Sunday, May 29, 2011

FIFA house is on fire

What a week it has been at FIFA H.Q. Could the den of thieves finally be about to be gutted and the old guard sent packing, bribes and all?

By Sunday afternoon, the final stretch of campaigning for the Presidency had become an ugly fire-fight between incumbent Sepp Blatter and the challenger Mohamed Bin-Hammam, with the Swiss apparently emerging from the conflagration the winner after his rival withdrew.

Blatter had led comfortably going into this week as news arrived that the African votes were headed his way.

Then out of the blue Chuck Blazer, the portly Executive Committee member from the USA, who has backed the uber-crook Jack Warner for two decades, suddenly announcing he had reported Bin-Hammam and his CONCACAF boss to the Ethics Committee for trying to buy votes from the Caribbean Football Union.

On Sunday, Bin-Hammam, seeing his bid for glory going up in flames, retaliated by reporting Blatter to the same committee for not reporting breaches of its laws on his watch.

Warner and Bin Hammam were suspended from football activities, while Blatter was let off.

Now on Monday, Warner has got his revenge by reporting Blatter for sending unsolicited gifts of computers and cash to CONCACAF, plus revealing an email in which General Secretary Jerome Valcke expressed an opinion that Bin-Hammam was trying to buy FIFA Presidency in the same way Qatar "bought" the 2022 World Cup finals.

The ruling class of FIFA are at each other's throats in an almighty cat-fight. So much changes by the day it is hard to keep up with the latest shenanigans. The presidential election on Wednesday will be the most absurd embellishment to this farce, with only one, denigrated and discredited candidate left on the ballot paper.

If the FIFA nations have any shame they will follow the lead of the Football Association and allegedly some Asian members in boycotting the ridiculous 'vote' for Sepp Blatter.

Surely the 'Salt Lake City moment' we have dreamed about is imminent; if the FIFA house of shame does not fall now in the fallout from the disgraceful 2018/2022 World Cup votes, then when will it ever?

- Sean O'Conor

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Wembley final promises much

UEFA Champions League Final 2011 - Barcelona v Manchester United 19:45 GMT

In 1992, with 70,000 others, I saw Barcelona win their first European Cup at Wembley.

How was it such a storied club had never done it before
? Who knows, although they have made up for lost time since and are set to stay a European giant for the foreseeable future.

As they enter their second final in three seasons, once more locking swords
with Manchester United, Barcelona have to prove they are one of the greatest teams of all time, as many have claimed.

Their swatting of Arsenal raised club football to a new height because of the intensity of the pressing and the intricacy of their close passing, a hybrid game which left Europe stunned.

Man United are more direct and wide, preferring to attack than marinate possession, a legacy of their English origins: The clash of styles is one to relish; then there is the opportunity for Alex Ferguson to show he has learned from the defeat in 2009. It is quickly forgotten that Man U had
Barça on the ropes in the opening ten minutes, before the game metamorphosed after Barcelona scored with their first attack.

The Catalans clearly have the edge, although the English setting and weather (it is cool and cloudy in London today) will give the Red Devils confidence too. Perhaps Javier Hernandez, who has electrified the domestic league this season, will snatch the crown from Lionel Messi.

Not that Barça will not feel at home: Pep Guardiola himself was on the turf in 1992.
This Wembley is a new building however, with no resemblance to the old Twin Towers.

While it promises to be a classic final, it could just as easily be an ultra-cagey affair as finals often are, where nerves and the meeting of two great teams cancel out the space and mistakes that open contests need.

Spain is split between Real and Barça just like England is between pro and anti Man United. Barça won admirers with their tiki-taka masterclass against the Gunners, but lost many fans with their gamesmanship against Real in the semi-final. We do not like to see our heroes pretending to be injured, diving for free-kicks or waving imaginary cards in the referee's face to get opponents sent off.

A fair fight and an enthralling contest is what the world has ordered.

As long as the fans are happy I am. I could not afford to repeat my 1992 visit tonight as UEFA and Co. had increased ticket prices to extortionate levels. But I have fond memories of that balmy day when Catalans and Genoese came to town.

The stadium fans might be an afterthought these days for the corporate circus that football has become, but the thousands of fans in London will be enjoying it more than anyone.
(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Friday, May 27, 2011

Champions League Bet

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Kick it to Cancer

The National Foundation for Cancer Research Joins Soccer Teams to “Kick it to Cancer”

Bethesda, Md. – May 18, 2011 – The National Foundation for Cancer Research is teaming up with soccer
players around the country for a nationwide fundraiser entitled “Kick it to Cancer!” Any soccer team,
whether high school, college, or community-based, can participate by dedicating proceeds from one or
more games to be donated to NFCR.

“There are countless ways you can help fund cancer research, but a great place to start is by utilizing the
talents you already possess,” said Franklin C. Salisbury Jr., President of NFCR. “Fundraising programs like
‘Kick it to Cancer’ allow you to do what you love and help save lives at the same time.”
NFCR is providing numerous resources to help participants get started, including an event manual and
cancer information materials. The campaign lasts throughout the end of the year.
To sign up or get more information, click here or visit www.nfcr.org/kickittocancer.

About the National Foundation for Cancer Research

The National Foundation for Cancer Research (NFCR) is a leading charity dedicated to funding cancer
research and public education relating to cancer prevention, earlier diagnosis, better treatments and,
ultimately, a cure for cancer. NFCR promotes and facilitates collaboration among scientists to accelerate
the pace of discovery from bench to bedside.

Since 1973, NFCR has provided over $288 million in direct support of discovery-oriented cancer research
focused on understanding how and why cells become cancerous, and on public education relating to
cancer prevention, detection, and treatment. NFCR scientists are discovering cancer’s molecular
mysteries and translating these discoveries into therapies that hold the hope for curing cancer. NFCR is
about Research for a Cure -mcures for all types of cancer.
For more information, please visit www.NFCR.org.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Japan backs out once more

Japan have withdrawn again from July's Copa America once again.

The JFA initially pulled out when March's earthquake and tsunami forced the J-League to reschedule during the Copa America, but re-entered the competition following discussions with CONMEBOL, who were still keen for Japan to take part.

Now Chief Executive Junji Ogura has confirmed there will be no Japanese presence in Argentina after both J-League and European clubs signalled their reluctance to release players. The stumbling block for the 15 European clubs holding Japanese players was the early start of their league season, because of Euro 2012.

JFA Technical Director Hiromi Hara flew to Europe for discussions with almost a dozen clubs but came back empty-handed as clubs had complained the Copa America was essentially only a friendly tournament for Japan. The JFA opted not to send a B team to the tournament, as the USA had done in 2007, where it lost all its matches.

Costa Rica are expected to be confirmed as Japan's replacement.

-Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Blanc and black and red all over

Europe is treading clumsily where America has learned not to tread long ago.

The recent row over the possibility of quotas of non-black players in France's national football academies showed how Europeans still do not 'get' race and are prone to reflex comments of xenophobia and maybe worse.

The transcripts of a discussion last November show that a meeting between the FFF's technical director, national coach Laurent Blanc and the U20 and U21 managers show the four discussing introducing a quota of a maximum of 30% of academy places for boys with dual nationality.

The goal was to stop the federation wasting so much time and money on youngsters who end up playing for another country in the end, a reasonable aspiration. Unfortunately the waters were muddied when Blanc spoke of modifying the French youth football culture to concentrate less on size and strength, which in his words is the preserve of "les blacks", and seek "other criteria" in the 12-13 age range.

Such a shame this story came from France, a full 13 years since its multi-racial team won the World Cup, briefly uniting a fragmenting society, and in the process leaving Le Front National leader Jean-Marie Le Pen an ostracised buffoon for mocking the lack of players singing the belligerent words of La Marseillaise.

New France had triumphed, or so it seemed. Since then there have been serious race riots, prompted by President Nicolas Sarkozy's infamous 'racaille' comment in 2005, while in 2008 the French national anthem was drowned out by Tunisian immigrant boos at the Stade de France, provoking a soul-searching national debate into whether the French dream of making everyone a citoyen with liberté, égalité et fraternité had become in fact un cauchemar (nightmare).

The French player mutiny at the World Cup in South Africa was fomented by black members of the team, adding an unnecessary racial tone to the debate, while fueling the already widespread domestic criticism of multiculturalism, which led to the infamous ban on burkas in France this year.

Around the same time of Blanc's faux pas, an England footballer was fined £20,000 when, referring to Ghana's friendly visit, he tweeted, "Immigration has surrounded the Wembley premises! I knew it was a trap! The only way to get out safely is to wear an England shirt and paint your face w/ the St. George's flag!"

Straightforward bigotry then, except that the tweeter in question was black (Carlton Cole), which stops our (pre?)judgment in its tracks somewhat.

That is the problem with judging racial incidents - they are rarely just black and white, so to speak. Perhaps the most infamous racial incident in British football came not when the dimwitted Crystal Palace chairman Ron Noades absurdly claimed in 1991 that black players were not as good in the winter as white ones and for all their flair lacked "common sense", but when former Manchester United manager Ron Atkinson referred off-camera to Marcel Desailly as "what is known in some schools as a fucking lazy thick nigger" after the defender had made a crucial mistake playing for Chelsea in 2004.

'Racist Ron' lost his job at once and has not been seen on British screens since, (although he does work across the Irish Sea on soccer shows), and yet a closer examination of his career left the bigot tag hanging loosely. Atkinson after all had signed several fine black players for West Brom - like Laurie Cunningham and Cyrille Regis, at a time when other high-profile clubs were conspicuously not recruiting non-whites.

He might have kept the residual colonial attitudes many of his generation did, but in practice Ron clearly valued blacks as much as white players, showing not a hint of racism until the infamous broadcast.

While many have rushed to hang Blanc as a hate-monger and the FFR as a primeval den of prejudice, once more the facts do not back up the accusation in full. Blanc has played with a multitude of ethnicity for years, captained the famous 1998 World Cup team and has been a gentleman respected by one and all.

French skipper Alou Diarra and Desailly himself leaped to Blanc's defence, although fellow French black stars Lilian Thuram and Patrick Vieira rounded on him, probably recognising themselves as the muscular types Blanc had hinted at the FFF ignoring in the future.

Perhaps the most contentious part of the recorded conversation was when Blanc spoke about "our culture" in reference to his frustration at players coming through the French elite academies only to play for another country. But he had a point as an employer investing time and money for no end product:

"When people wear the jersey of the [French] national team at Under-16, Under-17, Under-18, Under-19, Under-20 and A level," said Blanc, "and then they go to North African or African teams, that bothers me enormously."

It is hard to disagree with that sentiment when you have devoted so much to training somebody up only for them to jump ship to a competitor, but in the context of football this is a problem for all globalised western countries with no obvious solution under FIFA eligibility rules. In cities like London, Paris or New York, there must be millions of children with multiple passports. This fundamentally is multiculturalism, not ethnicity.

Calling someone a racist remains a practice too often abused, however necessary it is in genuine cases. A permanent marker, it remains a potent weapon in a fight, a trump card to win all arguments whatever the evidence to the contrary. People can deal with being called a fool or similar epithets, but universally shudder at the thought of being labeled a racist.

Those who swallowed the headlines and labelled Blanc as a bigot should have read the entire transcript, including his statement that he had no problem with other races and that picking eleven black men for France "suits me fine". The furor seems to centre around his generalising of "black" players as tall and strong men and use of the word "culture".

This is a messy minefield, where the slightest comment about ethnic or cultural difference can lead to branding and public humiliation, which makes any comfortable conclusion impossible. Is it simply taboo now to mention any obvious difference between races, even when it is a compliment to fact e.g. blacks sprint faster than whites?

Almost forgotten amid the hullabaloo is Blanc mentioning the Spanish had told him they had "no problems" because they had no blacks in their team, conveniently forgetting Marcos Senna was instrumental in helping them to Euro 2008. Perhaps the Spanish were referring to the French bust-up in South Africa, but what Blanc was surely implying, even though he did not say it explicitly, was that the Spanish are ahead of the world right now with a team of short, mobile ball-wizards instead of charging midfield mastodons.

The Spanish quote, if true, was surely more racist than anything Blanc said, and comes as no surprise. Italy has worse racial problems in football than France too, while Eastern Europe is in a class of its own, cerca 1950.

The Blanc row comes at a time France is struggling publicly to unite its disparate tribes under one flag, perhaps not helped by the perception of an islamophobic President ensconced in the Elysée Palace. It is not a fire that can be put out quickly.

Humans create hierarchies of class, race, accent, religion, geography, money, you name it, and discrimination springs from each attempt to divide and differentiate. Football is just another stage for these eternally bad practices but until this summer, French football had seemed a success story for ethnic harmony.

Suffice to say, Laurent Blanc should pick the best players for his team whoever they may be, as he has always done, and given some peace, he will continue to do that.

May the best men play.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

World Cup Posters

Someone must challenge FIFA

The Football Association's decision to abstain from the FIFA Presidential Vote garnered unwanted criticism in the press at home.

There is no shame in rejecting both candidates and ticking 'none of the above'. On the contrary, it sends a clear message that
FIFA is foul and needs change.

Sepp Blatter had a cheek to visit Wembley in search of a vote when he had personally done to much to derail England's 2018 World Cup bid only months earlier, while Mohamed Bin-Hammam is sadly cut from the same cliquey cloth and like Jack 'Pirate of the Caribbean' Warner, has also been implicated in ticket touting.

Whatever he says, Bin-Hammam has no real interest in
transparency. Can he really enjoy reading the revelations of how his country bought the 2022 World Cup finals in spite of its merciless summer heat, medieval laws and an obvious lack of a football heritage?

Until such time as the FA cleans out FIFA from the inside, which is a pipe-dream given how few allies it has in Zurich, the world's oldest soccer organisation should proceed w
ith Plan B, a clandestine mustering of rival forces to launch a counter organisation. Football might be in chaos for a couple of years until a rapprochement occurs, and a World Cup could be ruined by a global split, but FIFA's persistent refusal to open its doors to scrutiny and fairness when the whole world is holding it in contempt will only be to blame.

Associations worldwide are as fed up with the cabal in Switzerland as the fans are but they keep schtum because there is no leader to mobilise the groundswell of dissatisfaction into serious opposition. England as the motherland of the game is the obvious instigator of a revolt, but this plan needs preparation before execution. So far, the evidence of a desire to challenge FIFA is
Platini.thin on the ground, meaning we can expect more of the same from Blatter & Co., ensconced in their legally-untouchable Swiss bunker.

The alternative to revolt is to grin and bear it forever. The Augean stables just will not be cleaned from the inside as long as Warner, Nicolas Leoz and chums sit tight or laugh all the way to the bank. Just look at how CONCACAF re-elected the uber-crook as their boss this month, unanimously.

Waiting for Michel Platini to break his silence and change into Captain Reformer is futile as it may never happen.

Enough is enough. It is time for rebellion.

Now will somebody please step forward?

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Friday, May 20, 2011

George's Premiership Predictions May 21

George got 2 results right last time and 0 perfect scores.

Sun 22 May 2011

Aston Villa 2 v Liverpool 2
Bolton 0 v Manchester City 1
Everton 1 v Chelsea 1
Fulham 2 v Arsenal 2
Man Utd 1 v Blackpool 1
Newcastle 2 v WBA 1
Stoke City 0 v Wigan Athletic 2
Tottenham 2 v Birmingham 1
West Ham Utd 3 v Sunderland 0
Wolves 2 v Blackburn 1


Previous George Predictions

World Cup Posters

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Fifa World Ranking May 2011

Fifa rankings.
Fifa's World Rankings for May were published today and there is little change throughout the 200+ team ranking. 2010 World Cup winners Spain remain in top spot followed by The Netherlands, Brazil, Germany and England in 6th place. Ghana are the top African team in 15th.

The USA are in 22nd place. Japan, winners of the Asian Cup, drop one position to 14th.

Ranking Team
1 Spain
2 Netherlands
3 Brazil
4 Germany
5 Argentina
6 England
7 Uruguay
8 Portugal
9 Italy
10 Croatia
11 Norway
12 Greece
13 Chile
14 Japan
15 Ghana
16 Serbia
17 Slovenia
18 Russia
19 France
20 Australia

Full world rankings

Previous Fifa World Rankings

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Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Final of the Cup

FA Cup.Manchester City take on Stoke City at Wembley today for the oldest prize in professional football, the FA Cup.

The days of the cup final resembling the Superbowl as a national event are clearly spent, confirmed by the FA's scheduling of Premier League fixtures on the same day for the first time.

Fixture congestion caused by the Champions League final on a Saturday at Wembley is a good excuse, but the probable upstaging of Man City
by their big city rivals winning the league on the same day also looks like the ultimate humiliation for the mother of all cup competitions.

The FA Cup will always be there like the Catholic Church, but the faithful have fallen away in recent years. Its history remains essential for an understanding of football's progress, particularly the 1883 final when Blackburn Olympic's 2-1 victory over the Ol
d Etonians confirmed the preeminence of northern professionalism over southern amateurism.

No other football nation had a cup competition which rivaled the league in prestige, but England could not remain an island forever. The cup began to lose its sheen in the early 1990s, n
ot because the UEFA Champions League had come on strong - that would occur a few years later, but rather because Sky's domestic birth had made live football commonplace and its multi-channel television was diluting the formerly nationally unifying force of the BBC and ITV. A big reason for football's popularity in the 1950s, anyone will tell you, is that apart from the cinema there was nothing else to watch.

There seems no turning back the clock with Europe's top draw absolutely dwarfing th
e Cup in prize money - £31.7 million v £3.4 million, although letting the winners enter the Champions League would surely force managers to take it more seriously and probably reduce the prospect of a Portsmouth or Cardiff making it through to the final.
Overseas coaches in England who just don't 'get' the magic of the FA Cup are often blamed for hastening its demise, but the lead of Arsene Wenger and others in fielding weakened teams has been gleefully copied by plenty of British managers too, worrying about three points on the Saturday and European qualification or relegation.

For all the earnest efforts of rights-holders ITV to talk up 'the magic', the media voices which talk of 'capturing the imagination' grow fainter by the year and more knowingly dishonest, like ailing salesmen.

Manchester City winning would confirm the curse of the second-city club is over, and a second helping of champagne for the Blues after securing Champions League qualification this week ahead of an Arab summer transfer spree. For Stoke it would be a historic first cup triumph - tell both sets of those fans it does not matter.

But Manchester United winning the league half an hour before kick-off at Wembley would see the league champions and FA Cup winners going head to head in the Sunday press, a clash that usually only happens in the Charity, now Community, Shield.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

George's Premiership Predictions May 14

George got 5 results right last time and 1 perfect score.

Sat 14 May 2011

Blackburn 0 v Man Utd 1
Blackpool 1 v Bolton 1
Sunderland 2 v Wolves 1
WBA 2 v Everton 3

FA Cup

Man City 1 v Stoke City 1
Pens 4-3 Man City

Sun 15 May 2011

Chelsea 4 v Newcastle 0
Arsenal 3 v Aston Villa 1
Birmingham 0 v Fulham 0
Liverpool 2 v Tottenham 0
Wigan Athletic 2 v West Ham Utd 1


Previous George Predictions


Saturday, May 7, 2011

Urawa Reds the big losers in Golden Week gala

It's tough being Urawa Reds. The "biggest club in Asia" tag is a difficult one to live down, even if the Saitama giants haven't come close to winning a trophy for years.

The Reds burst onto the Asian football scene by winning the J. League under the swashbuckling auspices of German coach Guido Buchwald in 2006, befo
re his more circumspect successor Holger Osieck steered the Saitama giants to Asian Champions League glory the following year.

But no sooner had Urawa begun to dominate the J. League than their world fell apart, as the popular Saitama side spectacularly disintegrated in the 2007 title race, prompting the dismissal of coach Osieck just two games into the 2008 season. Two m
ore German coaches followed, but neither Gert Engels nor Volker Finke could steer Urawa to the silverware they so desperately craved.

Enter Zeljko Petrovic. The Montenegrin coach enjoyed a peripatetic playing career, turning out for the likes of Dinamo Zagreb, Sevilla and PSV Eindhoven in a 16-year career spent largely in the Netherlands. Petrovic ended his playing days at small
Dutch outfit RKC Waalwijk - the club he coached in the Dutch second division in 2007-08 - but crucially he also enjoyed a three-year spell in Japan with Urawa Reds.

Petrovic's time in Japan coincided with Urawa's relegation to the second tier of the J. League and the charismatic coach knows all about the Reds' storied history. Urawa packed out every game of their compact Komaba Stadium home in the second divi
sion and crowds have continued to grow since their move to the futuristic Saitama Stadium.

Saitama Stadium
Indeed, a crowd of 42,767 fans turned out at Saitama Stadium on April 24 to see Urawa hammer defending champions Nagoya Grampus 3-0, in a match in which playmaker Yosuke Kashiwagi and diminutive forward G
enki Haraguchi tore the Nagoya defence apart. Fast forward to May 7, however, and the Reds are under pressure following two straight Golden Week defeats.

A emotional 1-0 loss to locals Vegalta in the earthquake-shattered surrounds of Sendai gave way to a similarly disappointing 2-0 defeat to regional rivals Yokohama F. Marinos, when 47,056 mostly home fans left less than impressed by Urawa's shoddy defending and inability to convert chances.

Another big crowd is expected to descend upon the Nat
ional Stadium in Tokyo today, where Chiba side Kashiwa Reysol host the Reds in a late-afternoon blockbuster. The promoted Sun Kings set the early pace this season, winning their first three games before crashing back to earth with an unlucky 2-1 defeat to Montedio in the rugged wilds of Yamagata.

Reds fans at the National Stadium
The vast horde of Reds fans who travel home and away to support their team means Kashiwa are unwilling to host this game at their compact Hitachi Stadium, so home advantage is lost as Reysol prepare to welcome the Reds to the neutral confines of Kokuritsu. The venue has hosted some thrilling clashes between these two sides over the years, most notably on the same weekend two seasons ago, when Sergio Escudero crashed home the unlikeliest of winners to propel Urawa to a stunning 3-2 come-from-behind victory in driving rain.

A calm Petrovic has shrugged off the back-to-back defeats to Vegalta and F. Marinos, saying his side are still confident despite the Golden Week setback.

"Currently, our players' spirits are high and very strong," he told the club's website. "Their physical conditions are also well. For this reason, all we have to do now is to believe in our play style and just fight."

Fighting is a given, but it's results that count in the business of winning trophies. Another defeat here could spell trouble for new man Petrovic, as he walks the tightrope between staying confident and avoiding catastrophe at one of Asian football's most recognisable clubs.
Copyright © Mike Tuckerman & Soccerphile.com

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