Monday, October 16, 2017

Fifa World Rankings October 2017

FIFA World Fifa Rankings
Fifa's World Rankings for October 2017 were published on October 16 at FIFA HQ in Zurich, Switzerland after the final round of qualifying matches for World Cup 2018.

Confederations Cup winners Germany remain first with Brazil second with Portugal third. Argentina, who struggled to qualify for World Cup 2018 are in fourth.

The full top ten is: Germany, Brazil, Euro 2016 winners Portugal, Argentina, Belgium, Poland, France, Spain, Chile, and Peru.

England are 12th, Wales are 14th. Egypt are the top African team in 30th place.

Asian Cup winners Australia are in 43rd place; Japan are in 44th spot and have qualified for the 2018 World Cup. Near neighbors South Korea are in 62nd place and have also qualified for the 2018 World Cup.

The USA are in 30th and failed to qualify for World Cup 2018. Scotland are in 29th position. The Republic of Ireland are in 26th place now behind Northern Ireland who are in 23rd position.

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

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Saturday, September 23, 2017

Oldham Athletic 0 v Wigan Athletic 2

Oldham Athletic and Wigan Athletic have both fallen on relatively hard times as of late and find themselves at opposite ends of League One.

Oldham Athletic 0 v Wigan Athletic 2.


Oldham, under Joe Royle, were one of the founding clubs of the Premier League in 1992-1993 and Wigan won the FA Cup as recently as 2013, the year the club were also relegated to the Championship.

Oldham Athletic 0 v Wigan Athletic 2, August 19, 2017.


Oldham's heart-breaking loss to Manchester United in a 1994 FA Cup semi-final reply after Mark's Hughes equalizer in the first game at Wembley, is seen by many fans as the start of a long and gradual decline.

Oldham Athletic 0 v Wigan Athletic 2, August 19, 2017.


The two athletics, both nicked named the "Latics" met at Boundary Park (aka SportsDirect.com Park) on August 19, on a typically cool, grey August day in the north.

Oldham Athletic 0 v Wigan Athletic 2, August 19, 2017.


The more vocal Wigan supporters were packed into the "Chaddy" end (ZenOffice Stand) which was once the preserve of the home fans, who were subdued, not surprisingly perhaps considering their current plight, and now don't seem to have a home end of their own.

This is similar to Wigan's situation at the DW Stadium where away fans now occupy what was once the home end.

Oldham Athletic 0 v Wigan Athletic 2, August 19, 2017.


From the outset, Wigan seemed the more composed team on the ball and took an early lead through goals from Ivan Toney and Michael Jacobs within the first quarter. Oldham improved after the break but
when Wigan's star performer, former Manchester United midfielder Nick Powell, was substituted on the hour, the game petered out and some fans began to turn to their phones to keep up with the action elsewhere.

Oldham Athletic 0 v Wigan Athletic 2.


At the end, Wigan supporters chanted "We are top of the league" while home fans contemplated rock bottom, where they unfortunately remain with four points from eight games.

Oldham Athletic 0 v Wigan Athletic 2, August 19, 2017.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Sheffield FC Happy 160th Birthday Football

On the 24th October 1857, Sheffield FC was founded and the World’s most popular sport was born. The World's First Football Club, Sheffield FC turn 160 years old this year and have long been recognised by World football for their impact on the game through the creation of the rulebook, the first organised team, the first football derby and much more.

Happy 160th Birthday Football.


160 years on and #theworldsfirst is still pioneering, leading the way with the lowest priced current season fan jersey in World football, working to rebuild the original 'Home of Football' stadium, uniting the oldest football clubs from each country under the banner of 'The Club of Pioneers' and developing grassroots football around the world, through social projects like 'Boots for Roots', which includes shipping over 38,000 pairs of football boots to disadvantaged children worldwide.

Pele.


To mark this special occasion, Sheffield FC will be looking to celebrate with fans, players, teams and media from around the World. Highlight activities will include a celebration dinner in Sheffield and the release of a limited edition heritage shirt based on the earliest known kit designs of the club, alongside partners Classic Football Shirts.

Talking on the birthday, Sheffield FC Chairman Richard Tims stated: "160 years of the beautiful game is an historic landmark for football and a great opportunity for all involved to celebrate the roots of our beautiful game. We're looking forward to taking the story out to the world and also using the 160th as a platform to create never before seen content. We're inviting, fans, players, clubs, media & brands worldwide to join the celebrations, cherishing the roots and kick off of football".

Sheffield FC Happy 160th Birthday Football.

For more information please visit us at www.sheffieldfc.com

Friday, September 15, 2017

Parisian starlets set the pace

Parisian starlets set the pace.
The UEFA Champions League gets going once again
After the first round of Champions League games it looks like money talks for PSG.

Their galacticos made light work of Scottish champions Celtic at Parkhead, cruising to a 5-0 away win in Glasgow with their newly acquired gemstones, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe both on target.

While it is hardly news to say that a club's success correlates with their spending, the quantum leap PSG took in the summer by bagging that duo made the transfer arms race that much more of a handicapped one.

It is probably true that their summer splurge had more to do with Middle Eastern geopolitics than football, as Qatar is quarrelling with its Arab neighbours right now, but that puts more of an onus on UEFA to enforce its financial fair play rules and prove that the game has a soul.

When sovereign nations start owning teams the only end game is China v the USA, and given the ownership of several Premier League teams (7:3 to America so far), that already seems to be happening.
The Dutch champions Feyenoord lost 4-0 at home to another expensively assembled toy shop Manchester City, proving the gap between Europe's top leagues and the rest is now an impossible chasm.

Pity the fans at De Kuip, eager to see their side back in top continental action, winded and grounded within minutes as their visitors cruised into a commanding lead.

The days of Ajax, PSV, Porto, Red Star or Steaua Bucharest, sides skilfully assembled with a modest amount of money, capturing the Champions Cup, are long gone.

Monaco, the most exciting team in last season's competition, were decisively asset-stripped over the summer, losing Tiemoue Bakayoko, Benjamin Mendy, Bernardo Silva as well as Mbappe, and began their campaign inauspiciously with a 1-1 draw away to Leipzig. There are no obvious suspects for a dark horse this time.

The usual suspects all won convincingly with the exception of Juventus, who defended uncharacteristically abysmally in losing 3-0 in Barcelona.
Only Besiktas' 3-1 win at Porto and Tottenham's defeat of Borussia Dortmund by the same score could be seen as surprises but neither are expected to topple the big usual suspects.

The latter game was exceptionally entertaining and interesting for the fact once more that clinical, thrusting attacks trumped ball possession. Spurs too, have finally managed to make the vast spaces of Wembley work for them.

The most notable event of the night however was Sevilla coach Eduardo Berizzo, recently arrived from Celta Vigo, being sent off for idiotically throwing the ball away twice when gathering Liverpool throw-ins.

How such infantile behaviour is still practised by top team managers in front of the camera beggars belief, but any entertainment is welcome to the neutral.

His team had started off some lovely passing football beyond the ken of their English (despite not fielding one British Isles player) hosts and were good value for their 2-2 draw in the end, reminding us the Premier League still has a technical deficit.

The bookies rate the top five in order this season as Real Madrid, PSG, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Manchester City.

PSG look already likely to reach the semi finals at least but their lucre-gilded gatecrashing of the party seems to devalue their challenge somewhat.

Bayern seemed to stutter at home to Anderlecht but came out 3-0 winners in the end, a reminder that the German giants are always a wise bet for the final four.

City's slick win in Rotterdam seemed to suggest they could make the semi-finals this time, while Chelsea's equally efficient 6-0 demolition of Qarabag means nobody should write off their chances either.

Even Manchester United, with a world-class No.9 in Romelu Lukaku, defensive steel in Nemanja Matic and Victor Lindelof and an emboldened Jose Mourinho, still the tactician par excellence, could be in with a shout.

Barcelona remain in transition, longing for a new Xavi and a young Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi and hoping Luis Suarez remains fit and avoids suspensions. Roma and Juventus showed hairline cracks ready to be breached.

Atletico Madrid are hampered by their transfer ban which expires in early 2018 and Tottenham lack Champions League experience however attractive their game is to watch.

Real are clearly therefore the team to beat again, as their polished, well-honed capture of the crown in Cardiff last season confirmed.

They might have some players who seem to have been there for yonks - Marcelo, Sergio Ramos and Cristiano Ronaldo for instance, but 21 year-old Marco Asensio is shining very brightly and the old guard still have plenty of life in them.

For the sake of spectator interest however, let us hope Zinedine Zidane's men face some stiff competition at least in this season's competition.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Fifa World Rankings September 2017

FIFA World Fifa Rankings
Fifa's World Rankings for September 2017 were published on September 14 at FIFA HQ in Zurich, Switzerland.

Confederations Cup winners Germany change places again with Brazil with Portugal third. Argentina, who are struggling to qualify for World Cup 2018 drop to fourth.

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

England are 15th, Wales are 13th. Egypt are the top African team in 30th place.

Asian Cup winners Australia are in 50th place; Japan are in 40th spot and have qualified for the 2018 World Cup. Near neighbors South Korea are in 51st place and have qualified for the 2018 World Cup.

The USA are in 28th. Scotland are in 43rd position. The Republic of Ireland are in 34th place now behind Northern Ireland who are in 20th position.

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

Full world rankings

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Saturday, August 26, 2017

Oranje squash

Oranje squash.
LAST SEASON'S EUROPA LEAGUE FINALISTS ARE OUT OF EUROPE ALREADY

Spare a thought for Ajax, who thrilled at times on their way to last season's Europa League final before a Mourinho masterclass floored them.

Unsurprisingly, the stellar eleven which dazzled as recently as May has now been whittled away.

Inspirational midfield skipper Davy Klaassen was snapped up by Everton in the summer and the Amsterdam club's offer of doubling the wages of talented centre-back Davinson Sanchez was easily outgunned by Tottenham, who bought the young Colombian last week.

Two more of their starting eleven in Stockholm have left. Defender Jairo Riedewald has swapped Ajax for Crystal Palace and on-loan Bertrand Traore was sold by parent club Chelsea to Lyon.

On the bench for the final in Sweden, defender Kenny Tete is now at Monaco and reserve goalkeeper Diederik Boer has gone to Zwolle.

Yesterday, the depleted team, having been eliminated from the Champions League earlier this summer by Nice, albeit only on away goals, was knocked out of the qualifying round of this season's Europa League by Rosenborg 4-2 on aggregate, leaving the modest challenge of the Dutch league alone.

The domestic season has barely started but one of last season’s major performers in UEFA is already out of Europe.

Holland's other clubs have fared little better. PSV were knocked out of the Europa League by Osijek of Croatia 2-0 on aggregate in the third qualifying round and Utrecht went the same way as Ajax in the play-off round, losing 2-1 overall to Zenit St Petersburg.

Feyenoord are the last Dutch club standing by mid August and they have not played in Europe yet.

Having won the Eredivisie last season they progressed directly to the Champions League group stages, where they will play Manchester City, Napoli and Shakhtar Donetsk in Group F.

Ajax’s precocious prodigies have long been cherry-picked by richer teams abroad, particularly after their young guns reached two European Cup finals in the mid 1990s, so this is nothing new.

It was just that last season's run to the Europa League final had teased a renaissance of one of the continent's most storied clubs.

And it is not just the players who happily leave Holland in search of a greater payday. Last season's Ajax manager Peter Bosz is now coaching Borussia Dortmund, which is certainly a bigger club, but other top Dutch managers of the moment are exchanging top Dutch teams for modest English clubs which pay higher wages.

Ronald Koeman has coached Holland's big three of Ajax, Feyenoord and PSV but was happy to leave Feyenoord for Southampton, on paper a lower club, though it gave him a stepping-stone to Everton where he is now; Martin Jol swapped Ajax for Fulham in 2011 and Frank De Boer is now managing Crystal Palace having left Ajax for Inter in 2016.

Ajax remain unable to keep their top players or managers. The Dutch league's modest market simply cannot produce enough capital to pay wages on a par with Europe’s big four leagues.

The best they, PSV or Feyenoord can hope for, unless the proposed 'Atlantic League' featuring the best of the Netherlands, Portugal and Scotland ever got going, is to earn more from progressing in Europe.

And this week, less than three months after their first European final in over two decades, the club of Johann Cruyff, Dennis Bergkamp, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Rinus Michels, Johan Neeskens, Piet Keizer, Frank Rijkaard and the De Boer brothers, was out of Europe.

For how long, nobody knows.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Fifa World Rankings August 2017

FIFA World Fifa Rankings
Fifa's World Rankings for August 2017 were published on August 10 at FIFA HQ in Zurich, Switzerland.

Brazil are top ahead of Confederations Cup winners, Germany and Argentina.

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

England are 13th, Wales are 18th. Egypt are the top African team in 25th place.

Asian Cup winners Australia are in 45th place; Japan are in 44th spot. Near neighbors South Korea are in 49th place.

The USA are in 26th. Scotland are in 58th position. The Republic of Ireland are in 29th place now behind Northern Ireland who are in 23rd position.

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

Full world rankings

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Friday, July 28, 2017

Football's Oldest Derby

Football's oldest derby takes place this Sunday, 30th July 2017, for the 157th year.


Football's Oldest Derby - Sheffield FC v Hallam.


The World's oldest football derby will once again take place on Sunday 30th July as Sheffield FC face Hallam FC. Now in its 157th year, the derby was first played on Boxing Day 1860 under the original "gentleman's rules" and is a celebration of football's true and original values of Integrity, Respect & Community.

Once again promoting fan accessibility, Classic Football Shirts and Sheffield FC are offering adult entry to the match for just £3 adults and £1 concessions with the attached ticket #FansComeFirst

Football's Oldest Derby - Sheffield FC v Hallam.


Sheffield FC Chairman Richard Tims said "It's a great derby and a great tradition, one which has forever been based on football's original values of Integrity, Respect & Community. The 157th derby year is particularly special for us with Sheffield FC turning 160 years old in less than a 100 days time. We can't wait for the match and celebrating football's history once again for fans all across the world".

FIFA Documentary on the Derby



SHEFFIELD FC: PRESS RELEASE
10 JULY 2017

#FansComeFirst: Sheffield FC release the lowest price current season jersey in World Football.

The World's first football club, Sheffield FC are proud to continue their role as football's pioneers, this time through the release of the lowest price current season jersey in World Football. With the average football jersey now retailing at around the £60 mark, we felt it vitally important to keep football affordable and put the fans first, allowing them to show their colours with pride.

Football's Oldest Derby.


Priced at just £19.99 the shirts have been released alongside partners Classic Football Shirts & Joma Sport and are now available for fans across the globe to purchase ahead of the club’s historic 160th celebratory season. Get the World's first at the World's lowest price here

Sheffield FC hope to once again prove their commitment to the founding values of Integrity, Respect, Community and the philosophy that fans come first in the beautiful game. Fans are able to join the initiative by sharing the story alongside #FansComeFirst or purchasing a shirt to help support Sheffield FC in other grassroots projects.

Excited about the pioneering initiative, Sheffield FC Chairman Richard Tims stated: "In 1857 Sheffield FC was founded on the values of Integrity, Respect & Community and the belief that the beautiful game should be for everyone. 160 years later and we’re still living by these values, offering the lowest price jersey in World Football to make the game as accessible as possible for fans across the World. We hope this will not only allow more fans to support football’s first but also encourage other clubs around the world to always live by the philosophy, fans first!"

www.sheffieldfc.com

Football's Oldest Derby.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Surviving a dry summer

THE DRAG OF THE CLOSE-SEASON IN ODD-NUMBERED YEARS

Surviving a dry summer.
Summers in these off-years are hard to get through for football fans like me.

By off-years I mean those ending in odd numbers which have neither the World Cup nor European Championships to get excited about.

July is the dryest of dry seasons in years like this, with the daily mash of transfer gossip a poor substitute for the meat of real football news.

With some reluctance I find myself getting into summer sports here in England like cricket and tennis. When I was a child I looked in the newspapers for the football section and found only the Australian Pools forecasts.

In truth we all need a break of course and a reminder that there are other things in life. But breaking such a deep bond, even for a few weeks, is never easy.

I am already harking back to a less than vintage domestic calendar just passed, wondering if we will ever see the young wonders of Ajax or Monaco shine again, now their assets have inevitably begun to be stripped.

Neither won their respective continental cups of course, a reminder that pragmatism trumps creative genius all too often. Perspiration beat inspiration once more as Real Madrid won another UEFA Champions League without setting the world alight, while Jose Mourinho's tactical masterclass in winning the UEFA Europa League final for Manchester United was more proof the devil has all the best tunes.

England winning the U-20 World Cup was a brief highlight and an exciting final, but we are kidding ourselves if it relates much to the national team's prospects.

I mean no disrespect to fans of the CONCACAF Gold Cup either, but when the finals feature Curacao, French Guyana and Martinique, this competition sits some way behind the Euros and the Copa America, so much so that there has been talk of merging it with its southern neighbour for good, a format experimented with last summer in the Copa America Centenario.

Mexico, the traditional Central American powerhouse, has sent a B team this summer after its first eleven contested the Confederations Cup, a clear vote of demotion, while the USA's squad has a decidedly experimental feel to it with Russia 2018 qualification the clear priority after their poor start.

The Confederations Cup remains an odd tournament, a decidedly lukewarm, pallid and ultimately meaningless impression of the World Cup the following summer. Making a list of World Cup winners is relatively easy for the committed fan, but try to make a list of Confederations Cup winners and you have to stop and think.

Another problem with the cup is that the line-up for the finals always seems a little bizarre. This is for two reasons:

One, because it takes teams who have gone off the boil since winning their regional competitions as opposed to nations freshly qualified for the World Cup who are in good form.

Three of the eight in Russia this summer had won their cups in 2015 and one in 2014.

And secondly because some FIFA regions are much stronger than others, a final eight lineup looks much better in the World Cup than the Confederations Cup, where only half of the finalists could realistically stand a chance of making it to the quarter-finals next summer.

New Zealand relish it for their only chance at crossing swords with the stars but the persistent presence of such a week football nation diminishes the tournament as well.

Many fans seem to forget it is even taking place and as a journalist at the 2005 tournament in Germany I still felt duty bound to ask players how they felt about participating in it after a gruelling season.

Qualifiers France (1999), Germany (1997 and 2003) and Italy (2003) even declined to take part.

What started off as the invitational King Fahd Cup in Saudi Arabia only really justifies its existence now as a dry run for the following summer's World Cup finals host.

We should not worry excessively that Germany's less than best eleven winning the 2017 edition means a certain victory for the Mannschaft in Moscow next summer: No previous Confederations Cup winner has gone on to lift the biggest prize the following year.

Having said that, no European nation had ever won the World Cup outside of Europe until Germany broke that duck in 2014.

Germany's Russian conquest this summer combined with their U21s recapturing their European crown in Poland serves as a piquant reminder to the world which country remains the top dog in soccer.

Any football nation which aspires to greater things surely should be aping the German youth system and the DFB's overall planning instead of dreaming of Barcelona, Brazil and Cristiano Ronaldo.

Studying the German youth sides should be instructive: Their U21s took England apart in the 2009 final 4-0 and then using the same tactics and some of same players did the same to the national team, 4-1, at the 2010 World Cup.

Now both the Confederations Cup and the U21s are over I am scrambling around to feed my lifelong addiction to the Beautiful Game.

I have attended both those competitions as fan as well as journalist and enjoyed the experiences but they can only be hors d'oeuvres to the main courses of the Henri Delaunay or Jules Rimet trophies.

There really is only one remedy:

Bring on 2018 asap.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Garcia fallout and the 2026 World Cup

With little on the field to get excited about, my thoughts turn to football politics.

Garcia fallout and the 2026 World Cup.


The Michael Garcia report on the 2018 and 2022 World Cup awarding decisions has finally been published, but sadly did not provide enough ammunition to charge Russia and Qatar or strip them of their World Cup hosting.

That Qatar paid $2 million to the ten year-old daughter of a FIFA official (the fantastically bent Brazilian Ricardo Texeira) would be hilarious if it were not so tragic. That a nation with no discernible football heritage, a hostile climate and apparently incompatible culture could trump the superior claims of Australia and the United States immediately shocked.

The subsequent humiliation of Qatari AFC President Mohammed Bin Hammam, aka Mr Bribe, and the tsunami of FIFA corruption cases has done nothing to change the impression that hosting the World Cup was a tainted victory for the tiny Gulf state, yet Garcia believed Bin Hammams's payments to individuals to help his bid for the FIFA presidency had no connection to Qatar's 2022 bid.

That said, other bidding nations came out just as embarrassed - Japan and South Korea for their largesse to potential supporters and Australia and England in their clumsy attempts to woo the kingmaker Jack Warner, the epitome of FIFA corruption and malfeasance, with money, friendlies and jobs for the boys.

England also tried to do a vote swap with the Koreans on the eve of the vote, but that nation already had a deal in place with Spain, an inevitable consequence of scheduling two hosting votes together. It was all to no avail of course as none of those three nations emerged victorious.

Along with Michel Platini's, Franz Beckenbauer's football career is over as a result of the fall of the house of Blatter. Der Kaiser was shown to be evasive in his answers to Garcia and appears to have violated his organisation's Ethics Code in assisting his advisors to help with Australia's bid.

Spaniard Angel Maria Villar Llona, who famously said "All the fish are sold" referring to his nation's tie up with Korea for 2018, also came out badly from Garcia's dossier, but uniquely amongst Sepp Blatter's tarnished FIFA Executive Committee, remains in a position of power, second only to current president Gianni Infantino as we speak...

The only 2018 bid apparently beyond criticism was that of Belgium & The Netherlands it should be noted.

This was a perfectly valid application, promoted by Johann Cruyff and Ruud Gullit amongst others, yet fell at the second hurdle, only beaten in unpopularity by that of England, which despite being the best host on paper was firmly dismissed by the squalid ExCo as punishment for its investigative journalism, as Blatter confirmed in his brazen instructions to voters.

Russia escaped pretty neatly from the Garcia report but question marks remain at the miraculously fortuitous destruction of the computers used in its bidding process. Amid the shadow of Russian involvement in the US presidential election and international cyber-crime, the 2018 tournament hosting still looks less than bona fide.

At the same time however, the football world accepts a show as big as the World Cup must sooner or later visit all the world big nations, even those with short footballing traditions like India or China.

Since Russia has a long footballing heritage with household names like the Moscow clubs Dynamo and Spartak, it lets them somewhat off the hook.

We have all been left so jaded by the fireworks at FIFA since the December 2010 vote set the whole house on fire that for now it is hard to get excited about who is iine for the 2026 World Cup Finals.

By rights England should be hosting the World Cup before long but there is no appetite here to trust FIFA again after what happened in Zurich in 2010, with our heir to the throne and Prime Minister present for the debacle, lest we forget.

By the time of the bidding process for 2030, the first possible time England could host again, the culture of FIFA might just have become fair enough for the FA to consider throwing its hat into the ring.

2026 will encompass a whopping 80 games with 48 finalists, which seems to rule out most of FIFA's membership and major football nations. Absurdly, there will be as many finalists from CONCACAF as from CONMEBOL (six a-piece).

With Europe and Asia prevented from bidding because they are hosting the next two tournaments, and Africa hosting as recently as 2010, 2026 will therefore take place in the Americas or Australia.

Colombia has announced its interest but the country has poor infrastructure, with no railway network for instance, although arguably no worse than that of South Africa in 2010.

Their main challenger and the favourite is clearly the combined one of the USA, Canada and Mexico, which envisages 60 games in the States and ten in each of their joint-hosts. Three versus one, Colombia already looks outgunned.

That a nation as big as the USA is not proposing to host the finals alone is proof enough that expansion is a bad idea. Who beyond China could host such a behemoth alone in the future? The quality of first-round matches is already an issue at the 32-team finals so a 50% expansion can only makes things worse.

Of course it will make more money for FIFA though, the prime motivation as always.

With the deadline of the 11th of August looming, it seem the North/Central American bid is the only game in town. Morocco, Chile and Australia have mentioned interest in hosting but are not expected to launch a serious bid in time.

The final decision is set for 13th of June next summer, on the eve of the Russian World Cup.

After being controversially jilted for 2022, CONCACAF and particularly US Soccer expect to be cracking open the champagne in Moscow.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

James joins Bayern

Never mind the hype about the Premier League: James Rodriguez has agreed to join Bayern Munich, it was announced this morning.

The move is only a two-year loan but includes an option to buy the 25 year-old for £35 million at the end of it.

James joins Bayern.


The 2014 World Cup golden boot winner sorely needed a change of scenery after being exiled to the bench for most of the season at Real Madrid, but his final destination is a real shock after so much linking of him to England.

Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and most of all Manchester United, whose manager Jose Mourinho shares the same agent as Rodriguez, 'super-agent' Jorge Mendes, had been tipped to nab his signature, with Bayern, PSG and Juventus firmly thought to be in the chasing pack.

According to the endless miasma of transfer gossip, such English teams had been "in advanced talks" for weeks, which makes Bayern's press release the snatch of the summer.

That the Colombian is headed to Germany must be down to manager Carlo Ancelotti's personal intervention.

How short our memories are. The Italian brought him to the Bernabeu after the last World Cup, where in his first campaign he was Real's player of the season. James was used in a variety of midfield roles by Ancelotti, who clearly valued him as a crucial and versatile support for the BBC (Bale, Benzema & Cristiano) trident ahead of him.

James might not score like a forward, but he certainly gets involved in attacks and supplies the bullets to his teammates.

However, his mentor Ancelotti did not last beyond 2015 in Madrid. Despite winning the Club World Cup, Real finished two points behind Barcelona in the league, exited the Copa del Rey in the round of 16 after losing to Atletico Madrid and were knocked out of the Champions League at the semi-final stage by Juventus.

Rafael Benitez was brought it but lasted less than a season before Zinedine Zidane was promoted to first-team boss.

Zizou was never convinced by James, preferring the tough Brazilian Casemiro as an anchor behind the duo of defensive Toni Kroos and creative Luka Modric.

When he rejigged the formation into a diamond, Isco was his preferred attacking midfielder and more recently Marco Asensio and Lukas Vasquez have been called upon. And so the hottest property in world football after the last World Cup became a bench-warmer, a reserve and substitute at best.

One domestic title and two Champions Leagues in three seasons sounds a reasonably impressive haul but James has played a less than key role in all of them.

By last summer it was clear the Colombian captain should move on and this past season must be really go down as a waste of his talents with only 13 starts made. When Zidane failed to name James for Real's squad for the Champions League final in Cardiff this May, the game was up for him.

Cardiff was a sad bookend to his Real career because it was in the Welsh capital where he had made his debut for the merengues, in their European Super Cup win in 2014.

But this move is clearly a wise one for him, to a top European club who play excellent football and with a manager who has always believed in him.

Whilst the Bundesliga fails to match the star-quality of the Premier League or the big three in Spain, Bayern continue to be unfairly forgotten about on a wider stage.

Yet the Bavarians have won the last five Bundesligas and reached at least the last four of the Champions League in five of the past six seasons. There is no reason to believe they will achieve anything less in 2017-'18.

So all eyes will be on James in his new domestic challenge and after his marvels in Brazil, much is expected of him at next year's World Cup finals, should Colombia make it through as expected.

He leaves Real having scored 36 goals in 111 appearances.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Fifa World Rankings July 2017

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

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

Confederations Cup winners, Germany go top ahead of Brazil and Argentina.

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

England are 13th, Wales drop to 20th. Egypt are the top African team in 24th place.

Asian Cup winners Australia are in 45th place up three spots; Japan are in 46th spot. Near neighbors South Korea are in 51st place.

The USA are in 35th. Scotland are in 58th position. The Republic of Ireland in 29th place now behind Northern Ireland who climb to 22nd position.

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

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Thursday, June 1, 2017

Fifa World Rankings June 2017

FIFA World Fifa Rankings
Fifa's World Rankings for June 2017 were published on June 1 at FIFA HQ in Zurich, Switzerland.

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

The top 100 positions again show few changes from May.

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

England are 13th, level with Euro 2016 semi-finalists Wales. Poland move up to joint 10th with Spain. Egypt are the top African team in 20th place.

Asian Cup winners Australia are in 48th place up two spots; Japan are in the 45th spot. Near neighbors South Korea are in 43rd place.

The USA are in 23rd. Wales are 13th. Scotland are in 61st position. The Republic of Ireland in 26th place now ahead of Northern Ireland in 28th position.

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

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Wednesday, May 24, 2017

One night to shine in Sweden

One night to shine in Sweden.
UEFA EUROPA LEAGUE FINAL 2017

Manchester United v Ajax

Friends Arena, Stockholm 19:45 GMT

The heat appears to be on Manchester United tonight, or more specifically Jose Mourinho.

The club is bigger and richer than Ajax and demands success so winning the Europa League against a lesser side is expected at boardroom level.

Louis Van Gaal was given two years and did not deliver so was sacked, Mourinho is well aware.

But the so-called special one has so far failed to apply his Midas touch to the Red Devils since arriving last summer and has even managed to finish lower than Louis Van Gaal did during his two-year reign at Old Trafford.

Mourinho has jettisoned any humour or wit in the past few weeks for earnest seriousness as he has homed in on the Stockholm final for his make-or-break 90 minutes this season.

Fielding below-strength sides should in a perfect world incur a penalty but sympathy for the logic of the manager's stance is axiomatic.

The former Champions League and Europa League winner is clearly under tremendous pressure to win in Stockholm so we can cut him some slack.

Man Utd shelled out a fortune last summer, not least £89 million on Paul Pogba from Juventus, yet have failed to qualify for the Champions League from the Premier League.

Despite their youth, Ajax have been the far more impressive team in the knock-out stages, winning big with an elan and fluency the Man U fans can only remember wistfully after the error-strewn David Moyes era, two years of possession-marinating under Van Gaal and another fitful, stuttering season this time around.

Then to cap it all, United players have been dropping like flies to injury. Were centre-backs Eric Bailly and Marcus Rojo as well as former Ajax striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic on the field, one would surely tip the English side to overcome the Dutch one.

Yet the now the outcome hangs decidedly in the balance.

Have no doubt,  despite their injury headaches, Man U's pre-match analysts have been working long into the night with Mourinho to hatch a plan to defeat Ajax.

United have lumbered through the lesser of UEFA's two big club competitions winning few admirers with their lone-goal aggregate victories while failing to provide any rousing victories for their home supporters.

Mourinho is well-known for putting results before style however and as a master tactician for the big occasion he is probably without comparison, but this winner-takes-all tie is his biggest test yet.

In United's favour of course is their superior experience, a factor boosted by Ajax's near collapse in their semi-final second leg when they scraped through 5-4 on aggregate having led 4-1 from the first leg.

At their best this young Amsterdam side look irresistible, as in their home wins over Schalke and Lyon. The club best known for valuing style over results tonight meets the manager proud to preach the opposite.

Memories inevitably hark back to the glorious kids of 1995 who won the European Cup, but that side and its system was quite regimented as befitted its coach Van Gaal, a man who clashed with Johan Cruyff and his footballing philosophies.

Ajax's current manager Peter Bosz however takes his cue from his mentor Johan Cruyff's desire to let flare into the equation.

Patrick Kluivert who scored the '95 winner is back in the form of his son Justin, while Edwin Van der Sar and Marc Overmars are part of the back-room staff alongside Dennis Bergkamp and Winston Bogarde.

Will this side of starlets go the same way as the '95 outfit and be cherry-picked by bigger, richer European sides than Ajax?

Danish teenage striker Kasper Dolberg, Colombian centre-back Davinson Sanchez and midfielders Davy Klaasen and Hakim Ziyech are already firmly on the radar of other teams.

Perhaps then the pressure is just as much on Ajax tonight as after over twenty years of restructuring, internecine disputes and struggle, the club has finally reached another European final.

If they win, the lure of the Champions League may be enough to keep their side intact. Lose, and another wonderful Dutch dynasty could be over just as it was getting started.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Cardiff's big night of the Champions League final

I am delighted Cardiff, the first city I made my home, is hosting next month's UEFA Champions League Final, but I am also keen it puts on a good show to the continent and increasingly the world.

Whilst no-one can deny the impressive 74,500 Millennium Stadium is a fine venue for any soccer showpiece, eyebrows everywhere have been raised at the realisation that Cardiff is a little on the small size as a city (population 340,000) and does not have a major airport nearby.

Cardiff's big night of the Champions League final.


Cardiff-Wales airport flies a summer timetable largely to beach resorts. Hopefully there will be extra flights laid on from Madrid and Turin, the two finalist cities.

Whilst the Welsh capital has experience of dealing with F.A. Cup finals, Football League playoffs and football and rugby internationals, the tens of thousands expected for European football's showdown will be coming from overseas via London so there must be plenty of transport options before and crucially after a game which could go on through extra-time and maybe penalties.

Given local hotel rooms for the night have been jacked up to outrageous rates, a depressing occurrence whenever a big sporting event happens, most will be leaving Cardiff the same night.

With only 4000 hotel rooms, all booked up some time ago, there is little option other than car hire and hotels further afield, or in one of the tents specially erected in a city park, Pontcanna Fields.

The now customary Final Festival will take place around a mile away in Cardiff Bay as the Millennium Stadium itself sits in the very tight streets of the city centre, which of course is a fabulous location for so big a venue. Fans arriving by train at Cardiff Central will see its looming stands and cantilevers as soon as they exit the station.

Unlike at Wembley or other out-of-town venues, there are plenty of bars and eateries within a stone's throw of the stadium. If it is a sunny day, Cardiff's ample urban parkland, particularly Bute Park beside the castle will provide a great place to relax and have a kickaround.

The centre has two main avenues. Fans will probably stroll down the pedestrianised Queen Street but not linger in the shops. St Mary Street leading to the castle is mostly bars and restaurants and will be buzzing on final day however.

The castle, originally Roman but added to by Normans and others, most notably the C19th coal baron the Marquess of Bute, is the one photo stop every visitor will make, its impressive outer walls now surmounted by a blue UEFA dragon clasping the Champions League trophy.

There will be road closures and plenty of police but if everyone is relaxed the visiting supporters will enjoy the occasion.

Cardiff's big night of the Champions League final.


I have travelled to Cardiff from London by train on big match days before and found long queues at Paddington Station for passage to the Welsh capital. Pre-booking is of course advised but the fact so many Italians and Spaniards will be landing that day in London none the wiser will surely mean the railways and bus lines need extra capacity.

21 post-match trains to London have been promised and I hope that will be enough.

In changing the final from Wednesday to Saturday and adding a festival for a few days around it, UEFA have consciously tried to ape the Superbowl, increasing the price of tickets concomitantly, to make it a global event.

As much as I love Cardiff, it is not a city on the large side. Only Gelsenkirchen, the 2004 host, was a smaller place but Schalke's home is close to several other German cities in the most densely-populated part of that country.

Near to Cardiff there are only other modestly-sized cities like Swansea, Bristol and Bath. The only realistic result is that many will hop back on the London train after the match, meaning four hours of travelling on the day instead of soaking up the atmosphere of the host city.

London remains the major pull for overseas fans like it is for visitors. Travelling around Euro '96 it was clear many foreign fans were basing themselves in the capital and returning from Birmingham and Nottingham if not further afield after matches finished.

I am sure it will be all right on the night but I just hope UEFA have been adamant enough that the travelling fans, the frequently neglected factor in modern football, will enjoy the experience as much as the corporate guests, UEFA family and billion-odd TV viewers.

In the rush to make football big business, the supporters who make the effort at short notice to get off work and jet across to another country at some expense to fill the seats and cheer millionaire footballers, are usually the last to be considered.

The other issue if course security given the heightened threat of a terrorist attack on a high-profile European event. 1,500 police will be on hand to ensure nothing untoward occurs and the city did successfully host a NATO summit in 2014.

The city expects 170,000 visitors on the day, although that can only be rough guess. The Fan Zone in Coopers Fields can hold 7,000 and the Football Village in Cardiff Castle another 2,000. Down in the bay area, a Champions League museum will be open in the Wales Millennium Centre.

Many living nearby will be tempted to drop by to savour the unusually Mediterranean atmosphere.

Coming a year after Wales stunned the world by reaching the semi-final of Euro 2016, despatching the highly-fancied Belgians 3-1 in the quarter-final most notably, having the final of the European Cup in Cardiff constitutes something of a golden age in one of Europe's forgotten football corners.

Scotland remains far more famous overseas than Wales despite being of equal political status, so every piece of international fame can only be good for the local economy. I used to have to explain where Wales was to many a European but hopefully that has changed now.

Despite boasting an excellent castle, museum, parks and pleasant urban landscape as well as quick access to the Brecon Beacon mountains, the idyllic Gower Peninsula and other fine fortresses like Caerphilly, Cardiff remains a little off the standard tourist track for visitors to the UK because it is in the west of the island.

Doctor Who is filmed there but pretends it is London or various alien planets.

While Cardiff has a small Italian population, as shown by a number of family-owned ristoranti and Italian surnames in South Wales, and Juventus are the traditional team for Italian immigrants and their offspring, the fact local boy done good Gareth Bale is at Real Madrid will surely sway the majority of locals into backing the Spaniards.

Whether the Cardiff-born star can be fit in time for his big night on his home turf remains in doubt however.

A fit Bale or not, Cardiff will surely put on a good show and make a night to remember.


(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Real's familiar machine motors on to Cardiff

Real Madrid maintained their march of glory in Europe by thumping city rivals Atletico 3-0 in their UEFA Champions League semi-final first leg last week.

Real's familiar machine motors on to Cardiff.


Cristiano Ronaldo scored another hat-trick and bagged yet another record, the first man to reach 50 goals in the knock-out stage of the competition.

Barring an almighty upset Los Merengues are heading to Cardiff to defend their trophy on the 3rd of June. But are we excited? Not really.

Real of course have won two out of the last three Champions Leagues and FIFA Club World Cup and successfully moved out of the intimidating shadow of the Barcelona renaissance.

And yet there is still something underwhelming about Real being the world's top team. Perhaps it is because the core of the side have been there for some years there is no excitement of expectation of the future, or maybe it is because Barça invented a new form of football - tiki-taka, which defied conventional wisdom by attacking through the middle and most congested part of the field with short passes.

Real by contrast use the conventional weapons of spreading passes wide, putting balls frequently into the box, and piling in on corners and crosses with aerial threats like Sergio Ramos and Ronaldo and the muscular Karim Benzema.

In Ronaldo they also posess the best accelerator in the game and perhaps the best aerial attacker. Gareth Bale we also know has exceptional blessings of pace and power to penetrate the best defences.

But a lot of their side underwhelm when considered as footballers alone: Keylor Navas is able between the sticks but not one of Europe's top ten goalkeepers.

While Pepe and Sergio Ramos (combined age 65) are evergreen, the rest of their back line do not excite: Fabio Coentrao, Danilo, Nacho and Rafael Varane seem reliable but not exceptional defenders, while Marcelo, a useful crosser of the ball in the final third, has long been error-strewn.

In midfield Real seem solid rather than skilful. Toni Kroos is an adequate but unexceptional holding midfielder and even his more creative partner Luka Modric is not as inventive or penetrative as his replacement at Tottenham, Christian Eriksen, who is surely on the Bernabeu radar.

Croatian midfielder Mateo Kovacic has made 24 starts this campaign but only scored once, while Brazilians Casemiro and Danilo hardly get the heart racing either.

Young Spanish attacking talent in the form of Isco and Alvaro Morata have played minor roles this season, with 16 and 13 starts this season respectively.

Meanwhile James Rodriguez, golden boot winner at the 2014 World Cup for Colombia, has made only 12 starts and eight substitute appearances in 2016/'17, although his eight goals make a decent return.

Obviously the system employed by coach Zinedine Zidane works like a treat, based around making the most of Ronaldo's talents and if they are both fit, Bale and Benzema. The midfielders work hard to make sure the back four is not exposed at the other end.

And they also have strength in depth, as evinced by their comfortable 4-0 win away at Granada last weekend with a second eleven, a strength which makes up for the lack of galacticos in every position.

Clubs with big pockets can afford to have big squads to navigate a variety of competitions and whatever injuries come their way, so what keeps Real ahead of the pack is probably settled players and a simple system, a manager they trust and the high quality of their attackers.

There have been more remarkable dynasties in the Champions League/European Cup - think of the Real who won the first five, Cruyff's Ajax of the 1970s, Liverpool of the early 1980s, Milan a decade later or Pep Guardiola's Barça for starters.

There have also been some stellar one-off winners: Red Star in 1990 (although they played for penalties in the final they had dazzled on their way there), Louis Van Gaal's youthful Ajax of 1995 and Jose Mourinho's Porto in 2004.

But the current crop from the Bernabeu, albeit less obviously outstanding, still deserve to be remembered as dominating Europe, whatever the aesthetics or ingenuity of their playing style.

A stern test in Cardiff awaits next month, but Real will almost certainly take the field at the Millennium Stadium as favourites once more.

Staying at No.1 is no mean feat in football.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Fifa World Rankings May 2017

FIFA World Fifa Rankings
Fifa's World Rankings for May 2017 were published on May 4 at FIFA HQ in Zurich, Switzerland.

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

The top 100 positions show little change from April.

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 April, 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 43rd 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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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 43rd 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

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