Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Fifa World Rankings April 2010

Rankings by FIFA.
Fifa's World Rankings were announced today. Spain stay in top spot in this month's Fifa world rankings. Brazil are second followed by the Netherlands, Portugal, Italy and Germany.

Spain and Brazil are among the bookies' favorites to win the World Cup next summer.

England are in 7th place, up one spot. Argentina are 9th.

France are in 8th. Egypt is the highest African team in 14th. The USA rise two positions to 16th spot.


1 Spain
2 Brazil
3 Netherlands
4 Portugal
5 Italy
6 Germany
7 England
8 France
9 Argentina
10 Croatia
11 Greece
12 Russia
13 Chile
14 Egypt
15 Serbia
16 USA
17 Mexico
18 Uruguay
19 Australia
20 Cameroon

Full world rankings

Previous month's Fifa World Rankings

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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

South Korea Strikes Back Against China

South Korea Strikes Back Against China.
It turns out that ‘Koreaphobia’ is a condition not easily cured. For South Korea and China, this week is the ‘decider’. The two neighbours have crossed swords twice this year already with the score resting at 1-1. Events over the next 48 hours will determine which nation emerges as the winner.

The Koreans have long had the upper hand when it comes to the beautiful game. In 32 meetings between the two national teams, China had never won. Such a woeful record gave rise to the pseudo-psychological condition that described the fear of playing Korea. It was a term coined in the Middle Kingdom but taken up with gusto in the Land of the Morning Calm.

That all changed on a February evening in Tokyo when China shocked the Asian Tigers with a 3-0 win. The result wasn’t flattering in the least and it could easily have been more.

The victory was the best moment for Chinese football since they reached the 2004 Asian Cup final. It was greeted with a hail of happy headlines on the west side of the Yellow Sea and provoked gloom, doom and much soul-searching over on the east. Only a 2-0 win over Ivory Coast a month later lightened the mood ahead of the World Cup - that and last week’s results.

The Asian Champions League reached the halfway stage and as it did so, Korea’s four representatives in the competition met China’s quartet. Each of the eight groups contains four teams with the top two progressing to the second round. It was a clean sweep for Korea as all four K-League teams triumphed against Chinese Super league opposition.

Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma started the week coming back from a goal down at home against the Chinese champion. Beijing Guoan took the lead in the first half due to former Scotland international Maurice Ross but the Yellows hit back with three goals in the final twelve minutes to win 3-1 and stay on course for the second round.

Two hours later, Suwon Bluewings recorded a vital 2-0 victory in the Chinese province of Henan to cement its place at the top of Group G. A similar result in Wednesday’s return match at Suwon World Cup Stadium will likely see Cha Bum-keun’s team reach the knockout stage.

If Korean players think the winter is dragging on at home then Jeonbuk Motors faced freezing conditions in northern China at the home of Changchun Yatai. Jeonbuk coach Choi Kang-hee wondered aloud if the host watered the freezing pitch overnight in order to turn it into an ‘ice rink’.

The charge was denied. It didn’t matter in the end as though Changchun took the lead midway through the second half, late goals from ‘The Prince’ Choi Tae-wook and ‘The Lion King' Lee Dong-gook gave the Motors an impressive win in a tough environment. Changchun visit Jeonju on Tuesday.

The fantastic fourth win came on a bitterly cold night in Pohang. The Pohang Steelers were not at their best but still squeezed past the challenge of Shandong Luneng to win 1-0. The visitor missed a late penalty to end a bad week for Chinese soccer.

Naturally, it was mentioned by more than one media source in Korea though there was a good deal of restraint showed. The Beijing media was a little depressed but there was at least some sense of perspective from leading newspaper Titan.

“Our four teams shouldn’t give up,” said Titan. In the ‘Korea vs. China Asian Championship Series’, we lost 4-0 although the national team won 3-0 last month. We know we couldn't catch up with Japanese and Korean football in one night time but there is a long way to run. Our clubs shouldn’t give up their Asian Champions League hopes. That would be a much bigger shame.”

“All four Chinese clubs lost their match in ACL in single matchday, it is the first time this has happened.” Said 'Soccer'. “And they were all defeated by Korean rivals. We may have cured Koreaphobia in international matches for the first time in 32 years but the shameful results returned.”

Such sentiments could easily change over the next 48 hours.

Monday, March 29, 2010

J. League Results 27-28 March 2010

Japan soccer results.
Sunday 28 March

Gamba Osaka 2 Vegalta Sendai 2
Omiya Ardija 0 FC Tokyo 2

Saturday 27 March

Cerezo Osaka 2 Urawa Reds 3
Jubilo Iwata 2 Kyoto Sanga 3
Kawasaki Frontale 0 Shimizu S-Pulse 0
Kashima Antlers 3 Montedio Yamagata 1
Shonan Bellmare 2 Albirex Niigata 0
Vissel Kobe 1 Yokohama F Marinos 1

J.League Table

Kashima Antlers P 4 Pts 10
Shimizu S-Pulse P 4 Pts 8
Yokohama F Marinos P 4 Pts 7
Sanfrecce Hiroshima P 3 Pts 7

Previous Results

J.League News

AFC Asian Cup Qatar 2011 Finals Draw

DOHA: The AFC Asian Cup Qatar 2011™ Finals Draw will take place at the magnificent Aspire Dome in the Qatari capital on Friday, April 23, 2010.

The draw will start at 1900 hours local time at the world’s largest indoor sports facility, and by the end of the process 16 teams will have been slotted into four groups of four each (4x4) under the Dome’s distinctive sloping roof.

AFC Asian Cup Qatar 2011 Finals Draw

The 16 teams in the hat for the draw are: Qatar (hosts), Australia, Bahrain, China, DPR Korea, India, Iran, Iraq (defending champions), Japan, Jordan, Korea Republic, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Syria, UAE and Uzbekistan.

The Asian Cup tournament runs from January 7-29, 2011.

Aspire Dome is part of the Aspire Zone that hosts the Khalifa Stadium, Aspire Academy, Hamad Aquatic Centre and Aspire Park.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Luxury Villa To Rent Constantia

Luxury Cape Town villa available for World Cup accommodation.

Only 20 minutes drive on the highway to Green Point Stadium and 30 minutes from Cape Town airport. This opulent villa sleeps 8 people in 4 double bedrooms with three bathrooms.

Luxury Villa To Rent Constantia

Located in Constantia wine growing area close to all amenities, shops, restaurants and walking distance to the best pub in Cape Town!

Fully equipped with satellite TV, four linked TVs, broadband/wifi and all domestic appliances for the perfect World Cup base.

Resident maid service and breakfast included. The property would suit either a commercial or a private group looking for a Cape Town base for the entire World Cup month. Cost R 8,000 per day

Luxury Villa To Rent Constantia

© Soccerphile.com

Friday, March 26, 2010

Seongnam Set Sights On Former Glories

Seongnam Set Sights On Former Glories.
It wouldn’t be the K-League without a strong Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma. The Yellows have won seven league titles and possess the biggest trophy cabinet in the southern half of the peninsula. It was 2006 however when the golden trophy last resided just south of Seoul. Since then, Pohang, Suwon and, most recently, Jeonbuk have claimed the mantle.

The second half of 2008 and the first half of 2009 was a tough time for the club’s fans. Kim Hak-bom had led Seongnam playing attractive and successful football but the gruff tactician’s powers seemed to fade after four years at the helm. At the end of 2008, the former powerhouse looked a little slow and predictable and it was no surprise when Kim was out of the door.

The identity of the new man was something of a surprise. Shin Tae-yong may have been called ‘Mr Seongnam’ due to the fact that he spent 12 seasons with the club as a player but when he was appointed as coach, he had little experience to suggest that he could lead the club back to the summit. As his playing career started to come to an end, Shin headed to Australia and the new A-League. The midfielder barely got a chance to show Queensland Roar fans what he was made of before injury intervened. Shin stayed on with the Brisbane-based club as an assistant coach.

Still, few expected the 39 year-old to be announced as Seongnam coach for the 2009 season. It didn’t start well. Australian football is regarded as one where power is more prized than technique. Shin seemed to confirm that stereotype by introducing a more direct style to a Seongnam team that had long been known for a fluid passing game. In came giant Montenegrin marksman Dzenan Radoncic – a striker not known for his subtlety - and from Australia came a defender that was just as big, Sasa Ognenovski.

The first half few months were disappointing. The team looked disjointed and toothless. Over time though, results and performances started to improve and in the second half of the season, Seongnam was the team in the best form. That was partly due to the arrival of Mauricio Molina. The former Colombian international quickly established himself as the leading foreign player in the league. His goals, his passing, his creativity and set piece ability have all played their parts.
Seongnam made it to the final of the championship play-off series at the end of the season, only to lose out to Jeonbuk Motors.

Even with the undoubted class of Molina, not much was expected in 2010 as Seongnam lost its midfield heartbeat. Star player Kim Jung-woo answered the call of the military and started his two-year stint with Gwangju Sangmu while partner Lee Ho answered the call of his wallet by accepting a big-money move to UAE club Al Ain.

So far at least, they haven’t been missed. Last Friday, Jeonbuk became the first team to score a goal against this Seongnam team in 2010. Prior to that, Shin’s men had won two Asian Champions League matches, defeating the highly-rated Kawasaki Frontale of Japan 2-0 before heading to Australia to win by the same scoreline at the home of Melbourne Victory.

Earlier this week came the visit of Beijing Guoan. The Chinese champions, like Seongnam, had won both games so far and took the lead through former Scottish international Maurice Ross. Three goals in the last 12 minutes from the Korean team means that Seongnam are looking very good indeed for a place in the second round.

Domestically, the start to the K-League was just as good. An opening weekend 3-0 against Gangwon FC was followed by a demolition of Incheon United. The usually solid west coast team was thrashed 6-0 by a rampant Seongnam.

Then the Yellows went to the home of the Jeonbuk and came within a whisker of winning. Only a 94th minute free-kick from Eninho gave the host a 1-1 tie and stopped Seongnam moving to the top of the K-League standings.

Jeonbuk coach Choi Kang-hee was relieved after the final whistle. “Seongnam is a very good and balanced team,” said Choi. “It was a really tough game for us and we are just happy that we managed to get a goal at the end.”

It is a measure of how well Seongnam is doing that coach Shin was disappointed with a 1-1 tie at the home of the champions.

“We missed lots of chances and that is why we didn’t win the game,” he said. “it is always hard to concede such a late goal but overall we played well. We are going well and feeling confident but we know that the season is just beginning.”

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

J. League Results March 20-21 2010

J.League.
Sunday 21 March

Montedio Yamagata 1 Urawa Reds 1
Nagoya Grampus 2 Jubilo Iwata 0

Saturday 20 March

FC Tokyo 0 Cerezo Osaka 0
Gamba Osaka 0 Albirex Niigata 0
Kyoto Sanga 2 Vegalta Sendai 1
Omiya Ardija 0 Kashima Antlers 1
Shonan Bellmare 1 Sanfrecce Hiroshima 3
Shimizu S-Pulse 1 Vissel Kobe 0
Yokohama F Marinos 4 Kawasaki Frontale 0

J.League Table

Shimizu S-Pulse P 3 Pts 7
Sanfrecce Hiroshima P 3 Pts 7
Kashima Antlers P 3 Pts 7
Yokohama F Marinos P 3 Pts 6

Previous Results

J.League News

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Luxury House To Rent in George

Fancourt Residential, home to the Japanese soccer team for the 2010 World Cup. 3 golf courses. See www.fancourt.co.za for further details of the resort in George.

Luxury House To Rent in George

This house is between 2 fairways
· 2 suite bedroom and 2 bedrooms to share bathroom
· Lounge dining room
· Golf cart use included
· Fully serviced daily
· Access to all 5 star facilities at Fancourt club
· R18000-00 per day

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

2010 World Cup Could Have Been Korea Reunion

South Korea.
The World Cup is always exciting but for fans of South Korea, June 2010 is going to be fascinating.

If being in a group with South American powerhouse Argentina, 2004 European champions Greece and African giant Nigeria wasn’t exciting enough, there could be some familiar faces around this summer.

Pim Verbeek is one. The Dutchman was the assistant coach at the 2002 and 2006 World Cups and then took the helm in July 2006 for a period of one year during which he led South Korea to third place at the 2007 Asian Cup. As soon as the competition finished, so did Verbeek’s time in the Land of the Morning Calm and he resigned.

A few months later, he surfaced in Australia, after Dick Advocaat, South Korea’s 2006 World Cup boss, refused the job, Verbeek took charge. Charged with leading the Socceroos to South Africa, the laconic European did just that.

Australia strolled through qualification and finds itself in a tough-looking group with European heavyweight Germany, talented Ghana and a tough-looking Serbian team. Such a line-up reads slightly scarier than the one at the Asian Cup which involved Indonesia, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia but Verbeek is feeling confident.

“I can honestly say there was one word that shot through my mind when we came out in a group with Germany – great!” He wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald.

"It's the second-toughest group overall, I'm sure about that. But when the stakes are so high, we'll be up for a fight. Germany are very strong…Over the years they have shown how successful you can be with a team that works together.

"Ghana are playing on their home continent but that's a double-edged sword. They will have support for sure, but as with Germany will also face pressure to live up to the fans' expectations. We beat them last year in a friendly in Sydney, though neither side was at its strongest. Serbia will be quick but also strong.”

Verbeek will always have a special place in the hearts of South Korean fans. As well as his time in charge of the national team, he will be remembered as an assistant to Guus Hiddink in 2002.

Hiddink took Australia to the 2006 World Cup and after subsequent spells with the Russian national team and a temporary job in charge of London club Chelsea, it looked for a time as if the man, who was granted honorary citizenship of Korea after his exploits with the Taeguk Warriors, was going to be at the 2010 World Cup.

The well-travelled tactician takes the Turkey job in August, leaving a window of opportunity to take the vacant Ivory Coast position though he has since ruled himself out. It would have made for an even more fascinating Group G. The talented Africans, defeated 2-0 by South Korea in a recent warm-up in London, have been placed in a group with Brazil, Portugal and North Korea. South Korean fans were already looking forward to seeing how their northern neighbors perform in such a tough environment but the addition of Hiddink into the mix would have been the egg on the top of that particular bi-bim-bap.

Hiddink was also in the frame for the Nigeria job that was vacant until earlier this month. He didn’t get it but one of his predecessors in Seoul definitely wanted it.

Jo Bonfrere arrived in South Korea in June 2004, took the team through qualification for the World Cup before resigning in August 2005. As the man with past experience with Nigeria, he led the team to the gold medal at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics; the Dutchman was desperate for the chance to finally go to the World Cup.

"I know your players very well,” he said last month. "The players have confidence in me, I also have confidence in them, I know what it takes to build a good team for Nigeria, I only needs time for training," he said.

"I always say that Nigeria can beat any team in the world. But you have to build a team to achieve this. There is no problem of players, the players are there, what is needed is just time to build a team. If you give me the job on time, I will build a team that will reach the final of the World Cup in South Africa," he added.

Bonfrere’s predecessor Humberto Coelho, who resigned in May 2003, was also very close to South Africa. He led Tunisia through qualification to the stage where the Carthage Eagles needed just to win their last game in Mozambique to make it to the 2010 World Cup. Tunisia lost and Coelho was out of a job. Another former South Korean assistant coach Afshin Ghotbi is now coach of Iran’s national team and came very close to qualifying for South Africa.

If only all had made it. It would have been a Korean reunion like no other!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

J. League Results 13-14 March 2010

J. League Results 13-14 March 2010.
Sunday 14 March

Cerezo Osaka 1 Gamba Osaka 1
Kyoto Sanga 1 Kashima Antlers 1
Urawa Reds 1 FC Tokyo 0
Vissel Kobe 1 Sanfrecce Hiroshima 2

Saturday 13 March

Albirex Niigata 1 Jubilo Iwata 1
Nagoya Grampus 2 Kawasaki Frontale 3
Shimizu S-Pulse 3 Montedio Yamagata 0
Vegalta Sendai 3 Omiya Ardija 1
Yokohama F Marinos 3 Shonan Bellmare 0

J.League Table

Vegalta Sendai P 2 Pts 6
Kawasaki Frontale P 2 Pts 6
Shimizu S-Pulse P 2 Pts 4
Kashima Antlers P 2 Pts 4
Sanfrecce Hiroshima P 2 Pts 4

Previous Results

J.League News

Monday, March 15, 2010

New Soccerphile Design

Soccerphile launched its new site design today and we hope it improves your enjoyment of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa which will begin in under three month's time.

New Soccerphile Design

Sign up for the Soccerphile newsletter to win free prizes and register with our World Cup forum if you are planning a trip to South Africa.

World Soccer News 13 March 2010

World soccer news.
Ozren Podnar reports

FIFA rejects use of technology again

FIFA's president Joseph Blatter explained in a letter the motives why his organization opposes the use of technology to analyze uncertain plays, emphasizing the game has to be played under the same conditions whether it takes place in a village or in a modern stadium.
FIFA studied two proposed systems of establishing whether the ball crossed the goal line, one including a chip inside the ball and another similar to the technology used in tennis, but neither convinced them.
According to Blatter, "one of FIFA's principal objectives is protecting the universality of the game of football. It means that the game must be played in the same manner everywhere in the world," said the president.
"If one coaches a group of youths in a small village of the planet, they will be playing by the same rules applied to the professional players shown on TV."
FIFA's concern is that the cost of the technology would prevent its implementation in poorer regions.
"The implementation of modern technologies can be very costly and due to that it could not be used everywhere in the world. Around 900 World Cup qualifying games were played and the same rules have to be applied to all the matches within the same competition," concluded a non-technologically minded Blatter.

Guerrero overcomes his fear of flying

The Peruvian international Jose Paulo Guerrero spent several months in his homeland, unable to return to Germany, where he plays for Hamburger SV, due to an intense flying phobia.
A few weeks ago the Germans sent him a psychologist whose task it was to treate Guerrero's phobia and the move seemed to pay off. Last Thursday Guerrero took a trip to the airport in the company of his mother Petronila Gonzalez and boarded a KLM flight to Europe, where he is continuing a treatment for an injury he suffered early into the season.
Previous to the psychologist's intervention, Guerrero did not manage to board a plane, alleging the phobia caused him gastric disturbances. It was even speculated he might travel back to Europe by boat, but finally he mustered courage and overcame the disorder that used to plague Arsenal's Dennis Bergkamp.

Brazil's president against Ronaldinho's call-up

The Brazilian president Inacio Luiz Lula da Silva is a recognized soccer fan and frequently speaks his mind on his favourite sport. His last rant was about Ronaldinho Gaucho, who in his opinion should not be included in the team for South Africa.
"He is a player of great talent, but that is not sufficient. It is necessary to look at how each player fits into the national team's scheme. It's something that goes beyond a player's individual quality, it's a question of the group. Ronaldinho does not deserve to go to the World Cup. He played few good games for Brazil and he was never decisive," Lula said to Associated Press.
Lula must have forgotten about the 2002 quarterfinals against England, when Ronaldinho beat David Seaman from a 35-yard free kick and gave Brazil a famous 2-1 win.
Dunga apparently shares Lula's opinion since he has not picked Ronaldinho since April 2009 and does not look like he will call him again any time soon, or ever again for that matter.

Chinese authorities put refs in a camp in a bid to make them confess

Corruption in soccer has became such a concern in China that the sporting authorities have rounded up hundreds of referees and coaches in two camps, one near Beijing, another in Canton province, in order to "reeducate" them and make them confess their offences.
According to reports in the South China Morning Post, these camps are the "last chance for them to own up to their crimes in exchange for lesser sentences."
The Chinese FA chairman Wei Di warned that those who fail to confess during the "grace period" will be severely punished.
Last year the country's communist president Hu Jintao expressed concern over the moral fragility in Chinese soccer, making the soccer officials fair game. Rarely does a week pass without news of new coaches, players, directors and referees being involved in illegal betting and match fixing.
The observers believe that soccer has become a testing ground for the national campaign against corruption at large. If the tactics involving concentration camps prove to work, they may be applied to the accused in other industries.

Raul among the unwanted for Real's fans

Real Madrid's elimination by Olympique Lyon in last week's Champions League round of 16 second leg match set off rumours regarding some serious turnover in the roster and the technical staff. The Spanish leading daily Marca invited its readers to name the players who should be transferred next July and among those singled out was the skipper Raul Gonzalez.
Over 100,000 votes were cast indicating the six undesirables in the following order of unpopularity: Christoph Metzelder, Fernando Gago, Mamadou Diarra, Royston Drenthe, Raul and Jerzy Dudek. Raul attracted no less than 63,000 votes from fans who do not want to see him in Real's team next season, which may mean the team followers are fed up of the player who has worn the white shirt since 1994.
On the other hand, the most respected players have turned out to be the keeper Iker Casillas, the defender Raul Albiol, the midfielder Xabi Alonso and Cristiano Ronaldo.

Didier Drogba voted best in Africa

Chelsea's Didier Drogba was voted the African player of the year for the second time in his career and was awarded the trophy at a ceremony in Accra, Ghana. The Ivory Coast striker, who already won this distinction in 2006, on this occasion edged Samuel Eto'o of Cameroon and Michael Essien of Chelsea.
The ideal African eleven, as voted for by the national team coaches, included five players from the Premiership, including Fulham's John Pantsil, Portsmouth's Nadir Belhadj and Arsenal's Alexander Song.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Beckham's World Cup KO'ed in Italy

Beckham.David Beckham looks set to miss out on the 2010 World Cup after tearing his Achilles tendon playing in A.C. Milan's 1-0 win over Chievo in Serie A today.

The England international pulled up in the 87th minute at San Siro today and hobbled off, claiming he heard his tendon snap and felt his calf muscles spasm. He was carried off on a stretcher, with the nightmare of missing the World Cup unfolding before his eyes.

Recovery from an Achilles rupture to being able to run is from 6-8 weeks following the operation Beckham will have tomorrow, but the proximity of the finals in under three months means a call-up of an unfit Beckham for the World Cup is now extremely unlikely. The most probable scenario is of Beckham missing the World Cup but making a return to MLS later this season.

The will-he, won't-he saga of Beckham's once unlikely journey to a fourth finals had looked set to end happily with a place in Fabio Capello's final squad, but his road to South Africa now seems to have finally run out of gas. His attempt to break Peter Shilton's England appearances record also looks to have bitten the dust, ten games short. Perhaps the most celebrity of England footballers has even played his last game for the Three Lions.

Becks' World Cup debut age 23 in France '98 was a colourful one - after initially having been dropped in favour of Teddy Sheringham, the young Manchester United star played a leading role in England's campaign, supplying the pass for Michael Owen's wonder goal against Argentina before getting himself sent off for retaliating against Diego Simeone. Beckham's expulsion forced England into a rearguard action for the rest of the second-round clash, lost eventually on penalties and coach Glenn Hoddle blamed him afterwards for the defeat.

Four years later and Beckham, recovered from the tsunami of tabloid opprobrium following France '98, arrived in Japan a soccer idol, especially in the Far East. But a broken metatarsal shortly before the finals meant the England captain was not in peak condition. He got his revenge on Argentina with a winning penalty, but Brazil's silky skills got the better of a prosaic and unimaginative England in the quarter-finals.
Beckham scored the winner in the second round of Germany 2006, a set piece against Ecuador, but his third World Cup finals ended again at the last eight stage, as Portugal beat another solid but uninspiring Three Lions team forged by Sven-Goran Eriksson, this time on spot-kicks. Tearfully resigning as captain, it looked like the World Cup had seen the last of Becks as he jetted off for the sunny climbs of Los Angeles and Major League Soccer.

Steve McClaren's first act as England manager was to telephone him to say farewell but before long McClaren's obvious frailty in the job saw Beckham back from the dead in the national team fold. Now shorn of what little speed he once had, Beckham concentrated on his dead ball delivery and arching crosses, providing a unique attacking option from the right wing.

Becks' prowess as an impact substitute with his penetrative deliveries ensured continuous call-ups under Capello, his former coach at Real Madrid and at the age of 34 looked set to have a final World Cup swansong, if not a starting role.

His tears as he left the San Siro field today were as intense as when he left the field against Portugal, both times believing he had played his last World Cup game. This time, it looks like he has.





(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Shunsuke Nakamura makes triumphant J. League return

Shunsuke Nakamura makes triumphant J. League return
It had all the hallmarks of a classic - a local derby, a big crowd - and all that Saturday's clash between Yokohama F. Marinos and Shonan Bellmare lacked was a dominant display from Shunsuke Nakamura.

The returning hero was cheered on by 32,228 fans who turned out to witness his Nissan Stadium homecoming, but the Japan international looked off the pace as Marinos swept aside promoted Shonan Bellmare 3-0.

Nakamura received a predictably warm welcome from the Tricolore faithful, and the prodigal son laid on the first goal as his corner was headed home by powerful defender Yuzo Kurihara.

The visitor's overworked goalkeeper Yosuke Nozawa was then forced to turn away an accurate free-kick from the former Reggina, Celtic and Espanyol midfielder, but it wasn't until the hour mark that Marinos doubled their lead through highly-rated young striker Kazuma Watanabe.

A tiring Nakamura made way for substitute Kenta Kano with six minutes remaining, and the diminutive Kano added a late third for the hosts as he drilled home from distance in the final minute of play.

But the match was all about Shunsuke Nakamura, and his return overshadowed a first ever win as coach for former Marinos attacking midfielder Kazushi Kimura.

Nakamura is just one of a number of high-profile stars to have returned from Europe, but with Junichi Inamoto and Shinji Ono having already made their debuts for Kawasaki Frontale and Shimizu S-Pulse respectively, all eyes were on the Marinos talisman as he made his first appearance in the J. League since 2002.

Referee faces suspension following spot-kick blunder
Referee Takuto Okabe faces a two-match suspension after he allowed Sanfrecce Hiroshima's disputed third-minute penalty against Shimizu S-Pulse to stand.

The hosts were awarded the penalty in the Round 1 clash after visiting goalkeeper Yohei Nishibe hauled down Yojiro Takahagi inside the area.

Defender Tomoaki Makino placed the ball on the spot and shaped up to take the kick, only for captain Hisato Sato to race out out of a line of players and surprise Nishibe by stroking the ball home from twelve yards.

The Japan Football Association has admitted that the rehearsed move was illegal, with Makino originally identifing himself as the designated spot-kick taker.

The match finished in a 1-1 draw, and Makino and Sato are expected to escape punishment for their unsportsmanlike conduct.

Referee Okabe may not be so fortunate, with the hapless match official now expected to miss two games for his blunder.
Copyright © Michael Tuckerman & Soccerphile.com

J.League News

Japan 2 Bahrain 0

At a recent Asian Cup qualifier at Toyota Stadium, the Japanese national team again failed to impress as it ground out a lacklustre 2-0 win over Bahrain.

Both teams had already qualified for the finals of the 2011 Asian Cup to be held in Qatar.



Saturday, March 13, 2010

Dr. Joel Rookwood – Lille V Liverpool



With the club finishing a mere four points off the Premier League summit in 2009, succumbing to only two league defeats in the process, this campaign was supposed to be full of promise for Liverpool. In reality however, it is proving a nightmare season for Rafael Benitez and his team. In truth the Rafa Regime has always maintained ‘on the brink’ status. In his first seasons, Champions League and FA Cup finals were won on penalties in 2005 and 2006 respectively, with the following seasons culminating in a narrow defeat in the European Cup final, and then semi-final. With the Anfield title famine an ongoing source of suffering, 2009 was all about the obligation that is the Premier League title. The club were ultimately denied the coveted prize, although once again, in circumstances that could easily have been reversed. Love him or loathe him, Benitez is right about one thing, the difference between success and defeat is all about ‘the small details’. The devil it seems, is in the detail.



One thing that does seem certain is that this season will produce the least convincing champions in Premier league history. Whichever club lifts the crown in May will likely do so despite a sultry points tally and a string of defeats – a record that in other seasons would no doubt barely have warranted a top four finish and subsequent Champions League qualification. But the challenge of the second quadruple of teams – Man City, Spurs, Aston Villa and Everton – below the ‘big four’ is collectively stronger than it has previously been, and the performances and results of those above them have hardly been the stuff of champions. Liverpool serve as the most compelling case in this respect. In a campaign that is amounting to the definition of underachievement, virtually the same team as that which came so close to the title last year, is languishing in the melancholy of its own mediocrity this season. The defeat at Wigan on Monday night was Liverpool’s ninth in the league, and the tough fixtures are far from over. It was such form that Liverpool took to Lille in northern France for the Europa League last sixteen clash on Thursday night.



Having been present at 49 consecutive Liverpool European away fixtures heading into 2010, stretching back to a match against Galatasaray in 2002, I could be forgiven for considering my opinion on Liverpool’s European plight a qualified one. However, with work commitments being what they are, I was unable to attend the recent Europa League fixture against Unirea in Bucharest. (Ironically I was instead presenting a lecture at a sport politics conference in Leeds on fan participation and social movements at Liverpool Football Club). The second leg of the tie against the Romanian minnows followed a painfully uneventful 1-0 home victory at Anfield. In the return leg, Liverpool ended up strolling into the second knock-out round of the competition, despite conceding an early goal which briefly levelled the aggregate score. After surviving the brief scare against the Romanian champions, most Liverpool fans seemed content at the prospect of a tie against Lille. PSV, Barcelona, and Marseille have all been repeat visits in my almost-half-century of trips to the continent, and Lille was at least a break from the norm. In addition, despite our horrendous form, lowly Lille were surely not destined to offer much competition over two legs, particularly with the latter fixture set to be played at Anfield. The short journey across the Channel appeared ideal preparation for the quarter-final, and we were grateful to avoid the long trip to the over familiar Istanbul that would have been on the cards had Lille lost to Fenerbahce in the previous round.



Sixteen lads met at an exclusive Huyton alehouse the night before the match, ready and suitably intoxicated for the ridiculous departure time of 22:50. I can only imagine the driver of the minibus, the ageless Pops, was merely trying to get us accustomed to the farcical Europa League match kick-off times. The game was an 18:00 start (GMT) at Stadium Lille-Metropole, with the return leg set to commence at the still more absurd time of 20:05 next Thursday. Football is for the fans, apparently. Such pathetic organisation – not to mention the lowly status of the competition – contributed little to Liverpool’s sense of connection to a trophy that the club is apparently looking to secure for a record fourth time in Hamburg in May. Judging by the performance of the away team, and the atmosphere generated by the visiting support in the stands, no one in the Liverpool corner appeared committed to anything but a sharp European exit. The 1100 away fans that managed to secure a ticket, in a stadium with a capacity roughly twenty-times that number, appeared largely disinterested in the tie. The only action of note off the pitch was the lighting of a flare by an unnamed Kopite a quarter of an hour into the second half. It rose the collective spirit, but only temporarily.



As Belgian teenager Eden Hazard shot Lille into an unlikely but ultimately decisive one-goal lead in the concluding stages of the second half, I looked down at the succession of ‘Europa League’ advertisement boards and noticed that each was interspersed with others containing the word ‘respect’ – representing UEFA’s latest blood-sucking political campaign, I mean, value-laden mission ‘for the good of the game’. But given the calibre of opposition, unsociable kick-off times, and multiple redundant tracksuited officials, together with the dominance of the continent's premier tournament, it is becoming increasingly difficult to ‘Respect Europa League’.



In reflection, the pressure that Benitez is under is partly a consequence of results and performances this year – including fifteen defeats thus far in all competitions – and of the six years of failure to win the league title. However, the regime that functions on the brink has also unquestionably produced some notable achievements, and it is also the difficulty of living up to and reproducing these considerable highs that Benitez is currently struggling with. Burdened by the weight of Anfield expectation, he has simultaneously become the victim of his own success, and the reputation he has forged. However, in addition to Liverpool’s results this year, his recent public statements – pledging a fourth place finish, refusing to state where he will be employed next season, and drawing on his past achievements – are also worrying signs. Yet as concerning as the first two are, the latter development is particularly alarming. Benitez has argued in no uncertain terms that he has restored Liverpool pride, which is undeniably the case. It was only nine years ago that victory in the UEFA Cup (admittedly as part of a quintet of trophies secured that season) under Gerard Houllier saw a frenzied response from Liverpool supporters. Now, mere involvement in the newly branded version comes closer to representing a source of shame. However, publicly reminding the footballing world of one’s own achievements is not an act undertaken by a self-assured man who confidently expects to achieve more of the same. The image of Jose Mourinho’s six-fingered salute as Chelsea secured the 2007 FA Cup serves as a notable contemporary example. His record of a half dozen trophies in three years was impressive, yet his fingers were not seen clasping another trophy in West London blue, and within the year he was managing in Italy. For Benitez, a similar threat has now entered the frame of possibility. There are cracks in this regime, and the only mechanism of repair begins with satisfying those three concerns: Secure a top four finish, win the Europa League and remain in charge next season to rectify the errors in judgement. To that end, dispatching Lille next Thursday night has simply become an obligation.

Lyon hint at French Revolution

Is French football witnessing a renaissance?

Lyon's swatting of Real Madrid was the European result of the season so far. The elimination of
Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka et al from the Champions League was cheered by neutrals across the world, for whom the galacticos represent all that is unfair about the soccer world.
The 2-1 aggregate defeat was doubly galling for Real as not only are holders Barcelona still in the competition but this season's final will be taking place in their home ground, Santiago Bernabeu.

Marseille, drawn into a group alongside this week's eliminated giants Milan and Real, did not make it to the knock-out stages, but Bordeaux are well-placed to join their French counterparts in the last eight, leading Olympiakos 1-0 from the first leg.

Olympique Lyonnais, as Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski told us across a chapter in 'Why England Lose', are the model of a well-run club, while Real are perhaps the epitome of reckless overspending and cavalier ownership, who only survive because of their untouchable status as a national icon.

French clubs are not as wealthy as their English, Italian and Spanish counterparts, which makes Lyon's downing of Real all the more impressive. But Lyon are not a poor team either, having invested 70 million Euros on players last summer. French football is more physical than its latin counterparts, but equally more technical than the English tradition. Ultimately, a lack of financial clout has impaired its clubs' Champions League progress.

It is still too early to proclaim the long-awaited arrival of La Ligue on the highest European stage, but these things are cyclical. Dutch clubs ruled in the early 1970s, then German teams; English teams were on top in the late 1970s/early '80s, Italian clubs ten years later, followed by Spanish and then 'English' ones again.

Marseille's European Cup win in 1993 remains France's only Champions Cup crown.

UEFA Champions League 2009-'10 Quarter Finalists

Arsenal
Lyon

Bayern Munich

Manchester United Bordeaux/Olympiakos
Barcelona/Stuttgart
Inter/Chelsea
Sevilla/CSKA Moscow



(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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Friday, March 12, 2010

Mentally tough Arsenal in driving seat

Mentally tough Arsenal in driving seat.
The momentum towards a fourth Premier League crown for Arsene Wenger's Arsenal is building to the point even the usually understated Frenchman is openly discussing the attributes which might unhinge the Manchester United / Chelsea duopoly.

Mental resilience and squad solidarity might not be traits associated with Arsenal over the past handful of seasons, but Wenger is starting to sound like a man who believes his team have finally disproved the growing criticism.

This has been a hard season for Wenger, in some ways perhaps the toughest of his 14-year North London reign.

Arsenal supporters are used to assessing their title credentials against the league's biggest clubs, and yet this year their side has been dismissed home and away by both Manchester United and Chelsea, flicked aside and seemingly relegated to chasing a Champions League spot once again.

But how delightful must it feel for Wenger and Gunners fans to be able to effectively give United and Chelsea six-point headstarts and still stand a catchable two points behind the leaders in third place with nine games remaining.

Bonded by, among other factors, Adebayor's disrespect and the manner of Aaron Ramsey's absence, the side is now buoyant off the back of four straight Premier League victories and a Champions League rout in midweek.

That league sequence started with victory over Liverpool and has also included the possibly season-defining win at the Britannia Stadium, the scene of FA Cup miserly just four weeks before and of Ramsey's horrific broken leg in a second-half clash with Ryan Shawcross.

This week's 5-0 thumping of Porto was the first time Arsenal had overhauled a first leg deficit in the Champions League – yet another example of the mental toughness cultivated by Wenger's side this turbulent season.

Five games since that seemingly crushing defeat to Chelsea and Arsenal are not only, as Wenger this week admitted, in with a chance, they are in some quarters Premier League title favourites.

"Their confidence is getting bigger at a vital stage in the season. It's just about believing in themselves now," Ray Parlour, the former title-winning Arsenal midfielder, told Sky Sports News this week.

"With the run-in they've got, I think they've got a really good chance to win a lot of games."

While the champions have still to entertain Chelsea on April 3, Arsenal face only Tottenham and Manchester City of the leading sides with five matches against teams currently in the bottom seven, starting Saturday's teatime clash with second-bottom Hull City.

This might have been the sort of game Wenger's side would trip up on, especially with the spine of the side – William Gallas (calf), Cesc Fabregas (hamstring) and Robin van Persie (ankle) – sidelined.

But then again nobody expected the Gunners to salvage their season in injury time at Stoke, and Wenger is being forced to play down Arsenal's title credentials.

"We have as well to be realistic, keep our feet on the ground," he said.

"We are where we are because we have shown a strong mental attitude and a good solidarity within our squad. Let's take care of that because that is very fragile and goes very quickly.

"For me that is the most important thing, that we keep our humility, work hard for each other and then we have a chance."

Copyright © Marc Fox and Soccerphile.com

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Round The World He Goes: Stephen Constantine, Manager

There are certainly a whole host of coaches that spend their entire careers in their home country, not venturing far and enjoying varying degrees of success. Failing to cross borders however is an entirely foreign concept for Stephen Constantine.

The 47-year-old England-born coach's resume reads like the itinerary of a fascinating trip to exotic lands, but though he may be something of a football nomad, this is a manager who has enjoyed success wherever he has travelled. A serious knee injury ended Constantine’s playing days quite early (he was 27), yet he was able to transform that disappointment into a positive and make his mark as a top-level manager.

Stephen Constantine.

Having coached four national teams including Nepal, India, Malawi, and Sudan, Constantine's views on the world’s most popular sport are quite interesting to say the least. Now in Cyprus as boss of APEP FC, Constantine is excited to be back to the daily grind of club coaching, though the club's current situation is quite difficult as APEP were recently issued a points deduction and have been condemned to relegation to the Cypriot 2nd division for next season.

This has not dampened Constantine’s spirit though. Speaking on his personal website, Constantine stated that he was looking forward to the challenge of rebuilding the team and returning it to the 1st Division.

Though he may have seen it all in his travels coaching football, this is a man who has an unquenchable thirst for the game. He describes himself as a firm believer in constantly improving his knowledge and skill. This desire to learn has helped Constantine succeed and the former Chelsea schoolboy player has made a habit of taking over struggling sides, making them competitive and in some cases winning trophies. Even when conditions have been sub-standard and the support not quite where it should be, Constantine has managed to overcome the numerous obstacles by focusing on the task at hand.

One Game, One World was lucky enough to have Mr. Constantine sit down and answer some of our questions. His views on the way the smaller teams in world football are treated are honest and eye-opening. Constantine’s insight into football at every level are a must-read and his experiences are refreshing. Read the interview below on a coach destined for more success in the future regardless where the football winds take him.

Stephen Constantine

One Game, One World: Tell us about your youth and playing career.

Stephen Constantine: I had spells at Chelsea and Millwall as a schoolboy and then at 17 signed for AEL in Cyprus before heading over to the USA. I played for the Pennsylvania Stoners in the ASL and for New York Pancyprians before an injury ended my career at 28.

When did you realize that you wanted to get involved with coaching?

I was about 26 and had coached a few youth teams and was helping out here and there and realized that this was what I wanted to do once I ended my career. I had already taken youth coaching courses so when I had to stop at 28 I had already began the transition.

What was your first job as a manager? How did you do?

I had spells with Apollon and AEL youth teams, but my first job in sole charge was at Achilleas Ayio Therapon and I managed to keep them in the 4th Div, they were in last place when I took over and 12 points adrift so it was a tough job, with most of the players older than me ! I was 29 years old.

How did you enjoy your time in Cypriot football?

Like everything else there’s good and bad stuff, I won the Youth Cup with AEL at U16 and that was an amazing time, several of those players went on to the senior team and National teams as well so that was very pleasing. Keeping Achilleas in the league was also good, as for the bad well we are talking about 11 years ago so I have managed to forget the bad things!

How did you get into the running to become national team coach of Nepal?

The English FA recommended me as well as a number of others and the Asian Football Confederation picked me from the list of about 25 others. They then sent the list to the Nepal FA and I guess they liked what they saw.

Did you enjoy that experience? Under what conditions did you work there?

Fantastic experience and the people of Nepal are wonderful; we had a great time on and off the pitch, truly a memorable time. Conditions were tough as you would expect from such a poor country, but as someone who is adaptable you just get on with the job at hand.

Was your time as India national team boss successful? What is the football potential of this country?

Yes it was, we won India's first trophy in 42 years and did very well at all levels in my time there. Potential is there, it just needs a little more time and some things need to be changed. We often had crowds of 60,000 at our games and against Japan in a World Cup Qualifier we had 100,000, so that should tell you everything.

How did you find the Malawi job?

Very difficult, people did not look long term. Everything was if we did it today fine if not then never mind, no planning at all.

Can you describe the infrastructure there for football?

It was almost nil to be honest, as I said no one wanted to look ahead and although there are some great players they are let down by corrupt officials and it’s a great shame as there are some people who want to work but just not allowed.

Explain the process of you being selected to be manager of Sudan?

Sudan came as a result of my FIFA work where I had done some courses a few years ago, and when they were looking for someone to step in I got the call.

Considering what has been happening in Darfur and other parts of the country, what are were working conditions like?

They were ok to be fair and we had most of what we needed, of course there were problems but that’s part of life. The people in Sudan are very warm and really did support me in my time there.

How would you rate Sudanese footballers?

Some great players, it’s the same all over Africa and Sudan is no exception.

Was it difficult to work with the Sudanese government? How was your relationship with the government and the Sudanese FA?

Excellent and excellent. I was dealing with both obviously. The FA was who I worked for and working for Dr Kamal Shadad was great for me, he is a great man and it was sad for me to leave. As for the government again my dealings with them were excellent and I can’t complain.

Do you enjoy the globe-trotting you have done as a football manager?

Yes, I love it !

Do you prefer coaching at the national team level or at the club level?

I would say club level as I am involved every day and really do enjoy that as opposed to a game every few months.

Are there any other places around the world you would like to coach in?

Yes, I would love to coach in South America and Australia that would mean I would have coached in all six continents.

Stephen Constantine

Is there a dream job that you haven’t landed yet?

LOL, plenty of them, it seems I do get offered the really tough jobs that not many others want, but am happy to be working in the game and love what I do so as long as I have a team and am working just about anywhere is ok with me.

How long do you plan on coaching?

As long as I still have my love for the game, which is I guess until I breathe my last breath. Hopefully I have a few more years in me as there is plenty of things I would like to achieve.

What career goals have you succeeded in achieving? What remains for you to achieve?

Every job there is a new challenge, if you asked me 12 years ago would I have coached 4 National Teams, won trophies with them and seen some great games, become a FIFA Instructor, I would not have believed it possible.

Getting honored by the King of Nepal was special and unexpected to say the least and I hope there are more special moments to come.

Who is a coach/manager(s) that you style yourself after or have always admired?

There are many coaches that I look up to and have had the pleasure of meeting a few of them. I think I have my own style and as someone who is always trying to improve I think that will always be the case. So a little something from many of them I would say.

Who are some of the best players you have coached over the course of your career?

Well, that's a difficult one to answer there have been some many to be honest though perhaps not well known for people in Europe.

Can you name some of players that you admire from world football?

Patrick Vieira, Fernando Torres, Thierry Henry, Lionel Messi, the list is endless.

What are the biggest challenges that some of the smaller nations face at the international level?

Being treated fairly by match officials, it is always the case that the bigger teams get more breaks than the smaller teams and this is a problem. Games should be officiated in the same way no matter who is playing.

Where do you see yourself five years from now?

Well I would like to think coaching in a top league in Europe.

If you were handed the power, what changes would you make to football, either at international or club level?

First thing I would do is have instant replay to help the referees, it’s done in so many other sports it’s about time we have it in football.

If a referee, coach, club official, or player is caught gambling or cheating in a game he should be banned for life. Players who ask for other players to be sent off should be shown red cards.

Make the Champions League for the champions of each European league, and have the Europa Cup for the 2-3 placed teams. I would also add a European Cup Winners’ Cup for all the FA Cup winning teams as well.

In all major club and international competitions throw all the teams in the hat and have teams come out naturally, no more seeded teams to help the bigger sides not meet each other, it’s so stacked against the so called little teams it’s not fair.

Where will the next generation of great footballers come from and why?

Africa, they are hungry and football is the only way many of them can feed their families and when you have that motivation anything is possible. The other reason is in Europe we coach the life out of the players from an early age.

How do you see the 2010 World Cup shaping up? What will be the quality of the football on show?

Africa deserves the World Cup and I am hopeful that they will do a good job, of course there will be problems but FIFA are working very closely with the powers that be so that if there is a problem they will hopefully be in a position to sort it out early.

Will African teams perform well do you think?

That's the question I think a lot is being made of, the African teams doing well and it remains to be seen. The teams that qualified for the World Cup didn’t have such a great showing in the recent African Nations’ Cup so we will see.

What qualities are needed to be a football coach at the highest level?

An in-depth love of the game and understanding of the human mind is for me key, an awareness of everything around you. Technical knowledge, recognizing the need to have a quality back-up team from the assistant to the physiotherapist is also key to your success.

Having attained your coaching qualifications are now a must but it's a lot more than that and your personality is also something that must be right.

What changes in tactics and formations have you seen over the course of your coaching career? Any major shifts you have noticed?

This does make me laugh sometimes as we see on TV all these wonderful permutations of a 4-4-2 suddenly someone says no it's a 4-1-3-1-1 or what ever seems to be in fashion at the time.

Of course we have what are now called the standard systems such as the 4-4-2, 4-3-3, 4-5-1, 3-5-2, 5-3-2 and you can always effect those systems by pulling a player deeper or pushing him more forward.

At the end of the day it's about the players you have, can this player get up and support the lone striker? Does the defensive midfield player got the qualities to play that position? If a coach knows the game and gets the players to implement what he wants from the particular system then does it matter what system you play?

It's all about the players you play in the system you want and of course the information the coach is able to give to the players.

Why is football the most popular sport in the world?

For me "because on any given day anyone can beat anyone else." Unfortunately, we are losing sight of this as I said before the bigger teams are always kept apart in the draws be it club or international level and if there is a 50/50 decision against a small team the bigger side will get the advantage, that needs to stop.

What does football mean to you?

EVERYTHING, it's my life.

Find similar stories like this at the blog One Game, One World.
If you want coverage of all things football big and small and stories off-the-beaten path then please visit One Game, One World for a unique look at the beautiful game.

Monday, March 8, 2010

J. League Results 6-7 March 2010

J. League Results 6-7 March 2010.
J.League Results Saturday & Sunday, 6-7 March

Omiya Ardija 3 Cerezo Osaka 0
Vissel Kobe 2 Kyoto Sanga 0

FC Tokyo 1 Yokohama F Marinos 0
Gamba Osaka 1, Nagoya Grampus 2
Jubilo Iwata 0 Vegalta Sendai 1
Kashima Antlers 2 Urawa Reds 0
Kawasaki Frontale 2 Albirex Niigata 1
Sanfrecce Hiroshima 1 Shimizu S-Pulse 1
Shonan Bellmare 1 Montedio Yamagata 1

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Sunday, March 7, 2010

Scottish Premier League News March 2010

Scottish Premier League News March 2010.
RANGERS

They are so far in front they are virtually over the horizon and out of sight.

Yet despite their dramatic Old Firm winner on the last day of February which put them ten points clear of their bitter rivals, and with a game in-hand to boot, manager Walter Smith and his players are sticking to their guns that there is nothing to celebrate just yet at Ibrox.

There was an outburst of emotion at the end of the Old Firm game at Ibrox. A winning goal in injury time is always provocative, but the response was an indication of significance.
Satisfaction ought to be enduring. The season remains poised for Rangers, though, as success is possible in all three domestic competitions, but not guaranteed. “We’ve not won anything yet,” says Steven Whittaker, the full-back. “We’ve still got to follow it through.”

The doubt is novel for Rangers, as all three of the club’s title wins since 2000 have been achieved on the final day of the season. The emphasis now is on avoiding complacency. There is familiarity in encountering Premier League opponents at least three times in each campaign, but other factors are also relevant.

Almost every side in the top flight still has something to play for. Fixtures against the Old Firm also tend to raise spirits. No game should be considered elementary. “That’s the Old Firm, we’re used to that,” says Smith. “But you get to this stage of the season and there’s a lot at stake for the teams. Our league gets a bit of criticism, for being so small and playing each other four times, but it does bring a situation at the end of the season where there’s no easy matches. The majority of games have a bit of meaning to them. I always stress to the boys that at this stage of the season, a wee bit of an extra edge comes into it for everybody concerned.”

The mood at Rangers is one of denial. Points have been accrued through sheer force of will at times this season, but they can still be rendered worthless.

David Weir and other senior players have already prohibited loose talk in the dressing-room. Assumptions about winning the treble are considered hazardous. The pursuit of honours can be gruelling, but the hardship is necessary.

“You need to try to forget about the position you’re in and concentrate on the points that are still available,” said Whittaker. “We still need to continue on the winning streak we’re on. It’s in our own hands and we need to keep putting pressure on the rest. We all know what’s at stake, we all know what it’s like to win a championship, we did it last season. The motivation is there to do that again.”

There is little respite for Rangers; midweek fixtures will exert a strain on the squad. Injuries might still imperil the team, but Smith can at least take comfort from the current clean bill of health. Even the international week proved obliging right after the Old Firm game with 13 Ibrox players off on international duty around the globe.

Meanwhile, through, Smith has lambasted all referee talk in the wake of a month in which the men in the middle have come firmly under the spotlight.

In the build-up to February's Old Firm game, Celtic leaked it that they had complained to the SFA about the standard of officiating after they felt a catalogue of decisions have gone against them so far this term, three of which have happened in games against Rangers.

Their complaints appeared to backfire with Scott Brown harshly dismissed at Ibrox and the subsequent appeal thrown out. Rangers, though, were at the centre of another storm when St Mirren boss Gus MacPherson then claimed Weir ought to have been sent off and Smith's patience snapped.

"Everybody wants people to get ordered off and everybody wants penalties against us,” he claimed. “Everybody wants everything against us at the moment.
"I don't know what road we are going down in that respect. I didn't see much in it myself, I've got to say.
“We seem to be reaching a ridiculous stage where refereeing decisions are actually becoming far more important than the game itself."

Smith also spoke out following last weekend's Old Firm derby triumph when he criticised the unnamed Hoops source who revealed the club's unhappiness with decisions which they felt had gone against them this season.

The Ibrox boss added: "Everybody starts talking about the refereeing decisions but it's a game of football.
"Refereeing decisions good, bad or indifferent have been part of football for a good number of years. When I started, Jim McLean, Alex Ferguson, Jock Stein - they all moaned about refereeing decisions. I moan about them. Everybody moans about them.

"But now, in Scotland, it seems to be going into an area where it's taking on far greater significance. "Your team has got to be good enough to overcome them. As far as referees are concerned, they make their decisions and we've got to get on with it.

"Referees in every league in the world are under scrutiny for the decisions they make.
"Now, in ours, it's every weekend that we are playing it's becoming the referees who are influencing games. It should be players and managers who are influencing games.
"The better the job we do at it, then the better our teams do. I moan at referees' decisions, and I have done over my career, but I think it's reaching a ridiculous proportion in Scotland at the moment and it's not giving the referees the proper opportunity to do their jobs."



SCOTLAND

The irregular rhythm of international football has not come easily to new Scotland boss Craig Levein.

The Hampden boss got his regime off to the ideal start with a 1-0 friendly win over the Czech Republic - the first time Scotland have won a friendly match on their own turf for 14 years.

In fairness, the Scots rode their luck a little but an opportunist goal from Scott Brown kept up the feelgood factor in the national side.

Levein took the win in his stride and is now looking ahead to massive overhaul of the Scottish game, from the roots up.
“I have a lot of players to watch and games to see,” he said. “This summer is going to be busy. I am not going to the World Cup but there are lots of friendlies on. And I haven’t even touched on the whole structure of the youth thing.”

Levein’s main modus operandi as a football manager is to be more thoroughand methodical than his opponent. But he discovered last week just how limited a Scotland manager’s time with his squad actually is. He issued players with detailed DVDs focusing on every player in the Czech squad, and will expand that programme in the future. But he is so fearful of bombarding players with an information overload in a short space of time that he has had to hold himself back.

“There is a temptation to get overly excited, and say ‘Lets do this, and this, and this’,” Levein said. “I have to rein myself back a bit. Although I haven’t had a game for three months, some of these guys have had three games in a week. It was a very important moment for me, but in a way it was just another international friendly for them.”

That is why the ones who will be given the summer off are the playersthemselves. It was confirmed last week that Scotland’s next assignment will be in Sweden on August 11, with Levein having knocked back a friendly or squad gathering during the internationalweek in May.

He feels that limiting Scotland sessions safeguards their importance. He hopes that allowing the players to focus on their holidays in the summer is a trade-off which may help them return to action refreshed and enthusiastic in time for the twin double-headers against Lithuania and Liechtenstein in September, and the Czech Republic and Spain in October.

“The UK leagues are the toughest in the world,” Levein said. “I feel that physically the amount of fixtures, the conditions you play under, and the tempo of the games, more than take their toll on the players. So I made a decision they would have from now until the summer off, but we have four games in September and October, and I want them fresh and ready to work hard. We need to put in a similar effort but also add that little bit more quality and composure to our play.”

To this end, Levein still has decisions to make on how players unavailable last week, such as Shaun Maloney, Kris Commons, James Morrison and Kirk Broadfoot might fit into the jigsaw. The Barry Ferguson issue has been parked until the summer, when further discussions between will take place. Chief scout Michael Oliver’s unprecedented player search has turned up a few other options for the future, with the SFA refusing to give up on Newcastle United striker Andy Carroll.

Ideally, Levein will be in a position to add real quality to his squad and build on the confidence gained from the victory over the Czechs. The pluses outweighed the minuses on Wednesday,but it was a close-run thing. One such positive was the result itself, and a clean sheet against a side who Levein feels are strongest “middle to front”.

Individual displays from Graham Dorrans, Charlie Adam and Lee Wallace suggest they are more than ready to make an impact during this campaign. Scott Brown weighed in with a winner and another mighty display for his country. There was also the maturity shown by the Scotland crowd over the return of Kris Boyd and the performance the player produced.

On the other hand, however, was the realisation that a Czech side without Petr Cech, Milan Baros, David Rozehnal and Zdenek Grygera got the better of the Scots for large swathes of the game. Star turns included Tomas Rosicky and Jaroslav Plasil but there were no real surprises for Levein.

“There weren’t any of them who we thought ‘oh we will have to give them more attention’,” Levein said. “But if we are going to beat them in either of the qualifying games we will have to play well, our defenders will have to be very good and our goalkeeper will have to be good. The Czechs might have better individuals, but the team and the work ethic are worth more than 10 places in the world rankings. The question is whether they can be worth more than 20 places in the rankings?”

While Levein was celebrating a win in his first game in charge, his chief scout, Michael Oliver, was spying on Spain, whom Scotland face in the Euro 2012 qualifiers.

“Michael told me they were the best team he had ever seen, and that we shouldn’t bother turning up.”

Back to earth with a bump then.

CELTIC

Celtic and the SFA have gone to war.

It all began with a Celtic 'source' leaking a story to the media in the frantic build-up to February's Old Firm game about a Parkhead complaint to the game's governing body over a lenghty list of complaints they believe have gone against them this term.

Both previous Old Firm games were cited in the list, the first when Celtic were denied what was a stonewall penalty at Ibrox in a game they lost 2-1, the other in the game against Rangers in January when they were denied a goal from Marc-Antoine Fortune, a match they went on to draw 1-1.

In between times we a couple of offside goals against Falkirk and Dundee United that TV cameras later proved to be legitimate. Celtic drew both of the games.

However, the furore that greeted their complaints ensured that referee Dougie McDonald was under intense pressure going into the third Old Firm game at Ibrox at the end of the month. The game was an hour old when Scott McDonald and Kyle Lafferty tussled and the red card was waved in Brown, the Celtic captain's direction.

It seemed a harsh decision and the Parkhead side went on to lose a game they really needed to win with a goal conceded in the dying seconds of the game. The celebrations from the Ibrox dugout told their own story with regards to whether or not they really believe the league title is not over just yet.

Celtic's appeal was then thrown out by the SFA, but the simmering resentment on the part of the Parkhead club continues to linger.

In truth, they have been undone this season by a combination of desperately poor finishing in games they have dominated, while at the back they have have toiled desperately defensively. So far this term Celtic have conceded an astounding 29 SPL goals.

They have not been helped by a string of poor refereeing decisions and it is no slight to say that Scottish whistlers have had an appalling season, not just when officiating Celtic games but in an entire host of matches where blatant mistakes have been shown up. Yet, it was the actual appeal process which so rankled Mowbray. “Who was the appeal to?,” he said. “My frustration is that the same referee who has made the decision on the day has another look at it and the matter is finished.

“It doesn’t seem much of an appeal. If you appeal something, then you want to do so to an independent body. But that is not the case here.
“I didn’t know the process before we went into this. I thought we would appeal, someone would have a look at it and think, ‘yeah, maybe the referee got that one wrong’, without going over the top of the individual or wagging a figure at him.
“If it gets thrown out by an independent panel then you say, ‘fine, we all move on’. It just seems harsh to me that the guy who makes the decision is then asked to make another decision.”

Mowbray said that he had watched the video of the Brown-Lafferty clash on four or five subsequent occasions, and he remains convinced that McDonald made the wrong decision in sprinting across the Ibrox pitch to brandish his red card at Brown.

“I’ve watched it back and I can’t see a sending-off,” the Celtic manager said. “Even if you think I have a level of bias because I work for this football club, I still can’t see a sending-off. As a guy who looks at things honestly, I can’t see what he [Brown] has done. People have said to me that it might be a headbutt, but is there a headbutt? The crime of feigning a potential headbutt might be more of a crime than what Scott Brown did. If you can sit there and honestly believe Scott threw his head towards at him and that his headbutt was a violent act, then fine. I have watched it and can’t see it. I just can’t see it.

“Scott has been flung around. He was put in a headlock and thrown to the floor. When you watch it back, it is wrong.
“And the other frustration is, in such a massive game with the whole world watching, and given what happened in the previous two Old Firm matches, why make such a big decision if you aren’t sure of it?”

With the pressure building around the Celtic manager, Mowbray insisted that he would be there for the long term at the club.
There are various rumours doing the rounds that Mowbray will quit Celtic in the summer - or even be pushed - but he blankly denied such notions. Winning the Active Nation Scottish Cup, however, now seems more essential than ever to Mowbray and Celtic.
“From my perspective we have to keep going, keep working with the team, keep building it,” he added. “I see positive signs, but I also see parts of the team we still need to work with, but we will keep going.
“This team has to win every season. Some seasons you do, some you don’t. Our goal at the start of every season is to win everything. We have to go and try to win our league games and see what happens. But it is there for Rangers to lose it now.
“It’s the same as every year. This club has to win something, but if you don’t, do you throw everything out and start again? If you are logical, then you don’t, you buy into what you believe is going to take the club in the right direction and you keep going.

“Gordon [Strachan] was very successful and won three championships, but I play a different style of football - a different type of football. I want expansive football and at times it can be like a rollercoaster. You are going to have days where you lose goals, but you will also have days of great victories and fantastic football. That’s the journey you go on.”

© Soccerphile.com

No cameras or chips say FIFA

Henry hand ball.FIFA have closed the door for now on using video replays in football.

At its meeting in Zurich yesterday, the International Football Association Board, the committee which decides on any changes to the rules of football, announced they would not be proceeding with technology in football.
"The door is closed. The decision was not to use technology at all," said Fifa's General Secretary Jerome Valcke. "Technology should not enter into the game, that was a clear statement made by the majority of the IFAB. Let's keep the game of football as it is."

The IFAB, the descendant of the 1882 meeting in Manchester between representatives of the world's first four soccer nations - England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales, are now an eight-man committee comprising one representative from each of the four British nations (Northern Ireland but not the Republic) and four from the FIFA family.

The English and Scottish FAs had been in favour of more technology to prevent the sort of brouhaha created by Thierry Henry's illegal handball for France's decisive goal which knocked Eire out of the World Cup.

Football Association of Wales Chief Executive Jonathan Ford cited the "stop-start" nature of using replays, presumably one he knows well from rugby, as something he did not wish to enter soccer, while Irish FA boss Patrick Nelson cited "the debate, the controversy" as part of football.

But the Welsh and Irish representatives sided with the four FIFA delegates, who were against video replays. The committee also kiboshed any introduction of goal-line technology to decide whether a goal had been scored or not.

Two products had been considered for football - Hawk-Eye, well-known to followers of cricket and tennis, and Cairos, a chip inserted inside the ball to determine goal-line decisions.

With this summer's World Cup vulnerable to another 'Hand of Henry' scandal, we are unlikely to have heard the end of this debate, that is for sure.

The IFAB reconvene in May to discuss the role of the fourth official with regard to informing the referee of incidents, plus proposals to yellow-card players who stop or feint while taking a penalty kick, stopping the automatic red card for denying a goal-scoring opportunity and extending the UEFA Europa League's trial of an extra referee behind the goal to FIFA competitions from next season.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile