Saturday, October 25, 2014

Clásico in Spain, Suarez bites back

It's that time again, Spanish heavyweights Barcelona and Real Madrid lock horns at 6pm local time in the first clásico of the season.

"The best game in the world", proclaims soccer daily Marca without much irony. 400 million people will be watching, says rival AS, with the kick-off time primed for South American and Middle Eastern markets.

We all know La Liga is far from competitive, with two super-clubs dominating the rest of the field thanks to their ability to negotiate their own TV deals, so this really is the clash of the titans.

Brand Barça face brand Real twice in the league each season and often once in the Copa del Rey too, and these few meetings take on the importance of cup finals in Spanish football. It is so often assumed that the title will go to one or other of the giants that these games are seen as deciders.

Atletico Madrid won last season's championship, Sevilla are a point ahead of Real and Valencia and Atletico are only a point behind in the table but these salient facts have almost been forgotten in the hype approaching tonight's game at the Bernabeu.

With revenues comfortably outstripping their rivals, the twice-yearly extravaganza that is Real v Barça goes on, the two enterprises cherry-pick the brightest stars each summer for their particular galaxies, and press coverage of this clásico descends into another duel between famous individuals.

So once again it is Lionel Messi v Cristiano Ronaldo, the two finest footballers in the world. Then there is the sub-plot of Neymar, Andres Iniesta and the much-anticipated debut of Luis Suarez for the Blaugrana versus Karim Benzema, James Rodriguez and Gareth Bale for Real, although the Welsh wonder will miss out through injury.

The loss of Bale and the sale of Angel di Maria to Manchester United leaves Real without much pace to support Ronaldo, but arriving on the back of a 3-0 humbling of Liverpool at Anfield while Barça maintained their stuttering Champions League form, the home side should have the edge.

Suarez's return to competitive football after his flesh-eating fiasco in the World Cup could be the stuff of legend if the Uruguayan runs riot on an unprepared Real defence. Alternatively he may struggle for match sharpness in his first real run-out since June.

The former Liverpool man is set to start on the bench for Barça and come on as an impact sub, as is Real's Chicharito, who could just as well steal the headlines with a game-winning cameo.

While the outcome of today's clash is most likely to be decided by the relative brilliance of Messi or Ronaldo again, unsung heroes like attacker Pedro, or midfield anchor Sergio Busquets could hold the key for Barça. On the other side, the much-improved Benzema and Isco could be decisive for Real.

The 'return-leg' of this annual jamboree is on the 22nd of March 2015 at the Camp Nou.

Probable teams:

Real Madrid (4-4-2) - Casillas, Carvajal, Marcelo, Pepe, Ramos, Modric, Kroos, Rodriguez, Isco, Benzema, Ronaldo
Barcelona (4-3-3) - Bravo, Alves, Alba, Mathieu, Pique, Iniesta, Busquets, Xavi, Neymar, Messi, Pedro

-Sean O'Conor 

Friday, October 24, 2014

Europe's clubs back a Spring World Cup, but Blatter wants November

The tussle over when to host the 2022 World Cup rumbles on.

Days after potential FIFA Presidential candidate Harold Mayne-Nicholls, the Chilean with the oh-so English name, proposed moving the tournament back a month to May 2022 and kicking off as late as 1am to temper the effects of the summer heat, Europe's clubs seem to be moving in that direction.

The European Club Association which represents the continent's top clubs is set to back a switch to April or May of 2022. Their initial preference for January and February now seems to have bitten the dust after the International Olympic Committee, which counts FIFA President Sepp Blatter as a member, refused to contemplate moving the 2022 Winter Olympics to accommodate FIFA's cock-up.

Blatter has gone on record saying the winter is his ideal date, which would put him on a collision course with Europe the financial heart of football. "We cannot play the World Cup in summer," he reiterated this week. 

Yet the Association of European Professional Leagues has also stated it is dead against any disruption to its winter schedules and reluctantly maintains that summer 2022 is the only option.

European players' unions, whose members made up around three-quarters of the footballers at the last World Cup, are yet to get involved in the dispute although former Australian custodian Mark Schwarzer said earlier this week about a summer tournament in Qatar, "It's ridiculous to play at that time of year. I don't know why there is a debate." Their clubs might favour the minimum disruption to their businesses, but how many players will want to kick-off in an average of 35 Celsius, three degrees above FIFA's own threshold for extreme risk?

Underlying the latest developments is a suspicion that the climate-cooling technology promised in 2010 may not materialise, as it has never been tested on a large-scale before. English firm Arup's Showcase Model (left) got the temperature down from 44C to 23C, but little has been heard about their ambitious plans recently.

FIFA's taskforce dealing with the 2022 headache, lead by Asian Football Confederation president Sheikh Salman Ebrahim al Khalifa, reconvenes on the 3rd of November and again in February 2015. 

At their first meeting in September FIFA General Secretary Jerome Valcke appeared to insist they were legally bound to host in 2022. With the IOC's rebuttal, this leaves November-December 2022 as FIFA's preferred timeslot, though this week's calls in favour of the Spring will surely now be brought to the table.

No final decision is expected before next summer. Meanwhile the sorry saga goes on.

-  Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

George's Premiership Predictions October 25 2014

bet365George got six out of the 10 games right last week but his tip for QPR to beat Liverpool was close but no cigar.

This weekend the big match is Chelsea, the leaders, away to Man United and the kid is going for a 1-1 draw.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

West Ham 1 v Man City 2
Liverpool 1 v Hull 1
Southampton 3 v Stoke 1
Sunderland 1 v Arsenal 2
West Brom v Crystal Palace
Swansea 1 v Leicester 1

Sunday 26 October 2014

Burnley 0 v Everton 2
Tottenham 2 v Newcastle 1

Man Utd 1 v Chelsea 1

Not So Super Mario 5/6 To Leave Anfield

Mario Balotelli's Liverpool career is yet to take off and bet365 are 5/6 the controversial striker leaves the club before the end of the 2015 summer transfer window.

bet365’s Steve Freeth "Liverpool took a punt at £16m and the early signs could point to a brief spell on Merseyside."

bet365 also have a market on where Liverpool will finish the 2014/15 Premier League campaign.

Mario Balotelli To Have Left Liverpool By The End Of 2015 Summer Transfer Window

Yes 5/6 No 5/6
(Loan deals do not count)

2014/15 Premier League - Liverpool Finishing Position

1st 40/1 2nd 16/1 3rd 4/1 4th 3/1
5th 10/3 6th 11/2 7th+ 4/1

Soccer - Ronaldo not interested in sideshow

Cristiano Ronaldo has said he will not be concerning himself with Lionel Messi and is only interested in helping Real Madrid win the first 'El Clasico' of the new La Liga season on Saturday. Luis Enrique's Barcelona will make the hotly-anticipated trip to the Spanish capital having had an extra day's rest from Tuesday's 3-1 win against Ajax in the Champions League. Ronaldo and Camp Nou icon Messi have long been pitted together as big rivals for the world's best-player tag, but the Portugal superstar says Saturday's showdown is not about individuals. The Catalan capital title-chasers have only dropped two points from their opening eight games in the top flight and have yet to concede a goal in Spain's La Liga. Ballon d'Or winner Ronaldo says Los Blancos need to beat Barca to have any hope of usurping their rivals in the title race and is expecting a massive test. "It will be a difficult match because Barcelona are playing well," he told the official club website. "I'm not going to play against Messi, I'm going to play against Barcelona. They are a great team. Real Madrid and Barcelona are playing each other." Real Madrid are currently priced 11/8 by bet365 in the match betting and the draw is quoted 13/5. Barcelona are available to back in the 90 minutes market at 7/4.

Soccer - Rafael won't hide from Chelsea test

Rafael da Silva has said Manchester United should not fear the visit of leaders Chelsea on Sunday and demanded his team-mates make their own Premier League statement. The west London club have only dropped two points from their opening eight games - in a 1-1 draw against Manchester City - and have not lost in six previous meetings against the former champions. Young defender Rafael says Louis van Gaal's men are relishing the visit of Jose Mourinho's early-season pacesetters and said they can inflict a first defeat on the capital club. "Everyone is beatable," he told the club's official website. "We have to do our best, of course. They are playing well. "We're playing at Old Trafford though and we've been getting results there so they are definitely beatable." The 24-year-old is convinced Van Gaal's new signings are starting to have an impact at Old Trafford and feels victory against Chelsea could give the supporters a huge lift. He added: "Football is about results and, when you don't play well and draw, like on Monday night [2-2 at West Brom], of course everyone will speak. But hopefully we can play well against Chelsea and, if we get the result, it would be very positive for us and the whole team." Manchester United are currently priced 9/5 by bet365 in the match betting and the draw is quoted 12/5. Chelsea are available to back at 7/5 in the 90 minutes market.

Last time's predictions

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Fifa World Rankings October 2014

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

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

England drop to 20th place despite three wins in three games in Euro 2016 qualification.

Algeria are the top African team in 15th place.

Japan are in 52nd place and on a downward spiral, four spots lower than last month.

The USA are in 23rd place, down six from last month. Scotland are in 37th position with Wales in 34th. The Republic of Ireland are in 61st place up one spot, Northern Ireland are up to 43rd position after winning their first three games in Euro 2016 qualifying.

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

Full world rankings

Previous Fifa World Rankings

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Soccer Books & DVDs

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Harold maybe you've cracked it

Harold Mayne-Nicholls, whose technical report warned FIFA of the health risks associated with playing the 2022 World Cup in the heat of Qatar, has suggested evening kick-off times could be the solution.

Under the Chilean's proposals, the tournament would begin a month earlier in May 2022 and games would kick-off at 7pm, 10pm and 1am local time to avoid the worst of the heat, or at least the sun.

In May the average temperatures for Qatar range from 27C to 39C (81F-102F) as opposed to between 29C and 42C (84F-108F) in June.

With Doha only one hour ahead of continental Europe, advertisers and marketers could still cash in on television broadcasts at reasonable times, while the big US market would benefit from the switch from afternoon kick-offs in the Middle East.

On the east coast of America, games would start at noon, 3pm and 6pm, although the California market would have to make do with 9am, 12pm and 3pm.

The Far East would have a harder time, with kick-offs in Beijing at midnight, 3am and 6am, and in Japan one hour later.

While the FIFA Executive Committee is still expected to back a switch to the 2021 winter and potential clashes with the Winter Olympics, Superbowl and European soccer leagues, Mayne-Nicholls is angling for a challenge to President Sepp Blatter in next May's FIFA elections.

To that end he has issued this proposal in the hope of attracting support in the run-up to the application deadline at the end of January 2015.

The controversy surrounding the decision to award the 2022 tournament to a country with little football heritage and extreme temperatures continues to rumble on, with FIFA reluctant to release Michael Garcia's corruption report.

With no action on 2022 expected before the Spring of next year at the earliest, it appears as if FIFA is trying to delay as much as possible so that Qatar can start building infrastructure, which would reduce the likelihood of a switch of hosts.

But the inescapable issue of the searing heat of summer there, which Mayne-Nicholls rightly flagged up in his famously ignored report, remains an almighty headache for world football.


(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Friday, October 17, 2014

George's Premiership Predictions 18 October 2014

bet365George was spot on with his prediction of Chelsea to brush aside Arsenal at The Bridge and also called the correct score for Aston Villa v Manchester City.

George also predicted home wins for West Ham, Man Utd and Liverpool.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

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

Sunday 19 October 2014

QPR 1 v Liverpool 0
Stoke 1 v Swansea 0

Monday 20 October 2014

West Brom 1 v Man Utd 2

Euro 2016 - Home Quintet 40/1 To Make France

Another productive couple of nights for England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and the Republic of Ireland has bet365 quoting 40/1 about all five making the Euro 2016 finals in France.

bet365’s Steve Freeth "The qualifying process has been questioned in some quarters, but try saying that to a team like Northern Ireland who have shortened from 7/1 into 5/4 on the back of three wins."

The firm have also seen favourable Euro 2016 results over the last week.

"The staggered nature of qualifying has seen some results go our way, none more so than the John O’Shea late equaliser in Germany and Scotland’s performance in Warsaw was also well received" added Freeth.

Euro 2016

England, Scotland, Wales, ROI & NI all to qualify 40/1

To Qualify

England 1/500
Rep Ireland 4/5
Northern Ireland 5/4
Scotland 7/4
Wales 7/4

Soccer - Kightly desperate to break duck

Michael Kightly is confident that Burnley will get their first Premier League win on the board in the next ten days. The Clarets face West Ham United at Turf Moor this weekend before playing Everton on home soil on 26th October. Sean Dyche's side have drawn four of their first seven league matches of the season and are 4/11 with bet365 to be relegated. However, Burnley winger Kightly is optimistic that a victory is imminent, saying: "We're disappointed not to have won a game but we've got two home games after this international break and hopefully we can get a win. "We just haven't had the rub of the green and we haven't got that win that we've deserved. We know it will come." Burnley can be backed at 17/2 to beat the Hammers 1-0.

Soccer - Beleaguered Redknapp wins Rio's backing

Rio Ferdinand is convinced that Harry Redknapp is the right man to lead QPR away from the relegation zone this season. QPR are rooted to the foot of the Premier League table and face Liverpool on Sunday before playing Chelsea and Manchester City in the next month. Former Tottenham and West Ham United boss Redknapp has come under pressure following his side's poor start to the campaign and they are currently 8/15 with bet365 to be relegated this season and 20/1 to beat Liverpool 1-0 on Sunday. However, Ferdinand told the Evening Standard: "We are not even in double figures for the amount of games played yet. To push the panic button now would be crazy in my eyes. Harry still comes across to me as a fighter and a man with a lot of fight left in him."

Last time's predictions

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Premier League pricing, Guardiola opens up, farewell Big Boss and hello new Vélodrome

Stefan Szyminski, joint author of Soccernomics/Why England Lose, the Freakonomics of football, believes Premier League ticket prices are merely keeping up with rising demand and are not therefore intrinsically overpriced, as many have argued.

"Most clubs are constrained by capacity and many games are sold out," he says in his webpage, "so extra demand is choked off by raising prices".

Wrong Stefan - demand is not choked off and prices do not automatically have to rise to keep up with it. Rather, English football has been exploiting the unique brand loyalty that is supporting a team ever since the Premier League turned clubs into rapacious capitalists. A true club does not exploit its own members.

If demand is rising because England teams are now full of foreign stars, whose elephantine wages come from increased ticket costs rather than TV money, now that is another argument. But it is highly unlikely fans enjoy paying ever-larger sums for the product, to use that awful word, well aware that similar leagues or entertainment options come much cheaper.

The correlation between increasing attendance and rising ticket costs is not a simple economic equation of cold, hermetically-sealed logic.

Football fans are more like devout churchgoers than pure brand-comparing customers whose choices come more from the head than the heart. It would be convenient if a cradle-to-grave, die-hard Arsenal follower could swap the Gunners tomorrow in favour of say, the more affordable Barnet F.C. up the road, but fandom does not work like that. That paradox allows irresponsible club owners to exploit supporters with ease.

There is no reason why English football clubs could not sell more reasonably-priced tickets. When I was a teenager our clubs dominated Europe while charging prices kids could afford. They still charge sensibly in the Bundesliga after all and their league appears to be in pretty good health, with the highest attendances in the world to boot.

Szymanski retorts however that German tickets are too cheap and in some cases fuel a black market, as if no such touting exists in England. In other words, the market must rule, end of story.

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A new book on Pep Guardiola at Bayern Munich is released today, penned by Catalan journalist Marti Pernanau.

An aura surrounds the former Barça manager, for that golden team he forged in the Cantera of the Camp Nou, and it no surprise to learn he was snowed in by job offers during his year-long self-imposed exile in New York City.

Alex Ferguson wined and dined him, Roman Abramovich courted him for Chelsea of course, but he agreed to coach Bayern from the 2013-'14 season back in 2012. It
seems the best fit for him.

Elsewhere, Guardiola curiously lambasts tiki-taka as a "useless" way of playing and calls Bayern's mauling by Real Madrid in last season's Champions League "the biggest f*ck-up of my career."

Extrapolating, he says that possession for possession's sake is pointless unless it leads to a goal and that Barcelona's pretty passing had a clear purpose in moving the majority of their team into the opponents' final third.

Once that has occurred, "The secret is to overload one side of the pitch so that the opponent tilts his defence to cope,"says Guardiola. "And when we've done all that, we attack and score from the other side."

Thus far, his reputation as a miracle worker remains intact and he remains the most sought-after manager in world soccer, but aged only 43, the Catalan still has a long way to go in coaching.

Having bagged two Champions Leagues, two Club World Cups, three Spanish league titles and two Spanish Cups by the age of 40, creating what some said was the greatest team of all time, has he already achieved too much, too soon?

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Stephen Keshi has been fired as Nigeria coach. 'Big Boss' won the 2013 African Cup of Nations for Nigeria and became the first African coach to take a team to the knock-out s
tages of the World Cup Finals this year, where the Super Eagles lost 2:0 to France.

One point from three games in qualifying for 2015's African Cup of Nations and an ongoing wage dispute with the federations led to the parting of ways. Shaibu Amodu takes over the national team for the fourth time.

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Keir Radnedge reports that former FIFA Executive Committee member, head of the Brazilian Football Confederation and bribe-taker extraordinaire Ricardo Texeira could be heading back to football if his pal wins the forthcoming Brazilian presidential election. God help us...

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The new Stade Vélodrome opens in Marseille today (pic from Marvellous Provence), with a capacity of 67,000 ready for Euro 2016.

OM's ground is one of world football's most distinctive arenas. Let's hope the new home keeps its spirit alive.


-Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Yesterday in brief

  • Serbia's highly-strung Euro 2016 clash with Albania lasted 41 minutes after an Albanian drone (!) flying the nation's flag entered the stadium. Serbian defender Stefan Markovic grabbed the flag precipitating a brawl involving players and supporters. The two nations remain in dispute over Kosovo, a historically Serbian territory now populated by people of largely Albanian origin. Belgrade police arrested the brother of Albania's Prime Minister for allegedly organising the drone stunt. Georgia and Russia were previously banned from being drawn against each other while Armenia & Azerbaijan and Spain & Gibraltar are still kept apart by UEFA.
  • Neymar scored four as Brazil beat Japan 4-0. Dunga has a 100% record over four games since taking over from Felipe Scolari after the World Cup.
  • World Cup Golden Boot winner James Rodriguez scored the only goal as Colombia won 1-0 in Canada.
  • Argentina walloped Hong Kong 7-0 while 2022 World Cup hosts Qatar beat Australia 1-0. China beat Paraguay 1-0 but South Korea lost 3-1 at home to Costa Rica.
  • In their first game since Landon Donovan retired, the USA drew 1-1 with Honduras in Boca Raton, Florida.
  • World Champions Germany slipped up again by conceding a last-gasp equalizer to Eire in their Euro 2014 qualifier in Gelsenkirchen. John O'Shea levelled on the occasion of his 100th cap. The Mannschaft are equal third in Group D.
  • In the same group, Gibraltar got their best competitive result yet - a 3-0 loss at home to Georgia following two 7-0 defeats, while Poland and Scotland battled to a 2-2 draw in Warsaw.
  • In Group E, Switzerland won their first points at the third attempt by winning 4-0 in San Marino.
  • Northern Ireland are the unlikely leaders of Group F after winning 2-0 in Greece.
  • Cristiano Ronaldo got Portugal on the board in Group I with a last-minute winner against Denmark in Copenhagen.
  • Italy, Sweden, Denmark, England, Portugal, Germany and Serbia booked their places in the UEFA U21 Championship in the Czech Republic next summer, but holders Spain, France and the Netherlands are among those who miss out.
  • English football continues to be unaffordable according to a BBC study, with average ticket prices rising at double the rate of the cost of living since 2011. Arsenal have the dearest season ticket at over £2,000 and the most expensive individual ticket price at £97.
-Sean O'Conor