Friday, September 15, 2017

Parisian starlets set the pace

The UEFA Champions League gets going once again


After the first round of Champions League games it looks like money talks for PSG.

Their galacticos made light work of Scottish champions Celtic at Parkhead, cruising to a 5-0 away win in Glasgow with their newly acquired gemstones, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe both on target.

While it is hardly news to say that a club’s success correlates with their spending, the quantum leap PSG took in the summer by bagging that duo made the transfer arms race that much more of a handicapped one.

It is probably true that their summer splurge had more to do with Middle Eastern geopolitics than football, as Qatar is quarrelling with its Arab neighbours right now, but that puts more of an onus on UEFA to enforce its financial fair play rules and prove that the game has a soul.

When sovereign nations start owning teams the only end game is China v the USA, and given the ownership of several Premier League teams (7:3 to America so far), that already seems to be happening.

The Dutch champions Feyenoord lost 4-0 at home to another expensively assembled toy shop Manchester City, proving the gap between Europe’s top leagues and the rest is now an impossible chasm.

Pity the fans at De Kuip, eager to see their side back in top continental action, winded and grounded within minutes as their visitors cruised into a commanding lead.

The days of Ajax, PSV, Porto, Red Star or Steaua Bucharest, sides skilfully assembled with a modest amount of money, capturing the Champions Cup, are long gone.

Monaco, the most exciting team in last season’s competition, were decisively asset-stripped over the summer, losing Tiemoue Bakayoko, Benjamin Mendy, Bernardo Silva as well as Mbappe, and began their campaign inauspiciously with a 1-1 draw away to Leipzig. There are no obvious suspects for a dark horse this time.

The usual suspects all won convincingly with the exception of Juventus, who defended uncharacteristically abysmally in losing 3-0 in Barcelona.

Only Besiktas’ 3-1 win at Porto and Tottenham’s defeat of Borussia Dortmund by the same score could be seen as surprises but neither are expected to topple the big usual suspects.

The latter game was exceptionally entertaining and interesting for the fact once more that clinical, thrusting attacks trumped ball possession. Spurs too, have finally managed to make the vast spaces of Wembley work for them.

The most notable event of the night however was Sevilla coach Eduardo Berizzo, recently arrived from Celta Vigo, being sent off for idiotically throwing the ball away twice when gathering Liverpool throw-ins.

How such infantile behaviour is still practised by top team managers in front of the camera beggars belief, but any entertainment is welcome to the neutral.

His team had started off some lovely passing football beyond the ken of their English (despite not fielding one British Isles player) hosts and were good value for their 2-2 draw in the end, reminding us the Premier League still has a technical deficit.

The bookies rate the top five in order this season as Real Madrid, PSG, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Manchester City.

PSG look already likely to reach the semi finals at least but their lucre-gilded gatecrashing of the party seems to devalue their challenge somewhat.

Bayern seemed to stutter at home to Anderlecht but came out 3-0 winners in the end, a reminder that the German giants are always a wise bet for the final four.

CIty’s slick win in Rotterdam seemed to suggest they could make the semi-finals this time, while Chelsea’s equally efficient 6-0 demolition of Qarabag means nobody should write off their chances either.

Even Manchester United, with a world-class No.9 in Romelu Lukaku, defensive steel in Nemanja Matic and Victor Lindelof and an emboldened Jose Mourinho, still the tactician par excellence, could be in with a shout.

Barcelona remain in transition, longing for a new Xavi and a young Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi and hoping Luis Suarez remains fit and avoids suspensions. Roma and Juventus showed hairline cracks ready to be breached.

Atletico Madrid are hampered by their transfer ban which expires in early 2018 and Tottenham lack Champions League experience however attractive their game is to watch.

Real are clearly therefore the team to beat again, as their polished, well-honed capture of the crown in Cardiff last season confirmed.

They might have some players who seem to have been there for yonks - Marcelo, Sergio Ramos and Cristiano Ronaldo for instance, but 21 year-old Marco Asensio is shining very brightly and the old guard still have plenty of life in them.

For the sake of spectator interest however, let us hope Zinedine Zidane's men face some stiff competition at least in this season's competition.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Fifa World Rankings September 2017

FIFA World Fifa Rankings
Fifa's World Rankings for September 2017 were published on September 14 at FIFA HQ in Zurich, Switzerland.

Confederations Cup winners Germany change places again with Brazil with Portugal third. Argentina, who are struggling to qualify for World Cup 2018 drop to fourth.

The full top ten is: Germany, Brazil, Euro 2016 winners Portugal, Argentina, Belgium, Poland, Switzerland, France,   Chile, and Colombia.

England are 15th, Wales are 13th. Egypt are the top African team in 30th place.

Asian Cup winners Australia are in 50th place; Japan are in 40th spot and have qualified for the 2018 World Cup. Near neighbors South Korea are in 51st place and have qualified for the 2018 World Cup.

The USA are in 28th. Scotland are in 43rd position. The Republic of Ireland are in 34th place now behind Northern Ireland who are in 20th position.

1 Germany
2 Brazil
3 Portugal
4 Argentina
5 Belgium
6 Poland
7 Switzerland
8 France
9 Chile
10 Colombia
11 Spain
12 Peru Italy
13 Wales
14 Mexico
15 England
16 Uruguay
17 Italy
18 Croatia
19 Slovakia
20 Northern Ireland

Full world rankings

Previous Fifa World Rankings

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Saturday, August 26, 2017

Oranje squash

Oranje squash.
LAST SEASON'S EUROPA LEAGUE FINALISTS ARE OUT OF EUROPE ALREADY

Spare a thought for Ajax, who thrilled at times on their way to last season's Europa League final before a Mourinho masterclass floored them.

Unsurprisingly, the stellar eleven which dazzled as recently as May has now been whittled away.

Inspirational midfield skipper Davy Klaassen was snapped up by Everton in the summer and the Amsterdam club's offer of doubling the wages of talented centre-back Davinson Sanchez was easily outgunned by Tottenham, who bought the young Colombian last week.

Two more of their starting eleven in Stockholm have left. Defender Jairo Riedewald has swapped Ajax for Crystal Palace and on-loan Bertrand Traore was sold by parent club Chelsea to Lyon.

On the bench for the final in Sweden, defender Kenny Tete is now at Monaco and reserve goalkeeper Diederik Boer has gone to Zwolle.

Yesterday, the depleted team, having been eliminated from the Champions League earlier this summer by Nice, albeit only on away goals, was knocked out of the qualifying round of this season's Europa League by Rosenborg 4-2 on aggregate, leaving the modest challenge of the Dutch league alone.

The domestic season has barely started but one of last season’s major performers in UEFA is already out of Europe.

Holland's other clubs have fared little better. PSV were knocked out of the Europa League by Osijek of Croatia 2-0 on aggregate in the third qualifying round and Utrecht went the same way as Ajax in the play-off round, losing 2-1 overall to Zenit St Petersburg.

Feyenoord are the last Dutch club standing by mid August and they have not played in Europe yet.

Having won the Eredivisie last season they progressed directly to the Champions League group stages, where they will play Manchester City, Napoli and Shakhtar Donetsk in Group F.

Ajax’s precocious prodigies have long been cherry-picked by richer teams abroad, particularly after their young guns reached two European Cup finals in the mid 1990s, so this is nothing new.

It was just that last season's run to the Europa League final had teased a renaissance of one of the continent's most storied clubs.

And it is not just the players who happily leave Holland in search of a greater payday. Last season's Ajax manager Peter Bosz is now coaching Borussia Dortmund, which is certainly a bigger club, but other top Dutch managers of the moment are exchanging top Dutch teams for modest English clubs which pay higher wages.

Ronald Koeman has coached Holland's big three of Ajax, Feyenoord and PSV but was happy to leave Feyenoord for Southampton, on paper a lower club, though it gave him a stepping-stone to Everton where he is now; Martin Jol swapped Ajax for Fulham in 2011 and Frank De Boer is now managing Crystal Palace having left Ajax for Inter in 2016.

Ajax remain unable to keep their top players or managers. The Dutch league's modest market simply cannot produce enough capital to pay wages on a par with Europe’s big four leagues.

The best they, PSV or Feyenoord can hope for, unless the proposed 'Atlantic League' featuring the best of the Netherlands, Portugal and Scotland ever got going, is to earn more from progressing in Europe.

And this week, less than three months after their first European final in over two decades, the club of Johann Cruyff, Dennis Bergkamp, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Rinus Michels, Johan Neeskens, Piet Keizer, Frank Rijkaard and the De Boer brothers, was out of Europe.

For how long, nobody knows.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Fifa World Rankings August 2017

FIFA World Fifa Rankings
Fifa's World Rankings for August 2017 were published on August 10 at FIFA HQ in Zurich, Switzerland.

Brazil are top ahead of Confederations Cup winners, Germany and Argentina.

The full top ten is: Brazil, Germany, Argentina, Switzerland, Poland, Euro 2016 winners Portugal,  Chile, Colombia, Belgium and France.

England are 13th, Wales are 18th. Egypt are the top African team in 25th place.

Asian Cup winners Australia are in 45th place; Japan are in 44th spot. Near neighbors South Korea are in 49th place.

The USA are in 26th. Scotland are in 58th position. The Republic of Ireland are in 29th place now behind Northern Ireland who are in 23rd position.

1 Brazil
2 Germany
3 Argentina
4 Switzerland
5 Poland
6 Portugal
7 Chile
8 Colombia
9 Belgium
10 France
11 Spain
12 Italy
13 England
14 Mexico
15 Peru
16 Croatia
17 Uruguay
18 Wales
19 Sweden
20 Iceland

Full world rankings

Previous Fifa World Rankings

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Friday, July 28, 2017

Football's Oldest Derby

Football's oldest derby takes place this Sunday, 30th July 2017, for the 157th year.


Football's Oldest Derby - Sheffield FC v Hallam.


The World's oldest football derby will once again take place on Sunday 30th July as Sheffield FC face Hallam FC. Now in its 157th year, the derby was first played on Boxing Day 1860 under the original "gentleman's rules" and is a celebration of football's true and original values of Integrity, Respect & Community.

Once again promoting fan accessibility, Classic Football Shirts and Sheffield FC are offering adult entry to the match for just £3 adults and £1 concessions with the attached ticket #FansComeFirst

Football's Oldest Derby - Sheffield FC v Hallam.


Sheffield FC Chairman Richard Tims said "It's a great derby and a great tradition, one which has forever been based on football's original values of Integrity, Respect & Community. The 157th derby year is particularly special for us with Sheffield FC turning 160 years old in less than a 100 days time. We can't wait for the match and celebrating football's history once again for fans all across the world".

FIFA Documentary on the Derby



SHEFFIELD FC: PRESS RELEASE
10 JULY 2017

#FansComeFirst: Sheffield FC release the lowest price current season jersey in World Football.

The World's first football club, Sheffield FC are proud to continue their role as football's pioneers, this time through the release of the lowest price current season jersey in World Football. With the average football jersey now retailing at around the £60 mark, we felt it vitally important to keep football affordable and put the fans first, allowing them to show their colours with pride.

Football's Oldest Derby.


Priced at just £19.99 the shirts have been released alongside partners Classic Football Shirts & Joma Sport and are now available for fans across the globe to purchase ahead of the club’s historic 160th celebratory season. Get the World's first at the World's lowest price here

Sheffield FC hope to once again prove their commitment to the founding values of Integrity, Respect, Community and the philosophy that fans come first in the beautiful game. Fans are able to join the initiative by sharing the story alongside #FansComeFirst or purchasing a shirt to help support Sheffield FC in other grassroots projects.

Excited about the pioneering initiative, Sheffield FC Chairman Richard Tims stated: "In 1857 Sheffield FC was founded on the values of Integrity, Respect & Community and the belief that the beautiful game should be for everyone. 160 years later and we’re still living by these values, offering the lowest price jersey in World Football to make the game as accessible as possible for fans across the World. We hope this will not only allow more fans to support football’s first but also encourage other clubs around the world to always live by the philosophy, fans first!"

www.sheffieldfc.com

Football's Oldest Derby.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Surviving a dry summer

THE DRAG OF THE CLOSE-SEASON IN ODD-NUMBERED YEARS

Surviving a dry summer.
Summers in these off-years are hard to get through for football fans like me.

By off-years I mean those ending in odd numbers which have neither the World Cup nor European Championships to get excited about.

July is the dryest of dry seasons in years like this, with the daily mash of transfer gossip a poor substitute for the meat of real football news.

With some reluctance I find myself getting into summer sports here in England like cricket and tennis. When I was a child I looked in the newspapers for the football section and found only the Australian Pools forecasts.

In truth we all need a break of course and a reminder that there are other things in life. But breaking such a deep bond, even for a few weeks, is never easy.

I am already harking back to a less than vintage domestic calendar just passed, wondering if we will ever see the young wonders of Ajax or Monaco shine again, now their assets have inevitably begun to be stripped.

Neither won their respective continental cups of course, a reminder that pragmatism trumps creative genius all too often. Perspiration beat inspiration once more as Real Madrid won another UEFA Champions League without setting the world alight, while Jose Mourinho's tactical masterclass in winning the UEFA Europa League final for Manchester United was more proof the devil has all the best tunes.

England winning the U-20 World Cup was a brief highlight and an exciting final, but we are kidding ourselves if it relates much to the national team's prospects.



I mean no disrespect to fans of the CONCACAF Gold Cup either, but when the finals feature Curacao, French Guyana and Martinique, this competition sits some way behind the Euros and the Copa America, so much so that there has been talk of merging it with its southern neighbour for good, a format experimented with last summer in the Copa America Centenario.

Mexico, the traditional Central American powerhouse, has sent a B team this summer after its first eleven contested the Confederations Cup, a clear vote of demotion, while the USA's squad has a decidedly experimental feel to it with Russia 2018 qualification the clear priority after their poor start.

The Confederations Cup remains an odd tournament, a decidedly lukewarm, pallid and ultimately meaningless impression of the World Cup the following summer. Making a list of World Cup winners is relatively easy for the committed fan, but try to make a list of Confederations Cup winners and you have to stop and think.

Another problem with the cup is that the line-up for the finals always seems a little bizarre. This is for two reasons:

One, because it takes teams who have gone off the boil since winning their regional competitions as opposed to nations freshly qualified for the World Cup who are in good form.

Three of the eight in Russia this summer had won their cups in 2015 and one in 2014.

And secondly because some FIFA regions are much stronger than others, a final eight lineup looks much better in the World Cup than the Confederations Cup, where only half of the finalists could realistically stand a chance of making it to the quarter-finals next summer.

New Zealand relish it for their only chance at crossing swords with the stars but the persistent presence of such a week football nation diminishes the tournament as well.

Many fans seem to forget it is even taking place and as a journalist at the 2005 tournament in Germany I still felt duty bound to ask players how they felt about participating in it after a gruelling season.

Qualifiers France (1999), Germany (1997 and 2003) and Italy (2003) even declined to take part.

What started off as the invitational King Fahd Cup in Saudi Arabia only really justifies its existence now as a dry run for the following summer's World Cup finals host.

We should not worry excessively that Germany's less than best eleven winning the 2017 edition means a certain victory for the Mannschaft in Moscow next summer: No previous Confederations Cup winner has gone on to lift the biggest prize the following year.



Having said that, no European nation had ever won the World Cup outside of Europe until Germany broke that duck in 2014.

Germany's Russian conquest this summer combined with their U21s recapturing their European crown in Poland serves as a piquant reminder to the world which country remains the top dog in soccer.

Any football nation which aspires to greater things surely should be aping the German youth system and the DFB's overall planning instead of dreaming of Barcelona, Brazil and Cristiano Ronaldo.

Studying the German youth sides should be instructive: Their U21s took England apart in the 2009 final 4-0 and then using the same tactics and some of same players did the same to the national team, 4-1, at the 2010 World Cup.

Now both the Confederations Cup and the U21s are over I am scrambling around to feed my lifelong addiction to the Beautiful Game.

I have attended both those competitions as fan as well as journalist and enjoyed the experiences but they can only be hors d'oeuvres to the main courses of the Henri Delaunay or Jules Rimet trophies.

There really is only one remedy:

Bring on 2018 asap.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Garcia fallout and the 2026 World Cup

With little on the field to get excited about, my thoughts turn to football politics.

Garcia fallout and the 2026 World Cup.


The Michael Garcia report on the 2018 and 2022 World Cup awarding decisions has finally been published, but sadly did not provide enough ammunition to charge Russia and Qatar or strip them of their World Cup hosting.

That Qatar paid $2 million to the ten year-old daughter of a FIFA official (the fantastically bent Brazilian Ricardo Texeira) would be hilarious if it were not so tragic. That a nation with no discernible football heritage, a hostile climate and apparently incompatible culture could trump the superior claims of Australia and the United States immediately shocked.

The subsequent humiliation of Qatari AFC President Mohammed Bin Hammam, aka Mr Bribe, and the tsunami of FIFA corruption cases has done nothing to change the impression that hosting the World Cup was a tainted victory for the tiny Gulf state, yet Garcia believed Bin Hammams's payments to individuals to help his bid for the FIFA presidency had no connection to Qatar's 2022 bid.

That said, other bidding nations came out just as embarrassed - Japan and South Korea for their largesse to potential supporters and Australia and England in their clumsy attempts to woo the kingmaker Jack Warner, the epitome of FIFA corruption and malfeasance, with money, friendlies and jobs for the boys.

England also tried to do a vote swap with the Koreans on the eve of the vote, but that nation already had a deal in place with Spain, an inevitable consequence of scheduling two hosting votes together. It was all to no avail of course as none of those three nations emerged victorious.

Along with Michel Platini's, Franz Beckenbauer's football career is over as a result of the fall of the house of Blatter. Der Kaiser was shown to be evasive in his answers to Garcia and appears to have violated his organisation's Ethics Code in assisting his advisors to help with Australia's bid.

Spaniard Angel Maria Villar Llona, who famously said "All the fish are sold" referring to his nation's tie up with Korea for 2018, also came out badly from Garcia's dossier, but uniquely amongst Sepp Blatter's tarnished FIFA Executive Committee, remains in a position of power, second only to current president Gianni Infantino as we speak...

The only 2018 bid apparently beyond criticism was that of Belgium & The Netherlands it should be noted.

This was a perfectly valid application, promoted by Johann Cruyff and Ruud Gullit amongst others, yet fell at the second hurdle, only beaten in unpopularity by that of England, which despite being the best host on paper was firmly dismissed by the squalid ExCo as punishment for its investigative journalism, as Blatter confirmed in his brazen instructions to voters.

Russia escaped pretty neatly from the Garcia report but question marks remain at the miraculously fortuitous destruction of the computers used in its bidding process. Amid the shadow of Russian involvement in the US presidential election and international cyber-crime, the 2018 tournament hosting still looks less than bona fide.

At the same time however, the football world accepts a show as big as the World Cup must sooner or later visit all the world big nations, even those with short footballing traditions like India or China.

Since Russia has a long footballing heritage with household names like the Moscow clubs Dynamo and Spartak, it lets them somewhat off the hook.

We have all been left so jaded by the fireworks at FIFA since the December 2010 vote set the whole house on fire that for now it is hard to get excited about who is iine for the 2026 World Cup Finals.

By rights England should be hosting the World Cup before long but there is no appetite here to trust FIFA again after what happened in Zurich in 2010, with our heir to the throne and Prime Minister present for the debacle, lest we forget.

By the time of the bidding process for 2030, the first possible time England could host again, the culture of FIFA might just have become fair enough for the FA to consider throwing its hat into the ring.

2026 will encompass a whopping 80 games with 48 finalists, which seems to rule out most of FIFA's membership and major football nations. Absurdly, there will be as many finalists from CONCACAF as from CONMEBOL (six a-piece).

With Europe and Asia prevented from bidding because they are hosting the next two tournaments, and Africa hosting as recently as 2010, 2026 will therefore take place in the Americas or Australia.

Colombia has announced its interest but the country has poor infrastructure, with no railway network for instance, although arguably no worse than that of South Africa in 2010.

Their main challenger and the favourite is clearly the combined one of the USA, Canada and Mexico, which envisages 60 games in the States and ten in each of their joint-hosts. Three versus one, Colombia already looks outgunned.

That a nation as big as the USA is not proposing to host the finals alone is proof enough that expansion is a bad idea. Who beyond China could host such a behemoth alone in the future? The quality of first-round matches is already an issue at the 32-team finals so a 50% expansion can only makes things worse.

Of course it will make more money for FIFA though, the prime motivation as always.

With the deadline of the 11th of August looming, it seem the North/Central American bid is the only game in town. Morocco, Chile and Australia have mentioned interest in hosting but are not expected to launch a serious bid in time.

The final decision is set for 13th of June next summer, on the eve of the Russian World Cup.

After being controversially jilted for 2022, CONCACAF and particularly US Soccer expect to be cracking open the champagne in Moscow.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile