Friday, June 29, 2007

Deja Vu In K-League

Deja Vu In K-League


Anybody who left Korea in November 2006 as the soccer season ended and returned in the much balmier month of June as the 2007 version reached its halfway point could be forgiven for experiencing a little deja vu.

Champions Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma are still on top, 2006 runners-up Suwon Samsung Bluewings are still vainly chasing in second place and Gwangju Sangmu is still locked at the bottom.

There is no more domestic action until August when the league resumes. Until then, the plaudits rest squarely on the garish yellow shirted-shoulders of Seongnam.

K League
Steady and smooth, without being spectacular, the club soars at the summit. All 13 K-League teams have faced the seven-time champions so far this season and none have triumphed.

In fact, only four — Pohang, Chunnam, Daejeon and Seoul — have managed to avoid defeat.

At the same time, coach Kim Hak-beom steered his team to the quarter finals of the Asian Champions League and there is a real chance that the continental title could be heading to the satellite city just south of the capital next November.

The secret to Seongnam’s success is no secret at all.

Coach Kim has good players in a settled and balanced lineup.

Over the first 13 games, the club has fielded less players than any other in a league in which some clubs have been known to use almost 40 players over the course of a season.

Closest challengers are Suwon - the one team that comes anywhere close to Seongnam in terms of consistency.

An oft-leveled charge against Suwon coach Cha Bum-keun is that the team is less than the sum of its total parts, but the stars are starting to perform.

More of the same and the passionate Suwon fans will be satisfied at the end of the season.

Ulsan Hyundai Horang-I, the 2005 champions, started with three victories from the first four games but two points from the middle five sent the Tigers tumbling down the standings.

Ulsan rallied to win three out of the final quartet of games to give a pleasing symmetry to the first half of the season.

Fans in the southeast may have seen the last of star attacker Lee Chun-soo, who is expected to head to the English Premier League before the second half of the season resumes.

What wasn’t expected was the freescoring exploits of Gyeongnam FC.

The southerners, in just their second season in existence, stormed into the top echelons of the league, propelled on the back of a stack of goals from Brazilian duo Popo and Cabore.

The two biggest disappointments have been FC Seoul and Pohang Steelers. Both clubs won three out of the first four and then went into freefall.

Seoul, under the Turkish tutelage of Senol Gunes, proceeded to go the next six games goalless and still hasn’t collected three points since March.

If misery loves company then the Steelers have been loyal bedfellows and the two need to improve in the second half of the season.

Busan confusion

At the bottom, Busan is one place above the basement-dwellers of Gwangju Sangmu.

Busan boss Andy Egli caused some confusion by telling Sports Seoul on June 25 that he was packing it all in.

"As coach I am responsible for the poor results,” the Swiss boss said.

“After the American training camp ends on July 5th, I will head home to Switzerland where I plan to take a rest.”

“Problems have been piling up since November both on the field and with the club and recently they have got worse.”

The day after however, the ex-FC Thun coach told Swiss daily 'Blick' that: "I have offered my resignation. Now they have to decide if I am the right man despite the poor results.

"I would love to continue my work in Busan. There are 13 rounds to play and we are still in the Cup. There are a lot of opportunities."

"Until now I did not receive an answer to my offer of resignation."

The club claims to have no knowledge of any resignation.

To the west, Gwangju are at rock bottom.It took the military club 13 games to pick up its first win and very few fans in the southwest will be looking forward to the second half of the season. It all starts again on Aug. 8.

Copyright: John Duerden & Soccerphile

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Thursday, June 28, 2007

A Small Murphy’s…Maybe

I have nothing but admiration for the reunited Spice Girls. Their music may have been atrocious, and you’d struggle to find a greater collection of dogs outside of Battersea, but their trailblazing work in the field of ginger acceptance remains unsurpassed.


The minging quintet penetrated the public consciousness to such an unprecedented degree that the entire English language evolved as a result. The bints were slightly embarrassed when the meaningless soundbite ‘Girl Power’ made it into the dictionary, but the moth-eaten, passé, semi-fossilised has-beens are rightfully proud of their place in the official betting glossary.


The ‘Baby’ bet is the absolute certainty: it only goes down on rare occasions. The ‘Sporty’ is the one that looked good in the beginning, but on closer reflection; it could really go either way. The ‘Ginger’ is the loose punt you only consider after a few pints. The ‘Posh’ is the all-in mug’s bet, where you end up living on bread and water for a week, and the ‘Scary’ is a complete guess, like when Mel B reached the ‘father’s section’ on her daughter’s birth certificate.


I like to think that my ante-post football bets are straight out of the ‘Baby’ drawer. Manchester United won the league last season with Darren Fletcher, Park Ji Sung and John O’Shea all playing a prominent role. The deadwood will now be replaced by Hargreaves, Anderson and Wayne Rooney’s personal favourite, Nani. The 13/8 for the champions retaining their title is an exquisite piece of business.


In the relegation market, I will be going in hard on Wigan. The appointment of Chris Hutchings is probably reason enough, but the signing of Titus Bramble is an absolute clincher. Get on now at 11/8, or face a level of disappointment unseen since Eddie Murphy last opened his mail.


I used to really enjoy playing cricket at school, but my dreams of becoming a fast bowler were shattered by a particularly cruel PE teacher. I still remember the day he pulled me to one side and told me I had a disappointing length.


The whole set up of the sport is fundamentally flawed though; if I wanted a game to last five days I’d challenge the wife to noughts and crosses.

The one-day international is a far more entertaining spectacle. England have been priced up at 4/7 to see off the ineffectual Windies in Sunday’s opener; I’d be considering getting on if KP was playing on his own.


Big Brother’s Tracey remains a surprisingly popular figure outside of the house. Celebrities to have spoken up on her behalf include Eddie Izzard, Dana International and Hayley from Coronation Street. Nice guy Liam can still be backed at 9/2 for outright glory: that’s an old fashioned shoo-in.


I find playing darts quite frustrating; there’s nothing more embarrassing than suffering a bounce-out when you’re on top. Paul McCartney refuses to watch an entire match; he’s just happy to see a couple of legs. Phil Taylor is a clear favourite for the Las Vegas Desert Classic that kicks off on Monday, probably because of his years of experience at trying to get three in a bed. Barney is the new power; get on at 5/2.

Copyright (c) Gerry McDonnell & soccerphile.com

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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Japanese Soccer News Urawa Fight Back

J-League News: Urawa fight back as Gamba's lead is cut to five

Gamba Osaka continue to lead the standings with one match to play before the mid-season break, despite dropping points to Yokohama F. Marinos recently.

F. Marinos held Gamba to a 0-0 draw in front of 13,956 fans at Mitsuzawa Stadium in Round 16, however Gamba bounced back to thrash FC Tokyo 6-2 three days later.

Urawa took advantage by beating Vissel Kobe 2-0 in midweek, before defeating Shimizu S-Pulse 1-0 in front of a capacity crowd of 20,300 at Nihondaira Stadium in Round 17.

Ex-JEF United midfielder Yuki Abe scored the only goal of the game, heading home unmarked from a Robson Ponte corner.

Shimizu S-Pulse vs Urawa Reds, Nihondaira Stadium, June 23 2007
Kashima Antlers have charged up the table courtesy of a nine match unbeaten run. The Antlers have picked up 21 points from a possible 27 since losing 1-0 to bitter rivals Urawa back in Round 8 - despite losing striker ex-Japan striker Atsushi Yanagisawa to injury.

Kashima's most recent win came over Nagoya Grampus Eight. They beat the Red Whales 2-1 in front of 14,317 fans at Kashima Stadium, courtesy of goals from Chikashi Masuda and Marquinhos. Norwegian international Frode Johnsen scored a consolation for Nagoya.

Nagoya Red Whale
Yokohama FC prop up the J-League following their thirteenth loss in seventeen games. They were beaten 4-2 by Kashiwa Reysol in Round 17, for whom Japan Olympic striker Tadanari Ri scored twice. Both clubs were promoted from J2 last season, but while Kashiwa are flying high in sixth place, Yokohama FC are almost certain to return to the Second Division next season.

The bottom three is surprisingly rounded out by Oita Trinita and JEF United, who have both made disastrous starts to 2007. JEF United are third from bottom, despite providing Japan's provisional Asian Cup squad with five players.

Oita Trinita are in seventeenth place, and last season's key players Shusaku Nishikawa and Daiki Takamatsu have been discarded from the first team by coach Pericles. Shota Matsuhashi recently made his international debut for Japan, but he too was dropped from the first team by Pericles, although he started in Oita's most recent 2-0 away defeat at the hands of fellow strugglers Ventforet Kofu.

In J2 Consadole Sapporo still lead the way in the wake of Round 23, after they beat Tokyo Verdy 1-0 in front of almost 13,000 fans at Ajinomoto Stadium in Tokyo. Vegalta Sendai beat Ehime FC 3-0 before a crowd of 12,116 in Sendai, to stay ahead of third place Kyoto Sanga FC on goal difference.

Ilian Stoyanov blasts JEF United coach Amar OsimBulgarian defender Ilian Stoyanov has been dropped by JEF United after launching a scathing attack on coach Amar Osim.

Stoyanov told club officials that unless Osim was sacked, he would demand a release from the Chiba-based club in July.

The ex-Levski Sofia defender was quoted by Nikkan Sports as saying, "if Amar goes, I'll stay."

The Bulgarian believes that Bosnian coach Osim will steer the two-time League Cup winners into the Second Division.

Stoyanov has been excluded from the squad since making the remarks, although JEF United fans have made their own feelings clear.

They chanted Stoyanov's name throughout United's most recent 2-1 home defeat to Albirex Niigata - a loss which saw United slip back into the bottom three.

Stoyanov is the second player to be stood down by his club recently, after former Vissel Kobe captain Atsuhiro Miura was suspended by his club for making critical remarks aimed at coach Hiroshi Matsuda.

Takehito Shigehara banned for seven matches

Refereeing standards in the J-League have once again come under scrutiny, after Takehito Shigehara was sent off in Ventforet Kofu's 2-1 away defeat to FC Tokyo in Round 16.

The controversy erupted when a contentious offside call went against Shigehara in the eighty-sixth minute of the match. Referee Masaaki Iemoto booked Shigehara for dissent, before the referee was approached by a linesman who claimed that Shigehara had "expelled saliva" after receiving the yellow card.

Referee Iemoto immediately brandished a second yellow card and sent Shigehara from the field, despite the fact that it appeared that Shigehara had simply spat on the ground as he walked away from the referee.

Shigehara was subsequently handed a seven match suspension by the J-League - including four matches for spitting, although the sight of players spitting on the ground is common in the J-League.

Shigehara was handed a further two match suspension for making abusive remarks towards the referee after being sent off, and received a further match ban for "smashing equipment" on his way down the player's tunnel.

This is not the first time this season that refereeing decisions have come under the microscope.

On May 6 referee Kazuhisa Osada mistakenly sent off Oita Trinita midfielder Yoshiaki Fujita for a second bookable offence in Oita's 2-1 loss to Sanfrecce Hiroshima at the Kyushu Oil Dome.

The pleas of both Oita and Hiroshima players that Osada had booked Fujita instead of defender Takashi Miki, who had conceded a penalty, fell on deaf ears as referee Osada sent Fujita from the field.

The J-League was forced to rescind Fujita's suspension in the aftermath of that match, admitting that the referee had mistakenly brandished a yellow card - Fujita's second - to the wrong player.

Japan National TeamJapan coach Ivica Osim named a thirty man provisional squad for the upcoming Asian Cup, co-hosted by Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand.

Not surprisingly Shunsuke Nakamura of Celtic and Eintracht Frankfurt's Naohiro Takahara are the star men in the squad, although there was no room for FC Basel's Koji Nakata or new Frankfurt signing Junichi Inamoto.

Japan is aiming for a third straight Asian Cup, and three players were involved in the two previous tournaments; goalkeeper Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi, defender Yuji Nakazawa and Celtic man Nakamura.

Japan's first match is against Qatar on July 9, before they face United Arab Emirates and Vietnam in their later group games.

Copyright © Michael Tuckerman & Soccerphile.com

J.League News

Monday, June 25, 2007

Platini slims down Euro WC Qualifiers

UEFA President Michel Platini has made some changes to the 2010 World Cup qualification process for European nations.

Instead of groups of seven and eight teams, European nations will be in one of eight groups of six teams and one of five. The nine group winners will qualify and the best-performing eight second place teams go into play-offs for the additional four places on offer.

Records against the bottom-placed teams in each group will not be taken into account.

FIFA President Sepp Blatter showered more praise on South Africa on his most recent visit to the World Cup hosts last week, again insisting that preparations are on schedule.

"From what I have seen here today and from what I have heard I can say generally we are on track," he told reporters. "You may be assured that nothing, nothing can now be against the World Cup here in South Africa."

Despite the latest charm offensive, Blatter did concede that South Africa's transport infrstructure needs some investment in the next three years.

"There will be a lot of visitors and there is a great need from companies to help with extra capacity for airplanes, buses and local transport," he said.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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US downs Mexico to win Gold Cup

US downs Mexico to win Gold Cup
The USA retained its crown as the top nation in North & Central America by defeating traditional rivals Mexico 2-1 in the final of the 2007 CONCACAF Gold Cup in Chicago.

Neither nation had impressed in squeezing past their semi-final opponents; the US beat Canada 2-1 and Mexico edged Guadeloupe 1-0, but the big two of this FIFA region served up a rip-roaring climax to the tournament.

The 50,760 in attendance at Soldier Field in Chicago were largely Mexican expats, who saw El Tricolor snatch a precious lead a minute before the interval through Atlas' starlet Andres Guardado.

20 year-old Guardado, whom Real Madrid made an offer for last summer and who is a reported target of a host of big European clubs, lashed into an open net as the US was caught on a pincer movement.

Recently-installed US coach Bob Bradley kept faith with his troops after the break and was rewarded when Houston Dynamo's Brian Ching was hauled down in the area in the 62nd and LA Galaxy's Landon Donovan dispatched a cool spot kick to level the scores.

A spectacular long-range effort from Hamburg's Benny Feilhaber gave America the lead 11 minutes later. Ching and DaMarcus Beasley both then hit the woodwork for the US, who had to withstand an Alamo-style siege as the Mexicans pressed in the closing stages.

Everton goalkeeper Tim Howard pulled off a number of vital saves to keep the trophy north of the Rio Grande, hand Bradley his first piece of silverware as his team enters the 2007 Copa America, and grant the US passage to the 2009 Confederations Cup in South Africa.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Pim Verbeek Interview: Asian Cup Countdown

Pim Verbeek Interview: Asian Cup Countdown
The 23-man squad has been named and now South Korea’s preparations for the Asian Cup and first round games against Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Indonesia in next month’s continental competition are ready to begin.

National team coach Pim Verbeek sprung few surprises at KFA HQ last Friday afternoon. The big issue was whether strikers Lee Dong-gook and Ahn Jung-hwan would be selected. Lee was, Ahn wasn’t.

So almost five years to the day since Ahn scored that famous golden goal which sent Italy crashing out of the 2002 World Cup and South Korea to the quarter-finals, his international career was almost certainly seemingly ended. At 31 and struggling to find a starting place with K-League team Suwon Samsung Bluewings, the way back to the top looks to be a tough one for the well-traveled striker.

“Perhaps after the Asian Cup he can get back to his normal level but at this moment we never see him play,” Verbeek told the Korea Herald. “He is not playing and not scoring goals. He is struggling – he doesn’t have the confidence of his club coach so there’s no reason to choose him.”

With a number of Korea’s most experienced players injured, Verbeek admitted that the inactivity which has caused Ahn’s absence was a problem.

“If there’s somebody regretting that situation then it is me. I still think that the Ahn Jung-hwan we know can make a difference.

“I don’t know if it because of five months out of football, the way they play in Korea, the mental state he is in after playing so many years in Europe and then coming back to Korea – I don’t know,” continued the Dutchman. “The only thing I can do is watch the matches, look at the players and pick the best ones.

“I am 100% sure he will understand.”

The absence of Ahn’s 2002 and 2006 team-mates Park Ji-sung, Lee Young-pyo and Seol Ki-hyeon from the roster was expected but still unfortunate. The English Premier League stars are all recovering from surgery and the team’s opening game against Saudi Arabia on July 11 came just too early.

“All of them have serious injuries. I have a responsibility, not only to the KFA but also to the players and their clubs. It is easy to try and select them and see later what is happening but we need a proper preparation,” Verbeek said.

“The preparation for the 2006 World Cup was very difficult because of Park Ji-sung’s injury. He missed three out of four weeks training. We were waiting for him but in the meantime we can’t train with the system we want to play. That was bad preparation. At that moment, it was the best decision we could take but after we can say that in the future we should do things differently. We have to learn from our mistakes.

“So we should focus on the players we have. We have a lot of talented young players. The only thing they lack is experience. Most of the ones selected played in the Asian Games and they played six or seven internationals then and some of them like Yeom Ki-hoon have played Asian Champions League games.

“We will miss the three (English-based players) with all of their experience, two World Cups, a combined total of 15 years in European football,” he added. “Of course, the other players are more confident lining up along side those kind of players, opponents are more afraid.”

JFK was running for president the last time that South Korea lifted the Asian Cup but with the stature of the team in Asian soccer, expectations are high every time the tournament comes around. The coach is no different.

“You are only satisfied if you win because that’s why I came here. We haven’t won it in 47 years so I don’t know if it is realistic to say we are going to win. We are going with the objective of winning.”

According to the coach, anything less than a place in the last four and he may not hang around to see out his current contract that will expire in the summer of 2008.

“I have thought about this and if we don’t make the semi-final then I will seriously consider if I want to stay in my position as the head coach.”

Copyright: John Duerden & Soccerphile

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Saturday, June 23, 2007

Copa America 2007

Copa America 2007 Venezuela.
Copa America Venezuela 2007

The 2007 Copa America will take place in Venezuela June 26-July 15. This is the 42nd time the tournament has been held since 1916. Brazil are the current holders having won in 2004 in Peru.

The top two teams in the 3 groups plus the 2 third-placed teams with the best record progress to the quarter-finals. Mexico and the USA are competing as guests.

GROUPS & SCHEDULE

Group A

Bolivia
Peru
Uruguay
Venezuela

Tue June 26 Uruguay 0 v Peru 3 (Merida)
Tue June 26 Venezuela 2 v Bolivia 2 (San Cristobal)
Sat June 30 Bolivia 0 v Uruguay 1 (San Cristobal)
Sat June 30 Venezuela 2 v Peru 0 (San Cristobal)
Tue July 3 Peru 2 v Bolivia 2 (Merida)
Tue July 3 Venezuela 0 v Uruguay 0 (Merida)

Group B

Brazil
Chile
Ecuador
Mexico

Wed June 27 Ecuador 2 v Chile 3 (Puerto Ordaz)
Wed June 27 Brazil 0 v Mexico 2 (Puerto Ordaz)
Sun July 1 Brazil 3 v Chile 0 (Maturin)
Sun July 1 Mexico 2 v Ecuador 0 (Maturin)
Wed July 4 Mexico 0 v Chile 0 (Puerto La Cruz)
Wed July 4 Brazil 1 v Ecuador 0 (Puerto La Cruz)

Group C

Argentina
Colombia
Paraguay
USA

Thurs June 27 Paraguay 5 v Colombia 0 (Maracaibo)
Thurs June 27 Argentina 4 v USA 1 (Maracaibo)
Mon July 1 USA 1 v Paraguay 3 (Barinas)
Mon July 1 Argentina 4 v Colombia 2 (Maracaibo)
Thurs July 4 Colombia 1 v USA 0 (Barquisimeto)
Thurs July 4 Argentina 1 v Paraguay 0 (Barquisimeto)

Quarter-finals

Sat July 7 Uruguay (Group A winners) 4 v Venezuela 1 (3rd Place team II) (San Cristobal)
Sat July 7 Chile 1 (3rd Place team I) v Brazil 6 (Group B 2nd Place Team) (Puerto La Cruz)
Sun July 8 Mexico 6 (Group B winners) v Paraquay 0 (Group C 2nd Place Team) (Maturin)
Sun July 8 Argentina 4 (Group C winners) v Peru 0 (Group A 2nd Place Team) (Barquisimeto)

Semi-finals

Tues July 10 Uruguay 2 v Brazil 2 Brazil win 5-4 on penalties (Maraicabo)
Wed July 11 Mexico 0 v Argentina 3(Puerto Ordaz)

Third Place Play-off

Sat July 14 Uruguay 1 v Mexico 3 (Caracas)

Final

Sun July 15 Brazil 3 v Argentina 0 (Maracaibo)

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Friday, June 22, 2007

Boca Win 6th Libertadores Cup

Argentina's Boca Juniors won their sixth Libertadores Cup 5-0 on aggregate after a 2-0 win away to Gremio in Porto Alegre, Brazil on Wednesday.

Two second-half goals from playmaker Roman Requelme gave the Buenos Aires team victory and Boca will now represent South America at the 2007 Club World Cup in Japan in December.

European Champions AC Milan will be representing Europe in the annual tournament held in Japan. The two teams met in the 2003 World Club Championship, when only the champions of Europe and South America took part, with Boca coming out on top.

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Thursday, June 21, 2007

Semi Final Day in the Gold Cup

Semi Final Day in the Gold Cup.
The longest day of the year sees CONCACAF's final four square up as the North/Central American tournament nears its conclusion.

Hosts the United States play Canada while traditional giants Mexico tackle unfancied Guadeloupe for a place in the final at Soldier Field, Chicago, on Saturday.

As another Gold Cup field whittles down almost inevitably to another USA v Mexico final, the weaknesses of this region are again exposed, despite the three and a half places in the World Cup finals FIFA generously awards them.

Beyond the big two of CONCACAF, a revolving door of alternately Costa Rica, Jamaica or Trinidad & Tobago have represented the region at the FIFA World Cup in recent years, and have invariably come home 'before the postcards'.

In this year's Gold Cup, 2006 FIFA World Cup heroes Trinidad & Tobago, who were the toast of the first round in holding Sweden to a draw in Dortmund, finished bottom of their group, tying Guatemala and losing to El Salvador and the United States.

Canada continue to show signs of reviving their soccer fortunes as they overcame Costa Rica to top their group to meet the hosts in Chicago today.

While the harsh Canadian climate militates against an outdoor field sport being played year round, a new Canadian professional team, Toronto FC, joined America's MLS this year, while the men's national team squad play their football in a dozen different countries, albeit not all of them like Tottenham Hotspur's Paul Stalteri, at the highest level.

Canada have shone only twice on the international stage, taking the gold medal for football at the 1904 Olympics in St Louis (only the US and Canada entered teams) and qualifying for the finals of the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, whence they returned with three losses, but held France to a narrow 1-0 victory.

But all the factors point to another USA v Mexico clash and the tricolores will be eager to regain the traditional advantage they used to hold over their northern neighbours.

To Mexico's chagrin, the USA have won the majority of their clashes over the past few years, including a memorable 2-0 scalping in the 2002 World Cup second round in Korea.

Mexico still seem impregnable at the Azteca in Mexico City however, and will be hoping to turn Soldier Field into an expat-fuelled replica. Already, in a tournament which is drawing around the 20,000 mark for attendances, the tricolores have pulled crowds of 68,000 twice and one of over 70,000.

The Gold Cup winners will qualify for the 2009 Confederations Cup in South Africa.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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A Chick with a Pick

I'm unwilling to pigeon hole myself politically, but if forced, I would happily place myself in the ‘frustrated feminist’ box. If I was around in the early part of the twentieth century I’d have been more than happy to burn bras with the Suffragettes, as it’s a literally evil contraption.

The bra-burning remains a point of contention amongst the modern day collection of men-haters, but the fact that these freedom-fighters went on hunger strike to promote their cause is a recorded fact; although they may have just wanted to lose a bit of weight in order to catch a husband.

Lefty troublemaker Emmeline Pankhurst would have got her reinforced knickers in a twist over Wimbledon’s antiquated policy of paying the men more than the bints. In the All England Club’s defence, they probably had to insure against a cushion dispute escalating into violence, or a mouse stopping play. This year, the lovely ladies will receive identical restitution to their completely equal in every way male counterparts.

Amelie Mauresmo will be ecstatic with this development. The reigning ladies champion looks a great shout at 12/1 to get her shovel-hands on the improved wedge. Grass courts always suit the big hitters, and they don’t get any bigger than the gigantic Frenchman.

In the men’s draw, big things are expected of rising star Andy Murray. A good run may well lead to the injury-prone Sweaty being promoted to a Brit.

Roger Federer is the man they all have to beat. The Swiss genius has a backhand so strong; Lee Chapman can only look on in envy. The Fed Express is a good thing at 4/9.

Organisers expect to sell 60,000 pounds of strawberries and 1,500 gallons of cream during the Wimbledon fortnight, although that figure will collapse if Frank Lampard fails to show. Tim Henman will definitely turn up, but he’ll be lucky to see the second round.

The Copa America kicks off on Tuesday and it’s a straight two horse war between the Brazilians and the Argentineans. The Samba Boys will be without a tired Kaka and Ronaldinho has also withdrawn following advice from his dental hygienist. I’m getting my teeth into the Argies at a delightful 17/10.

Controversy surrounds Wayne Rooney’s involvement in Ricky Hatton’s super-fight against Jose Luis Castillo. Wayne is a now so nervous about his role, there’s a real chance that he may drop his belt in Las Vegas. Castillo has looked jaded following his wars with Corrales, the 4/7 for the Hitman is particularly striking.

The final of the Under-21 Championships will pit the total football of the Dutch against the thuggish Serbs. I’ll be on Holland at 11/10 as beauty will always beat the beast in the end. You should really follow me in on this one: I’m a leading expert in the field of beast-beating.

Copyright (c) Gerry McDonnell & soccerphile.com


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Nagoya Grampus Shimizu S-Pulse

J-League - Nagoya Grampus Eight v Shimizu S-Pulse

Shimizu S-Pulse won easily 2-1 at Nagoya Grampus Eight's Mizuho Stadium tonight.


Mizuho Stadium, Nagoya


Sef Vergoosen's team had a night to forget, Grampus were two-nil down at half-time and threatened only in the last quarter.

Listen to an Shimizu S-Pulse fan chant


Shimizu fans go nutgs
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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Interview: Nagoya Grampus Eight Boss Sef Vergoosen

Nagoya Grampus Eight Boss Sef Vergoosen.
59 year-old Dutchman Sef Vergoosen is enjoying his second season with J-League club Nagoya Grampus Eight.

How did you end up in Japan?

It was very strange. In 2005, I was in the United Arab Emirates coaching Abui Dhabi team Al-Jazeera. Two years ago in the Netherlands there was the Under-20 World Championship and somebody called me from Japan to ask me if I was going to watch the game between Japan and the Netherlands. I said ‘yes’ and he asked to meet me.

I met him and at that time he was the club manager of Nagoya Grampus Eight but we didn’t really speak about the club. Some months later, I was back in Abu Dhabi and he called me to say that he was in Dubai and he came to see one of our games. After the game we spoke and he asked me if I was interested in going to Grampus Eight because the club was looking for a new coach.

This was in 2005?

Yes. I was very interested. Ten years ago I was here for four weeks lecturing and a friend of mine Jan Versleijen was the coach of JEF United. From that period, I was impressed with Japanese football, the culture, the people, the organization and so when they asked me if I was interested I said ‘Yes’.

There was only one problem and that was the fact that my contract with Al-Jazeera finished in June 2006. I talked to the club – this was September, October 2005 and they let me finish in December and in January 2006 I started here at Nagoya.

Why did they choose you?

I asked later. Years ago I lectured 15 Japanese coaches in Maastricht and he was one of them. I didn’t remember him but he followed my career. He said the most important reason was that everywhere I had gone as a coach, I had built up the club and had built up the team and that was important for Nagoya.

Now it’s your second season with the club. Are expectations higher this season?

The club is very realistic and has made a plan for three years. Some people do say that Nagoya should finish in the top five but in 2004 and 2005 the club struggled to stay in the J1 league.

Last season we made some big steps in the second half of the season and moved from 15th to seventh.

We have been a little unlucky this season. Our best defender Marek Spilar is injured for ten months. He was the best defender last season in Japan. Our goalkeepers is one of the best here in Japan and he missed five games.

We were also a little unlucky in the transfer period. We were hopeful that we would take a player from JEF United. He would have been very important to our team but he went to Urawa Reds and I can understand that.

Our squad is not stronger than last year but it is more stable. Without our defender and our goalkeeper for five games we are now sixth and I think that is the best possible position for us.

You said that the club has realistic expectations but what are they?

The task this season is to finish in the same position, maybe a little bit higher, perhaps between eighth and fourth and to continue to improve the football we play.

Is there money available for you to do this?

I think so as there was money available for a very important player that became available in the winter. We only spend money if we are sure we can buy a player with the specific qualities that we need, who can bring this team to a higher level.
There is nobody like that available at the moment in Japan. There are always foreign players but we can do nothing at the moment, we have to wait until the summer maybe.

Was the important player Yuki Abe?

We made the same offer for him as Urawa but Urawa Reds are the champions and the top club. I can understand that. I come from Holland. If a player can go to Utrecht or he can go to Ajax then his choice is very simple.

Is it possible for Nagoya to compete with teams like Gamba Osaka and Urawa Reds?
No. This season Urawa, Gamba, Kawasaki and Shimizu are the best teams and are a level above. If we can finish just below them then in my opinion, it will have been a good season.

You play in two stadiums. Is that a disadvantage?

Yes. Normally we play in Mizuno stadium in Nagoya but sometimes we play in a very beautiful stadium in Toyota City. It is one of the best stadiums here in Japan. However we can only play there if Mizuno stadium is not available, if there are other events or if we are expecting more than the 26,000 people that Mizuno can hold. For example, in the last game against Urawa Reds we played in the Toyota Stadium in front of 38,000.

Everybody prefers to play at Toyota, it is an excellent stadium.

Is South Korean midfielder Kim Jung-woo one of your important players?

Absolutely. He is physically strong. He knows where to go in defence and he knows when and where to go deep. He is very strong mentally and has some excellent qualities.

His endurance and stamina is unbelievably high, sometimes he runs too much. His is so professional off the pitch and is very quiet off the pitch. He is an absolute winner. I am so happy with him. He has so many qualities that he gives to our team.

What can he improve?

His heading and finishing are not his strongest point. With his qualities he is often arriving in the penalty box and if he was better at finishing he would have around 10-15 goals a season. However, he has scored three times already this season.

What are the differences between Korean and Japanese players?

The biggest difference is that Korean players are stronger mentally. Sometimes when games aren’t going so well, the Korean players start to fight – they give a little more. Sometimes Japanese players wonder what to do but the Koreans always step forward and are ready to fight.

Kim is not an automatic choice for the national team. Do you think he should go to the Asian Cup?

Absolutely. If you see what he is doing and what he has done from the start of the season until now then I think he will join the group.

Do you talk to the South Korean national team coach Pim Verbeek?

Yes. Sometimes he comes to Japan to watch our games. He calls me also and asks me about Kim’s situation. I am always very honest. However, my answers are almost always positive. He is doing very well.

What are your thoughts on Cho Jae-jin at Shimizu?

He is a high quality player. He is a very good striker.

Would you be interested in buying him if it was possible?

If it was possible I would love to (laughs) but now we have Frode Johnsen from Norway and is a similar type of player. When he leaves and if Cho could come to Nagoya then I would be very happy.

Johnsen is not an out-and-out goalscorer but he is important for the team. He is the kind of striker that can maybe make between 12-15 goals a season. He is not Brazilian but he is always in a good position but is physically strong and has a good mentality.

There is another Dutchman in the J-League, Robert Verbeek who is coaching Omiya Ardija. Have you had a chance to talk to him?

I called him some weeks ago and we have played against each other this season and in a pre-season friendly.

It has been a tough start for him.

Yes but Omiya have been playing well. They need a striker; if they have one player capable of scoring goals then they would be much stronger.

Why are there so many Dutch coaches around the world?

I don’t know (laughs). I didn’t ask to come here, they asked me. Maybe people like the Dutch way of football, I don’t know.

There is a strong Dutch connection with Korean football. Would you be interested in coaching in Korea in the future?

I am 59 years old now. If I was a few years younger then maybe. I am very happy here at the moment and I don’t think about the future too much, just year-to-year.

In terms of organization, the J-League is perhaps the best in Asia. Is there any way to improve it?

For the future of Japan, youth football is very important. The situation is very different in Holland where players come form amateur clubs, in Japan they come from university teams.
The most important thing is whether the players receive high-level coaching at university. In the clubs we get players here in Japan who are 21 or 22, when these players arrive at a professional club, they still have a lot of things to learn. But it is already too late.

I told Nagoya that in Holland it is too late for players at 19 to be making the step to a professional club. If we have them at 14 and 15 then it is possible but most of the time they start at eight. We spend four or five years with these guys and by the time they are 19, they must be ready for professional football.

In Japan it is too late. I know it is a different culture. In Holland parents will take a chance with their kids but in Japan, parents tell their kids that they have to study first. If they are going to study, they need high-level coaches at university. That is the most important thing for Japanese football.

Copyright: John Duerden & Soccerphile

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Monday, June 18, 2007

J-League Results 18 June 2007

J-League Results 18 June 2007.
Saturday / Sunday 16/17 June

Gamba Osaka stay top of the J-League, seven points clear of last year's champions Urawa Reds, who have a game in hand. Gamba beat Nagoya 3-1 in Osaka, while Reds won two-nil away at FC Tokyo.

Ardija's improved form under new coach Robert Verbeek continued with a 2-1 home win over Albirex Niigata, which sees the team move out off the relegation places on goal difference from Ventforet.

In J2, Consadole now have a 11-point lead over the chasing pack of Sendai Vegalta, Kyoto Sanga and Bellmare.

Gamba Osaka 2 Nagoya Gampus Eight 1
Yokohama FC 1 Jubilo Iwata 2
Shimizu S-Pulse 1 Yokohama F Marinos 1
Vissel Kobe 1 Oita Trinita 3
Kawasaki Frontale 0 Kashiwa Reysol 0
Kashima Antlers 5 Sanfrecce Hiroshima 1
Omiya Ardija 2 Albirex Niigata 1

JEF United 3 Ventforet Kofu 2
FC Tokyo 0 Urawa Reds 2

Leading Positions

Gamba P15 Pts 34
Reds P14 Pts 27
Frontale P15 Pts 24
Antlers P15 Pts 24
Jubilo P15 Pts 24

J2

Consadole P21 Pts 46
Vegalta Sendai P21 Pts 35
Kyoto Sanga P20 Pts 35
Bellmare P20 Pts 33

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Saturday, June 16, 2007

J-League Fixtures & Betting June 2007

J-League Fixtures & Betting June 2007
This weekend's J-League fixtures

Kashiwa Reysol v Omiya Ardija
Gamba Osaka v Yokohama FC
Niigata v Vissel Kobe
Oita v Kashima Antlers
Nagoya Grampus Eight v Kawasaki-F
Yokohama F-Marinos v JEF Utd Ichihara
Ventforet Kofu v Jubilo Iwata
Shimizu S-Pulse v FC Tokyo

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Friday, June 15, 2007

Japanese Soccer News June 15 2007

Japanese Soccer News June 15 2007.
J-League News: Gamba open up seven point gap over inactive Urawa

With four games remaining until the mid-season break, Gamba Osaka have opened up a seven point gap over nearest rivals Urawa Reds.

Gamba's last match was a case of top versus bottom, but they had a tough time against Yokohama FC, eventually winning 2-1 in front of a near-capacity crowd of 19,752 fans at Expo '70 Stadium in Osaka.

Kawasaki Frontale lost ground when they were held to a 2-2 draw by Nagoya Grampus Eight in front of 21,190 fans at Toyota Stadium. Veteran midfielder Toshiya Fujita opened the scoring for Nagoya from the penalty spot less than sixty seconds into the match, before Juninho equalised for the visitors after twenty-two minutes. Norwegian international Frode Johnsen restored Nagoya's lead after sixty-five minutes, but just two minutes later young Korean substitute Chong Te-se ensured that Kawasaki went home with a share of the spoils.

Albirex Niigata were the big movers, coming from behind to beat Vissel Kobe 3-1 in front of 38,667 fans at Big Swan Stadium and moving up to fourth place in the J-League as a result. They leapfrogged Kashiwa Reysol, who were held to a 0-0 draw by Omiya Ardija at Kashiwanoha Stadium. That was Omiya's fifth match unbeaten - although they have only won once during that run - a 1-0 win over bottom club Yokohama FC.

Oita Trinita pulled off a coup recently by announcing that they had re-signed talented midfielder Tsukasa Umesaki from Grenoble, as well as young Sanfrecce Hiroshima striker Shunsuke Maeda on loan. They had to come from behind twice to draw 2-2 with Kashima Antlers in front of 21,804 fans at the Kyushu Oil Dome in their most recent J-League fixture, although it was midfielder Daisuke Takahashi who scored twice - including a last minute goal, to salvage a point for the hosts.

Shimizu S-Pulse and FC Tokyo put on a clinic of long-range finishing at Nihondaira Stadium on June 10, but it was the club from the capital who came out on top, triumphing 3-1 over their hosts.

FC Tokyo opened the lead when the pacy Norio Suzuki burst through down the left hand side and crashed an unstoppable left-foot drive passed Yohei Nishibe in the Shimizu goal. Not to be outdone, Shimizu midfielder Akihiro Hyodo then produced a candidate for goal of the season, beating Yoichi Doi with a fabulous left-foot strike from all of thirty yards, just seconds before the half-time whistle.

The turning point of this match came barely sixty seconds after the half-time whistle, when Norio Suzuki once again broke clear down the left hand side and deceived Nishibe with a cool finish that beat the S-Pulse shot-stopper at his near post. Substitute Yuta Baba then cracked home a curling long range strike that crashed down off the crossbar and in off the back of the hapless Nishibe.

Jubilo Iwata fans were celebrating the return of long-term injury casualty Ryoichi Maeda at Kose Sports Park Stadium in Kofu. Making his first start of the season, Maeda scored twice as Jubilo thrashed home team Ventforet Kofu 6-1. Yoshiaki Ota also scored a double, while midfielders Fabricio and Naoya Kikuchi scored one each, with Jubilo coach Adilson afforded the luxury of resting Japan Olympic team striker Bobby Cullen, thanks to the return of Maeda.

Consadole Sapporo still lead the way in J2, despite becoming the latest big-name team to lose to lowly Ehime FC. Sapporo lost 2-1 at Ehime Athletics Stadium in the midweek round of matches on June 13, and nearest challenger Vegalta Sendai took advantage by beating Avispa Fukuoka 1-0 in front of 11,301 fans at Yurtec Sendai Stadium.

Cerezo Osaka recorded a much-needed away victory, hammering Tokushima Vortis 4-0, but third-placed Kyoto Sanga FC crashed 2-0 away at Sagan Tosu, while Thespa Kusatsu held Tokyo Verdy to a 0-0 draw.

Naoya Kikuchi arrested

Jubilo Iwata midfielder Naoya Kikuchi was arrested on June 13 on suspicion of having sex with a minor.

Kikuchi has admitted to having sex with a 15 year old girl in late May, in violation of local laws. The encounter came to light after Kikuchi attempted to hand the girl 10,000 yen in cash, and accidentally left his wallet in the basket of the girl's bicycle.

The girl was allegedly unaware that the 22 year old Kikuchi was a professional footballer, and after handing his wallet in to police, the member of Japan's 2004 Olympic squad in Athens was questioned and ultimately arrested.

Atsuhiro Miura suspended

Former Japan international Atsuhiro Miura has been suspended by his club Vissel Kobe for making derogatory comments directed at Kobe coach Hiroshi Matsuda.

After returning from a broken toe, Miura has been unable to force his way back into the Kobe starting eleven.

He allegedly made the comments after a reserve-team Satellite League game against Nagoya Grampus Eight on June 3. Miura has voluntarily stepped down as captain of Vissel Kobe.

A3 Champions Cup

The A3 Champions Cup took place in Jinan, China this week, with 2006 J-League champions Urawa Reds representing the J-League.

The tournament, which pits the champions of Japan, Korea and China - plus one other team from the host nation against each other, saw Urawa take on K-League champions Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma and Chinese Super League champions Shandong Luneng and runners-up Shanghai Shenhua United.

Urawa lost their first match to Shandong 4-3, before beating Seongnam 1-0 in a spiteful encounter. Ryota Tsuzuki saved a penalty from Seongnam's Brazilian striker Mota in that match, before sparking a wild melee by standing over the striker who was lying disconsolate on the ground. Shanghai Shenhua were knocked out of the AFC Champions League by Urawa, but they extracted a measure of revenge by beating the Reds 3-1 in their final A3 Champions Cup match.

The scheduling of the tournament forced the postponement until Wednesday, August 1 of Urawa's Round 14 J-League clash with Sanfrecce Hiroshima at Saitama Stadium. Urawa's next J-League match is a tough encounter with near-neighbours FC Tokyo at Ajinomoto Stadium on June 17.

Japan National Teams.
Japan National Teams

Japan

Two encouraging performances in the Kirin Cup have renewed the confidence of Japan fans ahead of the upcoming Asian Cup.

Japan beat Montenegro 2-0 at Ecopa Stadium in Fukuroi on June 2, courtesy of goals from Yokohama F. Marinos defender Yuji Nakazawa and Eintracht Frankfurt striker Naohiro Takahara.

The Blue Samurai overwhelmed their opponents, and they took the lead when Nakazawa produced a towering header from Yasuhito Endo's cross after twenty-three minutes. Fifteen minutes later the impressive Yuichi Komano delivered a pinpoint cross for Takahara to flick home at the near post, as Montenegro had no answer to Japan's attacking football.

The closest the visitors came was in the sixty-seventh minute, but captain Igor Burzanovic rolled a spot-kick wide after he had been brought down in the box.

Japan turned in an even more impressive performance three days later, but they were unable to break the deadlock in a 0-0 draw with Colombia at Saitama Stadium. That result was enough to see Japan lift the Kirin Cup, but fans will be more pleased with the stylish football offered by "Osim's Japan," with Naohiro Takahara in particularly good form.

Japan Olympic Team

After winning all six of their opening group matches in the gruelling Olympic qualification tournament, Japan have been rewarded with a tough-looking Final Round draw in their bid to qualify for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Japan have been drawn in Group C with Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Vietnam. The Saudi's relegated Australia into second place in their opening group, while Vietnam edged out Lebanon into top spot in their group.

The four group winners will join hosts China as Asia's football representatives at the Olympics.

Japan Women's Team

Nadeshiko Japan lead their Final Round Group A with ten points from four games played. Japan dropped their first points of the campaign by drawing 2-2 with Korea Republic at Bucheon Stadium on June 10.

Japan next travel to Vietnam on August 4, before returning to Japan to play what could be a decisive final group match against second-placed Thailand on August 12.

Copyright © Michael Tuckerman & Soccerphile.com

World Soccer News

Thursday, June 14, 2007

We have to stop the Blubber Ring

Call me a non-conforming malcontent, but I wholeheartedly disagree with the concept of marriage. When at Alton Towers, I absolutely love it on the log flume, but after a few rides, I should be free to have a go on the black hole.

It’s a statistical fact that if a couple of a similar age marry, the male has the shorter life expectancy. I haven’t read up on the reason behind this, but my hunch would be the ‘until death do us part’ line in the ceremony.

There are occasionally extenuating circumstances for staying with the same partner for a significant number of years, but there aren’t that many blonde, mute, orphaned, former gymnast cleaners wandering the streets.

Steven Gerrard, Michael Carrick, John Terry and Gary Neville are all making a huge rick by taking their partners up the aisle this weekend. I don’t wish to scaremonger, but if my marriage is anything to go by, the bride’s libido is replaced by an appetite for cake the moment the ring makes contact with the finger.

Gary Neville would love for David Beckham to show up on his big day, but Becks will be busy training for Real Madrid’s title decider. Few would argue with the fact that Beckham deserves a medal; if only for his quick thinking in getting out of the Neville do. The slow-witted bint-beaten former golden boy of English football will finally get his hands on something other than Rebecca Loos; Real Madrid are absolute bankers at 2/13 at home to Mallorca.

Steven Gerrard’s marriage to orange pancake-eater Alex Curran will undoubtedly be the glitziest affair. The couple originally wanted Gary Barlow to perform at the reception, but decided to go for a more upmarket feel and order a karaoke machine instead. The 11/4 for the red-hot Villarreal to snatch a point off Seville is enough to make me burst into a quality rendition of ‘the size of a cow’.

I’m really enjoying the Under-21 tournament in Holland. To be honest, after five years of marriage, I’d be interested in anything under 21 stone. Portugal are the pick of the weekend punts at 2/5 against the underwhelming Israelis.

Once again, Big Brother has managed to completely hook me in. Tracey is probably the most interesting character in the series; I’m sure the mad raver would look a picture on her wedding day; as would her lovely bride. Tracey is now second favourite behind ‘any other’ in the outright market, but I’d rather be on Gerry at 5/1. So to speak.

I’m like any other young male who’s visited London, we’ve all done Charley a couple of times. It’s not easy to win the title of the most annoying member of the Richardson clan, but Charley has romped home practically unchallenged. The mouthy nause is an absolute certainty to be the next housemate evicted after the maladroit Shabnam.

Is Lewis Hamilton a flash in the pan or the real deal? This may well be the easiest question to answer since ‘Will John Terry have a bouncer at his wedding reception.’ The even money for Hamilton to take the title is shining like a doorman’s eye after a meeting with Jody Morris.

Just because I’m anti-marriage, it doesn’t make me a misogynist; that’s purely a coincidence. Espanyol, Valencia, Real Madrid and a Seville draw form a 14/1 weekend accer that I can really commit to.


Copyright (c) Gerry McDonnell & soccerphile.com

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Fifa World Rankings June 2007

Fifa World Rankings June 2007.
Fifa World Rankings June 2007

Italy stay top of the FIFA World Rankings. Brazil drop to third, Argentina move down to fifth below Germany. England are in 8th after a win in Euro 2008 qualifying.

1 Italy
2 Brazil
3 France
4 Germany
5 Argentina
6 Portugal
7 Spain
8 England
9 Netherlands
10 Czech Republic

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Sunday, June 10, 2007

Pim Verbeek Interview - Pre-Asian Cup Problems

Pim Verbeek
For nations like Japan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Korea and now Australia, the Asian Cup is second only to the World Cup in importance and not only that, it is the one major competition that is, at present, winnable for such teams.

The Taeguk Warriors haven’t done so for 47 years – and, ten months after taking his place in the hotseat in Seoul, South Korean coach Pim Verbeek is determined to end that drought. However, the Dutchman feels that the people involved in Korean football are not all pulling in the same direction.

With less than four weeks until the Asian Cup begins, the K-League is still going at full pelt. Korea’s 14 clubs will play their last games before the summer break on June 23 and the midweek Hauzen Cup will come to an end four days later – just nine days before the national team leaves for Indonesia and Group D matches with the co-hosts, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.

Verbeek believes the late finish as well as the hectic domestic schedule with games every weekend and Wednesday since the season began in March will harm Korea’s chances in Indonesia.

“As far as I can see, in less than three months time there have been 22 games - which is impossible. Players are tired, the coaches can’t train and have no time to improve the team and because of that. I have no preparation,” Verbeek told Soccerphile.

A congested fixture list is not unique to Korea. England is well-known for the amount of games played – the English season has already accounted for Park Ji-sung, Lee Young-pyo and Seol Ki-hyeon, all three of which are likely to miss the Asian Cup through injury but according to Verbeek, the situation is not the same.

“In England most of the players are a very high standard and in Korea we have so many young players. To improve young players you have to train. You have to do tactical training, you have to let them rest and let them develop. I see here 20 year-old players play 20 games in less than three months. What can we expect? You have to learn from your mistakes but if there’s no training…”

Occasionally there can be too much training. When asked if it would be possible to contact the K-league coaches to request that one or two players be rested occasionally, Verbeek smiled, shook his head and gave an example regarding Jeolla Province club Chunnam Dragons.

“When we went to Yemen recently for the Olympic game, we flew from Korea on Sunday evening. Most of the players played at the weekend for their K-League clubs. One of the teams lost on Saturday and the coach thought it was a good idea to give the players extra training at 6.30 on Sunday morning.

“I think that’s disrespectful for the players. Whether the Olympic team players play well or not, at least they need some rest before they go on a 20-hour trip.

“So, after those players played a game on Saturday, they had to train at 6.30 on Sunday morning, then travel to Incheon and then fly on Sunday evening to Yemen and then they are expected to perform on Wednesday.

“I have never heard of a coach who is training at 6.30 on Sunday morning after losing a game. I think if you do that in Europe then nobody will believe it. Physically and football-wise that is not the way we treat our players in Europe even if they lost a game.

“But it’s a different culture. It's his (Chunnam coach and ex-PSV player Huh Jung-moo) idea to punish his players like this but the point is I needed those players for a qualification game for the Olympic team. At least I would have expected that those players be given a rest because the next evening they have to sleep on the airplane which is not the best preparation.”

Preparation. That is what Verbeek is at pains to emphasize as he looks to the team’s first game in the Asian Cup.

“Preparation for the Asian Cup is only two weeks; less than four weeks for the last World Cup and five months for 2002 but it is a challenge. The good part is that the players know what to do because we always play the same system. They know exactly what position they have to play.”

That will come in useful on July 11 when South Korea kicks off its campaign against Asian powerhouse Saudi Arabia.

“Saudi Arabia is one of the favourites,” said Verbeek, “so it’s good that we have them in the first round and as long as we progress then we can’t meet again before the final.”

According to the coach, there are a number of other rivals that Korea must watch out for in south-east Asia.

“Iran is always a difficult opponent, China I have no idea how far they are but they probably have good preparation. Japan always has a good selection of players to choose from.

“Australia? Most of their players play in England and I am very curious to know how they will handle that. The English season has finished so they also have to find a solution for players not playing from May 13 to July 8 or 9 – that’s a big challenge.

Korea are in the opposite situation.

“The good part of our preparations is that our players are match-fit,” says Verbeek and then laughs, “too much so!”

A sense of humour could come in handy over the next few weeks.

Copyright: John Duerden & Soccerphile.

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Friday, June 8, 2007

I’ve got my Bouncer down to a Tea

No matter how bad things may appear, there is always somebody in a considerably worse position. Unfortunately, that person is me. The old man’s Alzheimer’s has deteriorated; I just wish I had the inclination to help out.

To add to my woes, i’m almost certain that the wife is cheating on me with ‘Mad Mark’, the huge doorman from our local boozer. It’s not her infidelity that grates me; it’s the fact that I have to make his breakfast every morning.

The kids do offer the occasional moment of light relief in an otherwise miserable existence, but when you break down the costs involved in bringing them up, you can only class them as poor value for money. Yet throughout all these tribulations, I remain a happy man.

All I need to raise a smile is to see a small group of people kicking an inflated piece of pigskin around. I’d be just as happy to see an actual pig being knocked about, but the judge has ordered me to cut that out.

The Premiership remains my true love, but I’ve occasionally strayed into the arms of the football league, the SPL, the conference and the Paralympics. I’m a little bit uncomfortable watching football at such a poor level though, but Celtic did make it into the knockout stages of the Champions League.

This weekend, I’ll be getting involved with the European Under 21 Championships. Bookmakers are as short as 11/5 for an England win, while the technically superior Dutch (reigning champions and hosts) are available at 5/1. Something is afoot, and just like the wife, that’s around the 12 inch mark.

My old man used to always say, “Be careful what you wish for.” Obviously this was before he began to aimlessly roam the streets, thrilling passers-by with his thoughts on the 1950’s country music scene.

A lone male sharing a house with a group of women may appear a blessing, but on further reflection, it’s closer to a living nightmare. If you pluck a lady at random, there’s a conservative 10% chance that she’ll be on the evils. When you throw 11 bints into the equation, you’re now looking at a probability of 68% that at least one of them will be currently receiving a visit from the angry painter.

Ziggy may appear a level headed bloke, but you just can’t ague with the math; he’s going to be eaten alive at any minute. He’s already showing signs of cracking; he tearfully announced that he was missing his dog, and he’d only been away from Chanelle for 10 minutes. None of the original housemates look appealing in the Big Brother outright winner market; ‘any other’ is a strong player at 10/11.

The press have been quick to condemn Emily for her moment of madness, but I think it’s more of an education issue; the decision to let Big Ron teach a class was flawed from the very beginning. Betting is up on the next housemate to be evicted, 10/1 for miserable old trout Lesley looks a reasonable shout.

I’m a great lover of golf, there’s nothing I enjoy more than playing a round on the weekend. I find it a frustrating pastime though; I don’t think i’ve ever made a hole in one. The US Open kicks off on Thursday and I’ll stick to my proven strategy of backing the Tiger at inflated prices; I can’t see past the Woods at the threes.

Footballers may have a poor reputation, but the ‘May Day for nurses’ campaign has proved a real eye-opener. The often maligned Joey Barton was more than happy to help out, but then again, he’s been throwing work their way for many years. The 19/1 weekend accer of Barcelona, Levante and Real Zaragoza is my little donation to the cause; I’ll give a little more on Saturday night.


Copyright (c) Gerry McDonnell & soccerphile.com

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Dutch Double Does For Korea

National anthems Korea-Holland in Seoul
Games against the Netherlands are often ones to remember and last Saturday night in Seoul was no different for hosts South Korea.

The game was arranged to mark the five-year anniversary of the start of the 2002 World Cup, which was of course, hosted by Korea and Japan.

The Netherlands didn’t even qualify for that competition while South Korea, coached by Guus Hiddink and assistant Pim Verbeek, reached the semi-finals.

Dutch coach Marco van Basten

Despite that non-appearance, Holland are still part of the footballing elite and were expected to defeat the Asians. They did just that with a 2-0 victory. The Dutch may have been without the likes of Clarence Seedorf, Arjen Van Robben and Edwin van der Sar but the squad that traveled east was still a skilful one.

Korea were missing their Premier League quarter of Park Ji-sung, Lee Young-pyo (sitting in the commentary box instead), Seol Ki-hyeon and Lee Dong-gook. The strength in depth of the Taeguk Warriors doesn’t, unfortunately, match that of the Europeans.

Lee Young-pyo in an unfamiliar pose

Rafael van der Vaart got a goal in each half, the first a penalty, to silence the home fans. The second came with 18 minutes remaining and Korea’s subsequent lack of fight and energy annoyed their Dutch coach Pim Verbeek who launched a scathing attack on the administrators of the K-League.

"I can’t believe the K-League organized a cup semi-final three days before a national team game,” said Verbeek after the game.

"If that’s how they want to treat the national team then we need to have serious discussions. It is stupid, disrespectful and bad for Korean football.”

"It’s the first time in my life that I have seen a Korean team lose so much energy at the end of the game. They have played 22 games in less than three months. The players were tired and after it became 2-0, they were finished.”

Verbeek was not finished there and when asked why he didn’t bring on substitute midfielder Kim Doo-hyun before the last 15 minutes, the coach launched an uncharacteristic attack on the Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma midfielder.

"I really regret bringing him on. He was terrible. I told him that if he wants to play that way then I will kick him off the national team. He can stay in Seongnam.”

Naturally, Seongnam coach Kim Hak-bom was not best pleased at the criticism of his star midfielder.

"I didn’t hear what Verbeek said but if it true then it shows a problem of leadership,” Kim replied.

"As far as I could see the team balance improved when Kim Doo-hyun came on. One player can’t change the situation of the whole team. Managing the game with that intention is a stupid way.”

“Verbeek said that the Netherlands game was a rehearsal for the Asian Cup," Kim added. "but the team was playing not to lose and packed midfield with three defensive midfielders. That won’t be the case at the Asian Cup so I don’t know what is going on.”

Korea have two more friendly games before leaving for Jakarta and the Asian Cup. The first is against Iraq in Seogwipo on Jeju Island on June 29 and the second is back in Seoul against Uzbekistan on July 5.

More of the same in K-League

Back in the K-League,little has changed. Seongnam show no sign of stopping. The champions are still six points clear and still undefeated. Last season’s runners- up Suwon Samsung Bluewings stay second, just a point ahead of the impressive Gyeongnam FC and their goalscoring duo of Popo and Cabore.

Apart from the two ‘nams’ Gyeong and Seong, the other form team is Ulsan Hyundai Horang-i. The Tigers have won their last three with Premier League target Lee Chun-soo in the middle of most good things the Tigers are doing.

FC Seoul are still struggling for goals as the nightmarish statistic of five in 13 games clearly shows and further down the table Andy Egli and Busan I’Park are struggling.

At least they are doing better than Gwangju Sangmu who are still looking for a first win in 2007.

Copyright: John Duerden & Soccerphile

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This weekend's J-League fixtures

Kashiwa Reysol v Omiya Ardija
Gamba Osaka v Yokohama FC
Niigata v Vissel Kobe
Oita v Kashima Antlers
Nagoya Grampus Eight v Kawasaki-F
Yokohama F-Marinos v JEF Utd Ichihara
Ventforet Kofu v Jubilo Iwata
Shimizu S-Pulse v FC Tokyo

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Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Are FIFA high as a kite?

Soccer news from Soccerphile.com.
The sport's world governing body certainly put the cat amongst the South American pigeons last week when it announced that no more games would be played at altitude, for health and safety reasons.

This curious and unexpected directive seemed to me at first to have been an arbitrary blow against Ecuador and Bolivia, whose national teams play internationals in their high-altitude capitals.

Ecuador qualified for the 2006 World Cup thanks to an unbeaten home record in Quito (elevation 2,800 metres) which included the scalps of traditional South American superpowers Brazil and Argentina.

However, the theory that altitude equals advantage is unproven when Bolivia, who play their games at La Paz (3,600m), finished bottom of the pile.

FIFA’s limit of 2,500m for football matches would also rule Bogota out of future games, although Colombia tends to eschew their capital in favour of the large Estadio Metropolitano in Baranquilla, which stands a lofty six metres above sea level.

Suspicious eyes have turned towards the influence in CONMEBOL wielded by Brazil, the largest country in the continent, synonym for football greatness, home of former FIFA President Joao Havelange and the sole candidate from the region for the 2018 World Cup.

Players from Rio club Flamengo needed oxygen earlier this year after a Copa Libertadores match at 4,000m high Real Potosi in Bolivia, which may have hastened FIFA’s decision.

Yet the seleçao’s concern at Peru’s intention to host future qualifiers in high in the sky Cusco (3,500m) appears alarmist. Peru finished just above cellar-dwellers Bolivia in the ten-nation race for 2006.

While high-altitude soccer undoubtedly is a challenge for those unaccustomed to it, the wisdom of FIFA’s edict remains highly questionable.

Playing in intense heat is probably of more immediate worry than exercising in thin air, medically speaking, as some of the affected countries hope to prove with a team of doctors in their forthcoming appeals.

FIFA had no problem in 1994 when scheduling lunchtime kick-offs for the World Cup finals in extreme heat and humidity, in order to satisfy the demands of European television and sponsors, a decision which placed unreasonable physical demands on the players, many of whom struggled in the sweltering conditions.

In addition, the news that high altitude prohibits safe sporting activity must come as news to the three million-odd inhabitants of the above cities and their soccer heritage, including a number of major clubs, which goes back decades.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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Friday, June 1, 2007

Should Have Gone To Becks, Save Us

The domestic football season is now the equivalent of Princess Di; it was a great ride for a while, but it’s time to let go. Luckily, we now have the ‘Camilla’, the ugly nine-pinter that is the European Championship qualifiers.

England’s participation is hanging by a thread and fingers are pointing at the manager. Danny Mills, Massimo Maccarone, Fleet Street journalists and fans of attractive football have all been quick to put the boot in; but for once, the grinning buffoon deserves a little credit.

It takes a big man to admit when he’s made a mistake, I know I’ve made two of the little buggers. McClaren has finally realised that the decision to dump Beckham like a Scottish girlfriend was extremely short-sighted. Goldenballs remains an archetypal, if extremely camp, match-winner in the big game scenario.

I can’t accept the argument that selecting Beckham is a step backwards as he’s taking the place of a youngster with a long- term future. The less experienced players won’t learn much from watching the finals on television.

McClaren’s groundbreaking policy of selecting his best players is possibly the first correct decision of a woeful tenure. One swallow does not make a summer though, but it does practically guarantee an enjoyable evening. England will leave Estonia with the win on Wednesday night at a pleasant 2/9.

Ryan Giggs has shocked Welsh football by deciding to hang up his boots. His team-mates will undoubtedly miss his presence in one out of every five Internationals. The Czech Republic are the pick of the weekend punts at 8/11 against a moribund Welsh side.

The Danes and the Swedes once landed a betting coup so great; Harry Redknapp could only look on in earnest admiration. Another draw wouldn’t be the end of the world for either team; the 9/4 looks a reasonable shout.

There’s a widespread belief that Spain hack up in the qualifiers before collapsing like Lindsay Lohan in the finals. The Spanish are currently four points shy of Northern Ireland this time around, so that theory has fewer legs than Heather Mills. Only a win in Latvia will do for our siesta-sneaking brothers, I’ll be on at 4/11.

The French are lovers, not fighters; I’m not particularly skilled at either. I can spot a value punt when I see one though, France are overpriced at a colossal 8/13 against Ukraine.

Greece are still in a state of shock from the most unlikely result in European football history; they somehow managed to survive the Scouse invasion. The Greeks can practically guarantee qualification by seeing off Hungary at a tragic 8/15.

Last week’s accumulator couldn’t have gone in any quicker without being assisted by Henri Paul. This week’s acc is also in the bag; France, Spain, Czech Republic, Greece and a Denmark draw will all oblige at an explosive 16/1.


Copyright (c) Gerry McDonnell & soccerphile.com

Golden Balls TV FA Cup Final 2007 Man Utd v Chelsea




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Twelve Retain Crown in Europe

In twelve of the more important European leagues this season's champions are identical to last season's title winners. In some countries the reign of one club has lasted for quite a long time; Olympique Lyon have won their sixth successive title while Olympiacos have collected their third title in a row and ninth in the last ten years. PSV have also made it three in a row in a most unlikely fashion, clinching the win on the final day.

Country Team Successive titles

Belgium Anderlecht 2
Bulgaria Levski 2
Croatia Dinamo 2
Denmark FC Kobenhavn 2
France Lyon 6
Greece Olympiacos 3
Hungary Debrecen 3
Italy Inter 2
Netherlands PSV 3
Portugal Porto 2
Scotland Celtic 2
Serbia Red Star 2



Celtic and Linfield among Double Winners

Celtic and Linfield have joined Dinamo Zagreb, Dynamo Kiev, Levski and Red Star Belgrade as double winners in the 2006/07 season. Only six teams have succeeded in winning both the league and Cup titles with Sevilla as the only remaining candidate for such an achievement.

Several clubs have come close to the double, notably German champions Stuttgart, who lost to Nürnberg 2-3 in the German Cup final. The runaway Italian champions Inter failed dismally in the Coppa Italia losing to Roma 4-7 on aggregate, while the Hungarian champs Debrecen lost on penalties to Honved.

Country Double winners (score and rival in the finals)

Bulgaria Levski (1-0 Liteks)
Hrvatska Dinamo Zagreb (1-0 and 1-1 Slaven)
Northern Ireland Linfield (2-2, 3-2 pen. Dungannon)
Scotland Celtic (1-0 Dunfermline)
Serbia: Red Star (2-0 Vojvodina)
Ukraine: Dynamo Kiev (2-1 Shakhtar)


Deschamps "had a need for peace"

Just days after his team secured a return to top flight soccer, Juventus' coach Didier Deschamps has quit, quoting pressure and lack of communication with the directors as his motives for resigning.
"A coach needs a tranquil atmosphere and I lacked that at Juventus. It is not that I wanted to have a say on everything, but just to find out how we would be organized next season," the Frenchman told Radio Montecarlo.

As for his successor, Juventus's chairman Jean-Claude Blanc revealed Marcello Lippi would be his pick.
"We would like to have him back as soon as possible. Let him choose what he would like to do."

The former Juve and Italy coach claims he is nowhere close to returning to the bench vacated by Deschamps.
"I said I wanted to have a rest for a couple more months. If Juventus want me, I trust they will ask me personally. For now, there is no truth in that."

Robbie Keane renews with Spurs

The Irish forward Robbie Keane renewed his contract with Tottenham Hotspurs for the next five years after completing his best season yet with the club. Keane scored 22 goals this season, raising his tally to 84 goals since joining Spurs from Leeds United in 2002.

The 26-year old international also collected his 200th cap in the Premier League for the White Hart Lane outfit on the last day of the competition against Manchester City.

FIFA at War with South America over Altitude

FIFA's ban on playing international games above 2500 meters has infuriated Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia, for whom the altitude had always been a chief factor of superiority over Brazil or Argentina.

"FIFA tells us that the countries from the Andes should not play soccer any longer. Important cities such as Bogota, La Paz and Quito will lose the games of their national teams," says the Colombian national team coach Jorge Luis Pinto with a tad of exaggeration, since the ban refers exclusively to matches under FIFA's jurisdiction.

The Bolivian president Evo Morales has stepped up and said that "those who want us to play at a lower level are themselves at a low level". Bolivian media have invited the citizens to send one million letters to FIFA in an attempt to make the world's soccer bosses reconsider.

Pelé Concurs with FIFA's Decision

"We the Brazilians have always been hurt (by having to play at high altitudes). I am surprised that FIFA has waited so long. Let the mountain nations play in cities at lower altitudes."

Even though Argentina should also be grateful for not having to endure the rarified air any more, their World Cup winning coach Carlos Bilardo believes the ban is an error.
"It would be justified if a player had died at such heights. But I have never heard of such a case. They are worse things for a soccer player. When I coached Libya, we had to play at 50 degrees Celsius.


Ribas Bundesliga's Best

The Brazilian Diego Ribas has been elected the best player in the German Bundesliga in the traditional end-of-season poll conducted by Kicker magazine. The Werder midfielder received 50.7% of the vote ahead of the league's top scorer Theofanis Gekas from Bochum at 10.7% and another forward, Mario Gómez from Stuttgart at 6.3%.

In the same poll, Gómez was voted the most promising player in the Bundesliga with 14.8% of the vote, just ahead of Schalke's keeper Manuel Neuer

Raúl, Real's Second Top Scorer

Real Madrid's captain Raúl González reached second spot on the team's all-time league championship scoring list with 187 goals. By scoring against Deportivo, Raúl overtook Carlos Santillana by one goal and now trails only Alfredo Di Stéfano, still far ahead on 216.

Raúl has also equalled Francisco Gento's number of appearances for the club at 605. Only Di Stefano (712) and Santillana (643) are ahead of the 29-year-old who still has a couple of good seasons before him. And a couple of records to break.


Rivaldo Joins Olympiacos' Rivals AEK

The Brazilian 2002 World Cup star Rivaldo has signed a two-year contract with AEK of Athens, where he will rejoin Spanish coach Lorenzo Serra Ferrer, whom he met at Barcelona.

Rivaldo wanted to stay with Olympiacos, with whom he won three titles in a row between 2004 and 2007, but the Piraeus squad failed to meet his salary expectations.
AEK, last season's runners-up, have stepped in and went off with a big prize.
Rivaldo, though 35, is still an asset for any squad, and believes he can help AEK reconquer the Greek championship for the first time since 1994.

"I want to win another league here and go as far as possible in the Champions' League. I left one big club for another," said Rivaldo, who will earn in the neighbourhood of 1.3 million euros per season.

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