Thursday, December 25, 2014

George's Premiership Predictions 26 December 2014

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The English Premiership moves in to a busy schedule of Christmas and New Year fixtures with the matches coming thick and fast from now on in over the holiday period.

Most pundits have written off the season as a two-horse race between Mourinho's revived Chelsea and last year's winners Manchester City, with third place Manchester United too inconsistent and too fragile at the back to mount a real challenge and Arsenal and Liverpool battling with surprise packages Southampton and West Ham for European places.

At the wrong end of the table, Leicester City look nailed on for relegation as the gap between them and survival grows with every defeat either home or away following their 5-3 win over Manchester United.

Burnley look favorites to join them in the drop with QPR, Palace, WBA, Villa and Hull also in the mix for relegation.

Friday, 26 December 2014

Chelsea 2 v West Ham 1
Burnley 1 v Liverpool 3
Crystal Palace 1 v Southampton 1
Everton 2 v Stoke 0
Leicester 1 v Tottenham 2
Man Utd 3 v Newcastle 1
Sunderland 1 v Hull 0
Swansea 2 v Aston Villa 1
West Brom 0 v Man City 2
Arsenal 2 v QPR 0

Soccer - Monk eyes triple swoop

Garry Monk is hoping to strengthen his Swansea City squad in January with up to three new signings. Wilfried Bony will be representing Ivory Coast in the Africa Cup of Nations, which starts next month, while Monk is keen to snap up a left-back to provide cover for Neil Taylor. In addition Ki Sung-Yueng will be representing South Korea at the Asian Cup in January. Swansea are currently ninth in the Premier League table and can be backed at 15/2 with bet365 to finish in the top six this season. "We need to strengthen," said Monk. "We've talked about having two players for every position so the levels of competitiveness are right. "I won't rush anything - they have to be the right players coming in because I don't just want a stop-gap - but we do need those two or three bodies to come in." Swansea play Hull City at the KC Stadium on Saturday and Bony is 7/4 to score at any time against the Tigers.

Soccer - Koeman confirms Rodriguez complication

Southampton striker Jay Rodriguez has suffered a setback in his recovery from serious injury. Saints boss Ronald Koeman is unsure when the former Burnley player will be able to return to action but it will not now be until February at the earliest. Rodriguez, who scored 15 times in 33 Premier League appearances last season, had anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction surgery in April. "I think now, in this situation, he will not be available before the end of January," said Koeman. "It is difficult because it's not good to fix on a special date to come back. To fix a date increases the pressure on the player and the medical staff." Southampton, who have lost their last four Premier League matches and were knocked out of the Capital One Cup by Sheffield United on Tuesday, are 2/1 with bet365 to keep a clean sheet against Everton on Saturday and 11/1 to beat Roberto Martinez's side 2-0.

Soccer - Gerrard keen to keep the winning habit

Steven Gerrard believes Liverpool can take heart from the improved performance in the 3-1 Capital One Cup victory against Bournemouth and start to surge up the Premier League table. Brendan Rodgers' inconsistent side are currently 11th in the table, seven points behind fourth-placed West Ham. However, after facing Arsenal at Anfield on Sunday, Liverpool have a relatively easy set of fixtures until the end of January. Former England midfielder Gerrard said: "It was nice to get a win at Bournemouth as it's been tough of late, I can't deny that. "We need to keep going and keep winning. We have a tough game at the weekend against Arsenal and then we've got a run of fixtures which are a bit more kind to us." Gerrard is 3/1 with bet365 to score at any time against Arsenal in a game Liverpool can be backed at 11/1 to win 1-0.

Last time's predictions

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Wigan 1 v Blackpool 0

When Wigan beat Blackpool 1-0 at the DW Stadium on a warm day back in August this year, it was expected that The Latics would again make a push for promotion back to the Premier League under manager Uwe Rosler, while Blackpool would face a season of toil.

Wigan 1 v Blackpool 0, DW Stadium, Wigan.


442 magazine even had Wigan favorites for automatic promotion. It has come as a surprise then that Wigan are just one place above Blackpool at the wrong end of the table.

Blackpool, who had struggled to even put together a squad over the summer, were expected to find the going hard and indeed they have, presently propping up the Championship with just 13 points from 21 games going into this weekend's fixtures.

Both Blackpool and Wigan have changed their managers already this season. Blackpool replaced Belgian coach Jose Riga with Lee Clark, himself released by fellow Championship strugglers, Birmingham, just 10 before.

Wigan chairman Dave Whelan pulled the trigger on Uwe Rosler after a poor run of form but opted to replace the popular German coach, who had taken the club to the Championship play-offs and the FA Cup semi-finals last season, with Malky Mackay, a man seemingly in disgrace, after his racially-charged text messages were leaked following his sacking at Premier League Swansea.

Wigan 1 v Blackpool 0.


Whelan added to the club's woes with a series of ill-considered comments in interviews with the press where he sought to defend his new appointment and now finds himself in hot water with the FA.

Wigan laboured to beat a gutsy Blackpool 1-0 back in August with a single goal from Spanish striker Oriol Riera, a summer signing from Osasuna, but now seemingly out of favour with new man Mackay.

Blackpool would appear favourites for the drop with a section of the support opposed to chairman Karl Oyston, though Wigan would appear to have the talent in their squad to escape relegation to League One.

The Latics' fate may well be decided off the pitch when ongoing inverstigations into chairman Whelan and manager Mackay are finally concluded.

Wigan 1 v Blackpool 0.


Friday, December 19, 2014

George's Premiership Predictions 20 December 2014

bet365
George had decent week last week correctly predicting 50% of the matches. He can and will do better! This weekend's fixtures include Liverpool at home to Arsenal and Chelsea away to Stoke in the Monday night fixture.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Man City 2 v Crystal Palace 0
Aston Villa 1 v Man Utd 2
Hull 1 v Swansea 0
QPR 1 v West Brom 1
Southampton 1 v Everton 2
Tottenham 2 v Burnley 1
West Ham 2 v Leicester 0

Sunday 21 December 2014

Newcastle 0 v Sunderland 2
Liverpool 1 v Arsenal 1

Monday 22 December 2014

Stoke 1 v Chelsea 1

Chelsea 4/9 To Finish Busy Christmas Period On Top

The busy Christmas period is almost upon us and bet365 rate title leaders Chelsea as 4/9 shots to still be top of the Premier League come January 2nd 2015.

Top Of The Premier League On January 2nd 2015

Chelsea 4/9 Man City 13/8 Man Utd 250/1

Fixtures must be played in order of current schedule:

Chelsea: 22nd Stoke A, 26th West Ham H, 28th Southampton A, 1st Tottenham A
Man City: 20th Palace H, 26th WBA A, 28th Burnley H, 1st Sunderland H
Man Utd: 20th Villa A, 26th Newcastle H, 28th Tottenham A, 1st Stoke A

2014/15 Premier League - Chelsea Winning Margin

Goal Difference 33/1 1 – 3 Points 5/1
4 – 6 Points 11/2 7 – 9 Points 7/1
10+ Points 11/4 Not Win Title 13/8
Soccer - Everton handed Mirallas lift

Everton boss Roberto Martinez has confirmed that Kevin Mirallas' ankle injury picked up on Monday is not too serious and he could return to face Stoke City on Boxing Day. Martinez admitted to being a worried man when the 27-year-old Belgium international went down under a heavy challenge from Jordon Mutch during the Toffees' 3-1 Premier League win against Queens Park Rangers and was stretchered off the pitch. However, following scans on the ankle, the Spanish tactician has revealed that Mirallas is in line to return a lot quicker than initially expected. And while he is unlikely to feature against Southampton at St Mary's on Saturday, the midfielder should be involved when Mark Hughes' Potters arrive on Merseyside for next Friday's clash. Martinez said: "It's to the ligament in his ankle but he's a quick healer and I don't expect him to be out for too long - the game on Saturday is a bit too early but I wouldn't rule him out for any of the fixtures in the Christmas period which is fantastic news." Everton are 21/10 with bet365 to defeat fifth-placed Southampton on Saturday and 9/4 to secure a top-six finish again this season.

Soccer - Rodgers looks forward to Chelsea test

Brendan Rodgers is adamant Liverpool will 'look forward' to their two-legged Capital One Cup semi-final clash with Chelsea having been handed the tough draw on Wednesday night. The Reds boss watched his side remove a difficult obstacle in the shape of Championship leaders Bournemouth at Dean Court as they ran out 3-1 winners. Raheem Sterling scored twice and Lazar Markovic chipped in with his first goal for the Merseysiders. Liverpool were then drawn to face Jose Mourinho's Premier League leaders immediately following the game, while Tottenham and League One side Sheffield United will contest the second semi-final over two legs at the end of January. Despite being handed the most difficult game in their bid to reach Wembley, Rodgers insisted that he was happy at the prospect of facing the Blues. He told Sky Sports: "It will be a fantastic tie. If you want to win this competition you have to play against the good sides. "We're into the semi-final, it's over two legs and it didn't matter who we got. We needed to get there, it's Chelsea and we look forward to it." Liverpool are 4/1 with bet365 to win the Capital One Cup, while Chelsea are 5/6.

Last time's predictions

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Fifa World Cup Rankings December 2014

FIFA World Fifa Rankings
Fifa's World Rankings for December 2014 were published today at FIFA HQ in Zurich, Switzerland. The Fifa World Rankings are now published on Thursday and not Wednesday as before.

2014 world cup champions Germany remain at the top of the Fifa rankings followed by Argentina, Colombia, Belgium, the Netherlands, Brazil, Portugal, France, Spain and Uruguay.

England are in 13th place, unchanged, due to good form in Euro 2016 qualifying, and a 3-1 win in Scotland in a friendly.

Algeria are the top African team in 18th place.

Japan Asian Cup holders are in 54th spot ahead of the 2015 Asian Cup in Australia. South Korea are in 69th place while Asian Cup hosts Australia languish in 100th spot.

The USA are in 27th place, up one spot from last month. Scotland are in 36th position with Wales still in 34th. The Republic of Ireland are in 64th place, Northern Ireland are in 48th position after a decent start in Euro 2016 qualifying.

Ranking Team
1 Germany
2 Argentina
3 Colombia
4 Belgium
5 The Netherlands
6 Brazil
7 Portugal
7 France
9 Spain
10 Uruguay
11 Italy
12 Switzerland
13 England
14 Chile
15 Romania
16 Costa Rica
17 Czech Republic
18 Algeria
19 Croatia
20 Mexico

Full world rankings

Previous Fifa World Rankings

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Monday, December 15, 2014

Green and Gold and Red all over

2014 was the end of a delusive dream for Brazil

While Germany stole the headlines in 2014 for their deserved World Cup triumph, it was surely their 7-1 humiliation of the hosts Brazil in the semi-final which sticks in the memory.


Belo Horizonte used to be the bête noire of English football, but the name will now live in infamy in Brazilian soccer annals too; the 'beautiful horizon' was a dark sky of doom over Brazil.

The sheer magnitude of the German victory remains off the scale of historic World Cup shocks.

Placed alongside the David & Goliath landmarks of previous tournaments - The USA rocking England in 1950, North Korea dumping Italy out in 1966 and Algeria surprising Germany in 1982 for instance, 2014's host nation meltdown involved no minnows but appears the biggest of them all.

It was more a case of Brazil losing badly than Germany winning greatly. Germany's long-term planning certainly came to fruition – six of their semi-final side had lined up for their U21 team in 2009, and Jogi Löw admitted to having studied and learnt from South American football amongst others in forging a playing style, in stark contrast to Brazil persisting with its 1994-winning methods.

Yet Germany's draw with Ghana and one-goal wins over Argentina, France and the USA do not suggest a goliath of a team bestrode the field in Belo Horizonte.

It had all looked so bright as the seleçao rode their luck, as hosts usually do, in their opening win over Croatia and in their penalty triumph over Chile, before the overwhelming pressure of a nation and FIFA's lunatic leniency directive to referees helped overawe the more talented Colombians in the quarter-final. As Löw's men galloped through the porous Brazilian midfield in a paralyzing seven-minute spell which yielded four goals, the green and gold fervour turned suddenly, horrifically sour as the spectre of sudden death appeared

The horror was far from confined to Brazilians. Everyone came to work the next day to share stories of their mild trauma at witnessing Germany go 7-0 up against the host nation.

Ironically, the Teutonic deluge created a wave of sympathy for the losing team who in their previous match had disgraced the tournament by using strong-arm tactics to oust the free-flowing Colombians.

But as the German goal-machine kept scoring, it began to look like bullying, and the ruthlessness of the Mannschaft was laid bare in their furious reactions to conceding a goal at the end. Professionals should not take their foot off the pedal to spare an opponent from abject humiliation, yet many were wishing Germany would leave it at 5-0.

Whilst it was not pleasant thinking 300 million souls on the other side of the Atlantic were in anguish, it still felt reassuring that the expert predictions were shown up for the guesses they always are, and that whatever disaster was unfolding on the pitch, the pain was being felt together. That surely is the essence of football supporting - joy or pain experienced collectively.

It is hard to think of other happenings which can gather us all up as one. If international sport is war without the shooting as Orwell said, then that works for me.

While scribes across the planet scoured their thesauruses for more ways to describe the humiliation/shame/disgrace/disaster, and really only poetry could do it justice, explaining such a catastrophe has proved harder.

In a wider sense, discipline and pragmatism topped passion and self-belief in Belo Horizonte, a win for Protestant clarity over Catholic mysticism perhaps, or as the German philosopher Nietzsche put it, the death of God.

Certainly brand Brazil, as hawked around the world by Nike and others, is now a flawed concept as the most globally popular national team has shed fans by the bucketload.

As in life, it is better to wait until the heat of the moment has passed to analyse trauma.

On the fateful night, Brazil were set up positionally to facilitate Thomas Muller and the lethal German counter-attacks. Placing wing-backs Maicon and Marcelo so high up the field they were effectively wingers also left acres of space for the Germans to exploit behind them.

Without the creative spark of Neymar there was no flair from the lumbering attack of blunt forwards Fred and Jo, but the whole team was guilty of obsessing over his loss too much, wearing Neymar baseball caps and brandishing his shirt aloft during the national anthems like a saint's relic.

For those who believe in karma, Neymar's injury-induced loss was payback for his teammates' rough treatment of James Rodriguez in the quarter-final.

The midfield, traditionally the fountain of Brazilian flair, was criminally devoid of vision, with Oscar once more failing to step up when it mattered. Bernard tried hard to no avail when he came on and Ramires offered more fluidity but the midfield and attack were so telepathically severed there was no sustained passing to speak of.

Explaining Fernandinho's anonymous showing when he had been such an effective bully against James is tougher to explain, as German player after player sailed past him and his equally flimsy 'defensive' midfield partner Luis Gustavo.

In defence, Thiago Silva's loss was badly felt as captain calamity David Luiz charged wildly out of position too many times and failed to offer any useful leadership when his team were struggling.

At 2-0 it should have been time to regroup, shut up shop and weather the storm, not continue hitting long diagonal balls to concede possession and leave the wing-backs in no man's land as the black and red shirts massed around the Brazilian box again.

In years to come this game should be cited as the textbook example of how not to defend, how not to keep one's shape, how not to maintain psychological strength and how not to react to going behind.

It was also a near mortal blow for Brazilian football. The idea of o jogo bonito is almost laughable now and it seems obvious the world has been conned by the memory of 1970 and Carlos Alberto's goal for too long. Not since 1982 have Brazil shown any flair and what we have been served instead has been a diet of muscle, pace, set pieces and tactical fouling which we all deluded ourselves into thinking was the beautiful game.

Flying the flag for South American flair are now Chile and Colombia, who left the World Cup with credit, and we should give a nod too to Argentina, who almost pulled off the ultimate prize through street-slugging discipline.

In retrospect, winning the 2013 Confederations Cup was a curse, as it bred a false sense of invincibility. 'Big Phil' Scolari bought into the hype too, making no changes to his team or playing style in the following year, allowing opponents to calmly plan their countermeasures.

Six straight friendly wins since the summer under returning coach Dunga might suggest the World Cup was a blip, but these are early days. Only when competitive action resumes next June with Copa America action will we see how far Brazil have come since their summer of shame. Dunga is notoriously suspicious of passing football and has a mutually poor relationship with the media, which does not bode well.

But he was the first pick of the notoriously nationalistic CBF however, so the immediate future is not so bright as blinkered. Friendly wins mean little when the team fluffs its competitive fixtures.

Will more set-pieces and counters be the recipe for Copa America and World Cup success? Has not the physical game Brazil used to win the 1994 World Cup been bypassed some time ago by the Pep Guardiola-inspired passing success of Barcelona, Spain and Bayern Munich?

With no Brazilian coaches in Europe's top leagues, only one domestic team reaching the last eight of this year's Copa Libertadores and a national team who flunked their big chance, it seems reasonable to ask why the national team is not seeking some fresh and foreign ideas.

Corinthians coach Mario Menezes was one brave voice who has shed light on some unpalatable home truths:

We see that the European football that has been developed does everything better than us," he commented. "The level of our players nowadays is technically worse. Our ball control is worse, as is our passing. We still have the dribbling...but we don't kow how to develop players like we used to do in the past. That's why we are lagging behind."

Centre-back Dante admitted the Brazilians fell far short of the Germans in what the Americans call head games: "Psychologically," he said, "we didn't prepare properly for the World Cup. Because of all the pressure, we were not prepared for adversities. This mood of 'we have to win' may even be helpful in some moments, but from a psychological point of view, you need more vision than this." Passion, spirit and self-belief are no longer enough. While fantasy remains a big part of being a fan, the hard realities of planning, discipline and mental strength will always win out on the field. The World Cup came not as a carnival of national pride but as a rude awakening, the definitive debunking of the myth Pele dubbed 'The Beautiful Game'. 2014 was indeed the year the music died in Brazil.  (c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Friday, December 12, 2014

George's Premiership Predictions 13 December 2014

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George had a below par week last week only correctly predicting the results of 4 matches and no perfect scores. This weekend's fixtures Manchester United now in 3rd taking on a wounded Liverpool at Old Trafford.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Burnley 1 v Southampton 1
Chelsea 2 v Hull 0
Crystal Palace 1 v Stoke 0
Leicester 0 v Man City 2
Sunderland 1 v West Ham 2
West Brom 0 v Aston Villa 0
Arsenal 2 v Newcastle 1

Sunday 14 December 2014

Man Utd 1 v Liverpool 0
Swansea 1 v Tottenham 1

Monday 15 December 2014

Everton 2 v QPR 0

Mersey-Slide? Liverpool 12/1 For Europa & 6/5 To Finish Outside Top 6

European giants Liverpool find themselves out of the Champions League with bet365 quoting them at 12/1 for Europa League glory, 4/6 they go further in the competition than 11/10 Everton, with the pair quoted at 66/1 to meet in the final.

After going so close last season to Premier League success, Liverpool also find themselves languishing in 9th and bet365 quote just 6/5 about the Reds finishing the campaign outside the Top 6.

2014/15 Europa League Outright

Liverpool 12/1 Everton 16/1

Who Goes Furthest

Liverpool 4/6 Everton 11/10 (DH rules apply)

Liverpool & Everton to meet in 2014/15 Europa League Final 66/1

2014/15 Premier League – Liverpool Finishing Position

1st 250/1 2nd 100/1 3rd 10/1 4th 9/2 5th 4/1 6th 4/1 7+ 6/5

Soccer - Pellegrini focused on catching Chelsea

Manuel Pellegrini says he will turn his attention towards catching Chelsea in the Premier League after guiding Manchester City into the last-16 of the Champions League. City, 12/1 with bet365 to win the Champions League outright, confirmed their place in Monday's draw with an impressive 2-0 victory at Roma. Just over one month ago City appeared to be heading out of the competition when they lost 2-1 at home to CSKA Moscow, a result that meant they had only taken two points from their first four group matches. But, after hitting back to beat Bayern Munich 3-2, Pellegrini's side showed their class by securing a vital victory in the Italian capital. City beat Roma despite being without the injured Sergio Aguero, Vincent Kompany, David Silva and Stevan Jovetic, while Yaya Toure was suspended, and Pellegrini said: "We are happy because we achieved a target and now we will try to catch Chelsea." Manchester City go into this weekend's game with Leicester City, 8/11 to be relegated this season, three points behind Chelsea.

Last time's predictions

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Donovan ends his Galaxy Quest as MLS moves on

Landon Donovan exits the American stage, followed by Robbie Keane, Thierry Henry and Chivas USA


Major League Soccer closed its doors for another season on Sunday when LA Galaxy won the MLS Cup, beating New England Revolution 2:1 at their StubHub Center stadium in California.

MLS.While the Revolution lost their fifth MLS final, the Galaxy became the first MLS team to win five titles since the league's inception in 1996 and have bagged two of the last three.

Robbie Keane, the league's player of the season, scored the winner in extra-time. At 34, Ireland's record marksman (65 goals for Eire) hinted he may call it a day in MLS after three seasons in California. This campaign he bagged 19 in 29 games.

The Galaxy's Robbie Rogers, who in 2013 became the first openly gay sportsman in the US' major leagues, also became the first to win a trophy. The fact this was an almost forgotten footnote to the MLS Cup was a good thing, and it proves how all sports now have no excuses for not growing up on this issue.

Thierry Henry, after five seasons and 51 goals for the New York Red Bulls, has certainly played his last MLS game. He and Keane were paid $4.3 million, making them the highest-paid MLS players.

Englishman Bradley Wright Phillips finished the league's top gunner with 27 goals in 32 games for the Red Bulls while DC United's Ben Olsen won coach of the year.

MLS.Yet this season will probably be remembered for being Landon Donovan's swansong.

After the bitter disappointment of being dropped by US coach Jurgen Klinsmann for the 2014 World Cup, the all-time leading goalscorer for MLS (143) and the US national team (57) left at the top domestically.

Despite his shining achievements for club and country, including memorable World Cup goals, the other side of Donovan's career recalls a struggle to adapt to the Bundesliga with Bayer Leverkusen and Bayern Munich, an ongoing battle with depression and a falling-out with Klinsmann after Donovan took a sabbatical from soccer altogether in 2012.

Two successful loans to Everton late in his career though proved how much he had matured as a footballer and how he belonged at Premier League level. He retires as the best American footballer yet.

The average MLS attendance across the 20 clubs was 3% up on last season and the highest yet at 19,149, edging closer to the psychological barrier of 20,000.

Seattle Sounders' 43,734 was still almost twice the next largest, Toronto's 22,086, while Chivas USA, in their final season before folding, registered a meagre 7,063.

Next year, New York City FC and Orlando City SC join the league. NYCFC will begin sharing 50,000-capactity Yankee Stadium while their adjacent home is being built, and as club actually located within New York City, as opposed to New Jersey, they could conceivably steal future fans from the longer-established New York Red Bulls.

City, who will sport Manchester City colours with reference to their common ownership, have Frank Lampard and David Villa as their 'marquee' stars.

Orlando City is MLS' third attempt to crack the Latino stronghold of Florida, after the Miami Fusion and Tampa Bay Mutiny folded back in 2001. Brazilian legend Kaka is their headline signing, and while their 20,000-seat centrally located stadium gets ready for 2016, the club will kick-off in the 65,000 capacity Citrus Bowl, a venue for five games at the 1994 World Cup.

The league's team of the season is still notable for its fading Euro-stars and while the infamous salary structure continues to loosen and wages rise, MLS still cannot hold a candle to the big five European leagues.

Seattle's capture of USA captain Clint Dempsey in 2013 was a bonus for the domestic game, but though the returning hero took a while to catch fire, scored 16 in 36 games in 2014, a worthwhile return. Yet heading in the opposite direction from Seattle to Tottenham went DeAndre Yedlin, ten years Dempsey's junior and an upcoming star.

While the US national team enjoyed a summer of hysteria across America in the World Cup, MLS is stuck in the conundrum of translating that potential fanbase into season-ticket holders while the US’ stars
are playing overseas.

Jermaine Jones, another World Cup hero and one of Klinsmann's German-born Yanks, was a popular recruit to the Revolution after 13 years in Europe but aged 33 is not a face for the future like Yedlin.

Klinsmann, as both national team coach and technical director, wields extraordinary power amid an association apparently in awe of him.

He has been less than enthusiastic about MLS' progress, actively encouraging young talents to move abroad and openly criticising Dempsey and Michael Bradley for coming back to MLS.

His recent US selections have been eclectic, featuring overseas-born Americans and players from the second division NASL and college soccer. Klinsmann has been adamant he will cast his net as far and wide as he can, which means MLS cannot count on his full support.

Despite a feel-good World Cup, the two major American soccer organisations have cleaved apart this year as MLS club owners who had invested in academies are now openly slating US Soccer for following Klinsmann's pro-Europe agenda.

Increased player salaries, 13 soccer-only stadia and the wider growth of soccer in American consciousness mean the bigger picture remains optimistic, but the growth of the beautiful game in America remains stuttering rather than soaring.

The latest MLS-only ground, San Jose's new 18,000-seat
Avaya Stadium, will open its doors next Spring.

MLS Team of the Year: Bill Hamid (DC), Chad Marshall (Seattle), Bobby Boswell (DC), Omar Gonzalez (LA), Lee Nguyen (New England), Landon Donovan (LA),  Diego Valeri (Portland), Thierry Henry (New York), Robbie Keane (LA), Bradley Wright-Phillips (New York), Obafemi Martins (Seattle).

-Sean O'Conor

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Old news from Spain

A hooligan's death sparks a week of debate and navel-gazing


A dark cloud passed over Spanish football last weekend as Lionel Messi was struck on the head by a bottle hurled from the stands in Valencia as he celebrated Barcelona’s winner, while over in Madrid a man was killed in a fight between hooligans attached to Atletico Madrid and Deportivo La Coruna.

Old news from Spain.


Messi left the Mestalla bruised but not wounded by the plastic missile and the club have vowed to find and ban the offender. Meanwhile the media has gone into soul-searching meltdown over the hooligan's death, helped by the fact hazy video footage captured the moment when Atletico thugs dropped their Deportivo counterpart into the Manzanares river following a battering to his skull.

Approximately 200 Atletico thugs battled 80 hooligans predominantly from La Coruna, with some help from groups attached to Alcorcon and Rayo Vallecano. The nominal clash was political - Frente Atletico being right-wing and the Riazor Blues from the left. Twelve further fans were injured and 24 arrested when the police showed up.

In English terms, the debate here seems to be positioned circa 1990, when a decade and a half of serious violence had led to several conclusions being drawn, most notably that it was near-impossible to detach hooliganism any further from football. 

It has been a blast from the past hearing calls for more CCTV within stadia, a debate which resounded around England around the mid-1980s and the nadir of Heysel.

Once British thugs had been expelled from stadia and their environs by intense policing, they took to taking down each other's numbers and arranging punch-ups between each other in isolated locations, as happened in Madrid.

The only remaining connections with the sport were that the gangs identified themselves with teams and their fights took place on match days.

As in England, the hooligan scene here is pathetic from a distance, an ugly spectacle of grown men stuck in the mentality of the school playground. The death of the Deportivo thug crossed the line of ultra culture of course. His ilk go to fight and not to kill, which explains why the top boys from the various groupings have each other’s phone numbers on speed dial.

These are not top-drawer criminals, who kill without qualms or the preamble of an arranged set-to. Like the protagonists of Chuck Palahniuk's Fight Club, they are grown men lacking something in their lives and who make up for it with a bloody punch-up in private. This is not a footballing problem beyond the fact the fixtures calendar gives the police a clue to forthcoming scraps.

Sunday’s fatal clash in Madrid happened 300 metres away from Atletico’s Vicente Calderon ground but was planned using WhatsApp and took place at eight-thirty on a Sunday morning, so to centre the blame on the sport must be wide of the mark.

More than one press outlet referred to the hooligans as ‘aficionados’ (fans) of the clubs, which is an insult to genuine supporters, who have no wish to stain the name of their team in that way.

The dead man was not a season-ticket holder and possibly had no intention of going to the match, at noon. Some of the arrested thugs had match tickets in their pockets but many did not.

Add the fact that he was 43 years old and had convictions for violence, abuse and drug-dealing, was married with two children, yet travelled 600 km with dozens of like-minded men for pre-match entertainment on a Sunday morning involving baseball bats and iron bars, makes it hard to feel much sympathy.

While it is not always possible for the average fan to avoid the effects of football hooliganism, this victim clearly went looking for it.

Questions have been asked about the police’s failure to pre-empt the confrontation of course (they had deemed the match low-risk), while the football authorities have been encouragingly quick to promise a clampdown on the ultra culture.

Atletico have said the ‘Frente Atletico’ will no longer be allowed to enter the stadium, while the Riazor Blues are debating disbanding following the tragedy. The 88 identified participants in the riot have been slapped with €60,000 fines and five-year stadium bans.

The league and federation have spoken of deducting points and closing stadia of clubs who co-operate in future with ultra groupings, although it remains to be seen if the ultras will vanish.

One familiar absence from the debate has been the much-criticised head of the Spanish Federation & FIFA Ex.Co. member Angel Maria Villar Llona, whose silence has been depressing, if not unexpected.

Area around the Vicente Calderon Stadium.
Area around the Vicente Calderon Stadium
Spanish stadia appear similar to Italian ones and unlike English ones with their organised fan groupings, and some gangs, the Ultras Sur of Real Madrid and Barcelona’s Boixos Nois for example, seem every bit as fierce as the worst of Serie A, but the overall tone of Spanish fandom is less harsh than in Italy.

Football is fairly peaceful in Spain. An Athletic Bilbao fan died two years ago when his team played Schalke in the Champions League, but it has been 11 years since a Spaniard died at a game involving two domestic teams. There were three deaths in the 1980s and five in the '90s by comparison.

One can only hope this moment is a watershed and that the military-style groups clinging to clubs like parasites with their irrelevant political posturings, are flushed down the toilet in Spain forever.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile 

Stockport County v Stalybridge Celtic

Stockport County fans feared the worst as The Hatters lost 3-2 to Stalybridge Celtic at Bower Fold on an unseasonably chilly day back on the August Bank Holiday.

Stockport County v Stalybridge Celtic.


The visiting support vastly outnumbered the locals in the 1,616 crowd but the mood had turned as ugly as the weather by half-time when Stockport found themselves 3-0 down.

Despite a stirring nearly-comeback in the second half, County fans could not have imagined the turn around in form that has seen the Edgeley Park club rise up the Vanarama Conference North to lie presently 6th, while Stalybridge are struggling down in 20th.

Stockport County v Stalybridge Celtic.


Memories of the day include one Stockport fan swearing profusely at the players throughout the match while accompanied by his 10 or 11 year-old kid and some silly pitch invasions (Stockport have previous with this) by a handful of dimwits during a last-minute melee that saw County's Jamie Milligan sent off.

At the end of proceedings a huge County fan "had words" with the offenders and hopefully they have learned their lesson. 

Stockport County v Stalybridge Celtic.

McKenna, Chippendale and Ennis scored for Celtic with replies by  Ryan and Dennis for County.

Friday, December 5, 2014

George's Premiership Predictions December 6 2014

bet365
George had a reasonable week last week correctly predicting the results of 5 matches. This weekend's fixtures include Southampton in 3rd taking on Manchester United in 4th.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Newcastle 0 v Chelsea 2
Hull 1 v West Brom 0
Liverpool 2 v Sunderland 1
QPR 2 v Burnley 1
Stoke 1 v Arsenal 1
Tottenham 1 v Crystal Palace 0
Man City 3 v Everton 1

Sunday 7 December 2014

West Ham 1 v Swansea 0
Aston Villa 2 v Leicester 0

Monday 8 December 2014

Southampton 2 v Man Utd 2

Aguero 5/1 To Overtake Shearer, Ronaldo & Suarez!

Sergio Aguero’s midweek brace against Sunderland took his 2014/15 Premier League tally to 14 and the Argentinian is 5/1 to overtake joint record holders Alan Shearer, Cristiano Ronaldo and Luis Suarez and bag 32 or more this season.

bet365’s Steve Freeth “Aguero has struggled to go through a campaign at the Etihad without getting a knock, but if he stays injury free then there could be a new name at the top of the scoring charts.”

Aguero’s side are 11/2 to be the highest Premier League scorers this weekend and with Chelsea predictably rolling over Spurs at Stamford Bridge, Jose Mourinho’s team are now 7/1 to go through the whole season unbeaten in the Premier League.

2014/15 Premier League

Total 2014/15 Sergio Aguero PL Goals

Over 31.5 5/1 Under 31.5 1/8

Chelsea to go unbeaten in PL during 20141/15 7/1

2014/15 Premier League Outright

Chelsea 1/4 Man City 4/1 Man Utd 25/1 Arsenal 50/1

Top Premier League Goalscorer E/W 1/3 1,2 Sergio Aguero 4/6 Diego Costa 13/8 Alexis Sanchez 10/1 Wayne Rooney 50/1 Romelu Lukaku 50/1 Graziano Pelle 66/1

Weekend Premier League Totals 6th - 8th Dec

Highest Scoring Team E/W ¼ 1,2,3

Man City 11/2 Tottenham 13/2
Liverpool 7/1 Chelsea 15/2
Arsenal 11/1 QPR 14/1
West Ham 16/1 Aston Villa 16/1
Hull 20/1 Southampton 20/1
Man Utd 20/1 Swansea 25/1
West Brom 25/1 Everton 33/1
Leicester 33/1 Stoke 40/1
Burnley 50/1 Crystal Palace 50/1
Sunderland 66/1 Newcastle 80/1

Total Goals

Over 24.5 4/11 Under 24.5 2/1
Over 27.5 Evs Under 27.5 8/11
Over 30.5 11/4 Under 30.5 1/4

Soccer - Mourinho hails remarkable Drogba

Jose Mourinho is keen to hand Didier Drogba a role at Chelsea when the Ivory Coast international striker finally decides to bring his playing career to an end. The 36-year-old scored in Wednesday's 3-0 victory over Tottenham and continues to show that Mourinho was right to bring him back to Stamford Bridge following his spells in China and Turkey. "It's remarkable," said the Blues boss. "I was expecting exactly this. The important thing is that he's here and he's going to finish his career with Chelsea. "It looks, for me, that he's going to stay doing other things when he finishes his career." Chelsea, 1/4 with bet365 to win the Premier League title outright, are 7/1 to remain unbeaten in the league this season.

Last time's predictions

Friday, November 28, 2014

George's Premiership Predictions November 29 2014

bet365
George had a mixed week last week correctly predicting the score of Hull v Spurs and Everton v West Ham plus home wins for Chelsea, Newcastle and Man City.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

West Brom 0 v Arsenal 2
Burnley 1 v Aston Villa 0
Liverpool 1 v Stoke 0
Man Utd 2 v Hull 0
QPR 2 v Leicester 0
Swansea 1 v Crystal Palace 0
West Ham 2 v Newcastle 2
Sunderland 0 v Chelsea 2

Sunday 30 November 2014

Southampton 0 v Man City 2
Tottenham 1 v Everton 1

Man City 10/11 To Qualify – 11/8 To Finish Bottom!

Champions League qualification from Group E will be going to the wire with bet365 asking where Manchester City will finish.

The Sergio Aguero inspired side are 10/11 to nab the all-important second spot, 6/1 to finish third and end up in the Europa League and 11/8 to finish bottom of the pile after their comeback against runaway group leaders Bayern Munich on Tuesday night.

bet365's Steve Freeth "A roller coaster of a night at the Etihad would have had Man City In-Play backers (biggest price 50/1) cheering Aguero to the rafters and if we've done our maths correctly, they now go into Matchday 6 at odds-on to qualify."

2014/15 Champions League Group E

Where Will Manchester City Finish
2nd 10/11 3rd 6/1 4th 11/8

To Qualify

Man City 10/11 Roma Evs CSKA Moscow 16/1

Soccer - Allen confident of Champions League progress

Liverpool midfielder Joe Allen is pleased that the team's Champions League hopes are still in their own hands going into the final group game against Basel. The Reds can still reach the last-16 despite Wednesday's 2-2 draw with Ludogorets in Sofia which means they have only won one of their five Group B encounters. However, Liverpool will qualify for the knockout stages of the competition if they beat Basel at Anfield next month. "It's still in our hands and that's a big bonus for us," Allen said. "We all believe we can do it. We're at Anfield and we'll be calling on all our supporters to get behind us and make it a seriously tough night for Basel." Liverpool entertain Stoke City at Anfield on Saturday in the Premier League and are 15/2 with bet365 to win the match 2-0. They can be backed at 4/7 to qualify for the last-16 of the Champions League.

Last time's predictions

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Fifa World Rankings November 2014

FIFA World Fifa Rankings
Fifa's World Rankings for November 2014 were published today at FIFA HQ in Zurich, Switzerland. The Fifa World Rankings are now published on Thursday and not Wednesday as before.

2014 world cup champions Germany remain at the top of the Fifa rankings followed by Argentina, Colombia, Belgium, the Netherlands, Brazil, Portugal, France, Spain and Uruguay.

England are in 13th place, up seven positions, due to good form in Euro 2016 qualifying, and a 3-1 win in Scotland in a friendly.

Algeria are the top African team in 18th place.

Japan Asian Cup holders are in 53rd spot. South Korea are in 69th place while Australia languish in 102th spot.

The USA are in 28th place, down five from last month. Scotland are in 36th position with Wales still in 34th. The Republic of Ireland are in 61st place unchanged, Northern Ireland are in 47th position after winning their first three games in Euro 2016 qualifying.

Ranking Team
1 Germany
2 Argentina
3 Colombia
4 Belgium
5 The Netherlands
6 Brazil
7 Portugal
7 France
9 Spain
10 Uruguay
11 Italy
12 Switzerland
13 England
14 Chile
15 Romania
16 Costa Rica
17 Czech Republic
18 Algeria
19 Croatia
20 Mexico

Full world rankings

Previous Fifa World Rankings

Bet with Bet 365

Soccer betting tips

Soccer Books & DVDs

Friday, November 21, 2014

George's Premiership Predictions November 22 2014

bet365
The big game this weekend is at the Emirates where Arsenal host an injury-ravaged Manchester United, who lost utility man Daley Blind to a knee ligament injury during the international break.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Chelsea 2 v West Brom 1
Everton 2 v West Ham 1
Leicester 0 v Sunderland 1
Man City 3 v Swansea 1
Newcastle 2 v QPR 0
Stoke 1 v Burnley 0
Arsenal 2 v Man Utd 2

Sunday 23 November 2014

Hull 1 v Tottenham 2
Crystal Palace 1 v Liverpool 1

Monday 24 November 2014

Aston Villa 0 v Southampton 1

Latics 2/1 To Finish Above Cardiff As Malky Joins Wigan

Malky Mackay is the new manager of Wigan Athletic with the Latics priced at 25/1 for promotion with bet365, 2/1 for a top half finish, 8/1 to be relegated and 2/1 to finish above his old club Cardiff.

2014/15 Championship - Wigan Athletic

Where Will Wigan Finish?

Top Half 2/1 Bottom Half 4/11
Promoted 25/1 Top 6 9/1 Relegated 8/1

Championship Match Bet - Who Finishes Higher

Wigan 2/1 Cardiff 4/11

Top North West Club

Blackburn 1/3 Wigan 4/1
Bolton 11/2 Blackpool 200/1

Soccer - Pellegrini keeping calm

Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini is refusing to panic over the race for the Premier League title, despite being eight points behind front runners Chelsea. The Citizens, who are 11/2 with bet365 to win the Premier League title, have been struggling to keep up with the high-flying Chelsea in the campaign so far but, with plenty of the season to go, Pellegrini won't panic. He told Sky Sports News: "Now is not the moment to analyse what has happened in the season. There are a lot of games to play in the Premier League and Champions League. "We have 27 more games to play and there are a lot of points (to be contested), so we will see at the end who will be the best team this year."

Last time's predictions

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Friendly fire

Friendly fire.
Tue 18th Nov 2014

World Champions Germany slid and slipped in a Vigo monsoon to a 1-0 win over Spain. Both teams struggled with the incessant downpour but forged several goalscoring opportunities.Vicente del Bosque made six substitutions, Jogi Low three. Toni Kroos scored a minute from time with a skidding shot whose bounce fooled subsitute goalkeeper Kiko Casilla.

Argentina lost 1-0 in Manchester to Portugal, for whom Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani were back on familiar turf at Old Trafford. Lionel Messi played the first half, Carlos Tevez replaced Gonzalo Higuain and Erik Lamela Angel di Maria in the second, but Man City stars Sergio Aguero and Pablo Zabaleta remained on the bench. Portugal's winner came in injury time from Raphael Guerreiro.

Cristiano Ronaldo.
Colombia maintained their rich vein of form with a 1-0 win over Slovenia in Ljubljana. Borussia Dortmund's Adrian Ramos scored the only goal in the 43rd minute for the Cafeteros.

Brazil won their sixth straight game under coach Dunga since their fateful World Cup, defeating Austria 2-1 in Vienna thanks to goals from David Luiz and Roberto Firmino.

France, also unbeaten since the World Cup, beat Sweden 1-0 in Marseille thanks to a goal by Real Madrid defender Raphael Varane.

The Republic of Ireland thumped the USA 4-1 in Dublin. Hull's Robbie Brady netted a brace and there were additional strikes from James McClean and Anthony Pilkington.

Belarus and Mexico also shared five goals in Borisov, the East Europeans winning 3-2.

England beat Scotland 3-1 in Glasgow. A Wayne Rooney brace took him to third in the list of all-time England goalscorers, while Scotland lost their first in five. The world's oldest football international dates back to 1870.

Fabio Capello, unpaid for five months, got some relief as Russia enjoyed a first win in four, 2-1 against Hungary in Budapest.

Greece followed up their embarrassing defeat to the Faroes by losing 2-0 at home to Serbia, their fourth reverse in five.

Japan won their AFC derby against Australia 2-1 in Osaka. Yasuyuki Konno and Shinji Okazaki were on the mark for the Samurai Blue, while Tim Cahill netted a consolation for the Socceroos. In Teheran, Iran beat South Korea 1-0.

Poland drew 2-2 with Switzerland in Wroclaw, Italy beat Albania 1-0 in Genoa and fast-improving Romania beat Denmark 2-0 in Bucharest.

Late kick-offs:

Bolivia v Venezuela, Chile v Uruguay, Peru v Paraguay, Panama v Canada, Nicaragua v El Salvador

-Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Colombian gold melts the solid States

Colombian gold melts the solid States.
International Friendly, London
USA 1:2 COLOMBIA

'Meaningless' friendlies are supposed to be on borrowed time. The national associations are getting fed up of endless spats with big clubs who don't want their precious stars coming back injured from international duty.

But any skeptics of these games' value should have been at Craven Cottage tonight where Colombia and the USA went at it all guns blazing.

The sell-out crowd who turned up on the back of both nations' impressive World Cup showings got their value for money after a fiery friendly by the Thames.

Both teams picked up where their World Cups in Brazil had ended - the USA still stout, well-marshalled and trying to win via counter-attacks and set pieces against superior opponents, and Colombia fearlessly positive with an attacking and energetic game-plan.

The crowd made the occasion memorable. Despite US Soccer hosting a 'home' game, London's oft-forgotten Colombian community had turned out en masse: Cumbia drums, straw hats and flags aplenty, children decked out in national colours and plenty of beautiful women. This was a national carnival run riot.

When Colombia pulled back Jozy Altidore's early penalty for the US with strikes from Carlos Bacca and Teofilo Gutierrez, their fans celebrated as wildly as anything Fulham had seen before. And whenever James Rodriguez, skippering the side, merely touched the ball, the decibel level shot up.

2-1 to Colombia was a fair result given their dominance of the 90 minutes, but once again Jurgen Klinsmann showed his US eleven are no pushovers and can startle the great, in this case the team who are third in the FIFA World Rankings.

The Americans kept their shape and solidity and in Brazil 2014 stars Kyle Beckerman, John Brooks and Jermaine Jones, have a new spine to build around.

The US also had attacking elements which could trouble Colombia, albeit in isolation. And they certainly had their chances.

Altidore, still forgotten about by Sunderland, maintained his double life as a first-choice international striker, worrying Colombia's modest centre-back pairing of Pedro Franco and Jeison Murillo with his prize-fighter's physique.

On the right flank, DeAndre Yedlin's fast feet reminded Tottenham fans what they can look forward to when he makes the move from Seattle in 2015.

A quicksilver dash by Yedlin late in the game almost yielded a goal but Pablo Armero's last gasp lunge saved the day.

Debutant US striker Rubio Rubin, all of 18 years old, was a revelation, slotting effortlessly into the starting lineup and providing Altidore with a talented foil in attack. On his knees in prayer before the kick-off, the Utrecht forward might have had divine assistance.

But the magic deserted him just after half time when he guided a header from Alejandro Bedoya's delightful cross achingly just wide of the Colombian net.

The Hawaiian Bobby Wood, old by Rubin's standards at 22, was another useful young marksman who equally spurned a chance, toe-poking a shot at Colombian goalie Camilo Vargas at the end of a lovely move forged by US substitutes DaMarcus Beasley and Lee Nguyen.

Rodriguez had it tough, surrounded by American jerseys every time he loitered in his favourite spot, in the centre, twenty yards from the opposition goal. His goalscoring threat remained limited to set pieces until on the hour mark he was instrumental in Colombia's equaliser.

Combining with Bacca on the edge of the box, the Real Madrid man slotted his return pass expertly between US defenders for the Sevilla striker to bypass Brad Guzan and fire home from an acute angle.

Bacca found himself sidelined in Brazil but started tonight ahead of Jackson Martinez and Adrian Ramos, and made a virtuoso audition for being Colombia's main striker in the absence of Falcao, who was watching from the stands, wrapped up warm and nursing a calf injury.

He almost found the target in the first half, swerving a shot inches wide of the post after twenty minutes and finding the woodwork on the half hour mark.

Colombia's winner came three minutes from time when Gutierrez met a cross from substitute Edwin Cardona and flicked his header past the diving Guzan. It was as much as they deserved.

Juan Cuadrado, once again, was their real ace in the pack. The Fiorentina winger was the most lively of Jose Pekerman's soldiers from the start, beat players with effortless abandon and almost scored himself late on when he forced Guzan into a diving stop.

Colombia have quickly come from nowhere, no World Cup qualification since 1998 to be precise, to being one of the most feared teams in the world.

Their insistence on playing on the front foot, often involving five men streaking upfield in attack, has rightly made them popular in world football, as have their joyful dancing celebrations, which they performed en cue in London this evening.

Being ranked just behind World Cup finalists Germany and Argentina is some reward for Brazil kicking them out at the quarter-final stage in the summer, with unpunished rotation fouling on James.

Maintaining that momentum into the 2016 Copa America and the 2018 World Cup with elevated expectations is now the challenge for their gentlemanly coach Jose Pekerman. On tonight's evidence, their World Cup fever is still high.

The US, ranked 23rd by comparison, can console themselves with another steady performance with more promising youngsters making the step up to the national team. Klinsmann, who is also the technical director of US Soccer, is witnessing his masterplan of uniting the myriad branches of the American game beginning to bear fruit.

On Tuesday he takes his side to Dublin for a friendly with Eire, while Colombia visit the beautiful city of Ljubljana to take on Slovenia.

Unlike European teams who qualify for the European Championships, teams in North and South America qualify automatically for their regional tournaments, which makes games like tonight's so vital for gaining experience.

Colombia and the United States at least, kept the friendly fires burning.

GOALS: Altidore (USA) 1:0 10', Bacca (COL) 1:1 60', Gutierrez (COL) 1:2 87'

USA: Guzan, Johnson, Garza (Beasley 70'), Brooks, Yedlin (Green 86'), Jones, Beckerman, Diskerud (Nguyen 78'), Bedoya (Morales 67'), Altidore, Rubin (Wood 67')
COL: Vargas, Armero, Franco, Arias, Murillo, Aguilar (Cardona 74'), Sanchez, Cuadrado (Quintero 88'), Rodriguez, Gutierrez (Martinez 89'), Bacca (Ramos 79')

Attendance: 24,235

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

When the ball was over the Wall

Europe has been commemorating 25 years since the Berlin Wall fell.

East German football associationThat momentous event also marked the end of the German Democratic Republic's national team, who had competed in FIFA & UEFA competitions, qualifying only once for a major tournament, the 1974 World Cup, where they memorably beat hosts West Germany in the group stage.

The former country has been on people's minds across Europe this week with a lot of 'Ostalgie' in the air.

Thoughts have also turned to the extinct football nation, a key component of the country's famously intensive sports culture.

The national programme connected schools with centres of excellence, yielded dozens of Olympic medals and saw the communist country outperform its western brother time after time, although this was due in part to the widespread doping of their athletes.

East Germany finished top of the medals table at the 1984 Winter Olympics and at the summer games came in second three times, an extraordinary achievement for a nation of 16 million people.

Its footballers won gold in men's football at the Montreal Olympics in 1976, beating Poland 2:0 in the final. Four years later they won silver, losing 1:0 to Czechoslovakia.

In 1964 and 1972 they won bronze, defeating hosts West Germany 3:2 along the way in front of 80,000 in Munich, presaging an even greater scalp of their other half at the World Cup two years later.

Unlike their Olympic team, which did not fully separate from the West until the late 1960s, East Germany fielded a separate national side from 1952 but never quite matched the same heights.

East German national teamJurgen Sparwasser's winning goal against West Germany in Hamburg in 1974 is remembered as their finest hour and they left their only finals appearance with credit, having also beaten Australia 2:0 and drawn 1:1 with Chile, topping Group A above their embarrassed hosts.

In the second round their luck run out however and they were eliminated, losing 1:0 to Brazil, 2:0 to the Netherlands and drawing 1:1 with Argentina.

Sparwasser's lone goal at the finals needless to say turned him into a national hero, but he later defected to the West, a year before the Berlin Wall came down.

The aptly named Joachim Streich netted twice at the finals, and he went on to become his country's all-time scorer and most capped player, with an impressive 55 goals in 102 games.

Streich was equally prolific at club level, bagging 229 goals in 378 outings for Hansa Rostock and Magdeburg between 1969 and 1985.

At club level, Stasi favourite Dynamo Berlin (now Berliner FC Dynamo) won the most domestic titles (10) but never got further than the last eight of the UEFA Champions Cup, losing to Nottingham Forest in 1980 and Roma in 1984.

Wismut Karl Marx Stadt (now Erzebirge Aue) reached the same stage in 1959, losing to Young Boys of Berne, while Carl Zeiss Jena and Lokomotive Leipzig went one further in the Cup Winners Cup, both reaching, but losing the final.

Jena dumped Roma, Valencia, Newport and Benfica out in the 1981 European Cup Winners Cup, before losing the final 2:1 to Dinamo Tblisi.

Leipzig, whom Tottenham had beaten in the 1974 semi-final, lost 1:0 in 1987's final to an Ajax side featuring Arnold Muhren, Frank Rijkaard and a young Dennis Bergkamp. Marco Van Basten scored the winner.

FC Magdeburg remain the only East German club to win a trophy in Europe, having beaten Milan 2:0 in the 1974 Cup Winners Cup final.

When the wall finally fell in 1989, the German Olympic programme saw an immediate boost in its performances. Franz Beckenbauer said that with the addition of East Germany, the Mannschaft, already world champions, would then be on top for years to come.

The German national team, united for the first time at Euro '92, added three East German internationals, Thomas Doll, Matthias Sammer and Andreas Thom, to their squad.

Doll was a tricky left-winger who went on to play for Lazio and Sammer became one of the game's greatest sweepers, winning a host of prizes including the Bundesliga as a player and later as a coach, the Champions League, European Championship and the European Footballer of the Year Award in 1996.

Germany lost the Euro '92 final to Denmark, but went one stage further than their semi-final exit at Euro '88. West Germany had won the World Cup in 1990, but the united Germany exited in the quarter-finals at USA '94. Two years later they won Euro '96 with one player from the former East, Sammer.

Others who swapped their blue shirts for white ones were Ulf Kirsten, Olaf Marschall, Heiko Scholz, Dirk Schuster and Dariusz Wosz. Uwe Rösler, who became a cult hero at Manchester City, played five times for East Germany.

Michael Ballack is the most notable of later German internationals who grew up in the communist East but there was also Robert Huth, Carsten Jancker, Jens Jeremies, Bernd Schneider and poor Robert Enke.

Toni KroosSeven of Germany's 2002 squad were 'Ossi' in origin, but that number trickled down to one in 2014 - Toni Kroos, who was less than a year old when the wall came down.

While it is still possible for a player born behind the Iron Curtain to play for Germany, the prospects for further East German-born players making it to the Mannschaft look slim and Kroos could well be the last.

East German clubs and their youth systems have less funding than their western counterparts and none of the current 18 teams in the Bundesliga hail from the former DDR Oberliga first division.

Union Berlin, RB Leipzig and Erzgebirge Aue are the best-placed Eastern German clubs today, yet all ply their trade in the German second flight.

Below them in the third tier (Bundesliga 3), we find former DDR clubs Dynamo Dresden, Hansa Rostock, Energie Cottbus, Chemnitzer and Hallescher while Magdeburg, the only East German club to win a European trophy, are down in the fourth tier, the Regionalliga Nordost.



(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Morocco out of Africa, no Barça for Pep & Blatter's loose tongue

NO MOROCCO AT CAN 2015

Morocco's national team has been banned from January's 2015 African Nations Cup after their confederation withdrew last month from hosting the tournament in the light of the Ebola epidemic.
African Cup of Nations trophy
The African Confederation have punished one of the continent's top sides for pulling out at such a late date, leaving the cup in chaos.

With only two months to go before the scheduled kick-off, CAF are urgently seeking a new host from the list of initial bidders Botswana, Cameroon, Congo DR, Guinea, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Egypt, Ghana and South Africa had said they are not interested in stepping in, which leaves slim pickings in terms of infrastructure. The new host was due to be announced at the finals draw, scheduled for the 26th of November, but Al-Jazeera TV has reported it will be revealed on Wednesday.

Only Algeria and Cape Verde have secured their qualification, with the remaining 14 teams decided on the 15th and 19th of this month.

Holders Nigeria are currently third in Group A, with their clash in Congo on the 15th key to making it through. Ivory Coast and six-times winner Egypt also sit third in their groups with only the first two guaranteed qualification.

MLS DOWN TO LAST FOUR

Major League Soccer has reached its semifinal stage with the Eastern Conference two-legged playoff to be contested by the New England Revolution and the New York Red Bulls. The Western Conference will be between LA Galaxy and Seattle Sounders, with the grand final in either city, since those sides won more points in the regular season than both Eastern teams.

New York City FC and Orlando City - the new MLS teamsSeattle continue to boast the best attendances, with 38,912 watching their second-leg against Dallas on Monday night.

Chivas USA has now been disbanded and next season the league welcomes New York City FC and Orlando City SC, making 20 clubs.


PEP WON'T COACH BARCA AGAIN

Bayern Munich boss Pep Guardiola jetted back to Barcelona to vote in the unofficial Catalan independence vote on Sunday.

Pep Guardiola is proud to be CatalanPresumably the Barça icon, who turned out seven times for the Catalonia national team, was one of the 80% who voted yes, although the Spanish government have refused to recognise the vote.

Guardiola has spoken of his Catalan pride on many occasions. "Catalonia is my country," he said earlier this year, "but it was an honour to play for Spain,"  referring to his 47 caps for La Roja.

Guardiola told reporters he might come back to live in the Catalan capital in the future because his wife works there, but it will not be as Barcelona boss.

"In life there are cycles," he said, "and my cycle at Barça is over."

BLATTER SLIP OVER QATAR?

Der Spiegel reported that FIFA President Sepp Blatter told a meeting of Norwegian football officials in Oslo that Qatar will not host the 2022 World Cup.

The respected German magazine also claimed Blatter called the Qatari rulers "arrogant" and criticised their state's alleged funding of the Islamic State uprising.

Needless to say FIFA have rubbished the report but could their patience with the 2022 mess finally have run out? The imminent Ethics Committee report into the voting should tell us who is telling the truth.

MOYES SIGNS FOR SOCIEDAD

After some last-minute speculation that Pepe Mel would get the job, David Moyes has signed a year and a half deal to manage Real Sociedad, his first job since his stressful 11-month reign at Manchester United.

The Basque side are 15th in La Liga but have just recorded a shock 2-1 win over champions Atletico Madrid. Colchonero coach Diego Simeone has apparently called time on hopes of back-to-back titles, claiming his side's rivals this season are Valencia and Sevilla, despite his team sitting four points off leaders Real Madrid.

INTERNATIONAL DATES

International football returns this weekend. The most eye-catching UEFA Euro 2016 tie on Friday sees little Gibraltar, who have shipped seventeen goals and scored none in their first three qualifiers, visiting world champions Germany in Nuremberg. Jogi Low's Mannschaft are under pressure however after a poor start to their campaign.

At home, Germany have edged Scotland 2-1 drawn 1-1 to Eire and lost 2-0 away to Poland.

On the same night, unlikely Group F leaders Northern Ireland visit second-place Romania in Bucharest, while there is an interesting friendly at Craven Cottage in London between Colombia and the United States.

World Cup semi-finalists the Netherlands have been the most startling so far despite having Guus Hiddink at the helm. Oranje sit six points behind the Czech Republic and Iceland in Group A but can get their cause back on track at home to Latvia on Sunday in Amsterdam, while the two group leaders lock horns in Pilzen.

On Saturday, Group G leaders Austria tackle second-place Russia in Vienna, while England can extend their leadership of Group E by beating second-place Slovenia in London.

The following day Italy and Croatia contest Group H bragging rights in Milan.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Friday, November 7, 2014

George's Premiership Predictions November 8 2014

bet365George is back this weekend after the guest appearance of Snoopie Myddleton.

The big game is at Anfield where Liverpool take on Chelsea for the first time since Steven Gerrard's slip cost Liverpool the title last season. George is going for another Chelsea win plus wins for the two Manchester clubs, Hull and Southampton.

Saturday, 7 November 2014

Liverpool 0 v Chelsea 2
Burnley 1 v Hull 2
Man Utd 2 v Crystal Palace 0
Southampton 2 v Leicester 0
West Ham 1 v Aston Villa 0
QPR 1 v Man City 2

Sunday 8 November 2014

Sunderland 2 v Everton 1
Tottenham 2 v Stoke 1
West Brom 0 v Newcastle 2
Swansea 1 v Arsenal 1

Soccer - Berahino in line for England debut

West Brom striker Saido Berahino has been handed his first senior England call-up for the international games with Slovenia, who are 10/1 with bet365 to beat England, and Scotland. The 21-year-old has fired in eight goals in 13 appearances for Albion this season and has now been rewarded with a spot in Roy Hodgson's latest squad. Hodgson has also included Manchester United midfielder Michael Carrick in his Three Lions side, despite leaving him out of the World Cup, while Arsenal's Theo Walcott also returns to international football following an injury. West Ham winger Stewart Downing gets his first call-up since May 2012 after an excellent start to the season with the Hammers.

Soccer – Pellegrini worried by City crisis

Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini admits his players are suffering from a crisis of confidence after losing at home to CSKA Moscow in the Champions League. The Premier League champions are now 4/1 with bet365 to qualify for the last-16 of the competition after Seydou Doumbia’s brace secured the Russians the win at the Etihad Stadium on Wednesday. City, who also had Yaya Toure and Fernandinho sent off, are now bottom of the group with two games left to play, and Pellegrini says he can’t understand why they are struggling in the Champions League. "It's very difficult to understand why we played so badly," Pellegrini told Sky Sports. "I don't think it's just this competition. I think in the last two weeks we are not playing bad, but we are not playing the way we normally do. "It is a crisis of confidence and we must find out why by talking to the players every day."

Last time's predictions

Emirates fly from FIFA, FBI key to Blazer betrayal

Emirates Airlines has withdrawn from sponsoring the World Cup.

The Dubai-based company was one of FIFA's six 'Tier One' major World Cup sponsors along with Coca-Cola, Visa, Hyundai/Kia, Sony and Adidas.

Their press release gave little away: "This decision was made," it explained, "following an evaluation of FIFA's contract proposal which did not meet Emirates' expectations."

However, it would be a surprise if the volte-face was not down to the continuingly negative news surrounding FIFA's notorious double World Cup vote in 2010.

Emirates not only had the 2022 tournament on their doorstep in Qatar but are already heavily involved in football, sponsoring many tournaments and high-profile teams including Real Madrid, Milan, Paris Saint-Germain and Arsenal, whose stadium is named after the airline.

None of the six big sponsors look good in the light of relentless corruption stories, but only Sony has so far hinted at following Emirates' lead. Second-tier sponsors BP and Budweiser have expressed worries about FIFA's soiled reputation.

Hitting football's governing body where it hurts, in the pocket, is perhaps the only hope of washing away the den of thieves who have run football for too long.

Visa, Sony and Adidas, whose relationship with FIFA is apparently umbilical since the founder's son Horst Dassler befriended FIFA boss Joao Havelange, expressed concern at the corruption allegations back in the summer.

Yet Qatar Airways and Samsung are rumoured to be willing to step in to form part of the magic circle of six if anyone else pulls out.

Emirates have gone from the top table, but with the World Cup still the planet's biggest draw, it is hard to see how the biggest global companies will refuse to claim their places at the feast.


***

Only this weekend, the New York Daily News ran a story revealing that former Executive Committee stalwart Chuck Blazer was used by the FBI to spy on his colleagues until they hung him out to dry in 2013, when FIFA suspended him from all football-related activities.

Blazer's champagne lifestyle and embezzlement of football funds had already been well documented, featuring Caribbean properties, a pad in Trump Tower and a $6 million flat for his cats, but the FBI link finally explains his shopping of his CONCACAF boss Jack Warner & FIFA Presidential candidate Mohamed Bin Hammam in 2011.

The pair had tried to bribe the Caribbean Football Union with bags of cash to vote for Bin Hamman.

The super-sized American's huge girth and even larger self-aggrandizement, as evinced by his pompous blog, could not have made his malfeasance more obvious.

The New Yorker cruised around the Big Apple's top restaurants in a motor scooter while his vintage Mercedes was parked in Zurich for FIFA business. He pocketed more than $15 million in FIFA kickbacks yet ran up a $29 million credit card bill, all the while evading tax, the Achilles Heel which did for Al Capone.

Blazer is being treated for colon cancer, but the disease of corruption still infects FIFA too much for comfort. Meanwhile Michael Garcia's report for the tautologically-named FIFA Ethics Committee remains locked away in Switzerland.

The world's press pack are now well aware of FIFA's light fingers, and any false step in future will be pounced upon in the same way the Sunday Times' unleashed a tsunami of allegations of bribery surrounding the 2022 World Cup vote.

Thankfully the USA is now represented in the Ex.Co. by the far cleaner Sunil Gulati, a businessman who instead of wallowing in Jack Warner's racket, has made a career building Major League Soccer into a credible league amid the well-established American domestic sports market.

-Sean O'Conor

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Here we go again

The 2022 World Cup date has now swung decisively towards November-December of 2021 or '22 after organising committee chairman Hassan Al-Thawadi admitted winter was the better option.

FIFA has poo-pooed the European Club Association's preference for April-May 2022 on the grounds of the still difficult heat and the holy month of Ramadan starting on the 2nd of April that year.

With the IOC adamant FIFA will not tread on its Winter Olympic toes in January-February '22, that leaves the November-December slot the only viable option.

Whether it is in 2021 or 2022, the staging will eat into European club and country schedules and a battle still looms.

The easiest option of course would be to strip Qatar of hosting rights on health and safety grounds. Summer temperatures in the USA are not ideal either if played like in 1994 at times to suit European television audiences, although evening kick-offs are possible.

Australia would be the ideal choice as June-July is their rather mild winter, but if winter it must be, runners-up the US & Australia surely have a case in taking FIFA to court for breach of contract. The bidding document explicitly stated the tournament must take place in June and July of 2022.

Neither federation has expressed any interest in rocking the boat. US Soccer's Sunil Gulati is now on the Executive Committee and Australia's Moya Dodd, vice-president of the Asian Football Confederation, a co-opted member.

What does seem certain however is that the much-vaunted boast of climate-cooled stadia employing dazzling new technology has bitten the dust.

-Sean O'Conor