Saturday, August 30, 2008

Lee's Dortmund Decision Is Sound

Lee's Dortmund Decision Is Sound.
Lee Young-pyo is one of football’s true gentlemen. The versatile defender is leaving Tottenham Hotspur for Bundesliga giants Borussia Dortmund after three good years at White Hart Lane and all who knew him, as well as those who benefitted from some of his unreported good deeds he did off the pitch in London, will wish him well at the former European champions.

He wasn’t bad on the pitch too, making 93 appearances for Spurs since his move to the Lane from PSV Eindhoven in August 2005. Then, Martin Jol called him ‘the best left-back in Holland, and one of the best left-backs in Europe.’ Lee didn’t quite prove to be that but his hard-working performances on an undermanned left side for Tottenham should be remembered fondly by fans at the Lane.

Unlike Park Ji-sung, Lee actually started out in the K-League with the now-defunct Anyang Cheetahs. The Gyeonggi team lifted the 2000 Korean championship but Lee, who can play on either side of defence or midfield, had already made his first appearance for the national team in 1999 against Mexico in Seoul.

It was at the 2002 World Cup where Lee came to prominence though he missed the first two matches of that magical run to the semi-finals. He soon made up for that and was energetic and inventive after coming into the team in the final group match against Portugal. If nothing else, he will be remembered for the cross that was headed in by Ahn Jung-hwan to eliminate Italy in the second round – a golden goal that still hurts in Italy but not so much as to prevent Roma trying their utmost to sign the player in August 2006. But we are getting ahead of ourselves...

The committed Christian was confident, calm and composed in Korea and was always a likely candidate for a move west. There was little surprise then when Guus Hiddink took him to PSV Eindhoven at the end of 2002. It took Lee a little while to settle ( the words of then team-mate Marc Von Bommel have passed into Asian football folklore. The Dutchman said of the new recruits: “They are here, but that is all you can say about them. They have not made any progress. When you say something about some mistake they make, they smile and then continue making them. That is quite frustrating.”) though the addition of Park helped.

Like Park, Lee soon demonstrated that he was not part of some marketing exercise and like Park, Lee shone in PSV’s run to the 2005 Champions League semi-finals,giving AC Milan’s Cafu a torrid time. As often happens in Holland, success brings the boys from the big leagues and soon Park was Manchester-bound. Lee was also eyeing a move across the North Sea and ended up in North London despite the best efforts of PSV and Hiddink to keep him.

The first season was a good –though ultimately frustrating – one. Lee adapted quickly to life in Europe’s biggest city and the Premier League. Spurs spent much of the season in the top four before being squeezed out of a Champions League spot on the final day. Over that summer, Spurs were busy in the transfer market signing Benoit Assou-Ekotto.

The Cameroonian started ahead of Lee and as the August transfer window started to shut, Roma came in for the player. Lee travelled to the Italian capital and looked likely to sign. He had, however, a last-minute change of heart. He has never explained the reasons for the u-turn, beyond saying that it was not about money, leading to a rash of rumours in his homeland that it was about religion.

It was soon forgotten as Lee was back in the team and playing well but the arrival of Gareth Bale in the summer of 2007 was another competitor and with the departure of Martin Jol, Lee, like all players, had to wait to see how the expected Juande Ramos-revolution would play out. Lee kept his place in the team till the turn of the year but has featured little since.

The expected return to PSV Eindhoven didn’t materialise and despite numerous reports in the Seoul media that the player was heading for a reunion with Jol at Hamburg, Lee surprised everyone by signing a one-year deal with Borussia Dortmund. The 1997 European champions were in the market for a left-back following the serious injury sustained by Brazilian star Dede in the recent 3-2 win over Bayer Leverkusen. Playing time shouldn’t be a problem at the club looking to return to the upper echelons of the Bundesliga after a number of, by Dortmund’s high standards, mediocre seasons

Time on the pitch is paramount. Lee’s inaction put his place in the national team under threat for the first time in years. At the age of 31, the 2010 World Cup will be Lee’s last and the likes of Kim Chi-woo have already demonstrated that they have the talent and energy to take over the left side for the Taeguk Warriors. It is a little ironic then that Lee was omitted from the squad for next month’s World Cup qualifier against North Korea as the national team coach wanted to give him time to settle into his new team and new environment.

It is all new and that is why the news is welcome. With Korean stars increasingly focused on England, it is refreshing to see Lee head for Germany. It is a step out of his comfort zone and into one of the best stadiums and best leagues in the world and perhaps back into the national team.

Copyright: John Duerden & Soccerphile.com

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Thursday, August 28, 2008

Two's company for Verbeek

Two's company for Verbeek.
The entire A-League has been handed a weekend's recess to allow the national team to concentrate on their World Cup qualifying visit to Uzbekistan on September 10, but it turns out only one side will actually be affected by national team coach Pim Verbeek's call-ups.

After finally being convinced to elongate the regular season to allow byes over FIFA-recognised match dates, Australian football authorities must now wonder why they bothered.

Indeed Gary van Egmond of the Newcastle Jets, the reigning A-League champions, will be the only coach pleased with how the build-up to the Socceroos' qualifier in Tashkent has played out.

In goalkeeper Ante Covic and defender Jade North, Newcastle provided the only two local league representatives in Verbeek's extended 27-man squad. The seven remaining sides were unaffected.

North, Newcastle's championship-winning captain, missed the recent friendly against South Africa in London because he was on duty as one of Graham Arnold's three overage players at the Olympics.

Covic, meanwhile, has been a regular backup for first choice No.1 Mark Schwarzer under Verbeek, although also missed the South African clash at Loftus Road.

Verbeek overlooked Melbourne's Archie Thompson, most probably because of the ankle injury he returned from the Olympic Games carrying. Thompson hasn't played in either one of the A-League's opening rounds during August.

Norway-based left-sided defender Shane Stefanutto won a recall but there was no place for Nicky Carle, the former Newcastle attacking midfielder who joined Crystal Palace from Bristol City during the northern summer.

Uncontracted Mark Milligan, the former Sydney FC midfielder, was also included.

Verbeek made it clear in a teleconference to Australian reporters on Wednesday night that he was preparing for the Tashkent tussle with his eyes wide open.

"Everyone is focusing on Japan as the big team in the group but I know Uzbekistan from before [when he was the South Korea national coach]. They were the first team to qualify for this round, so there is no reason to underestimate them," said the Dutchman.

Australia have scheduled a warm-up game against Holland after receiving a bye on match day one. Uzbekistan, meanwhile, face Qatar in Doha first up.

Verbeek feels the Uzbek challenge will be as close to playing a European side as Australia will find in the AFC. Despite earlier comments from senior players about their worrying lack of knowledge about the central Asians, the Socceroos coach calmed nerves by assuring he'd watched DVDs of their opponents on a number of occasions.

"For me there is not a big surprise," he said. "They play a Russian style of football - physically strong, skilful with good organisation and the fans will be very fanatic.

"It is an interesting challenge. It can help qualification if we can get a good result over there (but) it won't be easy."

In local news, Football Federation Australia have confirmed two new sides will expand the league to 10 teams from the 2009/10 season.

Gold Coast United and North Queensland FC will now have a year to ensure they've the resources to compete with the eight established clubs.

"Expansion of the A-League is a critical issue to the continuing evolution and growth of football and this is a very exciting day for the FFA, everyone involved in the A-League, Gold Coast United and North Queensland,” said FFA boss Ben Buckley

The A-League will continue plans to grow the competition to a 12-team competition in 2010/11. Fourteen teams is considered the saturation point.

Australia's 27-man squad

Michael Beauchamp (Aalborg), Mark Bresciano (Palermo), Jacob Burns (Unirea Valahorum), David Carney (Sheffield United), Scott Chipperfield (FC Basel), Chris Coyne (Colchester United), Ante Covic (Newcastle Jets), Jason Culina (PSV Eindhoven), Bruce Djite (Genclerbirligi), Brett Emerton (Blackburn Rovers), Richard Garcia (Hull City), Vince Grella (Blackburn Rovers), Brett Holman (AZ Alkmaar), Brad Jones (Middlesbrough), Josh Kennedy (Karlsruher), Harry Kewell (Galatasaray), Scott McDonald (Celtic), Mark Milligan (uncontracted), Lucas Neill (West Ham), Jade North (Newcastle Jets) Michael Petkovic (Sivasspor), Mark Schwarzer (Fulham), Matthew Spiranovic (FC Nurnberg), Shane Stefanutto (Lyn Oslo), Mile Sterjovski (Derby County), Carl Valeri (Grosseto), Luke Wilkshire (Dynamo Moscow)

Copyright © Marc Fox and Soccerphile.com

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Saturday, August 23, 2008

New Chance For Lee The Phantom Menace

Korean soccer news.
Film fans of a certain age will always see the three Star Wars movies made in the seventies and eighties as the definitive trilogy and not the one which kicked off in 1999 with ‘The Phantom Menace.’ There can be little debate about that.

Not so about South Korean star Lee Chun-soo who has been more of a phantom than a menace over the past year. No other player that originates from the Land of the Morning Calm provokes such debate and divides opinions.

Over the past few years his career recalls the words of a certain Jedi Master Yoda who said upon meeting Luke Skywalker: "This one a long time have I watched. All his life has he looked away... to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was. What he was doing.”

Lee always seems to know where he would like to play in the future but is often less sure about the place where he plies his trade at any given moment. Around 18 months ago, the 2002 and 2006 World Cup star told his K-League club Ulsan Hyundai Horang-I that unless they helped him move to Europe, he would go on strike. The attacker soon got his wish and the only strikes on his mind were those that came from boots left and right.

Joining former European Champions Feyenoord on the last day of the summer 2007 transfer window seemed to be exactly the move Lee wanted –almost. Talking to the Korean version of 442 before his departure, he announced that he wanted to use Feyenoord as a stepping stone to England.

Within a couple of months, he was back home in South Korea, homesick and disillusioned with life in the Netherlands and reportedly telling friends in the media that he wanted to come home to the K-league. After his short sojourn in Seoul, he returned to Rotterdam. Lee failed to shine and an ankle operation ended his season, and as it turned out, his Dutch adventure, early.

There is little likelihood he will go back. Suwon Samsung Bluewings paid $800,000 for a year-long loan for the 2005 K-League player of the Year. Few can imagine Lee swapping the blue shirt for the red and white one once again next summer.

It was Lee’s second unsuccessful sojourn in Europe after an 18-month spell in Spain after the 2002 World Cup with Real Sociedad and Numancia. After rejoining Ulsan in 2005, Lee quite reasonably pointed out that he hadn’t been ready for the challenge. Next time would be different.

It wasn’t really. A third opportunity in the west may be out of reach for Lee. It is a matter of debate as to whether this is good for the Millenium Kid but it is no bad thing for Korean and Asian football.

From 2005, when he almost won the K-League title on his own for Ulsan to 2006 when he single-handedly destroyed Japanese opposition in the A3 Champions Cup to the beautiful winning strike against European champions Greece in 2007, Lee was one of the most exciting and complete talents in Asia.

Now joining South Korea’s star-studded league leaders Suwon Samsung Bluewings, Lee will have the platform to shine once again as the club challenges for another league title and next year, perhaps a tilt at a third Asian championship.

Whether that will be enough for Lee remains to be seen but he still has a lot of football ahead.

copyright: John Duerden & Soccerphile

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Monday, August 18, 2008

As you were in the J. League as Kashima maintain lead

As you were in the J. League as Kashima maintain lead.
Kashima Antlers remain top of the J. League after thrashing Tokyo Verdy 4-1 in front of 21,437 fans at Kashima Stadium.

Shinzo Koroki kicked off a routine victory for the defending champions, before Daiki Iwamasa powered home a header just before the break to hand the Antlers a commanding two-goal lead. Second half strikes from Marquinhos and substitute Takuya Nozawa completed the rout, although Verdy's Diego did manage to conjure a late consolation strike for the capital outfit.

A bumper crowd of 37,154 turned out at Ajinomoto Stadium, however the home fans went home disappointed as Urawa Reds stole the points from hosts FC Tokyo. After Naohiro Takahara - twice - and Tatsuya Tanaka had hit the woodwork, midfielder Takahito Soma showed his strikers how it's done, beating the offside trap before volleying home in front of the travelling Reds army.

High flying Oita Trinita continued their excellent run of form, as new signing Yasuhito Morishima scored his first goal for the club courtesy of some calamitous defending from hosts Albirex Niigata, who succumbed 1-0 in front of 38,781 fans at a steamy Big Swan Stadium.

In the pick of the Sunday action Shimizu S-Pulse were held to a 1-1 home draw by Yokohama F. Marinos at a packed Nihondaira Stadium, with both teams eager to clamber away from the relegation zone.

Standing room only at a packed Nihondaira Stadium.
Marinos veteran Yuji Nakazawa opened the scoring with a textbook header from a corner, however S-Pulse responded with an almost carbon-copy of that goal just seconds after the restart, as defender Keisuke Iwashita stooped to head home Akihiro Hyodo's in-swinging corner.

The visitors thought they had won it when Daisuke Sakata appeared to beat the offside trap and fire home with six minutes remaining, however his effort was ruled out for offside.

Just four points separates leaders Kashima Antlers from fifth placed Kawasaki Frontale, with upwards of seven clubs still in the reckoning for the title. At the other end Consadole Sapporo have slipped into bottom place after JEF United recorded a 1-1 draw away at Kashiwa Reysol in the Chiba derby, with United now second-from-bottom and Yokohama F. Marinos occupying the promotion/relegation playoff place.

In J2 the pick of the action saw two teams relegated from the top flight last season clash at Kose Sports Park, with Ventforet Kofu prevailing 2-0 over league leaders Sanfrecce Hiroshima thanks to goals from veteran midfielder Kentaro Hayashi and defender Arata Sugiyama, much to the delight of the 12,120 fans packed into Kofu's rustic home ground.

In Sendai 17,537 fans turned out at a wet Yurtec Stadium, but the home fans left disappointed as surprise package Montedio Yamagata triumphed 1-0 thanks to Japan Olympian Yohei Toyoda's late strike.

Sanfrecce Hiroshima lead the way in J2 from Montedio Yamagata, with Sagan Tosu currently occupying the promotion/relegation playoff place in third - with former J1 teams Shonan Bellmare, Cerezo Osaka and Vegalta Sendai a further four points back in the standings.

J. League and Ekstraklasa swap referees

Polish referee Marcin Borski was in charge of the recent clash between FC Tokyo and Urawa Reds at Ajinomoto Stadium, with the J. League participating in a referee exchange with Poland's Ekstraklasa.

Going the other way is J. League referee Yuichi Nishimura, who landed himself in hot water earlier this season for allegedly telling Oita Trinita defender Taikai Uemoto "to die" during a match with FC Tokyo - an allegation that Nishimura, a full FIFA international referee, denies.

The J. League has been plagued by questionable officiating in recent seasons, with Danish referee Nicolai Vollquartz called in to referee the clash between Jubilo Iwata and Urawa Reds at Ecopa Stadium last year.

Japan bow out of Olympics

Japan ended a disastrous campaign at the Beijing Olympics with three straight losses. After losing their opener 1-0 to the United States, Japan subsequently went down 2-1 to Nigeria and 1-0 to the Netherlands, as Yasuharu Sorimachi's much-vaunted team failed to pick up a single point in the tournament.

Finishing was Japan's achilles' heel, with only Yohei Toyoda of J2 outfit Montedio Yamagata managing to find the net. Injuries and suspension also played their part, with dynamic full-backs Atsuto Uchida and Michihiro Yasuda both failing to finish the tournament, while Shimizu S-Pulse midfielder Takuya Honda was suspended for Japan's final group stage game.

Far better has been the form of Nadeshiko Japan, with the women progressing to the semi-finals after knocking out arch-rivals China in their quarter-final thanks to goals from veteran Homare Sawa and striker Yuki Nagasato.

Copyright © Michael Tuckerman & Soccerphile.com


Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Andy Greeves' 08/09 Premiership Predictions

Andy Greeves' 08/09 Premiership Predictions.
1- Chelsea

Having lost the Champions League Final on penalties and been pipped to the Premiership title by just two points, Chelsea were the ultimate bridesmaid last season.After a summer to lick their wounds, the Blues will come back stronger in 08/09.

With Luiz Felipe Scolari now at the helm and having captured Deco and Jose Bosingwa this summer, Chelsea have what it takes to beat United to the league title this time around.
The Stamford Bridge club have achieved a massive victory in maintaining Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba, even if its only for another year. Time in which to win a league title.

2 -Manchester United

United are likely to be without Ronaldo for August and September, meaning their star winger will miss trips to Liverpool (13 Sept) and Chelsea (21 Sept). Two games that could well be make or break to United’s season.

Even when he’s not playing, the Portuguese star is bound to be the key topic of conversation. Can he possibly deliver as greatly as he did last campaign? Will he still have the desire to achieve with United, having seen his dream move to Madrid deteriorate?

Following last season’s Champions League and Premiership double success, Fergie’s men start the new campaign firm favourites to win the league again. But Chelsea have what it takes to win the crucial head-to-head clashes between the two heavyweights this time around, meaning United will have to settle for a close second place finish.

3 - Liverpool

The pressure will be on for Rafa Benitez to see his Liverpool side close the gap on the top two this season having finished eleven points behind United and nine points off Chelsea in 07/08.
The signing of Robbie Keane will prove crucial in running both clubs closer in the title chase and possibly breaking the top two stranglehold before long.

United and Chelsea still boast stronger line-ups and strength in depth and for that reason , Liverpool will have to make to with third spot this season with the promise of better to come.

Success in the Champions League or domestic cups is a strong possibility.

4 - Arsenal

Having lost Thierry Henry last summer, many foresaw the wheels coming off the Arsenal wagon. With Arsene Wenger at the helm though, those people should have thought twice.

On song, Arsenal still play the most attractive, free-flowing football in the division. But that’s not to say the Gunners always personify the beautiful game. Cesc Fabregas had a massive downturn in form at the back end of last campaign and William Gallas’ displays of petulance brought widespread condemnation.

Samir Nasri should prove a more than adequate replacement for the overrated Aleksandr Hleb, while Aaron Ramsey is a great buy for the future.

Had Arsenal the funds to compete in the transfer market with Chelsea and United, then one wonders what team Arsene Wenger would be capable of putting together. That’s for the Emirates dreamers to speculate, as they finish off the title charge again this season.

5 – Tottenham

Having been strongly tipped to break into the top four last season, Tottenham flattered to deceive with a mid-table finish.

But with Juande Ramos in charge for his first full season at White Hart Lane, such disappointment won’t be repeated. Boasting players such as Heurelho Gomes, Jonathan Woodgate, Ledley King, David Bentley, Luka Modric and Giovani dos Santos, Spurs have the strongest squad outside the top four.

While Robbie Keane (and possibly Dimitar Berbatov’s) departure from N17 was a big blow for Spurs, they have personal elsewhere on the pitch to compensate for this.

6 - Portsmouth

In Defoe and Crouch, Portsmouth have the best strike force outside of the top four. Having won the FA Cup last season, the pair can fire Pompey to becoming a member of the top six in English football.

Due to lack of strength in depth at Fratton Park, Harry Redknapp may find it difficult to juggle his players to fulfil the commitments of playing European football and competing in the league. Priority is therefore likely to be given to their domestic campaign.

Home form must be improved upon last season to make a top six finish a reality.

7 - Aston Villa

Having been plagued with the Gareth Barry, will he, won the go to Liverpool saga all summer, Aston Villa will just be looking forward to getting on with playing.

The amount of English players in Martin O’Neill’s side is highly pleasing to see and Luke Young, Steven Sidwell and Nicky Shorey should complement their squad well.

Ashley Young was one of the league’s best players last season and Gabriel Agbonlahor has the ability to net more goals than he did last campaign.

Like Portsmouth, Villa are very much a club going in the right direction.

8 - Blackburn Rovers

The loss of David Bentley to Tottenham will prove highly significant, given the supply he provided the likes of Roque Santa Cruz and Benni McCarthy last season.

Paul Ince has everything to prove as a manager and his signings of Robbie Fowler and Carlos Villanueva don’t look particularly wise moves on paper. That said, Paul Robinson could prove a highly shrewd investment if he can recover his form and confidence.

With goals harder to come by at Ewood Park this season, Blackburn will yet again miss out on UEFA Cup qualification.

9 - Everton

With the departure of Andy Johnson and the lack of transfer activity in the summer, the Toffees are set to lose their grip on the Premiership’s top six this campaign.

While there is quality across the pitch in the likes of Yobo, Lescott, Arteta, Neville and Cahill, the lack of a recognised front pairing will be their undoing this campaign.

Yakubu will need to improve his hall of 13 league goals from last season, while David Moyes will need to identify a new striking partner.

10 – Fulham

The west Londoners have been busy in this summer’s transfer window and have the players capable of becoming this season’s surprise success story.

Andy Johnson and Bobby Zamora should form a prolific partnership upfront, boosted by the supply of Zoltan Gera, Simon Davies, Danny Murphy and Jimmy Bullard.

Defensively they don’t look so impressive but it was attacking endeavour that brought Fulham so much success in the second part of the last campaign.

Craven Cottage will be an enjoyable place watch high scoring, end-to-end football this season.

11 – Manchester City

Poor old Sven Goran Eriksson was sacked after leading City to ninth in the Premiership - an improvement of five places on the previous season. What more can a manage do to please his chairman?

Mark Hughes is an excellent manager, but with the controversial former Thai Prime Minister and club owner Thaksin Shinawatra increasingly medalling in team affairs, his position could become compromised. Recent media speculation has suggested Hughes already feels unsettled by communication difficulties between him and his board.

Jo is capable of scoring 20 Premiership goals in his first season and in Micah Richards, City have one of the best defenders in England. But with lack of harmony behind the scenes, that will translate on to the pitch.

12 – Sunderland

The Mackem’s spent £40m last season to ensure Premiership survival. Having finished three points and three places above the dreaded drop zone, it proved to be money well spent.

Roy Keane has had another busy summer wheeling and dealing to help his side continue their progress this season. Steed Malbranque and Teemu Tainio will greatly improve Sunderland’s midfield, while El-Hadji Diouf increases their goal scoring potential. Pascal Chimbonda also brings a wealth of experience, if a not slightly questionable attitude, to the Stadium of Light.

Sunderland are a way from becoming a top ten side, but a significant improvement on last season’s league position awaits this campaign.

13 - Newcastle United

Like any great soap opera, Newcastle United are never more than a couple of weeks away from chaotic storyline.

The Magpies uncanny ability to shoot themselves in the foot was evident throughout last season with only relegated sides Reading and Derby conceding more goals than them. Fabricio Coloccini has been brought in to try and shore things up at the back. Whether he can make a significant difference to the goals against tally remains to be seen. But at least he’s better than the hapless Claudio Cacapa.

Damien Duff, Nicky Butt and Alan Smith are just some of the big name underachievers in Newcastle’s squad. The biggest questions are, can Kevin Keegan get the out of his players? And will the boss stick around if the going gets tough?

14 - West Ham United

Expectation always exceeds reality at Upton Park and this season will prove to be no different.

Having finished tenth with injury ravished squad last campaign, West Ham fans probably expect a challenge for a UEFA Cup spot with a fully fit side. But even with a full strength squad to select from, there are so many better equipped teams than West Ham.

While the likes of Tottenham, Manchester City, Portsmouth and Fulham have seriously invested in their squads this summer, the Hammers have spent modestly.

Behrami looked decidedly average at Euro 2008, Jan Lastuvka failed to impress on loan with Fulham, while Balint Bajner and Orn Eyjolfsson have never played in a top league.

A tough campaign awaits for Alan Curbishley, who is already the bookies favourite to be the first managerial casualty of the season.

15 - Wigan Athletic

Small crowds and average players make Wigan one of the most unfashionable clubs in the Premiership. But going into their forth season in the top flight, nobody at the JJB Stadium is particularly concerned about their image.

Steve Bruce has made some good signings during the summer, with Oliver Kapo capable of bring flair to a midfielder of tough tacklers. £3.5m youngster Lee Cattermole also represents value for money.

Marlon King and Emile Heskey give Wigan a cutting edge upfront that the new boys along with Bolton and Middlesbrough lack. For that reason alone they should be safe come April.

16 - Bolton Wanderers

Top ten finishes and forays into Europe seem a distant memory for Bolton post Sam Allardyce. Nowadays it’s all about survival.

Cult heroes El-Hadji Diouf and Ivan Campo left the Reebok during the summer and their replacements look suspiciously second rate. £10m striker Johan Elmander failed to score, or make any sort of impact for Sweden in Euro 2008, while Mustapha Riga was part of a Levante team relegated from La Liga last season.

Matthew Taylor, Kevin Nolan and Kevin Davies have enough ability to ensure Bolton survival. But the rot has well and truly set in at the Reebok for a Wanderers team a shadow of it’s former self.

17 – Middlesbrough

The Teesiders have enjoyed mid-table security under the management of Gareth Southgate, with twelfth and thirteenth finishes respectively in the last two years. But having failed to significantly improve on last season’s squad, Middlesbrough could be surprise relegation candidates this time around.

From back to front, Boro lack inspiration and quality. Keepers Ross Turnbull and Brad Jones lack the presence to install confidence in their back four, the midfield bar Stuart Downing is bland and unimaginative.

Jeremie Aliadiere has managed just 5 goals in 29 games for Middlesbrough while strike partner Mido spent the most of last season injured, overweight or out of form.

Goals and entertainment are set to be at a premium at the Riverside as Boro battle for their Premiership lives in 08/09.

18 – West Bromwich Albion

Despite the difficulties experienced by newly promoted teams in the Premiership, it’s not since 1998 that all three new teams have been relegated together after one season.

Unfortunately the class of 08/09 are just about to find out how big the gap between the top and second tier of English football is.

West Brom’s have a decent spine of goalkeeper Scott Carson, defender Paul Robinson, midfielder Jonathan Greening and forward Ishmael Miller. But while they looked impressive in the Championship, the Premiership is a completely different kettle of fish.

As the Albion fans that chant ‘Boing Boing Baggies’ know, what goes up, must come down. Sadly their yo-yo act of recent years will continue this season.

19 - Stoke City

Last season’s new boys Sunderland spent £40m on new players to finish just three points and three places above the drop zone, proving just how big the gap between the Championship and Premiership is.

Having invested just £8.5m in their squad this summer, Stoke’s chances of survival are minimal. Forward Dave Kitson is a shrewd purchase from Reading and in ex-Manchester United winger Liam Lawrence, Stoke have a decent midfield supplier. But other than that, the squad has Championship side written all over it.

The passion of the Potteries crowd coupled with Tony Pulis’ long ball tactics could pose problems for early visitors to the Britannia Stadium. Alas, Stoke will have peaked by the end of September and be long gone by May 2009.

20 - Hull City

Derby County were relegated from the Premiership last season with a record low points total of 11. Bookmakers are now offering short odds on Hull taking the Rams’ unwanted record in 08/09.

Hull’s squad consists of Premiership veterans and misfits sprinkled with a few talented youngsters. Doubtful that this mix will cut it in a league full of multi-million international superstars.

Phil Brown failure to sign Manchester United’s striker Fraizer Campbell, who was on loan at the KC Stadium last season, doesn’t bode well for the new campaign. Neither does a 4-0 pre-season defeat at Crewe.

Relegation is a certainty.

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Monday, August 11, 2008

Italy Outclass Korea In China

Italy Outclass Korea In China.
Park Tae-hwan thrilled South Korea on Sunday with his swimming heroics in Beijing but later the same day, Park Sung-hwa was looking less happy than the teenage sensation.

For the coach of the Olympic soccer team there is not much consolation to be had after a 3-0 defeat against Italy but at least South Korea is faring no worse than hosts China and better than the already-eliminated Japan at the 2008 Beijing Olympics soccer tournament.

After a hard-fought 1-1 draw against Cameroon in the opening match of the group, Korea was hoping for a similar result against the highly-fancied Italians – one which would had left the Taeguk Warriors just needing to defeat outsiders Honduras in the final match to progress to the last eight.

Talk in Seoul may have been of the chances of a securing a tie but chat in Rome was of revenge; payback for what happened in the 2002 World Cup when Korea sent the Azzuri home. A group game at the 2008 Beijing Olympics may not have anything like the same glamor and gravitas as a World Cup knockout match but the build up to the game had that big match feeling.

It was unfortunate then that the game was almost over within the half hour in the Chinese city of Qinhuangdao. The Europeans took a 2-0 lead that they never really looked in danger of letting slip – if any nation knows how to defend such an advantage it is Italy.

‘Korean tears at the Italian defensive wall’ read one headline in the Seoul media. Now the team is in serious danger of elimination at the first hurdle. Nothing less than a win against Honduras will suffice on Wednesday and the likelihood is that even that will not be enough to book a place in the quarterfinals. Korea needs Italy to defeat Cameroon but as the Europeans have secured their place in the next stage, players are sure to be rested and minds focused elsewhere.

For months coach Park, who was unable to select the injured Manchester United star Park Ji-sung for the roster, talked of the importance of concentration and organization in defence but there was little evidence of either on two separate occasions in the first half.

From the start, the South Korean backline struggled to cope with the intelligence, movement and talent of the three Italian forwards Sebastian Giovinco, Tommaso Rocchi and opening goalscorer Guiseppe Rossi.

After just 15 minutes, Rossi fired home a low shot from just inside the area, squeezing between two defenders. The men in white shirts were slow to react though Rossi, reluctantly sold by Manchester United to Spanish side Villarreal for $15 million (though the English and European champions have an option to buy the 21 year-old back), is the kind of predator and natural finisher that coach Park would love to have.

It didn’t need a top-class striker to score Italy’s second. Despite the fact that there were no less than seven white shirts inside the Korean penalty area, Rocchi was given oceans of space and ages of time to receive the ball in a central position, pick his spot and then shoot home.

From that point, the game was virtually over. Better attacking teams than Korea would struggle to come back from such a deficit against the Italians and although the men from Seoul tried gainfully - Park Chu-young headed against the crossbar - there was a constant feeling that Italy had an extra gear if it was necessary. It wasn’t but the Azzurrini scored a third in the dying seconds as Korea poured men forward.

Now it is a time to regroup and not to dwell on a defeat against an impressive Italian team. Coach Park has to make sure that his players are fully focused on defeating Honduras. It may well be that Cameroon gets the point it needs against Italy but Korea needs to be ready to capitalize on any slip by the Africans.

Dreams of medals may not be over for the young team but a place on the podium is looking as murky as a cloudy Beijing afternoon.

Copyright: John Duerden & Soccerphile

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Sunday, August 10, 2008

Cellar dwellers JEF United stun league leaders Kashima Antlers as J. League resumes

Kashima Antlers.
Bottom club JEF United stunned table topping Kashima Antlers as the J. League resumed following the week-long All-Star break, winning 3-1 at a packed Fukuda Denshi Arena in Chiba.

Australian defender Eddy Bosnar opened the scoring for United with a thunderbolt free-kick just before half-time, but it was talismanic striker Seiichiro Maki who stole the show, steering home two superb headers after the interval. His goals made Masashi Motoyama's well-taken header redundant, as the Antlers paid the price for fielding an under-strength starting eleven.

The win delighted United's Glaswegian coach Alex Miller, who paid tribute to his side's determination following a win that draws United level on points with second-from-bottom Consadole Sapporo.

Elsewhere Urawa Reds were held to a 2-2 draw by Kashiwa Reysol in front of 46,981 fans at Saitama Stadium, with both teams scoring in the final minute of the game.

Winger Minoru Suganuma opened the scoring for Reysol, however the Sun Kings were pegged back by an equaliser from Japan international Yuki Abe. Yuichiro Nagai looked to have handed Urawa all three points, however ex-Bayer Leverkusen striker Franca salvaged a point for Reysol as he came off the bench to equalise just seconds after Nagai's goal.

High-flying Nagoya Grampus were beaten 1-0 at home by FC Tokyo in front of 12,269 fans at Mizuho Athletics Stadium, with former Heracles Almelo striker Sota Hirayama scoring the only goal of the game.

In a day of upsets new Yokohama F. Marinos coach Kokichi Kimura registered his first win in the Japanese top flight as the Kanagawa outfit beat Gamba Osaka 2-1 in front of 24,711 fans at Nissan Stadium, with strikers Hideo Oshima and Daisuke Sakata scoring either side of a Takahiro Futagawa strike.

Elsewhere in a full round of fixtures Consadole Sapporo were beaten 2-1 at home by Omiya Ardija, Tokyo Verdy hammered Albirex Niigata 4-0 at Ajinomoto Stadium, Oita Trinita clawed back a two goal deficit to draw 2-2 with Shimizu S-Pulse, Jubilo Iwata went down 1-0 to Vissel Kobe in front of a near-capacity crowd at Yamaha Stadium and Kyoto Sanga FC were also beaten 2-1 at home by visitors Kawasaki Frontale.

League Cup semi-finalists decided

The four Nabisco League Cup semi-finalists were decided after the second-leg of quarter-finals took place on August 6.

Struggling Shimizu S-Pulse booked their place thanks to a pulsating 2-1 win over Kashima Antlers at Nihondaira Stadium, as defender Keisuke Iwashita and midfielder Akihiro Hyodo handed the Shizuoka side a commanding two-goal lead. Former S-Pulse striker Marquinhos pulled a goal back for Kashima, but despite battering the Shimizu defence late on, the Ibaraki outfit were unable to conjure a second goal that would have seen them claim an away-goal win, following a 0-0 draw in the first leg of this tie.

Defending champions Gamba Osaka booked their place in the final four on away goals, losing 2-1 away at Yokohama F. Marinos but advancing thanks to their 1-0 win in the first leg in Kanazawa.

Nagoya Grampus beat JEF United 1-0 in both legs of their quarter-final to book their place in the last four of the competition, while southern upstarts Oita Trinita are the final League Cup semi-finalist, having seen off FC Tokyo in the last eight.

The semi-finals will take place on September 3 and 7, with Shimizu S-Pulse facing off against Gamba Osaka, while Nagoya Grampus take on Oita Trinita as the four sides aim to book an afternoon out at the National Stadium in Tokyo in November.

Japan make losing start to the Olympics

Yasuharu Sorimachi's under-23 side made a losing start at the Beijing Olympics, going down 1-0 to the United States in steamy conditions at Tianjin Stadium.

Houston Dynamo midfielder Stuart Holden scored the only goal of the game just after half-time in front of over 57,000 fans in Tianjin, with Japan now needing to beat Nigeria in their next group game on August 10 to have any chance of progression to the knock-out stages.

Meanwhile the Japan women's team were held to a 2-2 draw in their opening match against New Zealand, although they had to do things the hard way as Kristy Yallop and an Amber Hearn penalty sent New Zealand into a commanding two-goal lead. They were pegged back by an Aya Miyama penalty before Nadeshiko legend Homare Sawa equalised with four minutes remaining.

The United States did the double over Japan when their women's team beat Nadeshiko Japan 1-0 on August 9, with Carli Lloyd scoring the only goal. Japan must now beat the already-qualified Norway by a large margin and hope that results elsewhere go their way to have any hopes of progressing beyond the group stage.

Copyright © Michael Tuckerman & Soccerphile.com

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Monday, August 4, 2008

The use of captains in football

After a couple of days dominated by the departure of England cricket captain Michael Vaughan and the appointment of Kevin Pietersen it got me to thinking how important is the captain of a football side? In cricket the captain is vital to the success of the team, he picks the 11 players that go out to play and decides the tactics that side will use. A lot of responsibility rests on the shoulders of a cricket captain, but how much rests on those of a football player?
When I was a kid growing up being picked as captain for your Sunday league side was an honour but you never really had to do anything. Once in a while you shouted at your team to sort itself out or mark up but apart from that nothing. Now I understand that in professional football a captain is supposed to set an example to his team on and off the field but how many captains can you say actually do that? In terms of performances the likes of Steven Gerrard at Liverpool and Ryan Nelsen at Blackburn can inspire with their displays on the pitch but surely that isn’t enough. See what odds you can get on those two to inspire their respective clubs here.
The position of a manager seems to me to make the position of captain fairly redundant. The manager is the one that organises the squad, lifts them when they are down and deals out the discipline. The captain is supposed to lead the side on the field but how many times have you seen a captain loose his cool and have to be restrained by his fellow players. Roy Keane was always a classic example of this, ending Alf Inge Haaland's career certainly wouldn’t have inspired me to victory along with his continuous battles with referees.
I know it has been sited many times before but in rugby it’s the captain that can only talk back to the referee and for years people have asked why this isn't implemented in football. I think it would be a great idea but it wouldn’t work in this current climate, players are too use to giving the officials verbal abuse. That is something captains should control on the field but they don’t, any example of the ineptitude of captains in football. I know in England that Barnet have tried looking at the idea that only captains can talk to officials but I am unsure how successful that scheme was so the debate rolls on.
It’s not just on the field antics that show captains to be failing to do their supposed duties but off the pitch as well. ‘Mr Chelsea’ John Terry was reportedly so drunk at the last club Christmas party than he ended up peeing on the middle of the dance floor in front of his team mates. Now I can appreciate that players need to be allowed to let their hair down but having a man who urinates on the floor leading me out onto the pitch wouldn’t sit well with me. Terry may be a greater leader on the pitch but when he’s off it things look like they go down hill in terms of setting examples.
Perhaps it’s the current culture that we live in that Terry or Rio Ferdinand are being considered to captain England. To be fair to Fabio Capello he does seem to be picking from a bad bunch of possible leaders, even David Beckham was given another crack at it, albeit for a friendly.
The idea of a captain is an intriguing one because its part of tradition now, everyone wants to be a leader but hardly any possess all the right qualities. I mean I always thought Tony Adams was a great captain but off the field he was ten times worse than John Terry before he got himself sorted out. There probably are great captains out there but the only ones I can think of are in the past such as Bobby Moore, although he only springs to mind first because he lifted the World Cup for England. What odds on England lifting the World Cup again, see their World Cup qualifying odds here.
So is there any point to a captain now other than to lift a trophy when his team has won something. At the moment I would say no because many current captains don’t fill the criteria of being a captain. Perhaps captains should be given more responsibility, like being the only ones to talk to officials or perhaps giving the team talks before a game as they do in rugby. Until that point captains will be nothing but glorified players in an already over the top game.

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