondary competition looked likely, after results in the opening four games of the group stage of the European Cup had not gone Liverpool’s way. The harsh reality is that Benitez’s side have been victim of their own inadequacies in failing to finish in the top half of a group which on paper did not present a serious challenge to post-Christmas qualification. The re-establishment of Liverpool under Benitez as regular participants in the latter stages of Europe’s premier competition renders the slide into the farcical experiment that is the Europa League particularly notable.



Liverpool went into the crucial match in Hungary against definitive minnows Debrecen knowing that victory in match day five would be rendered largely meaningless, if group leaders Lyon succumbed to defeat away to second-place Fiorentina. Liverpool’s latest European adventure commenced according to plan, as the visitors immediately took control of the Pest contest. A fourth-minute goal from Parisian striker David Ngog was all the five-time European champions required in order to secure victory in the game. Despite having another twenty shots in the match, Liverpool failed to add to their lead. In truth however it was a professional and economic performance from a Liverpool team who were without the attacking prowess of Fernando Torres, with Yossi Benayoun and Alberto Aquilani only granted a late slice of the action. As for other attacking members of the squad, I heard unconfirmed reports that Ryan Babbel was busy giving an interview to another ‘news’ paper, whilst Andriy Voronin was out spending last week’s wages on a new plough.



On a freezing Hungarian night the stewards, who all resembled body doubles for Nikolay Valuev, and the police, who came complete with a full military armour (including gas masks), seemed better prepared for action than most of the players. Liverpool’s goal seemed to foster a collective acceptance that it was to be the only significant act of the contest, which subsequently became something of a non-event, both on the pitch and in the stands. The hushed atmosphere was dictated largely by the Debrecen supporters, who despite filling most of the ground seemed ill at ease with their surroundings. Being forced to play their Champions League games in the national stadium (231km west of the second city) is never conducive to a colourful atmosphere, as supporters of Arsenal and Galatasaray will testify. With a Liverpool win considered inevitable, all eyes and ears were focused on the events unfolding simultaneously in Florence. However, with Lyon’s failure to find an equalising goal, following the conversion of an ultimately decisive Juan Vargas penalty, it was the Italians who celebrated qualification for the knock-out stages of the competition, temporarily appropriating top spot from Lyon in the process. It must be noted that Lyon and Fiorentina deserve to be in the knock out stages of the competition, and we wish them well for their remaining round of the Champions League.



Meanwhile Liverpool have been consigned to the UEFA Cup and cocky claims from some unnamed journalists that a final appearance in Madrid would prove a likely end to the season proved unfounded. As the mist descended on the Hungarian Stadium, named after footballing legend Ferenc Puskas, I looked up in a quiet moment and noticed a banner which read: ‘Reds go Hungary, Blues go thirsty’. And with that I was reminded not only of the forthcoming visit to Goodison Park on Sunday, and the necessity of improving our league form and position starting with the inevitable victory over little Everton, but also that our continental plight has moved the reality of a first ever European trip across Stanley Park a step closer. Every cloud has a silver lining.



I fully expect to return to the Isle of media sensationalism later today to hear extensive national criticism of Liverpool’s manager. Yet whilst the response of popular consciousness might be informed relative to Liverpool’s impressive tradition and existing resources, importantly it is also a reflection of the recent form in European competition. For that Liverpool only really have one man to thank. In his six seasons as Liverpool manager, his team’s performances in the Champions League have been consistently positive, albeit inconsistent in the degree of achievement. The performance indicators span the spectrum of outcomes, from winning the competition, to getting knocked out in the final, semi-final, quarterfinal, super sixteen and group stages. The fact our least impressive performance is our most recent will no doubt contribute to the panicked reaction, but as is often the case with the British press, this will not be proportionate to the issue at hand, and will not be reflective of the local media analysis. Importantly, on Merseyside the collective belief remains that this sorry experience is the exception and not the rule. And with that, I’m off to purchase the latest Hamburg guidebook.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

British Foreign and Commonwealth Office Advice

If you are planning to travel to South Africa for the World Cup next year, make sure you follow some basic tips for a safe and enjoyable stay.

The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office is kicking off its ‘Be on the Ball’ campaign, aimed at helping England fans heading to South Africa, with a press conference tomorrow. Gary Mabbutt, ex-England player, and one of the ambassadors for South Africa’s World Cup bid, will join the FCO in urging fans to take a few simple precautions before they travel. You can watch the press conference live on this page www.fco.gov.uk/worldcup tomorrow at 1030 GMT.

British Foreign and Commonwealth Office Advice.


Working with the South African authorities and travel industry partners, the FCO has produced a dedicated world cup advice page on its website (www.fco.gov.uk/worldcup ) with information from rules of the road to accommodation issues and transport advice. This will be updated regularly as the World Cup approaches.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

FIFA World Rankings November 2009

FIFA World Rankings November 2009.
Spain regain top slot in this month's Fifa world rankings. Brazil are second followed by the Netherlands, Italy and Portugal. England are in 9th place. Argentina are 8th.

France are in 7th after Thierry Henry handed them victory in their World Cup play off encounter with Ireland in Paris. Cameroon are the highest African team in 11th. Russia are 13th, with the USA one back in 14th.


1 Spain
2 Brazil
3 Netherlands
4 Italy
5 Portugal
6 Germany
7 France
8 Argentina
9 England
10 Croatia
11 Cameroon
12 Greece
13 Russia
14 USA
15 Mexico
16 Côte d'Ivoire
17 Chile
18 Switzerland
19 Uruguay
20 Serbia

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Friday, November 20, 2009

Thierry Henry Hands France Qualification

Thierry Henry's blatent handball has caused a wave of consternation in the blogosphere and further calls for the introduction of video technology.



32 Teams For World Cup 2010

32 Teams For World Cup 2010.
All 32 teams for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa are now known.

The complete line up is:

Europe

Denmark, England, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland

Africa

Algeria, Cameroon, Cote D'Ivoire (Ivory Coast), Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa (hosts)

Asia

Australia, Japan, North Korea, South Korea

South America

Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay

North & Central America, Caribbean

Honduras, Mexico, USA

Oceania

New Zealand

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Korea Gears Up For Play-Offs

Korea Gears Up For Play-Offs.
With most attention on the exploits of Pohang Steelers in the Asian Champions League and the national team’s friendly matches in Europe against Denmark and Serbia, the fact that the K-League is about to embark upon its championship play-off series has almost gone unnoticed.

Six teams are still in with a chance of the domestic title. One is Jeonbuk Motors. The team that finished first in the regular season gets the reward of being able to lie in wait in the final match in December and see which of the other five teams will be left standing.

Four are in action this weekend – though only two will survive to go to the next stage. The first play-off takes place on Saturday in the capital as FC Seoul meets Chunnam Dragons and the following day, Incheon United travel to Seongnam Chunma. The two teams that emerge from the quarrelling quartet will meet each other next Wednesday. The winner of that will take on Pohang, second placed in the league, in the semi-final.

Seoul finished the regular season in third place and out of all the four teams that are in action this weekend, the capital club is the one that really doesn’t want to be in this situation. Senol Gunes's men spent most of the season in the top two spots and didn’t expect to be fighting it out with four others just to reach the semi-final.

It all happened on the last day of the regular season, ironically against Chunnam at Seoul World Cup Stadium. The host needed to win to confirm second place and if Jeonbuk lost, it would go top.

Thirteen minutes from the end, Seoul striker Dejan Damjanovic, who had earlier missed a penalty, fired a fierce shot into the top corner of the Dragons’ Den from a distance of 25 meters. It was a great strike but the way in which he celebrated was less impressive. Running towards the Chunnam bench, the Montenegrin shouted at the visiting staff and threw his shirt on the grass in front of them.

The referee threw the excitable European out of the game though he had to be restrained from confronting Chunnam coach Park Hang-seo on his way off the field. The Dragons took advantage of their one-man advantage to equalize in the final minute to drag Seoul down from second to third.

Another consequence of Damjanovic’s dismissal is the fact that he will not be able to play on Saturday. Even without their star striker however, Seoul will be confident of progressing to the next stage in front of its own fans.

Chunnam finished in sixth place, eleven points behind Seoul. The team from South Jeolla Province has a star foreign striker of its own, Brazilian Adrian Chuva. The South American scored 13 goals this season and with Korean international defender Kwak Tae-hwi returning to fitness, the Dragons have a chance to recreate Pohang’s march to the 2007 title.

Two years ago, after an unspectacular season in which the team finished fifth, the Steelers suddenly slipped into top gear in the play-offs and defeated Gyeongnam, Ulsan, Suwon and then Seongnam (twice) to lift the golden K-League trophy.

Incheon finished fifth this time round but don't really look like a team ready to put Korea’s best teams to the sword. The West Coasters are just happy to be in the play-offs for the first time since 2005 after coming close on a number of occasions in recent years.

The team, built on a strong defence line, has trundled along in the top six all season. Coach Ilja Petkovic took his team to the south coast on a final day of the regular season needing to defeat Busan I’Park to confirm a top six finish. A desperate mistake from Busan goalkeeper gave Incheon an unlikely goal and a vital win.

The trip to Seongnam is much shorter for Incheon but the hosts are much stronger. Seongnam have a good record against Incheon over the years and over the last few weeks, the Gyeonngi giant has been in excellent form, winning seven out of its final ten games of the regular season. Sadly for the Yellows however, they lost out in the FA Cup final last weekend to Suwon Bluewings after a penalty shootout.

All these play-off games are individual cup finals and anything could happen.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Costa Rica 0 – 1 Uruguay: First Blood To La Celeste In Intercontinental Playoff

Costa Rica 0 – 1 Uruguay: First Blood To La Celeste In Intercontinental Playoff.
A single goal is all that separates the sides heading into Wednesday’s second leg in Montevideo after Costa Rica and Uruguay played out a well fought battle in San Jose. It was Uruguay’s captain fantastic Diego Lugano who grabbed the games only goal and gave his team the perfect platform to complete the job on home turf next week.

The spirited encounter saw a total of seven yellow cards dished out by referee Alberto Undiano and he also flashed his red card at Costa Rica’s Randall Azofeifa early in the second half. Credit must be given to Costa Rica for attempting to get back into the game despite being reduced to ten men for such a large chunk of the contest.

For anyone expecting a cagey encounter inside the Estadio Ricardo Saprissa the idea was soon dispelled as both teams forced corners in the first ten minutes and the teams produced some real end to end stuff. With the game being played at a decent tempo the home crowd did their best to give Los Ticos every advantage they could by roaring them on everytime the ball travelled inside Uruguay’s half.

Diego Forlan was everywhere for Uruguay early on as he used his experience to drop deep and link midfield and attack. With many of the Costa Ricans overeager to impress Forlan lent his body in and won a number of freekicks in the middle of the park which disrupted the hosts and regained possession for La Celeste.

Luis Suárez was also making his presence felt for the visitors and he let fly with the game’s first meaningful effort. The early sighter sailed over Keylor Navas’ goal but left Costa Rica with doubt that they would have to stay on their guard to keep the Ajax man out.

For the hosts it was clear that their main source of danger was the combination play between Bryan Ruiz and long serving captain Walter Centeno. A one-two between the pair creating a shooting opportunity for Centeno but his effort was smothered by Uruguayan goalkeeper Fernando Muslera.

The game’s only goal came shortly after this initial feeling out period with the encounter was less than 25 minutes old. A darting run by Forlan into the box was well read and the Atlético Madrid man was able to reach a lofted pass. With the angle against him Forlan managed to hook the ball over Navas but could only watch as it agonisingly bounced along the goal-line before being put behind by a defender.

From the resulting corner Lugano rose to powerfully redirect the ball goalward before seeing his effort nodded off the line. The clearance was tossed back into the danger zone from the edge of box and Lugano who had travelled in the direct of his first effort was on hand to break the deadlock as he reconnected with the ball.

With the home crowd silenced Uruguayan coach Oscar Tabarez’s must have been impressed with how his side had adapted so quickly to the synthetic surface in San Jose.
As the first half wore on the visitors seemed able to win the ball back at will from Costa Rica and although Uruguay fashioned few chances they never looked in too much danger themselves. This period of calm for La Celeste came to an end however just before half time.

A flighted ball from the middle of the park by Randall Azofeifa went over the Uruguayan defence and was met by Ruiz on the penalty spot. The FC Twente player’s header looped up above Muslera and, unfortunately for the hosts, the crossbar as well.

Taking this renewed impetus into the second half Costa Rica pushed for an equaliser and had a decent penalty shout turned down. A cross from the left appeared to be handled by both Diego Godin and Sebastian Eguren of Uruguay in their own area but Undiano of Spain was unmoved.

The referee did see fit to take action five minutes later though when Azofeifa swept away the standing leg of Alvaro Fernandez with a late challenge. The official stuck to the letter of the law and gave the Costa Rican his second yellow card of the evening. Los Ticos will view the sending off as a touch harsh and it certainly did the game no favours as a spectacle.

Being a goal and a man up Uruguay seemed content to pack up what they had and get back to Montevideo as soon as possible. For their part Costa Rica huffed and puffed but produced little to worry Muslera. One bright spark was the introduction of Rolando Fonseca who added a little quality down the right flank.

Despite seeming to lose interest in the match Uruguay will feel slightly aggrieved not to have been awarded a penalty late on when Sebastian Fernandez’s goalbound header appeared to handled by Junior Diaz.

Next Wednesday sees both sides go at it again, this time in front of a bumper 70,000 crowd of widely expectant Uruguayans in Montevideo’s Estadio Centenario. The hosts already have one foot inside South Africa but will be taking nothing for granted when they play a Costa Rican side with nothing to lose.

Copyright © Tim Sturtridge & Soccerphile.com

World Cup 2010 Playoffs November 14

World Cup 2010 Playoffs November 14.
The four play-off games in the European qualification zone were all tight affairs with all left to play for in the second legs. France edged Ireland 1-0 at Croke Park in Dublin with a second half Nicolas Anelka goal.

In Lisbon, a Bruno Alves strike gives the Portuguese a slight advantage ahead of the return leg in Sarajevo.

There were no goals in Athens as Greece and Ukraine played out a cagey draw. One goal will be enough for either team in Kyev. Look for this one to go to penalties.

Russia should have enough quality to avoid defeat Slovenia in Maribor after the hosts won 2-1 on artificial turf in Moscow. Captain Andrey Arshavin pulled the strings for the Russians and a brace by Everton winger Diniyar Bilyaletdinov either side of the break looked to have secured Guus Hiddink's team's passage. A late goal from substitute Nejc Pecnik gives the Slovenians hope of reaching their second World Cup finals after an appearance at the 2002 World Cup in Korea/Japan.

In the African zone, Cameroon have qualified for South Africa after an impressive 2-0 win away to Morocco in Fez. Goals from Achille Webo and Inter's Samuel Eto'o mean Paul Le Guen's team now have a record six World Cup appearances - the highest by any African team.

The Indomitable Lions will be joined by rivals Nigeria, who will be making their fourth appearance in the finals. Nigeria held on for a 3-2 win in Nairobi. A brace from ex-Newcastle striker Obafemi Martins and a strike from Everton's Yakubu Aiyegbeni were enough to defeat the Kenyans, who had taken the lead with a goal by Dennis Oliech and equalized through Allan Wetende.

This result added to Tunisia's 1-0 loss to Mozambique in Maputo means the Super Eagles progress.

In an extraordinary game in Cairo, an injury time goal by substitute Emad Moteab means the two North African rivals finished level on points and goal difference in Group C and must play off in Khartoum in Sudan on Wednesday. The build up to the match was marred by an attack on the Algerian team bus by Eqyptian hooligans.

In a busy night of international friendlies, England lost 1-0 to Brazil in Doha, Spain beat Argentina 2-1 in a game of seven yellow cards, six of them for Argentina and Italy and the Netherlands drew 0-0 in Pescara.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

New Zealand Qualify for WC2010

New Zealand Qualify for WC2010.
Before the largest crowd in New Zealand football history, New Zealand beat Bahrain 1-0 to qualify for the 2010 World Cup, Over 35,000 fans packed into Wellington's Westpac Stadium to see the All Whites reach the World Cup finals for the first time since 1982. Plymouth Argyle striker Rory Fallon headed the decisive goal just before half time and Wellington Phoenix keeper Mark Paston saved a second half penalty five minutes after the restart from Sayed Mohamed Adnan.

New Zealand skipper, Blackburn's Ryan Nelson praised the atmosphere created in the stadium by the fans, who roared their team to victory.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Last call for the boat to South Africa

World Cup 2010.
Saturday sees the penultimate day of World Cup 2010 qualifiers with nine of the 32 places still up for grab.

Already qualified
HOSTS: South Africa
AFRICA: Ghana, Ivory Coast
ASIA: Australia, Japan, North Korea, South Korea
EUROPE: Denmark, England, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Serbia, Slovakia, Spain, Switzerland
S. AMERICA: Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, Argentina
N./C. AMERICA: Mexico, USA, Honduras

Can still qualifyAFRICA: Cameroon or Gabon, Tunisia or Nigeria, Egypt or Algeria
EUROPE: Eire or France, Portugal or Bosnia & Herzg., Greece or Ukraine, Russia or Slovenia
AMERICAS: Costa Rica or Uruguay
ASIA/OCEANIA: Bahrain or New Zealand

The winner-takes-all North African derby between Egypt and Algeria stands out as the pick of tomorrow's ties.

Finals favourites Cameroon will stamp their ticket if they beat Morocco in Fez, but a draw will suffice for the Indomitable Lions if Gabon fail to win in Togo.

In Europe, 1998 World Cup holders and 2006 finalists France are the biggest potential casualty, with Giovanni Trapattoni's Republic of Ireland ready to cut the ropes. Cristiano Ronaldo could also be absent if Portugal slip up against the dark horses of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The first leg of the trans-American playoff between Costa Rica and Uruguay kicks off in San Jose, C.R. The Ticos were pipped from automatic passage by a last-gasp goal in their final qualifier, but Los Charruas of Uruguay remain favourites with the second leg on Wednesday in Montevideo.

Further afield, New Zealand look set to return to the finals for the first time since 1982. The All-Whites need only a 1-0 win over Bahrain in Wellington to qualify.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Full schedule of matches on Saturday

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

World Cup 2010 Competition

Continental’s New ContiFan Competition Gives Fans Chance to Win Tickets to 2010 FIFA World Cup™

Continental Tyres, Official Sponsor of the 2010 FIFA World Cup™, is offering fans the chance to win a fantastic trip to South Africa complete with World Cup tickets in their new ContiFanContest

11.06.2009 – This November, Continental Tyres is offering football fans an amazing opportunity to win tickets to the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa.

Eleven lucky winners will receive tickets to a match, as well as flights to South Africa, accommodation and a fantastic safari trip for them and a guest. There are also Continental footballs and vuvuzelas up for grabs for the runners-up (for those who don’t know, vuvuzelas are horns used in South African football to get fans revved up and are a must for all aficionados of the 2010 FIFA World Cup!)

To enter, fans should demonstrate their love of football or enthusiasm for their team by producing and publishing a short YouTube video and sharing the link via the Video Contest page. Fans then need to try their luck in the Fan Game where they get the fans to cheer and do different moves, including a special move that brings out the vuvuzelas.

Fans need to complete six out of eight tasks on their scorecard to qualify for the prize draw, ranging from voting for other videos in the Video Contest to achieving a certain level in the Fan Game.

The ContiSoccerWorld site is also packed full of information on the FIFA World Cup, including details of the venues, teams, matches and latest news on players and teams in the build up the tournament in South Africa next year.

The competition closes on 4th December 2009. Full details including terms & conditions can be found at ContiSoccerWorld.co.uk.

South Korea To Leave Comfort Zone

It is almost two years since the South Korean national team last ventured outside the borders of Asia. This weekend sees the Taeguk Warriors in Europe for the first of two 2010 World Cup warm-up matches against tough opposition.

Saturday sees the team in Denmark and then four days later; Huh Jung-moo takes his players west to London to face Serbia.

London was the last non-Asian city to see South Korea in action. In February 2007, a Lee Chun-soo free-kick gave his team a 1-0 win over then-European champions Greece. Before the return to the English capital and Fulham FC’s stadium Craven Cottage, there is the match in the Danish city of Esbjerg.

The Scandinavians surprised a few observers by winning their 2010 qualification group ahead of Portugal and bitter rivals Sweden. Well-organized and hard to beat, the Danes will give the visitors a thorough examination. The two teams last met ahead of the 2006 World Cup in Hong Kong when the Europeans deservedly won 3-1.

This is a different Korean team now though. The 2002 World Cup semifinalists have gone 26 games unbeaten. The roster for these two matches contained few surprises though eyebrows (and perhaps Scottish blood pressure) were raised at the inclusion of Park Ji-sung.

South Korea To Leave Comfort Zone.
Of course, all agree that the captain should usually be the first name on the teamsheet but the sticking point is that Park is supposedly injured. The 28 year-old has not pulled on the famous red shirt since returning from national team duty against Senegal on October 10.

A knee problem has prevented appearances and just three days after club boss Alex Ferguson was telling reporters that Park needed two more weeks to recover, coach Huh was summoning the player. The Korean media suggested that Huh may have upset the fiery Scot.

"I did not discuss this issue with Ferguson, but I did have a good talk with Park," Huh said at a press conference in Seoul last Monday.

"In this case, the most important opinion is that of the player's not his coach. Clubs should not interfere in national team selection. Park is participating in full training at United, so I don't understand why Ferguson would try to stop him from joining us."

Park will join his compatriot Bolton Wanderers’ Lee Chung-yong. Lee has made an impressive start to his English Premier League career and is full of confidence.
He will need to be against a Denmark team that contains players from the Danish league as well as England, Germany and Italy. While results are not hugely important in these games, a tie or a win would be welcomed.

The same applies to Serbia. The match in London takes place not far away from the city’s ‘Koreatown’ and there will be a good deal of support for the East Asians. The Balkan boys struggled at the 2006 World Cup, coached by Ilja Petkovic the current boss of Incheon United, but this vintage looks much better.

Despite being grouped with 2006 finalists, France, Serbia cruised through qualification and with players such as Nemanja Vidic of Manchester United and Inter Milan’s Dejan Stankovic, the team, just four days after taking on Northern Ireland, will present a tough test to South Korea.

"Northern Ireland and South Korea have very contrasting styles and the matches with them will be a good opportunity for my players to keep learning and adapt to all kinds of tactics,” said Serbia coach Radomir Antic.

The same could be said for South Korea.

Copyright: John Duerden & Soccerphile.com

Monday, November 9, 2009

J. League title race drops down to three

J.League news and reports.
There are three teams left in the J. League title race after Shimizu S-Pulse and FC Tokyo both dropped out of the running following the latest round of fixtures.

A Renatinho hat-trick propelled Kawasaki Frontale to a 3-2 win over relegated JEF United in a thriller watched by 18,470 fans at Todoroki Stadium.

Renatinho had already hit the post with one header before JEF United took the lead against the run of play, as a Seiichiro Maki header ballooned off the crossbar, with Kohei Kudo on hand to volley the rebound home.

It took until the second half for Kawasaki to respond, as Renatinho converted a spot-kick after playmaker Kengo Nakamura had been felled inside the area, and the Brazilian scored again soon after with the help of a vital deflection.

United pulled a goal back two minutes from time thanks to a scrappy finish from defender Takumi Wada, however Renatinho stole the headlines with his third goal just seconds later, as he tapped home a cut-back from compatriot Juninho to seal the win.

Kawasaki's late victory was bad news for second placed Kashima Antlers - although they beat lowly Montedio Yamagata 2-0 at home, while third-placed Gamba Osaka hammered Kansai neighbours Kyoto Sanga 4-1 in a derby watched by 20,394 fans at a jam-packed Expo '70 Stadium.

The shock of the round came at Kashiwa Hitachi Stadium, where fourth placed Shimizu S-Pulse crashed to a stunning 5-0 defeat at the hands of Kashiwa Reysol, who are struggling to avoid relegation.

A crowd of 40,701 fans turned out at Ajinomoto Stadium in the capital, but the home fans left disappointed as FC Tokyo crashed to a 1-0 defeat to regional rivals Urawa Reds, with Edmilson scoring the only goal of the game.

Shimizu S-Pulse and FC Tokyo have now dropped out of the title race, as Kawasaki Frontale lead Kashima Antlers by a point with three games remaining, while Gamba Osaka are a further three points back.

At the other end of the standings, bottom club Oita Trinita will be joined in J2 by JEF United, while Kashiwa Reysol currently occupy the third relegation place - some six points behind Omiya Ardija.

Full November 8 results
Nagoya Grampus 1 Vissel Kobe 0
Jubilo Iwata 0 Albirex Niigata 2
Kashima Antlers 2 Montedio Yamagata 0
FC Tokyo 0 Urawa Reds 1
Kawasaki Frontale 3 JEF United 2
Kashiwa Reysol 5 Shimizu S-Pulse 0
Omiya Ardija 0 Sanfrecce Hiroshima 1
Yokohama F. Marinos 1 Oita Trinita 2
Gamba Osaka 4 Kyoto Sanga 1

J2
Cerezo Osaka maintained their lead at the top of the J2 standings with a 5-0 thrashing of Thespa Kusatsu watched by 20,727 fans at Nagai Stadium.

Takashi Inui was the star for Cerezo as he scored four times, with the former J1 club needing just one more victory to confirm their return to the top flight.

Elsewhere, second placed Vegalta Sendai hammered Mito Hollyhock 4-0 on the road, while Shonan Bellmare and Tokyo Verdy played out an entertaining 2-2 draw in Hiratsuka.

Fourth placed Ventforet Kofu went down 2-1 at Avispa Fukuoka, as their battle with Shonan Bellmare for the third and final promotion place heats up.

Copyright © Michael Tuckerman & Soccerphile.com

J. League News

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Enjoy Messi, Pato and Kaká while you can… Europe’s only got them on loan

The economics of the game in South America demand that the region's best players spend the prime of their careers in Europe.

Fans of even the most prestigious clubs such as Boca Juniors and Flamengo must savour watching their young prospects because as soon as they demonstrate an ounce of class they will be snapped up and shipped out.

In extreme examples such as the Da Silva twins at Manchester United and Lionel Messi of Barcelona the fans of Fluminense and Newell's Old Boys never even got to see the players make their first team debut. Not yet anyway...

Once the cream of South America hit their autumn years and the blood and thunder of Europe’s top leagues becomes too much for their aging legs there is always one place willing to take them.

It is therefore possible to catch some of the finest players of their generation seeing out their careers in their native South America. More often than not these players will return to the club where they first made their name and further endear themselves to the fans who supported them in the beginning.

The players below have won a wealth of cups with club and country as well as scooping top individual honours throughout their careers. After calling time on their respective European adventures they are currently seeing out their playing days back home.

Name: Juan Sebastián Verón

Age: 34

Nationality: Argentina (65 caps, 9 goals)

Current Club: Estudiantes de La Plata (ARG)

Previous Clubs: Inter Milan (ITA), Chelsea (ENG), Manchester United (ENG), Lazio (ITA), Parma (ITA), Sampdoria (ITA), Boca Juniors (ARG), Estudiantes de La Plata (ARG)

Great things were expected from Juan Sebastián Verón as soon as he made his debut for Estudiantes over 15 years ago. It was assumed that he must be a great a player as he was the eldest son Juan Ramón Verón who won three Argentine titles and three Copa Libertadores with Estudiantes in the late 60s.

The crowning glory Verón senior’s career was netting with his head against Manchester United in 1968 at Old Trafford. The goal secured the Intercontinental Cup for Estudiantes against Busby’s European Cup winning team of Best, Law and Charlton et al.

Despite the family connection to Estudiantes Juan Sebastián Verón left the club to join Boca Juniors a few seasons after making his debut. While at La Bombonera Verón formed an impressive partnership with perhaps the Godfather of all returning heroes Diego Maradona.

During his single season with Boca Verón was selected for the national team and with this breakthrough came interest from the then all conquering Serie A of Italy.

Spells at Sampdoria, Parma and Lazio cluttered the Argentine’s mantelpiece as he collected winners medals for the Coppa Italia, UEFA Cup, European Super Cup, Scudetto, Coppa Italia again and Supercoppa Italiana.

His move to the English Premier League is generally viewed as a fallow time for the player but his sheer talent shone at times and he played his part in Manchester United's 2003 title.

Verón's signing for Chelsea made him the most expensive footballer in the world as his cumulative transfer fees hit £77 million. Throughout Verón’s time in Europe he helped out Estudiantes financially and stumped up the cash to revamp their training facilities.

The midfielder did not hit it off at Stamford Bridge but was soon back prospering in Italy. While at Inter Milan Verón won the Coppa Italia twice and got his hands on a second Scudetto medal after Juventus’ 2006 title was stripped.

Verón took the decision to head back to Argentina and despite overtures from Boca Juniors and River Plate he signed for his hometown club.

In his first season back he steered Estudiantes to the 2006 Apertura title but then suffered a series of injuries and it was feared that his career was coming to an end.

Verón returned better than ever however and was named South American Footballer of the Year in 2008 before going on to captain Estudiantes to victory in the 2009 Copa Libertadores.

The player is central to Diego Maradona's plans for the South Africa 2010 and the tournament will be La Brujita’s third World Cup. Verón’s 35 yard screamer against Banfield earlier this week shows that the player still has plenty of quality left in the tank.

Name: Nolberto Solano

Age: 34

Nationality: Peru (95 caps, 20 goals)

Current Club: Universitario de Deportes (PER)

Previous Clubs: Larissa (GRE), West Ham United (ENG), Newcastle United (ENG), Aston Villa (ENG), Boca Juniors (ARG), Sporting Cristal (PER), Deportivo Municipal (PER)

Diminutive wideman Nolberto Solano first came to prominence in his homeland as part of the talented Sporting Cristal team which reached the final of the Copa Libertadores in 1997.

Sporting Cristal became only the second Peruvian team to reach a Copa Libertadores’ final but narrowly missed out to Cruzeiro as a single goal over the two legs secured victory for the Brazilians.

Prior to reaching the historic final Solano along with the likes of Roberto Palacios, Flavio Maestri, Julinho and Jorge Soto had won three Peruvian league titles on the bounce.

After starring in the Copa Libertadores Solano was brought by Boca Juniors who had recently sold midfielder Juan Sebastián Verón. Playing alongside Diego Maradona Solano shone at La Bombonera and was soon on the move again as Newcastle United came knocking.

Spectacular goals such as his effort against 1860 München quickly endeared him to fans of the Magpies. He rewarded the fans for their support with sparkling performances and almost delivered some much sought silverware to the club but had to make to with a FA Cup runners-up medal after Newcastle were defeated by Manchester United's treble team of 1999.

Solano went on to join Aston Villa in 2004 and it didn’t take long for the Peruvian to become a crowd favourite in the Holt End as well as the Gallowgate. Despite being with The Villains for just 18 months he did the treble at the club's Player of the Year awards when he got the votes of the supporters, the local press and his teammates.

His return to Newcastle United coincided with the arrival of Michael Owen in the North-East. Fans didn't hide their excitement at the return of the Peruvian by chanting his name at Owen's unveiling.

Solano further cemented his cult status with performances of his Salsa trio The Geordie Latinos, Nobby providing trumpet for the group.

Solano's final stop on his English adventure was West Ham United and during his one season in East London he won over the Hammers’ faithful as well as getting rapturous receptions when he played against Newcastle and Villa.

A switch to Greece didn't work out for the player and in August 2008 Solano headed back to Peru signing for Universitario de Deportes.

Nothing comes easy in Peruvian football at the moment and Solano retired from the international scene after his country finished bottom of the South American qualifying group for the 2010 World Cup.

Solano who will turn 35-years-old next month is just shy of 100 caps and regarded as one of his country’s greatest players of all time.

Solano has said that he hopes to finally see out his career at Sport Boys, a lower league team hailing from his home city of Callao. The player would also like to manager his country at the World Cup after never appearing in the competition as a player.

Name: Ronaldo

Age: 33

Nationality: Brazil (97 caps, 62 goals)

Current Club: Corinthians (BRA)

Previous Clubs: AC Milan (ITA), Real Madrid (ESP), Inter Milan (ITA), Barcelona (ESP), PSV (HOL), Cruzeiro (BRA)

From the humblest of beginnings Ronaldo Luís Nazário de Lima rose to become the best know face in football and scoop nearly every honour going in the game.

Tipped for stardom while playing youth football Ronaldo was snapped up by Brazilian first division outfit Cruzeiro. In his one and only season with the club the 17-year-old netted 12 times in just 14 games, playing his part Cruzeiro's Copa do Brasil triumph in 1993.

After appearing as an unused substitute in Brazil's 1994 World Cup triumph scouts brought him to the attention of PSV Eindhoven and O Fenômeno left his homeland for Europe while still a teenager. His found no problem carrying on his goalscoring antics in Holland and maintained a strike rate of just under a goal a game.

After two seasons with PSV he packed his Dutch Cup winners' medal and headed off to Camp Nou. In his single season with Barcelona Ronaldo bagged over 40 goals, including the best strike of his career against Compostela, and helped the side to victory in the Cup Winners' Cup, Copa del Reya and Supercopa de España.

Ronaldo then switched Camp Nou for the San Siro and joined Inter Milan for a world record fee. The Italians were immediately rewarded for their investment as the Brazilian's goals helped them towards the UEFA Cup title in his first season.

At the World Cup in France the following summer he brought his club form onto the international stage and helped Brazil towards a place in the final against hosts France. However the night before the biggest game of his career so far Ronaldo suffered a convulsive fit and although he played in Brazil's 3-0 defeat it was clear the player was well off the pace.

The following season saw the beginning of the player’s knee injury problems and Ronaldo missed large chunks of the next three Serie A seasons. He did regain his fitness however in time to travel with Brazil to the Far East for the 2002 World Cup.

In his second appearance in a World Cup final O Fenômeno showed his true colours as he scored the only goals of the game as Brazil won their fifth World Cup with a 2-0 victory over Germany.

With his exploits in South Korea and Japan Ronaldo saw his stock rise to new levels and he went back to Spain to join Florentino Pérez’s Galácticos project at the Bernabéu. Yet another successful debut season followed with Real Madrid winning the La Liga, Intercontinental Cup and Spanish Super Cup.

Unfortunately for the player and fans of Real Madrid more injury problems were just around the corner and Ronaldo was in and out of the team for the next four years. He was fit enough however to represent Brazil at the 2006 World Cup where he become the tournament's all-time record goalscorer with his 15th goal in finals against Ghana.

After falling out of favour with Fabio Capello at Real Madrid he moved back to the San Siro, this time to wear the red and black of AC Milan. In 18 months with the Rossoneri the Brazilian managed just 20 games but still netted just under a goal every other game even against the watertight defences of Serie A.

Speculation was rife that Ronaldo would retire after being released by AC Milan but on returning to Brazil he trained with Flamengo, the club he had supported as a boy. As a player who has turned out for both sides in Milan as well as Barcelona and Real Madrid it should have come as no surprise the player eventually agreed terms with Flamengo's great rivals Corinthians.

Soon Ronaldo turned the goal tap on once more and the three time FIFA World Player of the Year won the Campeonato Paulista with 10 goals in 14 games. The player is also in double figures in this year's Brazilian top flight and is a firm favourite with supporters at his new club.

Current Brazil coach Dunga has showed no inclination to recall Ronaldo since taking the job but with O Fenômeno looking trim and banging them in there may still be a place on the plane yet for the country's second highest ever goalscorer.

Name: Juan Román Riquelme

Age: 31

Nationality: Argentina (60 caps, 19 goals)

Current Club: Boca Juniors (ARG)

Previous Clubs: Villarreal (ESP), Barcelona (ESP), Boca Juniors (ARG)

Juan Román Riquelme followed in the footsteps of his boyhood hero Diego Maradona by making an early switch in his career from Argentinos Juniors to Boca Juniors.

In fact the player came to La Bombonera to fill Maradona's vacant number 10 shirt after the 1986 World Cup star retired in 1997. Within two weeks off making his debut Riquelme opened his scoring account for Boca and kicked off a love affair with all those who follow the team in blue and yellow.

Riquelme came into the Boca side already a complete footballer and further demonstrated his class in Argentina's under-20 World Cup win.

Riquelme stayed put for seven seasons and played a key role in the most successful period in the club’s history. With Carlos Bianchi managing the team and Riquelme running things on the pitch Boca won three Argentine titles between 1998 and 2000.

Continental wide success came with Boca winning the Copa Libertadores at the turn of millennium and then retaining the trophy the next year.

In winning the Intercontinental Cup in 2000 with a 2-1 victory over a Real Madrid side boasting Roberto Carlos, Luís Figo and Raúl in their pomp this Boca team was arguably the greatest the club ever had.

It was understood that Riquelme was central to this team as he dictated the play from the middle of the park. This talent did not go unnoticed and again he trod the path which had previously been beaten down by Maradona and left Boca to join Barcelona.

As with El Diego the player did not enjoy the best of times at Camp Nou. Barcelona’s manager Louis van Gaal simply did not rate Riquelme and rarely started him in his natural position.

With his time on the pitch restricted Riquelme requested to leave the club at the end his first season and a compromise was reached when he was loaned to Villareal. He was much more at home at El Madrigal, especially when Chilean Manuel Pellegrini was in charge and the side was jam packed with fellow South Americans.

The Argentine received the Don Balón Award when he was acknowledged as La Liga's Foreign Player of the Year. With the honour Riquelme joined a prestigious list of previous winners including Johan Cruyff, Hristo Stoitchkov and Zinedine Zidane.

His most successful season with El Submarino Amarillo came as the player starred in club’s run to the semi-finals of 2005/06 edition of the Champions League. After dumping out Manchester United and Inter Milan, Riquelme missed the decisive penalty against Arsenal to put the Londoners through to the final at Villareal’s expense.

Worldwide acclaim for the talented Argentine came after his slick performances made his country look unstoppable in the early rounds of the 2006 World Cup. Argentina eventually lost in quarter-finals to hosts Germany after Riquelme was substituted with his team a goal up.

The following season amongst growing tension between the player, his manager and the club’s board Riquelme was loaned back to Boca. The midfielder hit the ground running as a bunch of goals helped his old club to the 2007 Copa Libertadores title. In claiming his third winners' medal in South America’s top club competition Riquelme was voted the tournament's Most Valuable Player.

The player celebrated breaking his contract with Villareal and official singing for Boca a second time with league triumph in the 2008 Apertura.

In recent times the player has had a well documented falling out with Argentina’s manager Diego Maradona. It looks very likely that the global audience will be denied another look at the skills of Riquelme but fans of Boca hope the self imposed exile from international football will give the player a few more precious minutes on the pitch at La Bombonera.

Copyright © Tim Sturtridge & Soccerphile.com

Friday, November 6, 2009

Liverpool Vs Lyon – Dr. Joel Rookwood



Clinging to the rickety banisters I walked slowly up the seemingly endless winding staircase before climbing onto the roof of the Basilique Notre-Dame de Fourviere. The guide directed us down a narrow passageway which led onto an overhanging balcony that can’t have been designed for touring parties. I was beginning to think the middle-aged tour guide, whose capacity to converse in English would rival Paul Merson’s, was not as official as he had claimed. Having seemingly made up a route around the upper echelons of this impressive eighteenth century structure, he proceeded to bombard us with the least interesting and most questionable information known to man. It was like spending an afternoon with Bryan Robson.



Accompanying me and the linguistically challenged but otherwise likeable pensioner was little Danny, a connoisseur of great heights and an experienced building site campaigner. The rest of the lads wisely opted to remain in the bars and leave the culture well alone. Danny laughed at my fearful shuffling across the roof, and pushed me into every dangerous surface he could see. When I eventually summoned the courage to stand on and then look out over balcony however, I was suitably impressed with the view of Lyon that stretched out below us. The guide pointed out the ground of Olympique Lyonnais, and immediately our mindset changed. We could only hope that as the events of that evening unfolded, Liverpool’s grip on their Champions League status would be as unyielding as my grip on the stone handles of the Basilique.



As impressive as the building was, this tour was not the cultural experience I was expecting on arrival in France’s second city on Wednesday afternoon. It was however a far safer adventure than that experienced on my last visit to Lyon. We had stayed in the city en route to getting knocked out of the UEFA Cup in Marseille in 2003. On that occasion an unofficial stadium tour was preceded by the even less official leap off the top diving board into the open air pool in the grounds of the stadium. It was a strange decision to make on a murky March morning, and in retrospect it was an act I wish I had performed with clothes on. This time around there was to be no such embarrassing antics, and yet the painful irony that the events of match day four could see Liverpool knocked back into the UEFA Cup was not lost on any of the 3000 travelling Scousers.



When news reached me of the draw for this season’s Champions League I was somewhere in the Australian outback, trying not get eaten by spiders. My arachnophobia was not matched by a concern for Liverpool’s impending season, which promised a great deal. I was suitably convinced that Fiorentina (whose solitary European success came in the 1961 European Cup Winners Cup), Lyon (who had never won a league title before 2002) and Debreceni Vasutas Sport Club (who?) would not produce a significant threat to Liverpool in the group stages. On the pitch, the sublimely talented but ultimately ineffective Xavi Alonso may have departed for Real Madrid, but with the limited Alvaro Arbeloa joining his countryman at the Bernabeu, we had acquired the cash to fund the purchase of Glen Johnson, a defender capable of crossing the halfway line, and Alberto Aquilani, a midfielder who could and indeed would score goals. Pre-season optimism in Liverpool was predictably high – and yet the quest to bring promise and practice into closer alignment so far eludes us.



In European competition a lacklustre victory at home to Debrecen was followed by a deserved defeat in Fiorentina and an ill-deserved loss to Lyon at Anfield. The match-winner of the latter fixture, Cesar Delgado, had by that stage written off Liverpool’s chances of progressing to the knock-out stages of the competition. Liverpool went into the return fixture in France knowing that defeat to group leaders Lyon would leave them on the brink of elimination, with second-placed Fiorentina favourites to beat the pointless Hungarian minnows Debrecen. Delgado might as well have knocked on the away dressing room of the Stade Gerland before kick off on Wednesday and said, ‘Mr Benitez, I know you are under pressure so I have taken the liberty of writing your team talk to inspire your side’. He was quoted in an unmentionable newspaper as saying: “It won’t surprise me if we beat them again. People thought Liverpool would be a fixture in the quarter-finals but now we make sure they are left out. The problem with Liverpool is they are so inconsistent, with huge differences in the levels of their performances. We have analysed them against Manchester United and against Fulham and they are like two different teams. Nobody could doubt that Lyon are the best team in the group. We can go a very long way.”



The match that followed was inevitably dominated by Liverpool, although the least balanced attack in world football proved unable to break the deadlock. The exceptional Fernando Torres looked as confused as the rest of the Liverpool faithful as his enigmatic partner Andriy Voronin exhibited an alarming tendency to squander both chances and possession. The equally frustrating Ryan Babel replaced the Ukrainian ‘footballer’ with twenty minutes remaining, yet surprisingly it took him only twelve minutes to find the net. As if to confirm the view of the ‘it’s not meant to be’ brigade, Liverpool’s deserved lead was cancelled out in stoppage time however, as the hosts forced home an equalising goal. Lyon’s qualification was confirmed in the process whilst Liverpool’s chances of avoiding relegation to the farcical Europa League were slipping away.



Following a wave of unexpected defeats however, I am not about to offer a diagnosis on ‘where it has all gone wrong’ at Liverpool, like so many other journalists have insisted, somewhat prematurely, in doing. Liverpool truly are hanging on to the threads of their Champions League status, and their campaign looks on the brink of ruination. This draw may have been preceded by six defeats in seven matches, and at some clubs that would indeed leave the manager searching for alternative employment. But this is Liverpool. We will not bow to the weight of pressure from the press. We will put our faith in the man responsible for putting Liverpool back on the European map. The man who took a team without a centre forward to the European Cup final twice in three years. The man responsible for giving Igor Biscan and Djimi Traore a winner’s medal that John Terry and Frank Lampard can only dream about. Rafa has earned patience and will be given the opportunity to rectify his mistakes – and Mr Dalgado, how’s this for cockiness: I’ve just booked my flight to Madrid for May 22nd. Your team won’t get past the quarter-final.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

FC Tokyo crowned League Cup champions

FC Tokyo crowned League Cup champions.
FC Tokyo have been crowned 2009 Yamazaki Nabisco League Cup champions after beating Kawasaki Frontale 2-0 in the final in Tokyo on November 3.

Before a sell-out crowd of 44,308 fans at a packed National Stadium, teenage midfielder Takuji Yonemoto opened the scoring with a swerving long-range drive that appeared to catch Kawasaki goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima off-guard.

Yonemoto had been honoured with the competition's "New Hero" award on the eve of the match, and he added the Man Of The Match crown for good measure thanks to a commanding midfield display.

The languid midfield anchorman kept Kawasaki playmaker Kengo Nakamura well shackled throughout, and by the time FC Tokyo added a second goal through towering striker Sota Hirayama just before the hour mark, the trophy was destined to stay in the capital.

Defeat leaves Kawasaki still searching for their first major title and marks the second time in three seasons that the Kanagawa outfit have lost the League Cup final.

Coach Takashi Sekizuka will need to rejuvenate his side ahead of a tense J. League title race, with Kawasaki just a point above defending champions Kashima Antlers with four games remaining.

The plaudits belong to FC Tokyo for the time being, as Hiroshi Jofuku's side claim a second League Cup trophy having also won the tournament back in 2004.

Copyright © Michael Tuckerman & Soccerphile.com

J.League News

Al Ittihad Stand In Way Of Pohang's Asian Dream

K League
Pohang Steelers are just 90 minutes away from making soccer history. On Saturday night, the team from Gyeongsang province could become the most successful club in Asia – ever.

The South Koreans meet Saudi Arabia’s Al Ittihad in Tokyo in the final of the Asian Champions League. The opposition also has two wins under its belt. No team from the giant continent has ever won three but that is set to change.

It is going to be an interesting evening. Pohang, who won the 1997 and 1998 editions, started this season slowly but have improved over time and the team has lost just once in eleven games in Asia this year, one more than their opponents.

Pohang deservedly progressed past Umm Salal of Qatar last Wednesday. After winning 2-0 at home in the first leg of the semi-final, the Steelers went to Qatar just needing to avoid defeat to book a place in the final. The K-league team did not disappoint and won 2-1 thanks to two great strikes from Macedonian marksman Stevica Ristic and Noh Byung-joon.

Coach Sergio Farias was a happy man. "The final is going to be great and we think that we are going to face a good team similar to ours," he said.

But the Brazilian knows that his team is the underdog. The Saudi Arabians have yet to taste defeat in the Asian Champions League and in the semi-final defeated Japan’s Nagoya Grampus 8-3 over two legs.

"Al Ittihad scored a lot of goals in the semi-final but our team has also scored good goals,” Farias announced.

The Tigers of Jeddah have a fearsome reputation in South Korea and rightly so. Since the Asian Champions League came into existence in 2003, Al Ittihad has eliminated all three of the Korean teams it has come up against.

First to fall under the Saudi scimitar was Jeonbuk Motors in the semifinal of the 2004 version. The Jeonju team was heading for the final when goals from Brazil’s Tcheco and then, in the last minute, Osama Al-Harbi put the West Asians in the final.

There, another Korean team was waiting. Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma won the first leg in Saudi Arabia 3-1. As far as Asia was concerned, the tie was over and the second leg a foregone conclusion. It wasn’t. Al Itthad stunned Seongnam by winning 5-0 in the second leg in one of the biggest shocks in Asian soccer history.

If that wasn’t enough, Al Ittihad then extinguished Korean hopes a year later. Busan I’Park became the next victim at the semi-final stage. The south coast club was savaged at home, losing 5-0. Asking Busan to travel the length of Asia for the second leg was cruel and there, the scoreline was a more moderate 2-0.

Al Ittihad went on to win the final and the nickname from the Seoul media of the ‘K-League Killers’.

There are some survivors from that all-conquering team. Mohammed Noor scored twice against Seongnam and three times in the recent victory over Nagoya. The defensive duo of Hamad Al Montashari and Rehda Tukar are also still around.

New are Tunisian sharpshooter Amine Chermiti, aiming to become the first player to play in FIFA's Club World Cup with two different teams (the first was with Etolie in 2007) and Moroccan marksman Hicham Aboucherouane. Along with the experienced Saudi spine that runs through the team, the North Africans offer menace in attack. Al Ittihad is in form and is feared.

Coach Gabriel Calderon is playing down his team’s chances.“Before every match the chance to win is 50/50 for each team so I cannot say who will win,” said the Argentine.

"But we always play for a win and we will do so again in the final.”

As the final is no longer played over two legs but just the one, the destination of the round-shaped trophy will be known after 90 minutes, or perhaps after 120. At the end of it, either Pohang or Al Ittihad will be basking in the glory of making history in one of Asia’s most modern cities.

Copyright: John Duerden & Soccerphile.com

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Monday, November 2, 2009

Spurs reveal stadium plans, but transport remains an issue

Tottenham Hotspur revealed plans for a 56,000-seat rebuilding of White Hart Lane this week. An undoubted step forward for Spurs, even if the undulating roof-line is a little unoriginal and redolent of Arsenal's new gaff down the Seven Sisters road.

Ashburton Grove's extra capacity means Arsenal are coining in £3million per game, a revenue stream Spurs at present can only dream of matching. But with 20,000 on a season-ticket waiting list and 70,000 members, the club is confident of filling the new seats. The new stadium will be London's third football ground of more than 50,000 seats. With the Olympic Stadium and Twickenham to boot, the capital city itself could almost hold a big tournament by itself.

Spurs' problem remains its location, possibly the worst of any of the city's dozen pro clubs, around half an hour's walk from the nearest Tube station, which for London is a real trek. The nearby overground stations only accommodate toy-town trains, certainly not enough to transport the best part of 60,000 supporters.
As with the construction of Arsenal's new stadium, no money has apparently been allocated in the planning application to improve transport links, which seems suicidal given it is hellish trying to reach WHL at the moment and 20,000 extra fans will soon be heading to this fairly grubby and isolated corner of North London.

Arsenal built a big ground despite questionable transport links. They have an overground station smack beside their new home and an underground stop five minutes walk away but perversely both remain closed on match days. The club called the local council's bluff by threatening to leave the borough unless they gave them planning permission without having to pay to upgrade the stations, and they got away with it.

In addition, nearby Finsbury Park, a transport hub for North-East London, partially closes its tube station on Arsenal match days, inconveniencing the non-supporters in the locality (most Gunners fans do not live in the Highbury area anymore).

So Spurs, after years of pleading for improved transport links and eying possible moves to Wembley, the Olympic stadium in Stratford or further north to a greenfield site in Enfield, have decided to redevelop WHL and grin and bear it.

But how easy it will be to reach what is already an awkward destination on time for kick-off remains to be seen.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

League Cup final a local affair

J-League
All the colour of the Japanese Yamazaki Nabisco League Cup final will descend upon the National Stadium in Tokyo on November 3, with this year's showpiece event set to be an all-local affair.

FC Tokyo have reached their first League Cup final since 2004, with Hiroshi Jofuku's team winning through on the back of some impressive displays.

The capital club topped their group from 2008 finalists Shimizu S-Pulse, before confidently dispatching Nagoya Grampus in the quarter-finals.

Their final four tie saw them pitted against cup specialists Shimizu, where a 3-2 aggregate win over the two legs propelled them into a final played in their home city.

If FC Tokyo figured they would command the lion's share of support at a jam-packed Kokuritsu Kyogijo, their hopes were dashed when neighbours Kawasaki Frontale also won through to the final.

The Kanagawa outfit took a different route to the Culture Day showdown, parachuting into the League Cup at the quarter-final stage due to their participation in the 2009 AFC Champions League.

Takashi Sekizuka's side signalled their intent with an aggregate 3-1 quarter-final win over Kashima Antlers, before beating local rivals Yokohama F. Marinos by the same scoreline in the semi-finals.

With the city of Kawasaki located just twenty kilometres from downtown Tokyo, thousands of Frontale fans will make the short trip to the capital, as they look to put the memories of their 2007 final defeat to Gamba Osaka behind them.

Sekizuka's free-scoring outfit could be forgiven for having their minds on other matters, with Kawasaki currently leading the J. League table by a point from defending champions Kashima Antlers.

However, Kawasaki arguably have the upper hand going into this League Cup final clash, with FC Tokyo's talismanic midfielder Naohiro Ishikawa set to miss the rest of the season through a serious knee injury.

Ishikawa had rattled home fifteen league goals prior to his shock injury, whilst Japan defender Yuto Nagatomo is also racing against the clock to prove his fitness for this clash, as FC Tokyo brace themselves for the potential absence of their two most dynamic personnel.

They'll nevertheless be desperate to add to their solitary trophy, after FC Tokyo claimed the 2004 League Cup crown by beating Urawa Reds on penalties.

Kawasaki Frontale are equally determined to lift some silverware, with the Kanagawa side still waiting for a maiden major trophy.

Higher stakes than usual for this Tamagawa Clasico then, as two of the most popular clubs in the region do battle for the 2009 League Cup at the National Stadium in Tokyo.

Copyright © Michael Tuckerman & Soccerphile.com

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