Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Is the Spanish league "third-world"?

*We might be marveling at the brilliance of Barcelona every time the blaugrana grace the field, and shake our heads at the bottomless bank account of Real Madrid, but the Spanish league is as absurdly top-heavy and devalued as the Scottish league.

The two giants won 5-0 and 6-0 respectively on the opening day of the Spanish season, leaving Villareal president Fernando Roig to exclaim in anguish, "It's a third-world league in which two clubs are sapping the TV money...I give it three to four years. Either it changes or we kill Spanish football." In third place in La Liga last season were Valencia, a full 21 points behind Real and this season the gripes are getting louder. Seville's president has blasted Spanish football as "not the biggest mess in Europe but in the world".

Euro 2008 winner Marcos Senna concurred: "The superiority of Real and Barca is brutal."

Three clubs other than Barça or Real have won La Liga in the past 15 years: Deportivo La Coruna in 2000 and Valencia in 2002 and 2004.

The problem is historic, with Real Madrid built up by the Franco regime into a mega-club and Catalonia focusing its cultural and political frustrations onto its soccer team. Two weeks ago I was in the Castile province of northern Spain and watched the Barcelona v Real Madrid Super Cup second leg, which kicked off at 11pm local time.

It was almost like watching Spain in the World Cup with the whole town glued to multiple TV screens in the main square. TV is the problem, as the clubs negotiate individual deals which inevitably favours the two giants. The locals in Ponferrada were largely pro-Real, as is the majority of Spain, but there were plenty of youngsters in Barça shirts too, presumably having grown up on Ronaldinho.
Most of Spain is like this is in my experience. The big two have too big a hold on the nation. That said, at a national team level, this period of Barça/Real saturation has coincided with Spain winning Euro U-19, Euro U-21, the European Championship and the World Cup. This season began with Spanish players going on strike over money. How long before the imbalance in La Liga results in a breakaway?

*Dunga and David Trezeguet are the latest to take the Arab shilling, having agreed to take jobs with club sides in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates respectively.

The 4
7 year-old Brazilian most recently coached his nation at the World Cup finals and will coach Al Rayyan, while the 33 year-old French striker leaves a storied European career including spells at Hercules, Juventus and Monaco. 'Trez' won the World Cup with France and scored the winning (golden) goal in the Euro 2000 final. He will now play for Baniyas SC.

No doubt he, like Dunga, are heading to the Middle East for the stratospheric salaries and little else, but in footballing terms it still seems a shame to be moving to real soccer backwaters in search of one last big payday.
*Best wishes to Owen Hargreaves as he attempts one last resurrection of his injury-plagued career at Manchester City. The Canada-born midfielder, it is easy to forget, was England's best player at the 2006 World Cup finals in Germany, despite, or perhaps because he had never played in English club football, gaining his soccer education instead first in North America and then at Bayern Munich.

-Sean O'Conor 

Blatter the clown prince of football

Blatter.Sepp Blatter's comments to a Brazilian magazine prove once and for all he is not fit to run football.

"
We have bad losers in FIFA," the FIFA President told Estado de Sao Paolo. "This animosity comes from England," he went on. "Interesting is the timing of the accusations. It was just around the time when they·failed to win host rights to the 2018 World Cup...All this has been an act of revenge for having lost the FIFA Presidency in 1974 to Joao Havelange. Still, they cannot accept that they no longer control FIFA. Since they cannot regain the Presidency, they decided they would try to destroy it."

The words of a mad conspiracy theorist. The surge in reports of FIFA corruption came it is true around last year's World Cup vote but that was because both 2018 (Russia) and 2022 (Qatar) seemed highly suspicious choices to any fair-minded watcher.

How then to explain the head of the German F.A. and Karl-Heinz Rummenige calling for Blatter's head recently? The fact is England has the most active investigative journalism and endemic FIFA corruption is something Blatter has presided over and allowed to fester.

The Football Association and the British media has no desire other than a trustworthy governing body for the sport it invented. Under Blatter, the FIFA Ex.Co. has looked like an FBI's most wanted list of felons: Warner, Texeira, Leoz, Bin-Hammam, Blazer (pic) and Grondona for starters.

If Blatter really believes in transparency and honest management, let him release the judicial verdict on the ISL collapse which languishes in a courthouse in Zug, Switzerland.

The F.A. however should look themselves in the mirror for shamefully u-turning to back Blatter in his initial bid for the Presidency, betraying the support of the honest Swede Lennart Johansson. How foolish do they appear now that deep anti-English feeling pervades FIFA corridors.

Recent stirrings from Germany suggest that is the country from which a successful anti-Blatter movement should stem.

-Sean O'Conor

8-2 thrashing leaves Arsenal empty

8-2.'8-2, eight bloody two' as Michael Palin almost said in Ripping Yarns (8-1).

The morning after Arsenal's worst defeat since 1896 was a sobering one.
The 8-2 capitulation at Old Trafford was slow-motion carnage or schadenfreude at its sweetest, depending on your opinon of the Gunners and Mr Wenger. It was humiliation indeed although even Tottenham supporters had to choke their chuckles as they sit bottom of the division, having been smashed 5-1 at home by Manchester City, fast becoming the first club since Blackburn to so obviously buy their way to the title.
The chasm in power which divides Wenger from Alex Ferguson is vast, despite the Frenchman's historic transformation of London's biggest team. While United have a new breed of youngsters battle-ready for Premier League action, Arsenal are blooding untried rookies with increasingly calamitous results.
Arsenal's acute demise is being blamed on the power struggle between Stan Kroenke and Alisher Usmanov and Wenger's ideological adherence to youth policy and non-English players. Whilst Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott are two young Anglos who have made it through the ranks, the Frenchman's apparent reluctance to buy hard-working English defenders and midfielders when available appears a flaw in his thinking which has come back to bite him. Indeed it is hard to imagine him recruiting the excellent Dixon, Bould/Keown, Adams and Winterburn back four he inherited from Bruce Rioch.
His adherence to statistics means if a player seems overpriced he shies away and passion, leadership and other English footballing virtues do not register on his Pro-Zone printouts. Fielding eleven multi-functional mobile dribblers is admirable in the age of tiki-taka but how Arsenal could do with another Petit and Vieira in the middle to stop opposition attacks dead.
Wenger's French revolution gave Arsenal an edge for a few years until other clubs aped his off-field science-based training. In addition, the game moves on every few years and no historic system, whether W-M, total football or 4-4-2, can hope to prevail forever. Wenger's excessive self-belief is costing Arsenal points.
Alex Ferguson has cited his 1990 F.A. Cup win as the break he needed to take complete control over Manchester United F.C. and launch his imperial project. A giant of a club had been asleep so long it was almost comatose, so Martin Edwards gladly handed the Scot carte blanche to run the club like a true 'manager' once they felt sure he could bring them a full trophy cabinet.
An impressive Cup Winners' Cup final win over Barcelona the following season, in English clubs' first foray into Europe for five years, convinced the board they had got their man, and a first title in 26 years arrived in 1993.
Ferguson has been effectively unsackable since then, and the Glazers are said to be in awe of him. His rise from under-fire hiring with 90 minutes to save his job (a cup-tie against Nottingham Forest) to great dictator and universal football legend is in sharp contrast to the prevailing trend of managers becoming first-team coaches with directors of football, board members and presidents pulling the real strings high above them. Modern coaches enjoy the lifespan of mayflies in comparison to Ferguson. Moneybags Chelsea have used seven managers in the past five years, while Fergie has ruled the roost at Old Trafford since 1986.
"I know dictators are out of fashion but I would love to be the perfect dictator," said Brian Clough famously. Indeed he was for years at Forest, until he did what almost all dictators do and stay on too long before being ousted by backers who vowed never to repeat the same mistake.
But Wenger has had a relatively free hand at Arsenal, not least in his persuading the capital's most storied team to leave its ancient, sacred home for a new house nearby and make him overseer of the entire youth set-up.
Football is politics again. So often desperate electorates happily hand power to a charismatic leader when hope and tradition run out of steam. US Soccer had been understandably reluctant to give Jurgen Klinsmann the keys to their kingdom for the past five years but after the exasperating Gold Cup final they relented and Klinsi is now in control.
If Arsenal want to emerge from their nightmare, they could hand Wenger a blank chequebook and an even freer hand, assuming his reliance on self-made solutions stems from the tight kitty at Ashburton Grove and not a dogmatic desire to build an Ajax-on-Thames.
But time is running out for Wenger and Arsenal. With transfer deadline imminent and 360 degree pressure on the Frenchman, purchases are probable, yet the downside to leaving it so late to recruit is that price tags rise concomitantly and desperation can set in, leading to panic buying with no time to research players properly.
In his final days at Highbury, George Graham made three hasty purchases at least two of which seemed wrong at the time as well as afterwards -John Hartson, Glenn Helder and Chris Kiwomya.
Wenger has boxed himself in and needs nerves of steel and intense focus to sail his way out of this storm.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

FIFA World Rankings August 2011

FIFA World Rankings August 2011.
Fifa's World Rankings for August 2011 were published today at FIFA HQ in Zurich, Switzerland. The Netherlands leap-frog 2010 World Cup winners Spain followed by Germany and England.

Nepal are in 136th place!

Ranking Team

1 Netherlands
2 Spain
3 Germany
4 England
5 Uruguay
6 Brazil
7 Italy
8 Portugal
9 Argentina
10 Croatia
11 Chile
12 Norway
13 Russia
14 Greece
15 Côte d'Ivoire
15 France
15 Japan
18 Sweden
19 Montenegro
20 Mexico

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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Managerial merry go around in Brazil

There are still three rounds of games to be played in the Campeonato Brasileiro before the half way stage in the competition is reached and eleven of the twenty clubs have already changed their managers since the start of the season.

This staggeringly high rate of hiring and firing will perhaps increase further before the season is out. The most recent appointment was made at Grêmio who after a disappointing start to their campaign have called upon the services of Celso Roth who returns to the club for the fourth time. Naturally the success of these changes is dependent on the club and the abilities of the new manager at the helm along with external factors such as luck but the logic behind some of the decisions is extremely questionable.

As with the rest of the football world clubs are predominately concerned with their immediate future and short termism takes precedence. However managerial merry go round in Brazil is exceptional in the pace that managers come and go. Corinthians who currently lead the table are under the command of Tite. He only took on the role last year and amazingly is now one of the longest serving managers in the top tier of Brazilian football.

Struggling Santos

The slow start Santos made in the league was to be expected. The Libertadores campaign was naturally prioritized which meant the line up their sent out in the first few games was a pale imitation of the first team. The strategy of resting players paid off as they were crowned champions in June. However they have not been able to kick on in the league as predicted and make up ground on the leaders.

They were involved in the match of the season a couple of weeks ago when they lost 5 4 against a Ronaldinho inspired Flamengo side. Had Elano converted a penalty the game would have ended up a freakishly high scoring draw. Perhaps the highlight of the game though was the goal Neymar scored after a skillful dribble that left numerous defenders in his wake.

It is the form of Ganso however that is perhaps the most worrying for Santos supporters. His return to domestic action after a tepid performance in the Copa America for the seleção has been particularly low key. Indeed his coach, Muricy has talked about the player needing to modify his game alittle and make it more difficult for the opposition to mark him. By getting in more advanced positions he will be able to add to the three goals he has scored in 2011.

Santos are four months away from jetting off to Japan to dispute the World club championship where potentially they will take on Barcelona. The need is to put a good run to together and start to make some progress up the table.

They are currently just one place off the relegation but in a league that is unbelievably tight, a couple of consecutive victories can launch a team several places higher in the standings. Corinthians recent inability to convert draws into wins has meant they have not been able to create any distance between themselves and the chasing pack. This group of clubs is made up of Flamengo, São Paulo and Vasco.

However Santos have played two games less than their rivals at the top and if there are able to gain maximum points from these fixtures they will be 13 points behind Corinthians. Winning the league from this position would take a monumental effort and the chances are low. That said, the Libertadores champions will surely perform much better in the second half of the season and aim to finish in the top six.

© Paul Tobitt & Soccerphile.com


World Cup Posters

Monday, August 22, 2011

Monday Missive: Brazil U-20 glory, more Messi magic

*Brazil won the FIFA U-20 World Cup, defeating Portugal 3:2 in the final in Bogota. Mexico beat France 3:1 to clinch third.
The seleçao were top gunners with 18 goals in seven matches but Nigeria were the most prolific, averaging three goals a game. Spain were the most on-target team, shooting on goal 54 times in five games. Five of the 24 entrants failed to find the net - Austria, England (in four games), Mali, North Korea and Panama.

Three youngsters tied for the golden boot but Spain's Alvaro Vasquez took the least time to score five - 219 minutes as opposed to 353 for Alexandre Lacazette of France and 557 for Henrique of Brazil.

*Scourge of FIFA Andrew Jennings continues to build the case against Chuck Blazer. The supersized American of the Ex.Co. might have blown the whistle on his CONCACAF boss Jack Warner but does not appear to be cut from much of a different cloth.

*Hernan Dario Gomez
has resigned as coach of Colombia.

*Spain
was unusually quiet yesterday as La Liga players went on strike over money. Actually, the nation could have done with a breather as the thermometers hit 35C, young Catholic pilgrims from across the globe succumbed to heat exhaustion on World Youth Day in Madrid and arguments continued over the latest Barça v Real bust-up earlier in the week.

The European champions won an entertaining Spanish Supercup 3:2 at home after a 2:2 draw away courtesy of another wonder goal from Lionel Messi in the Camp Nou, before the closing seconds saw the clash of the titans go back to the playground.


*Still in Spain, Valencia's right-sided attacker Juan Mata, who starred in his country's Euro U21 win in Denmark, is off to Chelsea, while Colombian marksman Falcao, once thought to be Stamford Bridge-bound, has signed for Atletico Madrid as replacement for Sergio Aguero.

*Arsenal
's much-trumpeted malaise appears to have begun in earnest with a 0-2 home reverse to rejuvenated Liverpool. With Cesc Fabregas now back in the blaugrana and Samir Nasri moments from Manchester City, Arsene Wenger was a tableau of sodden schadenfreude on the touchline as his dreams of an Ajax-on-Thames dissolved in the London drizzle.

Wenger's ideal of a top-notch youth system supplying all his needs with multi-functional footballers has run out of steam in the face of his rivals' active recruitment of established specialists. Or as Alan 'If in doubt, launch it' Hansen wrote in today's Telegraph, "They need more destruction than creation."

Only some sheepish yet hectic transfer activity can cure the sick patient that is the Gunners, but with the transfer market sure to exploit any panic-buying from Arsenal, January might realistically be the next time they can dam the flood.

*Russia opened one of its stadia for the 2018 World Cup. Yekaterinburg's renovated Central Stadium opened and will be expanded from its current 27,000 capacity to 40,000 for the World Cup.


(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

World Cup Posters

Monday, August 15, 2011

Return of the Premier League

England's Premier League kicked off again on Saturday and another long and gruelling season beckons.

Manchester United, the team most likely to win it, have most of their first-choice defence injured already. While other nations take a breather over Christmas and New Year, England keeps its players charging over hard pitches in freezing weather, increasing the likelihood of burnout and injury. The national team should qualify for Euro 2012, but don't expect England's players to be any less sluggish than they were in South Africa in 2010.

United looked slick and composed however, and Ashley Young on his debut played like a regular with assured interplay, creativity and danger. Phil Jones is another shrewd acquisition, more useful than Tom Cleverley and Daniel Welbeck.

At the other end though David De Gea, who won Euro u21 with Spain in the summer, had a nervous exodus in English football, flapping at crosses and allowing a shot to go under his body. Shades of Massimo Taibi perhaps, but beware a bad start in goal. Tim Howard excelled in his opening year at Old Trafford before losing his touch badly before being transferred.

Man U's early promise however should not obscure the fact that England's best team were outclassed in last year's Champions League final by Barcelona. The closing stages of that competition are a long way off, but the grand imperative for Premier League teams must be to learn from the blaugrana masterclass if we are to avoid another sobering evening. There is only so much credit to be gained in winning the Premier League but falling woefully short in Europe.

Many eyes will be trained on Arsenal, and more particularly Arsene Wenger, whose excuses for a lack of trophies are beginning to run out. Having lost Cesc Fabregas ovenight to Barcelona and with Samir Nasri's move to Manchester City imminent, the heat will be on the Gunners to perform. Should they miss out on the Champions League places this year, the board may have to contemplate the unthinkable.

Chelsea are not generally expected to win the league this year, although their ace in the pack is the amazing rejuvenation of Fernando Torres, who looked his old self at Stoke yesterday. If they can bring the creative Daniel Sturridge into the frame too, their goals haul could bring them close to glory.

Andre Villas-Boas' first game yesterday saw a clash of styles as Stoke's controlled aggression thwarted Chelsea's passing ambitions. The Potters' success with this evolved version of the physical styles which held sway in the late 1980s is remarkable, but great passing teams like Barcelona press every bit as keenly.

Barcelona shirts are much in evidence on kids' backs in England this summer, the first time a foreign club team has captured so many young Anglo imaginations. If we can copy their style of play so much the better, though Stoke show another route to success.

Manchester City play tonight and are expected to spend their way if not to the title then at least to a high finish and Champions League progression. But the purists are not yet ready to applaud his team's rather mechanical style.

What else did we learn from the first day? QPR's 0-4 baptism of fire at home does not necessarily mean there is a chasm between the divisions. I watched Reading, runaway winners of the Championship, in their first game in the Premier League and they were two down at home in 20 minutes to Middlesbrough. They finished in the top half.

Wayne Rooney has new hair, Joey Barton got into another scrap and there were more swathes of empty seats at Wigan.

Oh and the grass looked green.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

World Cup Posters

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Today in Football

*Shinji Kagawa hit a brace and Keisuke Honda added another as Japan downed South Korea 3-0 in Sapporo. Players wore black armbands in honour of former Japanese international Naoki Matsuda, who died a week ago, and observed a minute's silence.


*Tottenham's home match with Everton on Saturday has been postponed as the clean-up continues following the riots in London. The north London area was the epicentre of the violence which spread to other English cities and forced an emergency debate today in the House of Commons.

*Cesc Fabregas' move to Barcelona looks set to be finalised by the weekend. Arsenal are also negotiating to transfer Samir Nasri to Manchester City, leaving the Gunners three weeks to replace their best two players before the transfer deadline.

*Jack Warner ally Lisle Austin has been banned from football for a year by FIFA. The CONCACAF official was involved in the crazy in-fighting in May after Chuck Blazer shopped Warner and Mohamed Bin-Hammam for bribery. Austin 'fired' Blazer without authority, leaving CONCACAF to issue a press statement contradicting its acting president, who was subsequently dismissed. When Austin went to the Bahamian court to get his job back, FIFA isolated him.

*The FIFA U-20 World Cup in Colombia has reached the quarter-final stage. Cameroon, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Egypt, England, Guatemala, Saudi Arabia and South Korea fell by the wayside in the second round.

QF lineup: Brazil v Spain, Mexico v Colombia, France v Nigeria, Portugal v Argentina

*Jurgen Klinsmann's first game in charge of the USA ended in a 1-1 draw with Mexico in front of 30,000 in Philadelphia, World Champions Spain lost 2-1 to Italy in Bari and Germany beat Brazil 3-2 in Stuttgart.



*UEFA EURO 2012 qualifier - Northern Ireland 4:0 Faroe Islands

*International Friendlies (selected results) -

Italy 2:1 Spain
Germany 3:2 Brazil
Japan 3:0 South Korea
USA 1:1 Mexico
France 1:1 Chile
Ivory Coast 4:3 Israel
Norway 3:0 Czech Republic
Portugal 5:0 Luxembourg
Russia 1:0 Serbia
Wales 1:2 Australia
Turkey 3:0 Estonia
Scotland 2:1 Denmark
Austria 1:2 Slovakia
Albania 3:2 Montenegro
Tunisia 4:2 Mali
Belarus 1:0 Bulgaria
Liechtenstein 1:2 Switzerland
Poland 1:0 Georgia
Ukraine 0:1 Sweden
Eire 0:0 Croatia
Honduras 2:0 Venezuela
Costa Rica 0:2 Ecuador
Senegal 0:2 Morocco
South Africa 3:0 Burkina Faso
China 1:0 Jamaica

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile 

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Football falls victim to London riots

The violence which has traumatised London for the past four days has led to the cancellation of several games, including the England v Netherlands international friendly.

With Britain in a daze from the unexpected rioting and looting which has now spread to several cities, the Football Association had no choice but to cancel Wednesday's Wembley match, with all available police urgently needed to regain control of the streets.

The Dutch squad, due to fly out from Amsterdam on Tuesday, were informed the police could not guarantee their or their fans' safety. The KNVB may seek compensation.

A friendly between Ghana and Nigeria in Watford was also axed, along with League Cup ties at Bristol City, Charlton, Crystal Palace and West Ham. Tottenham Hotspur saw its ticket office put out of action following the first outbreak of trouble on Saturday night following the fatal shooting of a man in the neighbourhood by the Metropolitan P
olice.
Fulham, QPR, Tottenham, Crystal Palace, Millwall, Watford, Leyton Orient, Dagenham & Redbridge and Barnet are all due to play at home in the London area this weekend but those games must be in doubt if the violence flares up again.

With 16,000 police on the streets, the capital city was quiet tonight but there was serious trouble in
Birmingham, Leicester, Nottingham and above all in Manchester and Salford.

Update Thurs 11th Sep - Tottenham v Everton on Saturday has been postponed as Tottenham High Road is still a crime scene and the police cannot spare resources to cover the match.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile 

Monday, August 8, 2011

Wenger in firing line as Arsenal fail to reinforce

Wenger.Jason Cowley, author of that memorable book about Arsenal and the end of the old First Division, 'The Last Game', has penned a pertinent take on the current dilemma for manager Arsene Wenger.
Starved of funds for reinforcements and with his best players Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri wanting to leave, the Frenchman's dream of an Ajax on the Thames looks to have stalled perhaps for good.

With no trophies for six seasons and prospects of a title challenge or Champions League success slim, Gunners supporters are increasingly questioning the status of their semi-iconic coach, who revolutionised English football's approach to management and took Arsenal from their historic Highbury home to a new stadium at Ashburton Grove.

All a far cry from '96 when Wenger left Nagoya Grampus Eight for London full of high-minded dreams of transforming a club and country's soccer culture.

Writing in the Evening Standard, Cowley opines,

"It's obvious, too, that what he once offered when he arrived in London in 1996 and what gave him such a competitive advantage - knowledge of sports science, new ideas about diet and the use of technologies such as Prozone to monitor and improve players' performances, and so on - is now routine.
Wenger the continental sophisticate once seemed like a very progressive and modern figure, part-boffin, part-romantic visionary. Now, more than ever, he is beginning to resemble a man out of time, one who has stayed too long in the same job and who is forced to look on, perplexed and anguished, as the game changes around him, and in ways he does not like and over which he has no control. This new season could test him to the very limit"
Premier League 2011/12 opening fixtures:
Sat 13th Aug - Blackburn v Wolves, Fulham v Aston Villa, Liverpool v Sunderland, QPR v Bolton, Tottenham v Everton, Wigan v Norwich, Newcastle v Arsenal.
Sun 14th Aug - Stoke v Chelsea, West Brom v Man Utd
Mon 15th Aug - Man City v Swansea
-Sean O'Conor

Monday Missive

*ITALIAN STADIA LIKE PIZZERIAS? How times change. In Italia '90 we all marveled at Italy's football grounds like Milan's fortress-like San Siro, Turin's caverous Stadio delle Alpi, Bari's space-age San Nicola and Genoa's wonderfully quirky Luigi Ferraris, wishing we could have such soccer cathedrals at home.

Fast forward twenty years and the designs have stagnated and fallen below the quality of those in England, Germany and Spain.

Now with a slew of new grounds in France on the way in the build-up to Euro 2016, Italy is having to question its model of municipally-owned arena (also the norm in the USA), while other nations let their clubs own theirs.

"It's like theatres and restaurants," said AC Milan's vice-president Adriano Galliani told Gazzetta dello Sport. "There are beautiful theatres and ugly ones, there are luxury restaurants and pizzerias. But without stadiums we can't do anything and without a new law we can't construct new stadiums."


* Brazilian legend Zico, who has coached Japan and Kashima Antlers amongst others, is set to ink a deal to coach Iraq.

*Former US coach Bob Bradley is in talks to become the national team coach of Egypt.

*Carlos Tevez is back in Manchester having failed to tie-up a tra
nsfer elsewhere and will be training with his supposed replacement and compatriot Sergio Aguero.

*Barcelona B starlet Thiago Alcantara, who shone in this summer's Euro U21 Championship in Denmark, is in Spain's senior squad for their friendly with Italy in Bari on Wednesday.

*"We are not touching now the Qatar World Cup"
was Sepp Blatter's enigmatic response to a question about the timing of the 2022 competition. As it stands, it will take place in June in arenas air-conditioned to avoid the 40C heat.

*Tottenham Hotspur
's ticket office was trashed in the violence which has
engulfed parts of London for the past two nights. The trouble began with a police shooting of an armed man in Tottenham. The club is asking fans to use the internet instead.

The London 2012 Olympic football will be called 'The Albert' after the Cockney rhyming slang for ball - 'Albert Hall'.

*The UEFA Champions League playoff draw has been made: Arsenal v Udinese, Bayern Munich v Zurich, Lyon v Rubin Kazan, Villareal v Odense.

*The FIFA U20 World Cup in Colombia has reached the knockout stage. The last 16 lineup is thus:


Tues 9th Aug:

Argentina v Egypt Cameroon v Mexico Colombia v Costa Rica
Portugal v Guatemala

Weds 10th Aug:
Brazil v Saudi Arabia
France v Ecuador
Nigeria v England
Spain v South Korea

- Sean O'Conor 

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Japan stunned by the death of Naoki Matsuda

Japan stunned by the death of Naoki Matsuda.
Former Japan international Naoki Matsuda has died. The 34-year-old collapsed during training with Japan Football League club Matsumoto Yamaga on August 2.

The tenacious defender played more than 360 top-flight games for Yokohama F. Marinos and was one of the most popular players of the J. League era. He joined third-tier side Matsumoto Yamaga after being released by F. Marinos at the end of last season.

Once a mainstay of the Japanese national team, Matsuda started all four of Japan's games on home soil at the 2002 World Cup.

He was rushed to hospital after suffering a cardiac arrest before afternoon training with his new club.

Doctors are yet to determine the cause of Matsuda's condition, although Japan has experienced heatwave conditions for much of the summer.

Copyright © Mike Tuckerman & Soccerphile.com

Monday, August 1, 2011

Yokohama F. Marinos lead the way in the J. League

J League
Umbrella sellers are no doubt doing a brisk trade in Yokohama as Kanagawa giants Yokohama F. Marinos lead the way in the J. League standings.

F. Marinos fans are known for their colourful support and it's a common sight to see the Tricolore run out against a backdrop of twirling umbrellas at their cavernous Nissan Stadium home.

The port city giants beat regional rivals Omiya Ardija 2-1 at home last weekend to maintain a two-point lead over Chiba side Kashiwa Reysol, who were held to a scoreless draw away at Vegalta Sendai.

Reysol's clash with Vegalta was their second in the space of four days at Yurtec Stadium, after the two sides met in the League Cup in midweek, with Vegalta prevailing 3-1 on aggregate.

Defending champions Nagoya Grampus are looming as an obvious threat in the league, and they've moved into third place in the table after brushing aside bottom club Avispa Fukuoka 3-0 at Hakatanomori on Sunday.

In other Sunday action, more than 28,000 fans turned out for Cerezo Osaka midfielder Takashi Inui's farewell match against Kashima Antlers at Nagai Stadium, but the home fans left disappointed as Kashima came away with a comprehensive 3-1 win.

Avispa Fukuoka are doomed and the future doesn't look much brighter for Montedio Yamagata, while Ventforet Kofu are still four points off safety despite the recent high-profile summer signings of Kim Jin-Kyu and Davi.

In J2, Tokushima Vortis are the surprise league leaders and they hammered Kataller Toyama 3-1 in their most recent clash at Pocarisweat Stadium. FC Tokyo slumped to a shock 1-0 defeat away at Giravanz Kitakyushu, while fellow big guns JEF United were held to a 1-1 draw by Yokohama FC in front of more than 13,000 fans at Fukuda Denshi Arena in Chiba.

Relegated Kansai side Kyoto Sanga have endured a nightmare season in the second tier, with the club from Japan's former imperial capital lying a dismal 17th place in the standings in the 20-team division.