Saturday, January 30, 2010

Coming out to play

Walking through the centre of London, the EU's largest city on Friday afternoon, I saw a famous footballer, and later two men holding hands: Neither a big deal.

On Thursday night rugby star Gareth Thomas hosted a coming-out party with friends and gay stars including Sir Ian McKellen (Gandalf) at a Soho nightspot. Former Wales captain Thomas, 35, admitted he was gay late last year and the reaction has been, well...no-one's really bothered.

Rugby, particularly in Thomas' homeland, has a macho identity not unlike the jock culture of American football. So when it steals a march on soccer in accepting gay players, why isn't FIFA busy with initiatives to encourage sexual, as well as racial tolerance in the people's game? It seems like every sport but soccer has taken the plunge, and I can't think of any footballers beyond Justin Fashanu, and he only openly came out after retiring. While there are degrees of intolerance in society, football once more does its own thing. To be fair the Football Association and certain clubs have clamped down on homophobic fans in the last couple of years, which is certainly a good start.

In Britain the game is glaringly behind society, where civil partnerships are in law, gay men occupy prominent positions in politics, TV and the arts and even the Queen's poet laureate is a bisexual. Elton John has been a football man for years but an England & Premier League player debating the issue seems as far as we have got towards having gay players universally accepted.

Endless internet rumours, which over here oddly always seem to involve black players from London clubs, is a silly schoolboy jape played by adults, but famous gay activist Peter Tatchell didn't help by pointedly telling the press on Thursday how surprised he was that Sol Campbell and Cristiano Ronaldo had not turned up to the party.

"Everybody here tonight is celebrating that the world is changing," said Thomas. "We are here to send the message that it's OK to be a sportsman and it is also OK to be gay." Except that it is plainly not yet in the world's biggest sport.

-Sean O'Conor

Friday, January 29, 2010

No Big Korea Moves In Transfer Window - Yet

No Big Korea Moves In Transfer Window.
For most people in Europe, January with its long and cold nights is a quiet time after the excesses of Christmas and New Year Holidays. Football is different however as the January transfer window may not always ensure activity but it at least delivers thousands of reports and rumours about possible deals and moves.

This flood strengthens as the end of the month approaches. It is the mid-season time in Europe when clubs are often on the look-out for imports that can save or kick-start their fortunes. The biggest and the best teams tend to save their shopping until the summer when new additions have time and the pre-season training period in which to adapt to their new surroundings.

But with the window open just for a few days more before it closes until the summer; it is natural that all clubs and scouts keep their eyes open. This leads to all kinds of fun and games in the Korean media. This month has been quieter than Januarys of the past but the deadline is approaching fast.

Maybe too fast for Yeom Ki-hoon. This talented attacker, who also has an ability to pick up injuries on a regular basis, came into prominence in 2006 during Jeonbuk Motors’ successful attempt to become the champions of Asia.

Then 23, Yeom’s future looked very bright before his annual injury slowed his development. He has still played over 20 times for the national team and has already come close to a move to England. On the radar of English clubs since 2007, one Premier League team arrange to scout Yeom in a national team match in the spring of that year only for his lack of fitness to make the trip a waste of time.

After moving from Jeonbuk to Ulsan Horang-I, he found himself training with West Bromich Albion in December 2008. After a few days club Ulsan claimed that he had gone to the club, based in the city of Birmingham, without their knowledge. Whatever the truth, West Brom didn’t want the bad publicity and made sure that he returned to Korea’s shipbuilding capital to build some bridges.

Now there are rumours of interest from a neighbour of West Brom – Birmingham City. City is not a club about to slip out of the Premier League but this season has instead been going along nicely in the top half of the standings. Not only that but the Blues now have a new owner in the shape of Hong Kong tycoon Carson Yeung. This businessman has money to spend and a plan to extend Birmingham’s appeal in East Asia. Signing a Korean player would be a good start and as Yeom has good connections with agents in the UK, he is a natural choice.

There is another Korean star who has already made the European move, though this one didn’t go widely reported. Teenager Suk Hyun-jun impressed in a trial with Dutch powerhouse Ajax. The four-time European champion signed the attacker and he could be in line for a first game very soon.

"Hyun Jun Suk is only 18 years old and offered his services to Ajax by himself. We didn't scout him or anything. Therefore, I'm not sure whether he's ready to make his debut yet," Ajax boss Martin Jol said in Amsterdam last week.

"It would be rather strange for Suk to make his debut this weekend, but it wouldn't be the first time I've done something like that. Suk is a good player and he always does his utmost.”

K.League news

Copyright: John Duerden & Soccerphile.com

Thursday, January 28, 2010

England Cuckoo Clocks

England Coo Clocks - that World Cup 2010 necessity for any true England fan.

Monday, January 25, 2010

FA Cup 5th Round Draw 2010

The draw for the 5th round of the FA Cup was made yesterday. Matches will be played on the weekend of February 13-14, 2010

Bolton Wanderers v Tottenham or Leeds Utd

Chelsea v Cardiff City

Derby County v Birmingham City

Fulham v Notts County or Wigan

Manchester City v Stoke City

Reading v West Brom

Southampton v Portsmouth

Wolves or Crystal Palace v Aston Villa

FA Cup

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Ki Starts Scottish Spell Well

Ki Starts Scottish Spell Well.
The story of another South Korea star’s adventures in Europe started last weekend as Ki Sung-yong made a first appearance in the famous green-and-white hooped shirt of Celtic.

The 20 year-old played the full 90 minutes on Saturday as his new team drew 1-1 with Falkirk in the Scottish Premier League. It was a disappointing performance from the Bhoys but a promising debut from Ki who was impressed with his free-kick skills and was named Man of the Match.

After agreeing to join the famous Scottish club last summer, Ki, had to wait until the end of the year to join his new team as he played out the rest of the K-League season with FC Seoul. Now he is ready to help the 1967 European champions recapture the Scottish title from Glasgow rivals Rangers.

Ki has already impressed off the pitch with his fluent English and pleased journalists, players and supporters alike by coming up with a more familiar first name. "I spent some time in Australia and there my friends called me David as it's difficult for some to pronounce my name,” he told the local media upon arrival. “If that helps make it easier, it’s fine with me. Communication is so important if players are to be comfortable with each other."

Those years spent in high school in Brisbane may have helped his English skills but life on the Gold Coast is a far cry from that in Glasgow. Ki got a taste of that in his first full week in the UK with severe snowstorms and cold weather bringing the country and soccer to a halt and delaying his debut for the club.

That wouldn’t have bothered him too much, Seoul is colder than Scotland in the winter months and the classy youngster has a perfect attitude to match his skills. Already a regular in the Korean team, Ki has been one of the hottest properties in Asia for the past two years or so since he broke into the ranks at FC Seoul. He quickly became one of the nation’s biggest stars and the fact that he is tall and handsome didn’t do him any harm.

Now he has the challenge of charming the legions of Celtic fans that fill Parkhead, the club’s famous 60,000 capacity stadium, on a regular basis. Despite such numbers, Scottish football is in the doldrums these days with the two big clubs, Celtic, and city rivals Rangers, a little less flush with cash than in the past and with the rest of the league unable to compete regardless, many eyes will be on Ki, the 2009 Young Asian Player of the Year, to lift the profile of the Scottish scene.

"In signing Ki, we are sure we will welcome a whole new audience to Celtic," Celtic Chief executive Peter Lawwell said recently in Seoul.

"This (creating new audiences) is something which proved very successful through the signing of players such as Shunsuke Nakamura previously and we are sure Scottish football will again benefit through this signing. In difficult economic times for Scottish football, we are delighted to make this commitment and bring Ki to Scotland."

Nakamura arrived in Scotland in 2005 and spent four years there. The Japanese playmaker was a big hit with the fans and the coach. Before leaving for Spain in the summer of 2009, he certainly helped raise Celtic’s profile in Japan and Asia but Ki has warned fans that he is not a ‘Naka Mark II’ but is more similar to a certain all-action Liverpool and England midfielder.

“People will be expecting me to be the new Nakamura, but I'm not. He was a wonderful player and really gifted technically, but that's not the style I play. I'm younger, faster and stronger. In South Korea people compare me to Steven Gerrard, and I'll admit that's who I've based my game on."

"But Gerrard is one of the best and most recognized midfielders in the world. At the moment I'm not, but that's what I want to become.”

Copyright: John Duerden & Soccerphile.com

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Holland World Cup Profile

The Netherlands

Road to South Africa

They may have enjoyed a relatively easy draw, but the Netherlands could hardly have been more convincing as they swept all before them on the way to winning eight qualifying games in a row.

In a group that contained one less opponent than the rest of the European groups, the Netherlands started their campaign with a win away in Macedonia and simply never let up. A narrow win in Oslo over Norway was followed by a comfortable home victory against Scotland, and with their two main challengers dispatched early on, the Dutch cruised through to the finals and conceded just two goals en route.

Bert van Marwijk’s side might have enjoyed a charmed run to the finals, but they showed in a gritty final-day win in the hostile confines of Glasgow's Hampden Park that they are also capable of grinding out results.

Analysis

Despite so much expectation, the Dutch still have no World Cup trophy to show for all their undoubted talents.

Grizzled tactician van Marwijk will hope to change all that when he leads his Dutch side at what could be one of the most open World Cups in years, and there’s plenty of experience rippling through his well-balanced squad.

Skipper Giovanni van Bronckhorst, midfield talisman Mark van Bommel and workhorse striker Dirk Kuyt have seen it all before, while mercurial midfielder Rafael van der Vaart seems to have been around for an eternity – despite being just 26.

Perhaps the only weakness resides in goal, where the Dutch have struggled to replace legendary custodian Edwin van der Saar. Ajax shot-stopper Maarten Stekelenburg is the current incumbent, but doubts remain about his composure under pressure.

Key player: Mark van Bommel

The Dutch have a wealth of creative talent at their disposal, so it’s up to the coach’s son-in-law Mark van Bommel to do the dirty work in midfield, with the combative anchorman a tough-tackling terrier in the centre of the park.

One to watch: Eljero Elia

Goals have proved to come by for the Dutch – who recorded three 0-0 draws in post-qualification friendlies, so the tricky wing play of rising young star Eljero Elia could prove decisive in unlocking stubborn defences.

Coach: Bert van Marwijk

When Marco van Basten’s unpopular reign came to an inglorious end, the Dutch turned to Bart van Marwijk to restore order.

At 57, van Marwijk has been around for some time, but it’s only the past decade in spells at Feyenoord and German club Borussia Dortmund that he has made a name for himself, and this is his first major tournament in charge of the Dutch national team.

Recent Previous Tournaments

1998: Semi-finals
2002: Did not qualify
2006: Second round

Soccerphile says

Perennial dark horses, the Dutch are yet to make good on all their promise and lift a World Cup trophy. Once again they go into the finals with high expectations, but the lack of an authoritative goalkeeper, a struggling front line and an inexperienced coach mean that while they should get out of a group containing Japan, Denmark and Cameroon, their fate could lay in the hands of the draw thereafter.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Familiarity breeds success on J. League opening day

Familiarity breeds success on J. League opening day.
It's a case of "same again, please" as far as the J. League is concerned, with last season's bumper opening day clash between Kashima Antlers and Urawa Reds reprised for the 2010 campaign.

The J. League has announced the schedule for the opening two rounds of fixtures, with three-time defending champions Kashima set to start the defence of their title in front of a capacity crowd at Kashima Stadium against arch-rivals Urawa.

There's also a repeat of the recent Emperor's Cup final as Gamba Osaka host Nagoya Grampus at Expo '70 Stadium, while last season's runners-up Kawasaki Frontale kick off the new campaign at home to Albirex Niigata.

Round 2 features a much-anticipated Osaka derby, as promoted side Cerezo Osaka welcome crosstown rivals Gamba to Nagai Stadium, with Kanagawa rivals Yokohama F. Marinos and newly promoted Shonan Bellmare also slugging it out at Nissan Stadium.

The full fixture list will be announced on February 3.

Round 1

Saturday, March 6

Kashima Antlers vs Urawa Reds (Kashima Stadium)
FC Tokyo vs Yokohama F. Marinos (Ajinomoto Stadium)
Kawasaki Frontale vs Albirex Niigata (Todoroki Stadium)
Shonan Bellmare vs Montedio Yamagata (Hiratsuka Stadium)
Jubilo Iwata vs Vegalta Sendai (Yamaha Stadium)
Gamba Osaka vs Nagoya Grampus (Expo '70 Stadium)
Sanfrecce Hiroshima vs Shimizu S-Pulse (Big Arch Stadium)


Familiarity breeds success on J. League opening day.


Sunday, March 7

Omiya Ardija vs Cerezo Osaka (Nack5 Stadium)
Vissel Kobe vs Kyoto Sanga (Home's Stadium)

Round 2
Saturday, March 13

Vegalta Sendai vs Omiya Ardija (Yurtec Stadium)
Yokohama F. Marinos vs Shonan Bellmare (Nissan Stadium)
Albirex Niigata vs Jubilo Iwata (Big Swan Stadium)
Shimizu S-Pulse vs Montedio Yamagata (Nihondaira Stadium)
Nagoya Grampus vs Kawasaki Frontale (Toyota Stadium)

Sunday, March 14

Urawa Reds vs FC Tokyo (Saitama Stadium)
Kyoto Sanga vs Kashima Antlers (Nishikyogoku Stadium)
Cerezo Osaka vs Gamba Osaka (Nagai Stadium)
Vissel Kobe vs Sanfrecce Hiroshima (Home's Stadium)

Copyright © Michael Tuckerman & Soccerphile.com

J.League News

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Jobs in the Richest Country in the World

Qatar may not be the most well-known country in the footie world, but Soccerphile have convered several events in the tiny but extremely rich Gulf country.
That includes the recent play off between England and Brazil in Qatar's amazing Khalifa stadium.
We'll be doing a lot more cover if the country get their ambition of holding the 2022 football world cup!

Soccerphile in Qatar
We are able to cover the football in Qatar so well because we have people on the ground in Qatar.
For several years now we have been running the tourist and resident's website, Qatar Visitor.
And now we have set up a companion job board, QatarVisitorJobs.com, to provide you with the latest jobs in Qatar.

Why Qatar?

Quite simply, Qatar is the richest country in the world. As a result, the best jobs pay top whack - and you don't have to pay any tax on your enourmous earnings!
Added to which, Qatar, while still a conservative Muslim country, is a place where you can still have fun. There are bars, an off-licence (yes, an off-licene! we didn't say it was the fun capital of the world) and even a nightclub.
So unlike Saudi, you don't have to go dry to earn your dosh.
So click here to check out the jobs board and apply for the latest vacancies.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Vuvuzela

Love 'em or loathe 'em the vuvuzela is set to be the sound of the 2010 South Africa World Cup.

Vuvuzela

Purchase a genuine vuvuzela trumpet decorated in your team's colors with beads made by women in a Cape Town township.

Vuvuzela

The money raised will go towards helping poorer South Africans benefit from the World Cup in their country. This is a unique souvenir from South Africa.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Win A 2010 World Cup Poster

Win a 2010 World Cup poster in our monthly free-to-enter competition.

South Africa World Cup 2010 Poster

The image is of a black African heading a soccer ball. The head of the figure is in the shape of the African continent.

South Africa World Cup 2010 Poster

World Cup posters are much sought after items which retain their value for collectors.

South Africa World Cup 2010 Poster

All you have to do is sign up for Soccerphile's World Cup newsletter and answer 3 simple questions.

Soccerphile also offers original Germany World Cup 2006 posters and replica 1930 World Cup posters.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

(Almost) All Change In Overseas Ranks

All Change In Overseas Ranks.
South Korean clubs teams don’t change coaches at the drop of a hat and usually wait until the season ends before taking a look at how their man in the hotseat has done. Sackings are rare, coaches tend to leave as contracts end or better offers come along. This off-season period is a little unusual however as three of the four clubs that were under overseas stewardship last season will have a new coach when the 2010 K-League season kicks off at the end of February.

Only Incheon United will have the same foreign face in 2010. Serbian Ilja Petkovic was rewarded for taking the West Coast club into the championship play-off series in 2009, his first season in Korea, by being offered a new one-year contract.

FC Seoul, Pohang Steelers and Jeju United have all seen their coaches head out of South Korea. The biggest story and the biggest shock has been the convoluted departure of Sergio Farias from Pohang. The Brazilian led the team to the 2007 K-League title and then, famously, the 2009 Asian crown.

Such success naturally attracts covetous eyes. In December, reports started to surface that suggested he was talking to Saudi Arabian club Al Ahli. “It is ridiculous that they publish something which is not true,” Farias replied when asked about the rumours. "Teams from West Asia tend to say things before checking all the facts just to show off. This kind of behavior should be avoided."

Pohang CEO Kim Tae-man also dimissed the reports. “Farias is now famous so these kinds of rumours are common,” said Kim. “I know him personally and I don’t need to even ask him about it because it is not an issue.”

It soon became one as Farias signed an 18-month deal with the Jeddah club worth a reported $2.5 million. That dwarfed his Pohang pay and despite the manner of his leaving, his five years and success in Korea meant that Farias left with good wishes.

Pohang openly talked of their desire for another Brazilian coach and hired Waldemar Lemos de Oliveira, a 55 year-old with experience coaching in Japan and Saudi Arabia as well as his native Brazil. He has signed a one-year deal at his new club and will join them with immediate effect.

"He has lots of experience with big clubs in Brazil and he has also worked in the Asian region, and he is able to get the players working together well as a unit," Kim Tae-Min said.

"Most of all, however, he showed a good understanding of Pohang Steelers and what we are about. He likes to play fast and attractive football that excites the fans and wants to win respect from other teams through beautiful and clean football."

Oliviera will be able to communicate easily with the new boss at FC Seoul. Nelo Vingada hails from Portugal but has coached all over the world. He replaces Senol Gunes who returned to Turkey in December as his three-year contract with Seoul expired.

It is not the most inspiring choice for Seoul fans. Gunes was named FIFA’s coach of the year in 2002 as he took an unheralded Turkey team into third place at the World Cup. Vingada’s list of jobs may be lengthier but doesn’t carry the same weight. His last national team position was with Jordan.

"I'm very happy to be here. My feelings are very optimistic," Vingada told local media as he arrived. "I believe that by training hard, as a team, as a family, we will achieve what everybody wants."

The 56 year-old, who won the Egyptian title with Zamalek, aims to do the same for FC Seoul.

"My challenge, the challenge of the team, the challenge I want to bring to the players, is to make first (place)," he said. "It's a new year, a new time, so when we start our training, we will have my new ideas and the support of the staff. I want to see FC Seoul on the list of winners of the K-League. I am here for this challenge."

Jeju United parted company with Brazil’s Artur Bernandes after a fairly unspectacular two seasons and the club has decided not to follow the example set by Seoul and Pohang. A Korean has been appointed in the shape of former national team Under-17 and Under-23 Park Kyung-Hoon.There is less pressure on Park. Pohang and Seoul are expected to battle for the title. For Jeju, a mid-table ranking will suffice.

For the new boys, now is the time for some pre-season training in warmer climes, not there are many of those around at the moment, but the real heat comes with the kick-off of the 2010 K-League season.

Copyright: John Duerden & Soccerphile.com

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Soccerphile World Cup 2010 January Newsletter

Sign up for the free Soccerphile Newsletter this January and win a 2010 World Cup poster in our free to enter, easy to answer competition.

Have a look at the Soccerphile newsletter online to see what you will receive in your inbox.

Soccerphile World Cup 2010 January Newsletter

Keep up to date with the World Cup in South Africa: ticket news, tours, safaris and security.

List your accommodation in South Africa for free on Soccerphile.com - just contact us for further details.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Big Month For Korean World Cup Hopefuls

Big Month For Korean World Cup Hopefuls.
The next few months are vital for players hoping to go to the World Cup and this is a big week for South Koreans with dreams of making the final 23 that makes the plane in June. Not only does the European transfer window open for a month, meaning that players could be heading to Europe or those already there could move around, but coach Huh Jung-moo is taking 25 players to South Africa, the host country of the 2010 tournament, for some acclimatization, training and friendlies.

There are a number of absentees however. Players based in Europe will not be heading south as the European season is still ongoing. So instead of games in Johannesburg and Durban, the overseas stars will be busy with their domestic commitments in England, Scotland, Germany and France.

The problem is that not all of them are busy. The likes of midfielder Cho Won-hee have been in the worst of both worlds. They left Korea for European experience and so miss a number of training camps and exhibition games that take place at home and remove themselves from the watchful eye of the coaching staff. That is not a big deal if you are in the big leagues and testing yourself against some of the best players in the world week in and week out. Coach Huh would love to spend time with the overseas players more often but is quite happy to let them go in the knowledge that when they do return, they return as better players.

But when those players are not playing regularly, it becomes a problem. Cho joined Wigan Athletic of the English Premier League in early 2009 and has barely featured - just making four appearances in that time. He has been a little unlucky though. Soon after arriving in England, he returned to Seoul for a 2010 World Cup qualifier against North Korea. He injured himself in that match and so could only make his debut for his new team right at the end of the season.

Worse was to follow. Steve Bruce, the former Manchester United captain, left Wigan in the off-season to take the vacant Sunderland job. Bruce had publicly talked of Cho’s abilities a number of times and seemed to be a fan of the midfielder. These things happen but it came at a time when Cho had not yet established himself at the club.

New boss Roberto Martinez is a young gun, a coach that had showed potential in the lower leagues in England before finally getting his chance in the top tier. He has been less keen on Cho and the player has started only two games all season – one which hasn’t been a great one for the club. Surprisingly however, Cho did start the final match of 2009, a trip to the home of champion Manchester United to face compatriot Park Ji-sung. It was a night to forget for Cho as his team was crushed 5-0.

Earlier this week Cho arrived back in the Land of the Morning Calm to rejoin Suwon on loan. Whatever happens, he is unlikely to be returning to Wigan.

The future of Seol Ki-hyeon is still up in the air. Seol, a star of the 2002 World Cup, made just five appearances for Fulham in 2009 and just two of those came in the Premier League. It is some time since Seol was a regular Taeguk Warrior but he has been called up of late by coach Huh. The attacker knows that he needs playing time to make the plane in South Africa.

"There have been rumors of his release several times, so we do not see it as too serious. We will find out what is going on first,'' Seol's management agency said last month.

"Although Seol belongs to the player clear-out list, his contract does not expire until next summer. We need not be in a rush.''

The 30 year-old has never played in the K-league and that isn’t about to change soon, according to the agency.

"Currently, it is not in the cards. If there is a team interested in recruiting Seol, I wonder if it could pay his transfer fee of 2 billion won (around $1.7 million).We will look for another team in the Premier League or another European league.''

There is sure to be some movement this month all around the world as players look for playing time before the World Cup.

Copyright: John Duerden & Soccerphile.com

Monday, January 4, 2010

Asian nations do battle for a place in the Asian Cup 2011 finals

Japan.
Doha, Qatar, 4 January

Australia and Japan, two of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) powerhouses, can book their places in the finals of Asian Football Cup 2011 when 18 Asian nations battle it out on Wednesday in the penultimate round of the tournament’s five qualifying groups.

Hosts Qatar, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Korea Republic, India, Uzbekistan and Syria have already qualified for the 16-nation competition but at least another four nations can join them in Doha next January.

Three-times AFC Asian Cup winner Japan who play Yemen in Sana’a had considered not playing in the Gulf country because of the security situation, but Kyodo News Agency reported at the weekend that the AFC had carried out checks and contacted the Japan Football Association to give them the all-clear to make the trip as scheduled.

Japan only need a point to qualify, but have included 13 new faces with coach Takeshi Okada saying that his focus is on this year’s FIFA World Cup in South Africa.
Underdogs Yemen go into the match after a confidence-denting 1-0 defeat to Tajikistan on Saturday in Sana’a.

Bahrain, who share top spot with the Japanese in Group A, play Hong Kong at home and a win would also them through to the finals.

Australia, the AFC’s top-ranked nation, play in Kuwait on the same day, but, like Japan, will be fielding an under-strength side without most of their European-based players. Regular midfielder Jason Culina has also pulled out after injuring his knee in a local Australia A League match.

Both Kuwait and Australia lead Group B and either side can go through to the finals with a win. Kuwait will be buoyed by their 1-0 defeat in the Australian capital Canberra last March.

Other nations involved in friendly matches in preparation for Wednesday’s round have had mixed fortunes.

Singapore, involved in a four-way battle for qualification in Group E, drew 0-0 and lost 4-1 in two friendlies at home to Oman in the last week, and will come up against an Iranian team buoyed by a 1-0 defeat of the Democratic Republic of Korea (North Korea) in the Four-Nation Friendly Tournament in Doha on Saturday.

Jordan, who shocked Iran 1-0 last November to stay in contention for qualification from Group E, must be happy with their preparation for their match against Thailand, coming back from two goals down against China in Shandong to earn a creditable draw.
Jordan bring up the rear in Group E with four points from four matches but a win against Thailand, who are third on five points, could take the fight for two top spots to the last round on 3 March.

China, who are second in Group D with nine points, have a crunch game in Zhejiang against leaders Syria, who have already qualified with 10 points, and will almost certainly qualify if they win.

The United Arab Emirates look set to join Uzbekistan from Group C and should wrap up their place with a win against winless Malaysia at the Al-Shahab stadium.

Malaysia go into the match with a shock 4-1 victory over Syria in a friendly in Kuala Lumpur but with three defeats in their group it would need a miracle to stay in contention. The Malaysians are still smarting from a 5-0 drubbing at home to the UAE in January last year.

Match schedule:

06.01.10 - 16:15 YEMEN - JAPAN (A) Ali Mohsen Al-Muraisi Stadium
06.01.10 - 18:00 BAHRAIN - HONG KONG (A) National Stadium, Manama
06.01.10 - 17:30 KUWAIT - AUSTRALIA (B) Kuwait S.C. Stadium
06.01.10 - 19:30 INDONESIA - OMAN(B) Gelora Bung Karno Stadium
06.01.10 - 19:00 UAE - MALAYSIA(C) Al-Shabab Stadium
06.01.10 - 17:00 LEBANON - VIETNAM (D) Beirut Municipal Stadium
06.01.10 - 19:30 CHINA P.R. - SYRIA (D) Zhejiang Yellow Dragon Sports Center
06.01.10 - 18:30 THAILAND - JORDAN (E) Rajamangala Stadium
06.01.10 - 19:30 SINGAPORE - I.R.IRAN Bishan Stadium
17.01.10 - 19:00 VIETNAM - CHINA P.R. (D) My Dinh Stadium


The final round of matches will be played on 03.03.10.

See www.the-afc.com

Compiled by Francesca Camerano

FA Cup 4th Round

The draw for the 4th round of the FA Cup was made yesterday. Matches will be played on the weekend of January 23-24, 2010

FA Cup


Accrington/Gillingham v Fulham
Aston Villa v Brighton
Bolton v Sheff Utd/QPR
Bristol City/Cardiff v Leicester
Everton v Nottm Forest/Birmingham
Millwall/Derby v Brentford/Doncaster
Notts County/Forest Green v Wigan
Portsmouth/Coventry v Sunderland
Preston v Chelsea
Reading/Liverpool v Burnley
Scunthorpe v Man City
Southampton v Ipswich
Stoke v Arsenal
Tottenham v Leeds
Tranmere/Wolves v Crystal Palace
West Brom v Plymouth/Newcastle

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Gamba Osaka make it two in a row

Gamba Osaka make it two in a row.
Cometh the hour, cometh Yasuhito Endo as one of Asian football's genuine stars took control of the 89th Emperor's Cup final at the National Stadium in Tokyo.

The recently crowned Asian footballer of the year scored twice and laid on another as Gamba Osaka overpowered Nagoya Grampus 4-1 in front of 42,140 fans, who turned out in bright sunshine in the Japanese capital.

The scoreline somewhat flattered the Osakans, who found themselves locked in a battle of attrition during a tense first half.

In-form Brazilian striker Lucas Severino opened the scoring for Gamba as early as the sixth minute, however Nagoya hit back through Naoshi Nakamura as the two sides went into the interval locked at 1-1.

The second half continued in much the same vein, with Australian striker Josh Kennedy going agonisingly close to handing Nagoya the lead, only to miss Magnum's cut-back by a matter of inches.

In the end it was Endo who conjured the headlines, as he beat two defenders before slamming an accurate strike past Japan team-mate Seigo Narazaki to restore Gamba's advantage with just thirteen minutes remaining.

Gaps opened up at the back as Nagoya poured forward in search of another equaliser, and the Osakans exploited them to the fullest as Endo laid on a chance for veteran midfielder Takahiro Futugawa to sidefoot home.

Endo himself added Gamba's fourth with a stunning half-volley late on, as the defending champions sent off retiring goalkeeper Naoki Matsuyo on a high.

Gamba's win means that fourth placed J. League finisher Sanfrecce Hiroshima claim Japan's final place in the 2010 AFC Champions League, with Gamba having already qualified via a third place finish in the league.

For Nagoya it was a case of what might have been, as Dutch Eredivisie-bound Maya Yoshida ended his stint with the Aichi outfit on the losing side.

Copyright © Michael Tuckerman & Soccerphile.com

J.League News

The sad and slow death of the FA Cup

In the same week that we saw for the first time an all-English top flight match kick off with no English players or coaches involved (Portsmouth v Arsenal), the jewel in the crown of the mother of football's competitions performed its most traditionally exciting day with a whimper.

The Fratton Park clash surely dispels for good any arguments that England has a problem with youth development, while the decline of the FA Cup, alive and kicking since 1872, is equally depressing. The Cup's 3rd Round, which traditionally takes place soon after New Year, is the stage where the big boys enter, which can make for mouth-watering David v Goliath clashes.

There were no shocks this year, another sign of the financial chasm between the Premier League and the rest, but the sight of half-empty stadia was glaring enough for the presenters of the competition's biggest cheerleaders, ITV, to debate it on air just as they launched their station's coverage with expensive graphics and a slew of advertising. Only 12,474 paid to watch megabucks Man City's visit to Middlesbrough, while a thousand less attended Premier League Portsmouth's tie with Coventry City. Premier League Wigan's clash with Premier League Hull drew barely 5,000 paying spectators. This cup is half-empty.

When I was growing up in the 1970s and '80s the FA Cup was as prestigious a trophy as the League Championship, a uniquely English prize which set it apart from the rest of UEFA's member nations' cup competitions.

Cup Final Day was the most exciting day of the football season, a Superbowl for England accompanied by ubiquitous fascination and a prize as glittering, if not more so, than winning the league itself in the eyes of fans. The minnows who raised the Cup or slew the giants, from Yeovil to Sutton United, Coventry and Wimbledon, passed into legend. Like all boys I would wake up excited on Cup Final Day and gleefully imbibe the long TV build-up with its reportages from the team hotels, coaches and rosette-bearing fans as they made their way to the shrine of the Twin Towers at Wembley.

Then along came the Premier League in 1993 with its inflated marketing and the Cup almost immediately began to lose its sheen. Add the bloated 'Champions' League to the equation and the writing was on the wall for the old favourite. Winning the Cup could no longer be as important as finishing in the top four and thereby guaranteeing your income for the following season. While older generations of fans were priced out, newer ones arrived with no comprehension of the Cup's special status. Foreign coaches arrived in England equally bemused why people should take it so seriously and began to field weakened teams, with the league their big focus.

What a shame. This was the oldest competition of the world's greatest sport we poisoned, a special affair whose magic lay not in two billionaire owners trying to outspend each other but in its unique ability to allow minnows a taste of greatness, a format which in theory could see a parks team of amateurs end up playing Manchester United. When my home town club Woking, a semi-professional outfit from the 7th national division won 4-2 at West Bromwich Albion in 1991 before losing 0-1 at Everton, our unmitigated ecstasy was not merely due to our humdrum home town being centre-stage, but because something impossible on paper had become reality on grass. And only the Cup could do that year after year.

David v Goliath can still be thrown up by the draw, but everyone these days shrugs and backs Goliath. There are no non-league teams left in this year's competition and I think I'll skip Chelsea and Man Utd's clashes with lower-league opposition tomorrow; despite their inevitably weakened lineups the giants will still prevail.

Perhaps the saddest confirmation of the Cup's toppling from its perch this week was the news that West Ham had emailed their fans, pleading with them to buy tickets for Arsenal's 3rd round visit. The Hammers beat the Gunners in one of the most memorable finals of all, the 'Cockney Cup Final' of 1980, when Trevor Brooking's header won the day for the second division team, the last time a club from outside the top flight had lifted the glittering prize.

Those, indeed, were the days.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile



Friday, January 1, 2010

2009 - A Good Year For South Korea

Korean soccer news.
2009 was a very good year for football in South Korea. The major target, qualifying for a seventh successive World Cup, was met with surprising smoothness. A K-League club winning the Asian Champions League was a major bonus as was the fact that the teams playing the best soccer got the best results in the domestic league.

Whether 2010 will be viewed a success will depend largely on what happens in South Africa in June.

The Taeguk Warriors in a good position in their 2010 World Cup qualification group. The 1-0 win over North Korea in Seoul in April strengthened that grip on the top spot. It wasn’t without controversy however. DPRK striker Jong Tae-se felt that his header, early in the second half, had crossed the line before goalkeeper Lee Woon-jae pawed it clear. Coach Kim Jong-hun definitely thought so as he explained in the post-match press conference. He also declared that his players had been poisoned at their Seoul hotel before the match before storming out past stunned reporters.

Kim Chi-woo’s winning goal was overshadowed but it put clear daylight between South Korea and its rivals. That meant that a win in Dubai in June at the home of group whipping boys UAE would be enough for a South African spot. Goals from Park Chu-young and Ki Sung-yong, two young and fast-improving stars, did just that and for a night at least, a little corner of Dubai echoed to the sound of Korean celebrations.

There were still two qualifiers left and South Korea tied both against Saudi Arabia and Iran which also allowed North Korea to finish second in the group and follow its southern neighbour to Africa. Next June marks the first time that the Korean peninsula will send both representatives to the World Cup. Unsurprisingly, there have been discussions on just how good a ‘Korea United’ would be.

That is for the future because history was made in November just across the East Sea in Japan, Pohang Steelers became the first in Asia to become continental champions three times.

It was a thrilling march to the final of the Asian Champions League. The group stage was safely negotiated and then the knockout rounds brought goals and dramas. Australia’s Newcastle Jets left the Land of the Morning Calm after a 6-0 thrashing.

Then the continent’s wealthiest team Bunyodkor was dispatched over two legs of the quarterfinal. Luiz Scolari led Brazil to the 2002 World Cup but couldn’t lead the Uzbeks past Pohang. The Steelers lost 3-1 in Tashkent but recovered in fine style at home in the Steelyard to win the second leg 4-1 and thus the tie 5-4 on aggregate. Umm Salal of Qatar ended dreams of an all-Korean semi-final by eliminating FC Seoul but the West Asians met their match in the red-and-black shape of the Steelers in the last four.

Pohang was the underdog in the final, going up against Saudi Arabian powerhouse Al Ittihad. The setting was Tokyo National Stadium and the Koreans rose to the occasion with a 2-1 win, to earn a place in FIFA’s Club World Cup. There Pohang finished third, defeating the champions of Africa and North and Central America. It was a great year for the Steelers, tempered by the fact that it ended with coach Sergio Farias waving goodbye and signing a lucrative contract with Al Ahli of Saudi Arabia.
On the domestic front, Pohang finished second in the K-League in an exciting race for the title that was eventually, and deservedly, won by Jeonbuk Motors.

The team from Jeonju had never been champion before, indeed the whole of the south-west has been a title-free zone since the start of the K-League back in 1983. Not any more as ‘Lion King’ Lee Dong-gook grabbed 21 goals and was ably supported by Brazilians Eninho and Luiz Henrique as well as a revitalized Choi Tae-wook. Jeonbuk finished top of the standings at the end of the regular season and then defeated Seongnam Ilhwa in the championship play-off final.

FC Seoul fought it out with Jeonbuk at the top for most of the season but just faded a little right at the death. The capital club didn’t only lose out on another title but also lost star players Ki Sung-yong and Lee Chung-yong to clubs in the UK. That was long expected as was the departure of coach Senol Gunes. The man who took Turkey to the semifinals of the 2002 World Cup spent three seasons in the capital and became known for giving youngsters opportunities with the first-team.

Defending champions Suwon Bluewings endured a very disappointing campaign and spent most of it languishing near the wrong end of the standings and the team was accompanied by another unfamiliar struggler in the shape of Ulsan Horang-i.

Seongnam Ilhwa started slowly but rallied in the second half of the season to finish fourth and then made it to the final off the play-offs before losing to Jeonbuk.
In the end, it was all about Jeonbuk and the boys in Green end the year at the top of the tree.

Copyright: John Duerden & Soccerphile