Friday, October 31, 2008

FC Seoul Fans

FC Seoul went to the top of the K-League on Sunday with a tough 1-0 win over Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma. The game was not much of a spectacle until the last gasp winner sent the Seoul fans into raptures.

Check out this video of the FC Seoul fans in full voice, including a rendition of "My Way" before the kick off at Seoul World Cup Stadium in north west Seoul.



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League Cup final takes centre stage

League Cup final takes centre stage.
Around 50,000 fans will descend on the National Stadium in Tokyo on November 1 as Oita Trinita do battle with Shimizu S-Pulse for the 2008 League Cup trophy.

Oita Trinita go into the match as rank outsiders, particularly with the Kyushu club missing influential midfielder Shingo Suzuki through suspension. Oita are also missing goalkeeper Shusaku Nishikawa through injury, while his Beijing Olympic team-mate Masato Morishige did not feature in Oita's most recent 1-0 league defeat at Vissel Kobe, although Morishige is expected to take his place in the Oita back three for this hotly anticipated clash.

Shimizu S-Pulse are missing playmaker Jungo Fujimoto, who had his leg fractured by an X-rated tackle from Omiya Ardija captain Yoshiyuki Kobayashi when the two sides met at Omiya Park back in July. The Shizuoka side could also be without ex-Bolton Wanderers striker Akinori Nishizawa, with the veteran struggling for weeks to shake off a niggling knock. Nevertheless S-Pulse go into the clash as red-hot favourites, with the Shizuoka side in sparkling form having hammered AFC Champions League finalists Gamba Osaka in the league last time out.

The clash also showcases a match-up between two of the most respected young coaches in Japanese football. 43-year old Pericles Chamusca was drafted in as coach of Oita Trinita midway through a difficult 2005 J. League campaign. Since then the Brazilian has steadied the ship at the Kyushu side, and although Oita battled against the drop for much of last season, the southern outfit are now enjoying their best season ever, with Oita currently sitting in fourth place in the J. League with four games remaining and fighting it out for silverware in the League Cup.

Shimizu S-Pulse coach Kenta Hasegawa is a more familiar name in Japanese football. The popular 43-year old played more than 200 J. League games for home town club Shimizu S-Pulse and was capped 27 times by Japan. Installed as S-Pulse coach at the start of the 2005 campaign, the former striker has overseen steady improvement in the Shizuoka side - who are battling for their first trophy since lifting the Emperor's Cup in 2001, although S-Pulse also lifted the season-opening Super Cup the following season.

Formally known as the Yamazaki Nabisco League Cup, the tournament kicked off with a group stage back in March, and represents the best chance of lifting a trophy for two of the youngest sides in Japanese professional football, with Oita Trinita having been formed in 1994, two years after the formation of Shimizu S-Pulse.

The League Cup final also represents something of a coup for Japan's transport companies, with seats on JAL and ANA flights at a premium as around 10,000 Oita fans are expected to make the 900km journey from the southern island of Kyushu to the capital for this clash. Japan Rail will also be working overtime with an estimated 30,000 Shimizu S-Pulse fans set to make the 200km journey up the Pacific coastline, as the grand old venue colloquially known as "Kokuritsu" gets set to host one of the most colourful fixtures on the Japanese football calendar.

Copyright © Michael Tuckerman & Soccerphile.com

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

One Rival Down, One To Go For FC Seoul

One Rival Down, One To Go For FC Seoul
With winter on the horizon, the big games are coming thick and fast as the end of the regular K-League season also comes into view. It is a time when some teams are going all out in an attempt to grab what is on offer while others are more concerned with protecting what they have.

For the first time since April 2007, FC Seoul is the team with the most. The capital club moved to the top of the standings on Sunday with a narrow 1-0 win over previous leaders Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma.

Seoul, playing with one striker for the first time all season in the first half were nervous and Seongnam were sloppy, slow and disjointed. It wasn’t pretty but the fans who braved a chilly autumn afternoon and 87 minutes of fairly turgid football were rewarded with a moment of beauty.

Substitute striker Lee Sang-hyub connected to a deep Lee Chung-young cross inside the area to lash a left-footed volley into the back of the Seongnam net. It was Seoul’s first victory over Seongnam for three seasons and more importantly, it has made the team start to believe that it could actually win the league championship.

Fans across the Land of the Morning Calm will be tuned into their televisions on Wednesday to see if Seoul has finally managed to combine mental mettle with fancy footwork. The men in black and red make the short journey south to Suwon - the home of their fiercest rivals and closest challengers Suwon Samsung Bluewings. The two teams lie level on 48 points and only the fact that Seoul has scored one more goal puts them in pole position.

The hosts are rubbing their hands in anticipation at upsetting the Seoul bandwagon once again. Early in 2007, Seoul was riding high at the top of the table when Suwon arrived to win and send Seoul sliding down the table with a run of seven matches without a win. This season Seoul again started well and was once again defeated at home by the men in blue. The reaction in the capital was different in 2008 however as that defeat signalled the start of an impressive unbeaten run that has now stretched to an impressive 18 matches.

“Playing Seoul at home is a good chance for us to recover our first place in the league,” Suwon boss Cha Bum-keun told reporters. Since an 11-match winning streak sent Suwon nine points clear in June, the Bluewings have stuttered a little. Those recent wobbles will be forgotten and forgiven if Suwon can not only defeat Seoul but also take the top spot with two matches of the regular season remaining.

The stakes could be a little higher, but not much, especially as Seongnam is just a point behind in third place and eager to bounce back from its defeat at the weekend.

“It’s not over yet,” said a smiling Senol Gunes after the Seongnam win which provoked wild scenes of jubilation at Sangam Stadium in the north-west of the city.
“Defeating Suwon on Wednesday is a bigger target.”

Since arriving in Korea, Gunes has only won two out of nine meetings with the Bluewings. “There are still three games to go, starting with Suwon. If we win all three then we will finish in first place. The win against Seongnam is for our fans and through this kind of result we aim to attract more fans to the stadium next season.”

For now however, the focus is firmly on the end of this season. After Wednesday, there are just two games of the regular season remaining before the six-team play-off series begins. Finishing in the top two places in the K-League not only makes those play-offs significantly less taxing, it also grants access to the 2009 Asian Champions League.

As the temperatures around the southern half of the peninsula start finally to fall, the race for the K-League is getting hotter by the day.

Copyright: John Duerden & Soccerphile.com

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Saturday, October 25, 2008

Witch way now for Spurs?

Switch and Spurs, switch and spurs; or I'll cry a match”, Romeo & Juliet II, iv
Tottenham’s travails go on after they fell 2-0 away at Udinese in the UEFA Cup.
Winless so far, despite a summer spending spree which dwarfed all rivals, Spurs remain rock-bottom of the Premier League with only two points from eight games. He-he. Never have the triangle jokes (three points) lasted this long into the season.
Spurs’ utter uselessness this season however is a mystery for rationalists: Their coach has a good record, they won the League Cup against Chelsea in February and grabbed some real talent over the close season in Luka Modric, Roman Pavlyuchenko, Giovanni Dos Santos and David Bentley.
For mystics, psychics and assorted fruitcakes however, the explanation for the North Londoners’ malaise is simple: They have a hex on them.
Tottenham would not be the first. The annals of sporting history are replete with supernatural intervention. Just think of the Curse of the Bambino in baseball and myriad others from the US' Big Four sports.
In England, the home of the beautiful game, plenty of clubs have been alleged victims of gypsy curses.
The most famously hexed team was Derby County, who ascribed their failure to win trophies to the fact they had expelled some Romany folk from the land where they built their old stadium, the Baseball Ground. After paying off some of the gypsies’ descendants in 1946, the Rams duly won the FA Cup for the first time.
More recently, Birmingham City were widely supposed to have been victims of a hundred-year spell which expired in 2006. The Blues took it so seriously that former coach Barry Fry, an ebullient old-school manager not averse a curse or two himself, urinated in the four corners of the field after a psychic (or a charlatan having a laugh) told him it would exorcise the demons.
Leeds also had a run-in with Romany folk when Elland Road was under construction. Their great coach Don Revie employed a gypsy to spiritually cleanse the place in 1971 but unfortunately, having led the First Division for most of that season, they then ended up losing it.
Manchester City is another gullible sap, although on paper the most unsuccessful big club in England had to look to the stars for hope. Gypsies were rumored to have cursed the land on which stood Maine Road, City’s stadium from 1923 to 2003, a good reason for moving to the City of Manchester Stadium. While coach at Maine Road, Kevin Keegan once said, "I haven't been able to believe how bad our luck has been this season - especially at home. I don't know whether I've run over one black cat or 10 of them." If they thought they had rid themselves of evil, then what were City doing selling the club to a now-convicted Thai torturer in 2007?
Middlesbrough also evicted some travelling folk in 1901 when they built Ayresome Park and as the caravans were shunted away, ancient curses filled the Boro air.
Over in Wales, Swansea City took it all a bit too seriously when they employed Kenyan tribal dancers to perform a voodoo ceremony at their old Vetch Field ground, after the notorious Uri Geller had claimed there were evil spirits lurking there.
Geller himself, famous psychic and former best pal of Wacko Jacko, has used his magic powers on a number of English clubs, most famously Exeter City, where he became joint chairman in 2002…a year before they dropped out of the Football League.
Geller, a former Israeli paratrooper who forged an inernational career in spoon-bending, placed magic crystals behind one of Exeter’s goals before a crucial play-off game in 1997….which they lost 5-1.
More recently, Oxford United were reported in classic tabloid fashion to have used an exorcist at their new Kassam Stadium. In fact it was nothing more sinister than a blessing from the local Bishop.
And there’s more. When Southampton moved to St Mary’s, some pre-Christian tombs were excavated, leading to rumors the Portsmouth-supporting spirits would have their revenge. I recall seeing some Roman artefacts displayed there, an unusual sight in any football stadium, so who knows? The club took their miserable start at their new home seriously enough to employ a white witch to rid the ground of malevolence, though it didn't stop Joey popping by later.
Overseas, the football fruitcakes are in full cry: Fenerbahce players in Turkey have sheep’s blood smeared on their cleats when they debut while fans of Romania's Arges Pitesti once staged a cat's funeral and roasted a chicken on the field for good fortune.
Dracula’s homeland seems replete with superstition: Romanian teams wearing underwear inside-out, placing herbs in their shoes and not reversing the team bus for good luck, I could go on…Do you remember Anghel Iordanescu, their national team's coach at USA '94, brandishing his crucifix and kissing his book of Romanian saints during the game?
So, if Tottenham are suffering from some ingrained evil, it could be because their training ground was once occupied by …yep, it’s as if English soccer teams only have themselves to blame for buying land on the cheap from those funny-looking folk in their trailers, who utter curses as they are shunted away.
I’m not a fan of the invisible. In football it is just too convenient to blame a five-goal thrashing on some odd-looking tea-leaves or birds in the sky instead of what happens with the ball on the grass. While England is a very secular country its soccer is still full of superstition, inevitably perhaps given the millions of people expending such emotion on it each week.
Former National Team coach Glenn Hoddle employed a faith healer to widespread derision during the 1998 World Cup before resigning after some ill-judged comments on reincarnation while forerunner Bobby Robson memorably once said of a forthcoming England game, “It argues well” (sic).
Is it just me, or is not it obvious these highly-paid professional clubs paying assorted soothsayers and con-artists were wasting their time. Again and again, football clubs seem to prove GK Chesterton’s quip that people who deny God won’t believe in nothing – they will believe in anything.
Spurs have more prosaic reasons than superstitious hearsay why they are doing so badly: It is something to do with an over-enthusiastic and ill-thought out transfer policy, a coach and Director of Football not quite in tandem and the fact they sold their best two strikers. It’s not rocket science, but it’s not tarot cards or gypsy curses either.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Friday, October 24, 2008

Atletico Madrid V Liverpool

Joel Rookwood



European football’s governing body illustrated its latest managerial blunder last week, with another thoughtless and untimely intervention. The latest club to feel the wrath of UEFA were Atletico Madrid. The Spanish outfit were found guilty of a number of offences during the visit of Marseille in the early stages of this season’s Champions League. These included but were not limited to the club’s alleged inappropriate treatment of the visiting team’s playing staff, together with the overzealous tactics of the Madridleno police in the away section. The footage obtained and subsequently beamed around the globe via the usual media networks admittedly provides damming evidence regarding the latter misdemeanour. However, the absurdly late response to the misconduct threatened to serve as little more than another example of UEFA’s inconsistency and incompetence, together with their ongoing disdain for Liverpool fans.

To deal briefly with each accusation in reverse order, I begin firstly with Liverpool, whose supporters are not exactly in favour with the continent’s chief football personnel. This is largely due to their misbehaviour leading up to the 2007 Champions League final in Athens. Although Liverpool fans shoulder some of the responsibility for the events in Greece, UEFA refused to accept any blame for choosing to stage that game in an athletics arena, rather than a football ground (something they have a habit of doing, as we saw in Istanbul two years earlier). In addition, the significance of the perceived injustice of UEFA’s ticketing policies denied many supporters the opportunity to see the 2007 final. As writer Kevin Sampson argued: “Sound familiar, this? The final was to be held at an old, inadequate athletics stadium with checkpoints instead of turnstiles. It had been built for spectators, who observe and applaud, rather than fans, who are, well, fanatical.” And the contempt continues. Just days before Atletico Madrid’s next home game in this season’s competition, UEFA announced that the match was to be played “at least 300km from Madrid” by way of punishment. And the opponents in that first game? Why Liverpool, of course.



Secondly, as no explanation or subsequent detail was offered in this strange directive, staff and supporters from both teams were left wondering where they would be traveling for the group D showdown. To further illustrate their incompetence, the ambiguous ruling was then overturned just four days before the game was due to take place. UEFA effectively admitted the blunder by postponing the punishment until Atletico’s next home game against PSV. Thirdly, although the organization appears fraught with inconsistencies, the irregularity of the messages UEFA send through their decision making is the most concerning. In recent seasons Italy and Rome in particular has proven to be one of the most dangerous locations for traveling football fans. So where did they decide to host this years Champions League final? That would be Rome’s Stadio Olimpico, of course. I only hope the combination of teams who make it to this year’s final does not add further explosive ingredients to what is already a potentially disastrous mix.

After the draw had been made for the 2008-2009 group stage, 4000 or so Liverpool fans booked flights for what was the club’s first competitive fixture in the world famous footballing city. Yet in the days leading up to the match, fans were left clueless as to where the game was to be held. The rumor mill began to accelerate in the intervening period, as message boards and radio and television channels began to openly contemplate the possible substitute venues. Seville was out of the equation as a UEFA Cup match was scheduled in the city the following night, and the competition’s organizers do not permit European matches on consecutive nights in the same city (which to give credit where it’s due, is a sensible policy). Zaragoza’s ground was considered too small, and the likes of La Coruna and Barcelona were thought to be too far away. The obvious venue therefore seemed to be Valencia’s Estadio Mestalla. I was due to fly in to Valencia, and having calculated the distance, knew it to be around 340km from the capital. The selected distance, which at first seemed to have been pulled out of the sky, all started to seem a little convenient. And this was not lost on the hoards of intuitive Liverpudlians intent on making the journey. Before the ink was dry on UEFA’s indistinct initial press release, some Scousers began to re-direct their travel plans for Valencia. Flights, hire cars and hotel rooms were booked, as the traveling Kop awaited the announcement of what many perceived to be a definite replacement venue. Within three days UEFA were kind enough to make and communicate a final decision, yet the details were leaked by Atletico officials to the Spanish football daily, Marca. It wasn’t until this stage that UEFA’s u-turn became apparent, and what away to find out.



Whilst the Spanish club were in no doubt that the ruling had fallen in their favour, the Liverpool fans were less convinced. Plans had to be re-scheduled once again. But for those of us who have already seen Liverpool play in Valencia, the decision was not wholly unpopular. But Liverpool fans are always unperturbed by organizational inadequacies, and so on the day before and the day of the game, supporters in their thousands set off for Madrid. As usual UEFA’s concerns (which on this occasion were apparently focused on “the safety of supporters”) proved to be unfounded. For the city of Madrid together with its very own “people’s club” proved to be the perfect hosts. All over the city we were warmly welcomed by people passionate about their football. They might not have illustrated the fanaticism of some of their rivals, notably the duo from Seville, but nevertheless the people of Madrid clearly love their football. And the Madridleno public recognised the quality and tradition provided by Liverpool.

Due appreciation was afforded to the Liverpool team, managed by Madrid born Rafael Benitez and featuring fellow countrymen Xavi Alonso, Pepe Reina, Albert Riera and Alvaro Arbeloa. Of course the notable absentee from the Liverpool squad was Atletico idol Fernando Torres. Torres had been injured whilst on international duty the previous week, to the frustration of the player, his manager and colleagues, and not to mention the adoring Liverpool fans. Atletico supporters were also clearly disappointed to have been denied the opportunity to express their ongoing affection for the lad they called El Nino. I first saw Torres play in 2004, as his hatrick for Atletico was enough to overcome hosts Athletic Bilbao. His genius was clear to see then, as the whole crowd stood and applauded him. Since his arrival at Anfield fourteen months ago, Torres has blossomed into Europe’s best marksmen. But for the visit to Madrid we were to be denied his services, which would on reflection would certainly have made all the difference.



Benitez’s team dominated the match, but despite taking the lead though Robbie Keane on fourteen minutes, lacked the firepower and quality to supplement the tally. The inevitable then occurred, as the home side equalised through Simao seven minutes from time, thus earning a point their performance just about warranted. Liverpool were made to rue miss chances and absent forwards, but in truth, our minds were firmly fixed on the visit to Chelsea this weekend. The tactical changes illustrated through the manager’s substitutions were clear evidence of that. And despite leaving the leadership of Group D wide open as a consequence, most Liverpool fans were not too disappointed by the result. At long last, priorities at Anfield are beginning to tilt towards the title.

After the game the usual temporary containment of the away supporters provided opportunities for a love-in with the thousands of locals who chose to remain behind. Scarves were swapped by fans keen to formulate and illustrate a mutual respect between the two cities. Both sets of fans raucously booed the playing of the UEFA anthem before the match, and on the final whistle, were united again in singing the name of each other’s team, with the players warming down in the background. Outside the festival of respect continued as the Atletico fans lined the streets to clap us out, which only enhanced the volume of the Scouse support. We took it in turns to sing songs about Fernando Torres, as the fiesta spread across the vicinity. The palm of my hand now aches from all the high-fives I exchanged with our humble hosts. But of course this is a side to fandom UEFA never see.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

A Japanese perspective on football

Shimizu S-Pulse fans.
Shimizu S-Pulse fans are renowned as some of the most passionate in Japanese football.

I caught up with one fan - Shimizu-born Yuichi Korenaga - after Shimizu's most recent 2-0 win over Kawasaki Frontale, to discuss his opinion on Shimizu's season and his attitudes towards football in general.

MT: What do you think about S-Pulse's season so far?

YK: To be honest, it's pretty disappointing. We thought we could do a lot better since we finished fourth two seasons in a row.

MT: What do you think about S-Pulse reaching the League Cup final?

YK: That has made the supporters happy. Two or three years ago we went to the final for the Emperor's Cup and most of the players had no experience of winning a title. Only two players (Daisuke Ichikawa and Teruyoshi Ito) have experienced winning a trophy. The supporters are desperate for S-Pulse to win a title, and once the players win a title, they should be more hungry for another one.

MT: How do you rate the standard of the J. League compared to overseas leagues?

YK: The quality of the players is different. Of course in those top leagues, the quality is very high. In the starting years of the J. League, players like Zico were near-retirement... but they could still play. They were some of the top players in the league.

But now the speed of the J. League is very fast. Especially compared to South America, and even some European leagues. So the quality of the imports is very high, if you think of guys like (Robson) Ponte.

When the J. League started, the quality of the players was quite low. But nowadays, I don't think there's much difference. It's like Bebeto. He only played half a season for Kashima because he couldn't keep up with the pace of the league.

MT: So how has the J. League improved over the years?

YK: Until the Korea-Japan World Cup, the only people who watched games were hardcore soccer fans. After the World Cup in 2002, everyone began to watch soccer. And local J. League teams got more local fans.

MT: What do you think of the new "Asian berth" rule?

YK: That's hard! Last match against Kawasaki Frontale, they had three Brazilians (Juninho, Vitor Junior and Renatinho) and Chong Tese. So if they introduce the "Asian berth" rule, it means teams like Kawasaki can start with five foreign players out of eleven.

In some ways I think it's a good idea, if it will improve the level of the J. League. But at the same time, I don't know if they really need it.

MT: What about the AFC Champions League? Why did Japanese teams only recently begin to take it seriously?

YK: It was really important for Urawa to win the AFC Champions League last year. In 2000, S-Pulse won the Cup Winners Cup but hardly anyone knew about it.

MT: Why?

YK: I think one of the reasons is money. Winning the title for the J. League, or the Nabisco Cup or the Emperor's Cup... you get more money than you do for winning an AFC title. If you can get more money by winning a domestic title, why would you sacrifice your best players to win less money?

Title-wise, AFC trophies are important. But I don't think many people recognise them.

MT: Does the FIFA Club World Cup change that?

YK: I think Urawa winning the Champions League last year changed people's minds. Two years ago the Korean team (Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors FC) played in the Club World Cup and we watched in Japan and thought, if we win the AFC title then we can also play in that.

I think the AFC Champions League will be taken more seriously now for two reasons. One is that there is more money now. The other reason is that we can improve our level of play and test ourselves in competitive matches against teams from Europe and South America in the Club World Cup.

MT: What's your opinion on the Club World Cup moving to the United Arab Emirates?

YK: I think it's normal. But we're losing the opportunity to watch some really good games. The Toyota Cup opened our eyes about the level of top-level soccer. That was the first thing.

Then in 2002 we saw "world level" soccer. So for the younger generation - who had never seen top-level soccer - they were shocked. That was the goal of the JFA Chairman, Mr Naganuma. He wanted Japanese people to see top-level soccer with their own eyes.

MT: Do you watch overseas football?

YK: I watch the Premier League and La Liga.

I like the Premier League... the level is really high. But lots of players are foreign players, not English players. I think that's one of the reasons the national team is having such a hard time.

At the same time, La Liga is really exciting and so is the way the Spanish national team plays, especially this year at Euro 2008. The way they played is really interesting. They had fun, but they were a really strong team as well.

MT: Do Japanese fans follow overseas teams because Japanese players play for them?

YK: Japanese soccer fans are always interested in what Japanese players are doing. So they try and watch them on TV... like Nakamura when he plays for Celtic.

In the past a lot of Japanese fans wore Perugia shirts and Roma shirts when Hidetoshi Nakata played for those teams. But that's when the national team was the most important thing. Nowadays more people support their local J. League team, so it's not as common.

MT: Getting back to the J. League, why do so many S-Pulse fans travel to away matches?

YK: It's like a lot of teams. Like Urawa.

But Shizuoka has a long history in soccer. Before the J. League started, more than half of the players in the national team came from Shizuoka. So we have a long history of watching soccer.

When players from other prefectures sign for S-Pulse, like (Keisuke) Iwashita, they can never believe that high-school football is broadcast on local TV from the quarter-final stage!

Shizuoka soccer is special. Everyone watches soccer, from high-school soccer up to the J. League.

MT: What does Urawa mean to you?

YK: Nothing [laughs].

They have some of the greatest supporters. But their attitude? I don't like them.

Urawa has the most supporters who go to the games and the second-most is Niigata. I've been to both stadiums. Urawa is more aggressive, even though most of their supporters are younger kids. Their supporters are... not really looking for a fight, but their attitude towards other supporters is really hostile.

But at Niigata they're all friendly. The crowd is made up of young kids and older people, and the way they come to the stadium is like they're having a picnic. They are there to have a fun time. And they respect opposition supporters. I really like that attitude.

MT: What do you think about the J. League's proposal to change to a winter-based calendar?

YK: I think they should. But at the same time it's really hard. We are not really used to going out (to watch soccer) in winter time. We can understand it to watch rugby. People think rugby is a winter sport, and winter is the time to watch college rugby. Even though it's cold, people go to watch college rugby in winter. But soccer is really hard. It's really hard to say whether it's a good idea or not.

MT: What will playing in winter do to crowds in Niigata, Sendai and Sapporo?

YK: They will still come. Especially in Niigata. And Consadole can still play in the Sapporo Dome.

But maybe next year Montedio Yamagata will come up to J1. So I'm not sure what they're going to do!

MT: What do you think of the national team?

YK: They're a joke!

MT: What's the problem with them?

YK: It's really hard to say. Lots of people really wanted to see how Osim could make the Japanese team. We could see the step up, at every single level, he really improved the team. That was really interesting.

Okada is the same, but he's more realistic. He takes the match that is in front of him more seriously. He's not thinking about the future.

Osim tried to use younger players, to give them experience.

MT: Do you understand the criticism from the foreign press towards (former JEF United coach) Osim for using five JEF United players?

YK: I thought the media was wrong about that.

From my point of view, Osim used those players from JEF United because he had already instructed those players on how to play as a team. So they knew what Osim expected.

I thought that, back then, those JEF United players were good enough to play for the national team.

MT: So what's your opinion of Takeshi Okada?

YK: That's a hard question! My point of view is that we should find a better head coach. But at the same time, after what happened to Osim, Okada did a pretty good job in such a limited time.

But he announced that we can finish in the top four at the next World Cup. I don't think so! He was dreaming... day-dreaming!

MT: Why are Japanese players struggling to score goals?

YK: I think lots of it comes down to cultural reasons. Our attitude is... don't be selfish. Even though our players should shoot, they choose to pass.

MT: Is that why Brazilians score so many goals in the J. League?

YK: I think so. Especially a player like Marquinhos. He's selfish, but I think a striker should be like that.

Most Japanese players put more value in passing. From a young age, Japanese players would rather play in midfield than as a striker. They would rather be a playmaker and "make the game" than score goals.

That's why we've had players like Endo and Shunsuke Nakamura and Nakata.

MT: What do you think about foreign fans supporting the J. League? Are you surprised?

YK: I think it's good. I'm not surprised.

Part of the reason that some people are surprised is that some Japanese people still think the level of the J. League is not that high, so they wonder why foreign fans would come to the ground to watch. So that's part of the reason.

But also a lot of Japanese fans think the only people who come to watch games are local people. But actually it's not always local people. Some of my friends live in Tokyo, they've never lived in Shizuoka, but they still support S-Pulse. So it's not always local people.

MT: How important is it for the J. League to increase its profile?

YK: That's pretty important, I think. It's like Urawa. The locals support them big time. So they can make good money, and they can run the team much better.

Other local teams have fans, but it's not like Urawa. So they can make money, but some J. League teams are in debt every year. But if they can make more fans, it's easier to run the team.

I think last year, Urawa made a difference (in the AFC Champions League). Now more foreign fans might start following Japanese football.

MT: Lastly, what do you hope S-Pulse achieves for the rest of the season?

YK: Now they're getting better. We've been joking that they're going to get fourth place again. Three years in a row!

In the league, we can earn a better position. At the same time, in the Nabisco Cup final, we should win the title. We're really desperate.

The supporters are really desperate (to win the Nabisco Cup) and at the same time we think it's a really good experience for all the young players, so that they know what the difference is between winning a title and not winning a title.

Copyright © Michael Tuckerman & Soccerphile.com

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Saturday, October 18, 2008

A Turning Point Or Just An Easy Game?

Lee Young-pyo congratulates Lee keun-ho
There was a moment during Wednesday’s World Cup qualification match between South Korea and UAE in Seoul that may prove to be a turning point in the team’s fortunes.

Korea dominated the match at Seoul World Cup Stadium, just like they had numerous times in the past. With 20 minutes of the match remaining, it was 2-0 and really should have been more. Chances had been missed, flying saves made and woodwork whacked. Despite that, at least two goals had been scored and 2-0 would have been acceptable prior to the match.

Then, as happened against Jordan in the previous round of qualification and against Iran and Syria in Asian Cup qualification, Korea followed domination and missed chances by giving away a goal in comical circumstances.

Facing his own goal at the edge of the penalty area, Cho Yong-hyong, under pressure from Islam Salem, elected to turn and try to dribble past the UAE attacker instead of booting the ball into touch. Predictably, Salem took the ball, dribbled round startled goalkeeper Jugn Sung-ryong to score.

The next five minutes were nervy and most of the fans fully expected a desperate fight to protect the three points. Unlike in the past however, a Korean striker was around to take some pressure off the team with clinical finishing.

Lee Keun-ho has been scoring goals for Daegu for two seasons now and has been on the fringes of the national team for around half that time. The former Incheon United player - the gritty port city club has a habit of jettisoning players that later turn out to be selected for South Korea - is the latest star in the Land of the Morning Calm.

He wasn’t even an automatic choice for the national team until last week. Lee came on at half-time in a friendly match against Uzbekistan and scored twice in the second half. That was enough to earn a place in the starting eleven against UAE.

Just as he did against Uzbekistan, Lee missed his first chance that was easier than the others. Midway through the He showed great movement to put himself in a position to score the firstt goal and then, five minutes after UAE pulled one back, Lee sealed the win for the hosts.

It was a great finish and provided a hint that Korea’s new young guns could be made of sterner stuff mentally than some of their recent predecessors. Ki Sung-young, Lee Chung-young, Lee Keun-ho and Jung Sung-hoon all enjoyed themselves against the Uzbeks and UAE but tougher tests lie ahead.

There are none tougher in Asian football than visits to Saudi Arabia. If the youngsters can pull off a similar performance against a much more formidable West Asian team then that really could be something worth getting excited about.

"The players have now regained their confidence," Park ji-sung said. "If we can keep the atmosphere alive, we can get a good result in Saudi Arabia.”

Copyright: John Duerden & Soccerphile.com

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Friday, October 17, 2008

Okada's Japan in serious trouble

Japan.
Takeshi Okada resembles a man stuck in quicksand without a rope.

On the surface there appears little reason for panic after Japan came from behind to snatch a 1-1 draw with Uzbekistan in front of 55,142 fans at Saitama Stadium on October 15. Yet the manner of the draw and Okada's increasingly dejected demeanour suggest that the Japan coach is working on borrowed time.

The draw comes in the wake of Japan's dreadful showing in a friendly against the United Arab Emirates in Niigata six days earlier. Just when Okada needed his team to turn in a display of ruthless efficiency to silence his growing army of critics, it was more of the same from the Blue Samurai, who went behind following a mistake in defence from Marcus Tulio Tanaka and who spurned numerous chances to register a winner after drawing level through Keiji Tamada.

Tulio and veteran Yuji Nakazawa are both self-styled leaders at the heart of the Japan defence, but the experienced central defenders were brutally exposed by a bustling Uzbekistan strike force. On the half hour mark an innocuous chip forward should have been comfortably dealt with by Tulio, but rather than take the safety-first option of playing the ball into touch, the Brazilian-born Tulio attempted an acrobatic scissor-kick clearance that was headed on to Timur Kapadze, and his cross was turned in by Uzbek talisman Maxim Shatskikh.

The goal was symptomatic of Japan's current plight - routine football blighted by individual mistakes, and it was no surprise to see Tulio desperate to atone for his error.

It was the much-maligned Yoshito Okubo who almost drew Japan level as he failed to get on the end of a Shunsuke Nakamura free-kick by a matter of inches, and those two players then combined to set up Japan's equaliser, as Nakamura's floated ball forward was hooked back by Okubo to an unmarked Tamada to bundle home.

Before the match both Okubo and Tamada had received extra shooting practice in a bid to remedy Japan's chronic lack of confidence in front of goal, but whatever good Tamada's goal may have done for his flagging self-belief, it will have evaporated by the time referee Albadwawi Ali Hamad blew the full-time whistle as Tamada wasted a series of second half chances.

First he hooked a difficult chance wide following a cross from the marauding Atsuto Uchida, before the Nagoya Grampus front man saw a curling left-foot strike pushed away by Uzbek keeper Ignatiy Nesterov. With twenty minutes remaining Tamada somehow conjured to volley over when it seemed easier to score, but an offside flag saved the shaky striker his blushes.

Japan's best chance came in the final minute when Tulio saw his goal-bound effort acrobatically turned away by Nesterov, as Uzbekistan held on for a gritty draw. The result was hardly a categorical disaster for Japan, yet the disappointment etched into Japanese faces says much about the current psychological state of the team.

Coach Okada is, for many, the man to blame. The Blue Samurai have made little progress since Okada stepped in as coach for the stricken Ivica Osim, despite the fact that in his second spell as Japan coach, Okada has now overseen seventeen competitive fixtures since taking over from the Bosnian.

Okada's critics point out that far from motivating his team, the po-faced tactician has instead heaped pressure on them. Before the World Cup qualifiers kicked off, Okada claimed that it was his mission to top South Korea's fourth place showing at the 2002 FIFA World Cup. Yet when Japan laboured through the opening round of World Cup qualifiers, Okada was quick to bemoan the lack of self-belief rippling through his ranks.

Japan's saving grace will surely be the fact that they been drawn in the easier of the two Asian final qualifying groups. While Australia top Group A with a maximum six points from six, Japan are just two points behind them having won their opening qualifier away in Bahrain.

With the top two teams going through as automatic qualifiers for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, Australia and Japan remain favourites to book their places in South Africa in two years time, leaving Uzbekistan, Bahrain and Qatar to battle it out for a playoff place against the third-place finisher from Group B.

Few would be surprised if Takeshi Okada is not at the helm in 2010, however, with Japan struggling to cut down mistakes on the pitch and desperate for an injection of confidence off it.

Copyright © Michael Tuckerman & Soccerphile.com

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Viduka and Moore back, but for how long?

Viduka and Moore back, but for how long?
Mark Viduka and Craig Moore, two of Australia's stalwarts from the last World Cup in Germany, continue to refuse to commit to South Africa 2010.

But Pim Verbeek's confident progress in charge of the Socceroos is allaying fears Australia still rely on a handful of big name players to advance their international cause.

Viduka's greatest concern is a long-standing Achilles tendon injury.

He surprised many by meeting up with the Australia squad in Brisbane ahead of their 4-0 cakewalk against Qatar, but Viduka's long-term Socceroos future wasn't on the agenda according Verbeek.

The Dutchman still takes Viduka's word of last April when, on a whistlestop trip around Europe, Viduka promised he'd play a part in South Africa.

Verbeek added that the fact Viduka simply turned up in Brisbane - despite not being named in a 35-man extended training party - was proof enough of his national team commitment.

However, Viduka was primarily back home to gauge a second opinion on his troublesome injury from Socceroos medical staff, a problem which reportedly will not require surgery and might see him playing again in the English Premier League this season.

“It’s a step-by-step process to play for Australia and the first stage is to get back playing for my club again,” Viduka told the Australian press. “I don’t want to rush anything.

“I’ve got to be 100 per cent fit and sure in my mind that my heel is strong enough. When that happens I’ll be back for Australia. I’ve always loved playing for my country."

Moore, meanwhile, made a comfortable return to international action after a self-imposed eight-month exile but after the match again refused to be drawn on committing to a second World Cup finals.

Injury is not the major concern for Moore, who's in his best shape for some seasons and is enjoying the slower pace of life playing for Queensland Roar and living on the sun-kissed Gold Coast.

It has more to do with the scheduling of the Australia domestic season for the former national team skipper.

Moore, whose European club career appears closed, doesn't believe he'll necessarily be in the right shape come June 2010 and South Africa. The A-League season finishes in February, meaning a significant break from competitive action and that's a worry for central defender.

Before the 2006 World Cup, uncertainty over Viduka and Moore's national team future would have caused waves to crash through the Socceroos camp.

Not these days.

The fact that the biggest question in the build-up to the Qatar qualifier was whether Moore would even win his place back from Chris Coyne speaks for itself.

Moore's experience and better use of the ball from defence saw him replace the Colchester United captain. He'd had little to do but slotted back into the green and gold as if he'd never been away.

Viduka, however, might not return with such ease. There might have been a glimmer of envy as he watched German-based striker Josh Kennedy put in a man-of-the-match display in Brisbane, scoring once and beautifully setting up another for Brett Emerton.

Scott McDonald, Kennedy's strike partner, looked less at home, but Verbeek is unlikely to want to play Kennedy and Viduka together upfront in any case. There's Harry Kewell to come back from a groin strain too.

While competition for outfield places has heated up, Verbeek's dilemma over his goalkeepers for the World Cup refuses to simplify.

Mark Schwarzer has committed to playing through to 2010, setting himself the private aim of 75 national team caps before he hangs up his gloves.

But Schwarzer will be 37 by the time the tournament rolls around and there is precious little pressure on the incumbent goalkeeper.

"Obviously it's been a little bit of a concern. The major issues are players are not playing regular football," said Schwarzer. "There are talented goalkeepers out there but if you're not playing week-in week-out football it's very difficult to be chosen for your national team. That's probably the biggest concern for the national team."

Whereas at the 2006 World Cup under Guus Hiddink there was no clear No.1 (Hiddink turned to Schwarzer's deputy Zeljko Kalac for the crucial group decider against Croatia), there's now no obvious No.2 to the Fulham custodian.

Since taking charge of Australia at the start of the year, Verbeek has selected a remarkable nine goalkeepers for either training camps or matches

And that doesn’t even include Jess van Strattan, the former Juventus goalkeeper who recently agreed terms with incoming franchise Gold Coast United.

Van Strattan will be first choice for the newcomers when they enter the league next August and might just have left himself enough time to push for a spot in South Africa.

Copyright © Marc Fox and Soccerphile.com

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Thursday, October 16, 2008

Hull looking to add West Ham to London victims

Hull looking to add West Ham to London victims.
Who would have thought that Hull City would be looking to win their third game in a row against West Ham, let alone that coming off the back of away victories at Arsenal and Tottenham. No doubt about the Tigers being the surprise package of the season but can they continue their impressive run this weekend?

West Ham had made a good start to life under new manager Gianfranco Zola with two wins out of two before suffering a hiccup against Bolton before the international break.The honeymoon period for Zola is over and with the Hammers facing all kind of financial problems perhaps the enormity of the task is beginning to dawn on the little Italian.

Hull on the other hand are on the up and up despite being dubbed the 'new Derby' before the season started the Tigers have already eclipsed the Rams woeful total. The trip to Humberside for the Hammers is one that Zola wouldn't have wished for because the levels of confidence at the KC Stadium must be higher than any other Premier League side.

From back to front Hull are beginning to develop into a nice little unit with Boaz Myhill in inspirational form, whilst Michael Turner and Andy Dawson have made the step up to the top division with ease. Ian Ashbee is another who has been with the club since they were trawling the lower leagues but now looks like a decent defensive midfielder.

Then there is Geovanni, surely one of the steals of the season, after joining Hull on a free transfer from Man City. He has been instrumental in Hull's last two games, not just because of his two goals either. The Brazilian has that touch of quality that promoted sides need to stay in this division and he certainly has an eye for goal.

So based on this assessment you'd think that Hull are red hot favourites in the football betting to heap more misery on the Hammers fans. However I wouldn't be so sure because a big factor in a good run of form is momentum, something which Hull may have lost with the international break.

Things aren't all bad for West Ham with Hull managing just one victory in their three home games this season, that win coming on the opening day of the season against Fulham. It's not like West Ham have had a bad season either, despite sacking Alan Curbishley the club still find themselves in the top six with four victories from their first seven games.

So with all that in mind I think the best option will be to sit on the fence and go for a draw, with the football odds suggesting that might be the outcome. However if I was forced to make a decision you'd have to back the Tigers to once again upset the odds.

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World Cup 2010 Qualifiers October 15

In qualification for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, England won comfortably 3-1 in Minsk against Belarus. Wales lost narrowly to Germany 1-0 in Monchengladbach. Northern Ireland won 4-0 in Belfast against San Marino and the Republic of Ireland were 1-0 winners over Cyprus in Dublin.

Italy beat Montenegro 2-1, Croatia hammered Andorra 4-0 and Serbia outplayed Austria 3-1 in Vienna.

Holland won 1-0 in Norway and the shock of the night was Switzerland's 2-1 away win in Greece.

In other results, Belgium were beaten 2-1 at home to Euro 2008 winners Spain, Malta lost 1-0 at home to Hungary and Portugal could only draw against Albania in Braga.

In Asia zone qualifying games, Japan had a disappointing home draw 1-1 with Uzbekistan in Group 1 on Wednesday while South Korea beat UAE 3-0. Australia cruised to a 4-0 home win over Qatar.

In South America, Argentina lost 1-0 away to Chile, while Brazil were held to a 0-0 draw by Columbia.

In the CONCACAF zone, the USA lost 2-1 away to Trinidad & Tobago, with Dwight Yorke scoring the winner.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Korea All Set For UAE

UAE arrive in Korea

A World Cup qualifier against UAE would not usually be a huge game but Wednesday’s clash in Seoul promises to be a big, big night for South Korean football.

What should happen in such a situation, and what has usually happened in the past, is that the host enjoys a fairly comfortable victory and takes a step towards what would be a seventh successive World Cup.

And yet, there are nerves everywhere. Nerves at the Korean Football Association that the team will miss out, dealing a huge blow to the sport in the Land of the Morning Calm, nerves among the media who don’t want to imagine a World Cup without Korea, nerves among the players who dream of the chance to showcase their talents on the biggest stage of all, nerves among the fans who are rightly proud of Korea’s World Cup record and nerves among the coaching staff who could soon find themselves out of a job.

A 1-1 tie against North Korea in Shanghai in September was a reasonable, if slightly disappointing result –though the performance was poor- and leaves no room for error at home against the weakest member of the group. As well as North Korea and UAE, Asian powerhouses Iran and Saudi Arabia are the other two members of the group. Only the top two progresses to South Africa - third place means play-offs and if you thought things were tense now, winner-takes-all elimination games play havoc with the blood pressure.

But that is way in the future. With tricky trips to Riyadh, against a team that Korea has lost three and tied two of its last five games, and Tehran where the East Asians have never won an official match, up next, it is imperative that the full three points are deposited in the bank tonight.

If not, coach Huh Jung-moo is likely to be out of the door and a big-name foreign coach drafted in as a jittery KFA looks to salvage the campaign before it is too late. Huh is showing no signs of the pressure and has vowed to attack the West Asians from the beginning.

There are some absentees. Kim Do-heon, Lee Chun-soo, Kim Chi-gon, Kim Jin-kyu, Jung Jo-gook and Lee Jang-soo are injured. Captain Kim Nam-il is suspended but there is some good news. UAE is in something of a crisis. The West Asians have played two games so far, both at home and both were lost. In September, coach Bruno Metsu, who almost took the South Korean job in 2004, jumped ship to nearby Qatar.

Fellow Frenchman Dominique Bathenay is expected to play it safe in Seoul but knows that a good result could resurrect UAE’s World Cup dreams.

“South Korea is a strong team,” said a tired-looking Bathaney as he arrived at Incheon International Airport on Monday.

“We know many of their players but we are going to focus just on our own team and how we are going to play. It looks as if two from South Korea, Iran and Saudi Arabia will qualify. We have struggled from the beginning but there is still a chance for us. It will be a tough match against South Korea but we will fight for our lives until the end.”

That end will be virtually guaranteed if the UAE loses in Seoul. Ismail Matar is the one to watch out for. Small but stocked full of silky skills, he scored four out of seven UAE goals in the previous round of qualification and is presented with gifts of camels on a regular basis from fans.

Korea warmed up for the UAE game against Uzbekistan on Saturday and won 3-0. All three goals were impressive as were the players that scored them. Talented teenagers Lee Chung-yung and Ki Sung-yung play together for FC Seoul and combined well for the first goal. Daegu’s Lee Keun-ho scored twice in the second, doing enough to earn a starting place.

Lee Chung-young and Ki Sung-yung celebrate

“The goal has given me confidence,” said Ki who scored the only goal against North Korea in Shanghai. “It has also made me greedy for more and I am looking for a third consecutive goal against UAE. It will not be an easy game for us but we are capable of getting a good result.”

As tests go, the Uzbekistan game was not the best as the Central Asians were happy to attack Korea, leaving holes at the back. There will be no such easy pickings in the northwest corner of Seoul this evening.

UAE prepared by drawing 1-1 in Japan last week. It was a good result though the Japanese missed a host of chances and allowed UAE to score on the counter-attack. It is a scenario not unfamiliar to Korean fans and a repeat tonight would signal the start of a turbulent few weeks in Korean soccer.

Despite all the nerves, that shouldn’t happen as Korea look set to take a step closer to South Africa.

copyright: John Duerden & Soccerphile.com

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Monday, October 13, 2008

Germany v Wales

Wales face Germany at Borussia Park, Monchengladbach, this Wednesday. The 54,000 capacity ground is home to Borussia Monchengladbach and is one of the most passionate stadiums in Germany.

Dusseldorf is the largest city to Monchengladbach and is connected by an S-Bahn line. For a more cultural experience, staying in Dusseldorf might be the best bet, but Monchengladbach has enough of its own pubs and restaurants if you are only on a short stay.

Monchengladbach has a population of about 260,000 people.

Book hotels in Monchengladbach


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Sunday, October 12, 2008

England v Belarus Minsk

England travel to Minsk in Belarus on Tuesday for their Group 6 European zone World Cup 2010 qualifying match.

Victory Square, Minsk

Minsk, with a population of 1.8 million people, is the capital of Belarus, a former republic of the Soviet Union, which gained its independence in 1991, though the newly independent state retains very strong links to its giant neighbor, Russia.

The currency of Belarus is the Belarusian ruble.
Minsk is 2 hours ahead of UK time.
Prices are lower than the western European average.
Minsk International Airport is situated 42km east of the capital and has connecting flights to Austria, Cyprus, Germany, France, Ireland, Israel, Poland, Germany, Russia, the UK, Italy, Iran, Latvia, and Turkey.
Assume a flight time of 2 hours, 30 mins for the 1800km journey between London and Minsk.
Dinamo Minsk and FC BATE Borisov are two of the country's premier soccer teams.
Dinamo Stadium, Minsk, with a capacity of 41,000, will be the venue for the Belarus v England game.
Minsk and the area of present-day Belarus were devastated in WWII. Much of the capital post dates 1945.
The Minsk metro which consists of two lines is the quickest and cheapest way to get around the city.
A visa is necessary to enter Belarus.
Book hotels in Minsk.
The current most famous player from Belarus is the ex-Stuttgart, Arsenal, now Barcelona midfielder Aliaksandr Hleb.
Belarusian is the official language and has strong similarities with Russian.
International dialling code: +375
Described as "Europe's last dictatorship," by the US, Belarus is ruled with an iron fist by stalinist President Alexander Lukashenko, who was relected in March in an election described as "flawed" by outside observers. Insulting the president, even as a joke, is punished with a prison sentence.


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World Cup 2010 Qualifiers - October 11

World Cup 2010 Qualifiers - October 11.
There were few shocks in the European zone for qualification for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, England won comfortably 5-1 at home to Kazakhstan in front of 90,000 fans at New Wembley. Wales beat Liechtenstein 2-0 in Cardiff but Scotland had to settle for a 0-0 draw with Norway in Group 9. Northern Ireland lost 2-0 away to Slovenia in Group 3.

Italy and France were both held to draws away to Bulgaria and Romania respectively. Ukraine and Croatia, playing catch-up with England in Group 6, also drew 0-0 in Kyev.

Austria were held to a 1-1 tie in the Faroe Islands, Holland, at expected, beat Iceland 2-0 in Rotterdam and Germany edged Russia in Dortmund, 2-1.

In other results, Belgium beat Armenia 2-0, Denmark won easily 3-0 against minnows Malta and European champions Spain won on the road in Estonia 3-0.

In upcoming Asia zone qualifying games, Japan face Uzbekistan on Wednesday and South Korea host UAE.

In South America, Argentina edged Uruguay 2-1 as Peru went bottom of the group after a 3-0 thumping by Boliva, who leapfrog the Peruvians.

In the CONCACAF zone, the USA crushed Cuba 6-1 at RFK Stadium in Washington to qualify for the final round of qualification, while Mexico were humbled 1-0 away to Jamaica with Ricardo Fuller getting the decisive goal in the 14th minute.

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Saturday, October 11, 2008

Netherlands vs Iceland Rotterdam

European Zone Group 9 leaders The Netherlands face Iceland at Rotterdam's De Kuip Stadium today in a 2010 World Cup qualifying game.

Stadion Feyenoord.

The Netherlands have injury problems with Arjen Robben, Robin van Persie and Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink all out and Manchester United keeper Edwin Van der Saar coming out of retirement for the next two games to cover for a crocked Maarten Stekelenburg. Netherlands face Norway in Oslo on Wednesday in their next fixture.

Despite their injuries, the Oranje are the bookies' favorites to win this match.


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Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Fifa World Rankings October 2008

Fifa World Rankings October 2008
European champions Spain stay top of this month's Fifa world rankings followed by world champions Italy and Germany in 3rd. England are up one spot to 14th place while rivals Scotland fall ten places to 26th.

Brazil are in 4th. Cameroon are the highest African team in 12th. Russia are the big movers at the top, up to 9th.


1 Spain
2 Italy
3 Germany
4 Brazil
5 Netherlands
6 Croatia
7 Argentina
8 Czech Republic
9 Russia
10 Portugal
11 France
12 Cameroon
13 Turkey
14 England
15 Bulgaria

Full world rankings

Last month's Fifa World Rankings

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Park's Back For Vital Week



Autumn has been more fruitful than the summer. As the last European season came to an end in May, the fate of South Korea’s overseas stars really hung in the balance. Some were fit, few were playing and none were scoring.

Lee Dong-guk and Lee Chun-soo were soon heading back east after unsuccessful spells in England and the Netherlands respectively. Neither managed a league goal and, it is safe though cruel to say, neither will be missed by the fans left behind.

But there are always more willing to wander westwards in search of fame and fortune. Kim Do-heon has impressed for Premier League new boys West Bromich Albion. The ex-Seongnam star almost scored the best goal of the English season so far but his rocket shot from 30 metres bounced off the crossbar. His performances led the BBC to label him a ‘tenacious, technical and tidy player’.

Now he is injured after a freak accident in last week’s match at Middlesbrough. After just 20 seconds, Kim caught his cleats in the turf and twisted his knee. He was carried off in obvious pain. Korean TV network MBC was also distressed. Following the Korean practice of starting the broadcast a minute or two after kick-off, Kim had already left the field by the time viewers joined the action, leaving commentators unsure of how to explain the events.

Also unsure of how to deal with Kim’s absence is national team coach Huh Jung-moo. The player will be back in action some time in November and will miss South Korea’s crucial 2010 World Cup qualifier against UAE on October 15.

Another overseas absentee for that Seoul match next week is Park Chu-young. The striker joined Monaco on the last day of August and scored on his first day of action for the seven-time French champions. It is coach Huh's opinion that Park needs to spend more time adjusting to his new club instead of flying back east.

That doesn’t apply to Park Ji-sung’s of course. The Manchester United star scored in his first Premier League start of the season against Chelsea in September as he returned to fitness and then the team after a knee injury. That problem kept him out of South Korea’s opening World Cup qualification match against North Korea last month.

After that 1-1 tie and the criticism that followed it, coach Huh was never going to leave leave Park in England. He arrived at Incheon airport on Monday.

“It is right to say that Korean football is in crisis,” said Park, following the tradition of Korean overseas players returning home in strange headgear –a white bandage-style hat. Still, it was better than Seol Ki-hyeon's summer rice farmer look.



“However, this is a good chance to move forward. I aim to help the national team get a good result. If we win against UAE, we can prepare for the other games more comfortably. We have to collect three points.”

Crisis talk is premature but the game against UAE is not only must-win for the team; the coach’s future depends on it. A defeat will probably signal the end of Huh, who took the reins just before Christmas. A draw would cause problems and would put Korea on two points after two games – not a good start especially when one considers that the next tests are the toughest – trips to Iran and Saudi Arabia. These are not places where the Taeguk Warriors usually excel.

Before all that however is a warm-up match against Uzbekistan on Saturday in Suwon. The Central Asians are en route to a crucial World Cup qualifier of their own in Japan. After two defeats in their opening two games, the Uzbeks need a good result in Saitama.

That poor start cost coach Rauf Inilieev his job. That fact won’t be lost on Huh Jung-moo when the two teams take the pitch this weekend.

Copyright: John Duerden & Soccerphile.com

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Friday, October 3, 2008

All eyes on Chiba

An enthusiastic fan
All eyes will be on Chiba for the 28th round of the J. League as JEF United welcome Urawa Reds to the Fukuda Denshi Arena.

A month ago JEF United looked certainties for relegation, but Alex Miller's men have launched a late bid for salvation as the Chiba Dogs chase their fifth straight win in this match.

United have seen off Tokyo Verdy, Consadole Sapporo, Nagoya Grampus and Kyoto Sanga during that run of good form, and another win here could be enough to lift them out of the relegation/promotion playoff place.

They'll have a determined Urawa Reds standing in the way, and after drawing 2-2 at home to Kyoto Sanga in a rescheduled Round 26 fixture in midweek, the Reds will be looking to keep the pressure on league leaders Kashima Antlers when they travel to a sold-out 'Fukuari' for this blockbuster Sunday-afternoon encounter.

Relegation worries will be thick in the air on Sunday, with second-from-bottom Jubilo Iwata also desperate to take all three points off bottom club Consadole Sapporo at what should be a packed Yamaha Stadium in Iwata.

Tokyo Verdy travel to second placed Nagoya Grampus, meanwhile, fresh off a 3-1 home defeat to Gamba Osaka. Thousands of free tickets were handed out for that clash at Ajinomoto Stadium, but the quizzical newcomers amongst the 30,517 fans who turned out are unlikely to return after an insipid display from the home team saw them drop to within a point of the relegation/promotion playoff place.

Tokyo Verdy are struggling on and off the pitch
In the pick of the Saturday fixtures FC Tokyo host Shimizu S-Pulse in what is always a keenly-contested affair, with the capital club still harbouring ambitions of claiming a first ever J. League title. Hiroshi Jofuku's men are in sixth place in the table - just four points behind current league leaders Kashima.

Fifth placed Kawasaki Frontale will look to make up ground when they welcome second placed Oita Trinita to Todoroki Stadium, with Oita coach Pericles serving a touchline ban after being sent to the stands by referee Nobutsugu Murakami in Oita's most recent 1-0 defeat to Yokohama F. Marinos.

Elsewhere Gamba Osaka take on Kashima Antlers at Expo '70 Stadium in Osaka with both teams having recorded victories in rescheduled fixtures in midweek, while strugglers Omiya Ardija and Kashiwa Reysol face off at Omiya Park in a match that could also have implications on the relegation race at the foot of the table.

In J2 Sanfrecce Hiroshima have already been crowned champions, with Shonan Bellmare currently occupying the other automatic relegation place on goal difference from Montedio Yamagata, while Vegalta Sendai and Sagan Tosu sit a point further back, as the J2 promotion battle looks set to go down to the wire.

AFC Champions League

After Kashima Antlers were knocked out of the AFC Champions League by A-League outfit Adelaide United, defending Asian champions Urawa Reds and Gamba Osaka have been left to fly the flag for Japan.

The two will meet each other in one semi-final, with Adelaide United facing off with Bunyodkor of Uzbekistan in the other semi-final.

Security is likely to be tight for both legs of the Urawa - Gamba final four showdown, after serious crowd disturbances marred the league fixture between the Reds and Gamba at Saitama Stadium earlier this season.

The semi-final first legs will take place on October 8, with the return legs scheduled for October 22.

Japan name squad for World Cup qualifier

Takeshi Okada has named his squad for Japan's upcoming World Cup qualifier with Uzbekistan at Saitama Stadium on October 15.

Celtic star Shunsuke Nakamura joins VfL Wolfsburg midfielder Makoto Hasebe and Eintracht Frankfurt man Junichi Inamoto as a trio of European-based players called up, while youngster Shinji Kagawa of J2 outfit Cerezo Osaka has also been named.

Young strikers Shinji Okazaki of Shimizu S-Pulse, Shinzo Koroki of Kashima Antlers and Oita Trinita target man Yasuhito Morishima have also been called up, and they will be looking to take advantage of the Blue Samurai's well-documented problems in front of goal when they join fellow Beijing Olympics team-mate Masato Morishige in the squad.

Japan will take on the United Arab Emirates in a friendly at Big Swan Stadium in Niigata on October 9 in preparation for their final round World Cup qualifier with the Uzbeks.

Copyright © Michael Tuckerman & Soccerphile.com

J.League News

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Chelsea hoping to avoid upset while Liverpool expected to march on

Chelsea hoping to avoid upset while Liverpool expected to march on.
Not many people could have said before CFR Cluj were drawn for the Champions League that they had heard of the little Romanian team. Even fewer would have expected the result we saw on matchday 1 when they came away with a 2-1 victory against Roma in the Stadio Olimpico. In a week of upsets Chelsea will be hoping to avoid the same fate when they travel to Transylvania to take on the minnows in Group A. The Blues recorded an impressive victory over Bordeaux in their opening match, despite Luis Felipe Scolari feeling they could have done better on the night after a drop in effort during the second half.

In what will truly be a memorable occasion for Cluj hosting their very first Champions League game it seems that the stage is set for them to record another upset. With a truly international squad which contains eight Portuguese players they have every chance of walking away with something, even a draw would be seen as a victory against the rich west London club.

However Chelsea have become expert party poopers, despite their fairly sensational upset defeat to Barnsley last season in the FA Cup and previously their ability to lose to teams in Europe called Viking. The Blues have a knack of coming away from these games with all three points and the way they are playing this season you would have to be a brave man to bet against Chelsea.

Moving on to the other English team in action on Wednesday night and Liverpool look to have a fairly straight forward game against PSV Eindhoven at Anfield. On paper the Reds should be comfortable victors having won their opening game against Marseille and PSV having been taken apart by Atletico Madrid at home. Having said that PSV are currently second in the Eredivise and have only conceded two goals in the league so don’t expect a high scoring encounter.

Anfield on European nights provides Liverpool with the twelfth man and they some how always seem to overcome the opposition. Off the back of their Merseyside derby victory the Reds will be pumped up to show that they are real European contenders once again this year.

After Manchester United and Arsenal’s impressive victories last night both of the other English clubs will be keen to flex their muscles against perhaps inferior opposition. Despite some claiming that the Champions League is becoming predictable with the dominance of the Premier League sides these games tonight should not be considered formalities, despite the odds being stacked in the English sides favour. The Champions League betting shows that Chelsea are currently favourites but a defeat tonight for the Blues or Liverpool will certainly knock their confidence as well as their chances of escaping from the group stages.

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