Saturday, February 27, 2010

Maradona and Pelé’s decade of disagreement

Like grandparents bickering over the last biscuit in the barrel the two greatest footballers of all time are at it again.

This week Pelé made clear his view that Diego Maradona is not the right man to be leading Argentina to the World Cup in South Africa.

Speaking in Mexico, Pelé said that long serving AFA president Julio Grondona should never have given the role of head coach to Maradona.

“Maradona, as everyone says has no experience but it is not his fault, blame Mr. Grondona and the others who gave him the job.”

The Brazilian appeared to be shining the spotlight on an error by Grondona but he stopped short of giving Maradona’s coaching abilities any sort of endorsement.

“I think the whole controversy of Argentina’s classification was not the fault of Maradona. It is the first time he has worked as coach.”

Incidentally Pelé is not alone in thinking Maradona is not the man for the job as a survey last year showed 70% of the Argentine public would also rather see another coach take them to the World Cup.

It seems that Pelé and Maradona never miss the chance to put the boot into the other and these comments join the long list of existing jibes in the ongoing feud between the two.

Last year Pelé took another swipe as he claimed Maradona is not even the best player to come out of Argentina let alone the best player in the world.



While Pelé admitted the that Maradona was a great player it is Alfredo Di Stéfano who the Brazilian rates as the greatest Argentine footballer of all time.

“Maradona could not kick with his right foot and did not score with his head. The only time he scored an important goal with his head, he used his hand.”

On that occasion Pelé found few in Argentina agreeing with him, despite Di Stéfano’s record of 418 goals in 510 games for Real Madrid.

Pelé’s launched this attack in response to Maradona’s claims the same week that the Brazilian was less of a player for never testing himself in Europe’s top leagues.

“He won more World Cups but playing in Europe is another thing.”

While in Europe the Argentine guided Napoli to two Scudetto titles, the only Serie A wins in the club’s history. Pelé meanwhile never played for a European club, he did however come to prominence with his performances in Sweden during the 1958 World Cup.

When Pelé did eventually leave his homeland to play for New York Cosmos of the North American League he best days were already behind him. Maradona on the other hand still had plenty to give when he returned home from Italy to play for Boca Juniors.

The recent bickering between the two has put the bed the good feeling that was fostered between the two when Pele appeared on Maradona’s chatshow, La Noche del Diez, back in 2005.

On the show Pelé thanked Maradona for sympathising with his son who was in jail at the time for drug offences.

“You are an example for him because you are a conqueror. Your program is going out to the world, and I think together we can do many things in the world to help a lot of people.”

The love-in continued as the two greats of the game swapped national shirts, had a game of head tennis and even got the guitars out for an impromptu jam session.

After the show Maradona was cagy on the subject of which one of them really was the greatest player of all time.

“My mother says it was me and Pelé’s mother says it was him.”

Pelé’s appearance on the show was a surprise to the football community. A few years before both men had published autobiographies which contained disparaging remarks about the other.

In Maradona’s book, I Am Diego, he made the allegation that Pelé has lost his virginity during a homosexual relationship he had as a teenager.

This time Pelé chose not to respond, a move made out of respect to Maradona’s poor health at the time according the Brazilian’s close friend Celso Grellet.

“Maradona said that Pelé had a homosexual experience. It is not true, but Pelé is a big man and decided that he would not respond.”

“Pelé is heavily involved in the anti-drugs campaign, particularly the abuse of drugs in sport, and Maradona is clearly an ill man. Pelé thought it was best not to reply because no one could possibly take Maradona seriously.”

In his book Maradona put Pelé at number one in his list of his favourite footballers of all time. Although he honoured him as a great player Maradona felt Pelé let football down.

“As a player he had it all but didn't make the most of it to raise the status of football.”

Maradona highlighted Pelé’s lack of action on protecting the welfare of footballers.

“I'd have liked to see him put himself forward as president of an association to defend players’ rights like I did. I'd like to have seen him look after Garrincha and not let him die in misery. I'd like to see him fight the rich and powerful that are damaging football.”

Celso Grellet was quick to nonsense these claims as well and put the whole thing down to jealousy on Maradona’s part.

“There is no doubt that Maradona has made ludicrous allegations, the one about Pelé 's sexuality being just one of many, as a result of pure envy.”

One event which angered Maradona was when Argentine president Carlos Menem invited Pelé to his country. Grellet explains how Maradona’s nose was put out of joint by the Brazilian and the then serving president.

“Menem invited him to the country as his special guest because Pelé was his favourite player. It angered Maradona that the Argentine people might place Pelé above him.”

The decade of disagreement between the two also kicked off at the gala ceremony to award the duo the joint honour of FIFA’s Player of the Century. It was decided that both men would receive the award but Maradona had other ideas about how the night should go.

After picking up his award Maradona did not hang around on stage to welcome Pelé, instead the Argentine bolted for the exit.

“I didn't like the fact that I had to go on before Pelé. I just didn't like it. I grabbed my prize and left.”

With FIFA keen to acknowledge Pelé they came up with the idea of splitting the award after Maradona won the online poll by a distance. Maradona was at his controversial best as he accepted his award and then snubbed Pelé by fleeing.

“I dedicate this award to the Argentine people, Fidel Castro, my wife Claudia and all the players in the world that I love and respect. The people voted for me. I feel good in my head, serene. I'm happy and proud.”

By the time Pelé got to the platform Maradona was on his way to the airport, clearly in no mood to share his stage with anyone.

“I would have liked Maradona to be there to join me on the platform, but he had already left.”

So did FIFA make the right choice to award the Player of the Century to both men or should have Di Stéfano walked away with the honour?

Everybody has their own opinion on who comes out on top in the debate between Pelé and Maradona. If you happen to see either of them on the street both men will be happy to put forward their own case to anyone willing to listen.

© Tim Sturtridge & Soccerphile.com

2010 Super Cup kicks off J. League campaign

2010 Super Cup kicks off J. League campaign.
Just as it was last season, the traditional season opening Fuji Xerox Super Cup will be contested by two J. League sides that have plenty of experience standing on the winner's podium.

Kashima Antlers and Gamba Osaka will go head-to-head for the second consecutive year in the Super Cup, with Kashima looking for a repeat of their dominant 3-0 win last season.

Oswaldo de Oliveira's all-conquering side have won three J. League titles in a row, but the wily Brazilian tactician has brushed aside suggestions that his team will lack motivation in 2010.

The Ibaraki giants have strengthened their squad with the additions of former Kyoto Sanga stopper Lee Jung-Soo and burly Brazilian full-back Gilton from Albirex Niigata, and the pair are expected to slot straight into the side to face Gamba.

The Osakans ended last season by lifting the Emperor's Cup trophy at the National Stadium in Tokyo, and Akira Nishino's experienced outfit will hope to taste similar success on another brisk afternoon in the capital.

The Kansai side will have to do it the hard way, with Satoshi Yamaguchi, Tomokazu Myojin and Sota Nakazawa all struggling with injury following Gamba's bruising 0-0 draw away at K-League giants Suwon Bluewings in the Asian Champions League in midweek.

Kashima were also active in the Champions League in midweek, but they had an easier time of things at home to Chinese side Changchun Yatai, where a goal from Koji Nakata separated the two sides.

Former FC Basel man Nakata adds plenty of experience to Kashima's star-studded squad, but the undoubted jewel in the crown is scheming playmaker Mitsuo Ogasawara.

The veteran midfielder looked unstoppable on his way to being crowned the 2009 J. League Player Of The Year, and Kashima's mercurial captain will be desperate to showcase his talent in this marquee Super Cup match-up.

It may be considered little more than a glorified friendly by some, but with upwards of 35,000 fans expected to pile into the National Stadium to watch two of Japan's most successful clubs do battle, there could be fireworks on show as the new J. League campaign kicks off.

Copyright © Michael Tuckerman & Soccerphile.com

J.League News

Friday, February 26, 2010

Corinthians

Corinthians president Andrés Sanchez has a lust for glory

Three years ago Brazilian club Corinthians embarked on an ambitious project to fill an embarrassing hole in their trophy cabinet. Andrés Sanchez came into office as the president of Corinthians with a clear mandate to deliver the Copa Libertadores.

The situation back then was grim for the Corinthians with the club having suffered relegation to the second tier of the Brazilian league for the first time in their history. The signings of Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano a few years earlier had turned out to be yet another false dawn as irregular finances brought the São Paulo outfit to their knees.

Sanchez’s claims that the club would win the Copa Libertadores for the first time in their history in the coming years was met with bemusement in Brazil. Despite having a rich history and over 30 million fans in Brazil the team calling itself the Campeão dos Campeões has never tasted success in South America’s premier club competition.

The new president’s first move was to install Mano Menezes as head coach at Corinthians. The youthful coach had already proved himself fit for the task ahead by guiding Grêmio back to the Campeonato Brasileiro Série A after they themselves had suffered the misfortune of relegation.



Another achievement on Menezes’ CV which made him so appealing for Sanchez was Grêmio’s appearance in 2007 Copa Libertadores final, just two years after being promoted back to the top flight.

Lightening seems to be striking twice for Menezes at Corinthians as once again he won promotion to the Campeonato Brasileiro Série A at the first attempt. Menezes also brought home the regional Campeonato Paulista to Corinthians the following year just as he had won the Campeonato Gaúcho while at Grêmio.

The head coach of Corinthians then went on to plant an even bigger smile on the face of Sanchez as the club won the Copa do Brasil in July last year to book an early berth in this year’s Copa Libertadores.

This week Corinthians took their bow in the 2010 Copa Libertadores just three short years after suffering relegation. The fairytale dreamt up by Sanchez is one step closer to coming true with the added magic of this year marking Corinthians’ centenary of existence.

As well as drafting in Menezes the president of Corinthians has surpassed himself in the transfer market by pouring a generous helping of stardust on his team. Sanchez has proven very creative in securing his marquee signings with private companies queuing up to help out with the wage bill in return for endorsements.

The signing of Ronaldo was undoubtedly a gamble but it has already paid dividends for Corinthians. The three time World Footballer of the Year scored the goals to claim both the Campeonato Paulista and the Copa do Brasil and therefore a place in the Copa Libertadores.

Now Ronaldo’s fellow geriat-tico Roberto Carlos has signed up for the project. With the whole project geared around one successful Copa Libertadores campaign the age of these players is not the issue, one more season is all that is required.

While the former Real Madrid stars are household names across the world Sanchez has also been able to bring other players with a wealth of Copa Libertadores experience.

Creative midfielder Tcheco is a player Menezes knows well from his time at Grêmio and at 33-years-old he still has the game to unlock a well drilled defence.

Also in for this season is 35-year-old forward Iarley who won the Copa Libertadores and the FIFA Club World Cup with Internacional. Despite reaching the autumn of his career Iarley remains one of the most exciting players to watch in Brazil.

Another player who has been on the books at Corinthians for less than a year is the attacking Argentine Matías Defederico. At a mere 20-years-old Defederico is from a different generation than most of his team-mates but has proven he has the skills to keep up with the very best.

With signings of this calibre it is evident that Sanchez’s dream does not stop at merely wining the Copa Libertadores but doing it in style.

As it turned out Corinthians were less than inspiring in their Copa Libertadores opener this week as they came from behind to beat Uruguayan minnows Racing Club at home. A capacity Pacaembu was rocked when the visitors took the lead in the first minute through Martin Cauteruccio.

Corinthians responded 10 minutes later when clever play from Ronaldo and Tcheco created an opening for Elias to stroke the ball home and level the scores.

Elias is generally known for his work in the engine room but it was he who popped again with what turned out to be the game’s winning goal 20 minutes from time.

With three points in the bag Corinthians have taken an early lead in Group 1 of the Copa Libertadores. Another huge step has been taken on the road to glory for Sanchez and his centurions.

© Tim Sturtridge & Soccerphile.com

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Safari Tours of South Africa

Choose from one-day or multiple day safari-style tours of South Africa while in the country for the 2010 World Cup in June and July this summer.

Safari Tours of South Africa

Day Tours - Hluhluwe Imfolozi Game Reserve, St Lucia Estuary, Durban City Half Day Tour, Anglo-Zulu War Tour, Zulu Culture Tour.

Overnight Tours in South Africa - Sani Pass, San Rock Art, Sun City & Pilanesberg National Park Tour, Champagne Valley Central Drakensberg & Rock Art Tour, Tanzania & Kenya Tour.

Contact us to advertise your property for rent for FREE or low cost. You choose the plan to suit your budget.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Kewell going it alone

Australia.
Their names tripped off the tongue together for so long it's a strange feeling to think Mark Viduka is relaxing into unofficial retirement while Harry Kewell's career is undergoing a perfectly timed renaissance for club and country.

Viduka has not played for the Socceroos since 2007 and decided against keeping his European career going after his contract with Newcastle United ended almost a year ago. He's since divided his time between Croatia and Melbourne, and has given no indication of wanting to ever play again.

Meanwhile, Kewell's past 18 months in Turkey with Galatasaray could hardly have gone any more to plan.

In blazing contrast to his unhappy five-year spell at boyhood idols Liverpool, the 31-year-old's fitness has rarely been called into question, he is adored by the Gala supporters and has the confidence of coach Frank Rijkaard.

The golden boy of Australian soccer has come a long way since gambling on a move to the Turkish capital in 2008.

Kewell's burgeoning reputation in England was ruined on Merseyside. Nobody there recalls the Leeds United teenager who tore right-backs to shreds and snubbed Manchester United's interest to move to Anfield.

The Aussie winger is principally remembered for hobbling off midway through the first-half of the 2005 Champions League final in, all of places, Istanbul, jeered and heckled by his own supporters as he succumbed to another groin injury while Liverpool were being batted by rampant Milan.

Kewell was also substituted in the FA Cup final in 2006 with the same ailment, with those episodes and others leading Liverpool fans to conclude their £5 million signing was damaged goods and needed shipping out.

However, Kewell's improved fitness record since leaving England for Turkey has seriously undermined that opinion with Liverpool's medical staff coming under fire from his agent Bernie Mandic last month for their apparent poor treatment of him during his time there.

The platform for Mandic to make such a stinging attack has been laid by the buoyant Kewell's stunning impact at Gala.

He carefully managed to avoid too much criticism for contentiously joining the club Leeds fans love to loathe after two of their supporters never returned from the Uefa Cup semi-final clash in 2000. And ever since Kewell's individual performances have been on an upward trajectory.

In a recent interview with the Turkish Football Federation's monthly magazine, the Gala No.19 claimed to have been "reborn" since his transfer, while he now is considered by some supporters the most popular foreign player in Turkey since George Hagi.

That's some statement considering the Romanian playmaker won a Uefa Cup, European Super Cup and four league titles during his five years in Istanbul.

With Kewell approaching the end of his current contract in June, Galatasaray supporters have already started pleading with him to stay amid transfer rumours of a move by Marseille to take him to France, even setting up a website called www.staywithusharry.com dedicated to keeping him at the Ali Sami Yen stadium.

The left-footed winger or emergency striker says he's in no rush to leave after settling into Istanbul life. Domestically as strong as ever, Gala are also through to the last 32 in the Europa League, while in January Kewell was joined by compatriot Lucas Neill.

Following hot on the heels of Mandic's comments, there's a hint of irony surrounding Kewell's latest injury setback. He is currently sidelined with a groin tear, a problem that was first thought sufficiently serious to place his World Cup participation under a cloud.

The latest prognosis is that Kewell will return next month, and has been pencilled in to play for the Socceroos in their farewell match against fellow qualifiers New Zealand in late May.

Despite Tim Cahill's irresistible form in the Premier League with Everton and the fine displays of Mark Schwarzer, Kewell's name remains intrinsically linked with Australian football success in many corners of the world and he will again have a role to play in South Africa.

Socceroos coach Pim Verbeek's greatest concern heading into a group phase that has pitched Australia against Germany, Serbia and Ghana is the make-up of his strike force.

Verbeek's options are so limited , the temptation is to play Kewell , who scored a crucial goal in World Cup 2006 against Croatia, as a lone striker, similar to the way Rijkaard has occasionally used him this season at Gala.

How the Dutchman would love a fit and firing Viduka as the focal point of his attacks in South Africa. But he might just have to instead hope that Kewell can reproduce his club form in the green and gold in what's likely to be his last major international tournament.

Copyright © Marc Fox and Soccerphile.com

Monday, February 22, 2010

Happy Birthday Old Trafford

Soccerphile celebrates the 100th anniversary of one of English football’s most famous venues.

When Old Trafford opened its doors for the first time in February 1910, Manchester United were en-route to securing just their second ever league championship that May. Despite the optimism abound at the time, few spectators that were at the Theatre of Dreams’ inaugural game could have imagined the global phenomenon the Red Devils would one day become. Even fewer could have foreseen that the arena they were watching in would, a century later, be one of the most famous football venues in the world.

Manchester United came from humble beginnings, especially in respect to their stadia. The club’s first ground on North Road, Newton Heath can best be described as a ‘rustic’ style home. The ground’s changing rooms were a ten minute walk away at the Three Crowns pub and the pitch has was described as being ‘a bog at one end and rocky as a quarry at the other’ in an early match report. Bank Street, United’s second ground in nearby Clayton had an equally poor reputation. The stadium was near to a smoky chemical factory and had a terrible pitch too with very little grass. Walsall Town Swifts famously refused to play a game there in the 1890’s, such were the conditions.




Near bankruptcy in 1902 saw the bailiffs close Bank Street due to the club’s insolvency and it was at this time United were forced into a search for yet another home ground. It was in 1909 that the land Old Trafford stands on today was indentified and purchased, for the seemingly modest sum of £60,000.

Chairman John Henry Davies hired the renowned stadium architect Archibald Leitch, who designed other famous grounds such as Ibrox, Goodison Park, Roker Park and White Hart Lane, to build an arena for the club and allocated a budget of £30,000 for its construction.

The first stadium was designed to hold a similar capacity to today’s ground – around the 76,000 mark. Of course, much of this capacity was standing room only back then. It was old rivals Liverpool that were United’s first opponents at the Salford-based venue, resulting in a 4-3 win for the visitors on 19 February 1910.

The new stadium made an instant impression on the Football Association, who selected the venue as venue for a FA Cup Semi Final within months of it opening. A year later it hosted an FA Cup Final replay between Bradford City and Newcastle and in 1915 staged the famous ‘Khaki Cup Final’ – Sheffield United v Chelsea.

John Henry Davies vision for Old Trafford to gain international recognition was achieved in 1926 when England played Scotland at the ground. And in 1939, a record O.T attendance of 76,962 crammed into the Theatre of Dreams to watch an FA Cup Semi Final between Wolves and Grimsby.

Old Trafford had cemented its place in the heart of football supporters by the time the Second World War broke out in 1939. But tragedy was about to strike. During the conflict, the ground was to suffer extensive damage which rendered the venue out of action for eight years. German bombs fell on the stadium on two occasions – 22nd December 1940 and 11th March 1941. The second blast saw the main stand completely destroyed.

United were awarded a grant of £22,278 from the War Damage Commission which enabled Old Trafford to be rebuilt. While construction work took place the Red Devils played at rivals Manchester City’s old Maine Road ground until they were able to return to their re-built home ground in 1949.

Development work continued a pace at the stadium throughout the following decades. Floodlights were erected in 1957, allowing Manchester United to play night time fixtures. The most partisan of the four stands at Old Trafford - the Stretford End - had a roof installed in 1959 and in 1965 a new North Stand opened with the ground’s first executive boxes.

By the dawn of the Premier League in 1992, Old Trafford was one of the largest and most modern football stadiums in England. By 1993/94, the stadium had become all-seater, with the last standing area of the ground – the Stretford End – converted into a new £12m stand. Cantilevered roofing now swept the entire length of the stadium, now a perfect bowl arena. Five major expansion projects have since taken place. Firstly, the development of the £18.6m, four tiered, North Stand in 1996. A second tier of seating was added to the East Stand and Stretford End in 2000 and four years ago, the North-East and North-West quadrants of the stadium were filled in. The capacity of Old Trafford is now 75,957.

The continued changing appearance of Old Trafford over the decades is just one part of the stadium’s amazing life story. The colour, the noise, the fans and the players are all part of the Theatre of Dreams’ rich tapestry. As you think of the great ground’s history, names like Edwards, Busby, Charlton, Best, Giggs and Ferguson spring to mind.

There’s the thousands of memorable games. Denis Law’s back-heeled goal for Manchester City in 1974, which condemned United to relegation. A Bryan Robson inspired come back from two goals down to victory over Barcelona in the European Cup Winners Cup in 1984. The sight of Sir Alex Ferguson leaping onto the pitch in joy as Steve Bruce headed a stoppage time goal against Sheffield Wednesday in 1993 en-route to United’s first title since 1967. And of course the 7-1 drubbing of Roma in 2007.

Old Trafford has brought joyous and agonising moments for more than just Manchester United fans too. The most famous international ever to be played there is undoubtedly England’s 2-2 draw with Greece in 2001. A David Beckham free-kick deep into stoppage time secured a World Cup place for England, who had twice trailed. AC Milan fans have fond memories of the great old ground, as it was the scene of their 2003 Champions League triumph over old rivals Juventus.

Old Trafford’s worth even extends to non-football fans. Rugby League supporters have viewed the ground as their Mecca, ever since the Super League Grand Final was switched their in 1998. It also hosted the 2000 Rugby League World Cup final between Australia and New Zealand.

As 100 years of Old Trafford are celebrated this month, here’s hoping for another great century at the Theatre of Dreams.

© Andy Greeves & Soccerphile.com

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Premier League Play-Offs

Soccerphile explores more proposals for change in the English Premier League.

As Soccerphile has documented over the last few years, suggestions with regards to restructuring the Premier League have been plentiful. There was talk in 2008 of a 39th fixture being added to the annual schedule, with each club playing outside of England for this game. There were rumblings about the Old Firm (Rangers and Celtic) joining England’s elite league once again this season, while Bolton Phil Gartside also proposed the idea of a two-tier Premiership with no promotion or relegation outside of it.

The in-vogue discussion ahead of the next Premier League chairman’s meeting in April is of a play-off system being introduced which would see the clubs finishing between fourth and seventh battling for a spot in the Champions League. The idea behind such a move would be to inject more competition into a league that has seen the same four clubs – Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United – qualify for the competition from the Premier League for the past six seasons.

As with other potential areas of change that have been mooted over the past few years, there are supporters and detractors of this latest proposal. Perhaps unsurprisingly it is the current ‘chasing pack’ behind the Premier League’s ‘Big Four’ that have stepped forward to champion this suggestion. Tottenham boss Harry Redknapp believes that introducing a Champions League play-off system in the Premier League would increase excitement and work as well as the Football League Play-Offs. Aston Villa’s Martin O’Neill thinks the system would reinvigorate the aspirations of mid-table teams.




Liverpool manager Rafa Benítez has poured scorn over the ideas, believing more games would lead to players being exposed to great risk of injury and clubs “playing until the end of the century”.

"People should analyse carefully what they say and think before they put these ideas in the newspapers," Benítez told The Guardian newspaper. "Yes it is good for the papers and it's a good talking point but we have too many games and injuries as it is. We have to be realistic. We have too many injuries in all the top European sides because we play too many games and we have too many competitions. When are we going to play more games?”

The Premier League has refused to comment on the proposals, saying they only talk about advancements to the division when they are concrete. Opinion on the topic has been free flowing from every other quarter of the English game however and with so many pros and cons to the Premier League introducing this play-off system, it is clear why views are so split.
The success of the Football League Play-Offs is the strongest reason why this idea should be given real consideration. The system, though unpopular with some, has reinvigorated the lower divisions in terms of competitiveness. Even in the last week of a season, most clubs in the Football League are either in with a shout of promotion or battling against relegation. The Premier League meanwhile has become far more predictable with the top four spots usually decided by May and relegation issue usually a question of which three clubs from four will go down. For the remaining twelve or so clubs, there is very little motivation left towards the end of the campaign with no tangible goal to work towards.

The Premier League Play-Off system would mean that most teams would be heading the last weekend of the campaign with a massive prize to fight for. Middle table obscurity come March would be a thing of the past and the drama of the play-offs themselves would be immense. Suddenly clubs from outside the ‘Big Four’ would have an even greater chance of qualification for the Champions League. The play-offs would hopefully see different clubs in the competition, aside from the same four and crucially, ensuring the distribution of wealth in the division would become more balanced.

The arguments against the play-offs are strong though. The obvious first argument is why should a team that has finished seventh, maybe as many as 20 points behind the team in fourth be given a chance of playing in the Champions League? Indeed it raises the more salient point of should teams other than national champions actually be a part of this competition?
From a supporters’ point of view, as much as a play-off system would bring excitement for more clubs, there’s a cynical suggestion that this is just other way to make more money out of television revenue and gate receipts. With a number of key members of the Premier League’s executive committee so keen on a 39th game a few seasons back, one wonders whether this is just a dressed up version of that proposal?

While all this talk of restructuring the Premier League for the league and the club’s gain, Portsmouth FC are on the brink of becoming the first top flight team in English football to go into administration. West Ham United, by their own admission, are also in a grave financial situation. And there’s Liverpool and Manchester United who are competing in the Champions League despite debts to combined worth of over one billion pounds.

Maybe the real restructuring the Premier League should be focusing on is getting their own house in order. Wigan chairman Dave Whelan called for the debt culture in the league to be acted on by Football’s governing bodies this week and restricting clubs to borrowing no more than 25% of their annual turnover. This suggestion is something that should take precedence over the play-off idea for sure.

© Andy Greeves & Soccerphile.com

Friday, February 19, 2010

World Soccer News 19 February 2010

World Soccer News 19 February 2010.
World Soccer News for week of 2/19 Ozren Podnar reports

Plague of injuries torments Barcelona

An unprecedented wave of injuries and suspensions led to Barcelona's first defeat in the Spanish League and the first away defeat in all competitions this season. Four defensive players were injured and two suspended within a couple of days of the big match between Atletico Madrid and Barcelona at Vicente Calderon forcing Josep Guardiola to play winger Jeffren Suarez as the right full back.

Without Alves, Abidal, Toure and Chigrinski due to muscular injuries plus the red-carded Pique and Marquez, Barcelona lost 2-1, allowing Real Madrid to close the gap at the top to two points with 16 matches to go.

Not only did Barcelona lose the points but also two more players, as Keita and Xavi succumbed to – you've guessed – muscular injuries! The events led to an emergency meeting of Barcelona's medical staff in hope of ascertaining the causes of the players' muscles' fragility and preventing future casualties.


Buffon under fire for blaspheming

Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon has upset the religious part of the Italian public for his alleged swearing during the Juventus vs Genoa game. The sports programs have employed lip readers in order to clarify if Buffon took God's name in vain.

The public interest is due to the fact that in a couple of weeks swearing in soccer will become an offence punishable by a red card if the referee hears it, or with a ban if the foul language is captured on film.

The rule, approved by the FA, has not yet entered into force, but Buffon's apparent blaspheming against God has turned into an experiment for the media. The question on everybody's mind is how the soccer authorities will prove what exactly a player shouted just based on his lip movement or facial expression.

Buffon admitted that punishing somebody who offends God or the faithful may be the right thing to do, but failed to clarify what he himself said on the occasion and noted that the regulation would be hard to apply.

"I wonder who will be able to prove whether a player said Dio (Italian for God), Zio (uncle) or Dino," Buffon was quoted as saying.


Ovrebo and Hansson in action again

UEFA's human resources department is due for some heavy maintenance after the organization's controversial decision to name Tom Henning Ovrebo and Martin Hansson for last week's Champions League matches. 

Ovrebo made a name for himself last May when he singlehandedly stopped Chelsea from reaching their first Champions League finals by denying them at least three and possibly four good penalty claims against Barcelona. The Norwegian was also wildly wrong to send of Barcelona's Eric Abidal late in the second half. Still, good of UEFA to select him again to referee Bayern vs Fiorentina (2-1), where he showed that his eye for offside was just as acute as for penalties.

With a minute to go, Bayern's Ivica Olic headed the ball forward towards Miroslav Klose deep in an offside position for the German international to score the home side's winning goal. Since Klose was about two meters behind Fiorentina's defense, it is not clear what Ovrebo and his linesman were thinking when validating the goal.

Deep down south in Oporto the home crowd admired the performance by Sweden's Martin Hansson, the very same guy who denied Brazil a good goal in last year's Confederation Cup finals and overlooked Thierry Henry's handball in the World Cup qualifier between France and Ireland (1-1).

This time Hansson allowed Porto players to execute an indirect kick before Arsenal's defense had any chance to set up a wall or perhaps even to realize just what the ref had ruled. The play produced the second goal for Porto, who will travel to Emirates Stadium with an undeserved 2-1 advantage. Hansson also failed to award a clear penalty to Arsenal for a blatant foul on Rosicky.

And such a referee, inevitably, will be among the officials featured at the World Cup. Possibly because FIFA's human resources department belong to the same school of thought as their counterparts at UEFA.

Playoff to determine a CL berth in England?

According to UK press reports, the Premier League is studying a change in the qualifying system for the Champions League. The change would affect the fourth berth for the prime soccer competition, which is currently automatically awarded to the fourth placed team.

Under the proposed new regulations, the teams occupying the fourth through seventh position would play-off for the remaining spot in the Champions League. The playoffs would very much look like the post-regular season games in England's lower divisions between the teams placed from third to sixth in order to determine who goes up.

According to the proponents, the modification of the qualifying system would give added hope of reaching the European elite competition to a few more teams beyond the classic "big four" of Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool.

The Premier League apparently plans to discuss the measure at an assembly scheduled for April, while a spokesman for the organization declined to confirm or deny the reports regarding the proposed changes.

Advocaat not replacing Hiddink in Russia

Russia's debacle in the World Cup qualifiers against Slovenia put an end to Guus Hiddink's tenure as the national team coach, opening the floodgates to rumours as to who will succeed the Dutchman in one of the world's better paid jobs.

The Russian press claimed it would be another Dutchman with knowledge of the local game, Dick Advocaat. Still, the former Zenit Petrograd coach rejected the speculations saying no-one from the Russian FA has contacted him regarding the job. Even if they had, it would be highly unlikely that Belgium would release Advocaat from his current contract tying him to the Red Devils' squad.

On the other hand, the Turkish FA announced they had reached an agreement with Hiddink and that the ex-Chelsea manager will take over Turkey starting next July.

Previous World Soccer News

© Soccerphile.com

The Return Of The King?

South Korea.
It has started. Nobody is quite sure exactly when and where but the debate about whether Ahn Jung-hwan should play at the 2010 World Cup is well and truly underway.

The striker, now 34, was the hero of the 2002 competition when South Korea made it to the semifinals, scored the winning goal in 2006 to give his country a first-ever overseas victory at the world’s biggest tournament and, now, he could be on course for a third consecutive appearance. He is about to return to the national team set-up for the first time in 20 months for March's friendly with Ivory Coast in London.

Ahn's name featured in headlines around the world in that golden summer almost eight years ago. Just hours after scoring the goal that sent South Korea into the last eight of the World Cup and eliminated the much-fancied Italian national team, Ahn was fired from his Italian club team of Perugia. His header had greatly upset his club’s owner Luciano Gaucci.

“He was a phenomenon only when he played against Italy. I am a nationalist and I regard such behavior not only as an affront to Italian pride but also an offense to a country which two years ago opened its doors to him," Gaucci told the Italian media. "I have no intention of paying a salary to someone who has ruined Italian soccer.”

Unsurprisingly, Ahn left Italy in the summer of 2002. Since then, he has been something of a journeyman. He headed to Japan and Shimizu S-Pulse and Yokohama F Marinos. After those two successful spells, he has struggled to find the net. First he tried in France and FC Metz, Germany and MSV Duisberg and eventually returned home to Suwon Bluewings and then Busan I’Park.

The ‘Lord of the Ring’ (nicknamed so for his goalscoring celebration that involved kissing his wedding ring) went to China last year to play for Dalian Shide. After a tough start in the chilly northern port city, he enjoyed a reasonable season. He is now being talked about in the terms of a World Cup ‘joker’, a player who could be introduced late into a game with the intention of making a big impact in a short time.

Ahn’s winning goal against Togo in 2006 was his third World Cup goal, more than any of his compatriots have ever managed on the world stage. Those memories linger long. The thought of the wavy-haired striker doing so one more time against Argentina, Nigeria and Greece, has his fans excited.

The player is keeping his feet on the ground. "Until now, I haven't thought about it," he told Ilgan Sports earlier this month. "But it will be an honour if I am selected. I am happy if the coach thinks that I am a player that the national team needs.

"All football players want to play at the World Cup but the results of the national team have been good and I have hardly thought about going to the World Cup. There are many better players than me. I will just keep doing my best."

The excitement was ratcheted up a notch late last week as he scored a goal in a friendly game between Dalian and K-League club Gangwon FC. The header was witnessed by South Korea’s assistant coach Jung Hae-sung. He had been dispatched by head coach Huh Jung-moo to check on the Chinese-based hitman.

“I was very impressed with his attitude,” Jung was quoted as saying. “He appears to be ready to sacrifice himself for the good of the national team, even though he is a veteran.

“He was not 100 per cent fit but still managed to play the full match and score a goal. His movement around the box could improve but overall he put on a good performance.”

Huh said in January that he was keeping his, or at least Jung’s, eyes on Ahn and that the door is always open. The big test comes when the squad is named for the Ivory Coast match and according to the Korean media, the KFA have requested to Dalian that Ahn be made available.

The Lord of the Ring looks like he may have the chance to complete his World Cup trilogy.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Tented Accommodation in Gauteng

4000 tents available in a very secure tented town near four Soccer World Cup stadiums. Each tent is a four man tent which sleeps only up to two people for comfort. Mattress, pillow and electric lighting will be provided. Extra bedding can be purchased at the on-site 24hour shop or bring your own.

Tented Accommodation in Gauteng

In the village: big screen TV’s, transport to and from stadiums as well as airports, live entertainment, beer gardens, kiosks, ATM, food stalls with a huge variety of foods, curio shop, clean ablutions, etc.

Contact us to advertise your property for rent for FREE or low cost. You choose the plan to suit your budget.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

China Crisis Then Tokyo Tonic

South Korean football.
It has been a roller-coaster week for South Korean football. The final week of the Year of the Cow started well, the hump was very difficult to get over but the first day of the Year of the Tiger brought a smile to a nation returning home after the holidays.

The East Asian championships provide three games in quick succession. The biennial tournament held in Tokyo this time, started with an easy 5-0 victory over Hong Kong, continued with a much-lamented 3-0 loss at the hands of China but ended with an entertaining 3-1 win against old rivals Japan in the backyard of the Blue Samurai – the packed National Stadium.

The Hong Kong thrashing was expected but the defeat against China was hard to swallow. Since the two teams first met back in 1978, South Korea had never lost to its giant neighbor to the west. In 27 games, Korea had won 16 and drawn 11. That is some hoodoo. So much so that the Chinese media came up with the concept of 'Koreaphobia’ to try and explain the problem.

But there was no such burden for the Chinese in Tokyo. Yu Hai headed his team in front after five minutes after being given the freedom of the penalty area, Gao Lin took advantage of a schoolboy error from Kwak Tae-hwi midway through the half to extend China’s lead and then, Deng Zhuoxiang scored an impressive third in the second half, dancing round desperate challenges from the Korean defense. The Chinese media was jubilant.

Korean netizens, never slow to form opinions and never shy to express them, were disconsolate. The name ‘Hiddink’ could be heard above the din as a replacement should Huh get the boot. The general consensus though was that, with less than four months before the World Cup is due to start, the time for experimenting was over and that, above all, it was time to get the backline sorted out. For all three Chinese goals were preventable. Such games occur now and again to any team but coming after two years after of unconvincing defending, it was almost the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Huh’s words at the time didn’t make anyone feel better. "That unbeaten record had to end one day," Huh told reporters. "But we had a few players come into the side who weren't in tune with the way we play.

"I'm not afraid. We have to accept the result against China, analyse our mistakes and fix them in time for the Japan game."

Japan had problems of its own. A pre-tournament 0-0 draw with Venezuela was followed by a similar stalemate against China. That game saw the team jeered off the field by fans in Tokyo. Japan coach Takeshi Okada insisted his team was improving but losing 3-1 against a young and fairly inexperienced Korean team means that he will be in for a tough few weeks in the build-up to the World Cup.

It has already started and Okada was forced to declare that he was not going anywhere.

"As I've said before, me and the coaching staff are under contract with the [Japan Football Association] whether we win or lose. It's up to the president and the technical committee to decide my place here.

"I have no intention of bailing out on my players as long as they are behind me."

Huh will now be fine. It wasn’t a pretty win in Tokyo but it was an effective one. It also showed character as the young Taeguk Warriors fell a goal behind to a Yasuhito Endo penalty in the first half. By half-time however, the reds were ahead thanks to a Lee Dong-gook penalty and a deflected shot from young FC Seoul star Lee Sung-ryeol. Late in the game Kim Sung-jae won the game with a fine strike from outside the area.

The win meant that Korea finished second behind China.
"We didn’t achieve our objective of winning the competition so I apologize to the fans,” said Huh. “We may have some difficulties at the moment as we are trying out lots of players. We are discovering some good domestic-based players but I can’t say who. We will watch them in the K-League and then decide.”

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

From bad to worse for Takeshi Okada

Japan.
It may not have been delivered in so many words, but Japan coach Takeshi Okada received the dreaded 'vote of confidence' after surviving showdown talks with the Japan Football Association on February 15.

An emergency meeting was convened after Japan's 3-1 humbling at the hands of Korea Republic in the East Asian championships in Tokyo - a result that prompted a public backlash the following day.

Hundreds of Japan supporters phoned JFA House to demand Okada's sacking, but the erstwhile Yokohama F. Marinos coach has once again received the support of JFA chief Motoaki Inukai.

"I know that the media is calling for Okada to be fired, but it is a big risk to make such a change to a team that has been three years in the making just because of one or two results."

"I don't think it would improve the team only four months before the World Cup," writes Inukai on the JFA website.

While Inukai continues to brush aside suggestions that Okada should be removed from his post, many Japan fans are downcast about their team's chances at the upcoming World Cup finals.

An overwhelming majority believe that Japan will make a first round exit in South Africa, and recent performances have done little to lighten the mood.

Time is fast running out for Okada to wring some decent displays from his under-performing team, with morale seemingly at an all-time low under the struggling tactician's regime.

Japan's next game is at home to Bahrain in an Asian Cup qualifier on March 3, where the Samurai Blue will be desperate to put their indifferent form behind them and build some momentum ahead of the World Cup.

Copyright © Michael Tuckerman & Soccerphile.com

J.League News

FA Cup Quarter Final Draw

Chelsea v Manchester City or Stoke City
Fulham v Bolton Wanderers or Tottenham Hotspur
Reading or West Brom v Crystal Palace or Aston Villa
Portsmouth v Birmingham City
(Matches to be played on March 6 and 7).

FA Cup

Editorial February 2010

Editorial February 2010.
Bridge too far?

If people thought that the John Terry scandal was to be the most stringent assessment of Fabio Capello's reign of the English national team, they obviously hadn’t counted on a World Cup-threatening injury to Ashley Cole this week.

Capello, already a media darling with the tabloids, was roundly applauded by all sections of the press for how he reacted to the allegations of Terry's dalliance with the ex of England team-mate Wayne Bridge.

Like Sepp Blatter, Capello was expected to turn all Silvio Berlusconi, shrug his shoulders and privately slap the back of his humbled skipper. It's what managers all across the Mediterranean would have done according to the irrepressible Fifa chief.

But the Italian didn’t. He waited, pondered, most likely sought the counsel of FA bigwigs and even gave Terry a whole 12 minutes of air time before quietly explaining that the Chelsea captain's dreams of holding aloft the World Cup trophy this June were history.

So, that done, Capello's stocks with the English public rose further still.

Fast forward 72 hours, however, and what had seemed a crisis averted was starting to look like one approaching.

Cole, Capello's first choice left full-back for South Africa and one of the most improved players under Blues coach Carlo Ancelotti this season, broke his left ankle in a challenge with Everton's Landon Donovan and has undergone immediate surgery, placing his World Cup participation in serious doubt.

And guess who's been Cole's automatic replacement over the past eight or so years: Wayne Bridge.

Although not as dynamic going forward as the former Arsenal man, Bridge last deputised for Cole in England's previous international game – against Brazil in November – and also played three times during World Cup qualifying when Cole was absent.

The 29-year-old Manchester City defender has been regularly involved in England squads since his debut in 2002 and is without question Cole's natural replacement despite the claims of Aston Villa's Stephen Warnock and Everton's Leighton Baines.

But Capello's dilemma over involving Bridge in his build-up to the World Cup has intensified this week with Cole's injury.

Even before the news of Terry's infidelity became public knowledge this month, the Italian coach must have already pondered whether to take a second specialist left-back to South Africa in his 23-man squad.

Would Bridge be required in the finals? What could he offer as a back-up squad member?

Remember, Capello will already be taking Gareth Barry, who has previously and could in an emergency fill in, not to mention Matthew Upson and the increasingly versatile James Milner, who finished in the left-back position against Belarus last October after Bridge went off injured.

Then the news of Terry's affair with Bridge's former girlfriend and the mother of his child breaks.

Capello knows he wants to ditch Terry as captain, but dropping him from the squad altogether in unthinkable.

But could England's buoyant national team harmony be salvaged by quietly letting Bridge slip out of contention? Might it be best for all concerned if Bridge was conveniently overlooked in preference of Villa's in-form Warnock?

Capello will select his squad for England's next international against Egypt on March 3 in a couple of weeks and with Bridge only just back in Manchester City's line-up after a two-month absence because of a knee injury, and Cole in fine form, he might have legitimately been able to leave Bridge's name off his list.

And he still might, although the decision will be the truest test of Capello's mettle just three-and-a-half months out from England's World Cup opener against the United States on June 12.

Bridge has not yet made known his feelings towards playing alongside Terry for the Three Lions, but he is committed to continuing for England according to club boss Roberto Mancini.

And if there's any good news to come out of Cole's likely absence from his third World Cup it's that it might force an even quicker resolution to the row. Perhaps Terry, Bridge and Capello sitting down for a clear-the-air meeting sooner rather than later is the best resolution yet.

Copyright © Soccerphile.com

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Europe closes in on World Cup 2018

Blatter.The field in the race to host the World Cup in 2018 has narrowed slightly over the past few days.

Firstly, FIFA President Sepp Blatter hinted that the sport's governing body is moving towards changing the rules to ensure the next-but-one World Cup will take place in Europe, a rumour confirmed by the Daily Telegraph's Paul Kelso today.

An all-European field for 2018 of England, Spain/Portugal, Belgium/Netherlands and Russia would in turn make 2022 a fascinating global scrap between football's ne
w frontiers, with the USA taking on Japan, Qatar, Australia, Indonesia and South Korea.

The bookies have consistently ranked England as favourites for 2018 with Spain/Portugal in second place and Australia in third, so an Antipodean withdrawal would bump Russia up into contention behind the Western Europeans. The Russians, like Australia, are spending generously on their candidature, but are yet to win over the lion's share of FIFA's 24-man Executive Committee, who will make the final decision.

The Iberian bid's has the influence of FIFA Vice-President Ang
el Maria Villa Llona to count on, while the outsiders have finally given their bid a kick-start by bringing some big names on board.

Ruud Gullit has been named the President of the Dutch/Belgian bid,
which has finally enlisted the notoriously single-minded Johann Cruyff, alongside a litany of low countries legends including Marco Van Basten, Dennis Bergkamp, Johann Neeskens, Enzo Scifo, Rene van de Kerkhof, Paul van Himst, Hans van Breukelen and Ronald Koeman.

I doubt they can win the hosting rights, but their bidding team could sure as hell beat any of the others at football.

The hosting rights for 2018 will be decided in December of this year.



(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Arnold makes Mariners move

Australia.
Graham Arnold's decade-long involvement with the Australian national team will end after this year's World Cup finals after he accepted the opportunity to return to club management with the A-League's Central Coast Mariners.

After becoming assistant coach to Frank Farina in 2000 and spending an unhappy 18-month spell in caretaker charge of the Socceroos, the Mariners job will be Arnold's first full-time domestic managerial responsibility when he replaces Lawrie McKinna next season.

Arnold, who is contracted to the Central Coast until 2013, previously spent almost three seasons as the player/manager of Northern Spirit in the former national league after ending his playing career.

He holds an 'A' coaching licence and is studying towards his FFA pro coaching licence, the highest level in Australia, making the 47-year-old Sydneysider one of the most qualified coaches in the country. He was also in charge of the under-23s' campaign for the Beijing Olympics.

Yet questions have persisted about his suitability to managing senior professionals after a chequered 15-match stint in charge of the Socceroos between Guus Hiddink leaving after the 2006 World Cup and Pim Verbeek arriving.

Despite suffering an embarrassing defeat by lowly Kuwait in only his second game in charge, Arnold turned a caretaker role into a full-time position after his first six months in the job. But he was only ever thought to be babysitting the team and failed to convince in the 2007 Asian Cup as Australia lost a quarter-final meeting with Japan on penalties.

The Socceroos were considered by some pre-tournament favourites in their maiden competitive foray in the AFC. But they were handed a shock loss by eventual champions Iraq in the group stage, after which Arnold publicly criticised his senior players' commitment and refused to accept any blame for the defeat.

His 15 matches in sole charge yielded five defeats excluding that penalty shootout loss to Japan.

When Verbeek was hired in early 2008, Arnold reverted back to his role as one of the Dutchman's two assistants in addition to his running of the Olyroos campaign leading into the Beijing Olympics.

However, he also came under fire for his management of the under-23s, especially after some startling omissions from the final squad – including Nathan Burns, Bruce Djite, Dario Vidosic and David Williams – pre-empted a first round exit.

Despite all Arnold's national team baggage, Verbeek maintained the Mariners were "very fortunate" to have him as coach and that the players "will benefit greatly from his knowledge and experience".

Arnold certainly has a wide contacts list after spending a large chunk of the past 18 months rendezvousing with European-based players on behalf of Verbeek and it will come as little surprise if a handful of his former under-23s return from Europe next season.

What's certain he'll oversee some widespread changes of a playing roster among the most consistent in the league. Indeed, even before the current A-League season has finished, Socceroos defender Dean Heffernan has committed to joining new franchise Melbourne Heart next season while Nigel Boogaard is off to Adelaide and second string goalkeeper Andrew Redmayne to Brisbane.

The club's management reshuffle was announced after the Mariners' finals hopes were extinguished in Perth but it has been a long time in the making.

McKinna made it clear he wanted to step back from the day-to-day responsibility of the team and heartily endorsed Arnold as his successor. The foundation club were inaugural premiers and twice grand finalists under McKinna, but missed the playoffs for the first time this year, that after a humbling AFC Champions League campaign in 2009.

Copyright © Marc Fox and Soccerphile.com

Catcalls continue for embattled Okada

Catcalls continue for embattled Okada.
If Japan coach Takeshi Okada wanted a tough run out for his players at the fourth East Asian championships in Tokyo, he's got it.

As the jeers rained down on the Samurai Blue from all quarters of Ajinomoto Stadium following their scoreless draw with China last Saturday, Okada could have been forgiven for cracking a wry smile.

Japan's friendly schedule in the build-up to the 2010 World Cup finals has been blasted by those who claim that a lack of genuinely competitive fixtures continues to hamper the national team.

However, there's no lack of competition at the four-team East Asian championships - although the hosts will be expected to hammer Hong Kong at the National Stadium on Thursday.

Shorn of their overseas stars - coach Okada selected an entirely local-based squad for the tournament - last weekend Japan found themselves unable to breach Yang Zhi's goal in front of a partisan Tokyo crowd.

Things would have been even worse had veteran goalkeeper Seigo Narazaki not saved Yang Hao's weak penalty attempt with eight minutes remaining.

The 0-0 stalemate was the second in a matter of days, after Japan turned in an insipid display in a scoreless draw with Venezuela in friendly in Oita on February 2.

Now the Samurai Blue turn their attentions to a Hong Kong side that was thrashed 5-0 by Korea Republic in their opening match, with coach Okada no doubt hoping that his strikers can rediscover their goal scoring form against the South-East Asian minnows.

Despite claiming that his team are capable of reaching the semi-finals in South Africa, Okada remains a largely unloved figure in his home country.

His blustering predictions belie frustratingly cautious tactics that have left fans despairing for a consistent goal scorer who can finish off Japan's often intricate build-up play.

Unless Okada unveils a regular goal scorer, Japan could be on the first plane home from South Africa rather than troubling the big guns in the knock-out stage.

The clash with Hong Kong represents the first step in rehabilitating Okada's fading image, however a much tougher test awaits.

On Sunday the hosts meet arch-rivals Korea Republic in a Valentine's Day blockbuster, and more catcalls await should Japan fail to win - and win convincingly - against their bitter East Asian foes.

Copyright © Michael Tuckerman & Soccerphile.com

J.League News

Sunday, February 7, 2010

UEFA Euro 2012 Qualifying Draw

UEFA EURO 2012 Qualifying Draw (top seeds in bold)

Group A: Germany, Turkey, Austria, Belgium, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan

Group B: Russia, Slovakia, Eire, Macedonia, Armenia, Andorra
Group C: Italy, Serbia, N.Ireland, Slovenia, Estonia, Faroe Islands
Group D: France, Romania, Bosnia-Hrzg., Belarus, Albania, Luxembourg
Group E: Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, Hungary, Moldova, San Marino
Group F: Croatia, Greece, Israel, Latvia, Georgia, Malta
Group G: England,
Switzerland, Bulgaria, Wales, Montenegro
Group H: Portugal, Denmark, Norway, Cyprus, Iceland
Group I: Spain, Czech Rep., Scotland, Lithuania, Liechtenstein


The nine group winners and best runner-up qualify automatically. The eight remaining second-place teams play-off to decide the final four qualifiers. Ties take place between September 2010 and November 2011.

PALACE OF CULTURE & SCIENCE, WARSAW
Like Georgia & Russia, Armenia & Azerbaijan could not be drawn against each other for political reasons, so it was a humorous moment when Polish soccer legend Zbigniew Boniek kick-started the afternoon by drawing the Caucasian neighbours against each other.
Boniek picked the teams along with compatriot Andrzek Szarmach and Ukrainian legends Oleg Blokhin and Andriy Shevchenko.

Little stirred amongst the watching press pack and UEFA blazers until the final pot containing Europe's big guns was opened. Germany will renew acquaintances with two familiar countries it knocked out of Euro 2008 - Austria and Turkey. The clash with Turkey is sure to be hot one given the huge Anatolian expat presence in Germany; Belgium will hope to sneak in behind these neighbourly disputes as it seeks to become one of the major European footballing nations again, as it was in the 1980s.

Group B's drawing provided the biggest sighs in the hall as all neutrals were p
raying for a repeat of France against the Republic of Ireland. Russia were drawn instead and will be eager to bounce back after missing the boat for South Africa; Slovakia, the only World Cup qualifier among them, provide the main opposition to those two.

Italy's Marcello Lippi chose to stay at h
ome, leaving Angelo Petruzzi to answer questions, and Lippi will be pleasantly surprised, although World Cup qualifiers Serbia and Slovenia will provide real tests for the Azzurri away from home.

France in reality got lucky with a kind draw:
Romania and Bosnia-Herzegovina are far from the worst teams they could have faced.

Group E should be no trouble for the Netherlands, while Sweden and Hungary renew acquaintances after their mutually unsuccessful World Cup qualifying attempts. Sweden also have a Scandinavian border derby wi
th Finland to look forward to.

Euro 2004 winners Greece have an even chance of r
eturning to the finals having been drawn into a balanced-looking group containing Croatia, Israel, Latvia and Georgia, while England will be confident of topping Group G ahead of Switzerland. Fabio Capello's men also have a mini return to the days of the Home Championship with Wales to play twice.

Winning Group H looks tough for Portugal, who struggled in the World Cup qualifiers; Carlos Queiroz is surely hoping the local derbies between Denmark and Norway end in two ties. Finally, reigning champions Spain should have safe passage from Group I where the Czechs and the Scots will battle it out for second place.


Europe's middle-ranking nations still provide the occasional shock such as Ukraine's quarter-final finish in the 2006 World Cup or Turkey's semi-final run at Euro 2008, but there do not seem to be enough sleeping giants to call any of the groups a group of death. As of now, the lineup for 2012 right now looks like being the cast of usual suspects.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile 

World Soccer News 7 February 2010

World Soccer News 7 February 2010.
Ozren Podnar reports

The only 1930 WC survivor celebrates 100th birthday

The former Argentinian player Francisco Varallo, the only survivor from the first World Cup finals in 1930, turned 100 last Friday. Varallo was the youngest member of Argentina's squad that got beaten 4-2 by Uruguay in the decisive match at the Centenario stadium in Montevideo.

Varallo, called "Canoncito" (Little Cannon) was born on February 5th of 1910 in La Plata, 50 km south of Buenos Aires, and until recently held the scoring record for Boca Juniors with 194 goals, until overtaken by Martin Palermo last year. With Boca, Varallo played for nine seasons winning three championships and five top-scoring titles.

"I remember that final match quite well. It was a tough game in which the Uruguayans overwhelmed us. We went 2-1 up, but ended up losing 2-4. We had a great team but some of the players lost stamina in the second half. I believe I should not have played that match because I was too young and inexperienced and also could not run due to a knee injury," Varallo told the media, while Argentina celebrates the jubilee of one of the countries heroes.

The plaudits include the creation of the award labelled "For career and chivalry", which will be presented to the veteran next Friday.

John Terry stripped of captaincy over sex scandal

England manager Fabio Capello punished John Terry for his umpteenth sex romp by removing him as captain. The Chelsea defender came under the scrutiny of the British tabloids over his affair with Vanessa Perroncel, who is the former companion of England teammate Wayne Bridge. Their relationship was crowned with Vanessa's pregnancy, which was terminated in agreement with Terry.

Terry's role as the captain was first questioned by sport minister Gerry Sutcliffe, who observed that "a captain's responsibilities reach beyond the field of play." The defender's fate was sealed when Capello travelled to London to visit him and resolve the captaincy issue in direct talks.
Terry was promoted to team leader by Steve McClaren in 2006, and was confirmed in the role by Capello when the Italian took over in early 2008. His successor is Rio Ferdinand, until now Terry's deputy as appointed by Capello.

In the meantime the press has compiled an enviable list of Terry's erotic conquests, which has singled out the Chelsea man as one of the top Casanovas in the country.

Jose Mourinho not taking over at Real

The media have again placed Jose Mourinho in the context of coaching Real Madrid since their president Florentino Perez is not satisfied with Manuel Pellegrini's work. The allegations meant that Mouringo's agent Jorge Mendes had an exhausting Friday having to deny his client's intentions of leaving the Italian champions Inter's bench.

"I have heard Mourinho say on several occasions that he would respect his contract. Real rumours? They are not surprising, because most journalists tend to publish some kind of fantasy all the time," said Mendes.

"It is obvious that Mourinho is doing fine at Inter, where he has a great team. Therefore I'm asking you why he would leave?"

Inter have yet again built a solid lead on top of the Serie A table and are likely to wrap up their fifth consecutive Italian title, which would equal Juventus' and Torino's "ancient" records.

Salvador Cabanas' condition improving

The Paraguayan international Salvador Cabanas has surprisingly improved twelve days after being shot in the head in a Mexico City bar. Still with the bullet lodged in his skull in an apparently harmless position, Cabanas is capable of sitting up, taking his own food and exchanging a few words. Among those is his desire to improve in order to take part at the World Cup in South Africa.

That may be slightly too optimistic, as the doctors are very happy that the Paraguayan has come this far in view of the severity of his wound.
"He speaks, obeys orders and moves his extremities without a major problem," said the surgeon Enrique Martinez, who performed the operation on the player's head.
There is no infection usually associated with bullet wounds, but there is still some presence of blood in the ventricular cavity, which required the doctors to set up a draining system "for the sake of safety," added the doctor.

The Mexican authorities have attempted to interview Cabanas over the incident, but the doctors have estimated he is still uncapable of making a full statement regarding the circumstances of the shooting.

Zlatko Kranjcar named Montenegro coach

Former Croatia national team manager Zlatko Kranjcar has taken over Montenegro on Friday after accepting FA chairman Dejan Savicevic's offer. Tottenham's Niko Kranjcar's father said he welcomed the new opportunity with enthusiasm, hoping to take Montenegro to Euro 2012 just as he did Croatia to the 2006 World Cup.
"Our common goal is to make a step further in comparison to what Montenegro did so far. I am well acquainted with the team's qualities and we'll try to achieve the best possible result", said Kranjcar, whose achievements include two League and Cup doubles with Dinamo Zagreb and one League with NK Zagreb, probably the biggest upset in the history of Croatian club competition.
"We managed to hire a coach with great experience at all levels," said Savicevic. "I am convinced we made a great choice and that our national team will be a tough competitor in the second qualifying cycle in our history."

A whole lotta bother on Platini's plate

A whole lotta bother on Platini's plate.
WARSAW, EURO 2012 Qualifying Draw

As if worrying about Ukraine's hotels, roads and airports was not enough, UEFA President Michel Platini had other questions to answer in his press conference on the eve of the European Championship qualifying draw.

Depressingly, four separate English journalists asked him the same question in different wording about John Terry's sex scandal, speciously implying a parallel with the one in 1982 when France sent Jean-Francois Larios home from the World Cup after he had been seeing Platini's wife.

Thankfully the French legend was made of stronger stuff than to lower himself to those hacks' baiting, but seemed to lose patience eventually by replying 'I really don't care', which was met by applause by some non-Anglo writers. Platini did deflect a question about misbehaving rich stars by alluding to his plan to ban insolvent clubs from UEFA competitions.
"What annoys me are the clubs who pay these high salaries when they don’t have the money," he made a point of telling the hall.

Platini had started the press conference by referring to the continued uncertainly over the host nations' suitability in many eyes. "We are working on it...these things will develop," he semi-reassured the gathered media, whose experience of snowbound Warsaw has probably been a shock after the effortless charm of Vienna in the summer of 2008.
After many deadlines, the eight venues are now at last "final" according to Platini, but one journalist still asked if Krakow, with its tourist infrastructure, might not yet replace one of the Ukrainian venues: The UEFA President said that was a matter for the national associations.

The spread of stadia still looks daunting. In the media guide, train journey times are listed with the transfer between Gdansk and Donetsk taking a whopping 30hours at best...

Then came the question of extra referees, with Platini defending his preference for more referees over more use of cameras.

"I'm really a fan of the human method (of refereeing) rather than the technological method," he explained, adding he didn't want to let cameras run the officiating and noting that basketball had added extra officials over time.

This led inevitably to Thierry Henry and Platini was quick to defend the referee in question from opprobrium:

"
The ref could not see a hand," he said. "It was a problem of refereeing rather than the referee – he is not to blame, though you could all see it on television."

A rematch between the French and Irish in the qualifiers is one he would welcome, however. "Yes, I would love that," Platini smiled.

In reality that would not produce anything like the sort of tension which led UEFA to extraordinarily add two political caveats to tomorrow's draw: Old enemies Armenia and Azerbaijan cannot meet each other and neither can Georgia and Russia, following their military fracas two years ago.

The introduction of what he called "geopolitics" into football was interesting. Russia's looming presence as former guardian of Ukraine and the controller of Europe's gas supplies has allegedly been the reason Ukraine kept its hosting prize when it looks in no shape to be ready in time.

"To avoid political problems, we don't want to mix sport up with politics," explained Platini, in self-conscious equivocation. What was that draw caveat if not political then?
Platini has a lot on his plate all right, but seems well able to manage.

Shortly having taken over the job from Lennart Johansson, Platini confessed,

"I quickly realised I was dealing with different mindsets and different philosophies, from Siberia all the way to Portugal."

53 nations' coaches will assemble tomorrow in the Palace of Culture and Science, although Italy's Marcello Lippi will apparently not be there because he wants to watch Serie A games.

Unusually, some qualifiers will be played on Fri/Tues instead of Sat/Weds for 2012, but otherwise the format is familiar with six graded pots of teams to select six groups of six and three of five. The nine group winners and best runners-up qualify automatically and the remaining eight runners-up have playoffs to decide four teams to go through. Poland and Ukraine qualify automatically as hosts.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile