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.

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 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 1990s, 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

* 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.

Senegal are the top African team 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

Full world rankings

Previous Fifa World Rankings

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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

Previous Fifa World Rankings

Bet with Bet 365

Soccer Books & DVDs

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