Friday, June 30, 2006

Deutschland on the brink

Deutschland on the brink.
Germany have excelled on and off the field. While almost no one dared tip the hosts as potential champions in the run up to the tournament, Jurgen Klinsmann's men have defied the doubters to run in four straight wins and claim a place in the last eight.

Now the test really begins with South American giants Argentina between the Germans and a place in the semi finals.

Should the hosts lose then people will forget their impressive form to date and return to calling them not good enough and an unworthy heir to the champions of 1954, 1974 and 1990.

What might make the difference is the national fervour the team has engendered. Anyone present in Germany has witnessed the extraordinary celebrations up and down the land following each German victory.

The home crowd has effectively become worth a goal start for the National Mannschaft and rode the tide of emotion Klinsmann's team has brought to the nation.

Should they win again today it is hard to see them losing at all in the competition but if the South Americans emerge triumphant, the remarkable wave of German patriotism, one of the greatest one could hope to see in a lifetime, will be a mere memory in a few days.

Copyright © Sean O'Conor

Long Road Ahead For Asia

Asia should be thankful for Australia – though Japan may find it difficult to find any gratitude – and the fact that the newest member of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) was the only one of the five representatives to progress past the knockout stage.

Suspicions in Europe and elsewhere that Japan and South Korea’s 2002 success was helped hugely by home advantage will not have been allayed by the fact that the traditional big four Asian nations, were, as the saying goes, “home before the postcards”.

More serious is the fact that even with Australia’s presence in the last sixteen, there is sure to be at least some pressure from other confederations to reduce Asia’s current World Cup allocation of 4.5 spots. Any decision to do so would be have a profound effect on the continent’s football scene and with Australia looking strong, one or more of the traditional powers will miss out in 2010.

It is natural that there will be postmortems as to why Asia’s traditional ‘big four’ didn’t make it to the second round and earlier this week, the AFC’s President, Mohamed bin Hamman, pointed the finger at the standard of the continent’s domestic leagues.

It doesn’t take a genius to recognize that Asian domestic leagues have to improve and not just for the sake of future World Cups. However, nobody should forget that European nations have long and rich football traditions and it is only relatively recently that leagues such as Korea’s and Japan’s became professional – Korea was the first in 1983.

Asian fans shouldn’t then beat themselves up about the standard of their domestic set-ups, it would be truly miraculous if their leagues could even be compared to those of even average European nations and it is a credit to Japan that, in terms of professionalism and organization at least, the J-League can.

The problem is that during the World Cup, they are compared with the best by people watching all over the world simply because that is the nature of the tournament. Sat in Leipzig’s Stadium before the Korea – France clash, a quick glance at FIFA’s team sheets revealed the size of the challenge facing the 2002 semi-finalists. Players from Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma, Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors and Suwon Samsung Bluewings were facing those from Real Madrid, Chelsea, Juventus and Bayern Munich -it is to Korea’s credit that they came away with a 1-1 draw.

Bin Hamman said that Australia succeeded because their players play in big leagues but what he is forgetting is that those leagues are not Australian. He can’t have it both ways – praising a nation who fielded just one or two A-League stars in the World Cup while telling others to improve their domestic set-ups. International experience is good for players and national teams but a strong league provides a much stronger foundation for continued success.

It is tough to find a balance. Immediately after Korea’s loss against Switzerland, Dick Advocaat told his soon-to-be-ex employers that the K-League has to improve. At the same time in a different part of Hanover’s World Cup Stadium, Lee Chun-soo, perhaps Korea’s best player in Germany and the 2005 K-League MVP, was telling reporters that he wanted another try in Europe.

Just days after giving his advice, Advocaat is getting ready to take two of the K-League’s best players, Kim Dong-jin and Lee Ho, with him to his new club Zenit St. Petersburg. It is a little like going to a friend’s party, telling them it’s boring before taking some of the best music and drinks to another party. The experience in Russia may improve the players and therefore the national team but what about the K-League?

It is hard to blame the players especially as they are usually encouraged to head overseas by media and supporters who are proud to see their home-grown stars strutting their stuff on a weekly basis in such strong leagues England, Spain or Germany.

France’s second division couldn’t be classed as such though that is where one of Asia’s brightest stars Masashi Oguro chose to play – a decision that shows there is still much work to be done.

The striker was one of the successes of the 2005 J-League season and his goals helped Gamba Osaka lift a first-ever league title. He broke into the national team and helped Team Nippon qualify for the World Cup. Instead of staying with Gamba, one of the biggest and best teams in Asia, to defend their title as well as participate in the Asian Champions League, he instead chose to join mid-table French second division team Grenoble Foot38 with an average attendance of only 5,000 ..

While it is welcomed that there seems to be a renewed realization that matters need to improve, it will take time, patience and a good deal of administrative will. Attention shouldn’t be overly fixed on the World Cup, a target of competitive domestic leagues is not a means to an end but an end in itself and the AFC, the respective domestic organizations, the media and the fans must be in it for the long haul.

If that happens then, despite the disappointment of the past month, there is a glimmer of hope that the 2006 World Cup may eventually seen as a watershed in Asian football.

Copyright (c) John Duerden &

Pie, have you forsaken me?

Pricing up a football match is a lot like baking a pie. Get all the ingredients right and you have a sweet smelling pastry that will attract interest from afar; get the ingredients wrong, and you’re left with a concoction so inedible, even Brazilian waddler Ronaldo would refuse to eat it all.

If a full strength England were to meet a full strength Portugal, the majority of handsome, highly intelligent, sexually potent odds compilers would make England slight favourites. Decimate the Portuguese team with suspensions and injuries, and England’s odds must fall like Arjen Robben in a penalty area.

A couple of bookmakers appear to have left the ‘team news’ ingredient out of their respective pies, they’re offering England at a huge 6/5 against a Portugal side riddled with reserves. If you don’t take advantage of this oversight, you’re basically condoning their behaviour. If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s a bad pastry.

Big Phil may have got the better of Sven in the last two tournaments, one more win for Scolari would allow him to take Sven home for keeps, but thanks to a card happy refereeing maniac, Portuguese dreams ended the moment Deco saw red. Take advantage by backing England to be winning at half time and full time at 13/5.

Historically, England have been the better team. The 1966 World Cup winners used Portugal as a stepping stone, and Tom Finney and Stanley Matthews once inspired the Lions to a 10-0 win in Lisbon. The more cynical amongst you may feel the need to question the relevance of form from the 1940’s, but it all adds to a feeling of genuine optimism. A 10-0 win for England can be safely ruled out, but a 2-0 victory looks bang on the money, 8/1 is available.

England have a goalkeeper of genuine quality in Paul Robinson, but his recent performances have left a question mark hanging in the air. (If it was David James, he would have flapped at it before philosophically pondering the complexities of life while Pauleta rolled it into an empty net.) An England clean sheet has been priced up at 6/4, and that’s a Peter Crouch price, it’s too big and it shouldn’t really be there.

John Terry has been lined up to deliver a motivational speech in the dressing room before the match, I’m guessing he’ll be holding a razor while declaring that bouncers don’t like it up ‘em. Terry looked wobbly against Ecuador, it’s 9/1 that he makes amends by scoring with a header.

Sven’s bold decision to play a 4-5-1 against Ecuador freed up Lampard and Gerrard as expected, but Frank hardly covered himself in glory. Lampard had such a disappointing match, at the end of the game he tried to shake hands with the ref and missed by a good five yards. Frank scoring from outside the area has been priced up at 11/2, he’s due.

I refuse to shy away from asking the tough questions. Is it true that Victoria Beckham was the inspiration for the Robert De Niro film ‘WAG the dog’? Sorry, that’s a trifle harsh, on the poor pooch. Vicky did jump up like an excited Chihuahua when Becks curled in the winner against Ecuador, hopefully, I’ll get to see her excited again. Becks threw up after scoring, a scenario I’m more than familiar with; Golden Balls is an 8/1 shot to score direct from a free-kick for the second match running.

Brazil face France on Saturday night, and the Samba Boys have to be opposed. Ronaldo may be the greatest World Cup goal scorer of all-time, but his lack of mobility will prove to be a hindrance now they finally face quality opposition. How can Brazil play with a striker who has to stay five yards in front of the last French defender, in order to keep his stomach from drifting into an offside position? He can’t use his body weight to challenge a defender, as it could lead to a charge of attempted murder. The French are the call at 4/1.

Thierry Henry was a little bit naughty against the Spanish, rolling on the floor clutching his face like he was Phil Neville in a house of mirrors. It could be that his: “Next time i’ll learn to dive maybe, but i am not a woman,” outburst after the Champions League final was actually a statement of intent. Henry glides like a ballerina and even when he scores, he has the facial expression of a lady who has ‘the decorators in’. Teri can still play though; take 7/1 about Henry opening the scoring.

I’m not going to waste your time by going into too much detail on Friday’s quarter finals, as the Argies and the Italians are such nailed on, in the bag, already past the post, absolutely raging certainties. The Friday double pays out at a healthy 10/3.

Weekend Betting:

Germany v Argentina Friday 30th June 16.00

Germany 7/4
Draw 21/10
Argentina 7/4

Get on: Argentina

Match Special:
“Big Max” – Maxi Rodriguez to score with a header 10/1

Italy v Ukraine Friday 30th June 20.00

Italy 8/13
Draw 13/5
Ukraine 11/2

Get on: Italy

Match Special:
“Pirl jam” – Pirlo to score direct from a free-kick 10/1

England v Portugal Saturday 1st July 16.00

England 6/5
Draw 9/4
Portugal 11/4

Get on: England

Match Special:
“My name is Hurl” – David Beckham to score at any time 4/1

Brazil v France Saturday 1st July 20.00

Brazil 5/6
Draw 12/5
France 4/1

Get on: France

Match Special:
“Thierry, wait” – Henry to score in the second half 5/1

Copyright (c) Gerry McDonnell &

Thursday, June 29, 2006

One man and his log Hannover

Wednesday 29th June Hannover. Berlin

Two days of rest and no football on the agenda.

Arriving back in Berlin the streets seemed very quiet as there was no sign of the thousands of football fans that I left here only a few days ago. Of course there are still some Mexicans to be found in Berlin, as well as other parts of Europe (Amsterdam, Copenhagen & Zurich to name but a few places where Manuel has been during this competition). They were also seen in large numbers at the Spain v France game and I am sure, although they won't have forgiven the Argentinians, that they will be there on Friday as well.

So with time on my hand I went to the Deutsches Historiches Museum, where they just happened to have a temporary exhibition "Das Spiel" (The Game!) of photographs taken at all the World Cups. Some of the highlights included a young Pele in tears after the 1958 final, a Russian who had made his own Jules Rimet trophy and stuck it on a card together with photo of the Russian team to show his support for his team in 1966. And the wonderful shot of Maradona with six Belgium defenders all looking anxious and wondering which way he is going to go.

I came across the Pele Playstation at Potsdam Platz, and had to take a look. After scoring his 1,000 goal, Pele dedicated the feat to the Brazilian children. He has now set up the Pele Pequeno Principe Institute, to provide Child and Adolescent Health Research originally in Brazil, but it has now spread to other countries all the activities are designed to reduce infant mortality rates.

Using Pele's name they are able to raise money and here there was a small collection of memorabilia and a large number of video clips including the Plymouth Argyle v Santos game. Also there just happened to be a small football pitch, but it was in darkness. The problem was solved with luminous bibs and ball!

Thursday 30 th June

OK so definitely no football today.

Well I had seen an exhibition at the Television Museum entitled Tor! So I thought that I should go there. Sure enough the title of the exhibition was Goal! Football and Television. The highlight of the show was the film made by Hellmuth Costard during the 1970/71 season when he filmed George Best for the whole of the game. Focusing solely on his movements throughout the game. I gave up watching after he scored to make it 1-0 in the 55th minute.

Preferring to watch matches at the stadium I haven't had time to visit the Fan Mile in Berlin, so this represented my best chance. Compared to the pictures I had seen the place was desolate. I am sure that tomorrow it will all be so different.

Right in front of the Bundestag, Adidas have built there own Adidas Arena, a smaller version of the Olympic Stadium, and laid on facilities for people to play football! (Just one game of 5-a-side). Whilst I was there Gerd Müller also introduced the latest Gold, Silver and Bronze boots that Adidas will be awarding to the top goalscorers at this years competion.

Copyright (c) Ross Clegg &

Berlin Guide

Hannover Guide

Books on Football

Germany Travel Guides

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

One man and his log Cologne

Monday 26th June Schwabach. Köln.

Tickets for games at this World Cup have been seen as prized possessions, something akin to the Golden tickets issued giving admittance to Willie Wonka's chocolate factory. Outside the stadiums people proudly have their photographs taken by friends, stadium in the background clutching their ticket. People will enquire about how you got your ticket and tell you how lucky you are. But for each ticket I have there is usually a tale to tell. For example in the last few days a Japanese friend (thanks Tetsuma!) emailed me to explain that he had received an offer of a conditional ticket for the game in Köln, and asked if I would like to use it.


The conditional tickets were one of many different options FIFA offered, with this scheme the wording on the website led you to believe that if you applied for a ticket for seven games they would give you a ticket for one of them, although there could only be 36 hours between an e-mail being received and the match itself.

There followed the small matter of working my way round the regulations that FIFA have introduced, so thanks to Tetsuma not feeling well (I hope you are better now) and my dad not having used his allocation of seven tickets (Thanks dad!). I was able to take up this offer.

Further luck was to come my way as at the same time as sorting all this out I received an e-mail advising me that I had been awarded a conditional ticket for Hannover, the next day.

Tuesday 27th June Köln. Hannover.

In this latest round of games, those people with tickets in their hands outside were no longer the lucky punters but those who thought they were about to make some ill-gotten gains. Apart from the Mexico, Germany and England games this has not been the case.


Immediately outside the ground I heard a Frenchman trying to sell a ticket proclaiming firstly that the game was sold out (aren't they all!) and that it would be Zidane's last game!(Guess the French didn't fancy their chances beforehand).

People were trying to sell tickets for at least €250 and those in the know could see that the demand for tickets was no longer there and at kick off tickets for the game would be available for less than face value.

The policing of the tournament has been well handled and it looked as though initially touts would have a free reign. But softly, softly policing has seen police step in, checking that the tickets touts were selling were genuine and then when problems arose taking people away for further questioning when it was found that they were selling tickets for more than face value. This has been a commom sense approach, which goes against all that has been said by FIFA.

There have been checks on people's identity at the turnstiles but when people have been identified as having a ticket in another persons name they have simply been asked to complete formalities to change the name on the ticket, and have not been charged for this!

Among the tickets I have obtained on the black market were ones issued by the Paraguayan FA, Mastercard and Security!!! I was aware before I came out of the fact that tickets close to the pitch had not been sold as FIFA were concerned over safety issues, and that they had asked the military if they would provide personnel to occupy those seats. The military agreed but stated that its people would be in uniform. FIFA declined this offer and seem to have given tickets instead to their own security personnel. So there I was on the front row with access to the pitch to avoid the plastic cups being thrown by the Koreans after the second Swiss goal was allowed to stand.

Why should a football fan who has acquired a ticket be denied the right to watch the game that they have chosen to purchase a ticket for? FIFA's talk of punishing those that support the game is a worry that the ticketing issue may go the wrong way. In Greece for the Olympics, people were not allowed to sell tickets for more than face value, this eliminated extortionate prices and generally meant that people offloading tickets sold them at a discount and if there was a buoyant market the touts could sell them at face value.

You could argue that FIFA feel upset that they have missed out on more revenue and maybe their answer to this would be to auction all tickets to the highest bidder! This could result in a crowd being present that is not remotely interested in the spectacle unfolding in front of them, I for one do not think that FIFA would be able to market the World Cup without the passion and colour the spectators that care, add.

Copyright (c) Ross Clegg &

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The stuff of fantasies...

Bring on Van Nistelrooy! Bring him on! What you doing?? Bring Van Nistelrooy ooooon!!

That was me the other night, watching the highly entertaining farce that was Portugal vs Holland. Not that I have a particular soft spot for the out-of-favour striker, nor one for Holland, although their acrobatics and contortions would impress me in a circus. No, the reason is that through a mixture of sagely wisdom, blind optimism and downright incompetence I have paid 11 million for him to be in my fantasy team.

If the suffering, indignity and sheer frustration of supporting England wasn't enough, millions of us think we can don our pundits hats and create the perfect team, myself included, in fantasy leagues across the world. But what does this inevitably lead to? In my case a bit of interest in otherwise fairly neutral games but mostly more suffering, indignity and frustration.

Unlike supporting England though, the fantasy team has an even crueller twist. A lacklustre England, with players like Lampard and Terry not quite gaining the form we know they're capable of, is hair-pull-outingly annoying but at the end of the day there's nothing we can do. We can half sit, half stand, try and pop our eyes out of our sockets whilst trying not to soil our smalls, damn Sven and Steve to Hell and back but ultimately we are impotent. We have that safety net, we know that despite all our smart answers and amazing solutions we will never ever get the chance to put our well thought out/pinched from the newspaper tactics into practice. But the fantasy team does not have that safety net. Who put as yet underachievers in the fried egg colours of the not so mighty Eggyweggywegs and kept them there? Well, it was me and it is only me to blame.

Every shot spooned into the air by Lampard is a cruel blow, and one that tears me in two directions - do I take him out? He's just not getting them in. But then will he suddenly find the kind of form that he's been threatening? If I take him out, no doubt he will. If I don't there's a good chance he won't. AAAAAAAHHHHHHH!!!! And so the theme goes on for the rest of my team - brilliant stars who haven't quite been shining as bright as they normally would, roll up and join Eggyweggywegs. No, no need for points here , just come and languish a while. Ronaldinho, a surefire points machine - goals, assists, Brazilian clean sheets (football, think football...)- but what has he done so far? As I imagine Paul Daniels says all day long, not a lot. The points he's got me (as captain for a while may I add, until I realised he was doing nowt and captained young starlet Messi. Another great move - the following game he sat on the bench for 84 minutes)add up to somewhere around the sweet (fi)FA mark.

And what of Ballack? What a player - 23 shots in one game, an unbelievable feat. But how many of them went in? None of course. Have you ever heard of a man be denied 23 times in 90 minutes? I'm talking football here, not Jumpin' Jaks on the night of an England game. But it's the Lampard conundrum all over again - surely he's seconds away from that golden moment when it all slots into place, and then, bejeeeesus, can you imagine it? That'd be like, you know, at least 15 goals a game from him. That's if I take him out. Thing is after much deliberation I'll probably leave him in and he'll probabaly do nothing. He might continue with a niggling injury that may or may not keep him out of games, but will be small enough to give me hope and not change my midfield. Oh, woah is me.

To make matter worse, I missed the transfer deadline so that while everyone else's team is full to the eyeballs with Argentines, Germans and Brazilians, I faced the first knockout round with an Aussie in the team and a Pole on the bench, ready to, erm, stay at home if one of my players doesn't play. Like that bloody Van Nistelrooy for instance...

Copyright © Bernie's Quiff &

World Cup Betting

EURO 2008

Asian Teams Disappoint

Asian Teams Disappoint.
For those of thought Japan-Korea signalled the start of a new new hierarchy in world football Germany 2006 will demand a rethink.

Four years ago Senegal shocked France in the opening game and went on to the quarter-finals. Meanwhile Turkey and South Korea found their way to the last four while Argentina and France went home early. For all that the final was contested by the powerhouses Germany and Brazil and this year football's old world teams have been dismissive of their new world challengers.

There are often demands to give more spaces to teams from Asia or Africa to make the World Cup a more global event but the results don't back the argument up. All four Asian teams failed at the group stages, one of five Africans made it through and just Mexico from the four CONCAF teams squeaked out of their group only to run into the Argentineans.

The European and South American teams have been dominant each qualifying three-quarters of their entrants to the final sixteen. They weren't especially troubled on the way as even the beleaguered French team managed a comfortable 2-0 victory over Togo when they had to. The Ivory Coast and South Korea offered some spirited resistance but only after they had fallen behind.

Each region must find their own solutions. Asia can take solace in their relative inexperience of their teams at this level, the progress their players have made in the past decade and the confidence players like Park Ji-Sung and Hideotoshi Nakata have shown playing with Europe's best clubs. Iran, Japan and the Korea showed high standards of passing and organisation that gave them opportunities in every game they played while only the Saudis looked poor, unable to turn their wealth into results. But all teams from the Asian region struggled to cope with the physicality of the other nations and they need to come up with a system to negate more powerful opponents. The awesome levels of energy displayed by Korea in 2002 offer one answer but it is difficult to maintain this level over long periods.

The CONCAF region receives massive support from FIFA who are desperate to maintain strong markets in Mexico and the USA. FIFA give three and a half spots to CONCAF which all but guarantees qualification for Mexico and the US and their Byzantine ranking system rated these countries as the 4th and 5th best teams going into the World Cup. There's nothing wrong with FIFA supporting football in the area but the extra spaces mean that the top teams are not challenged in qualifying while the high rankings breed false expectations and jealousy from other nations. Mexico gave Argentina a tough game but struggled through their group and team USA showed plenty of athleticism but little of the guile required at this level. The other teams, Costa Rica and Trinidad and Tobago added to the party but not much to the overall quality.

Africa will have the most hope for the future and can look forward to South Africa 2010 with some confidence. They qualified three new teams to the tournament this year, a good indicator of rising standards. Ghana came through a tough group with an all action style to become just the fifth African team to qualify for the final stages, and the absence of Essien from their last 16 clash with Brazil is a disappointment for neutrals everywhere. The Ivory Coast won plenty of admiration for their attacking intent and would surely have progressed from an easier group but some of their defending was suicidal against the quality of Argentina and Holland and they only turned it on after falling behind. Angola seemed overawed and Togo wrecked their chances by sacking the manager who saw them through to the finals, replacing him with an arrogant European and then fighting over how the spoils should be divvied up. The Tunisians met most expectations with their all-round dullness. Individually Africa can produce the players and the naivety seen in earlier tournaments is long gone as most top African players ply their trade across Europe but collectively the whole is less than the sum of the parts and we still await the African team that is not just dangerous but deadly.

The Europeans and South Americans have upped their standard this year. The worn-out adage that their are no easy games any more has finally been taken to heart with the top teams now more focused on and aware of their opponents than in the past. The new soccer nations need to match their effort and desire just to keep up but there is hope. Oceania's one qualifier Australia have stormed the World Cup with little respect for reputation. The verve they have shown should be a beacon to emergent nations everywhere.

Copyright © Will Marquand and

COMMENT: Australian football at crossroads following exit to "questionable" penalty

You only hope the nature of Australia's second-round exit at the World Cup doesn’t undo the sport's previous fortnight of unprecedented progress.

For the duration of the group matches, the Australian public - passionately behind their new football heroes - turned a blind eye to the sorts of controversy which dog any sporting contest.

The unsportsmanlike nudge on goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer against Japan was all but forgotten as the final analysis centred on two-goal Tim Cahill.

Likewise, English referee Graham Poll's disastrous handling of their clash with Croatia took a back seat to 'King Harry' Kewell's moment of redemption ten minutes from time.

But being on the wrong end of a marginal decision against the Italians in the second round - and losing - was too much for some Australian commentators.

"They didn’t want us there anyway," screamed one, calling into question why Australia should wish to be involved in a sport so palpably corrupt in any case.

Others, horribly, started to tenuously link the Serie A match-rigging accusations to Spanish referee Luis Medina Cantalejo's decision to penalise Lucas Neill for a trip on Fabio Grosso.

Then even former bus driver Scott Chipperfield hit a chord with sections of the public so versed in sporting dominance.

"They look after the big nations, they want the big nations through to the semis and finals. It's always the way," the Australian midfielder said in the post-match furore.

Meanwhile, Australia's assistant coach Graham Arnold also chimed in with another piece of skulduggery.

"We're a small footballing nation that gets no favours. All we asked for was a fair go and I don't think we received it over the four games," Arnold said.

"From the sideline and what we saw on TV, it was a joke," he added in reference to the award of the 94th minute spot-kick.

In reality, though, Neill will forever rue his decision to attempt to slide tackle the rampaging Grosso so late in the day.

Then, after missing the Italian with his first try, leaning back to cause an obstruction big enough to tempt a tired player to fall to earth.

Passionate followers know too well that on such fine margins the beautiful game is often decided.

The problem comes when a fragile support becomes bemused with how a match can hinge on the smallest of external factors.

Australian sports fans welcome the fervour, the colour and even the skill of our football heroes.

But seeing the national team lose when a more cunning opponent influences the officials remains a bitter pill to swallow.

Copyright © Marc Fox and

Australian Soccer News

Monday, June 26, 2006

A rest Wayne in order

Once upon a time, after partaking in a couple of social halves at a local tavern, I found myself in the company of a young ginger-haired Scottish lady. Being a personable soul, I overcame the handicap of her ridiculous accent to engage in polite conversation. Unfortunately, kindness is rarely rewarded. Before I really knew what was happening, the red-headed caber-tosser proceeded to take advantage, physically. Fast forward seven years, and Elizabeth still has her claws in me, and my chances of ever breaking free are slim.

I share this tale with you not to whine about the wife, Betty the sweaty, but because the England players currently find themselves in an almost identical situation, just one little mistake can lead to years of regret. As long as the England players avoid pulling a ‘Gerry’, a happy ending should be on the cards against Ecuador. The Three Lions should be supported at 4/9.

Michael Owen is a goal scoring machine when fit, unfortunately, he hasn’t been fit since 1998. As Sven refuses to play Walcott as cover and Crouch is clearly not of international class, the Owen injury could turn out to be a blessing in disguise. England will definitely benefit from a holding midfielder while Gerrard will be given the license to support Rooney up front. Wayne’s recovery from injury has been bordering on miraculous, I’m not a religious man, but I’ll be praying that the Roonatic bags the opener at 9/2.

England have played exceptionally well in the first half of their matches so far, before wilting like a Frenchman in a drinking competition. Another impressive start against a poor Ecuadorian team would allow Sven to rest Wayne at about the hour mark, with the game well and truly in the bag. A half-time full-time win for Sven’s men is a value option at 6/5.

Correct score betting is never an easy market to crack, the bookies have a built in percentage so fat it makes Brazil’s Ronaldo look like Pete Doherty. However, when there’s a short priced favourite in a match, the bookies edge is dramatically reduced. A perm of a 2-0 / 3-0 win pays out at 11/4, with 2-0 being the preferred selection at 6/1.

Germany meet Sweden in Saturday’s opener, and somewhat controversially, I’ll be playing heavily on the Swedes. Forget the Klose’s of this world, disregard the Podolski’s and never mind the Ballack’s, the Swedes are more than a match for the Germans, you should get involved at 9/2.

Admittedly, the Germans topped their group, but Northern Ireland could have qualified from that poor bunch. Swedish coach Lars ‘must have knocked his’ Lagerback is genuinely confident of victory, and rightly so. The Swedes are 11/1 pokes to win by a 1-0 scoreline, help yourself.

Argentina v Mexico will bring Saturday’s action to a close and this one is a total no-brainer. FIFA may believe that Mexico are the superior team, but their rankings are a lot like me, the last time I requested my marital rights; seriously flawed. The bookies are offering 2/5 about an Argentina victory in 90 minutes, I implore you, play, and play hard.

The weekend’s action will end when Portugal face Holland for the right to meet England in the last eight. I haven’t been overly impressed with the Portuguese so far, Figo looks shot, Pauleta has once again failed to deliver on the big stage and Ronaldo’s bag of tricks may be pleasing to the eye, but they’re about as effective as a ‘No Drinking’ sign in Glasgow. The Dutch qualified with ease from the supposed group of death, the Orange looks tasty at 5/4

For the first goal scorer in this match, look no further that Robin Van Persie at 15/2. Van the man has the sweetest touch since Van Gogh and is due a good performance ear. On a related note, Peter Crouch is also a Post-Impressionist.

Weekend Betting:

Germany v Sweden Saturday 24th June 16.00

Germany 4/5
Draw 13/5
Sweden 9/2

Get on: Sweden

“Freddie, willing and able” – Ljungberg to score the only goal of the game 65/1

Match Special:

Argentina v Mexico Saturday 24th June 20.00

Argentina 2/5
Draw 11/4
Mexico 15/2

Get on: Argentina

Match Special:

“Fancy a quick Juan?” – Riquelme to score the first goal 13/2

England v Ecuador Sunday 25th June 16.00

England 4/9
Draw 3/1
Ecuador 7/1

Get on: England

Match Special:

“A Wayne storm” – Rooney to score a hat-trick 25/1

Portugal v Holland Sunday 25th June 20.00

Portugal 12/5
Draw 11/5
Holland 5/4

Get on: Holland

Match Special:

“Cocu nuts” – Phillip Cocu to score with a header 16/1

Copyright (c) Gerry McDonnell &

One man and his log 24 June

Saturday 24th June. Berlin. Leipzig

With Mexico still in the competition I took my seat on the luggage rack of the overcrowded train making the short trip from Berlin to Leipzig. Once again when asked if the Mexicans had tickets they would reply "Of course, I don't," undeterred they were all on their way to the host city.

The Mexico support has been a feature of these games and one paper prints a daily report on the schwarzmarkt (black market). Comments on Mexico are regularly featured. I wouldn't be surprised to see an entry in the F.T, showing the prices in the lead up to the games.

Tickets for all games are highly prized, especially in the days before the game but the value also fluctuates. At Munich people couldn't give tickets away for the Ivory Coast v Serbia & Montenegro game as a downpour meant that no one was heading to the stadium without a ticket and those with them had little option but to enter the stadium with their "spares".

Before this evening's game there was the small matter of the hosts taking on Sweden, and as we arrived in Leipzig confusion reigned. A stranger entering the city would have thought that any football that day in the city would involve Germany and Mexico.

The Germans draped in flags, national shirts and face paints were in confident mood. Far different from the people I encountered at the beginning of the tournament. Then there was talk of the disbelief in their manager, who had taken over a poor performing team in the European Championships and immediately declared that he wanted to win the World Cup.

He then went on to do things his way which met with criticism from press and supporters alike. In March this year a 4-1 defeat, (which could have been worse) against Italy, left the German public thinking that the best they would do is manage to get out of their group.

Now though the comments are quite the opposite, rather than worry about the performance of their team they are worried, whether or not their country's display of patriotism is a bad thing. With people showing a passion for the state which hasn't been seen in the majority's life time. It is the older generation which find this hard to accept but the youngsters have learnt from the immigrant communities and are now delighted to have something to take their mind of their daily affairs, everywhere you go there is only one topic of conversation.

Now on the streets I recognise the song being chanted as the one I had heard on the radio 54,74,90...2006. I have since found out this was a small alternative band called Sportfreunde Stiller. Now they are national celebrities. Other songs on their latest album include Pogo in Togo (an old hit in Germany!) which has had its lyrics updated. But upon hearing "The hair of Bjorn Bjorg" I realised I had discovered the Half Man, Half Biscuit of Germany.

Apparently they sing about having the spirit of Gunter Netzer, the arms of Jean Marie Pfaff, the legs of Briegel and the face of Hansi Muller but that there is something they are concerned about..the hair of Björn Borg.

The three members of the band are big football fans and two hold season tickets for Bayern München. Does this make them the Tranmere Rovers of Germany?

It was also pointed out to me that 54 x 74 - 1990 = 2006!

Sunday 25th June Leipzig. Nürnberg. Schwabach

At every single game I have attended there has been a friendly party atmosphere with everyone joining in the fun. Most games have seen fans all to eager to join in with the mexican wave, the one exception I am aware of was the recent South Korea v Switzerland game where both sets of supporters were on the edge of their seats and spent their time urging their teams on. Although I understand that the Koreans are now making waves as they complain, correctly, about the refereeing.

Normally at Championships during quiet moments in games, chants for the home nation can be held, this has not been evident at this tournament, but tonight things changed. The Germans were united with Portugal.

Another chant I had picked up over the last two weeks was "Ohne Holland fahrin wir nach Berlin" (We are going to Berlin without Holland). By chanting this and joining in with Port-ooh-gal, they at times drowned out the Dutch support which had been so busy earlier in the day painting Nürnberg orange.

The chants got louder and louder as the Germans realised the more they chanted the more frustrated the Dutch team were getting.

Copyright (c) Ross Clegg &

World Cup Betting

World Cup Predictions

Germany Team Profile

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Sven sees the light. Hallelujah!

Sven sees the light. Hallelujah!
Leaks coming out of the England camp confirm what many fans had prayed for all along - Sven's ready to switch to a flexible 4-1-4-1 system. This is a move that could win England the World Cup. No, really. Stay with me!

Coming into the tournament as one of the favourites, England has largely disappointed with turgid performances and route one tactics. Michael Owen's injury could be a blessing in disguise however, giving England the chance to compete on equal terms with almost every other nation in the tournament that deploy split strikers or five through the middle of the park.

Tactically England has got it wrong under Sven for some time now. With Owen and Rooney up front and Lampard and Gerrard in midfield, England is unbalanced. It's a system that suits only Rooney - with Owen lacking a target-man partner that he craves, and Lampard or Gerrard compromising their natural attacking instincts for the good of the team.

With Owen out England should bring in Carrick as a holding midfielder, releasing both Lampard and Gerrard to devastating effect in support of a lone front runner, Rooney. A 75% fit Rooney will find it considerably easier to play up front on his own than 'in the hole' - his normal position. He's good enough, quick enough and strong enough to do it better than anybody.

A really bold move by Sven would be to inject some pace into the side, in the form of Aaron Lennon. Contrary to tabloid opinion Beckham has been effective - he is England's leading assister at the tournament. But against Ecuador Sven could move Beckham into the right back slot, negating the principal risk of deploying one striker - that England gets entrenched in their own half. Lennon would ensure that won't happen.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

COMMENT: Hiddink gamble almost delivered lethal dose by Spider

He's publicly chased long-term rival Mark Schwarzer for Australia's number one jersey for more seasons than understudy Zeljko Kalac cares to remember.

But after an error-strewn World Cup debut, his chances of an encore against Italy in Kaiserslautern have been left in tatters.

"I've taken a world-class goal, I've taken a shit goal," Kalac said frankly in the aftermath of the Socceroos' thrilling 2-2 draw with Croatia, somewhat underplaying the manner in which he allowed a daisy-cutter from Niko Kovac to bobble in.

"He [Guus Hiddink] left Schwarzy out because of a few mistakes in previous matches and now I've made a big one. It could be [third choice goalkeeper] Ante Covic's turn next."

This last comment provides a priceless insight into the mind of Kalac, deputy to Brazil's Dida at AC Milan.

Even from his personal depth of despair, he somehow still conjures a way to besmirch his closest challenger.

Although likely born out of frustration at his own incompetence after being handed a shot at World Cup glory, this is not the first time Kalac has voiced his misguided opinion.

Just before the double-header last November - with Schwarzer struggling with fitness and form at Middlesbrough - Kalac gave himself a public vote of confidence for a starting berth against Uruguay.

What followed was Schwarzer heroics in both normal time and most notably in the penalty shootout victory in the return leg in Sydney.

With the goalkeeping foes so close in ability, perhaps Kalac believes he can talk rather than play his way into Hiddink's first team plans.

He needn't bother.

It is clear the Dutchman holds each player in high esteem, so much so Hiddink admitted considering replacing Schwarzer with the 202cm Kalac ahead of the penalty shootout against the Uruguayans.

But whether his stock is still as high remains to be seen.

The Australian coaching staff were certainly unimpressed with elements of Schwarzer's keeping in the opening group matches with Japan and Brazil.

Some even held the Middlesbrough man accountable for conceding a soft opener from Shunsuke Nakamura despite a seemingly unfair challenge from the Japanese forwards.

But any mistakes pale into insignificance when compared to Kalac's display against the Croatians.

The goalie nicknamed Spider because of his tremendous reach cut a nervous figure between the posts and although having relatively little to do, did almost all of it without aplomb.

And not just the terrible attempt to stop Kovac's goal.

The 33-year-old could easily be pulled up on his handling of crosses and ball distribution to name a few as his boastful remarks came back to haunt him.

Kalac will never play under Hiddink again that much is certain.

Whether he can recover to fight off the challenge of youngster Brad Jones and retain his international standing we shall see.

Copyright © Marc Fox and

Shock of the Roo

Shock of the Roo
Who'd have thunk it - a million column inches, hundreds of hours of airtime, 45m anguished fans and all for one young man's broken foot. No ordinary foot of course but a foot nonetheless. In the seven weeks since Wayne Rooney fractured his fourth metatarsal, collapsing in agony on the Stamford Bridge turf, World War III would not have remove Rooney from both the front and back pages of the nation's newspapers.

The foot has healed, the machinations have finally come to an end (baring a refracture or related injury) and Rooney finally stepped out for his first start since the April 29th last night. His return to fitness so soon may be something of a surprise but the true miracle has nothing to do with physical rehabilitation at all. Indeed, the agonizing and debate over Rooney has been not just about any player but a Manchester United player no less. No, the real surprise in all this comes because of the traditionally strained relationship between United and England supporters in recent times.

In the not too distant past United players have been roundly jeered by England supporters, when playing for the national team - at Wembley in particular. In return Manchester United fans have held a long-standing antipathy towards England. The perceived unfair treatment of United players by the FA and the media has intensified this divide from Reds' supporters point of view. Think about Cantona's ban in 1995, when the FA went back on a promise to honour United‚’s self-imposed sanction. Then there was Keane's suspension in 2004, when the FA punished the Irishman twice for his tackle on Leeds' Alfe Inge Haarland . Think also of the length of Ferdinand's sanction for missing a drug test when so many other players had simply been fined for the same offence. Then there was the treatment given to David Beckham by the England-supporting public in the wake of his red card against Argentina at the 1998 tournament.

Paranoia it may be, but United fans - led by the manager Sir Alex - have long held the governing body in contempt, with the England team as their principal puppets tarred with the same brush. Many England fans, in the meantime, would be happy to see a United-free national side.

Yet, last night Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester City, Arsenal, Chelsea and many other traditionally anti-United fans cheered more loudly for a United player than any other on the pitch. A nation, United? Now that's the real wonder of Roo!

Copyright © Ranter &

Japan football team not as great as its goalkeeper's ego

Japan football team
"I made some saves but it didn't appear to help us change the tide of the match and I don't think we were able to get over giving up the equalizer at the end of the first half. On a personal level I feel I have done everything that has been asked of me but I can't do everything on my own."

So said Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi, Japan's goalkeeper in the World Cup. This quote really bothered me. Kawaguchi really bothers me, and has done since he first set foot on the Japanese football scene.

In the early days he was all hair flicks and gel (anyone spot the jealousy of a bald man, here?). Always the last man off the pitch, so that he got significant camera time. His gestures were exaggerated. The trademark wince of pain to show just how much he cared. The concentrated stare to show just how much he ... well, concentrated. Everything he did was designed for the cameras, like the ekiden relay runners who insist on falling over in exhaustion after they've run their leg, just to make sure everyone knows they have given their all. Kawaguchi made everyone know that he had given his all. Every wince. Every stare. Every flick of the hair. It was designed to tell a story. The story of a man with an incredible ego.

Unfortunately he hasn't grown up in the intervening years.

"... I can't do everything on my own."

Now who would you normally hear saying that? A harried mother at the end of her tether berating a family of World Cup watching couch potatoes? A boss snarling at incompetent underlings in the office? Or a person with an inflated ego belittling his comrades?

What Kawaguchi is basically saying here is that he is wonderful and the rest of the Japan team are just not up to scratch. He might have something with the latter half of that assessment - Japan were clearly outclassed in Germany. But he is by no means wonderful. A wonderful goalkeeper would not have been third choice for Portsmouth when they were a second-tier club. Nor would a wonderful goalkeeper have been released by them. A wonderful goalkeeper wouldn't have flapped awfully at the cross that led to Australia's equalizing goal, the goal that led directly to the change in Japan's fortunes in this World Cup.

Yes, he did make some fine saves, including a penalty save against Croatia. But he also screwed up on a number of occasions. He, like the rest of his teammates, just weren't up to the job. Simple as that. He was quite right about not being able to do everything on his own. He contributed significantly to Japan's World Cup demise with help from the rest of his teammates.

Copyright (c) jh &

One man and his log Stuttgart

Thursday 22nd June Munich. Stuttgart

Today saw me use the last of my obstructed view tickets. Overall they have provided some of the best vantage points in the stadium. In Dortmund for the Germany game I was in amongst hospitality clients and even had the German team line up below me for my team photo.

Here in Stuttgart I looked out onto the pitch and had to wonder what the obstruction was as I was sat above the press in the main stand. I sat right back in my seat and found that a handrail blocked the corner flag. The game was a pulsating affair and throughout the whole game everyone was on the edge of their seat.

On two occasions the press did slightly block my view but the compensation was that you could also watch the TV monitors. Did you know that when the commentators refer to action just off your screen, they know this because they have a wider view and the screen we see is highlighted on their monitor!

Friday 23rd June Stuttgart. Berlin. Hannover. Berlin

Stories of concern in the press here have centred around a bear walking around Germany without shorts on. A bear with shorts on. Ludicrous. A bear wearing a football shirt. Ridiculous.

I believe I may have seen this bear and am further concerned that all they can talk about is the missing shorts. In Munich I could swear he was wearing a raincoat, possibly to try and mingle with the rest of the crowd as everyone was soaked on the 10 minute walk to the stadium, whats more he even got hold of the microphone and started addressing the crowd in English.

And all they talk about is the shorts?

Copyright (c) Ross Clegg &

Ross at Copa America 2004

Italians Breeze Through Czech Point

It wasn’t supposed to be this way - a do-or-die encounter by the North Sea. It had been largely assumed that Italy and the Czech Republic would already have qualified by the team they met in Hamburg - or at least be very close to doing so.

That scenario was reinforced in no uncertain terms after the first round of matches. The Czechs bulldozed past the Americans with an emphatic 3-0 win and the Azzuri had a few scares in their 2-0 victory over Ghana but finished the game in control.

It all went wrong in the second round of games in Group E. Despite having a man advantage for most of a brutal 90 minutes against the Americans, Italy could only come away from Kaiserslautern with a 1-1 draw. To make matters worse, Ghana outplayed the highly-fancied Czechs with an impressive 2-0 win in Koln.

The stage was then set. All four teams had a chance to reach the second round, though American hopes were by far the slimmest. A Ghana win would mean that the Africans would book their place in the last sixteen meaning that going into the game, the Czechs had to take three points to be sure while a draw for the Italians would be enough.

Confused? The Italian journalists in the media centre before the game weren’t – they were nervous.

“The other game will not be a draw,” said one of what seemed to be an entire legion of ‘La Republica’ reporters. “If we lose, we are out.”

“I don’t know what to say, I’m really nervous.” said another. “I don’t think the Czechs have a good defence and they are not a great team but I think the Italians have a mental problem these days.”

There were few problems, mental or otherwise, in the first half for Marcello Lippi’s team. Even the loss of Alessandro Nesta in the 17th minute didn’t work out too badly as replacement Marco Materazzi headed home soon after.

Pavel Nedved was everywhere in the opening period and was his team’s best player - a busy mass of blond hair trying to ensure that the day would not be his last World Cup day. The Juve midfielder tested Gianluigi Buffon a couple of times in each half but his club-mate was always up to the challenge.

Even before the sending off of Jan Polak in first-half injury time, the Czechs weren’t getting forward in enough numbers to trouble an Italian defence marshalled by the fabulous Fabio Cannavaro.

The Juventus defender is certainly well-liked at home, as the official Italian FA ‘Introduction to the Italian Team’ booklet handed out to reporters testifies:

“The street urchin can do things others can’t imagine. Robbed like the others in that crazy final in Rotterdam, a samurai in Japan (chased by almond-eyed girls) and sadder than an Amalia Rodriguez fado in the Portugal of Cassano’s tears. Now comes Germany. The wall is no longer there. The dream is to sing oi’ vita mia along the Unter den Linden, the captain and the others."

The Czechs won’t be doing so. Needing to win against an Italian team that was not only desperate to avoid defeat but had a man and a goal advantage would be a huge ask for any team and they never looked like doing it.

It seemed that passions had cooled along with the weather and the second half was a fairly subdued affair, it was more interesting, though a little strange to watch the Ghana - USA game on the television on my desk.

The Czech fans tried their best to support their faltering team but in the end it was all in vain.

Copyright (c) John Duerden &

Friday, June 23, 2006

World Cup Chess


Soccer Chess Sets


Complete Soccer Chess Set 1

Darren Aiken has been sculpting portrait chess sets full-time for the past 10 years. Each set is individually painted, signed and numbered by the artist. His style means that, for each edition of a chess set he only produces

a limited number of sets - never more than 250 and occasionally 1-offs,
caricatured likenesses (head-to-toe) of popular living characters (approx. 12cm; 4.72 inches high),
sets that fit a specific theme or topic.
In keeping with his reputation Darren has committed to hand-making 50 chess sets that caricature the legends of each of the 32 nations represented in Germany 2006. The first 15 of these sets have already been sold, the first of which now sits in Luis Figo's restaurant in the Algave, Portugal.

Once the pieces have been hand-sculpted they are moulded in Silicon rubber and hand-cast in a cold cast mixture of cyano-acrylite and marble powder, which makes them impact proof and not brittle. They are then personally hand-painted and matt-varnished and come packed in a wooden box, complete with a signed and numbered certificate detailing each of the 32 players representing their countries at Germany 2006. The board is also included.

Current owners of Darren's chess sets include: Nelson Mandela, Prince William, Faye Dunawaye, Ruby Wax, Ernie Els, Alanis Morisette and Anthony Robbins.

All pieces are hand painted and made to order, so there is a slight delay on delivery while the pieces are made.

Each set comes with a signed certificate from the artist.


Full Chess Sets

Maximum of 35 complete sets for sale (thus limiting the total number of sets produced to 50) – Consists of 32 pieces + Chess Board + Wooden Box.
Price 2,050 USD each (plus registered postage from South Africa).

Chess Set 1 has Ronaldinho to represent Brazil and Henry to represent France.
Chess Set 2 has Ronaldo to represent Brazil and Zidane to represent France.
Individual Pieces

Maximum of 4 figures per order.
Price 59 USD per piece (plus registered postage from South Africa).
Mounted Sets

Sets of any 8 mounted figures on a common base.
Price 372 USD per set of 8 figures (plus registered postage from South Africa).


A "Joke" Puts Police On Alert


Por una "broma" del comentarista guardan la casa de Viduka

Una broma del comentarista de la televisión croata Bruno Kovacevic dirigida al capitán australiano Mark Viduka ha causado una reacción del Ministerio interior croata y el despliegue de policías delante de la casa que Viduka tiene en Croacia.

Después de que Kovacevic "recordara" a Viduka de que tiene casa cerca de Dubrovnik, como quien dijera "ojo como juegas ante Croacia", en el Ministerio del interior pensaron que algún aficionado local podría arremeter contra la propiedad del futbolista australo-croata, sobre todo si hoy jueves las cosas no salen bien para el equipo adriático en Stuttgart.

- "El comentarista pudo haber dado involuntariamente una idea a alguien para cometer un delito. Imagínense cuanta gente acaba de enterarse donde se encuentra la casa."
- comentó el portavoz de la policía croata Zlatko Mehun.

El diario australiano Sydney Morning Herald fue el primero en descubrir ue policías armados vigilan los alrededores de la casa del futbolista de orígenes croatas.

En la Televisión nacional croata (HRT) afirman que no creen que "el despliegue de agentes sea consecuencia del mencionado reportaje" pero anuncian que la directiva del HRT discutirá las frases de aquel reportaje por la posible falta de responsabilidad del periodista.
En Alemania, mientras tanto, hubo un ligero incidente en la rueda de prensa organizada por Croacia, ya que los representantes croatas prohibieron a Joseph Simunic hablar en inglés con los enviados de Australia, justificándolo con que "el croata es el único idioma oficial aquí."

Y es que Simunic nació en Australia y domina mejor el inglés que el propio croata. De nada sirvieron los apelos de los australianos, quienes destacaron que Mark Viduka tiene permiso de hablar en croata durante las ruedas de prensa que da Australia. (EFE/OP)

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Japan ... dead, but not buried yet

Japan v Brazil.
Tonight Japan play Brazil in what will surely be their final game in Germany for a while. There are still a whole host of optimistic (-ally insane??) people in Japan saying that Brazil can be beaten by more than two goals. I met half a dozen who told me so this morning.

But the altogether sane (and frankly rather frightening) bloke next door doesn't think Japan have a hope in hell. Looked at me as if I were mad when I asked him if Japan could do it. Having said that, the TV hosts are hyping Japan's chances, although you can see in their eyes that they don't really believe it.

It all went wrong for Japan with one moment of madness from Kawaguchi, the goalkeeper, against Australia.

Then the confidence, brittle at the best of times, disappeared at haste down the plughole. Tough to blame Kawaguchi really, as he has made some excellent saves, including a great penalty stop against Croatia.

He always has made excellent saves, but unfortunately he has always been awful with crosses and prone to horrendous blunders, too.

It has been a typical Japan performance so far. Not quite good enough. We all knew the attack was impotent before the competition. We all knew Miyamoto was nowhere near good enough to be the lynchpin of a defence that would face serious pressure. And surely everyone has seen Kawaguchi do his sublime-to-ridiculous thing more times than they remember.

So tonight. A last hurrah? A glorious defeat? A famous victory? Whichever it is, it is unlikely Japan will be in the last 16 come tomorrow morning.

Copyright (c) jh &

One man and his log Mannheim

Tuesday 21st June Hamburg. Mannheim. Kaiserslautern. Mannheim.

Returning to Kaiserslautern just 4 days after my last visit gave me a chance to view it in a different light. Last time was a hasty visit, as I arrived without a ticket 45 minutes before kick off. The security seemed tight, perhaps because the U.S. team were in town and the region hosts some 40,000 American military in local bases. Then I had to face the hike to the stadium, which means that you climb all the way around the vast banks of seats that you see on TV.

This time I arrived in plenty of time and followed the crowd out of the station and on to the fan mile (another common theme in host cities). The main shopping street was decked out with banners and stalls selling food, beer, football merchandise and more beer. As Germany were playing in the afternoon, the main street was gridlocked with pedestrians but no-one minded. The Germans cheered their goals as they went in but in between it was clear they had taken the side of Trinidad & Tobago as they joined in with chants of "Trinidad, Tobago".

After the recent Sweden v Paraguay game a Swede told me that it was the biggest following of Sweden fans ever at a game outside of Sweden. Today I believe it was Trinidad & Tobago's turn to have their largest ever following, as the steel band playing in the main street enchanted yet more locals. I am told it resembled carnival scenes in Trinidad, apparently Tobago is much quieter.

The Trinidad & Tobago team assembled was probably as close as we will get to seeing a British Olympic football team as the squad consisted of 15 players drawn from the lower leagues in Scotland, Wales and England.

Encouraged by chants of "We can win" the players gave their all and had the majority of the crowd giving them backing they could never have dreamed possible.

Wednesday 22nd June Mannheim. Munich.

Arriving at the surreal setting of the Allianz Arena in Munich, thunder & lightning had turned what was thought to be a futuristic stadium into what looked like one large dirty tyre scarring the distant landscape. Everyone ran to the entrances and the usual attractions were bypassed as people found shelter.

Once the rain subsided and the lights were switched on the stadium did indeed look like the futuristic image we have all seen. Once again the locals had chosen their team. This time Cote D'Ivoire, and after their usual start fought back to reward those locals decked out in a colour that the Germans normally have an aversion for.

Chants of Serbia were heard, but there was no mention of Montenegro from the East European crowd.

Copyright (c) Ross Clegg &

Japan Wins World Cup!

robocup-osakaNo, you are not imagining things. Yes, the above headline is true. In Bremen, Germany, Team Osaka won the annual World Cup of robotics, the RoboCup, on June 18th. This makes the third time in a row Team Osaka has won the tournament. Starting in Lisbon in 2004, last year in Osaka, and now this year’s event in Germany, the team from Osaka University has cemented its position as the Brazil of world robot soccer.

In the 2-on-2 category, some 16 teams competed. Team Osaka’s “Vision Tries” outperformed its rivals in penalties, dribbling, and overall technical level.

If only the national team had similar scoring ability--and brains behind it.

Japan Team Profile

Brazil Team Profile

Copyright ©Soccerphile

Football Comes Home To Berlin

What could be a more authentic World Cup experience than watching the host nation strut its stuff in its capital city? Germany’s clash with Ecuador on Tuesday afternoon in Berlin’s Olympic Stadium may have lacked some of the traditional tension that one expects on the final game of the group, with both teams already having moved into the second round with a minimum of fuss, but there was a great deal of excitement in the 66,000 crowd.

The German fans were in party mood and sang their national anthem lustily, just as they had a few minutes earlier when FIFA played their, now traditional, pre-match songs. ‘Football’s coming home’ and ‘All Together Now’ make their appearance just before the players make theirs on the pitch. The English (Liverpool) pop music has been entertaining the fans much more than the English national team have managed so far (or Liverpool for the past few years).

There were a good number of Ecuador fans on Berlin's wonderful S-Bahn and in the stadium, their yellow-shirts too bright on a sunny afternoon. One such clad middle-aged South American women asked a German fan on the train to the stadium: “Who is your number nine?”

It proved to be a difficult question and newspapers had to be consulted. Eventually, the answer came. “Mike Hanke.”

“He’s terrible!” Said the woman of the Wolfsburg striker. “He’ll never score.”

“He hasn’t played yet,” replied the non-plussed white-shirted fan.

“ As I told you, he’s terrible.”

The strikers that did play, Lucas Podolski and especially Miroslav Klose, enjoyed themselves against a hole-ridden Ecuadorian defence and midfield. To be fair to the South Americans, who had comfortably seen off Poland and Costa Rica to go top of Group A, Colombian Coach Luis Suarez rested five players in preparation of the second round clash, later confirmed to be against England.

It was easy for the Germans and when Klose put the team ahead with a fine finish from inside the area in the fourth minute, the result was never in doubt. The reported bad feeling between the strike pair, brought about when Klose told the press that his fellow Polish-born striker needs to be “less tense” and “move more”, looked to be absent when the two hugged happily after Podolski’s second half-goal.

For some reason, FIFA had made a mistake with my press pass and instead of being in the printed press section, I was lumped in with the television boys. Being surrounded on all sides by Ecuadorian commentators speaking so fast that sweat was pouring down their faces was an interesting experience, more so that the procession that the game turned into.

Talking to a couple of these guys after the game, none were too concerned about whether they faced England or Sweden. “England haven’t showed their power yet,” said the commentator for RCO TV, “and I don’t think they will. They are a strong but limited team. I am confident that we can beat England or Sweden.”

Perhaps the fans were the same as none seemed remotely concerned about losing the game and were singing and dancing outside the stadium after the game in much the same way as they done before.

Will they be dancing on the streets of Quito on Sunday?

Copyright © John Duerden &

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Korea Frustrate France

S.Korea v France

Meeting Kevin Gallacher wasn’t quite the highlight of the evening – especially for the amiable Scot after I told him that I had been present when he had broke his leg on two occasions - but it came close to matching a dull game between France and South Korea in Leipzig.

Lunchtime was spent with a group of L’Equipe journalists who were convinced that the team was on its last legs and was about to be put out of its misery. Their pessimistic mood was in marked contrast to that of a group of Swiss sports scribes I had dinner with five days previously, after the Korea-Togo match. Upon witnessing that Korea victory and the subsequent turgid 0-0 draw between their team and France, the writers upgraded their team’s expected finishing position from second to an unequivocal first.

On the afternoon of the game, it was hard to navigate the narrow streets of Leipzig’s historic city centre, filled as they were with people packed taking advantage of the many outside bars and pubs.

The Koreans were louder –they almost always are – as they proved in the stadium. The communist built ZentralStadion looked to be mostly blue upon entrance but the sound that could be heard on a warm Saxony evening came from the red section – one that never stopped singing and dancing.

S.Korea v France

Desperate to avoid more barbs from the likes of L’Equipe, the French started brightly and it was little surprise when Thierry Henry put the team ahead in the ninth minute. On the half-hour it should have been two as Patrick Viera’s header certainly crossed the line before being beaten away by Lee Woon-jae in goal - the ‘keeper has answered his critics with two fine performances so far in Group G.

The Taeguk Warriors offered little as an attacking force but improved in the second half as Park Ji-sung was moved into the midfield from the wing. His energy in the middle redressed the balance somewhat, especially as France seemed satisfied with the scoreline as it was. Korea’s attempts to break through the excellent defensive pairing of William Gallas and Lilian Thuram were helped by the introduction of Ahn Jung-hwan with 20 minutes remaining. For the second time in a week, the Lord of the Ring changed the pace of the game and Korea came more and more into it.

The equaliser was a fairly shambolic one from a French point of view though the sight of the ball looping over a hitherto unemployed Fabian Barthez was a delicious one from the Korean point of view – one not shared by the obviously furious Gallas who booted the ball to Dresden.

There was no doubt which set of fans and players were happier after the game. The Koreans stayed on the pitch to salute their wonderful fans while the French players showed more urgency in leaving the field than they did for most of the second half – a speedy exit matched by their fans. The Koreans stayed to sing and judging by the sounds coming out of Leipzig city centre in the early hours, their numbers were swelled by a number of new Red Devils.

The French were disappointed but not overly so, in the mixed zone their players pointed out that they only had to defeat Togo to reach the second round while the Switzerland defeat of the Africans by two goals mean that South Korea also have to win in Hanover on Friday night to be sure of progressing.

It should be some night.

Copyright © John Duerden and Soccerphile

World Cup - Group F

Mundial - Grupo F

Kranjcar resuelve el dilema

Tomas sustituirá a Robert Kovac en la zaga

Stjepan Tomas será el reemplazo para el sancionado Robert Kovac en el centro de la zaga croata, mientras que Igor Tudor quedará en su posición del centrocampista defensivo, ha anunciado el seleccionador croata Zlatko Kranjcar.

Dario Simic, el nuevo recordman en el número de presencias en la selección croata con 82 presencias, retrasará un poco su posición y actuará de libre.

* Pendientes de si mismos...y de Japón

Después del empate con Japón, Croacia no desespera ya que ni siquiera una victoria por la mínima ante los niponeses le habría liberado del imperativo de ganar a Australia.

Por otro lado, un sencillo 1-0 contra los "hermanos" australianos podría bastarle a los adriáticos ya que es difícil esperar que Japón gane a Brasil por dos o más goles de diferencia.

Australia por otro lado se clasificará ganando o empatando si Japón no supera por dos o más goles a Brasil - algo poco probable aunque los pentacampeones ya se han clasificado para los octavos. (EFE/OP)

One man and his log last memories of Korea

Sunday 18th June Mannheim. Leipzig

My last memories of seeing Korea were dashing from the stadium in Daejon as fireworks lit up the sky and 40,000 Koreans went crazy after they defeated Italy. Arriving in the early hours back in Seoul the whole city was out on the streets celebrating. Moving on four years and a lot of those present then have caught football fever and they are over here in Germany. I didn't realise the relevance back in 2002 but I now suppose that the country's name is derived from its passion for choreography.

Official South Korea jersey

In Leipzig town centre two troupes entertained the "reds" gathered and encouraged everyone to join in their singing and dancing routines. Before each song the words were clearly recited and the dance moves to be used were demonstrated to all those present so they could join in. Those present to a man (well almost) joined in the festivities.

At the stadium the same organisation was shown as they displayed a banner with a message (sorry it was in Korean) and then for the anthem unfurled the national flag, which they then swayed from side to side. At the other side of the stadium another flag was unfurled and I could swear it was swaying in time with the other flag. Throughout the game the coordinators of this support could be seen giving orders as to what was to happen next and the provided a wall of sound that continued throughout the game, no matter how their team were faring.

The fans appeared to be an inspiration to their side who grew stronger as the game wore on, and rewarded their enthusiasm with a late equaliser. Definitely the best supporters of the tournament.

Buy South Korean soccer jerseys

Monday 19th June Leipzig. Hamburg

The FIFA stadium announcer was delighted to announce once again that the World Cup Stadium was "Sold Out". This announcement was greeted with ironic cheers as seats were clearly visible around the Saudi fans. Despite the fact that Emirates Airlines gave free tickets to passengers and the Saudi Embassy gave tickets to people who applied for visas. The situation was similar at other games I have attended most notably Italy v Ghana and last night at France v Korea.

The Germans take great pride in announcing games as "ausverkauft" and in the press they state this along with the attendance for their Bundesliga games. FIFA seem determined to announce that this World Cup is a resounding success and will point to the highest ever % attendance to back up their point. (Surely the Costa Rica v Poland game will not be fully attended as it clashes with the Germany v Ecuador game and a lot of Poles have already gone home.)

But the damage has been done. Allocating more tickets to sponsors than the competing teams has alienated the real fans and the atmosphere is suffering. The difficulty supporters have encountered in obtaining tickets has left a bad taste when they see the empty seats.

Regularly after the half time interval vast banks of seats can be seen empty as those in corporate hospitality do their best to get value for money as they gorge themselves on freebies. How long is it before FIFA announce that the half time break will be extended to allow hospitality guests to get through 3 courses before the second half can resume?

The news that 1,700 tickets were not returned by sponsors for one game resulted in a message to be sent out asking for all sponsors to ensure that any unused tickets they have are returned in order that they can be resold.

As a result of this I am aware that at the Togo v Switzerland game an employee of a German sports shoes company sold 25 tickets outside the stadium at face value. Actions like this are too little and too late.

Copyright © Ross Clegg &

Buy South Korean soccer jerseys

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

One man and his log Leipzig

Sunday 18th June Mannheim. Leipzig

My last memories of seeing Korea were dashing from the stadium in Daejon as fireworks lit up the sky and 40,000 Koreans went crazy after they defeated Italy. Arriving in the early hours back in Seoul the whole city was out on the streets celebrating. Moving on four years and a lot of those present then have caught football fever and they are over here in Germany. I didn't realise the relevance back in 2002 but I now suppose that the country's name is derived from its passion for choreography.

In Leipzig town centre two troupes entertained the "reds" gathered and encouraged everyone to join in their singing and dancing routines. Before each song the words were clearly recited and the dance moves to be used were demonstrated to all those present so they could join in. Those present to a man (well almost) joined in the festivities.

At the stadium the same organisation was shown as they displayed a banner with a message (sorry it was in Korean) and then for the anthem unfurled the national flag, which they then swayed from side to side. At the other side of the stadium another flag was unfurled and I could swear it was swaying in time with the other flag. Throughout the game the coordinators of this support could be seen giving orders as to what was to happen next and the provided a wall of sound that continued throughout the game, no matter how their team were faring.

The fans appeared to be an inspiration to their side who grew stronger as the game wore on, and rewarded their enthusiasm with a late equaliser. Definitely the best supporters of the tournament.

Buy South Korean soccer jerseys

Monday 19th June Leipzig. Hamburg

The FIFA stadium announcer was delighted to announce once again that the World Cup Stadium was "Sold Out". This announcement was greeted with ironic cheers as seats were clearly visible around the Saudi fans. Despite the fact that Emirates Airlines gave free tickets to passengers and the Saudi Embassy gave tickets to people who applied for visas. The situation was similar at other games I have attended most notably Italy v Ghana and last night at France v Korea.

The Germans take great pride in announcing games as "ausverkauft" and in the press they state this along with the attendance for their Bundesliga games. FIFA seem determined to announce that this World Cup is a resounding success and will point to the highest ever % attendance to back up their point. (Surely the Costa Rica v Poland game will not be fully attended as it clashes with the Germany v Ecuador game and a lot of Poles have already gone home.)

But the damage has been done. Allocating more tickets to sponsors than the competing teams has alienated the real fans and the atmosphere is suffering. The difficulty supporters have encountered in obtaining tickets has left a bad taste when they see the empty seats.

Regularly after the half time interval vast banks of seats can be seen empty as those in corporate hospitality do their best to get value for money as they gorge themselves on freebies. How long is it before FIFA announce that the half time break will be extended to allow hospitality guests to get through 3 courses before the second half can resume?

The news that 1,700 tickets were not returned by sponsors for one game resulted in a message to be sent out asking for all sponsors to ensure that any unused tickets they have are returned in order that they can be resold.

As a result of this I am aware that at the Togo v Switzerland game an employee of a German sports shoes company sold 25 tickets outside the stadium at face value. Actions like this are too little and too late.

Portugal Progress Without Persian Protest

Portugal v Iran

It was something of a wrench to leave Frankfurt, a cosmopolitan city that had really thrown itself into hosting the World Cup. It is not only the main entry point by air for visitors to Germany, its location makes it a convenient staging point for many other venues – leading to a real sense of being in the middle of the world’s greatest tournament.

After spending time in the rather isolated host city of Leipzig and the even more isolated non-World Cup venue of Dresden, it felt good to be coming back to Frankfurt for a flying visit, one that featured not only the Portugal – Iran fixture but also a welcome recharge of those World Cup batteries.

Unfortunately, there was little time to head to Frankfurt's 'Fan Fest', a gallery of riverside seats looking out onto a giant screen in the middle of the Main. Nearby were lots of amusements and stalls to keep Frankfurt families and football fans alike well-entertained and well-refreshed.

Not being able to head to the river or any of the seemingly thousands of friendly bars and pubs that had big-screen televisions, friendly atmospheres and great beer wasn't too much of a hardship as my route from the main station led in the opposite direction – the WaldStadion - as did those of thousands of fans from around the world.

The Iranians on the concourse and platforms could be heard first and then seen but only as a jumble of flags and a mass of white-shirted bodies jumping up and down. Their opposite numbers were there in similar numbers but with the difference in volume being that of sound.

As I had only decided to come to the game at the last minute, I was on the waiting list for a press ticket. That wasn't going to be a big problem after checking FIFA’s official media website and learning that only two other people were in a similar position. With an average of over 500 press seats per venue, there was always a number of no-shows, leading to tickets to be redistributed an hour before kick-off.

Not showing up is not a problem for the world governing body as long as the tickets are cancelled before hand so people can be upgraded from the waiting list. Not showing up and not letting FIFA know is a big no-no and the fact that over 250 people had, probably wisely as it turned out, in England’s opening game with Paraguay led to every media organisation receiving e-mails that warned of future repercussions for repeated offences.

Possible withdrawal of accreditation privileges wasn’t on the minds of Iranian fans that were in massing outside the stadium, they were more concerned about their beloved national team crashing out of the tournament after only 180 minutes of play.

Portugal's laboured victory over Angola in the opening game may not have impressed the watching world but it did earn a valuable three points in a group that may not have had any death-like connotations but was not straightforward with teams from widely differing geographic locations.

That win and Iran’s 3-1 defeat at the hands of Mexico six days earlier in Leipzig meant that the situation was fairly simple. A Portugal win sent the European team into the second round and Team Melli out.

Portugal were on top from the outset and remained that way for the majority of the ninety minutes. Christiano Ronaldo was at times wasteful (failed tricks that had the nearby Jorge Baptista throwing his arms up in frustration) but his direct running, shooting and crossing caused problems for a slow Iranian defence and Deco was impressive in midfield.

Iran seemed reluctant to move the ball forward quickly, preferring to walk the ball from one end of the pitch to another and it was little surprise that they rarely troubled the Portuguese defence and goalkeeper.

Still, Branko Ivankovic’s team defended well for most of the game with the under-fire Ebrahim Mirzapoor making some good saves but it was a touch of class from Deco in the second half with a smart shot from outside the area that did the damage.

Iran really should have been back on level terms but substitute Rasoul Khatibi held on to the ball too long in a one-on-one situation and dragged his shot just wide and soon the Iranians were two down and heading home.

Copyright © John Duerden and Soccerphile

Iran Team Profile

Portugal Team Profile

Strike Out

Strike Out - Does the Japanese Group Ethic Hold Back Goalscorers?

Two games in and Japan face an early exit from the Word Cup to the surprise of no one except a deluded media and 127 million fans.

Goals, goals, goals please!The finger of blame has been pointed in all directions - Zico's tactics , the players energy levels, lack of passion, the TV schedules and so on. All have some merit but any team without good forwards will struggle and Japan's hapless strikers handicapped the team more than any other aspect.

Zico took 5 forwards to this World Cup but quantity is no substitute for quality. The starting pair of Yanagisawa, conspicuous by his misses, and Takahara, visible only during the national anthem, try hard enough but lack the quality to trouble international defences. Zico looked to the bench but the alternatives were bare.

Japanese soccer has been consistently improving since the formation of the J-League, first time qualification at France 98 and the relative success of Korea-Japan 2002. The production line of players seems steady and classy midfielders like Nakata and Shunsuke Nakamura look comfortable on the highest stage.

Still while Japan can give us industrious and sleek players they have never produced a striker worth mentioning.

An obvious reason for this is physiological. Height, strength and power are important elements and the smaller frame of the Japanese places them at a disadvantage. The average Japanese male stands at 165cm compared to 175cm for Brits and Americans and 180 for the Germans.

So statistically Japan is less likely to produce beanpole strikers like the Czech's Koller (202cm). But strikers come in all shapes and sizes. Michael Owen is 176cm and Pele was 172 in his socks. Meanwhile Takahara and Yanagisawa are 181cm and 177cm respectively. Not massive but hardly fitting a diminutive stereotype.

Being a striker is a fairly simple job: Score and you are a hero, miss and you're a public enemy.

Do the Japanese strikers want to be heroes enough? Watching France's Thierry Henry I offered a standard view to a Japanese friend about his all-round excellence. He agreed on his technical ability but to my incredulity insisted; "I don't like him. He's too arrogant . He thinks only of himself." But surely that's his job I replied, to which he came back with the very Japanese answer, "He should play more for the team."

The best forwards in the world play only to score goals. They are selfish, hungry and arrogant because these are the qualities that drive their confidence and ability. It's the knowledge that even if a teammate is better placed they have the skill to beat their marker and slam the ball home.

The trouble is many Japanese don't like or produce this kind of personality. They don't fit in with the group mentality. They are not team players. They are the nail that needs to be hammered down. They disrupt the wa.

From kindergarten onwards Japanese are taught to work as a group, to co-operate, to share. No bad things in normal life and the cornerstone of Japan's success in the modern era but in the sporting arena these are not the qualities that produce individual stars.

Come on then Japan. Next time let the players cast off the shackles, express themselves and grab the spotlight. After all a little bit more selfishness is worth a couple of wins in the World Cup isn't it?

Copyright © Will Marquand &

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