Thursday, November 29, 2007

Short and fat, with a Terry on the top

Sigmund Freud was nothing but a hairy quack. My cantankerous nature is not the result of a repressed Oedipus complex; I only feel hostility towards my father because he’s really annoying.

Before senility kicked in, the old fellow would try in vain to act cool around my friends. I genuinely sympathise with anyone who has had to endure a similar ordeal; so naturally I have plenty of time for Shaun Wright-Phillips.

I must defend Shaun after allegations that he left a female guest in tears at his recent birthday bash. It’s been reported that the young lady broke down when Wright-Phillips allegedly snatched her camera. All she had to do was hold it up in the air.

I can’t be as forgiving in regard to the disgraceful behaviour of John Terry. I have no problem with the England captain publicly urinating in a cup; but hitting the dance floor remains a strict social faux pas for any self-respecting male.

Frank Lampard was on his best behaviour at the party, as he’s completely focused on his personal grudge match against West Ham. I guess it’s true about an elephant never forgetting. I’ve emailed myself a reminder to get on Chelsea at 1/3.

Email has definitely made my daily life more efficient, but it really annoys me when I receive about 40 emails a day asking me to buy Viagra. On reflection, I should never have shared my email address with the wife. Paul Jewell will definitely struggle to keep Derby up: I’m hitting the 7/10 for a Sunderland win over the Rams.

It’s been a great week for the Birmingham City board. The Blues could easily afford to pay the Scottish FA £1m in compensation for Alex McLeish, as they had already received £3m from Wigan for Steve Bruce. I just hope they bought Dave Whelan breakfast after hammering out that deal. I’m filling up on the colossal 1/2 for a Tottenham win over the fortunate Brummies.

Stephen Hunt was up to his old tricks last week. I haven’t seen such a disappointing tackle since pictures of John Terry’s cup-trick circulated on the internet. We can all go out on the lash when the overpriced Middlesbrough scythe through a mediocre Reading at 16/5.

Has there ever been a more annoying person than Jamie Redknapp? I normally abhor violence, but if I ever met his old man; I’d have to give him a backhander. I’m putting my hands up to backing Pompey at 5/4 against Everton.

I was stunned to read that Rafa Benitez is on the verge of losing his job. I asked a Liverpool supporter friend, Rob Smith, for his opinion. “We can only win cups under Rafa, he claimed, and then we have to go to the trouble of keeping them away from John Terry.” I refuse to hide away from the 1/3 for a Liverpool win over Bolton.

A comical misunderstanding had led to the FA charging Sir Alex Ferguson with using foul and abusive language to an official. Fergie told Mark Clattenburg that he hoped to fight off competition for Yakubu’s signature when the transfer window reopens in January: which explains the use of the phrase ‘Yak hunt’. Manchester United have scored 20 goals in their last four matches against Fulham; the 1/5 for a United win can only be interpreted as an absolute banker.

The usual suspects have been quick to condemn supporters who choose to boo the England players who let their country down, but I believe the fans’ reaction was perfectly justified. I do hope the Manchester City supporters lay off Emile Heskey though; as he was never really an England player. The 9/4 for a draw between Wigan and Manchester City deserves a rapturous welcome.

Arsene Wenger compared managing England to putting your head in the mouth of a crocodile. That’s definitely a bad move unless you’ve got a miniscule head, like John Terry. Arsenal are unbeaten at Villa Park on their last eight meets; there’s nothing diminutive about the even money for another victory for the all conquering Gunners.

I have nothing but admiration for Sam Allardyce after he asked the FA to rule him out of contention for the England post. I’ve followed Sam’s lead, and have asked Natasha Kaplinsky to rule me out of any potential boyfriend position she may have. I will be getting on the 10/11 for a Blackburn win over Newcastle.

I did feel sorry for Big Sam when I heard Newcastle fans chant “You don’t know what you’re doing.” These supporters regularly take off their shirts in the middle of winter: tactics may not be their strong point. Backing Blackburn, Sunderland, Arsenal, Liverpool, Tottenham and Manchester United in a 13/1 accer is a manoeuvre that even the shivering Geordies can warm to.


Copyright (c) Gerry McDonnell & soccerphile.com

Final day fight as the J-League goes down to the wire

J.League
For the third season in a row, the J-League title race will be decided on the final day of the season.

That's because Urawa Reds lost 1-0 to second-placed Kashima Antlers in front of 62,123 fans at Saitama Stadium on November 24, thanks to midfielder Takuya Nozawa's solitary strike.

Kashima had defender Toru Araiba controversially sent off for a second bookable offence after just forty-two minutes, and referee Kenji Ogiya again grabbed the headlines when he sent off Kashima substitute Yuji Funayama for "spitting" with just seconds remaining. Urawa fans claimed that Funayama had spat in their direction, but television replays suggest that Funayama simply spat on the ground before attempting to take a throw-in.

The shock loss leaves Urawa one point ahead of Kashima in the J-League standings going into the final day of the season.

In Round 34 action, Urawa travel to Nissan Stadium where they will take on rock bottom Yokohama FC. Tens of thousands of Urawa fans are expected to make the trip to the port city for what will practically be a "home" fixture for the visiting side.

Kashima Antlers will host Shimizu S-Pulse at a packed Kashima Stadium, where Kenta Hasegawa's S-Pulse will once again hope to spoil an opponent's title hopes. Shimizu delivered a fatal blow to Gamba Osaka's chances of winning the league by beating them 3-1 at Nihondaira Stadium in Round 30, and Urawa were held to a 0-0 home draw by Shimizu in Round 32, when a Reds victory would have sewn up the title.

Elsewhere Ventforet Kofu were relegated after they slumped to a 2-1 defeat away at Kashiwa Reysol - Kofu's twentieth league defeat of a turbulent season. They will join Yokohama FC in J2 next season, with Sanfrecce Hiroshima currently occupying the promotion/relegation playoff place.

In J2, Tokyo Verdy and Consadole Sapporo are neck-and-neck on 88 points going into the final round of the season. Tokyo Verdy have a superior goal difference, whilst Kyoto Sanga FC are in third place in the standings on 85 points.

Tokyo Verdy travel to Nagai Stadium in their quest to claim the J2 crown, where they will face a tough-looking Cerezo Osaka in the final league match of the season. Consadole Sapporo arguably have an easier fixture - they host second-from-bottom Mito Hollyhock at the Sapporo Dome.

Kyoto Sanga FC travel to third-from-bottom Thespa Kusatsu, with the third placed finisher in J2 set to face Sanfrecce Hiroshima in a playoff to determine which team will take their place in the top flight next season.

Urawa Reds knocked out of the Emperor's Cup

Reigning champions Urawa Reds were dumped from the Emperor's Cup by J2 side Ehime FC on November 28, going down 2-0 to the Second Division battlers in their Fourth Round encounter.

That match had been rescheduled due to Urawa's exploits in the AFC Champions League, and the Saitama side paid the price for a poor performance, with Toshiya Tanaka scoring twice as Ehime FC registered a shock Cup victory.

Ehime FC will now face a demoralised Yokohama FC in the Fifth Round of Japan's oldest sporting competition.

Ivica Osim awakes from coma

Ivica Osim, the man who lead Japan to a semi-final place at the 2007 Asian Cup, collapsed after suffering a stroke on November 16.

The Japan Football Association revealed that the 66 year old Bosnian awoke from a coma on November 28, and has shown signs of regaining full consciousness.

Takeshi Okada likely to be named new Japan coach

With Ivica Osim unlikely to return to coaching in the foreseeable future, former Japan coach Takeshi Okada is expected to take over as coach of the national team.

Okada was coach of Japan at the 1998 FIFA World Cup, and he later went on to coach Consadole Sapporo and Yokohama F. Marinos, winning the J-League with the latter in 2003 and 2004.

Japan Olympic Team qualifies for Beijing

Yasuharu Sorimachi's team qualified for the 2008 Olympic Games the hard way, holding Saudi Arabia to a nail-biting 0-0 draw in front of 42,913 fans at the National Stadium in Tokyo on November 21.

Needing a draw to top the group and ensure qualification, Japan can thank Sanfrecce Hiroshima midfielder Toshihiro Aoyama for the point, after he cleared a goal-bound effort off the line after just nine minutes.

Japan had plenty of chances, but Shimizu S-Pulse striker Shinji Okazaki was in a profligate mood and the match ended scoreless.

Copyright © Michael Tuckerman & Soccerphile.com

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

World Soccer News November 28 2007

World Soccer News November 28 2007.
Weekly soccer news

for week of Nov 28th

Raúl: I want to play at the European Championship!

Real Madrid's skipper Raúl González still hopes for a return to the national team in order to participate at the European Championship in Austria and Switzerland. The most distinguished Spanish player is not in coach Luis Aragonés's plans, possibly because he is a hard-core Atlético man who, also coached Barcelona. But, since Raúl has been playing great soccer after a brief slump for a long time now, so the fans are right to expect the coach to moderate his unreasonable position towards the all-time top scorer of the national team with 44 goals.
"I still believe I'll return to the Spain's team. Specially if I keep on playing well this season. But, I am aware I've been out for quite some time now and that other players have done a great job in the country's shirt during my absence. This certainly makes my return less likely," said the golden boy of the Spanish soccer.
Asked about the possibility of Bernd Schuster taking over England, Raúl believes the German will stay in Real.
"I think he will not be going. Surely, one must be flattered to be associated with such a challenge. But, I believe Schuster is happy at Real and that winning trophies in our club is his primary objective."

Klasnic's doctor accuses Werder's medical team

Croatian player Ivan Klasic's doctor Arno E. Lison has expressed serious accusations against the medical services of Bundesliga's Werder. His patient has recently returned to the first team action after kidney failure and two kidney transplants earlier this year.
In an interview for Radio Bremen, prof. Lison from the Bremen clinic said that it was strange for Werder's doctors not to have recognized the early signals of Klasnic's illness.
"There were symptoms six years ago indicating that Klasnic's kidneys were not healthy, but the doctors did not pay attention to it. They should have dealt with the case much earlier. I have known Klasnic since November of 2005, when he had an appendix removal surgery. At that point 70% of kidney function was lost under supervision of several physicians, without any of them having intervened," said prof. Lison, claiming to be unable to found the explanation for such irresponsibility.
"It is really surprising that somebody could be making the same mistake for five years. Any doctor should be capable of discovering such a medical problem."
While prof. Lison claims he had warned of Klasnic's condition before it escalated, the club has not yet commented on the issue.

Marcello Lippi hungry for coaching
Sixteen months' rest was quite enough for Marcello Lippi. The coach who led Italy to their fourth World Cup in 2006 now admits that his motives for going back to work have returned.
"Now I am starting to miss soccer, really miss it," he said in the Stadionews24 tv program.
"As far I am concerned, I have the will to return to coaching, but I don't know how soon you will see me on the bench. Surely it would not be ideal to jump in the middle of the season."
Lippi has also denied he was close to England bench.
"These are just rumours. So far noone has contacted me and I am not negotiating with anyone," said the coach who was allegedly on the hold to step in for Roberto Donadoni, should his qualifying campaign go wrong. But, Donadoni made it, thanks to Scotland's amazing slip-ups in the final phase of the competition.
"The Azzurri players are still highly motivated and I am certain they will do very well at the
European Championship," predicted the former Juventus and Inter's manager who will surely make some nice team happy when he really does return.

Ferguson charged after raging at referee
Sir Alex Ferguson was so enraged by Manchester United's 1-0 defeat at Bolton that he vented his anger at referee Mark Clattenburg with harsh words and gestures. And will have to answer for it to the FA.
The Scot has until December 11 to respond to the charge of "using abusive and insulting words towards an official" during last weekend's match. If found guilty, he could receive a fine and the possibility of a touchline ban.
Ferguson, who has praised Clattenburg in the past, was unhappy with the way in which he dealt with the "over-aggressive" tactics of a Bolton side who only achieved their second win of the season.
"You can expect a team in Bolton's position to play that way. You expect a team near the bottom to battle, scrap and fight. Obviously they do not have the quality of opponents like ourselves. That is why they we are in different positions in the league," he said on Monday, adding that he told the referee "exactly what he thought of him."
Now the FA will tell Ferguson exactly what they think of him, which may entail some punishment.

The stadium of the disaster will be demolished
Seven people were killed last Sunday when a part of a terrace collapsed during a third division game in Salvador. Some 50 people fell to a 15 meter precipice when a piece of the concrete on a stand of Fonte Nova stadium gave way in the course of Bahia vs Vila Nova match in front of 60,000 spectators.
Jaques Wágner, the governer of the federal state of Bahia, has announced that the decrepit stadium would be demolished, regardless of the findings of the independent police investigation into the tragedy.

Wágner also promised a new stadium would be built on the same site within Salvador's bid to host some of the games of the World Cup 2014 to be held in Brazil.
Salvador is one of the 18 cities that have applied to stage the World Cup games. FIFA will elect ten or twelve host cities and whether Salvador will be one of them must now be in question because of the Sunday's incident.
Still, Wágner says a new stadium was always on plans and that Salvador's bid was not threatened by the disaster at Fonte Nova.

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

World Cup draw brings England and Croatia together

Croatia to face England again.
Disturbing Durban Draw:

Oh no, England vs Croatia again!?


An unpleaseant realization for England and Croatia: these teams will meet each other again in the European zone of the 2010 World Cup qualifiers! The whimsical Lady Luck decided that competing alongside England and Croatia in the Group 6 will be Ukraine, Belarus, Kazahstan and Andorra. The draw has not amused the English fans, with the wound inflicted by Croatia very fresh, but the trips to Kiev, Minsk and Almaty cannot be pleasant either.

Ukraine, the quarterfinalists of the last World Cup, have had a meagre Euro qualifying campaign, but cannot be easily dismissed, specially in the early stages of the new qualification cycle. The odd Belarus side proved capable of losing at home to Luxembourg, winless for ages, but also of defeating Holland on the last day of the competition. Kazahstan offer more of the same uncertainty: the Asians kicked out Serbia from Euro by beating them 2-1 last March. They will also naturally want to avenge Englishman's Sacha Baron Cohen's massive insult dealt upon the whole nation through the infamous movie featuring Borat, one of Cohen's alteregos.

Inspite of the euphoria reigning because of the historic 3-2 win at Wembley, Croats are not exactly happy to see England. Coach Slaven Bilic said the draw in Durban has been particularly cruel to his team, although he believes Croatia can hold their own against any of the world's leading teams. "At least it will be nice to play at Wembley again", said the former West Ham and Everton defender.

English players have been trying to regain confidence after the scorching last week's defeat that cost them a place in Austria and Switzerland. Michael Owen offered an expert opinion that "no Croatian player could currently make the England team" just days after Portsmouth's coach expressed pretty much the same view. With such awareness of other teams' qualities England may have been lucky to finish third, level on points with Israel. Steve McClaren's successor will be lucky if he can count on a healthy Owen to reinforce the depleted England attack rather than Owen the soccer analyzer.

European zone qualifying groups

Nine top teams qualify directly. Eight second-best teams play-off to produce the remaining four WC participants.

Group 1: Portugal, Sweden, Denmark, Hungary, Albania, Malta
The most evenly balanced group with three strong competitors and not a single true minnow.

Group 2: Greece, Israel, Switzerland, Moldova, Latvia, Luxembourg
The group with the lowest specific weight. Not much difference in quality between the top seed, Greece, and the third, Switzerland.

Group 3: Czech Republic, Poland, Northern Ireland, Slovakia, Slovenia, San Marino
Northern Ireland were the most improved team in the past qualifiers. It is conceivable they may make the life bitter for the Czech Republic and Poland.

Group 4: Germany, Russia, Finland, Wales, Azerbaijan, Liechtenstein
Germany will win the group yet again. Russia are better than Finland. Wales may upset someone on a good day.

Group 5: Spain, Turkey, Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Armenia, Estonia
Spain and Turkey will take the top two spots. Probably in that order, too.

Group 6: Croatia, England, Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Andorra
England have the potential to win the direct qualification. Croatia are likely to battle it out with Ukraine for that consolation second spot that leads to the playoffs.

Group 7: France, Romania, Serbia, Lithuania, Austria, Faroe Islands
France and Romania are highly fancied, but Serbia plays well against the best.

Group 8: Italy, Bulgaria, Republic of Ireland, Cyprus, Georgia, Montenegro
Lucky, lucky Italy. Unlucky Montenegro. A potentially good national team have to start from the bottom. And Ireland have a real chance!

Group 9: Holland, Scotland, Norway, Macedonia, Iceland
Holland face a serious challenge from Scotland and Norway. Macedonia and Iceland will molest a favourite or two.

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Clough story wins Sports Book of the Year 2007

Brian Clough.
"Provided you don't kiss me: Twenty years with Brian Clough" has scooped the prestigious William Hill Sports Book of the Year award, beating off five shortlisted challengers.

Duncan Hamilton's fly-on-the-wall account of England's most remarkable coach becomes the fifth book about football to win the accolade in its 19-year history, joining classics such as Nick Hornby's 'Fever Pitch', Simon Kuper's 'Football against the Enemy', Tom Bower's 'Broken Dreams' and Gary Imlach's 'My Father and other working-class football heroes'.

Soccerphile sat down with Hamilton earlier in the year to discuss his remarkable book. Read the interview in full here

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Korea Closing In On New Man

Korea Closing In On New Man.
It has become an almost annual event, one which is loved by journalists all over South Korea- trying to guess the identity of the next national team coach.

No official candidates have been announced by the Korean Football Association (KFA) as yet. The task of hiring and firing belongs to the body's Technical Committee. It has been busy with many meetings over the last month.

Since the resignation of Pim Verbeek at the end of the 2007 Asian Cup in July, the ten men on the committee have been fairly casual about getting a new man in place but pressure is mounting. The start of qualification for the 2010 World Cup starts in February and the next coach should be firmly settled in place by then.

One thing is for sure, he will be foreign. That issue was settled fairly quickly despite a debate of some ferocity that raged for a time in soccer circles. Much of the media wanted an import while, perhaps unsurprisingly, Korean coaches argued that it was time for a Korean coach to be given the job.

The local leaders lost and, like the rest of us, will have to wait to find out the identity of the next foreigner – a sixth in as many years. Some writers can’t wait that long, preferring to keep close tabs on KFA house, its fax machines, printers, copiers and even garbage in attempts to reveal the identity.

Supposed contenders range from former Liverpool, Lyon and France boss Gerard Houllier, the English ex-coach of Ireland Mick McCarthy and the current coach of Denmark Morten Olsen.

Houllier is perhaps top of the list and is available – kind of. Since resigning after leading Lyon to the French title last season, the 60 year-old has been taking a break. Despite recently becoming a technical advisor to the French Football Association, Houllier has let it become known that he is interested in the right national team job.

It remains to be seen if South Korea fits the bill. Houllier has close ties with Football Federation Australia, also looking for a new coach. Ireland is also known to be ready to talk.

Competition to find the right person is fierce. Three of Korea’s Asian rivals are also on the lookout. Iran is ready to spend big and was last week turned down by ex-Brazil boss Vanderlei Luxemburgo and the rather less exotic former Manchester City and Sunderland coach Peter Reid. As well as Australia, Japan is in the market after coach Ivica Osim suffered a serious stroke recently.

People like Houllier come at a price but money is not a problem for the KFA. The body signed a $54 million deal with Nike last month and knows that any failure to qualify for the 2010 World Cup would financially far outweigh any savings made my appointing a mediocre man at this stage.

Not only fortune but fate has smiled on South Korea in the form of a favourable draw for the third round of qualifying for the 2010 World Cup on Sunday. Finishing in the top two of a group containing North Korea, Jordan and Turkmenistan is well within the team’s capabilities and it will be a major shock if South Korea doesn’t progress to the final round.

By then, the new guy should have really found his feet we just have to wait and see the rest of him.

Copyright: John Duerden & Soccerphile.com

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Sunday, November 25, 2007

No rush for England's poisoned chalice

"There are not many candidates because it looks a bit like a crocodile that opens the mouth and says: 'Jump into that.' Once he's in there, he's eaten. And once you have eaten four, five says: 'No, maybe I don't jump in there.'"
So went the words of Arsene Wenger, the best coach working in England at present.

In the old days, before the savaging of Bobby Robson and Graham Taylor by the tabloids and the realization that the real money and chances of success were to be found in the Premier League and not the international game, the nation’s best coach would have leapt at the chance of managing England.

Not any more. In the aftermath of Steve McClaren’s quick exit from Soho Square, the candidates for the top job have been scurrying into the shadows. Like schoolkids desperate for the teacher not to pick them to answer a tricky question, the candidates are doing their best to look at their shoes instead.

Aston Villa coach Martin O’Neill could probably have signed a contract the day after the Croatia fiasco had he wanted to, but yesterday appeared to shut the door. “It’s gone for me. It’s absolutely gone,” he said.

Reading’s Steve Coppell would appear to be the best English candidate working in the Premier League, but also realises his nationality counts against him this time.

If the next leader of the Three Lions must be English, the options are fast disappearing beyond Coppell. Alan Curbishley now says he is no longer interested, Harry Redknapp’s colourful reputation surely precludes him and the FA are unlikely to go crawling back to the doors of two men they have previously fired – Glenn Hoddle and Terry Venables.

Almost certainly, the FA will pick another foreigner, following the appointment of Sven-Goran Eriksson in 2001.

Jurgen Klinsmann is believed to be interested and would have little trouble adapting once again to London. Indeed, ‘Klinsi’’s articulate and popular persona would probably pull the fans and media onside from the start, in a way few recent England coaches have succeeding in doing.

But the German legend still lives in Santa Barbara, California, which entails a day’s commuting and eight hours’ jet lag to reach England. His refusal to accept the USA job is still clouded in mystery and a flood of criticism will be inevitable as soon as results get sticky with England. The risk that it could all end in tears just looks too great for FA chief executive Brian Barwick to approach him in the first place.

Fabio Capello is the only man to so far declare his candidacy. The 61 year-old has long had an eye on English football, perhaps since scoring for Italy at Wembley in 1973, and had expressed an interest in replacing Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford back in 2002.

No rush for England's poisoned chalice.


Capello has fallen out with a number of high-profile players over the years, including David Beckham, Alessandro Del Piero and Ronaldo, but boasts a stunning coaching CV including seven Serie A shields (four with Milan, two with Juventus and one with Roma) and two La Liga titles with Real Madrid.

Milan’s unforgettable 4-0 demolition of Barcelona in the 1994 Champions League Final in Athens remains perhaps the apex of Capello’s coaching history.

The other big name still in the frame is Jose Mourinho. The recently-departed Chelsea coach is surely a little tempted, or else he would have publicly ruled himself out this week.

Instead, the mercurial Portuguese is playing a game of brinkmanship, aware that vacancies may pop up before the end of the year at Barcelona, Juventus and Real Madrid.

While Mourinho’s family allegedly are keen to resume their London life, one cannot help but wonder how coaching a discredited national team without competitive fixtures for another year can compare to leading one of the European club heavyweights.

It is hard to see how maverick personalities like Mourinho could enjoy the amount of down time this position entails, when a man of his calibre could surely walk into one of the top jobs on the continent over the next few months and before long cross swords again with the best in the UEFA Champions League.

A team booed off by its own fans as it lost embarassingly on a bleak and rainy winter’s night was no advert for the manager’s job.

And perhaps all speculation on on this issue is pointless as the fault lines in English football run too deep for any magician to swan in and wave a magic wand in the first place.

In the 1970s and ‘80s, the outstanding English club coach, Brian Clough, winner of two European Cups, longed to be picked as England manager.

But in 2007, for coaches of real talent from whatever country, the chance of supping nectar at the helm of a top European club outshines the poisoned chalice of the England manager’s job by some distance.

Can you blame them for avoiding the telephone after all they have seen recently?
The top job has now become “the impossible job”, as a previous victim Graham Taylor memorably noted, adding that his advice to any future encumbent of the cursed throne would be this:

“Win every game!”

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Friday, November 23, 2007

England all played out again

The Emperor has no clothes and it’s official.

For the first time within the walls of the awesome citadel that is the new Wembley Stadium, the English national team has come a cropper in a big way, and this time there can be no hiding from the naked truth.

Now let these sombre words ring out across our green and pleasant land: England are a mediocre football nation and it’s high time we accepted it.

One final appearance in 57 continuous years of international football competitions tells its own story and cannot by any logic justify the perennial Mount Everest of expectations heaped upon the Three Lions.

As the 3-2 victory over England by a competent yet not exceptional Croatian eleven on Wednesday proved once more, there is simply no case for believing we deserve a place at the high table of the world’s football nations, so please don’t try to make it.

After such a miserable and humiliating surrender, can anyone seriously believe we can win the 2010 World Cup? Will the patriotic punters be out in force again to waste their money, like they have for the last forty years since we won the World Cup at home?

That the English invented the sport and still sustain a 92-team professional league is utterly immaterial if the national team consistently fails to perform, yet year after year, an inferno of fan fervour is stoked up by London’s boorish tabloid media with no basis in reality.

But the media is only partly to blame for the unrealistic expectations and to a great extent is only a mirror of the national zeitgeist.

The obscenely ballooning waistline of the cash cow that is the FA Premier League is also only reinforcing an existing tunnel vision shared by millions throughout the home of football.

There is a foreign influx in our leagues and globalization all around us, but it clearly does not follow that a great domestic league can produce a world-class national team.

So who do we blame this time?

The usual suspects for the latest shambles are lining up and while they all shoulder a part of the blame, are mostly red herrings while the prime suspect is still at large.

Steve McClaren is not the main culprit and I take no pride in having predicted as soon as he was appointed that he would fail.

Although guiding your club to 15th place in the Premier League is not the best preparation for coaching your country, McClaren had served apprenticeships under Alex Ferguson and Sven-Goran Eriksson and there were no realistic alternatives for England last summer.

While some fans are slating McClaren for starting with 4-5-1 at home, without Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney his striking options were limited and when reinforcements did arrive in the shape of Darren Bent and Jermain Defoe, the much-needed punch up front was still lacking.

In fact, the catalyst for England’s comeback was the arrival of David Beckham, in perhaps his last national team appearance, after halftime, a player from Major League Soccer who provided an artistry and finesse with the ball otherwise lacking from his team on the night.

The English players’ superstar salaries are almost irrelevant too. Serie A pays huge wages but that never stopped Italy’s national team winning the World Cup impressively last summer. And English players certainly do not lack passion. If anything, they play with too much heart and not enough head, yet England critics routinely bemoan a lack of passion and self-belief as the reasons for falling short.

That there may be too many foreign players in England for the national team’s good is also an argument that looks shakier by the day. In fact, on the evidence of last night, no wonder Arsene Wenger shops overseas.

The dissections and post mortems on the corpse of England’s latest failure are everywhere, though few have realised the fatal disease is merely an inherited and myopic attitude that the English way is best.

Like Charybdis, the fearsome whirlpool of Greek mythology, our semi-permanent debate on the national team ends up going round in circles of self-delusion, our consistent demand for unrealistic success devouring all passing managers lured too close to the job.

This insular hara-kiri was evident off the field as well as on. Thousands of England fans pointedly ignored the Wembley announcer’s request to respect both national anthems by booing Croatia’s loudly, before revelling in taunting the traveling fans with several renditions of ‘You’re not singing anymore’, only to be confounded as supersub Mladen Petric speared a spectacular 25-yard winner with 13 minutes remaining.

‘Rule Britannia’ is still one of our favourite songs, but its boasting of global dominance had a particularly pathetic ring at Wembley last night, a specious self-aggrandizement amid the carnival of English obsolescence on the field.

Sheltering from the Wembley monsoon while the queues to the tube station still stretched down Bobby Moore Way a full hour after the final whistle, I got talking to some Croatian fans, who gave me some refreshing points of view on our particular malaise.

The heavens were downright miserable, but there was some blue-sky thinking to be found beneath the deluge.

“England has good players, but they don’t play as a team,” thought Branko from Dubrovnik.

“You’re right,” I said, “but we don’t know any different.” Contrary to some opinions aired this week, England can produce great talents.

I could reel off names such as Bobby Charlton, Tom Finney and Stanley Matthews, but from more recently, what about John Barnes, Paul Gascoigne, Gary Lineker and Chris Waddle from the 1980s and David Beckham, Steven Gerrard, Owen and Rooney from the ‘90s.

“Your style is twenty years behind the times,” offered Zlatko from Mostar. “You hit long high balls to the big forward, Crouch. We know that is what the English do. It is simple to play against.”

“Well Crouch did score tonight,” I offered in defence, but I broadly agreed with his analysis.

“Look at the Germans,” said Goran from near Split. “They work hard the whole time too, but they do it as a team.”

I then racked my brains for times in my life when England have played with great fluidity and got stuck on a handful of occasions: In the latter stages of Italia ’90, for the first half of a friendly against Mexico in 2001, against Italy in Rome in 1997 and most famously smashing the Netherlands 4-1 at Wembley in Euro ’96 and Germany 5-1 in Munich five years later.

Our national style still leans towards passionate and direct attacking – ‘droit au but’ –‘straight to goal’, as the motto of Marseille says. And we have to change this mindset, wholesale, from the grass roots up, if we want to challenge for international trophies.

One final in 57 years of FIFA and UEFA competition is surely proof there is a hairline fracture in the monolith of the Football Association, a lingering faultline that cannot and should not be attributed to any particular coach or set of players.

The one excuse I didn’t hear on the tortuous journey from the Wembley mega-arena back to my home in North London was perhaps the most obvious one: Croatia were just better than us.

“Wake up,” Croatia coach Slaven Bilic said succinctly post-match. “We’re simply a better team.”

They undoubtedly were the superior side, having defeated England home and away in the qualification campaign, yet I still heard a fan moaning that England had played badly and lost to ‘a shit team’. ‘Yeah, they are a shit team,’ echoed his equally dim friend.

Well, relativism aside, any team who tops a UEFA qualification group cannot by any sound reasoning be made of caca.

The Croats gave England a footballing lesson in both Zagreb and London in soaking up pressure, throwing bodies into attack or defense appropriately, counter-attacking and shooting from distance.

But what really stood out for me at Wembley was their outfield players’ superior technique.

The Croats’ creed is possession, like it is for all great football nations, while England still go for broke in the final third and try to hit that killer ball into the channels or lump it onto the head of that big lad in the box, too often finding their optimistic punts intercepted or overhit instead.

On the night, Shaun-Wright Phillips typified what is wrong with English football. Energetic and brimming with passion, the Chelsea winger charged goalward whenever he was given the ball, but too often his ardour burned out as he mishit a cross, collided with a defender or ran the ball out of play.

Time and again, England played without any telepathy when they managed to get the ball near the opponents’ box, while every Croatian tap, layoff or backheel seemed to be wired to an incoming teammate.

The Croats clearly knew how to counter-attack better than we did, sprinting upfield, stretching our retreating defence and hitting first-time passes to runners without hesitation. They built a shape-shifting, multi-dimensional game which defeated our rigid, one-dimensional structure with ease.

We might lazily lump all Eastern European football nations together as tough, former communist, crack army sides from chilly lands, but remember Croatia, like Romania, is essentially a Mediterranean country whose warm weather breeds skilful ballplayers.

Facing Italy across the Adriatic, Croatia has only been a country since 1991 and with a population of under five million, has in that short space of time, produced stars of the calibre of Zvonimir Boban, Alen Boksic, Robert Prosinecki and Davor Suker.

Yet however you compare the two countries, England should be a far better football nation than Croatia.

Once again, I fear we will skirt around the answer to our ills – a complete and radical overhaul of the coaching culture.

The intangibility of the problem and its equally nebulous solution just discourage us from addressing it properly, and so England stumble to under-achievement every time.

It almost seems a treasonable offense to the Anglo-Saxon virtues ingrained in our national game to tell our kids to keep the ball instead of to ‘get it in there!’, to think about their shape and position instead of to ‘get stuck in lad!’ and to bring others into attack instead of to ‘go on your own, son, have a pop!’ etc.

The continental method does seem anathema to a windy Sunday morning league game in Rotherham, but ask yourself who is the more successful soccer nation – Italy or England?

‘Look at Arsenal,’ Zlatko continued. ‘They have a great coach and play in a European style but are an English team’.

Treating football seriously from a young age also draws us into a political debate we would rather steer clear of, that of mass education’s historic lack of importance in England in general.

If we want well trained footballers, we need well educated players, who understand the professional commitment and the intellectual ability the game demands at the highest level.

‘What about Wayne Rooney?’ you holler. Nothing can compensate for raw talent like his, surely; only to a point. Imagine what Gascoigne could have done with the self-discipline of a Zinedine Zidane, or how Rooney could prosper with the spatial awareness of strikers like Dennis Bergkamp, Thierry Henry or Henrik Larsson.

On the train home, there was no anger, nor misery at England’s premature exit from Euro 2008, just a resigned mood, an unspoken acceptance that we have seen it all before.

I really felt that maybe for the first time, an accommodation of our ineptitude had begun to set in with the fans, a growing acceptance of the obvious mediocrity we have been dealing with for years.

Make no mistake. This umpteenth failure for England will not be the last, unless we do start again from the grass roots, bite the bullet and admit the FA’s manuals are mistaken in many ways and our coaching outdated.

Or, we can bury our heads in the sand once more, blame Steve McClaren or whoever underperformed last night and come 2010, summon up the blood to bellow from the rooftops our belief that England can win the World Cup, if only we the fans and they the players want it enough.

Unless there is a revolution, the future history of the England team writes itself.

All may not be lost however. As I traipsed down the many steps from Wembley’s upper tier, and some fans began to sing ‘Jose Mourinho’, I began to think that the foreign influx in our game could end up being the solution instead of the problem, whoever the next coach may be. The tide of the world game is all around us now, at home and abroad.

And what is for sure is that England’s national football culture, more than ever, is all played out.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

When winning isn't enough …

When winning isn't enough.
The past week has bought victories for Australia's senior side as well as its under-23s who booked a berth at next year's Beijing Olympics on Wednesday with a hard-fought 1-1 draw in North Korea. The Young Socceroos, the country's under-20s team, also won three out of four AFC qualifying matches to guarantee a spot in the 2008 Asian Youth Championships earlier this month.

But the heavy shadow darkening Australia's dreams of reaching the 2010 World Cup refuses to lift.

Australia's search for Guus Hiddink's long-term replacement has been rather like watching an English League One relegation scrap. Lots of running through mud chasing endless lost causes only for your star striker to miss a stoppage time penalty with seconds remaining.

This week, after a year-and-a-half's worth of wild goose chases around the major European cities, Dick Advocaat reneged on his agreement to coach the Socceroos.

Depending on who you believe, a written contract to take charge of Australia from February's World Cup qualifiers onwards either was or wasn't broken by Advocaat's decision to agree a yearlong extension with Russian champions Zenit St Petersburg. Tellingly, though, the Russians are expecting a financial backlash.

"Yes, he will remain here in St Petersburg," Zenit director Konstantin Sarsania told the Reuters news agency. "The only matter left to resolve is the compensation package to the Australians but we have our lawyers on the case."

The verbal backlash has already started. More than once since deceitful Dick's dastardly U-turn, Football Federation Australia has been likened to a jilted lover in the nation's media.

Under the headline 'Advocaat turns the stomach', Sydney-based football writer Tom Smithies went further in penning this diatribe: "In Holland they drink the liqueur advocaat as a digestif, which is highly ironic because the contempt that a coach of the same name has shown for Australia has turned the stomachs of even those inured to the opportunism of top-level football".

Strangely, the Advocaat affair might actually be one of the few football stories which unites the rival codes in Australia's oft-disputed sporting battlefield. There are just as many loathers as lovers of the beautiful game here, but no Australian of any persuasion could fathom anyone turning down a chance to be involved with the lucky country. Especially to stay in Russia.

Bankrolled by the personal fortune of FFA chairman Frank Lowy, Australia's second-richest man, the scouring of the global coaching landscape has been as pointless as it has relentless.

Whatever the angle taken by a frustrated and disappointed media, money is rarely the prime motivator for the game's elite. Yes, Advocaat will be earning bigger bucks at Zenit, the biggest spenders in Russian football. But he will also remain to lead the club into the Champions League for the first time.

Perspective can be lost when personal interest is high.

Is the job of coaching Australia, ranked 52nd in the world, two places below Canada, really bigger than coaching a team in the Champions League? Is it more challenging than managing in the Premiership, or in the English Championship for that matter?

The fact that Graham Arnold's audition for the top job failed miserably in Australia's Asian Cup quarter-finals exit appears to have kyboshed his credentials and by default any of his fellow countrymen.

So a foreign coach it is. But why are the names of Jose Mourinho, Jurgen Klinsmann, Marco van Basten and Frank Rijkaard being bandied around. Logically, what are the odds of a top class manager leaving Europe to spend eight months a year in Australia?

Asian Cup-winning Iraq coach Jorvan Vieira and former South Korea coach Pim Verbeek are lesser profile figureheads but without question more attuned to the Socceroos' needs.

They understand the quirks of qualifying through the AFC in a way Mourinho et al do not. They also know that over the course of World Cup qualifying, the A-League will provide a greater proportion of players.

Australia needs a well-credentialed coach willing to spend the majority of his time in Australia scouting local Australia players and passing on knowledge to the local coaching fraternity.

With that in mind the hunt restarts in earnest.

Copyright © Marc Fox and Soccerphile.com

Australian Soccer News

Thursday, November 22, 2007

ENGLAND v CROATIA

ENGLAND v CROATIA.
HEARTBREAK FOR ENGLAND, AGONY FOR SPORTINGBET

After Israel handed England a massive lifeline on Saturday online company Sportingbet were pretty certain England were on their way to Austria and Switzerland next summer. So in a bid to drum up some business on this tie they decided to offer all their customers full refunds on all single bets of up to £200 on the England v Croatia match if England somehow failed to qualify.

We’ll we all know what happened next…

Chris Graham, Sportsbook Promotions Manager explains all:

I'm afraid we failed to realise how bad England and Steve McClaren really were and have caught a massive cold here as we shovel back most of our turnover to our eager customers. Thanks to Croatia winning 3-2 we have refunded almost £100,000 on this promotion and the office is like a morgue as we all contemplate England not playing in Euro 2008 next summer and the nightmare scenario of this payout. Steve McClaren you have a lot to answer for!

World Soccer News

Soccer Books & DVDs

It’s Wayne in Cats and Dogs

I’ve never really saw the point in children. I can appreciate their usefulness when they’re big enough to nip down to the off-license, but I’m not sure if that justifies the £10 a year it costs to clothe them.

My little Goliath has been playing up recently. The wife has the cheek to say he takes after his father, although that does boil down to guesswork on her part.

I’ve gone out of my way to try and bond with the lad in an attempt to curb his misbehaviour. I even tried to connect with my feminine side; but I had to call it a day when my phone bill went through the roof.

I guess the problem lies in the fact that we have very little in common. The only sport that interests the little man is wrestling; as the sight of a horizontal 20 stone freak reminds him of his mother.

I just wish we had a relationship where we could share more with each other; like the Allardyces.

Big Sam must be regretting his claim that Rafa Benitez should be sacked as a result of poor Premiership form. You don’t have be a whiny Canadian dwarf to appreciate the irony. The 11/10 for a Liverpool win over Newcastle is positively gargantuan.

Wayne Rooney is studying English literature in a noble attempt to further his education. I’d love to hear his thoughts on ‘Where’s Spot’ and ‘The Cat in the Hat’. Rooney’s home-study may well lead to a GCSE: ‘grandmothers can sleep easily’. I’m getting up early to take 1/2 for a Manchester United win over Bolton.

I was looking forward to previewing the West Ham v Tottenham match, as Lennon and McCartney may share the same stage. Unfortunately, I’ve received a legal document informing me that I must address them as McCartney and Lennon. The 13/8 for a Tottenham win over West Ham is out of order.

Call me a lunatic conspiracy theorist; but is it a coincidence that a week after Frank Lampard admitted to being a Tory, he helped lead England out of Europe. I don’t need a referendum to accept 2/7 for a Chelsea win over Derby.

Blackburn are still embarrassed about David Bentley’s name being spelt incorrectly on the back of his shirt. The kit-man must regret asking for help from Robbie Savage. 11/5 for a Fulham win over Blackburn will spell a tidy profit.

Roy Keane is a promising young manager; he’s promising to knock out a number of his players if they don’t show a dramatic improvement. I’m piling into the 11/4 for a Sunderland draw at Everton.

I’m a sucker for a worthy cause, so i’m determined to raise £10,000 to aid research into the negative impact of reality TV on minor celebrities. I intend to take a hands-on role in the campaign; I hope to probe Sophie Anderton. Backing Manchester City at 8/13 against Reading will undoubtedly add to the kitty.

‘Mad Dave’ Whelan may have made a mistake in hiring the aesthetically challenged Steve Bruce. If their style of football proves as pleasing to the eye as the new manager; the supporters are going to see more long balls than Abigail Clancy. I’m looking up to the 1/6 for an Arsenal win over Wigan.

When Birmingham first poached Steve Bruce, they agreed to a clause allowing his former employers 15% of any future sell-on fee. A windfall of £450,000 will prove invaluable to the struggling Safari Park. Portsmouth will run wild against Birmingham at 7/5.

I’m quietly confident that Aston Villa will leave Middlesbrough with their customary three points. There is a question-mark over who will score the goals for the Villans, as Liam Ridgewell is unavailable. I’ll take a calculated risk at 17/10.

I’ve offered to take little Goliath to a Premier League match if he improves his behaviour, but the little runt has asked to watch wrestling instead. In a compromise that suits both parties, I’ve promised him a trip to watch England play football at Wembley; so we can both watch a group of sportsmen who aren’t really trying. Arsenal, Portsmouth, Manchester City and Fulham form an 11/1 accer that can lead to a down payment on the train fare.


Copyright (c) Gerry McDonnell & soccerphile.com

World Soccer News England Exit Euros

World Soccer News England Exit Euros.
World Soccer News
for week of November 22th

Tradition smashed as England exit Euro

England's elimination from the European championship was the top story around the world: foreign fans and the media respect English soccer far more than those at home and the failure of the Three Lions has been greeted with as sense of shock and awe.

In Croatia, the fans celebrated the triumph with crackers and fireworks, seeing the 3-2 win at Wembley as one of the three greatest ever in the 16-year history of the national team. The other two are the 3-0 thumping of Germany in the 1998 World Cup quarter finals and the 2-0 defeat of England last year in Zagreb. Although England is not at their finest hour, beating them away from home will guarantee a place in the national soccer history for the Croatian team that achieved that.
The result will no doubt be long remembered as well in Russia, who scraped through with a shameful 1-0 win in Andorra. It was the case of the smallest of the qualifying nations helping the largest nation to qualify too: Russia outnumbers Croatia by 33-1 in population, its territory 300 gimes bigger than Croatia's.

The disconcerted and poorly coached English team have made history too: this is the first time that England lost both games to an opponent during one qualifying campaign. In the former 24 qualification cycles (11 for the European championships and 13 for the World Cups) no other team had been able to defeat England twice. How dramatic that this tradition should have ended when a mere draw would have secured the home team a place at the biggest soccer event for the next two and a half years.

Real Madrid renew Drogba offensive

Real Madrid representatives met with Didier Drogba's agents late last month in order to discuss the options for bringing the big Ivorian to Santiago Bernabeu. Madrid's directors initially put a stop to the operation cosnsidering that the fee Chelsea asked, a reported 40 million euros, was too high for a player close to his 30th birthday.

According to The Mirror, the Spaniards may have changed their position and are now ready to pay the said fee, while Chelsea have started to negotiate the purchase of Nicolas Anelka, currently of Bolton Wanderers. It is possible that the new Real offensive for Drogba may be related to Ruud van Nistelrooy's recent muscle injury, which will presumably keep the Dutchman out of action for ten weeks.

Totti rejects Italy yet again

Italy has reached another final stage thanks to their agonizing 2-1 win over Scotland at Hampden Park, but their star striker Francesco Totti has not changed his mind. "I will not return to the national team. I know the rules of the team and I could not possibly think of a comeback to the Azzurri," said Totti in reference to the unwritten rule that only those players who have achieved qualification should be used in the final tournament.

"I took my decision immediately after last year's World Cup finals. I am in no quarrell with (coach) Roberto Donadoni and the Football Federation. My relationship with them is clear and civil. I can only wish my teammates the best of luck at the Championship," said the 31-old Roma captain, who collected 58 caps for Italy.


Benítez denies Bayern rumours

Liverpool's coach Rafael Benítez will not move to Bayern Munich any time soon. "I have heard the rumours last weekend and it is flattering when I'm related to other big clubs, because it means I'm doing a good job. But, as always, whatever the club may be trying to contact me, I am very happy with my current club, my fans and the city. There are so many things I wish to do here, so I plan to stay here for a long time," wrote Benítez on Liverpool's web page.

Houston retain MLS title

Houston Dynamo have retained the Major League Soccer championship by beating New England Revolution in the playoff finals 2-1. The Revolutionaries from Boston went 1-0 up through a Taylor Twellman goal in the first half, but the champions turned it around thanks to strikes from Joseph Ngwenye and Dwayne De Rosario.
The Texan team became the first MLS club to have defended the MLS title after DC United achieved that in 1997. For New England this was the fourth loss in the finals and the second in the row to Houston.

Nine arrested over incidents in Serie A

Nine Genoa and Sampdoria supporters have been arrested in Italy on Wednesday on suspicion of having caused incidents before the Genoa city derby played on September 23rd. The accusations include battery, infliction of injuries, unauthorized carrying of guns and causing material damage.
13 other persons have been investigated for possible participation in one of the many violent episodes that have been marring Italian soccer.

Riquelme: "Return to Boca inevitable"

One of the key members of the Argentinian national team, Juan Román Riquelme, delighted his fans again with his display that included two goals against Bolivia in the 2010 World Cup qualifiers.
His coach Alfio Basile did not spare compliments regarding the masterful midfielder.
"Riquelme is phenomenal. His two goals were extraordinary. I'm full of pride and joy for having such a player on my team," said Basile, relieved that his gamble of fielding an inactive player in the first place.

Riquelme, for all his skills, has been out of action at his club Villarreal since the start of the season due to contractual and personal issues with the coach Manuel Pellegrini and the chairman Francisco Roig. Boca Juniors have stepped up their efforts to bring Riquelme back after five years in Spain and Villarreal seems to have softened their posture regarding the transfer fee.

"Boca Juniors is my home and I know I'll be back. Perhaps even as early as for the World Club Championship in Japan. I hope my status will be resolved soon, because the players like to be in action every weekend," said the creative midfielder who has scored 17 goals in his 45 appearances for Argentina.

Riquelme (29) has won one Intercontinental Cup and three Libertadores Cups with Boca, including one last June while on loan from Villarreal.

Copyright Ozren Podnar/Soccerphile

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Monday, November 19, 2007

Euro 2008 - Croatian squad for the Wembley game

Croatia.
Know England's next rivals

The chequered squad - Pride of Croatia


By Ozren Podnar

Manager Slaven Bilic, the former West Ham and Everton defender, usually deploys a 4-4-2 system with Pletikosa on goal, Corluka and Simunic as full backs, Simic and Robert Kovac as central defenders, Srna and Kranjcar as wide midfielders, Niko Kovac as a defensive midfielder, Luka Modric as an attacking midfielder, Petric or Olic as the second striker and Eduardo as the main striker.
In the current Euro qualifiers Croatia have won eight, drawn two and lost only one game, on Saturday to Macedonia, after learning that they had already qualified thanks to the Russian defeat to Israel. It will be interesting for Steve McClaren to learn that their next rivals have never lost two qualifiers in a row, but then again a draw at Wembley would be just fine for both teams.
Since coming on to the international scene in 1994, Croatia has lost just six out of 67 qualifying games, none of which have been at home. The men in the red and white chequered shirts have made it to six out of seven major competitions (Euros and World Cups), and only missed out on Euro 2000 - by a single goal!

Stipe Pletikosa
/STEE-peh PLE-tea-coss-ah/
Goalkeeper
1st January 1979
Spartak Moscow
64 caps

Big and agile goalkeeper. Made his debut at 19 for Hajduk Split. Spent a stint as a second-choice keeper for Shakhtar Donetsk, which unnerved both him and his Croatian fans. Now a regular at Spartak.

Vedran Runje
/VED-run ROON-yeh/
Goalkeeper
10th February 1976
Lens
4 caps

A decent club goalkeeper, formerly of Hajduk, Marseille and Standard. Highly respected at all of his clubs, has had few chances due to the dominance of Tomo Butina and Pletikosa in goal over the past 7 years.

Vedran Corluka
/VED-run CHOR-look-ah/
Defender
5th February 1986
Manchester City
15 caps

A prodigy. Former Dinamo star who immediately made an impact upon joining City last summer. Tall, strong, but a technically gifted defender. Can perform both as full back, centre-back or defensive midfielder. Participates in the play.

Dario Simic
/SHE-mitch/
Defender
12th November 1975.
AC Milan
93 caps, 3 goals

The most capped player for Croatia. Made his debut for Dinamo Zagreb at 16. A tigerish defender used both centrally or to the right. Rarely features in the Milan squad, which the Croats find hard to understand. A true professional, lives for soccer.

Robert Kovac
/KOH-vutch/
Defender
6th April 1974
Borussia Dortmund
67 caps

Arguably the best Croatian defender. Won plenty of honours at Bayern Munich plus an eventually anulled championship with Juventus. Capable of marking his player without a foul.

Josip "Joe" Simunic
/YOH-sip SHE-moon-itch/
Defender
18th February 1978
Hertha Berlin
57 caps, 3 goals

Australian born. Amazingly technical, but also a wildly aggressive player. Four expulsions in the Bundesliga over the past year bear witness to his aggression. Three yellow cards at the Australia game at last year's World Cup courtesy of Graham Poll's poor record keeping.

Marko Babic
/BUB-itch/
Midfielder
28th January 1981
Betis Seville
45 caps, 3 goals

A highly professional, strong, dependable left midfielder. Sometimes used as the left wing-back, which he resents. Prefers playing upfront. Recently sidelined to make room for Kranjcar. Moved from Bayer to Betis last summer.

Darijo Srna
/DA-ree-oh SER-nah/
Midfielder
1st May 1982
Shakhtar Donetsk
51 caps, 15 goals

Regular as a right midfielder. Strong and enduring as a horse. Very dangerous at set pieces. Originally from Hajduk Split, has starred for Shakhtar Donetsk since 2003. He is ocasionally used in a more defensive position with his club.

Niko Kovac
/NEE-koh KOH-vutch/
Midfielder
15th October 1971
Red Bull Salzburg
72 caps, 12 goals

Germany born, like his younger brother Robert. May be 36, but this seasoned veteran has plenty of fuel for some more tireless running around the midfield. A superb ball winner who often comes forward and scores. A long and distinguished career in the Bundesliga.

Luka Modric
/LOO-kah MOD-rich/
Midfielder
9th September 1985
Dinamo Zagreb
18 caps, 2 goals

Euro 2008 - Croatian squad for the Wembley game.


The most talented player to come out of Croatia in the past five years. A wonderfully gifted ofensive midfielder reminiscent of Johan Cruyff. Lots of strength in his fragile body. Mobile, fast, clever with the ball, seems destined for Arsenal or Chelsea.

Niko Kranjcar
/NEE-koh CRUNCH-ar/
Midfielder
13th August 1984
Portsmouth
37 caps, 5 goals

Hyped as the greatest Croatian player for the XXI century, has not lived up to the expectations. Still, has found some of his early form in his second season at Portsmouth. Attacking midfielder by formation, usually played on the left side of the midfield for the national team. Technically gifted.

Jerko Leko
/YER-koh LEH-koh/
Midfielder
9th April 1980
Monaco
48 caps, 2 goals

Tall, elegant, powerful, early on drew comparison with Frank Rijkaard. Upon transferring from Dinamo Zagreb to Dinamo Kiev has host much of his initial reputation, but still useful in the national team when Niko Kovac is injured.
Not entirely serious approach to soccer has cost him a bigger career.

Milan Rapaic
/ME-lun Rup-EYE-itch/
Midfielder
16th August 1973
unattached
49 caps, 6 goals

Naturally talented left or attacking midfielder. Possibly the best dribbler in the squad. Has had a very chequered career club-wise, which has discouraged managers from using him more. Despite his age, still in good shape and may be recalled to Croatia provided he finds a club. Has plenty of offers but has high financial demands.

Ivan Rakitic
/EE-vun RUCK-it-itch/
Midfielder
10th March 1988
Schalke
4 caps, 1 goal

A supremely talented scoring midfielder. Subject of a soccer war between Croatia, his parents' country, and Switzerland, his country of birth. As usually happens with the people from the Balkans, his ethnic origins prevailed, enabling him to make his debut for Croatia last August. Born to be the leader of the team over the next ten years.

Danijel Pranjic
/DAH-nee-yell PRUN-yitch/
Midfielder
Heerenveen
2nd December 1981
6 caps

A speedy left midfielder or wing back. Extremely fast on the break, packs a tremendous shot in his left foot. Currently the second choice for the left side of the midfield, behind Kranjcar, tied with Babic.

Eduardo da Silva
Forward
25th February 1983
Arsenal
20 caps, 13 goals

A clinical finisher with pure Brazilian technique. Came to Zagreb at 16, signed for Dinamo and spent some time on loan at neighbouring Inter Zapresic. Returned in 2003 to become an instant hit with fans and coaches alike. Last season scored an amazing 53 goals in all competitions for club and country. Currently at Arsenal, where he still has to adapt to the more physical English game.

Mladen Petric
/MLAH-den PET-rich/
Forward
1st January 1981
Borussia Dortmund
19 caps, 8 goals

A great striker who can equally well perform as an attacking midfielder. Born in Switzerland, won trophies both with Grasshoppers and Basel before joining Borussia last summer. Scored four goals against Andorra a year ago.

Ivica Olic
/EE-vee-tzah OH-litch/
Forward
14th September 1979
Hamburger SV
49 caps, 8 goals

The Croatian international with the most titles of this generation. Won back-to-back Croatian titles with NK Zagreb and Dinamo in 2002 and 2003 before collecting two Russian Leagues and Cups plus the 2005 UEFA Cup with CSKA Moscow. A powerful winger or central striker reminiscent of Alen Boksic. Less prolific for country than for his clubs.

Bosko Balaban
/BOSH-koh BAH-lub-bun/
Forward
15th October 1978
Dinamo Zagreb
34 caps, 10 goals

Aston Villa fans may disagree, but Balaban is a hell of a forward, who simply did not get a fair chance at Villa Park when John Gregory, the manager who signed him from Dinamo in 2001 left the club. Able to create his own chances. Dangerous from set pieces. Scored plenty of goals for Rijeka, Club Brugge and Dinamo. Currently injured.

Ivan Klasnic
/EE-vun KLUS-nitch/
Forward
29th January 1980
Werder Bremen
26 caps, 8 goals

Called "Killer Klasnic" spent most of the year on the sidelines because of a mysterious kidney disease and two attempted transplants. Now with his father's kidney fully operational, Klasnic worked hard to return to form and finally featured for Werder amateurs in the German Cup - with goals!

Also used in the current qualifiers:
Igor Budan (forward)
Mario Mandzukic (forward)
Goran Sablic (defender)
Anthony Seric (defender)
Ognjen Vukojevic (midfielder)

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De Rosario Rallies Houston Dynamo For Repeat at MLS Cup 2007

De Rosario Rallies Houston Dynamo For Repeat at MLS Cup 2007.
Down a goal with less than a half hour remaining in their 2007 campaign, the Houston Dynamo rallied behind the relentless play of Dwayne De Rosario to defeat the New England Revolution, 2-1, at RFK Stadium in Washington DC on Saturday (11/18) and capture the team's fourth MLS Cup title in seven years.

De Rosario, 29, set up teammate Joseph Ngwenya, just in front of the opposition goal in the 62d minute. Ngwenya took two point blank shots on keeper Matt Reis, the second slipping past for the equalizer.

Moments later, the Canadian born De Rosario scored the winning goal himself, heading home a cross from about 12 yards out in the 74th minute. "I would normally volley it," De Rosario said, commenting on the goal after the match, "but I decided to head it in and luckily it went in."

Just 3 minutes from full time, Houston keeper Pat Onstad rescued his team's victory with a stunning save of Jeff Larentowicz' blast from inside the 8 yard line.

The win marks the second straight title since the San Jose Earthquakes moved to Houston and were renamed the Dynamo. The team also won MLS Cups--as San Jose--in '01 and '03.

New England have now played in the last 3-, and 4 of the last 6-, MLS Cup finals, but have yet to walk away with the trophy.

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Euro 2008 qualifiers: England to qualify after all

Euro 2008 qualifiers: England to qualify after all.
European qualifiers

Greatest day for English soccer. And England did not even play.

Ozren Podnar reports...

What a wonderful Saturday for English soccer! England did not play, though, but Israel did, and Macedonia too. Not only one result went England's way on that glorious day, but two! Israel achieved the unimaginable feat of beating Russia by 2-1, when even a draw seemed unassailable; an hour later, an unbeaten Croatia finally succumbed to lowly Macedonia, who so rarely win a game at home (four in the last seven years, to be precise).

Any of these unlikely scores would have saved the Three Lions from the instant ignominy of elimination from the forthcoming Euros. In the end, both results came out just as if Steve McClaren himself had designed them.

McClaren has been subject to thousands of abusive articles stemming from his less than brilliant performance as England coach, but the stick he's got may eventually prove quite unjustified. It turns out that the despised and reviled team coached by an apparently inept manager need just a draw at home on Wednesday to qualify.
What's more, they can actually win their qualifying group, if they defeat Croatia by 2-0 or three goals' difference at Wembley. How's that for a failure?

McClaren "not content with a draw"
Offered a lifeline by an unfancied third party in the shape of Israel, McClaren plans to take full advantage of this new situation and prove that England have deserved to qualify on their own merits. Thus his team will not attempt to snatch a meager point against Croatia, but will go for an outright win.

"It's not in England's nature to go and play for a draw," McClaren said, according to AFP.
"We're there, we're in the driving seat. It's up to us to make sure we finish the job off.
"Whatever the formation is going to be, we have to be positive and go out to win the game.
"That is what we've been doing in the second half of the campaign. That has got us results and we must continue that.
"That's how we are going to get a result on Wednesday. But we must get the balance because ultimately we know a clean sheet will get us through."


It is extremely fortunate that Croatia have already mathematically secured their qualification, incidentally for the fourth consecutive major event, so that their squad will be optimally relaxed at Wembley. For Croatia is not Israel. The Slavs are so happy they have qualified for the European Championship that they will go to London relaxed and without the competive edge that characterized them throughout the campaign.

England, have no fear
The relaxation was obvious in the second half of the Macedonia game: after learning during the half-time interval that Israel had done the job for them, the players returned to the muddy Skopje pitch with the idea of going through the motions. Between the 70th and the 80th minute, the Croat defense looked nothing like the usually ruthlessly efficient machine that had kept a clean sheet in eight of the ten previous games. The result of such an approach was the first loss in a qualifying game in 50 months, the first-ever defeat against another ex-Yugoslav team after 19 positive scores and the first-ever defeat in Slaven Bilic's era.

After losing in Tel-Aviv, the Russian coach Guus Hiddink said that he expected the Croats to fight at Wembley just as hard as the Israelis had against his squad.
"Bilic's team has the qualities to defeat England and enable us to qualify after all," said the Dutchman. The odds of that happening are extremely low.

The Croats may have a clever and ambitious coach in Slaven Bilic and good individual players, but it is not in their nature to over-exert themselves if the result does not matter to them. The most that Croatia will aim for will be a draw or a minimal loss which would enable them to finish the competition as the group champions. And such an approach may well delight Steve McClaren and his depleted squad. Euro2008 is now just inches away.

A Kingdom United in hope and grief

A Kingdom United in hope and grief.
Arsene Wenger and Alex Ferguson will tell you otherwise, but it if anyone in the UK thought club international football was no longer the best, they only needed to follow this weekend's relevant Euro 2008 qualifiers.

The fact remains no one club's Champions League success can inspire a country like their national team can on the edge of glory.

After a week of nationalistic hyperbole at the prospect of making the finals ahead of the Sassenachs (their derogatory term for the English), Scotland failed heroically by losing 2-1 at home to Italy and will stay on the Eurostar platform, while England advanced to within a point of qualification without playing a game, thanks to Russia's equally calamitous 2-1 loss to Israel.

You can have all the confidence in the world but that's not enough if you don't have the quality was the painful lesson of the Scots' narrow loss to the Italians in Glasgow.

The gods had done their best to help the home team, chilling the air and opening the heavens to welcome the Azzurri to a Hampden Park that recalled the glorious days of the 'Hampden Roar', when the national stadium was Europe's largest.

But the world champions showed their class by grabbing the game by the neck with a second-minute strike from Luca Toni, and then having weathered the inevitable Scottish storm and equalizer, they stole their hosts' thunder by snatching a last-gasp winner through Christian Panucci.

For England, their late late goal was scored by Israel's Omer Golan in Tel Aviv, but was cheered up and down the land as if it had been struck by Wayne Rooney himself, awarding the little-known Maccabi Petah Tikva striker cult status in the home of football.

Three Lions boss Steve McClaren must have felt like Mark Twain reading his own obituary this week in every newspaper, only to prove reports of death had been greatly exaggerated. Few entertained the possibility of Russia falling short in Israel but with only a point to gain at home to already-qualified Croatia on Wednesday, McClaren has had the last laugh and forced Fleet Street's hacks to file away their epitaphs for another day.

Scotland are still the brave in most people's eyes, but time was when the Scots were shoe-ins for international tournaments and Hampden one of the most feared venues in UEFA. Their near miss in 2007, thanks to a superb team ethic, should not disguise the fact the Scots are still a long way short of their sides of yesteryear and have a lot of catching up to do.

For England the picture is no brighter in reality. The zeitgeist is gloomy in fact. Complaints about the high numbers of overseas players in England grow louder by the hour with more famous players and coaches adding their names to calls for a re-Anglicisation of the national sport.

While laments about the lack of home-grown talent increase, one can't help thinking this was the same crop of players that was called England's 'golden generation' last summer.

There are three other nations in these islands of course, none of whom have much to cheer about either.

The Republic of Ireland and Wales played out a 2-2 draw in Cardiff knowing they had both already been eliminated from UEFA 2008, and while Northern Ireland overcame Denmark 2-1 in Belfast in appalling weather, their qualification for Austria and Switzerland hangs on the unlikely scenario of them winning in Spain and Latvia winning in Sweden on Wednesday.

England look like scraping through to the finals now, but the cradle of the game, the British Isles, is inescapably one of UEFA's weaker regions in 2007.

Beyond these shores, notable mentions must go to Croatia, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland and Spain, who all booked their tickets to Euro 2008 on Saturday. The Czech Republic, Germany, Greece and Romania will be there too.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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Saturday, November 17, 2007

Starless Steelers Return To Glory Days

Starless Steelers Return To Glory Days.
2007 K-League champions Pohang Steelers have no stars. That is the official line in South Korean football but it is one that it is only partly true.

The south-eastern outfit may have lacked a big-name player since Lee Dong-gook left for Middlesbrough at the start of the year but there have been some big performances from those in red and black in recent weeks as the team powered through the play-offs to take the title.

“We have no stars but now we have one more star on our shirt. Today we proved that you need effort and determination, not star players to win the championship,” Pohang’s beaming Brazilian coach Sergio Farias told the press after the win at Seongam last week.

“For a year, the players gave their all through some difficult times. I am highly satisfied with the success.”

The 40 year-old is not alone is welcoming a return to the top table of Asian football for the Steelers, formerly known as Posco Atoms. The club’s loyal followers have waited 15 long years to taste domestic success. The older members of that group will remember the glory days. Three league titles in seven seasons at the end of the eighties and the start of the nineties established the club as a genuine powerhouse.

As the decade progressed, it got better. A 1996 FA Cup win provided entry to the Asian Club Championship. Pohang won it. The 1997 triumph was followed by a successful defence in 1998.

So, in less than a decade a half in existence, two continental titles and three domestic league triumphs had been celebrated. The supporters were spoiled and when the trophies stopped arriving at the Steelyard, the fans, as fans are wont to do, started dreaming wistfully of the past. The reality at the time was that the club was struggling in the league, leaving Seongnam, Suwon and Ulsan to take the titles and plaudits.

Slowly however, the Steelers bounced back and up the table. In 2004, only a penalty shootout defeat at the end of a championship play-off final against Suwon denied a league championship. Before the start of the next season, the club saw the subsequent introduction of a young Brazilian coach names Sergio Farias as the missing piece in the Pohang puzzle.Three years later and patience has been rewarded.

Patience is ample but stars are lacking? Hardly, and that’s before the four golden ones that will appear on the famous shirts next season are taken into account. Tavares is in line for the player of the year after 11 assists over the course of the season and a good deal more besides. The Brazilian pulls the strings for Pohang on the park and has been one of the most consistent performers since joining the K-League in 2004.

Park Won-jae excelled in the play-off matches, scoring against Suwon and Seongnam. It is the 23 year-old’s misfortune that he has come to the fore when the national team is without a coach.

Kim Ki-dong’s time has come and gone as far as the Taeguk Warriors are concerned but the old warhorse is still going strong. The 34 year-old started his career when Pohang was last champion and over 400 games (and according to the official stats, 602 fouls) later, he finally collected a winner’s medal.Kim is talking about playing until he is 40 and anybody who has watched him in action up and down the southern half of the Korean peninsula would not doubt his ability to do so.

Also not in doubt is the potential of goalkeeper Jung Syung-ryeong. Three goals conceded in five play-off games suggest a solid backline. There may be no head coach but the national team’s goalkeeping guru is still in employment and has witnessed Jung consistently deny the best strikers that the league has to offer.

Perhaps the talk of no stars refers to the fact that it has been a genuine team effort and that is hard to argue with. Pohang work hard and are hard to beat.

With coach Farias due to sign a new contract, the signs are that it won’t be another 15 years until Pohang is once again the champion of South Korea.

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