Friday, December 23, 2016

Fifa World Rankings December 2016

FIFA World Fifa Rankings
Fifa's World Rankings for December 2016 were published yesterday at FIFA HQ in Zurich, Switzerland. These are the last rankings of the year.

The Fifa World Rankings are now published on Thursday and not Wednesday as before.

The full top ten is the same as last month: Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Chile, Belgium, Colombia, beaten Euro 2016 finalists, France, Euro 2016 winners Portugal, Uruguay and Spain.

England are 13th, behind Euro 2016 semi-finalists Wales in 12th.

Senegal are the top African team in 33rd place, no change from last month.

Asian Cup winners Australia are in 47th place; Japan are in 45th spot. Near neighbors South Korea are in 37th place.

The USA are in 28th. Wales are 12th. Scotland are in 67th position. The Republic of Ireland in 23rd place, Northern Ireland are in 32nd position.

1 Argentina
2 Brazil
3 Germany
4 Chile
5 Belgium
6 Colombia
7 France
8 Portugal
9 Uruguay
10 Spain
11 Switzerland
12 Wales
13 England
14 Croatia
15 Poland
16 Italy
17 Costa Rica
18 Mexico
19 Peru
20 Ecuador

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Thursday, December 22, 2016

Club World Cup Final 2016

I acknowledged earlier that the current set up does not produce the greatest games. The final people want to see is Europe v South America. Now wasn't this the previous competition. So here we have the team that finished 11th in the second half of the J League one match away from being named the best club side on the world.

FIFA President Gianni Infantino has talked about moving the competition from December to June and increasing the number of teams to 32. Currently the teams from Europe and South America play two games, the renewed format could possibly mean three more games for them.

He has also hinted that domestic leagues should feature just 18 teams. That is all well and good for the teams that qualify for the FIFA tournament but the majority will lose income.

The fact that Kashima Antlers will earn US$4m for reaching the final is the holy grail clubs look for, and the reason it may happen .

I have no doubt the format will change, with FIFA looking to increase their income at the expense of national associations.

I met Ángel (pronounced Anhel) with a Spanish accent as I checked in my hotel in Tokyo. He said I could call him Angel, but I declined.

He was here to support America, but had to be back at work on Monday so couldn't stay for the Final on Sunday. He had somewhat overdone the shopping and showed me his bags asking for advice on how to check it in. My best suggestion (for this time of year) was a Santa sack.

Anhel had decided he was going to visit Mount Fuji. I was interested, but confused as I knew he only had one day left. My idea of going to Mount Fuji is climbing the mountain and planting a flag.

He had found that he could get take a three hour trip by train and a bus and get to a spot where he could take a photo of the mountain. I mentioned that it had been visible on the train from Osaka to Tokyo, but he hadn't seen it.

After a late night I woke up and found that Anhel had gone. The time 10.15 Oh dear, I have a meeting with an old friend in one hour across town!

Don't run on the Tokyo Metro.


I got up and went straight to the subway and contemplated the route that would get me to my destination on time. Despite wanting to run, I am aware of the Japanese etiquette and calmness they personify, even when in a rush. Also there are plenty of signs around the subway stations saying "Don't run."

Remember I told you I had mastered the Tokyo subway. I have. I arrived with 5 minutes to spare.

At exactly 11.15 I could see a figure in the distance I could see a figure running in my direction now, even though you couldn't make out who it was. I knew it was Yoichi. He was also the only Japanese salaryman I saw without a tie on.

Tokyo restaurant - looks closed but isn't.


Yoichi took me for an early lunch as he had a meeting at 1. We approached a building that looked distinctly closed. When he announced, look it says it is open. Of course it does!

Here there were no plastic meals and no photos. But Yoichi ordered - Sukiyaki and Sashimi. I have since learnt that it was served in the nabemono style, with a flame burning under the meat pot, and the meat and vegetables dipped in a beaten egg.



I used to play football with Yoichi a few years ago and he showed me the pitch where he now plays right in the middle of this urban jungle, near Osaki station. The rate - US$ 200 an hour.

After this I headed to the Samurai Museum. Now normally I am not keen on Japanese museums as they have in the past neglected foreigners.

This was different. It started with a samurai giving a demonstration of sword moves. When he moved to attack he let out a scream, which made a young child jump. At the end he apologised most gracefully and acknowledged that the samurai could be frightening.

Samurai Museum, Tokyo.


Then with two others I was given a guided tour of the two floors. A detailed explanation was given of the items on display and what was happening in the country at the time.

I learnt that the Japanese were only saved by Kami-no-kaze (a divine wind) in the 13th century from invasion by the Mongols. That disposable blades were used by the samurai, as the iron they originally used for swords gave them three strikes, after that the blade was no longer sharp.

Samurai Museum, Tokyo.


Upon enquiring about the various different pieces of head gear I learnt that as well as the man on the moon there is also a rabbit!

Also one of the masks with Antlers was based on shishigama, the ancient spirit of the forest that looks like something straight out of today's Manga comics (or phone download).

It was noticeable that some of the outfits were bigger than the others. This was explained by the fact that this family were allowed to eat meat. Those practising Buddhism or Shinto were not allowed meat according to their religion. A definite disadvantage especially if you can only use your sword three times.

Mt. Fuji on the phone.


Anhel returned.

And we went out for something to eat. Despite trying to be adventurous we ended up with the picture menu, but still didn't know what we had eaten. It is no wonder Japan is so clean , as cleaners' machines play childlike tunes which could have been made for the child catcher. They must grow up thinking I want to do that. Everywhere I went was spotless as cleaners clean what is already clean.

On the afternoon of the Final, I arranged to meet Yoichi at Shibuya Station. It is vitally important when arranging to meet that you know the exact spot. Shibuya has 16 exits and is spread over 3 floors. It is like a maze with shops just outside the platform. I believed I had the right spot. Miyanasuzuka Central Gate near Exit 9. Sure enough, a voice appeared out of the crowd, sorry I am late.

Real Madrid and Atletico Nacional half and half scarves.


This time there was a large crowd gathering, as the Japanese turned out in force. The half and half scarves still bore the names of Real Madrid and Atletico Nacional, testament to the fact that this was the fixture they expected.

During the break the crowd got excited as a song was played, Yoichi asked if I knew it? Of course I didn't but if you are ever in Japan rest assured that they all know the English words Pen, Pineapple, Apple, Pen and if they have forgotten you can always do the hand moves to remind them.


After Kashima's heroic efforts, in the Final taking Real Madrid to extra time, where they were only thwarted by Ronaldo's samurai moves. It was time to dash back to Shibuya, for something to eat.

Yoichi worked out the route and I suggested we could get off at Naka-Meguro. We did. As I looked around and saw nothing, He pointed and said shall we go over there? Sure enough on the 2nd Floor was a restaurant. I left the choice of food to him. Cabbage for starters, Chicken for main course, more cabbage because it was so good with the dip that came with it and then peas for desert. So I finished my trip to Japan poppin' peas with the sound of the Kashima supporters Big Echo in my ears.....Life goes on.

Club World Cup Final 2016.


P.S. In case you were wondering. Yes I came back to London via the same route I came. I had been issued my ticket for the Beijing to London flight at Tokyo, with a boarding time of 12.00, we arrived at 11.30.

Knowing the procedure I confidently marched forward without looking and being confused by the transfer signs. I headed straight for the stairs where I remembered there was a small queue waiting for their security inspection. This time I couldn't see the entrance to the stairs due to the throng of people. I then realised that the last 50 metres of people I had marched past were in the queue! Looking around, for once I could see no sign of officialdom. I caught someone, coming out of an office and explained my dilemma, showing them the time now and the time on my boarding pass. She pointed to the back of the queue. Knowing that the security was strict I couldn't see me making the plane if I did. I briefly wondered if there was any football in Beijing that night, before finding someone else to ask. This time I got an agreeing nod, and a red sticker slapped on my arm. She pointed to the front of the queue and said "Go, go".

I passed the first passport check. At the top of the stairs there was a sign 'Boarding 12.00' it was closed. I then made my way down said stairs. There a young man was directing the flow, once again I explained and he sent me to the back of the queue. Which still looked as though I would miss the plane if I waited. I explained to passengers and to those that didn't speak English showed them my boarding card. Everyone understood. (Obviously they were not Chinese). I made the gate and the stern stewardess did not break a smile or offer a greeting as I gave in my boarding card, just as we walked the final few yards there was time for a gentleman(!) to pull a bin out from under an alcove and spit in it.

Ross Clegg

Friday, December 16, 2016

Club World Cup 2016 Semi Finals

A rare occurrence for me - two days off! As I hadn't been to Osaka before I thought I would stay locally. The weather wasn't great, cloudy about 8 degrees with a cold wind. So I set off by foot for Osaka Castle.

Osaka Castle, Osaka, Japan.


As I wandered through the streets I noted the shape of the vehicles on the roads, they are increasingly becoming box like. Which when you begin to think about it is much more practical. OK, not elegant.

But for all those adverts that boast about the space inside, how much of that can you actually use? The use of space was becoming a theme. As I noted a bike rack suspended in mid air above those parked on the ground. Then a building no more than three metres wide, but five stories high. The petrol pump suspended in mid air, giving more room on the forecourt. The next observation was of the intricate network of roads, pedestrian walkways and train tracks above the ground. I reckon somewhere here there must be a noodle junction!

Osaka flyover.


Osaka Castle was originally built on this site in 1583 but has been destroyed twice - the latest reconstruction was built in 1931 and survived the war intact.

In the grounds of the castle I saw a jumper approach me, it was a mixture of colours, obviously hand made and one which you might expect to see a student with long hair in the 70's wearing. This jumper belonged to Kenji, now retired but had been an artist. He used to make and design the curtains that would hang outside shops, with the bright colours and calligraphy.

Glico Man, Osaka.


He travelled to Europe back in the mid 70s (I didn't ask if that was when he got the jumper) at a time when the exchange rate was good for the Japanese yen. At that time he didn't speak English, but right now he was keen to practice.

He had always lived in Osaka, his family had a house in the centre of Osaka, that was destroyed, along with much of the rest of the city in the Second World War.

His parting shot was that he realised that Japan was changing and that customs were dying out.

Umeda Sky Building, Osaka, Japan.


I walked back and headed to the Umeda Sky Building, two 40 storey towers connected by bridges. Underneath the German Market was in full swing.

Later in the evening I headed for Dotonbori, an area full of restaurants.

Dotombori eatery.


The great thing (for me) about Japanese restaurants is that they will also have either photos or a plastic replica of the food they offer. Despite this I still couldn't always tell you what I had eaten.

Plastic replicas in Osaka.


The weather forecast was getting worse and with little to do in Osaka, I decided to head to Nara, capital of Japan in the 8th century.

I wandered round the sights in the rain for a few hours before taking the 50 minute journey back to Osaka. By now the rain was much heavier and didn't look like it was going to stop anytime soon. This reminded me of Rabat, Morocco two years ago when the rain was so bad they moved the venue for Real Madrid's semi-final.

Japanese Shinto Shrine.


Seeking refuge I noticed a sign saying Japanese Buddhist food. Who could resist? I was greeted with a smile and after taking my shoes off shown the seating area and kitchen. I would say 4 would be the maximum seating capacity and definitely room for only one chef.

My host explained, with the help of a photo that there was a set vegetarian menu. There was no other photo.

This time I could tell you one course was Mushroom and Cabbage, oh and Rice of course.

Buddhist food, Nara.


The next day was the day of the first semi final. Surprisingly the visitors from Colombia brought more supporters to the game than Kashima Antlers, from Japan. During the first half I saw an incident in the penalty area in front of me where an attacker appeared to be impeded. He appealed to the linesman and play carried on. It seemed like 30 seconds later, with the ball now down the other end that the game stopped for no apparent reason. VAR (Video Assistant Referee apparently) replay was flashed on the electronic scoreboard.

Nacional supporters, Club World Cup.


The referee was now back down this end and appeared to have pointed to the spot, at the same time as playing charades, showing whatever it was we were meant to guess it was on TV.

Now having studied the replay myself, I believe that the attacker was tripped, but he was coming back from an offside position. Therefore the decision should be for offside, and if the referee thought the player was tripped deliberately then he should book the defender.

Of course these days the offside rule wouldn't apply because he wasn't near the ball, but as Brian Clough would have said if you are not interfering with play what are you doing on the pitch.

In the 58th minute Nacional equalised. Except the referee disallowed it for offside. I didn't think it was. Can we have a replay please?!

Kashima Antlers fans.


This time despite the 9pm curfew the drums kept beating as Kashima booked their place in the final. I left the stadium with the tune of Ob la di ob la da ringing out from jubilant Japanese supporters. The next day I took the Nozomi Super Express to Tokyo for the second semifinal in Yokohama.

I could have caught the overnight bus which took 9 hours but I couldn't resist the bullet train.

I remembered to sit on the left to catch a glimpse of snow capped Mount Fuji, on the way into Tokyo.

As soon as the train set off the bento boxes were out... when in Japan!

Two hours and 25 minutes later and I had covered the 500km journey and I was in the heart of Tokyo.

The cheapest way to get to the stadium from Tokyo was to take local trains, and so I left the football fans in Tokyo who would be in Yokohama in eighteen minutes and made my own way. During the course of my hour long journey I saw the white gloves being used to cram people into packed trains. I also passed through about 30 stations and mastered the Tokyo subway, still struggling a little with the tickets but I did save £30 though.

Arriving in Yokohama I found it amusing to see vendors selling half and half scarves. The funny thing was they were for Real Madrid and Atlético Nacional. I enquired of the person with the Liverpool accent if they had them ready for this coming Sunday's 3rd place play off.

My seat in the ground just happened to be in amongst the Club America supporters, so if you've ever wondered what the view is like standing amongst the people waving banners, the answer is not a lot. Thankfully the crowd was only 50,117 so I was able to find another seat.

The game finished with the VAR doing what lots of people would like to do as he wiped the smile off Ronaldo's face by informing the referee that he thought Ronaldo was offside. I knew from where I was behind the goal that he was onside. The situation was a farce as Ronaldo celebrated, the ref gave the goal and then stopped.

How can you have a VAR that makes wrong decisions? FIFA need to look at this, as well as involving the crowd, by at least showing the incident.

Oh but that would contravene the rule that says they are not allowed to show controversial decisions. Catch -22 I am rereading it at the moment.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Club World Cup

Off to Japan for my 5th Club World Cup and 4th visit to Japan, this time via China - must have been the cheapest flights on the dates I wanted.

Suita City Stadium, Osaka, Japan.


So how did the teams get here. Well they won their respective Continental Premier Cup competition and the hosts provided their Championship winner. I was a little worried when I noted that the Japanese were to be represented by Kashima Antlers who had finished 11th (out of 18) in the second half of their domestic Championship. In Japan they have a split season. Kashima won the first half and beat Urawa Red Diamonds (winners of the second half) on away goals in a play off to win the League (despite being 15 points overall behind them) and qualify for this competition.

How did I get here?

Arriving at the check-in desk you would have thought you were in China already as there was only a handful of other Westerners on the flight, whom it transpired were all on transit to other international destinations. This feeling was confirmed as we bordered the plane as all the chatter was in Chinese and no one moved out of their way to ease the congestion as people tried to make their way to their seats. At this stage I thought to myself of the similarities between the Polish and Romanians in the UK and the Japanese and the Chinese (am I allowed to think that?).

Suita City Stadium, Osaka, Japan.


My young companion was grateful to me for pointing out his errors in his Sudoku puzzle, not once, but twice. I noticed he was struggling so had to have a look....didn't I. But not a word was said.

I noticed the initials PEK on my boarding card and am also sure I heard the pilot describe our destination as Peking. I remember that was the name of the Chinese capital I knew. So I did a bit of research and found that in 1979 the Chinese came up with a new system for interpreting the pronunciation of Mandarin, known as Pinyin. So the local name hasn't changed at all, but it has in English.

Suita City Stadium, Club World Cup, Japan.


The nine hour flight was overnight, so I tried to rest while keeping an eye on our route and the local time. I learnt that whilst China covers five time zones it only has one. Do you remember the day when people would dash to a certain pub across town as they had later licensing laws for maybe 30 more minutes drinking time, well in China they could get an extra five hours by nipping over the border.

When it came to breakfast time the stewardess kindly enquired whether I would like a Western or Chinese breakfast. She handed out omelette and bacon to those around me and I replied "Chinese". She shouted it back at me clearly indicating that she thought I had made a mistake. She delivered congee a Chinese rice porridge with fish!

America team photo.


Arriving in Beijing's impressive airport, designed by Foster & Partners for the 2008 Olympics, the signage was a little confusing and the foreigners gathered together as we worked out exactly where to go. Once we did we presented ourselves for a security check. I spotted the usual notices for liquids, but noticed they wanted cameras removing from bags. I didn't notice on the other side of a wall that they also wanted any battery chargers. Which, of course were spotted and I had to remove them while they had a good look. Paranoid?

In the airport there were posters announcing that wifi was available to all but that they would need to capture the user's details in order that you could use it.

I did try to log on, but they didn't seem to like me.

I noticed a number of people with masks on their face, this didn't strike me as unusual as I have seen this in Japan before. What did strike me was the need for them to remove the mask so they could go and spit in a bin!

The next leg of my journey was to Kansai Airport Osaka. On board the plane the safety demonstration was given and then an announcement was made by a voice saying they were the security officer for the plane. It then said there were punishments for those that did not cooperate with staff. No misbehaving on this flight then.

Romero, the match winner.


I remember seeing a programme about the airport a few years ago, as it is a man made island in Osaka Bay, which was sinking. I am pleased to report that it is still afloat. By now I was rather tired, I had hoped to be impressed by the Renzo Piano architecture, but I was more interested in making my way to my lodgings for the next few days.

Arriving at immigration it looked like a scene from a hospital as there were a number of people (with face masks again) over machines beckoning the new arrivals. There we had our photos taken and fingerprints recorded. Then I was stopped as I departed. I opened my bag, but as soon as I said I was going to the football the security guard just wanted to know who was playing. He was no longer interested in my bag.

There was a ticket machine with instructions in English and within minutes I was on the train bound for Osaka.

An elderly gentleman sat opposite me and immediately got out his mobile phone, the phone looked dated from what I could see but still had a camera.

Once I left Osaka Station I followed my directions and found I was surrounded by locals all looking at their phones as they walked. I was delighted to see a vending machine selling soft drinks as it had Pocari Sweat, on sale, on of my favourites, the other being Calpis. Neither are as bad as they sound.

So I arrived at my capsule hotel where I would be based for the next five days.

Mamelodi Sundowns fans, Club World Cup.


I was delighted to hear, before I left that Kashima Antlers had knocked out Auckland City. The first game on Sunday 11th will be the 101st in the competition, I have managed to see about a quarter of those games and Auckland City have probably featured in a quarter of the ones I have seen, so I think you will understand that for a Premier Club competition it could be more attractive.

Japan has certain home comforts, driving on the left, even walking on the left, a neatness and tidiness that you will not find elsewhere and of course heated toilet seats.

By now I had observed that as well as playing games, and using them for directions, manga comics have now switched to online publications and are being viewed on people's phones.

Today's game was played at Suita Stadium, home of Gamba Osaka, this newly built stadium was reached by a train journey, the monorail and a walk through Expoland. There you could visit a Pokemon gym and an English Village - it apparently takes you around America, but the purpose of it is for the Japanese to learn English.

Mamelodi Sundowns fans, Club World Cup.


The first half of Jeonbuk Hyundai v Club America was littered with more misplaced passes than numbers I can count to in Japanese. Ichi, nee, san, yawn, go, roku, nana, hatch - that will be eight then. But Jeonbuk took the lead through Kim. You wouldn't have got good odds on that as there were three of them in their starting line up.

America made changes at the start of the second half, and looked much livelier. They were rewarded with two goals from their number nine Romero, who had also hit the post from 35 yards on the first half. In the process they set up meeting with Real Madrid this Thursday in Yokohama.

Secretly I was hoping there would be extra time as the next match was not scheduled to start for another 90 minutes.

Instead I was entertained by the Mamelodi Sundowns fans who had started to announce their presence in the last ten minutes of the America match. Not sure if they heard the announcement in the first game but the use of loud instruments is prohibited by law after 9pm. The second game kicks off at 7.30. So it should be a quiet last 15 minutes!

The first half was dominated by Peter Ndlovu's Mamelodi Sundowns as they registered 11 shots with five on target to Kashima Antlers' zero.

Mamelodi Sundowns fans, Club World Cup.


Surprise, the second half was the opposite as Kashima took control, dominating the second period, scoring two goals.

The instruments were abandoned on cue at 9pm. I suspect someone had to tell the South Africans, as they seemed to continue for a minute or so. Kashima supporters turned to karaoke and sang a tune acapello. I could swear I know the song, just can't remember the title. It will come back to me ......one day.

At the end of the game the people queued to hand in their rubbish, and then just outside the entrance gate I read a sign in English "Stroller Park". Yes they have a place for pushchairs.

Exiting the park the crowd still moved on the left, despite the fact that everyone was leaving the stadium and no one was now going to it. Stewards beckoned the crowd over to one side as I made my way home.

Ross Clegg