Thursday, April 6, 2017

Fifa World Rankings April 2017

FIFA World Fifa Rankings
Fifa's World Rankings for April 2017 were published on April 6 at FIFA HQ in Zurich, Switzerland.

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

The full top ten is: Brazil, Argentina, Germany, Chile, Colombia, beaten Euro 2016 finalists, France, Belgium, Euro 2016 winners Portugal, Switzerland and Spain.

England are 14th, unchanged from March, still behind Euro 2016 semi-finalists Wales and Poland in 11th. Egypt are the top African team in 19th place.

Asian Cup winners Australia are in 50th place; Japan are in the 44th spot. Near neighbors South Korea are in the 43th place.

The USA are in 23rd. Wales are 13th. Scotland are in 59th position. The Republic of Ireland in 26th place level with Northern Ireland also in joint 26th position.

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

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Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Dutch in the ditch

The latest round of European World Cup qualifiers went largely to script.

The big boys all won comfortably - Germany, Italy, Spain, France, Portugal and England all registered victories. Surprise European Championship semi-finalists Wales drew again and struggling to make it to Russia next year have probably reverted to type.

Only Switzerland and Germany have 100% records after five games. Gibraltar, Lichtenstein, Malta and San Marino kept up their pointless campaigns. 

As it stands the seven automatic UEFA qualifiers will be France, Switzerland, Germany, Serbia, Poland, England, Spain, Belgium and Croatia. In the playoff berths are Sweden, Portugal, Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland, Montenegro, Slovakia, Italy. Greece and Iceland.

Dutch girls detained
Happier days for Dutch fans at World Cup 2010
The one stand-out story has to be the demise of the Netherlands, who lost 2-0 in Bulgaria and sacked coach Danny Blind afterwards.

As if failing to make it to Euro 2016 was not stunning enough for the doyens of classy soccer, the country which has produced Johan Cruyff, Ruud Gullitt, Dennis Bergkamp and Arjen Robben and who finished third at the last World Cup, now languishes fourth in their group behind France, Sweden and Bulgaria.

All is not lost. For a first half of the campaign, two wins, a draw and two losses is not qualification form but recovery is still possible. The Dutch sit only three points behind second-place Sweden and a play-off spot.

Their rocky road to Russia in Group A so far:

06/09/16 Sweden 1:1 Netherlands
07/10/16 Netherlands 4:1 Belarus
10/10/16 Netherlands 0:1 France
13/11/16 Luxembourg 1:3 Netherlands
25/03/17 Bulgaria 2:0 Netherlands

They will surely take three points at home to Luxembourg in their next outing before a tricky trip to Paris at the end of August, where they really need to avoid defeat. Three days later they will have to take revenge at home to Bulgaria before winning in October in Belarus, a side who have surprisingly beaten the Dutch before in qualifying.

It looks however, like the fight for the playoff spot will all come down to the final day when the Netherlands host Sweden. 

What has gone wrong with the Netherlands? It seems to be a classic case of being caught amid an inter-generational transition. Only four of the players who came third in Brazil in 2014 were on the pitch in Sofia: Defenders Bruno Martins Indi and Daley Blind and attackers Arjen Robben and Georginio Wijnaldum.

Attention has centred on Danny Blind's fielding of 17 year-old debutant Matthijs De Ligt at centre-back, which even by the Netherlands' standards of developing young stars seemed recklessly premature.

The risk turned duly sour as Bulgaria raced into a two-goal lead after twenty minutes and De Ligt was hauled off at half-time. Blind, skipper of Ajax's youthful European Cup-winning team in 1995, may have seen something similar in the young Ajax defender, but it proved his downfall as manager.

Fred Grim is the caretaker choice but the KNVB will surely ring up Ronald Koeman to see if they can tempt him from Goodison Park, which seems unlikely.

Frank De Boer, most recently Inter coach last season, is a more likely possibility, or maybe Philip Cocu of PSV. One name surprisingly doing the rounds is Louis Van Gaal, who took them to third in WC 2014.
Looking at the young faces in Blind's side, none seem obviously to be of the same calibre of the great Dutch players of the last quarter-century, a revival which began with the Euro '88 triumph and featured consecutive Champions League finals for Ajax in the mid 1990's, World Cup semi-finals for the national team in 1998 and 2014 and second place in 2010.

Their domestic league was never powerful but now looks increasingly lightweight compared to England, Germany, Italy, Spain and France. 
As with good players, its best managers are easily tempted away. In 2011, Martin Jol wasted little time in swapping Ajax, the great Dutch club, for lowly Fulham in the Premier League.

Three years later Ronald Koeman guided Feyenoord to second in the Eredivisie and a Champions League spot but left to coach Southampton who had finished eighth in England.

More recently two Dutch starlets have come to England but fluffed their lines: Memphis Depay, who signed for Manchester United just before the 2015-'16 season to great fanfare but was quietly sold to Lyon in this year's January transfer window after an unimpressive year and a half at Old Trafford.

Vincent Janssen, the Dutch player of the year after a whopping 27 goals in 34 games for AZ Alkmaar, has been firmly in Harry Kane's shadow since joining Tottenham. He has only scored once for the north Londoners since joining last summer and 15 of his 20 appearances have come from the bench too.

Perhaps the Dutch football philosophy needs challenging, despite the long admiration from around the world for their nation's over-achieving.

4-3-3 and multi-functional players remain articles of faith for Oranje but tactics are evolving around them. Leicester won last year's Premier League with an effective direct style, speed and three individual talents, 4-2-3-1 has been all the rage this decade and now it seems 3-4-3 as practised to effect by Chelsea on top of the Premier League (and England last week against Germany) is the formation du jour.

If the Netherlands stick to their guns and refuse to learn from the competition, they will have fallen into England's historic trap and will miss out on another tournament next summer.

And that would be a tragedy for one the most outstanding football nations of the last half century.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Yu keeps the Chinese Dream Alive

Yu keeps the Chinese Dream Alive.
* China kept their slim hopes of making it to Russia 2018 alive with a 1-0 win over South Korea 1-0 in Changsha in their AFC World Cup qualifier this afternoon.

Yu Dabao of Beijing Guoan got the only goal for Marcelo Lippi's side in the 34th minute, his nation's second win over Korea in 32 attempts.

With four games to play, Iran 1-0 winners in Qatar, remain four points clear of the Reds at the top with Uzbekistan, who fell to a last-gasp penalty away to Syria, a point behind in the playoff position. Despite a 100% home record, Uli Stieleke's Korea have only point in their three matches away from home.

China is scattering money around its domestic league to attract overseas stars and its hour must surely come, but fifth out of sixth, their national team's next realistic hope of World Cup participation is at Qatar 2022.

In Asia's Group B, Saudi Arabia and Japan occupy the top two slots with 13 points, and Australia are third with ten.

The Saudis won 3-0 away in Thailand, Japan won 2-0 in the U.A.E. but Australia could only draw 1-1 in Iraq. The top two in each group go to Russia with the two third-place nations playing off against each other home and away before another two-leg tiebreaker with CONCACAF's fourth-best for the final ticket to Russia.

*The South American qualifiers kick off later with Argentina and Colombia, fifth and sixth respectively and out of the automatic qualification spots, desperately seeking home wins against Chile and Bolivia respectively.

Elsewhere, second play first in Montevideo where Uruguay host Brazil.

* Lukas Podolski's rocket against England last night was the perfect swansong, a Roy of the Rovers winner even every Englishman watching had to doff his cap to and applaud.

Germany's wonder goal and result should not make the world champions lie back with confidence they can defend their crown in 2018: For the first half England were clearly the better team with a superior shape and excellent pressing.

But for Adam Lallana striking a post and Dele Alli letting Marc-Andre Ter Stegen off the hook with a tame shot, the visitors would have led at the break.

In the second half, the usual routine of multiple substitutions altered the nature of the game wholesale.

Gareth Southgate can nevertheless leave thrilled by his experimental formation which bodes well for the future. 3-4-3 seems to be the formation flavour of the month, much like 4-2-3-1 was in 2010.

* In a rare moment of sanity, FIFA have talked about limiting squad sizes to help increase the competitiveness of top leagues. When Premier League leaders Chelsea can send a whopping 38 players out on loan, something surely must change to even things up.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Fifa World Rankings March 2017

FIFA World Fifa Rankings
Fifa's World Rankings for March 2017 were published on March 9 at FIFA HQ in Zurich, Switzerland.

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

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

England are 14th, down one, behind Euro 2016 semi-finalists Wales and Poland in joint 12th. Egypt replace Iceland in 20th and are the top African team, ahead of Senegal, who are in 28th place.

Asian Cup winners Australia are in 55th place; Japan are in 51st spot. Near neighbors South Korea are in 40th place.

The USA are in 30th. Wales are 12th. Scotland are in 67th position. The Republic of Ireland in 24th place, Northern Ireland are in 39th position.

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

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Monday, March 6, 2017

New Chelsea Stadium Gets Green Light

Chelsea's new 60,000 seat stadium has received final planning permission and should be ready for the 2021-'22 season.

The 'matchstick cathedral' design by Swiss architects Herzog & De Meuron, who designed the Beijing Birds' Nest Olympic arena and renovated London's Tate Modern, got the final nod from London Mayor Sadiq Khan today.

Didier Drogba poster at Stamford Bridge.


It will certainly be a distinctive stadium with 264 bent brick piers giving a skeletal surround with no sliding roof although one wonders how much sunlight will penetrate, as with many modern arenas.

Best known for the Bird's Nest, possibly the greatest Olympic arena of all time, the firm has also designed football stadia before: Munich's Allianz Arena, Basel's St Jakob Park and Bordeaux's stadium.

On the plus side, Chelsea are staying on their historic Stamford Bridge site where they have played since 1905. After a long quest by owner Roman Abramovich to find a new home, a search which included Battersea Power Station, Earls Court exhibition centre and allegedly even an enquiry about Hyde Park, the club is staying put after all.

The new stadium will along with Arsenal's Ashburton Grove and Tottenham's rebuilt White Hart Lane be the third club ground in the capital coming in at 60,000 seats (Spurs will have 61,000).

As with Tottenham, Chelsea will have to decamp to Wembley while their new home takes shape. Tottenham are due to play at the national stadium from next season but have hinted at waiting an extra season. That might eat into Chelsea's plan to play three years away from home before moving back to the Bridge.

Stamford Bridge is the closest London stadium to the city centre, accessible by tube and surrounded by housing, albeit expensive apartments and Georgian avenues rather than the working class terraces which usually accompany English club grounds.

It has the wealthiest location of any London club, as part of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, although the adjoining Fulham Road was traditionally more blue collar than the neighbouring King's Road and its exclusive boutiques.

Unlike at Tottenham, where club owners have slammed City Hall for not subsidising transport improvements to London's most famously hard-to-reach ground, Chelsea has a tube station Fulham Broadway close by and several bus services calling outside the stadium, meaning getting to and from their new home should not be a problem even with an increase in crowds.

The name Stamford Bridge refers not to the English Civil War battle but to a crossing of a long-vanished tributary of the Thames, the Stanford or sandy creek.

60,000 is a significant increase on the current capacity of 42,000 and will boost the club's coffers as they stake a claim to return to being one of the leading sides in the Champions League, which they won in 2012. As it stands, Arsenal make substantially more money in matchday income.

The new capacity will fall short of the ground's record attendance however, 82,905 for the visit of Arsenal in October 1935.

London clubs record home attendances

  1. Chelsea - 82,905 v Arsenal, 1935
  2. Charlton - 75,031 v Aston Villa, 1938
  3. Tottenham - 75,038 v Sunderland, 1938*
  4. Arsenal - 73,295 v Sunderland, 1935
  5. West Ham - 56,985 v Sunderland, 2016
  6. Crystal Palace - 51,482 v Burnley, 1979
  7. Fulham - 49,335 v Millwall, 1938
  8. Millwall - 48,672 v Derby, 1937
  9. Brentford - 38,678 v Leicester, 1949
  10. Orient - 38,219 v Tottenham, 1929
  11. QPR - 35,353 v Leeds, 1974

* At White Hart Lane; 85,512 watched Spurs play Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions League at Wembley in 2016.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Fifa World Rankings February 2017

FIFA World Fifa Rankings
Fifa's World Rankings for February 2017 were published on February 9 at FIFA HQ in Zurich, Switzerland.

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

The full top ten is: Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Chile, Belgium, beaten Euro 2016 finalists, France, Colombia, 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 31st place.

Asian Cup winners Australia are in 54th place; Japan are in 52nd spot. Near neighbors South Korea are in 37th place.

The USA are in 29th. Wales are 12th. Scotland are in 67th position. The Republic of Ireland in 25th place, Northern Ireland are in 39th position.

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

Full world rankings

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Saturday, February 4, 2017

Five Ways To Deal With Bullying

When you're a coach, your biggest goal isn't just to win games. Rather, it's to shape the minds and lives of the young people who you work with. This comes from fostering a sense of teamwork and ensuring that all of your players get along.

However, when you spot bullying, it can be hard to keep a feeling of teamwork alive. In order for you to keep your team at their very best, here are five ways that coaches can deal with bullying.

1. Make It Clear To Everyone That Bullying Isn't Tolerated

If you've been noticing bullying at meets and practices, you don't have to go to the perpetrators directly, at least not right away. Instead, have a quick chat at the beginning of practice about how bullying harms everyone, both as individuals and as a team. Sometimes one of these simple group meetings is all it takes to nip bullying in the bud.

2. Talk To Perpetrators Directly

Unfortunately, not all students will respond to meetings about combatting bullying. If some team members are still participating in hurtful or mean activities, talk to them directly. While a group meeting might not reach them, a one on one discussion can often do the trick.

3. Talk To The Parents

As nice as it'd be if all kids would listen to their coaches and teachers the first time, sometimes it takes the stern voice of Mom or Dad to really drive the anti-bullying message home. If a student continues to bully others despite being spoken to about it, either call the parents or schedule a meeting. Chances are that the parents will take action.

4. Administer Disciplinary Action

If one student doesn't respond to notes home or one on one conversations about the dangers of bullying, it might be time to administer disciplinary action. If a student continues to pick on or abuse others, bench them from a practice. If the behavior continues, bench them from a game or meet.

5. Contact The School or Recreation Committee

Sadly, there will always be a few students who don't respond to discussions, notes home or disciplinary action. When you have a student who's caused you to hit a wall, talk to the school or to the recreation committee that oversees your league. If all else fails, suspending the student from a season or indefinitely might be the only option. While we'd like to accommodate all of our players, once in awhile you might encounter young people who simply aren't ready or fit to play team sports.

Bullying is a sad reality of youngsters' lives. However, it doesn't have to be an inevitable part of childhood. As long as teachers, school administrators and coaches take an active role in combatting bullying, we can all reduce the amount of harm that our children experience. Ultimately, you want to teach your kids about teamwork and the importance of supporting one another instead of tearing each other down.

Jessica Kane is a writer for SteelLocker Sports. A leading provider of sporting goods and training programs for coaches, players, parents and institutions with a primary focus on youth sports.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Two Weeks in Gabon

After the final Gabon group match in Libreville six of us went to a nearby restaurant in the dimly lit night. Though it was hard to read the menu, there seemed to be a lot of options.

We called the waiter over and he explained that the restaurant's speciality was wine.

On the menu in Gabon.


There were four items on the food menu, and two of them were off.
(Do not trust this menu!)

That should have made the choice easy, we took so long to decide that I suspect that next time we appear there will only be one item on the menu.

The choices were sausage and pork. We ordered 4 sausage meals between us.

We waited patiently (I have saved this phrase so I can type at the touch of one key). Eventually after they caught whatever they served they arrived with two plates. One sausage and one pork.

Gabon beach.


The waiter explained that the chef had just told him that this was all they had left.

We amicably agreed who would have what, before they arrived with two more plates of pork.

Meanwhile we heard a screech of car brakes and a crash. I turned round to see a telegraph pole wobbling.

Settling the bill seemed to take as long as the food, as firstly food that they didn't have was added to the bill. Then the adding up was clearly wrong. Then the Germans sorted out who had had what and announced how much person owed based on what they had - well you can't imagine Germans going Dutch can you?

Later we waited patiently for a taxi, and flagged one down just near the teetering telegraph pole. He he took a left turn round the roundabout to reach us. (Yes you guessed they drive on the right in Gabon.) Of course he wanted far too much for the fare and if that's how he drives then we made the right decision to carry on waiting patiently.

The next day I decided to stay in Libreville and had a lazy day. That was after my morning run and swim, sitting around under the palm trees at the Tropicana, attending Tunisia v Zimbabwe in the evening along with 1,800 others.

The final group matches were being played at the same time so now there is only one match to watch each day and tomorrow the action moves to Port Gentil and Oyem for two days.

I chose Oyem and made plans on how to get there. Of course I looked to see if there was a flight, but confirmation of these sometimes does not come through until after 9pm in the evening. I confirmed where the local bus left from and found that I should leave at 6am to get to Oyem for 2pm.

Thankfully the email confirmation came through in the morning saying I was booked on the next day's flight from Franceville to Oyem at 3pm.

Helicopter in Gabon.


Arriving at the airport terminal, the first thing I noticed was that the flight had been changed to 3.30pm. Then when on the plane they announced the flight time as 30 minutes. I was sure it had taken longer last time. Have you ever got on a bus and been unsure if it was taking you where you wanted to go? Have you ever been on a plane and sat there thinking this is not going where I thought it was!

Sure enough we landed at what appeared to be a military base in Mongomo, Equatorial Guinea. We then disembarked our plane and walked across the tarmac to the waiting helicopter.

This must be the helicopter that was out of service four days ago! Inside it is just a shell with fold down seats along the sides. I quickly found a seat and attempted to fasten the seatbelt. It fastened, but it was for someone at least three times my size, and it didn't appear adjustable. There was some luggage and it was stacked loosely in the middle of the helicopter. Now all the seats were taken and it was standing room only for about twenty of our party.

Paul (!) fan of the match at Burkina Faso v Tunisia.


Not sure what make it was but it was Russian, at least second hand and at least 40 years old.

The overhead blades started to rotate and we seemed to taxi forward to get some momentum, then we slowly ascended over the trees and made our way to Oyem airport.

I had booked the same accommodation that I stayed at last time with Sebastiane for two nights, but I did not know how I was going to get back from Oyem to Libreville. I heard that there was a flight back this evening after the game at 23.30.

Port Gentil Stadium.


This made me wonder if my flight back would be at this time the next evening. This would present a number of problems, but if I could find out in advance I could work round it. So I sent emails to all the contacts I had to find out if there was still a flight on Thursday during the day.

Thankfully one of them responded and I was booked on a flight as I had intended.

But of course, nothing is straightforward. I arrived on the day of my confirmed flight from Oyem to Libreville to find the Ugandan team bus and delegation already at the airport. I tried to check in to get my boarding pass but was told I was on a later flight and should wait.

Looking around I felt very much on my own as I could see no familiar faces. Apart from the players Dennis Onyango and the captain Wasswa. I asked again, and this time was told my flight had been cancelled and that I should come back tomorrow.

Stade d'Angondjé, Libreville.


I had already arranged an evening out and meal that evening in Libreville. If I had known there was no plane I would have caught the bus which departed at 6am and would have been expected to arrive about 2pm but now it was 10am, and if I caught the bus at this time it would take longer. I was told I could be back around 9pm.

I decided to wait patiently. I confirmed that the Ugandan flight was full, and asked if there were any other options other than coming back tomorrow. The Mali team were due to fly at 3pm so I could wait and ask them.

So at the airport with the least facilities you have ever seen, I waited. Everyone else seemed to be on the Uganda flight. My dilemma was do I try and find if there is someone else in the same position as me, but if I do that they may get my place.

So I decided to stick on my own, Diana the local organiser called me over sometime later, she had arranged for me to travel with the Ugandan luggage some time today.

So I arrived back in Libreville, two hours later than expected, completing my travels around Gabon.

I was in Gabon for 15 days, taking a total of 16 plane journeys and one helicopter ride. I must have spent over one day just in airport waiting lounges. I attended 19 football matches, oh and I also found time to run the distance of a marathon up and down the Libreville beach exchanging bonjours and 1-2's on the way.

So apologies for anything I might have forgotten to tell you...... I can't tell you everything can I?

Finally a few observations on life in Gabon after two weeks.

I don't remember having to reach out of a car window and having to open the door from the outside so much because the lock doesn't work from the inside. A feature found in every city.

Volunteers turn up every day to promote the competition and help to serve their country (as they put it). They are also being paid to do this. Some have even been given time off from their normal vocation.

The president Ali Bongo has called for calm, and promised (!) to review the country's situation after the tournament.

Stade d' Oyem, Gabon.


I am told keyboard warriors have been arrested and I can see certain websites are blocked.

It is noticeable when you speak to the locals that they appreciate positive comments, but anything that is not is queried until they have some positive point.

The price of oil has had a negative effect on the nation's finances, as it the main source of income.

I spoke to one person who a few years ago was earning US$ 11,000 a month. Now with the price of oil being so low production has been cut back and they come out with only US$3,500. Family holidays to Paris are no longer affordable.

Stade de Franceville.


On a positive note it is making the Gabonese aware that they need to look for other revenue streams. They are aware they have scenic beach settings and an untamed jungle which they could use to their advantage to attract tourists, and income if they improve the internal infrastructure.

I was also told they are looking to grow their own crops as currently most things are imported. With seemingly 80% of the country covered by forest there is massive potential.

I hope they can look forward to the good life in the future

Ross Cleggfootballtravelswithross.wordpress.com

Monday, January 23, 2017

A week in Gabon for Afcon 2017

I have been here in Gabon for 14 games of the Africa Cup of Nations 2017 now, but it seems like just over a week. I have managed to make my way around the country. Not by the different modes of transport I intended but by flights that I have found that were not available to book before I came.

A week in Gabon for Afcon 2017.

We have completed the second round of matches and the games have gone from Libreville to Franceville, Oyem and then Port Gentil. So have I. But I have had to go back to Libreville, the capital, every time in order to make the next destination.

When I last wrote I had lost the two Germans I met earlier as they failed to make their scheduled flight back to Libreville.

No worries. Thirty minutes after I got back to our apartment they turned up. They had got a lift and arrived at the other airport terminal.

Instead of walking 50 metres to the terminal that they arrived from, they caught a different plane which departed after mine.

The next morning the heavens opened and the rainy season has shown itself for the first time in Libreville. We tried to wait for a gap in the weather but there didn't seem to be one.

Outside the stadium we met a group of Burkina Faso supporters. One was keen to practice his English. He was a big man with body paint depicting his country's flag. (I have a picture somewhere but am struggling to download photos at present.) His opening words: "I am from Burkina Faso."

A week in Gabon for Afcon 2017.


At the end of the match I heard a shout in English, I turned round to see it was him. He was delighted with his team's performance and gave me a big hug. I looked at my arm and saw red. His body paint had rubbed off on me.

My trip to Franceville was uneventful, although this time I went with Sebastiane.

We agreed to meet at the end of the second match to catch the shuttle back to the airport. With 10 minutes to go, a shout went out that all journalists for Libreville should go to get their bus now.

There was no sign of Sebastiane (from DRC), so I waited in the stadium and watched the game while looking for him. He sauntered over towards us slowly after the final whistle. Unaware that we had nearly gone without him.

I can't lose anyone else, can I?

The next day the football moved to Oyem and this time I received confirmation for the Oyem flight, returning the next day. So no helicopter, that was for CAF officials.

Before leaving the Tropicana, where I was staying I advised them that my room would not be used and they could sell it again if they wanted.

Went for my breakfast at the airport, croque monsieur, and then to Afrijet terminal about 11.00. Plane wasn't due to depart until 13.30.

A week in Gabon for Afcon 2017.


Sebastiane was there, but had some bad news. There was a problem with the helicopter and the CAF delegation were now going to join us on our flight.

At this stage we weren't sure of the implications, but an hour later they advised us that no journalists would travel.

So Sebastiane and I went to the airport terminal to try and book a flight to Oyem.

All the flights for Oyem had left, there were no more today.

We were offered a taxi who guaranteed he could get us to Oyem in time for kick off. With less than five hours to go. We declined, and went back to Afrijet.

I was in the throes of sending an email to a travelling companion who was in Libreville to ask him where he was and where he would be watching tonight's games. I didn't finish the email.

We heard that a request had been put to the CAF president to pay for a flight for the journalists. But it is not that simple, how do you get a plane that is ready to fly immediately from your point of departure.

The media scrum followed the person in charge round the room. Eventually an announcement was made, the gist was there were eight places available to journalists from the competing nations. I had already been enlisted to help Sebastiane at the RDC press conference. Does that make me a Congolese journalist?

Unfortunately there was a girl with a Congo shirt on, who just happened to be from Rwanda. Maybe I could get away with being Congolese if I borrowed one of Sebastiane's shirts.

I said that if this tournament is anything to go by it is most likely to be a draw, and so we should go straight to a penalty shootout. I later found out that Joseph Antonine-Bell, the former Cameroon World Cup keeper had said the same and offered to go in goal.

Sebastiane got his boarding pass, and I was left with Ed Dove, who thought we had no chance.

Now that all the passes had been handed out I started to work. There was no one waiting around the boarding desk so I spoke to the two gentlemen there, suggesting there ought to be some neutral coverage of the game. I then found out that there were 45 CAF delegates, but that if any didn't show there would be a place. Unfortunately the Rwandan woman was around and she was first on the waiting list. She asked to check this and was told there was no list, but just stay close. I put myself forward for second, as Ed who had no chance sat down at the back of the room.

I waited patiently as the numbers in the room dwindled, but stayed close to the boarding desk.

The woman was handed a boarding pass, others now surrounded us as her details were recorded for the flight, and I boldly held out my accreditation, Thierry who handed out the passes looked at it but seemed to blank me before taking it from my hand a presenting me with one of the last boarding passes.

Ed realised and came forward to the desk presenting his pass.

I saw him on the plane later.

We landed at a clearing that looked like it had recently been carved out of the surrounding forest and of course there were no lights.

The ground also has been carved out of the forest and with the nearest football team, Union Sportive de Bitam being 75 km away I suspect the forest may take the ground back very soon.

Two good football matches later and we sampled the nightlife in Oyem.

I decided to reserve the same accommodation for next week when I intend to return for two nights.

Leaving Oyem from the half-started open-plan airport, there was a sign for the cafeteria, where workmen were painting the walls and old fashioned weighing scales were lifted from one check-in table to the other.

The security scanning machine didn't work and so they had a casual inspection of the luggage before allowing us through.

The plane eventually set off and arrived at 12.30pm. I hadn't received confirmation of a place on today's flight to Port Gentil, but as I was at the airport I thought I would check to see if there was any possibility of travelling.

The flight was full, and due to fly at 13.00 and my name was not on the list. Never mind, by now you will have learnt that all you need is patience. Sure enough 30 minutes later and I was on my way to Port Gentil again.

This time we have been advised the shuttle to the airport will leave twenty minutes before the end of the match. I spoke to the media operations manager and she simply said "They don't understand".

Towards the end of the evening I asked again. I was told someone had asked to leave 20 minutes after the match. I immediately said that was not possible, but perhaps we could leave at the end of the match. Agreed.

Egypt, scored a late winner to ruin the report I had already before the final whistle.

We got to the shuttle and the driver wasn't there. The crowd started to stream out the ground in a large single line. Queues were forming for transport home. The problem in Port Gentil, and all the other stadiums is that there is only one road that leads to it.

We saw the convoy of CAF cars starting to move with a police escort. We were in pole position, to latch on behind them. Then we pulled over to the roadside. Three more journalists got in but we had lost the convoy.

There was a roadblock ahead and we were denied access and had to turn off. I presume this driver has not driven the press before. Didn't he know all he had to do was put his hazard lights on and drive as fast as possible, while the journalists on board would shout "Press", waving their accreditation at anyone that got in the way.

There was another convoy and we latched on it but he was not allowed past the next roadblock.

Now he started to speed up and drive in the middle of a road, which appeared only just wide enough for two large cars and with ditches at the side of the road.

I adopted the brace position on my seat waiting for the inevitable. We managed to arrive in one piece and on time for the 35 minute flight back to Libreville.

Following the same routine brought back memories of four days ago, when clearing security, Sebastiane accidentally picked up my accreditation and put it round his neck. As I was looking in my tray for it I saw Sebastiane pass.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Africa Cup of Nations 2017 Images

Enjoy these images of the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations in Gabon.

Check back as we add more each day. Click on the image to enlarge it.

Ghana fan at Afcon 2017.
Ghana fans enjoy Afcon 2017

Uganda fan at Afcon 2017.
Uganda fan

Gabon fans at Afcon 2017.
Gabon fans

Stade de l'Amitié, Libreville, Gabon.
Stade de l'Amitié, Libreville, Gabon
Mali fans at Afcon 2017.
Mali fans at Afcon 2017
Stade de Franceville (capacity 22,000) in Franceville.
Stade de Franceville (capacity 22,000) in Franceville



Gabon mascot & dancing girls.
Gabon mascot & dancing girls

Ghana fans give their team a big hand.
Ghana fans give their team a big hand

Mali man.
Mali man

Stade de Port-Gentil (capacity 20,000) in Port-Gentil.
Stade de Port-Gentil (capacity 20,000) in Port-Gentil

A week in Gabon for Afcon 2017.
Burkina Faso Fans

A week in Gabon for Afcon 2017.
Ivory Coast Fans

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Fifa World Rankings January 2017

FIFA World Fifa Rankings
Fifa's World Rankings for January 2017 were published on January 12 at FIFA HQ in Zurich, Switzerland. These are the first 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 44th place; Japan are in 46th 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

Full world rankings

Previous Fifa World Rankings

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Soccer Books & DVDs

Afcon Three Down

Four days of the Afcon 2017 tournament and I am now three down.

On the eve of the opening game we had been assured by the local volunteers that no tickets were available for the opening game and that the ground would be full.

Africa Cup of Nations 2017.


On the day of the game you would not have believed that as the opening ceremony began with only a few thousand in attendance. People kept coming even after Gabon kicked off the competition. There was a healthy attendance, but it was not full.

Keyboard warriors have been busy opposing the tournament and have allegedly been organising peaceful protests and asked people to stay away from the tournament. There have been no sign of any protests so far, although I have spotted police wagons loaded with police positioned in strategic places, but at ease.

Although nothing happened in the first 45 minutes, the football fayre improved considerably over the next 135 with the group ending up level and every team in with a chance of the next round after two draws.

The next day I went to the airport in the hope of sorting out my travel arrangements for later in the week. Instead of doing that I just got a plane to Franceville to watch that day's games. I was assured I would also be able to return that night.

Africa Cup of Nations 2017.


I met Maher an Algerian as I went in to the departure lounge, he was stopped before we entered and they took his bag, to put it in the plane.

There were people waiting to go to Port Gentil as well as Franceville and Maher then started to wonder where his bag was going. They hadn't asked; he hadn't told them.

Anyway, we boarded after checking with a porter who thought he remembered seeing a brown bag.

The stewardess asked which team we were, "FC Bohemia" I replied.

Trying to sort out a schedule is proving impossible, so I was talking to others, about future days.

Planes seem to be added to schedules at a moments notice.

The conversation went along the lines of

"What time should you be at the airport?" One hour before the flight?

"What time is the flight?"

I don't know.

"So what time do you have to be at the airport."

So you will gather that I still have no firm plans.

Africa Cup of Nations 2017.


During the day I booked the hotel that I had stayed at the previous two nights online.
The stadium was about 20 kilometres from the airport, and the windy country roads were decorated with game for sale.... tortoise, fish, ape and others!

During the second game I made enquiries about how I would get back to the airport. I was told there would be a shuttle after the match and just to come to the reception.

Sure enough I went to the reception, and asked. Now I got a quizzical look. There no longer seemed to be one.

An official was called over and he said he would arrange it. I was told to follow a volunteer and led outside and across the road.

I waited as he went down to a car park and returned 10 minutes later with a mini bus. For me.
We waited as convoy of CAF officials left with a police convoy, and joined the end of it hastily making our way to the airport. I had noticed on the journey there that the cars have a tendency to drive in the middle of the road and put their hazard lights on.

As we climbed windy roads the convoy could be seen for some way into the distance.
I presented myself at check in, and they checked the list for my name. They double checked, triple checked and still couldn't find it.

They questioned how I had got to Franceville and luckily I found the boarding card I had been given earlier in the day.

With this they added my name to the list and I was on the plane eventually landing after one in the morning.

Staying at the same place meant getting a taxi and directing them was no problem.
I eventually arrived at the hotel at 1.45 and presented my email confirmation of my booking - one night for the equivalent of €100 or £100 using fairly recent exchange rates. (If you thought that was bad when I first landed I tried to change £'s and for Euros they offered 25% more!!!).

Mali fans, Africa Cup of Nations 2017.


The surly night porter checked and once again my details could not be found. There was no room available. Faced with the prospects of walking the streets all night looking for somewhere to stay I asked if I could sleep on the sofa in reception. He grudgingly nodded. Now when they sent me an email to ask for my opinion of the hotel, you may have guessed they scored zero, but I did have to give them the highest resting for value for money as I didn't pay anything.

The next day I set off, rather tired, hoping to make it to Oyem, but as I was unable to confirm that I could make it back, I gave up on the idea. Sorted travel to Port Gentil and back and concentrated on finding somewhere cheaper to stay.

I had heard of a place by the beach, not far from the airport - The Tropicana. So I went there they were full. I decided that the location was so good that it would be worth staying there, so asked which date they did have a room free. Today was Monday 16th.

"Do you have a room free tomorrow?"
No.
"Do you have one free the day after tomorrow?"
No.
"When do you have a room free?"
Dix-huit.
"The 18th?"
Yes.
"So you do have a room free tomorrow."
No.

We got there eventually and a room was secured from dix-huit, the day after tomorrow.

Two Germans I encountered had met someone that worked for Puma and sorted a room for two nights, of course when we got there, the price agreed had changed.

I hope that you can begin to see that every step you take there is a problem, that had to be overcome, and as soon as you think everything is running smoothly an obstacle will be put in your way.
At night it was difficult to sleep as it was hot, when you put the air conditioning on the temperature was fine but the noise kept you awake.

The trip to Port Gentil was just 35 minutes but as we approached the plane seemed to dive bomb down to the runway and then do a wheelie on the tarmac.

We got a shuttle to the stadium and made our way along the thin strip of land. We encountered a roadblock and the police didn't want to let us through.

Shouts from the bus of journalist, got louder and they let us through. Thank goodness for that. It was 30 minutes before kick off and we were still battling through traffic. Then the engine gave out a loud grinding noise and we came to a halt.

Immediately we flagged down a bus that was with us and transferred to it making it in time to the stadium for kick off.

The games were not the best but the Mali fans were entertaining.

We had asked (repeatedly) what time the shuttle would leave and had been assured that it would be at the end of the game. I had spoken to a number of people who were also travelling back so that we could look out for each other.

Ten minutes before the end, someone beckoned for me to leave, I told Max And Helge but they wouldn't leave before the end of the match.

I departed and hoped they would catch up. By leaving early we managed to beat the traffic and arrived at the airport 25 minutes later. There we waited, our plane wasn't due to depart till 11.30 so they had over an hour to make it. The plane departed a few minutes late, but there was no sign of the two Germans.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

One down and we haven't kicked off!

One down and we haven't kicked off!
Three of my favourite books Catch-22 by Joseph Heller, The Trial by Franz Kafka and Rates of Exchange by Malcolm Bradbury. Imagine if you merged these three and moved the setting to Central Africa. I wonder what would happen? Of course they are all works of fiction but This is Africa.

My journey took a familiar path starting with playing football the evening before, calling into the pub afterwards and walking into town to catch the 23.30 bus to Heathrow.

The weather forecast is currently grim and snow is expected. News reached me earlier in the day that 80 flights from Heathrow had already been cancelled.

As the coach was leaving Milton Keynes a passenger shouted to the driver. "The luggage side door is still open." He quickly stopped and closed the door.

Spent the journey waiting for us to hit the bad weather. On the M1 after Milton Keynes the gritters were out, but I could see by the signs saying 18 miles in 18 minutes that traffic was flowing.

We made it to Heathrow on schedule with no sign of any bad weather whatsoever.

I was the only passenger getting off at Terminal 4. The bus driver had a perplexed looked as he searched for my luggage. "You don't think I'd put anything in there do you?" I said.

At Heathrow as we were about to board I was asked for my visa, which I duly provided and was allowed to proceed.

I mentioned the visa process earlier and had advised a friend what to do. He chose to ignore me after he had booked his flight and received an accreditation to act as a photographer at the tournament. He wasn't allowed to board his plane and won't be coming.

Changed planes in Paris, no one asked to see my visa. This is France.

We waited over an hour on the runway as the plane was de-iced.

Upon arrival in Libreville the plane seemed to take a swerve that Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang would have been proud of. But we emerged unscathed ready for the next challenge to collect the visa.

We were ushered from one queue to another and eventually a hand took my passport along with my paper confirmation of my evisa.

I could see a pile of passports on a desk the other side of the glass and photocopies being taken. We all waited, impatiently as time passed. It was 90 minutes after we landed before we were reunited.

The next day I met a German friend who had arrived that morning after missing his connection in Paris, by seconds - I didn't make it worse and tell him about the de-icing. He had been rerouted via Morocco and arrived at 4am. He applied for his visa at the airport!

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Africa Cup of Nations 2017 Managers

Africa Cup of Nations 2017 Managers.
A list of the coaches of the participating teams at the Africa Cup of Nations 2017.

Black managers have a hard job getting a look-in at clubs in England, they also have a struggle to manage their own national sides. Only 4 teams at the Africa Cup of Nations 2017 have native African coaches: DR Congo, Guinea-Bissau, Senegal and Zimbabwe.

France provides the most managers with four followed by Belgium with two.

The coaches most known to an international audience include Hector Cuper who had spells with Valencia and Inter and Avram Grant who managed Chelsea, Portsmouth and West Ham in the Premier League.

Ex-Spain coach Jose Antonio Camacho has managed Real Madrid (twice), Benfica (twice), Espanyol (twice) and the China national team. He is remembered for having very sweaty armpits during the 2002 World Cup in Korea/Japan. Camacho, who has one only trophy in his career as manager, a Portuguese Cup with Benfica in 2004, might find the weather in Gabon a challenge for his shirts.

Frenchmen Herve Renard and Claude Le Roy both have connections with Cambridge United back in 2004. Renard has won the trophy twice with Zambia in 2012 and Ivory Coast in 2015.

Group A

Gabon - Jose Antonio Camacho (Spain)
Burkina-Faso - Paulo Duarte (Portugal)
Cameroon - Hugo Broos (Belgium)
Guinea-Bissau - Baciro Cande (Guinea-Bissau)

Group B

Algeria - Georges Leekens (Belgium)
Senegal - Allou Cisse (Senegal)
Tunisia - Henryk Kasperczak (Poland)
Zimbabwe - Callisto Pasuwa (Zimbabwe)

Group C

Ivory Coast - Michel Dussuyer (France)
DR Congo - Florent Ibenge (DR Congo)
Morocco - Herve Renard (France)
Togo - Claude Le Roy (France)

Group D

Egypt - Hector Cuper (Argentina)
Ghana - Avram Grant (Israel)
Mali - Alain Giresse (France)
Uganda - Milutin Sredojevic (Serbia)

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Gabon hosts Africa Cup of Nations 2017

Africa Cup of Nations 2017
So, who would have thought it. Gabon will host the African continent's biggest tournament for the second time in 5 years (Yes, that's right they also hosted in 2012, when they shared hosting with Equatorial Guinea).

The bidding process for these things started back in 2010 when Botswana, Cameroon, DR Congo, Guinea, Morocco, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe first expressed an interest. In the end only three countries put in bids - DR Congo, Morocco and South Africa. 2017 was awarded to South Africa.

Now just to complicate things further in 2011, due to the Libyan Civil War, South Africa agreed to host the 2013 competition, which was due to be held in Libya that year, with Libya hosting in 2017.

Now unfortunately the Libyan Civil War has lasted longer than we hoped and in 2014 Libya was withdrawn as the venue. There was interest from Ethiopia, Mali, Tanzania and Kenya discussed a joint bid with Rwanda and Uganda. In the end seven countries submitted bids: Algeria, Egypt, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya (alone), Sudan and Zimbabwe.

In April 2015 Gabon were named as hosts.

So when bidding began in 2010 there were 53 African countries and 20 of them have expressed an interest in hosting this tournament. There are of course now 54 African countries with South Sudan being the newest formed in July 2011.

This tournament was originally going to be held in South Africa, then Libya and now Gabon - although CAF  (Confederation of African Football) were forced to issue a statement on 25 November 2016 denying the fact that the venue was to be changed again.

So, with Gabon having hosted in 2012 the infrastructure will be there to hold another successful Championship.

The first obstacle to overcome will be to get into the country - for which you need a visa. To make this easy Gabon announced the introduction of an electronic visa from January 2015. However to complete the visa you need details of your accommodation and of a contact in Gabon.

So I duly went out and bought the only guide book there is on Gabon. I went through the whole book and took note of all the email addresses and sent an email introducing myself and that I was looking for help with my trip.

Gabon hosts Africa Cup of Nations 2017.
Yes, those are the replies I got above...over 30 of them. You might think this was strange. Well let me tell you a little more. Last August there was a Presidential election where incumbent President Ali Bongo Ondimba ran for re-election against the former Minister for Foreign Affairs Jean Ping.

The election is decided in a single round by plurality that is, the person with the most votes wins regardless of whether they have secured an overall majority.

On the day after the elections Ping (whose supporters had collected results showing him winning by 59% to 38%) said that "he was waiting for the outgoing president to congratulate me."

The result were delayed a day and Ali Bongo was announced the winner with 49.80% against Jean Ping's 48.2%.

Results from Haut-Ogooue, Bongo's heartland showed that he had secured 95.5% of the votes in a 99.9% turnout.

As you can imagine chaos ensued. As a result a media blackout was introduced. I believe that may be the cause for my returned emails.

Now to get this visa a contact in Gabon would be really useful. But if I haven't got that then the other way would be to book a hotel that could help. I was told that the Le Méridien Rendama would help with visas, but I decided against this even though there was a 20% price reduction as I felt £215 a night was a bit much.

So how is everyone else getting on with their visa applications: Jonathon WilsonOsasu Obayiuwana, Nick Ames.

So is it safe now  in Gabon, well with no news coming out of the country it is hard to say. But remember CAF issued their statement on November 25th...so everything must be OK. Mustn't it.
How smoothly did the last African Cup of Nations go in Equatorial Guinea in 2015?
Ok so what about travelling round the country. Four venues are being used Libreville, the capital, along with Port Gentil, Franceville and Oyem.

So I thought I would use Google maps to get around the country.

So to travel the 733km from Libreville to Franceville you can fly one way for £140 for the one hour 25 minute flight. You could catch the train for the 12 hour journey only £41. Or you could go by road, estimated time 15 hours.

Port-Gentil, Gabon.


Franceville to Oyem is 989km by road and takes 15 hours. There are no direct planes.
Oyem to Port Gentil. Sorry we could not calculate driving directions. That might be because there are no roads leading into Port Gentil (see under getting Around).

Port Gentil to Libreville. Sorry I forgot there are no roads. However you could fly, or even catch a boat. Would you catch a boat for a four hour trip in Gabon?

If you want to fly don't forget the Foreign Office warning (under Air Travel).

So if all of this information is right, what is the last way that you would want to enter the country?

Match tickets

Portimonense Sporting Clube

Portimonense Sporting Clube are the major football team in Portimão, a fishing port and former sardine canning center on the Algarve coast of southern Portugal.

Portimonense Sporting Clube, Portimao, Portugal.


Founded in 1914 by students returning from England, Portimonense S C are presently in the second division of Portuguese football, the Segunda Liga, but are hoping for a return to their glory days of the 1980's when the team were a presence in the top flight and even competed in the UEFA Cup in 1985-86. Portimonense, nicknamed Alvinegros, were last in the top flight in the 2009-2010 season.

Portimonense Sporting Clube.


The team is presently top of the Segunda Liga after 20 games with a good chance of promotion as they are four points clear of second-placed Aves and 14 points clear of third-placed Santa Clara.

Portimonense Sporting Clube, Portimao, Algarve.


Portimonense play in black and white stripes at the 9,500 capacity Estádio Municipal de Portimão, right in the center of the town. One stand at the ground is covered.

www.portimonense.pt
www.facebook.com/PortimonenseSC

Portimonense Sporting Clube, Algarve, Portugal.

Portimonense Sporting Clube.

Portimonense Sporting Clube.