Monday, December 31, 2007

From Bobby to Berbatov how times change

From Bobby to Berbatov how times change.
Two recent news items in English football are resonating in my head.

One was the sight of an ailing Sir Bobby Robson receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award at the BBC's annual televised Sports Personality of the Year ceremony and the other was a typically calculated media plug by Dimitar Berbatov's agent on New Year's Eve.

Sir Bobby, a player and coach of his country and a successful manager of Barcelona, PSV, Porto, Sporting Lisbon, Newcastle and Ipswich, looked frail and white-haired after his latest cancer treatment, but it was the media savaging of his England managing in the 1980s which had first hit him sideways and turned his hair grey.

The venomous 'Robson Out' campaign pursued by The Sun was just one example of how times had changed in football since Bobby's playing days began, at Fulham in 1950.

The media plays such a big role now that one of the key questions posed about Fabio Capello's accession to the England manager's role was whether he could handle the hacks. Both Robson and his successor Graham Taylor withered under the unforgiving fingers of Fleet Street, which set a precedent for a Press v England manager feud thereafter. "Win every game!" was Taylor's assessment of the only possible remedy.

Alf Ramsey was not without his critics, whom he saw as an enemy trying to destabilize his patriotic ambitions, and Sir Alf took great pleasure in proving them wrong when he won the World Cup in 1966. The impassioned 'Jamais!' ('Never...will I forgive my critics!') mantra of Aime Jacquet after winning the World Cup for France in 1998 springs readily to mind, too.

The negative comments about Sir Alf's England were as nothing compared to the outright brutality aimed at Robson twenty years later, and in the '60s, the private lives of managers were never probed and held up for self-righteous judgment like they were in the '80s.

This is an English perspective I am speaking from, let me remind you. Sven-Goran Eriksson's bed-hopping is a matter for entertainment in England, but of supreme irrelevance in Italy, for instance.

That Bobby is pushing 75 and has only just stepped away from football, for now at least, is remarkable and testament to a decent man utterly devoted throughout his life to a love of the sport.

While Bobby's football life is coming to an end, new stories are always beginning and despite the sinister takeover from the money-men in recent years, the game just about about remains beautiful and every day I still read the football press hopeful of finding a new chapter enfolding.

And so, today's top story in the home of football is that Tottenham's ace striker is seeking a bigger club at which to ply his trade.

Nothing special there, but how odd it has become the norm now for all the quotes to arrive from the agent, as if the hotshot player has lost the power of speech but has no problem pronouncing via a proxy.

Emil Dantchev is a typical example of a footballing species that was almost absent in Sir Bobby's heyday.

"His performances for the club are a testament to his commitment to the fans and his team-mates," Dantchev speciously told The Sun, adding equivocally, "Fans must understand Dimitar is 27 next month and time is running out for him to find a club that can match his ambition."
In case we suspected Dantchev had any vested financial interest in planting a tale of player restlessness hours before the January transfer window opened (perish the thought!), he reassured us thus, "I would like to stress this is not about money."

Along with the power of television and the globalisation of labour, an aggressive media pack and the prevalence of agents influencing playing careers are key shifts in football's traditional culture.

Robson spanned both eras and seemed to adapt to the seismic changes of the 1990s, although Newcastle's overpaid 'stars' appeared at times to be out of control off the field when he was in charge of them, a consequence of the 'baby Bentley' lifestyle replacing the £20 per week maximum wage Sir Bobby was paid.

What a treasure trove of football memories Bobby's head must hold. Born in the early 1930s, a World Cup player in 1958, a World Cup manager in 1986 and 1990, a UEFA Cup and Cup Winners' Cup winner, plus the FA Cup, Spanish Cup, Dutch and Portuguese league titles to his name.

His influence remains, having schooled a certain interpreter called Jose Mourinho at Porto and then taken him to Barcelona as his assistant.
Bobby suffered a lot of criticism at his various clubs, but kept fighting, refused to yield and proved his critics wrong in the end.

And perhaps above all, unlike today's hotshot players inflated by their extraordinary and unprecedented personal wealth, Bobby did his own talking.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Gruesome Christmas Sequel In Korea

In South Korea, Christmas Day is a time for young couples to spend time together. Restaurants and especially movie theatres in Seoul are hardly quiet at any time of the week but they are full to bursting on December 25.

Over this particular festive period, there has been no equivalent of that fantastic film ‘Old Boy’- the comic-inspired account of a man who is imprisoned in a shabby room for 15 years without explanation and then seeks revenge upon his release. Nominated for the Golden Palm award at Cannes in 2004, the Korean film is a classic though at times it does make for some uncomfortable viewing, as does its (vague) sequel, ‘Sympathy for Lady Vengance’.

Old boy imprisoned

If those movies were not for the faint of heart, they have nothing on the gruesome sequel that has been jointly produced by leagues both N and K in the Land of the Morning Calm over the past month leaving K-League fans feeling as bewildered as the main character Oh Dae-su as he suddenly stumbles back into Seoul life after a decade and a half.

The N-league is Korea’s second tier. Regular readers may remember that 2006 saw promotion introduced. Unfortunately, Goyang Kookmin Bank, the team that won the play-off, decided to stay where it was rather than pay the $2-3 million that the K-League demands for entry. This money is earmarked for some sort of ‘K League development fund’ although perhaps the best way to ensure development would be to allow promoted clubs to spend such substantial sums on improving their squads.

Anyway, to put an end to such rude refusals, all N-League teams were asked at the start of the season whether they would accept promotion if it was to happen. Some said yes, others no.

With the football gods as perverse as they are, it was perhaps inevitable that of the two teams that qualified for the 2007 promotion play-off, only one actually wanted to go up. Ulsan Mipo had dreams of the K-League while Suwon City Hall was quite happy where it was. The sensible course of action would have been to simply allow Ulsan to go to the K-League. The promotion play-off is, as its name suggests, is designed for one purpose only.

The two-legged fixture went ahead regardless and the first leg was one that will stay in the memory forever. City Hall scored first. Ten minutes before the break, the referee gave a penalty to Ulsan. He sent off a Suwon player for protesting. In the next four minutes, he proceeded to show the red card to another three Suwon players. Incredibly down to seven at half-time, one City Haller deliberately got himself sent off at the start of the second game forcing the referee to abandon proceedings. Ulsan took the first leg 3-0 by default.

The second leg took place the following week. KBS TV decided to drop its live broadcast of the game claiming it was too controversial. Unsurprisingly, Ulsan won 4-1. Despite the unseemly scenes that had gone one, it was hoped that Ulsan’s victory and subsequent promotion would at least enable fans to look forward.

Ulsan celebrate their 'triumph' - image courtesy of Ilgan Sports

With the champagne still fizzing, Ulsan dropped a bombshell. The club was not sure that it actually wanted to move up a division after all.

“We are studying the problems of promotion and whether to go to the Pro League or not. We haven’t finished looking at the financial implications," Ulsan owner Noh Hong-seob told reporters.

An N-League official was having none of it. “There is no reason for Ulsan not to go up,” he told the press. “There is no problem.”

It was wishful thinking. Just before Christmas Ulsan confirmed that they would stay in the second tier and wouldn’t be clambering up the chimney to the snow-covered rooftop of the K-League.

Stay tuned for the last part of the trilogy.

Copyright: John Duerden & Soccerphile.com

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Friday, December 28, 2007

Emperor's Cup takes centre stage

J.League.
Following a dramatic end to a league campaign that saw Kashima Antlers unexpectedly lift their fifth J-League crown, the season-ending Emperor's Cup has taken centre stage in Japan.

The 87th edition of Japan's oldest sporting competition has been whittled down to the last four from the more than 6000 teams that started, with J1 sides not surprisingly claiming all four semi-final spots.

In the first semi-final, Gamba Osaka will take on Sanfrecce Hiroshima at Ecopa Stadium in Fukuroi.

Gamba booked their place in the last four with a Fifth Round win over Oita Trinita, before they needed extra-time to see off a stubborn Shimizu S-Pulse in the quarter-finals.

Hiroshima were 2-0 winners over Jubilo Iwata in their Fifth Round tie, before beating FC Tokyo by the same scoreline in their quarter-final clash.

The other semi-final sees newly crowned J-League champions Kashima Antlers take on Kawasaki Frontale at the National Stadium in Tokyo.

Kashima have relied upon goals from wantaway striker Atsushi Yanagisawa to fire them into the last four of the Cup, after Yanagisawa struck deep into extra-time against both Ventforet Kofu and non-league outfit Honda FC, as Kashima struggled to book their place in the semi-finals.

By comparison Kawasaki Frontale have enjoyed a much easier run. They beat Vissel Kobe 3-0 in the Fifth Round, before barely breaking a sweat in registering a 2-0 win over J2 side Ehime FC in their quarter-final.

The final of the Emperor's Cup will take place at the National Stadium in Tokyo on January 1.

2008 Japan fixture list announced

The 2008 fixture list for the Japan national team has been announced, with the Blue Samurai set to embark upon qualification for the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa.

Japan kick-off the year with friendlies against Chile and Bosnia and Herzegovina at the National Stadium in January, before their World Cup campaign gets under way against Thailand at Saitama Stadium on February 6.

Japan will also participate in the East Asian Championship, which takes place every three years and which will be hosted by China in 2008. Japan will face DPR Korea, Korea Republic and hosts China at the tournament in late February.

Takeshi Okada names training squad

New Japan coach Takeshi Okada has named his first training squad since taking over from Ivica Osim.

There were no surprises, although Kashima Antlers duo Daiki Iwamasa and Yuzo Tashiro were handed their first call-up's, as were FC Tokyo defender Yuhei Tokunaga and Gamba Osaka youngster Michihiro Yasuda.

Okada told the press that he would also consider Europe-based trio Naohiro Takahara and Junichi Inamoto of Eintracht Frankfurt and FC Basel midfielder Koji Nakata for selection in 2008. Only Takahara and Celtic midfielder Shunsuke Nakamura featured regularly in the Japan side under Ivica Osim.

Meanwhile Osim has left the intensive care unit of a Chiba hospital, as he makes a recovery from the stroke that ended his reign as Japan coach in November.

Japanese Players Overseas

Naohiro Takahara and Junichi Inamoto: Eintracht Frankfurt

Former Boca Juniors striker Naohiro Takahara has endured an injury-plagued second season at Bundesliga side Eintract Frankfurt, starting just four of his eight league appearances. Takahara's only league goal this season came in a 5-1 thrashing away at 1.FC Nürnberg.

Meanwhile Junichi Inamoto has enjoyed a brighter spell in Frankfurt, starting eleven league games at the mid-table German side.

Shunsuke Nakamura : Celtic

Scottish Player Of The Year Shunsuke Nakamura has started just seven leagues for Glasgow giants Celtic, having also endured an injury-riddled season. Nakamura's last league start came in a 3-0 win over Motherwell back on October 27, with a knee injury potentially ruling Nakamura out of Celtic's upcoming UEFA Champions League tie with Barcelona.

Celtic have refuted claims that they will allow Nakamura to exercise a get-out clause in his contract and return to former club Yokohama F. Marinos in 2008.

Daisuke Matsui : Le Mans

Winger Daisuke Matsui is back in favour at French Ligue 1 side Le Mans, with new coach Rudi Garcia's side flying high in fifth place in Le Championnat. Matsui, who is on the wish-list of Italian Serie A side Genoa, has started fifteen league games for Le Mans this season, scoring twice.

Koji Nakata : FC Basel

Former Kashima Antlers midfielder Koji Nakata has featured in all of Swiss club FC Basel's league games this season, with Basel currently six points clear of rivals FC Zürich going in to the winter break.

Tsuneyasu Miyamoto and Alex : Salzburg

Ex-Gamba Osaka defender Tsuneyasu Miyamoto has started ten of Salzburg's league fixtures, most recently in Salzburg's top-of-the-table clash with Sturm Graz on December 15.

Meanwhile ex-Japan international Alex continues to be linked with a move back to the J-League, with former club Urawa Reds the most likely destination for the versatile player.

Copyright © Michael Tuckerman & Soccerphile.com

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Thursday, December 27, 2007

Jokanovic replaces Djukic at Partizan

Jokanovic replaces Djukic at Partizan.
Jokanovic nombrado entrenador del Partizan Belgrado

Slavisa Jokanovic, antigua estrella de la Primera división española, ha sido nombrado entrenador del Partizan Belgrado después de que Miroslav Djukic abandonara el cargo de forma rocambolesca.

Según informó hoy la página web del Partizan, el ex-jugador del Oviedo, Tenerife y Deportivo fue elegido por la dirección tras haber consultado a la afición, factor muy influyente en la vida de los clubes balcánicos.

Los ultras dieron el visto bueno a una de las importantes figuras del pasado del club.

Para Jokanovic, de 39 años, será el primer cargo de entrenador en su carrera.

Su predecesor, Djukic, por el otro lado finalmente aceptará la oferta de la Federación para suceder a Javier Clemente en la selección serbia, después de que en el espacio de unos días afirmara primero que quedaría en el Partizan y luego que se trasladaría a España para unirse con su familia.

Djukic ha dejado a Jokanovic el equipo en la primera posición en la tabla de cara a la segunda vuelta, que empieza a mediados de febrero.

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Obi 1 Hand Solo 0

The wife and I are similar in many ways, but we disagree on the most prudent way to discipline children. Betty is from the old-school, and believes a small slap is perfectly acceptable. I take the opposite view, and prefer the use of a knuckle-duster.

Such actions would not be necessary if it wasn’t for our children being led astray by poor role-models, such as Premier League footballers. Even fully grown men occasionally follow their contentious lead; just last Tuesday I enjoyed a lunchtime roast.

It’s not just the off-field antics that leave a nasty taste in the mouth; the game is still riddled with simulation. There appears to be a growing number of players who embrace the turf more than Jodie Foster.

Peter Crouch tried to point the finger at foreign players after trying to dissect Jon Obi Mikel. As Crouch launched into his astonishing tirade, a sheepish Steven Gerrard kept his head down in the background. I hope that Stevie steps up when Liverpool play Manchester City; I’m hitting the Reds at 11/10.

Luckily, some players are willing to change. Ashley Young may have been guilty of going down easily in the past, but I have it on good authority that he plans to get a grip of himself over the coming months. The inspirational Young will lead Aston Villa to victory over Wigan at 7/5.

Arsene Wenger’s decision to release Ashley Cole was truly inspired. Arsenal’s new left-back has been a revelation this season, but I disagree with his assertion that players need a winter break. That’s just a tired cliché. The 6/5 for an Arsenal win over Everton should be on everybody’s lips.

David Sullivan has claimed that the departure of Steve Bruce was “the best thing that has ever happened to Birmingham City.” He’s obviously forgotten about the glorious Auto Windscreens Shield campaign of 1995. The Blues can crack a managerless Fulham at 10/11.

Sol Campbell does not appreciate terrace banter. The big man has asked for intervention from the FA, the PFA, and somewhat optimistically, the government. I just can’t see Gordon Brown introducing a ministry for the concerns of the slightly deranged. Portsmouth are unbeaten against Boro in their last 10 meets: I’d rather listen to a repeat of the Queen’s speech than miss the 7/10 for a Pompey win.

I try to stay away from the political arena as a rule, but there is something seriously amiss in this country when the likable Al Bangura is threatened with deportation, yet the campaign to remove Robbie Savage is ignored by the suits in Westminster. The 10/11 for a Blackburn win against the luckless Derby is equally perplexing.

Roy Keane has been linked with a move for Robbie Savage in the January window. I’m pleased that the Irishman hasn’t allowed Sunderland’s perilous position to affect his sense of humour. I’ll be laughing like Peter Beardsley’s photographer when I take the 6/4 for a Sunderland win over Bolton.

Jermain Defoe remains understandably unhappy with his prolonged spell on the bench, as he has to keep a continual eye out for a drunken Alan Davies. Tottenham are firing on all cylinders, I’ll happily take a bite out of the 4/7 for a Spurs win against a floundering Reading.

Wayne Rooney allegedly made a few risqué suggestions to a Daily Mirror reporter at Manchester United’s controversial Christmas bash. A stunned Mr McGovern was forced to make his excuses and leave. I won’t be knocking back the 3/1 for a draw between West Ham and Manchester United.

Chelsea have been leaking goals since John Terry met with Emmanuel Eboue’s studs of immediate justice; but they face a Newcastle side who remain impotent on the road. We should all rise to welcome the 4/9 for a Chelsea win.

Alex can consider himself fortunate to be JT’s replacement. The Brazilian could stand back-to-back with Frank Lampard and form a perfect circle. Portsmouth, Tottenham, Arsenal and Liverpool form a 10/1 accer that is the literal definition of perfection.


Copyright (c) Gerry McDonnell & soccerphile.com

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Greatest Goalkeepers' Blunders

Greatest Goalkeepers' Blunders.
Dossier: Najveće vratarske pogreške

Kad čuvar mreže zabrlja!


Katastrofalna izvedba Lazijevog vratara Fernanda Muslere protiv Milana (1:5 na rimskom Olimpicu) nadahnula nas je da se prisjetimo drugih zabavnih, odnosno dramatičnih vratarskih pogrešaka – gledanje ovisi o strani za koju navijate. Evo nekoliko poznatih slučajeva, od Robinsona do Ladića, od Antoniolija do Coppole, od Van der Sara do Kahna.

Ako je protiv Lazija pobijedio zahvaljujući seriji Muslerinih grešaka, i sam je Milan gubio bodove zbog vratarskih promašaja. Francesco Antonioli dobro se sjeća derbija s Interom iz sezone 1991/92, kad mu je jedan mlak udarac De Agostinija prešao preko ruke i završio u mreži. Kao Romin golman, 2002. je napravio još šokantniju pogrešku protiv Ajaxa kad je u pokušaju izbijanja šakom udario loptu glavom i praktično je dodao Ibrahimoviću, koji ju je lako ubacio u mrežu.

Napolitanci se nerado sjećaju 22. listopada 2000. i dvoboja Napolija i Bologne na San Paoliju. Na vratima je stajao 22-godišnji Ferdinando Coppola, ponikao u juniorima domaćina. Nažalost, pred svojom se publikom osramotio. Od pet golova koje je Bologna postigla, njemu na dušu idu četiri, a dva su ušla u povijest: kod 0:1 napucao je svog igrača Baldinija, od kojeg se odbila u mrežu, a potom je u pokušaju da izbije Signorijevo nabacivanje praktično unio loptu u vlastita vrata. U međuvremenu se Coppola oporavio i danas je standardan vratar Atalante.

Živjeli Robinson i krtica!

Hrvatski se navijači najradije sjećaju Paula Robinsona i njegovog trenutka gubitka koncentracije na utakmici u Maksimiru u listopadu 2006. Gary Neville lagano je vratio loptu svom vrataru, no nažalost u okvir gola i to baš preko neravnine na travnjaku. Lopta je lagano odskočila baš kad ju je Tottenhamov čuvar mreže htio ispucati te mu je prešla preko noge i ušetala se u englesku mrežu – hvala Nevilleu, Robinsonu i krtici!

Prije Robinsona, engleska je vrata čuvao Liverpoolov David James, kojemu su navijači nadjenuli nadimak Calamity James (Katastrofalni James). Nadahnuo ih je lik revolverašice s Divljeg Zapada, Calamity Jane, i sličnost imena Jane i James.

I Jamesov prethodnik, Arsenalov David Seaman, imao je par svojih nezaboravnih točaka: 2002. je na SP-u primio gol od Ronaldinha koji ga je lobao s 22 metra, uočivši da je nesmotreno istrčao. Ali, još je nevjerojatniji Seamanov gaf bio onaj 1995. u finalu Kupa kupova protiv Zaragoze: sasvim je nepotrebno stajao daleko ispred gola da ga je Ali Amar Nayim lobao s preko 50 metara!!

Wieseova "asistencija"

Bayernov vratar Oliver Kahn sinonim je pouzdanosti, no na finalu Svjetskog prvenstva 2002. u Japanu poklonio je pobjedu Brazilu tako što nije uspio zaustaviti udarac Rivalda već je kratko odbio loptu na Ronaldovu nogu. Ipak, nitko nije za to pribio Kahna na križ, jer bez njega Njemačka možda ne bi prošla ni prvu rundu.

U svježem nam je sjećanju Werderov Tim Wiese. On je pretprošle sezone u osmini finala Lige prvaka zaustavio Nedvedov centaršut, ali se počeo okretati po tlu dok mu lopta nije ispala, a Emerson, koji je prolazio u blizini, nije propustio priliku.

U Španjolskoj su se nedavno najviše smijali Cristianu Abbiatiju, koji je nedavno poklonio loptu za gol Decu na derbiju Barca-Atletico na Nou Campu.

Međutim, mnogo su veću štetu izazvale pogreške dvaju reprezentativnih velikana. Ramon Arconada, jedan od najvećih španjolskih čuvara u povijesti, imao je u rukama loptu koju je uputio Michel Platini u finalu Europskog prvenstva 1984., no nespretno se spustio na nju trbuhom te ju je potisnuo preko crte. Francuska je to finale dobila s 2:0.

Neobičan je gaf počinio također vrlo pouzdani Andoni Zubizarreta, grešku koja je favoriziranu Španjolsku koštala mjesta u osmini finala Mundiala 1998. Umjesto da ga pamte kao španjolskog igrača s najviše nastupa na Svjetskim prvenstvima, pamtit će ga po udarcu Lawala s boka, koji je nesretno skrenuo u vlastitu mrežu! Nigerija je tada pobijedila s 3:2 i išla dalje.

Najsmješniji je potez ipak izveo Realov Francisco Buyo u zadnjem kolu prvenstva 1991/82, kad je njegova momčad morala svladati Tenerife da osvoji naslov. Zakuhao je stoper Sanchis, koji je neobjašnjivo i neprecizno vratio loptu Buyu s centra. U nastojanju da izbjegne korner, Buyo ju je neshvatljivo šakom usmjerio prema golu, na noge Pieru, koji je zabio za pobjedu Tenerifea – i naslov Barcelone.

Veliki Kolumbijac Rene Higuita, uspio je u prijateljskoj utakmici s Engleskom na Wembleyju zaustaviti udarac petama u zraku tako što je izveo salto unaprijed, ali je upropastio izglede svoje reprezentacije na Svjetskom prvenstvu 1990. u Italiji. Zaustavivši jednu
kamerunsku akciju, izašao je s loptom u nogama izvan kaznenog prostora i krenuo driblati Rogera Millu na 20 metara! Ovaj mu je loptu oduzeo, pretrčao ga i gurnuo loptu u nebranjena vrata.

Borotine majstorije

U bivšoj jugoslavenskoj ligi najslavniju je vratarsku pogrešku napravio 1981. Veležov Enver Marić, koji je ležerno stajao na rubu svog kaznenog prostora kad je Dragan Pantelić iz Radničkog ispucavao iz svog kaznenog prostora. Pogađate: snažno ispucana lopta odskočila je pred Veležovim šesnaestercem i preskočila Marića na putu prema mreži!

Veličanstven je bio i Partizanov Petar Borota. U razmaku od dva tjedna 1978. primio je dva gotovo istovjetna, a suluda gola: u Kupu prvaka uspješno je zaustavio napad Dynama iz Dresdena te lakomisleno spustio loptu pored sebe, nešto vičući svojim suigračima. No, budući da nije bilo nikakvog prekida, Dynamov je Hans-Jürgen Dörner pritrčao i piknuo loptu u mrežu, a Partizan je ispao na jedanaesterce.

Potom je, na derbiju protiv Zvezde na Marakani, pogrešno protumačio signalizaciju suca i položio loptu na peterac da izvede nepostojeći slobodan udarac. Pred njim je stajao lukavi Miloš Šestić i kad je Borota stavio loptu na travnjak i udaljio se da uzme zalet, ovaj se u dva koraka primakao i poslao loptu pored zapanjenog vratara u gol.

Ladićev nezaboravni "felš"

Vratar Dinama i Vatrenih iz najslavnije epohe, Dražen Ladić, bio je izrazito pouzdan vratar, a na samom Svjetskom prvenstvu 1998. upravo najbolji vratar turnira. Međutim, Hrvatska je zamalo "promašila" plasman na prvenstvo u Francuskoj, jer je Ladić primio nevjerojatan gol protiv Bosne u rujnu 1997., na ista vrata na koja je 2006. Paul Robinson propustio ono vraćanje lopte Garyja Nevillea. Vrlo laganu loptu koju mu je uputio Salihamidžić htio je ispucati daleko u polje, ali ju je samo okrznuo vanjskom stranom kopačke i usmjerio je u vlastitu mrežu. Bilo je to vodstvo BiH s 1:0, no Vatreni su preokrenuli i slavili s 3:2.

By Ozren Podnar/Nogomet/Soccerphile

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Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Interview: Dragan Mladenovic

K League
There are over 40 foreign players in the K-League. Brazil has always been the favored destination for coaches and owners in the market for new talent. Eastern Europe has also been a fairly popular hunting ground and that is where Dragan Mladenovic started a career that has taken in some of Europe’s most prestigious clubs.

The Serbian now plays for Incheon United – the west coast outfit that is a veritable Balkan enclave - but his journey east has been a long one. Born in 1976, the tall midfielder impressed in his local leagues and earned a move to the storied Red Star Belgrade.

The 1991 European champions may not be the continental powerhouse they once were but his performances earned a call-up to the national team in 2003 and a year later, a $3 million move to Scottish giants Glasgow Rangers.

“The history at Rangers is bigger than Red Star,” he said, “but Red Star was European champions in 1991 but with tradition and everything, Rangers are a much bigger team.” A bigger team maybe but it wasn’t an easy time for the player who managed only a handful of games before moving onto Spain. “In Glasgow, they didn’t give me a chance. When I was injured, they brought in other players.”

A lack of fitness was one reason but at least Mladenovic got a taste of the famous ‘Old Firm’ clash with city rivals Celtic. “It was very nice,” he recalled. “I have played a few derbies –Red Star and Partizan, Real Sociedad and Atheltico Bilbao, the Basque Derby and Rangers and Celtic at Celtic Park. That was the best derby. The atmosphere is unbelievable, a once-in-a-lifetime chance.”

60,000 fans crammed into Celtic Park must seem a world away from the more genteel surroundings of the K-League where some teams have problems filling the large and modern stadiums from that remain from the 2002 World Cup. “I am a professional but sometimes when you see a big stadium and it’s hard to see a crowd and it’s a little disappointing. They have everything here in Korea, the stadiums –they are unbelievable – but there is no crowd, it is a problem.”

Crowds maybe smaller but the player is happy at Incheon, one of the friendliest and forward-thinking clubs in the K-League. “People who know me, they understand why I came here. I don’t want to speak to the media for private reasons. I wanted to get far away from Europe because I had some problems there.

“I am enjoying games, for the first time in my life I am enjoying football. In Korea, they don’t have relegation and they don’t have to fight like in Europe. In Red Star, we won the championship twice, every game we had to win. Here, OK, we go to win but if we don’t win then we don’t get relegated and the players are used to that. That was my problem when I came here, I wanted to win all the time and if we didn’t win then I became angry…at Rangers you have to win. When I went to Real Sociedad, they were second-from-bottom and fighting relegation.”

So there is less pressure in Korea? “Yes, the pressure is much, much less.”

Less pressure but standards in Asia’s oldest professional league are better than many in the west may imagine and after playing in Spain, Scotland and Serbia, Dragan knows that more than most.

“It’s a good league. My friends ask me why I am here but I say ‘believe me, it is a much better league than the league in Serbia and other European leagues.’” And the best team? “Seongnam. They can play in Europe and they would do well. They are the only team that can play well tactically. They run well, they have good players and have good tactics. At any time they know where every player will be and it is good.”

Incheon are not quite at that level yet but the club looks to be moving in the right direction – moving up the table, on to the stock market and soon to a new, purpose-built stadium. Mladenovic would like to see better training and tactics however.

“In Spain, almost everything is with the ball. We don’t spend too much time on the tactical part. In Incheon they have 40 players and many young players. My suggestion is that when you are young you have to learn something. If you play on the wings, you have to learn how to cross well.

“Running is the easiest thing to learn. When you are young you need technical and tactical skills. For me, it is a little disappointing, for the young guys there is too much running.”

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Friday, December 21, 2007

Champions League Draw 2007

Champions League Draw 2007
Matches scheduled to be played February 19/20 and March 4/5

Arsenal v AC Milan
Celtic v Barcelona
Fenerbahce v Sevilla
Liverpool v Inter Milan
Lyon v Manchester United
Olympiakos v Chelsea
Roma v Real Madrid
Schalke v Porto


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Thursday, December 20, 2007

Charity, Empathy and Chas to Tea

I remain a slave to tradition. Every year, I make a complete fool of myself at the office Christmas party, and this year was no exception. After consuming a few too many ales, I made a misguided play for the cleaner under the mistletoe. He was absolutely livid.

My luck is unlikely to improve over the holidays. The wife has invited her mother and her sister to Christmas dinner. Ho Ho Ho.

I refuse to wallow in self pity though, as there are children in this world who live in near poverty. In a completely selfless gesture on my part, I’ve bought myself a new pair of trainers to reward their strong work ethic.

In an uncharacteristic piece of good fortune, I’ve been spared the expense of weighing in for gifts for my own kids. As Blackburn fought back to 2-2 against Arsenal in midweek, the little ones overheard me say that Santa was literally on fire. I’m investing the savings on a Blackburn win over Chelsea at 7/2.

The most annoying aspect of the ‘festive’ period is probably the repetitive advertisements. Ian Wright looked to have won the award for the most grating commercial, until Jamie Redknapp and Tim Lovejoy formed an unstoppable axis of evil.

I’ve disgracefully found myself singing along to that awful ad that accuses Reo-Coker of buying knock-off DVDs. Such a practise is reprehensible: you can download movies for free off the internet. 11/10 for a Villa win over Manchester City is another spectacular giveaway.

Michael Owen must be a happy man after Manchester City declared an interest in his services. The miniscule hitman has suffered more than his fair share of injuries throughout his career, and under Sam Allardyce, a strained neck is almost inevitable. I’m hardly sticking my neck out by suggesting a Newcastle win over Derby at 2/5.

Tottenham and Arsenal do not get along. The animosity was born in 1913 when Arsenal invaded their territory, and tensions rose further when the Gunners replaced them in the top flight after a ballot in 1919. The relationship between the two clubs completely deteriorated in 2007, when Alan Davies tried to eat Chas and Dave for resembling the homeless. I’m putting my house on a draw between the fierce rivals at 3/1.

When Gary Megson arrived at Bolton, he had a 1.7% approval rate, and there was a 2% margin for error. The people of Bolton are warming to the ginger Mourinho; he can turn the screw on Birmingham at even money.

Alan Curbishley is worried that Anton Ferdinand is in danger of embracing a pop-star culture. The West Ham boss has nothing to worry about; all pop-stars are good-lookers, with the exception of Lily Allen. I’ll be happy to get on the 23/10 for a draw between Middlesbrough and West Ham.

I felt sorry for Steve Bennett as he had to face Roy Keane after ruling out a legitimate Sunderland winner last week. I’d sooner go into a tunnel with Henri Paul than the volatile Irishman. I’ll be absolutely smashed when Reading oblige at even money against Sunderland.

Manchester United are way too short at 4/9 for the visit of Everton. The Moyes Boys are on a 12 match unbeaten run, and they’ve left Old Trafford with a point on two of their last three trips. The Toffeemen are available at 9/4 to avoid defeat, which has left me as excited as Wayne Rooney on ‘Gran Slam Sunday’.

These cold mornings are absolutely killing me. The wife nicked my toast this morning, which was bordering on an absolute liberty. Ronaldo can empathise with my situation, as Marcus Bent has reportedly been playing with his porridge. I’ve got the oats to get my cash down on a Fulham win over Wigan at 23/20.

Christmas is especially hard on little orphan children. It’s perfectly understandable that the more vulnerable will struggle to adapt to a strange new home at this time of year, and some will even consider running away. I heard reports just last weekend that a young Spanish lad went missing in Liverpool. Fernando will mark his return by sleighing Pompey at 4/7.

I’m all for enjoying the excesses of the festive period, but I also take the time to contemplate the real meaning of Christmas.

To those with faith, he was a saviour; but he suffered on the cross. I just hope he lets a few more in for Pompey this weekend. Liverpool, Aston Villa, Bolton, Reading and Newcastle form a nailed-on Christmas accer at a perfectly pious 15/1.


Copyright (c) Gerry McDonnell & soccerphile.com

Milan Win World Club Cup

Milan Win World Club Cup.
After the excitement generated by the semi finals I decided to head somewhere more tranquil. Catching the westward bound Shinkansen I headed for Itsukushima, home of the floating shrine and a UNESCO World Heritage site.

It offered a stark contrast to the previous night as there were more deer than
people wandering around the dimly lit streets. But in the bay the floating shrine was lit up. I understand that mere mortals used to have to enter the island by boat through this shrine. These days it would seem to be a matter of studying the tides as the two times I have been here the shrine appears to be standing on a mud flat.

Choosing something to eat isn't as difficult as you would imagine here in Japan. Mainly due to the fact that outside the majority of establishments they have either a photograph or a plastic imitation of the dishes available.

The main problem I have is when they describe the dish in English, seeing the likes of eel, squid and octopus immediately puts me off, whereas written in Japanese the food might still look appealing. This night I chose a local speciality okonomiyaki, a noodle dish with pancakes and
fried eggs as well as shaved fish, called hanakatsuo. When this is added as a topping to a hot dish, the heat has the effect of making the flakes move as if dancing; because of this, it is also known as dancing fish flakes.
Watching the shavings move made me wonder if John Lennon was on drugs or just eating okonomiyaki.

It just so happened that the next day Sanfrecce Hiroshima were hosting Jubilo Iwata in the Emperor's Cup. So taking the Astram line monorail out of the city, with buildings below and hills on either side I eventually reached The Big Arch, home of Sanfrecce and almost a World Cup venue in 2002. As I walked in I was handed a leaflet, with closer inspection I found that it was
a songsheet for the supporters, complete with words (in Japanese). So later
I was to be entertained with Smoke on the Water, Ale, Ale Hiroshima
(possibly a drinking song) and The Great Escape.

Two well taken free kicks gave Sanfrecce a comfortable win and a place in the semi-finals of the Emperor's Cup. This appeared to appease the home supporters in the sparse crowd who looked a little lost in the 50,000 stadium built originally for the 1994 Asian Games.

Headed homeward after the match on the Shinkansen with a brief stop (normally less than a minute between arriving and departing stations (at Osaka and then a slight detour in Nagoya) before arriving back in Tokyo on the eve of the Club World Cup Final.

The first match of the day saw Urawa Red Diamonds clinch third spot thanks to a 4-2 penalty shoot win, after a 2-2 draw during normal time. Washington the Urawa goalscorer, with two headed goals will be greatly missed as he is now to return to Brazil. However he has promised the Japanese that one day he will be back to manage the only club he could ever play for in Japan.

Milan Win World Club Cup

The final itself was a simply a showcase for Kaka, who in turn used it to announce that he belonged to Jesus. Kaka was a constant menace and as well scoring he provided two assists and provoked into a foul a Boca player which saw him sent off. Boca supporters continued their chant of "dale Boca" throughout, but whilst it must have looked as though the team were dallying, in truth Kaka delivered a performance which saw him crowned World Player of the year, if the vote had gone to anyone else they would have changed it after watching this display. His performance meant that once again Brazil were the winners of this competition, a fact which clearly hurt the Argentinians. He taunted the Boca fans with the trophy and Brazil flag as he ran round on Milan's lap of honour.

Boca fans

Once again Japan has left its impression on me. The place where you start the day with the latest energy drink, with two pills dispensed in a plastic cup before knocking back some potion. The cleanliness of the place, where even at the football stadiums people pick up their rubbish and place it in the bins provided. Where you now pay for items by scanning your mobile phone
over a paypoint. This time though I get to leave my own (fingerprint) impression with Japan.

© Ross Clegg & Soccerphile.com

World Soccer News Inter Crusader Shirts

World Soccer News Inter Crusader Shirts.
World soccer news: For week of December 20th

Soccer Crusaders: Crosses on shirts upset Moslems

Soccer is known for knocking down many barriers, except for those fortified in religious fanatism. One Baris Kaska, a Turkish lawyer from Izmir, filed a complaint against UEFA with the local court asking for the annullment of Inter Milan's 3-0 Champions League win over Fenerbahce on account that the "Italians wore a red cross on a white surface." For Kaska, a clear symbol of the Crusades.
"The cross reminded me of the bloody days of the past. In my opinion, the design of the shirt openly suggests the superiority of one religion," claims Kaska.

Naturally, the complaint has no chances of prospering since UEFA approved the design of Inter's reserve kit, inaugurated on the occasion of the Milan club's forthcoming centenary. Indeed, Inter had the sensitivity to ask Fenerbahce whether they would object to their using the crossed shirt at San Siro, and the Turks said no problem.

Barcelona, who sell tons of shirts in Islamic countries, have forestalled a possible customers' boycott by redisigning their coat of arms in the batches intended for Moslem markets. Instead of the city's patron saint St George's cross in the upper left corner, Barça's coat of arms on sale in Islamic states cointains an ordinary vertical red line on the white surface.
"They don't tolerate crosses, be it Barça's or another club's," said a Spaniard living in Saudi Arabia to the La Vanguardia daily.
"Barcelona's merchandise sells well, but it would not be the same if there was a red cross drawn within a white square."

John Terry six weeks out of action

Chelsea's captain and England international John Terry will spent at least six weeks on the sidelines after sustaining an injury during the London derby against Arsenal. The team doctors confirmed Terry broke three bones in his left foot.
The international defender tried to continue playing even after Eboué's rough tackle, but the pain was too strong, forcing him to abandon the pitch. Eboué apologized to Terry for the tackle before getting injured himself.
This has been yet another blow to the Blues, already without Ricardo Carvalho since the early stages of the season.
The brave skipper could return to action against Birmingham in late January and should certainly be ready for Fabio Capello's England debut against Switzerland at Wembley on February 6th.


Kaká's double triumph

The journalists who determine the winner of the Golden Ball in France Football's poll have a similar taste to that of the coaches and skippers of national teams taking part in FIFA's contest for the world's best player.
As a consequence, the same player has won the Golden Ball and the FIFA's award in the same season for the tenth time in 17 years. This year's double winner is Milan's Kaká, the fifth Brazilian to have unified the two most prestigious individual prizes in soccer.

That was not the end to Kaká's astonishing run of trophies: by winning FIFA's World Club Cup, the 25-year-old attacking midfielder has become only the second player to have won the set of soccer's most distinguished trophies. Just like Marco van Basten in 1989, Kaká has collected the Champions' League, the Supercup, the World Clup Cup and the Golden Ball. Van Basten could not win FIFA's player of the year award simply because it was not given before 1991.

Here are the ten double-winners since 1991, when FIFA started to award the prize for the top player of the year.

Golden Ball plus FIFA award

1992. Marco van Basten (Netherlands)
1993. Roberto Baggio (Italy)
1995. George Weah (Liberia)
1997. Ronaldo (Brazil)
1998. Zinedine Zidane (France)
1999. Rivaldo (Brazil)
2002. Ronaldo (Brazil)
2005. Ronaldinho (Brazil)
2006. Fabio Cannavaro (Italy)
2007. Kaka (Brazil)

Inzaghi like Cruyff and Rijkaard!

Filippo Pippo Inzaghi has become the third European player to have scored a goal in all three finals of club cup competitions in the same cycle.
Before Pippo, only two Dutchmen achieved that distinction.
The first was Ajax' Johan Cruyff, who scored twice against Inter in the Champions' Cup, twice against Rangers in the Supercup and once against Independiente in the Intercontinental Cup in 1972 and early 1973.
Eighteen years later, Milan's Frank Rijkaard repeated the feat in the games against Benfica, Sampdoria and Olimpia of Asunción.


Milan's third hat-trick

AC Milan has joined for the third time the select group of the elite European clubs who won the three most important international trophies in one competitive cycle.
Before winning the World Club Cup by beating Boca Juniors 4-2, Milan collected the Champions' League at the expense of Liverpool (2-1) and the European Supercup against Sevilla (3-1).
The world's most successful club picked up their first two hat-tricks in 1989 and 1990 under the guidance of Arrigo Sacchi.
This elite group includes Ajax (twice), Porto, Juventus and Real Madrid.

Hat-trick of titles

1972. Ajax
1987. Porto
1989. Milan
1990. Milan
1995. Ajax
1996. Juventus
2002. Real Madrid
2007. Milan

Wanchope says goodbye in January

Paulo Wanchope, Costa Rica's top soccer export, will bid a final farewell on January 13th against Sweden in San José.
The gigantic striker, who announced his retirement last month, will play his final game at the national Ricardo Saprissa stadium, where he debuted for the national team back in 1996.
The former Derby County, West Ham and Manchester City player scored 45 goals in 73 appearances for Costa Rica and was the country's top scorer until Rolando Fonseca recently overtook him.

European leagues' top scorers

Kruno Lovrek, the leading scorer in the Croatian 1st Division, is the highest scoring player in all of Europe with 14 hits, a goal above a group of six players with 13 goals each. This group includes Celtic's Scott McDonald and Ajax' Jan-Klas Huntelaar alongside two other players from the Croatian League – Nikola Kalinic and Radomir Djalovic.
Only two strikers from the top leagues are present among the European top scorers: the French boy wonder Karim Benzema of Lyon and Juventus' David Trezeguet, both with 12 goals.
The Spanish number one is Sevilla's Brazilian Luis Fabiano with 10 goals, while both in the Premier League and Bundesliga the leading scorers are still within single digits.
Bayern's Klose and Toni, Hamburg's Van der Vaart and Werder's Diego have finished the first part of the season with nine goals on their account, like Arsenal's Adebayor, Manchester United's Ronaldo and Everton's Aiyegbeni.


1. Kruno Lovrek (Zagreb) – 14 goals
2.-7. Nikola Kalinić (Hajduk) – 13
Radomir Đalović (Rijeka) - 13
Jan-Klas Huntelaar (Ajax) - 13
Gheorghe Bucur (Politechnica T.) – 13
Scott McDonald (Celtic) - 13
Hakan Yakin (Young Boys) - 13
8-17. Karim Benzema (Lyon) - 12
David Trezeguet (Juventus) - 12
Oleksandr Hladki (Šahtar) – 12
Peter Graulund (Arhus) – 12
Juraj Halenar (Artmedia) – 12
Sanel Jahić (Željezničar) - 12
David Bunderla (Primorje) – 12
Dario Zahora (Domžale) – 12
Marek Zienczuk (Wisla) - 12
Pawel Brozek (Wisla) - 12

Argentina bought 1978 World Cup, says a mafioso

The former Columbian mafioso Fernando Rodríguez Mondragón has revealed new details of the scandal that allegedly took place at the 1978 World Cup in Argentina and that cost the Brazilians the title.
According to the ex-narco dealer, it was the then Argentinian vice-admiral, Carlos A. Lacoste, who masterminded the bribing of the Peruvian FA so that Argentina would beat Peru by at least four goals and qualify for the finals ahead of Brazil.
"My uncle and dad were called by the players' agent Carlos Quieto asking them to mediate between the Argentinian and the Peruvian FA's, since he was the Peruvian FA's president's friend," said Mondragón to terra.es digital newspaper.
"Two days before the key game, at the meeting in Lima, the Argentinian bought the favours of four players for 50,000 USD each, and their government gave Peru some grain free of charge," continued the infamous Guillermo Rodríguez Mondragón's son, promising to reveal all the names, amounts and other details of the scandal in his forthcoming book.
Lacoste was the chairman of the World Cup organizing committee, short lived president of Argentina and long-time FIFA vice-president.
Argentina won that World Cup by beating Peru 6-0 in the crucial semifinal group game and the Netherlands 3-1 in the finals.
All players involved have always rejected claims of foul play.

Copyright Ozren Podnar/Soccerphile

Monday, December 17, 2007

Fifa World Rankings Dec 2007

Fifa World Rankings Dec 2007.
There is no change in the top 20 teams of this month's Fifa world rankings.

Argentina are number one followed by Brazil and Italy. England are in 12th place, Scotland 14th and the USA 19th.

1 Argentina
2 Brazil
3 Italy
4 Spain
5 Germany
6 Czech Republic
7 France
8 Portugal
9 Netherlands
10 Croatia
11 Greece
12 England
13 Romania
14 Scotland
15 Mexico
16 Turkey
17 Colombia
18 Bulgaria
19 USA
20 Nigeria

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Park Ready To Return

Park Ready To Return.
Park Ready To Return
It’s been a long time coming. After almost nine months on the sidelines, Park Ji-sung is set to return to action for Manchester United this week. His absence has been keenly felt - perhaps more in Seoul than in the English city.

With compatriots in other Premier League clubs struggling to make an impact on the pitch, the sight of the busy South Korean sporting the famous red shirt is one that everybody has been waiting for.

It was a bright early spring when the 26 year-old sustained a knee injury. At the time, it didn’t seem so serious and his expected absence was short – a good thing as, just prior to the injury, Park had been playing his best football since joining the club from PSV Eindhoven in the summer of 2005.

The scenario was similar that of Lee Dong-guk almost exactly one year previously. Lee had been in perhaps the best form of his career in March and April 2006 in the K-League. He was scoring goals for fun for Pohang Steelers and had established himself as Korea’s number one striker just ahead of the 2006 World Cup.

On an early April evening against Incheon United, Lee scored a delightful first-half volley and then was carried off the pitch in the second half. The seriousness of his injury wasn’t immediately apparent.

Lee, now at Middlesbrough, missed the World Cup while Park was forced to watch his Manchester United team-mates lift the English Premier League trophy in May and exit the Champions League at the semi-final stage at the hands of AC Milan.

After it became apparent that his injury was more serious than first thought, Park went under the knife in the US for an operation that was, according to his father, career-saving.

The road to recovery has been a long one and the player’s journey has been accompanied by the expected countless number of headlines. His ability to walk without the aid of crutches was well-reported (unfortunately, a headline like "A Walk In The Park" doesn't work in Korean) as was his return to the gym (neither does "Park Bench Press"). Around two weeks ago he resumed full-training with the first team squad and as coach Sir Alex Ferguson told reporters last week, he is looking good.

"He played in the practice game on Sunday and was absolutely outstanding. I hadn't registered him for Europe at the start of the season because we didn't think he would be back until January with his injury.”

Park could return against Everton on December 23 and for Korean fans it will be a welcome Christmas present. Saturday nights without Park don’t have the same appeal, for viewers or advertisers, in Seoul. It is not only broadcasters who are happy to see the return of the familiar mop-top. Internet sports sites have all recorded greater traffic levels as excitement grows as the time of Park’s return nears.

United haven’t done too badly without the former PSV Eindhoven star. After winning the title, the Red Devils went shopping in the summer and bought stars such as Carlos Tevez, Owen Hargreaves, Nani and Anderson, big-money players who have all smoothly settled into the set-up.

Fighting for an almost automatic place won’t be the first challenge that Park has faced and it won’t be the first time that he has had the whole Korean nation behind him.

Copyright: John Duerden & Soccerphile

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Sunday, December 16, 2007

AC Milan crowned FIFA Club World Cup champions

AC Milan crowned FIFA Club World Cup champions.
Italian giants AC Milan have won the 2007 FIFA Club World Cup following a comprehensive 4-2 drubbing of Boca Juniors at Yokohama International Stadium.

Veteran striker Filippo Inzaghi scored twice in front of more than 68,000 fans, but Brazilian midfielder Kaka was the star of the show, setting up two goals and scoring one himself on his way to receiving the Player Of The Tournament award.

It took Milan just twenty-one minutes to open the scoring when Kaka surged into the box. His first shot was blocked, but he drove the rebound across the face of goal for veteran Inzaghi to produce a typical poacher's finish.

Boca Juniors were level less than sixty seconds later, when Claudio Morel Rodriguez curled over a cross from the left-wing that was expertly nodded home by Rodrigo Palacio.

Despite the scores being locked at 1-1 at half-time Milan were always in control, and they retook the lead five minutes after the interval when defender Alessandro Nesta profited from a fortuitous bounce to lash home a volley from close range.

Kaka then scored the goal that his stellar display deserved, before teeing up Pippo Inzaghi for his second of the match. Boca scored a late consolation through a Massimo Ambrosini own goal, but it did little to dampen the celebrations as Milan became the first European team to lift the revamped FIFA Club World Cup trophy.

The victory avenged a penalty shoot-out defeat to Boca Juniors at the 2003 Toyota Cup in Tokyo, with Kaka telling reporters that winning the Club World Cup with Milan was a "dream come true."

Milan will now look to defend their UEFA Champions League title when that competition resumes next February.

Copyright © Michael Tuckerman & Soccerphile.com

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Sanfrecce Hiroshima

Sanfrecce Hiroshima have endured a horrendous season in the J-League. Relegated in a play-off with the third-place team from J2, Kyoto Sanga, Sanfrecce have played most of the season in front of sparse crowds at their cavernous Big Arch Stadium.



Today, however, there was reason to celebrate as the team in purple defeated Jubilo Iwata in the Emperor's Cup to keep their season alive. Two sublime left-footed free kicks from Koji Morisaki sealed the win in front of only 3,177 die-hard supporters.


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Friday, December 14, 2007

I WAS A TEENAGE ETOILE DU SOHEIL FAN!

Back to Tokyo for the semi finals of the competition and I noted that Sepp Blatter has already questioned the participation of the Oceania tournament winner. Not only is this the smallest of the federations it also recently lost Australia to the Asian tournament, as they wished the national team to have more competition and also avoid their inevitable World Cup play off against South American opponents.

Reds fans

Making my way from the subway stadium to the first game it was noticeable that a large number of locals were sporting the yellow and blue of Boca. I was handed a flyer for La Bombonera, a Japanese bar dedicated to the team, there were a number of people handing them, obviously to boost business for what should be their busiest night ever.

The standard of football was raised with the introduction of the first South American champions not to come from Brazil. Etoile showed their intentions with a shot at goal from the kick off. However Boca's slick passing was the key to their win. With 37 minutes gone Palermo put Palacio away down the left wing who played an intricate ball into the feet of Nery Cardozo who gleefully hammered the ball into the roof of the net. Etoile shook off the defensive qualities that saw them through their qualifying match and showed that they could play.

The Argentinian side have been quoted as saying that they have to win this tournament no matter what, and Fabian Vargas's second yellow proved they are not going to let anyone get in the way. Despite this setback with 25 minutes left Boca reverted to 4-3-2, proving that attack is the best form of defence. They matched their opponents with chances at both ends, cruelly Etoile substitute Gilson Silva hit the post in the last minute.

So where better to go having just seen Boca clinch their place in the final than La Bombonera. One useful skill in Japan is orienteering! Directions are given by small diagrams, they may have street names on but I wouldn't know.
So having negotiated my way I arrived at a small bar in the back streets of the Yoyogi area. The bar was indeed box shaped and decked out with Boca souvenirs and old Boca matches broadcast in the background.

I got talking to one local who had his Boca shirt on and had also gone to the game. During our conversation he pointed to a picture which showed mascots from the J League teams. I quickly reeled of two of the teams. With this I became an instant celebrity. I tried to explain the race that our mascots back in England, but I think this would seem rather tame to them.
(Have you seen the clips from the Japanese show where they play football
with binoculars on or even the rugby game in fancy dress suits!).
Free drinks were the order of the night, Quilmes of course.

Next day and it was down the road to Yokohama. Another closely contested game with an excellent atmosphere. The Urawa fans were their usual self. Chanting and pogoing (well almost all of them) to their songs. Urawa conceded territorial advantage but defended well. When they broke they used the width of the whole pitch and became more confident as the game wore on.
Kaka was a constant menace but with no end product he switched flanks during the first half looking for a way past a resolute Urawa defence.

The chants of the Urawa fans grew louder during the second half as they sensed that their team might get a result. Especially when Washington curled a shot into the corner only for Dida to pluck it out of the air just when it looked like going in. Then the inevitable, Kaka broke down the left and got to the byline and laid the ball into the path of Seedorf who stroked the ball into an empty net.

Listen to an Urawa Reds chant

Mysteriously Tanaka who didn't get to Kaka in time to stop the ball being pulled back signalled for his own substitution. At first he held his hamstring and then moments later collapsed as though he had been shot.

The Urawa fans gave their all, but their team couldn't do quite enough to get back in the game. The referee blew the final whistle and the chanting stopped, just as suddenly as it had begun in Nagoya. Despite that as I left the stadium I could still hear the chanting in my head. It went (in my best Japanese) -

Allez, allez, allez, allez,
Allez, allez, allez,
Allez, allez, allez,
.............................
(repeat until coming to a sudden stop)

© Ross Clegg & Soccerphile

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Thursday, December 13, 2007

AC Milan to meet Boca Juniors in FIFA Club World Cup Final

AC Milan to meet Boca Juniors in FIFA Club World Cup Final.
AC Milan had to work hard to overcome AFC Champions League winners Urawa Reds in their FIFA Club World Cup semi-final, eventually prevailing 1-0 thanks to Clarence Seedorf's late strike in front of 67,005 fans at Yokohama International Stadium.

The only goal of the match came from a quickly taken free-kick that saw Brazilian ace Kaka ghost passed Fabio Nene and cut the ball back to Seedorf from the byline, with the Dutch international making no mistake in side-footing passed Ryota Tsuzuki in the Urawa goal.

Carlo Ancelotti's game plan was clearly to occupy Urawa's marauding wing-back Takahito Soma with defensive duties, as Milan wingback Massimo Oddo turned the tables by running straight at Soma whenever the opportunity arose. Oddo's crossing was inaccurate, however, and striker Alberto Gilardino spurned the chances that did fall his way.

Milan looked far more dangerous following the introduction of veteran striker Filippo Inzaghi, and they eventually broke the deadlock in the sixty-eighth minute. The Reds could only conjure half chances, with striker Washington struggling to deal with the pace of Italian international defender Alessandro Nesta.

Substitute Nobuhisa Yamada made his long awaited return from injury, and the Urawa captain had arguably Urawa's best chance when Dida dived to save his powerful low drive late in the match.

Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti was naturally pleased to have qualified for the final of the FIFA Club World Cup, but warned the media that his team would face a far tougher test against Argentine giants Boca Juniors.

Holger Osieck was satisfied with his team's performance, and claimed that Urawa gave a good account of both themselves and of Japanese football. He stated that the Reds' next goal was to win the 3/4 playoff against Tunisian side Etoile du Sahel on December 16, and give striker Washington a rousing farewell before his departure for Brazilian club Fluminese.

Copyright © Michael Tuckerman & Soccerphile.com

Bow Down To Happy Gilmore

I’m all for good-natured banter at a football match, but supporters are beginning to overstep the line. Harry Redknapp commands respect from all the major players in the game, such as Frank Lampard and Jamie Redknapp, yet the colourful manager endured a torrent of vitriolic abuse when Portsmouth travelled to Aston Villa.

As the match slipped away from the Villans, the Holte End outrageously suggested that Harry had bunged the referee. That accusation is entirely without foundation: Harry prefers goods inwards to despatch.

The Villa fans went on to intimate that Harry enjoys the occasional stroke of the pink puppy. I wouldn’t criticise Redknapp even if this was true, as it’s an understandable reaction after Jamie.

A minority of supporters then disgracefully claimed that Harry would soon be behind bars, partaking in certain activities in the shower area. Not only does this slur completely contradict their earlier insinuation; it’s also downright offensive, and Harry will not be taking this lying down. We’ll all have red cheeks if we miss the 5/2 for a Tottenham win over Pompey.

The travelling Villa supporters will hopefully show a little more restraint when around Roy Keane, as his preferred method of conflict resolution does not involve complaining to selected media outlets. I’m spreading the word that 9/4 for a draw between Sunderland and the Villa looks pretty tasty.

When it comes to speaking to the BBC, Sam Allardyce is also a total blanker. The Beeb fought back on last week’s Match of the Day; they comically photoshopped a ridiculous woolly hat on his oversized head. I can’t wait to get my hands on the mammoth 6/4 for a Fulham win over Newcastle.

Team news is probably the single most important factor in betting, after recent form or a nod from Kieren Fallon, so I’ll wait for updates on Hleb, Flamini and Fabregas before taking an interest in the Arsenal v Chelsea match. Four of the last six Premier League meetings between the two giants have finished all square, so I’ll tentatively look towards the 9/4 for a draw at this early stage.

Birmingham City will definitely have to strengthen their squad in January, and with Alex McLeish at the helm, I expect there to be a strong Scottish connection. Two names that immediately spring to mind are Miller and Becks. There is a player nicknamed ‘Woodpecker’ who McLeish would love to sign, but he’s tied up at Chelsea. I’m definitely attached to the 5/4 for a Birmingham win over Reading.

Middlesbrough are a riddle, wrapped up in an enigma, shrouded in mystery, situated in a hole. I’m praying the Boro will produce their A-game against the outclassed Derby at a larger than expected 7/5.

Lee Bowyer is on the verge of a return to action after recovering from Gilmore’s groin. It was a genuine surprise to me; I thought he just had a tear of the adductor muscles. People should be falling over themselves to get on 15/8 for an Everton win over West Ham.

Dressing-room dissent is on the rise at Wigan. One senior player is already on Steve Bruce’s back, and that’s not a position I would like to see anyone in. The player, who wishes to remain anonymous, has suggested that Bruce is a long-ball merchant. Paul Scharner continued, “If we don't change to playing football, then it will be very difficult.” The only thing attractive at the JJB this weekend is the 11/8 for a Blackburn win.

I watched in horror last weekend as Stephen Ireland committed what can only be described as a heinous crime: he appeared to be wearing a wig. Call me old fashioned, but toupees are only acceptable for the bald and the ginger.

Let’s be honest, if Ireland is using a piece, and it remains conjecture at this stage, it doesn’t make him any less of a man. Only wearing a pink jumper on a night out will result in any long-term loss of man-points. Bolton have won their last three at Manchester City, winning them all ‘to nil’. I refuse to cover up my interest in Megson’s men at 4/1.

Life is full of little coincidences. As Steven Gerrard was throwing himself to the ground in Marseille, his wife was getting turned over at home. There was also a burglary. I’m helping myself to the 13/8 for a Liverpool win over Manchester United.

I hope Stevie can recover from the trauma, as I need the influential Scouser to win the ‘battle of the inner-ear infections’ against Ronaldo to land the weekend accer. Birmingham, Middlesbrough, Tottenham and Liverpool are the selections, the payout is an increasingly plummeting 45/1.


Copyright (c) Gerry McDonnell & soccerphile.com

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Urawa Reds

Urawa Reds fans - tightly controlled, regimented, verging on the fascistic, the hordes from Saitama and beyond are the J-League's noisiest fans.

"We are the Redsu" will be ringing out tonight when Urawa take on Milan in the semi-final of the World Club Cup.




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Boca Juniors book their place in the final of the FIFA Club World Cup

Argentine giants Boca Juniors booked their place in the final of the FIFA Club World Cup, but they failed to turn on the style in their 1-0 win over Tunisian side Etoile du Sahel.

Midfielder Neri Cardozo scored the only goal before a crowd of 37,255 fans at the National Stadium in Tokyo, while midfielder Fabian Vargas was sent off for a second bookable offence with twenty-five minutes remaining.

Etoile started the match with significantly more attacking intent than in their 1-0 win over Mexican side Pachuca, with ex-Liverpool defender Gabriel Paletta looking shaky at the back for Boca.

Tunisian starlet Amine Chermiti was causing problems with his penetrating runs, but gradually Boca began to play their way into the match, and they opened the scoring after thirty-seven minutes when striker Rodrigo Palacio cut inside a defender and slid the ball to Neri Cardozo, who beat Etoile keeper Aymen Balbouli with an unstoppable left foot drive.

The second half was a tense affair and Boca's cause wasn't helped when midfielder Fabian Vargas received his marching orders from Danish referee Claus Bo Larsen. Etoile saw a golden opportunity to equalise in stoppage time go to waste when substitute Gilson Silva headed wide at the far post.

Boca will now meet the winner of tomorrow's semi-final between reigning European champions AC Milan and current Asian champions Urawa Reds, with a crowd of around 70,000 expected to descend upon Yokohama International Stadium to witness that clash.

Copyright © Michael Tuckerman & Soccerphile

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Marcus Tulio Tanaka Anchorman?

Marcus Tulio Tanaka Anchorman?
Like the teams at the World Club Cup I have now adjusted to my surroundings, having arrived in Japan last Friday lunchtime, after an 11 hour flight and nine hours time difference.

This gave me enough time to check in at my hotel and have something to eat before collecting my tickets for the tournament and attending the opening game.

Initial frustrations over my inability to understand the language and even more frustrating being unable to read the signs are overcome by familiarity on my third trip to the country. At least they drive on the left over here.

The purchase of a rail pass is a necessity for any foreigner contemplating travelling in Japan as with a couple of trips you will have paid for it.
Having done just that, I set off for Kobe on Saturday morning. It is just under 600km away, but only 3 hours by the Hikari Super Express Shinkansen.

During the day I managed to take in the 5th Round Emperor's Cup game between Vissel Kobe and Kawaski Frontale, before heading to Chinatown and then viewing the Kobe Luminaire - a light festival held in Kobe every December since 1995 to commemorate the Hanshin earthquake of that year. The streets are closed and lit up forming what seems like an arch that leads to what could be a palace.

Returning to Tokyo I met up with a Japanese friend, Tetsuma, to see Pachuca v Etoile Sportive Du Sahel. We had already spotted large groups of schoolchildren dressed in dug out coats (a sure sign that Japanese people are going to the match), and he explained that a large number of tickets were given to schools. As we arrived at the ticket booth we were approached by a young man offering two free tickets for the game.

The match itself was frustrating but symptomatic of a lot of games played at this competition over the last few years. Both sides were restrained and play was concentrated around midfield as players held on to the ball for too long. In the first half a couple of Sahel lapses gave Alvarez a chance to shine.

Unfortunately he didn't take them and Sahel punished the Mexicans with a deflected strike late on. This delighted the travelling supporters who celebrated for some time with the team and then in the darkness of the stands in the National Stadium (which houses the Prince Chichibu Memorial Sports Museum).

The next day saw proceedings move from Tokyo to Toyota (who just happen to sponsor the tournament). Toyota lies around an hour away from Nagoya, the name of the city was changed in 1959 by the Toyada family who revived the economy of the town by founding the Toyota Motor Company. The magnificent stadium was completed in 2001 and occasionally hosts J-League side Nagoya Grampus Eight (who in a rare role reversal were originally called Toyota Motor S.C.)



The local Urawa supporters and FIFA will be delighted that they made it through to this prestigious stage of the tournament. Where they are guaranteed a further two games and a meeting with AC Milan.

The silence in the crowd was eerie on Monday night in Toyota as the game was about to kick off. Until the Urawa supporters as one, burst in to rhythmic chanting which continued for the majority of the game. This trance like state was evident as locals around us began joining in by clapping, the older folks around the stadium thankfully refrained from joining in the pogoing.

This same concentration was not matched on the pitch by last years Asian Footballer of the year, Tulio, whose defensive lapse let in Sepahan for their goal.

After the match it was back to my accommodation a Nagoya, a capsule hotel.
Once again the experience can be quite daunting as with most things Japanese there are prescribed ways that things are done. I gathered immediately that my shoes should be removed and placed in a locker. Upon payment I was given a wristband with a locker key and a number. I was shown a map which showed the layout of the beds, mine was number 163.

Having placed all my clothes in the locker, I made use of the one size fits all pink shorts. The next room had washing facilities but up the steps I could see the glass door steaming up. Walking through them revealed a communal baths with hot water being pumped through artificially replicating the hot springs found outdoors around Japan.

So having observed the ritualsand thoroughly washed myself I saw that a pile of pink shorts lay discardedin the basket next to the door. Oh well, I would have looked silly going in with my shorts.

Testing the different pools I noted that one was freezing cold. I opted for the warmer version with the bubbles massaging my back. I then found the sauna, and briefly made use of the cold pool. By this stage of the evening there was no one else around so I sheepishly investigated my
surroundings and found a door through which there was a pile of towels and Japanese style pyjamas.

Now it was off to find my capsule. (A walk around the place revealed that all the capsules fitted in just two rooms). Having found it, I slid in and proceeded to look for the light switch. I found a radio with an alarm clock but no switch. Eventually I realised that an object I had felt could be a
torch. Sure enough it was. I now pulled down my blind and retired for the night. Emerging at around 10a.m. the next morning I noted that everyone else had gone, but it didn't stop me from visiting the pool again. The hardest part of the whole experience turned out to be leaving the place.

© Ross Clegg & Soccerphile

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

A question of profile

After a whirlwind start to summer down under, nobody has been left in any doubt the capacity for football, the world game, to make Australians scratch their heads in befuddlement.

From the celebrity to the downright unknown, from David Beckham to new Socceroos coach Pim Verbeek say, it's been a confusing time for many.

Some of the reactions to Beckham's outings in a pair of exhibition games against local sides can only be likened to the way an old timer might view the uprising of the internet.

Over 80,000 people turned out in Sydney to watch Beckham's LA Galaxy side lose 5-3 to Sydney FC in what proved to be a perfect snapshot of the former England captain's career.

A curling free-kick into the top corner, a second-half booking, some old-fashioned finger wagging and a final shirt-swap with Brazilian World Cup winner Juninho made the crowd's day, their smiles second only to those on the faces of FFA bigwigs.

But there were countless others who wore a permanent look of perplexity at all the fuss over a 'soccer' player.

For the three or four days Beckham stayed in the harbour city he dominated front and back pages. What he ate, where he went, who he spoke to, how he spoke and, finally, how he played was all that Sydneysiders read about.

Since then a french fry he reportedly dropped whilst dining one evening has been auctioned online. Another wag reportedly attempted flog a photocopy of his autograph.

Now consider this admission from Australia's West Ham defender Lucas Neill about Dutchman Verbeek, who ended 18 months of internal dismay by agreeing to coach the Socceroos through to the 2010 World Cup finals.

"I only know him from googling," Neill staggeringly made public after hearing the news of the former South Korea coach's appointment.

Those of you who have followed Soccerphile's coverage of Australian football over recent years will remember that this is not the first time Neill has put his foot firmly in his own mouth.

And while the likes of Tim Cahill and Craig Moore have since come out in full support of Verbeek, you can only wonder at the raised eyebrows at FFA headquarters.

"Football fans can rest assured that the FFA has worked diligently to secure a coach with the qualities and enthusiasm that will give the Socceroos every chance of success," crowed chairman Frank Lowy.

“Pim Verbeek has a vast range of experience gained over 25 years in coaching, including several stints in Asia, and we believe he is the right man for the job of leading the Socceroos to the 2010 FIFA World Cup."

Just in case anyone remained in any doubt, one helpful Brisbane-based journalist likened Verbeek, who beat off competition from Philippe (Omar) Troussier, to Hollywood's Jeff Bridges.

One certainty is that the 51-year-old is sure to become a familiar face to football fans after agreeing to one of the governing body's key requirements, that is, immediate and permanent relocation to Australia.

Although just five rounds of the A-League season remain before the top four contest the finals series, Verbeek is committed to a Sven-Goran Eriksson-esque touring schedule to run the rule over potential national team players.

He has just eight weeks before Australia kicks off their Group of Death qualifying campaign for the World Cup against Qatar in February.

Supporting Verbeek will be compatriot Henk Duut. The role of the former assistant to Ruud Gullit at Feyenoord has been described as the European 'eyes and ears' of the head coach.

"Some of Duut's main tasks will be to scout future opponents and also to play a significant role in monitoring the progress of our many European-based players," confirmed CEO Ben Buckley.

That, I suppose, includes Neill. I'm betting that Duut will know a lot more about the Socceroos captain-in-waiting than the other way around.

Copyright © Marc Fox and Soccerphile.com

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No Way, Jose: Mourinho says no to England

"I firmly believe that the England squad will soon be back to their usual great results"

Not the words of a stand-up comic, but the actual testimony of a certain Jose Mourinho, ruling himself out of the England job, while throwing the expected sardines from the trawler, which doubtless kept his PR men happy.

No Way, Jose: Mourinho says no to England.


'Usual great results'? England..! You can't fault Jose for his sense of fun. To any seasoned observer, the former Chelsea and Porto coach was never a true contender for England manager anyway and was merely using his alleged interest as leverage for a real top job.

Mourinho has far bigger fish to fry, and will in all probability pitch up by February at the helm of one of Italy or Spain's top teams. Milan, for one, are said to be ready to dispense with Carlo Ancelotti and then offer his post to Mourinho early in 2008.

Now that the opinionated Portuguese has finally ruled himself out of the running for the FA's top job once and for all, can we have an apology from The News of the World for splashing an absurd front page scoop that Mourinho was gung ho for the England job, or a mea culpa from the nation's bookmakers, who laughably installed him as the favourite to win, please?

No commentator with sense would have seriously entertained the idea of Jose Mourinho becoming England manager with his particular media ego, a desire for day to day jousting that could only have been sated every few months, plus a desire for success that the three lions would have struggled to satisfy.

England just does not tick those boxes for Jose or for many talented coaches out there. A game and media coverage every few monthsn and the inheritance of one of the most mediocre records in international soccer hardly gets the blood of the continent's top managers racing.

So it is that the leading three candidates now are unemployed coaches in search of a new challenge.

Fabio Capello, despite his shortcomings, now appears to be in the driving seat, although expect a late surge from Jurgen Klinsmann, if he promises to relocate to England from California.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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