Sunday, July 29, 2007

Iraq Make History

Iraq Make History.
Iraq Win 2007 Asian Cup

It was an unusually cloudy day in Jakarta for the final of the 2007 Asian Cup. The skyline of the city's downtown could barely be seen behind the Gelora Bung Karno Stadium and the dozens of Indonesian flags on its roof, were fluttering in the breeze.

According to the local media, around 25-30,000 tickets had been sold with around 24 hours left until kick-off. That didn't sound too discouraging, certainly better than some of the nightmare scenarios that had previously been painted.

A half-full 90,000 stadium for the not-so-glamorous game between Saudi Arabia and Iraq may not have been great but would have saved blushes. What the locals wanted was an East Asian affair between Japan and South Korea but at least the fairy-tale story of Iraq had made news around the world.

Outside the arena an hour before kick-off there was something of a buzz. Street-sellers with any remaining Indonesian knock-off shirts were doing good business with tourists dressed in Southampton, Newcastle, Celtic and Liverpool colours.

Security was predictably tight around the entrances but early fans inside the stadium could have been forgiven for heading to the exits before the game even started.

With the Indonesian idols out of the competition, somebody had the bright idea of giving the pre-match entertainment to the 11 finalists of "Indonesia's Pop Idol." A few ear-splitting minutes later, it was thankfully over and we were left to see how many people would actually attend the showpiece game.

By the time the match started however, the arena was more than half-full with around 60,000 people inside. Most of them were unsurprisingly cheering for Iraq and while the atmosphere may not have matched those generated when the Indonesia played, it was lively nonetheless.

The game wasn't bad either. It took a while to get going but was entertaining enough. One goal was always likely to be enough and Iraq were the deserved scorers. There was genuine happiness all around when Younis Mahmoud headed home with 19 minutes remaining. To their credit, Iraq sought a second and it wouldn't have been undeserved.

Australian referee Mark Shield had a good game and ended this one to send Iraqis all over the world into ecstasy. The ones on the pitch were equally delighted and the celebrations began.

Sepp Blatter was hanging around but it was left to the President of Indonesia to hand the trophy to the waiting Younis Mahmoud. In history, there have always been occasional ungracious sorts who try to lift the trophy with the winning captain but this politician held the bowl-shaped trinket aloft with both hands a good few seconds before handing it over to the matchwinner. The striker danced on the podium before being joined by lots of people in suits.

The party continued on and off the pitch and the Jakarta night sky was lit up by fireworks that signalled the end of the 22-day competition. A good time was had by all.


Verbeek calls it quits

Asian Cup 2007.
Pim Verbeek

South Korea manager Pim Verbeek told reporters Saturday that he resigned prior to watching his team take third place at the Asian Cup with a 6-5 penalty shootout win over Japan in Palembang, Indonesia.

The news ended weeks of speculation that Verbeek would either step down or be sacked after the tournament. A transcript of his post-match press conference follows:

“I decided to resign. I asked the KFA this afternoon to terminate my contract. It’s time for me to find a new challenge.

I had two important targets. The first being winning the Asian Cup, which we didn’t. The second being qualifying for the Olympics.

I was disappointed that my four most talented players were ruled out of the (Asian Cup) due to injury, but I admit that I had plenty of other talented players to choose from and perhaps should have done better.

I have to be fair also and say we didn’t score enough. Defensively we were great, but to win at this tournament you have to score goals.
I lived a long time in Korea and they have great fans. I will leave with wonderful memories.

I really enjoyed the Asian Cup from start to finish. I’m not being sarcastic or cynical, I really enjoyed the tournament.
But now I need a long break so I can be ready for the next ten years (of coaching).

I plan to go back to Europe and take a holiday. I’ve lost my energy to be honest. It’s time to re-energize and find something new.”

Asked if he would consider coaching another Asian team, Verbeek responded:

“I will seriously consider any interesting option. I am open to everything. But in the next five months? No thank you.”

Copyright © C.G. Williams &

Friday, July 27, 2007

No need for Japan to panic after semifinal loss

No need for Japan to panic after semifinal loss.
Asian Cup 2007

Three moments of brilliance from two star strikers was all it took for Saudi Arabia to pull the plug on Japan’s quest for a third-straight Asian Cup title.

Yasser Al Qahtani scored the opener and Malek Maaz bagged a brace as the Saudis somewhat fortuitously knocked off Japan 3-2 in the semifinals in Hanoi on Wednesday.

Japan ebbed and flowed and their passing was so fluid in the first half that many pundits, including this one, suspected the game would soon turn into a rout for the defending champions.

But the Saudis soaked up the pressure and Japan proved once again that their bark is much worse than their bite.

Japan has lamented the absence of a forward with a killer instinct since the first Japanese kicked a ball around at the beginning of the 20th century. And although striker Naohiro Takahara certainly showed flashes of it at this tournament, scoring 4 times, he hardly made a blip on the radar in the semis.
Ditto Seiichiro Maki, ditto substitutes Hisato Sato and Kisho Yano.

Japan’s midfielders were guilty of attempting one too many passes instead of going for goal, and the Saudis were content to sit back and watch Japan work give-and-go after give-and-go until the cows came home.

The most striking thing about Japan’s performance, however, was how exhausted the players looked. Coach Ivica Osim had said prior to the match that he was prepared to take the blame for sticking with his usual starting XI even though he knew they would be knackered after playing four matches in some truly trying conditions, namely the plus-30-degree heat and choking humidity.

Sure enough, Japan ran emphatically out of gas in the second half. Takahara, Shunsuke Nakamura and Yasuhito Endo looked particularly spent, and even defenders Yuji Nakazawa and Yuji Abe were uncharacteristically absentminded at the back, with the pace and guile of Al Qahtani and Maaz compounding the problem.

Still, it was a match Japan could have won. The tactics Osim employed made those used by counterpart Helio dos Anjos look positively primitive, the only difference being that the Saudis capitalized on some wonderful individual play while Japan’s teamwork came apart at the seams in the final third of the pitch.
But there will be no inquest as to why Japan failed to win their third successive title, and there will be few calls for Osim to resign.

South Korea coach Pim Verbeek is in the hot seat, Australia manager Graham Arnold is almost certain to get canned, but Osim’s job is secure. Japan exhibited enough positives at the tournament to assure that. Unfortunately, not when it mattered most.

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Thursday, July 26, 2007

Iraq vs Saudi Arabia Asian Cup Final

2007 Asian Cup Final

Asian Cup 2007.
The 2007 Asian Cup Final will see Iraq play Saudi Arabia in Jakarta at Gelora Bung Karno Stadium, on Sunday.

Iraq came through their semi-final at Bukit Jalil National Stadium in Kuala Lumpur 4-3 in a penalty shoot-out after the teams finished 0-0 after extra time.

Saudi Arabia shocked defending champions Japan 3-2 at My Dinh Stadium in Hanoi to set up a final few people could have predicted. Iraq will be appearing in their first ever Asian Cup Final.

East Asian powerhouses Japan and South Korea play off for third place on Saturday at Jaka Baring Stadium, Palembang, in Indonesia.


Verbeek On The Brink

Verbeek On The Brink.
Verbeek On The Brink

No sooner had Kim Jung-woo missed South Korea’s fifth penalty kick against Iraq in the semi-final of the Asian Cup in Kuala Lumpur than the country’s media was speculating over the future of coach Pim Verbeek.

After two spells as assistant under Guus Hiddink and Dick Advocaat, Verbeek took over the head coach position a year ago, promising colourful and intelligent football. According to one leading sports site, OSEN, there was little of that on display as Korea scored only three goals in five games – two of which went to extra time.

The 0-0 draw with Iraq saw Korea enjoy plenty of possession and pressure but few chances were created as strikers Cho Jae-jin, Lee Chun-soo and Lee Dong-gook went through the competition without finding the back of the net.

Before the tournament, Verbeek told me that: “If we fail to reach the semi-finals that I will seriously consider my position.” This statement became headline news in Korea and it has led to the Dutchmen having to field questions about possible resignations every time the team looked to be in danger of crashing out.

After the last four exit, it was inevitable that the issue would be raised once more and so, in the post-match press conference, Verbeek had the following to say.

"I took my decision already but I am not going to say what it is because I want to keep the Korean people excited for the next couple of days.But if the Korean fans think we didn’t play a good tournament than they must have a different vision of playing international football.

"I think a lot of countries would be very proud to reach the semi-finals and to see their team fight until the very last second of extra time to get to the final. I should be proud to be a fan of Korean football because while we did not always play good, we were not outplayed in any game throughout this tournament and we were fighting like hell to get a good result.

“If people think that is not enough that’s okay because I have no problem with that.”

The 50-year old’s contract finishes at the end of the Beijing Olympics, a competition that South Korea have a good chance of qualifying for. Verbeek is also at the helm of that team and the chance it gives to work with the country’s young players is something he enjoys very much. It remains to be seen if that is enough to keep him from leaving.

Reaction to Korea’s performances in the Korean media have mostly been of disappointment with the coach rather than outright anger. “Is Verbeek responsible for the goal-less strikers?” asks one article. Reasonable questions are being asked though the coach’s leadership and tactical skills have not been well-received. A lack of variety when attacking is the most common complaint.

It is entirely possible, even probable, that Verbeek will head home to Europe and Korea will be in the position of trying to replace Hiddink for a sixth time in the space of five years.

Copyright: John Duerden & Soccerphile

Everywhere you go, you always take the weather

Asian Cup 2007

Korean fans in full voice

Iraq coach Jorvan Vieira must have wondered why his team bothered leaving Bangkok at all. After coming to the somewhat disconcerting realisation that his team had no accommodation booked upon their arrival in Kuala Lumpur, Vieira probably let fly with a few choice words two days later when he stepped out on to the pitch at the cavernous Bukit Jalil Stadium. Greeted by the now familiar site of torrential rain lashing the ground, the pitch was visibly cutting as the two teams warmed up.

Outside the ground fans could have been forgiven for preparing their arks, as apocalyptic-looking rain clouds drifted over the city, seemingly determined to converge directly above the bafflingly large stadium.

If the Petronas Towers are the obvious symbol of Kuala Lumpur then Bukit Jalil is a symbol of excess - it is difficult to envisage how this behemoth of a stadium could ever be filled to capacity. Nevertheless there was a noticeably improved atmosphere for the semi-final clash between Iraq and Korea Republic, as thousands of noisy Korean fans forced their Iraqi counterparts to lift their own game.

Petronas Towers
Coach Vieira had also called on his team to lift their game ahead of this clash, but the heavy, rain-sodden pitch made it clear from the outset that nothing short of a battle of attrition would settle this encounter.

And so it was, as both teams punched and counter-punched in a nervy opening forty-five minutes. Both teams had chances, with the penetrative Hawar Mohammed Taher not enjoying the best of tournaments in front of goal for the Iraqi's, whilst the livewire Ki Hun-Yeom lacked the composure to finish off a couple of decent chances for the Koreans.

With incessant rain continuing to lash the ground and both teams tiring visibly, it seemed inevitable that extra-time would follow a tense, scoreless second half.

Despite the fact that both teams were desperate to land a knock-out blow, neither could conjure the goal they so willingly desired and after one hundred and twenty minutes of heavy going, the match was ultimately decided by the dreaded penalty shoot-out.

History will show that Iraq goalkeeper Noor Sabri was the hero of the piece, brilliantly tipping Ki Hun-Yeom's low penalty around the post. Substitute Ahmed Mohammed coolly converted Iraq's next penalty - their fourth, and Iraq needed no more as Kim Jung-Woo hit the post with Korea's subsequent spot-kick.

An emotional Jorvan Vieira paid tribute to his side, which was cobbled together from players plying their trades in a variety of Middle Eastern leagues - some of whom have not returned to their war-torn country for more than two years.

Iraq had previously never progressed beyond the quarter-final stage of the Asian Cup - they now have the chance to create history and cause a genuine shock by claiming the crown as Asia's best. They will have to overcome a highly experienced Saudi Arabia to do so, but given that Iraq have defied the odds throughout the tournament, few would bet against a fairy-tale finish.

Fans queue for their free tickets

Judging by the number of free tickets distributed for this semi-final clash, the Asian Football Confederation will be working over-time to try and rustle up a decent crowd for Sunday's final at the 90,000 capacity Gelora Bung Karno Stadium in Jakarta.

With conjecture suggesting that the next Asian Cup will take place in January to avoid the heat of a Qatari summer, how AFC officials must have wished that they reconsidered their decision to hold this summer's tournament during the rainy season. One thing is certain, Jorvan Vieira won't be surprised if the weather threatens to rain on his parade on Sunday, and he won't be the only one.

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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

History never threepeats

Asian Cup 2007

Japan coach Ivica Osim and his players are placing little faith in history ahead of tonight's Asian Cup semifinal against Saudi Arabia in Hanoi.

The two-time defending champions boast a 6-1-2 record against the underdog Saudis, cruising to a 3-1 win in their most recent meeting last year, but insist that the past will have no bearing on the upcoming encounter at My Dinh Stadium.

"We shouldn't dwell on history. We have to focus on the future. We'll see what happens (tonight) and then we can talk about history," Osim said, adding that Saudi Arabia have changed considerably since the teams last locked horns.
"They've changed coaches and are a new team that is completely different from last year. They've become much more aggressive and play a modern style of football. They have a couple of players who will be very difficult for us to handle."

One of those players is 24-year-old striker Yasser Al Qahtani, who is in the running for tournament MVP thanks to some sterling performances that have so far produced three goals, including one against Uzbekistan in the quarterfinals.
Japan's danger man, Shunsuke Nakamura, said his team would have to shut Al Qahtani down if they were to have any chance of advancing to the finals in Jakarta on July 29.

"I've watched the Saudis on TV and Al Qahtani is very dangerous. But thankfully it's not my job to cover him, it's Bomber's (Yuji Nakazawa)," Nakamura said. "It's a very important game because if we lose we've accomplished nothing. More than being physically ready, we need to be mentally prepared. We've still got a lot to improve but I want to us to go all the way."

A win for Japan could set up a mouthwatering final against regional rivals South Korea, who play Iraq in the other semifinal on Wednesday.
Saudi Arabia were the victims of a nasty bit of scheduling following their quarterfinal on Sunday. The team was forced to fly to Vietnam for the semifinal, a journey that manager Helio Anjos said took a grueling 12 hours because there are no direct flights between Hanoi and Jakarta.

That deprived the Saudis of an entire day's training and the team is certain to struggle with its fitness this evening.
The mood in the Japan camp, meanwhile, is buoyant as Osim's men continue their quest to become the first nation since Iran in 1976 to lift three successive Asian Cups.
"The communication within the team is good and we have kept our focus on our ultimate goal, which is to win the cup," volante Keita Suzuki said at training earlier this week. "We keep urging each other to take it to the next level. We've hopefully got two more games ahead of us, both of which will be the most difficult of the tournament."

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The final four Asia Cup 2007

The final four.
The final four Asia Cup 2007

Iraq coach Jorvan Viera has been hot and bothered by the lack of hotel rooms in Kuala Lumpur. Pim Verbeek's Korea Republic have flattered to deceive. Japan came to the Asian Cup seeking revenge over Australia - got it - and will need to stay motivated for the rest of the tournament. And Saudi Arabia coach Helio Anjos claims that his team needs to overcome an inferiority complex.

The Asian Cup has reached the semi-final stage and the four remaining combatants could hardly present more contrasting emotions.

The weather in Kuala Lumpur has been noticeably cooler than hot and humid Bangkok, but that hasn't prevented Iraq coach Jorvan Viera from letting off some steam after he claimed that his team was left stranded in the lobby of a Kuala Lumpur hotel for four hours due to a lack of available rooms.

The Asian Football Confederation has confirmed that Iraq were held up in their attempts to check in to their hotel, but claimed that coach Viera's decision to schedule a late-night training session was the reason for Iraq's sleepless night after their arrival in Malaysia. Nevertheless Viera has claimed that whatever advantage Iraq had over Korea Republic - who beat Iran on penalties a day after Iraq's quarter-final victory over Vietnam, has now been negated.

Korea Republic, meanwhile, find themselves in the last four despite never having clicked into gear during this tournament. Having come this far despite missing several of their established stars, coach Pim Verbeek will hope that his team suddenly fires in their semi-final clash with Iraq. Indeed, for all their big-match experience the Taeguk Warriors may paint themselves as the underdogs, with a fired-up Iraq in the midst of their best tournament since 1976 and heavyweights Japan or Saudi Arabia looming in the final.

Japan have spent much of the tournament proclaiming their deepest desire to extract a measure of vengeance for their defeat to Australia at the 2006 FIFA World Cup. Now that Japan have indeed knocked Australia out, coach Ivica Osim will need to ensure that his team is refreshed and refocused, with Saudi Arabia the next obstacle standing in the way of Japan's bid to claim a third straight continental crown. Playmaker Shunsuke Nakamura has had to fend off criticism that he is not pulling his weight in the team, although there is little doubt that top-scorer Naohiro Takahara has been Japan's talisman thus far.

Saudi Arabia coach Helios Anjos, meanwhile, is eager to see his team break a three-match losing streak to Japan at the Asian Cup finals. The Saudi's have never beaten Japan in the continent's showpiece tournament, and that run includes bitter defeats to the Blue Samurai in the final of the 1992 and 2000 editions. The battle-weary Saudi's came through a tough group comprised of Korea Republic, Indonesia and Bahrain before beating Uzbekistan 2-1 in their quarter-final in Jakarta. They've now made the trip to Hanoi to face Japan, and should they win that clash, Saudi Arabia will then have to fly back to Jakarta to face off for the title. The gruelling schedule will have done them no favours, but with the west Asian nation determined to reclaim their mantle as one of Asia's premier teams, their clash with Japan is shaping as a potential classic.

For all the logistical headaches that hosting the tournament in four countries has conjured, perhaps the AFC's biggest concern is the prospect of holding the final in a near-empty Gelora Bung Karno Stadium in Jakarta. Thousands of free tickets failed to swell the crowd by any noticeable number when Iraq took on Vietnam in their quarter-final at Rajamangala Stadium in Bangkok, whilst barely 10,000 fans turned out to witness Saudi Arabia's encounter with Uzbekistan. That won't be of prime concern to the coaches of the four teams left, however, with each dreaming of a trophy-winning run as the Asian Cup draws to a fascinating conclusion.

Copyright © Michael Tuckerman &

Monday, July 23, 2007

Free-Scoring Uzbeks Eliminated

Free-Scoring Uzbeks Eliminated.
Asian Cup 2007

With the departure of co-hosts Indonesia, there has been a general feeling in Jakarta that the Asian Cup is as good as over. The city’s quarter-final clash between Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan was not viewed with much enthusiasm by the locals who are quick to proclaim that they are the most passionate football fans in Asia.

They were doing the teams from west and central Asia a disservice. Between them they had scored an impressive 16 goals in the group stage, some of which came courtesy of what is necessary to succeed in tournaments – strikers in-form and scoring goals.

In the white corner was ‘The Sniper’, Yasser Al-Qahtani. The Al Hilal hero was on target twice in the group stage and is not a just a goalscorer but as he showed in the impressive 4-0 win over Bahrain, he also turns provider on occasion. Unusually for a Saudi player, there was talk that he could be heading to Europe in the not-too-distant future.

Over in the blue corner was Maksim Shatskikh. The steely-eyed Dinamo Kiev hitman missed the opening game defeat against Iran but made up for it with three goals in the next two games. In the past year or two, The 28 year-old has been linked in the past with such English teams as Wigan and West Brom but had chosen to stay with the Ukrainian giants –for whom he averages a goal every other game -and regular Champions league football.

In what was probably the most open and exciting game of the tournament so far, Shatskikh missed a hatful of chances, enough to shoot his team to the last four.

Before the striker had touched the ball however, Yasser Al Qahtani put the Saudis ahead after just three minutes.

Uzbekistan proceeded to hit the woodwork four times, have a goal ruled out for offside and miss a host of chances before Ahmed Al Mousa added a second with 15 minutes remaining. It wasn’t all one-way traffic as the Green Falcons had chances of their own in what was an end-to-end game.

The atmosphere never came close to matching even a fraction of what was generated by the 90,000 fans four days earlier when Indonesia took on South Korea in the final Group D match but there were a few thousand Saudi followers in the Gelora Bung Karno Stadium. What neutrals there were seemed to be behind the Central Asian team.

Uzbekistan pulled a goal back through Pavel Solomin with eight minutes remaining and there was still time for Alexander Geynrikh to hit the base of the Arabian post with a full-blooded shot.

It wasn’t to be the Uzbeks night but the team certainly entertained in Kuala Lumpur as well as Jakarta and will be missed.

Copyright: John Duerden & Soccerphile

The post mortem begins …

Australian soccer news.
Asian Cup 2007

The post mortem begins …

Soccerphile columnist Marc Fox picks the bones out of Australia's quarter-final exit from an Asian Cup debut blighted by over-ambition and arrogance.

For an exiled Englishman, the goings-on of the past couple of months have followed a painfully familiar recipe.

Step one: take a sprinkling of the highest earners from the Premiership off the back of another marathon season.

Step two: lavish with unadulterated praise.

Step three: prepare poorly.

Step four: bake in 30-degree heat until (well and truly) cooked.

The result: quarter-final elimination on spot-kicks. Sound familiar?

That the vogue in Australian football circles is to decry the incumbent English coaching style only adds salt to the wounds.

The contributing factors to the Socceroos' early elimination are so numerous perhaps coach Graham Arnold will be a relieved man when the ruling body finally replaces him with a high-profile foreigner.

That might be as quickly as this month with all media speculation pointing towards Dick Advocaat, the former Holland and South Korea manager, taking charge at the end of his domestic contract in Russia.

"We have learned a lot in the last couple of weeks, Asia is very difficult," Arnold predictably surmised after the shootout defeat to Japan over the weekend. "The expectations I put on the team were semi-finals minimum and so obviously it's below expectations."

However, as Arnold knows only too well, the results - including a 3-1 loss to Iraq during the group stage - were just one piece of the pie.

The finger has been pointed variously from the dearth of seriously competitive warm-up games to player ill-discipline, fitness and sheer willingness to graft in testing climatic conditions.

But put simply the expectations placed on last year's World Cup revelations - as is often the case in England - were simply blown to astronomical proportions.

Almost from the outset, for some it wasn't even going to be enough just to win the Asian Cup outright at their first attempt.

As Soccerphile discussed two months ago, Socceroos defender Lucas Neill made a rod for his own back when he boasted Australia would canter through the tournament with an unblemished record.

"I really think we've got a squad that can handle the conditions, enough of us have played on the biggest stage now that we won't be intimidated by the teams we're going to play against and I really see the standard we're expecting to set taking us all the way to the end," Neill told reporters in May despite revealing his utter lack of knowledge about the Asian scene.

Other players joined the bandwagon too, chiming in with comments about how nothing will have been gained from last year's World Cup experience if they don't go onto be crowned kings of Asia.

It is Neill, though, who has been bought crashing back down to earth with the loudest bump 12 months after remarkably being linked with a switch to Barcelona.

The West Ham defender was part of the back four humiliated in the opening group games, was at fault for Iraq's third and then was sent off for back-chatting the referee.

After being all but named and shamed by Arnold for his attitude, Neill only earned a reprieve to play the Japanese through Luke Wilkshire's suspension but then went onto ruin his comeback by missing a penalty in the shootout.

To focus solely on one player, though, is unjust. From Mark Schwarzer in goal to Mark Viduka in attack, the Australians were technically outsmarted by every one of their opponents.

That includes Thailand who fell victim to three well-executed counter punches after dominating large swathes of the game before eventually succumbing 4-0.

Rajamangala Stadium
The technical flaws in Australia's play run deep - a notion supported by the failures of the under-17s and under-20s in reaching their respective World Cups last year - and cannot be improved overnight.

But what's surprised most onlookers down under is the vast gulf between the national team's ability to retain possession for long periods and their opponents, particularly, as troublesome hacks have been quick to highlight, given the sky-high pay cheques banked every week by the European-based players.

At least Arnold didn't pander to the likes of Neill and Harry Kewell, and may have even come out of the whole muddle with some brownie points for blooding a number of A-League players like Sydney FC pair Mark Milligan and David Carney.

If only because of scheduling alone, Arnold's successor will invariably need to rely on Milligan, Carney and others from the local scene for the 2010 World Cup qualifying campaign starting next year.

Maybe that will also help realign expectation levels with regard to Australia's participation in South Africa - and that, after this sorry mess, must surely be a good thing.

Copyright © Marc Fox and

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Iraq through to semi-finals as Vietnam's fairy-tale runs out

Asian Cup 2007

Vietnam fans gather outside Rajamangala Stadium
Vietnam’s fairy-tale run at the Asian Cup has come to an end, after they were beaten by Iraq in their quarter-final encounter at Rajamangala Stadium in Bangkok.

Thousands of colourfully-attired Vietnam fans turned out in support of their team, but they made little difference as Iraq ran out comfortable 2-0 winners on the back of a superb individual performance from captain Younes Mohammed.

He opened the scoring from Iraq’s first attack of the game, rising highest to flick home playmaker Nashat Ali’s free-kick barely ninety seconds into the match.

Kick off between Iraq and Vietnam

Some desperate defending from Nhu Thanh Vu twice prevented Iraq from going further ahead, with the Vietnamese clinging on grimly in the hope of avoiding a rout.

On the stroke of half-time Iraq were forced into a desperate goal-line clearance of their own, as Nguyen Vu Phong saw his strike cleared off the goal line by substitute Ahmad Abid Ali.

Normal service was resumed in the second half with Iraq continuing their procession towards Hong Son Duong’s goal.

The west Asian team extended their lead just after the hour mark when Younes Mohammed curled a superb free-kick over the wall and into the top right hand corner of Duong’s goal.

Vietnam fans lend their support

Despite their determined efforts Vietnam were unable to find the back of the net during the closing stages of this match, to the disappointment of the few thousand travelling fans that made up the majority of another sparse crowd in Bangkok.

While admitting that he was pleased to lead Iraq to the quarter-finals of the tournament for the first time since 1976, coach Jorvan Viera was unimpressed with his team, suggesting that they would have to improve if they were to have any hope of lifting the trophy.

Iraq will now face Korea Republic in the last four, after the Koreans disposed of Iraq's regional rival Iran on penalties in their quarter-final.

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Saturday, July 21, 2007

South Korea Be The Reds Tees

Be The Reds

It has been statistically proved that the more people that wear "BE THE REDS" t-shirts, the more chance the South Korean national soccer team has of winning matches.

South Korea reached the semi-finals of the 2002 World Cup when 100,000s of people wore "BE THE REDS" t-shirts.

Support the South Korean soccer team in the Asian Cup

Support Korea with these Korean soccer specials. Be The Reds T-shirts and official Korean national team jerseys.


Be The Reds T-shirts

Classic new issue Be The Reds T-shirt

Original Be The Reds T-shirts from Korea.
Color: red/white
100% quality soft cotton


Medium (chest 51 cm x length 66 cm/ 20 x 26 inches)
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XL (chest 55 cm x length 75 cm/ 22 x 30 inches)

South Korean National Team Soccer Shirt

Korean national team jersey

Korean national team jerseys

Red & White – Korean FA ‘Tiger’ logo on front - "home shirt".

White - Korean FA ‘Tiger’ logo on front - "away shirt".

Produced by Nike.


L 105 cm chest (41 inches)
XL 110 cm chest (43 inches)
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Red Dragon Let's Go Korea

Red Dragon Let's Go Korea.

Red Dragon Let's Go Korea T-shirts are the latest, hip item for all South Korea soccer fans.
Color: red/black100% quality soft cotton.
M 100 cm chest (39 inches); L 105 cm chest (41 inches); XL 110 cm chest (43 inches); XXL 115 cm chest (45 inches)
Prices from: US$19.99 (postage not included)

Red Dragon T-shirt

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An Idiot's Guide to Hanoi

An Idiot's Guide to Hanoi

An Idiot's Guide to Hanoi

I've been in Hanoi for two weeks and I still haven't the faintest clue how to navigate the streets here. So much for my trusty internal GPS. This city has me beat and I concede defeat.

That said, it's not as though I'm in a complete fog. Some valuable lessons have been learned, interesting sites seen, and plenty of beer consumed.

I thought I'd share some of my new-found knowledge with you lest you yourself wind up visiting this city planner's worst nightmare one day. Man cannot live on Lonely Planet alone, after all:

Come prepared: There aren't any shops to buy toiletries or the like at any of the hotels. And forget about popping out to the nearest 7-11--there aren't any of those either. Convenience stores do exist, but it takes time and energy to get to them.

If you drink, you're in luck as they sell the world's cheapest beer in Vietnam. The only catch is you leave yourself wide open to the world's biggest hangover in the morning and nowhere to buy aspirin.
Also, unless you're extremely careful, you can expect your stomach to disagree with at least something during your stay. Be prepared. Pack your medicine.

Best restaurant: You can't possibly sample every place in Hanoi in such a short time but the good news is that the smattering of places I have been to have all been excellent (save for one--Bobby Chinn's). The best by far, though, has been La Salsa across the street from St. Joseph's Cathedral. A tapas joint owned and operated by French people, La Salsa is a favorite hangout of expats and backpackers alike. Don't let that turn you off, the food more than makes up for the non-Vietnamese experience. Chorizo to die for, mouthwatering meatballs, succulent duck and sangria that will leave you seeing double for a fortnight (Did I mention you should pack your Tylenol?).

Best nightclub: Nutz at the Sheraton Hotel. This is a no-brainer because it's the only disco that the fun police haven't shut down in the last couple of months. It isn't anything to write home about what with prostitutes on the prowl and visiting businessmen--all conspicuously without wedding rings--lapping up the attention. But the place is always busy and there are enough people not taking part in the sex trade to make it worthwhile.

Better still, it's one of the only places I've found that stays open late. They flicked the switch on us at 12:30 the other night (also spoiling the fun for Australia coach Graham Arnold and his retinue) and stayed open until 3 a.m. on the weekend. Good numbers for a city that usually shuts its doors at 11 p.m.

Most interesting site: Ho Chi Minh mausoleum. Ho is a little less green than V.I. Lenin in Red Square, yet he still radiates an eerie glow. I guess that's what happens when you've been lying in state for 37 years.

French women also cause headaches: "I find it so easy to get laid here," one particularly stunning blonde French woman told me. Which begged the question, "In what country do stunning blonde French women find it difficult to get laid?"

Best coffee: The locals will probably want to lynch me when they read this, but my vote for the best mud goes to Highlands, a Vietnamese chain similar to Starbucks and Tully's. I find the local joe too strong and slightly odd-tasting. It's an acquired taste that I'm certain I will never acquire. Highlands also has a good wireless connection (in most outlets) and decent food to boot. And air conditioning, bless them.

Worst service: Bobby Chinn's. The battleaxe that runs the place ruins what otherwise would be the ideal restaurant. Great food ("Asian fusion"), hip décor and sofas in the back with hookah pipes for some serious chilling. Don't get too excited though, the waitresses will stop just short of prodding you with a fork to hurry your meal along. It was truly the worst dining experience of my life. And I've been to some pretty terrible places over the years.

Service in general: Polite but not entirely with it. Take a deep breath and be prepared to wait when ordering in Hanoi. The locals work at a relaxed pace and are prone to getting orders wrong, so patience is a must. Learning some Vietnamese should help minimize any communication breakdowns.

MVP award: Definitely goes to the city's drivers. Ho Chi Minh City may be even busier than Hanoi, but there's no denying the people here know how to operate their vehicles, be it the taxi drivers or the multitude of people on mopeds. As one observant visitor pointed out, "They seem to be born on motorcycles."

Don't drink the water: And stay away from ice cubes. You'll regret it in the morning otherwise.

Most unnerving: The police who monitor you on the dance floor. I guess my jig ain't as bad as I thought, though, as I have yet to be arrested.

Most pleasant surprise: The absence of McDonald's, Pizza Hut, Starbucks, etc. You can still get pizza and cheeseburgers, just not from Ronald and the rest of junk-food juggernauts. It's nice to see they haven't reached every corner of the world. Yet.
Sadly, I've seen two KFCs here and there's a Segafredo's coming soon. Still, as the saying goes: "I got to Hanoi before obesity." If you hurry, so can you.

Wackiest observation: Is it just me or does Colonel Sanders not look like a plumper version of Ho Chi Minh?

An Idiot's Guide to Hanoi

Copyright © C.G. Williams &

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Thursday, July 19, 2007

Korea Squeeze Into Quarters

Asian Cup 2007: Korea Squeeze Into Quarters

Indonesia - South Korea.
It wasn’t pretty but South Korea scraped into the last eight of the Asian Cup with a 1-0 win over Indonesia in Jakarta. Saudi Arabia gave a big helping hand as they thrashed Bahrain 4-0 in the Sumatran city of Palembang.

The atmosphere in the Korean camp after the game was one of relief, not surprising when one considers that the team were bottom of Group D when Australian referee Mark Shield blew his whistle to signal the start of proceedings. One point from the previous two games had left Korea needing to win and hoping that the other result wasn’t a draw.

In the Korean camp prior to kick-off, there was a general expectation that the West Asian clash probably would end all-square. There was no bitterness just an awareness that such a thing could happen and it was Korea’s fault for putting themselves in the situation.

The Saudis were having none of it and, on a dry Palembang pitch, made sure that their West Asian neighbours were heading back home. The scoreline was harsh on Bahrain who had a number of good chances before the game got away from them midway through the second half.

90,000 fans packed in the Gelora Bung Karno Stadium didn’t care. It is sad that the special atmosphere created in the arena will not be experienced again in this Asian Cup. The chances of more than 5,000 turning up for what looks to be a fairly unglamorous quarter-final between the Saudis and Uzbekistan are about the same as seeing a good word about the Indonesian FA printed in the nation’s media.

Like the previous game against Saudi Arabia, the president and his wife were in attendance and this time there were a good number of soldiers to go with the legions of security.. The Premier League may be the most popular in the world but their yellow-bib wearing spotty stewards aren’t a patch on Indonesia’s machine gun-toting, gum-chewing, mean-looking crowd control cadets.

Indonesian stewards.

The Korean embassy had warned fans not to wander around in the colours of the Taeguk Warriors but, except the tearing down of a banner proclaiming friendship between Indonesia and Korea, I saw few problems. Even at the end of a game that saw the team defeated by the narrowest of margins when a draw would have seen them through, the disappointed fans applauded both teams off the pitch.

Goodbye Indonesia

“A hell of an atmosphere wasn’t it?” coach Pim Verbeek said to me after the game.

The Dutchman was hoarse obviously from shouting at his players in frustration. Korea had good chances to kill the game, especially in the second half, and really should have added to Kim Jung-woo’s 34th minute winner.

Korea’s wastefulness led to a final period that was tenser than it needed to be but the visitors deserved the win to set up a fourth successive Asian Cup quarter-final with Iran in Kuala Lumpur. It is 2-1 to Iran who took the lead in the mini-series with a thrilling 4-3 win in the Chinese city of Jinan three summers ago.

Korea will not be too sorry to leave Jakarta and its poor training pitches – there will be no such problems in Malaysia. Team Melli will pose a few however and the Taeguk Warriors will need to improve if KL is not merely to be a stop-off on their way back to Seoul.

The team's interpreter told me that they “will definitely be back” in Jakarta for the final on July 29. That remains to be seen. A victory over Iran will see a semi against Iraq or Vietnam and suddenly Korea are dreaming of continental glory.

'Tis a funny old game.

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The rematch: Japan vs Australia

Japan vs Australia.
Japan vs Australia

Former Liverpool midfielder Craig Johnston claimed it was potentially "one of the great rivalries in Asian football." Japan defender Yuji Nakazawa predicted a 3-0 win for his side and told reporters "we can't lose twice." Australia and Japan fans have been poring over the minutia of every comment made by player or reporter alike - eager to highlight the flaws, desperate to imagine an advantage. Make no mistake, the quarter-final clash between Japan and Australia at My Dinh Stadium in Hanoi is one of the most anticipated of this year's Asian Cup.

Ever since Australia beat Japan 3-1 at the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany, the Blue Samurai have been dreaming of a rematch. They were granted that wish somewhat earlier than anticipated, with Australia's second-place finish in their Asian Cup group ensuring a quarter-final showdown against their old foes. Japan arguably go into this match in better form.

Eintracht Frankfurt marksman Naohiro Takahara leads the goal-scoring charts with three goals, along with Uzbekistan's Maxim Shatskikh and Mark Viduka of Australia. Celtic star Shunsuke Nakamura has played with quiet efficiency without having dazzled at the tournament so far - although he looks more than capable of doing so on the big stage. Gamba Osaka midfielder Yasuhito Endo and Sanfrecce Hiroshima wing-back Yuichi Komano have provided important contributions, while the much-malgined Seiichiro Maki has also chipped in with goals.

Japan vs Australia.
In the tall and powerful Maki, Japan may just have an advantage that bucks all of the stereotypes. The JEF United striker has been heavily criticised for his lack of goals in the J-League, but with accurate crosses flowing in from the likes of Nakamura and Komano, the target-man suddenly looks capable of testing international defences.

While Australia have in the past been praised for their robust defences, they have recently looked anything but solid at the back. Leicester City stopper Patrick Kisnorbo appeared to be out of his depth in the opening two fixtures, whilst West Ham defender Lucas Neill was sent off late in the match against Iraq. Michael Beauchamp and Mark Milligan stepped in for the clash with Thailand - with the latter's superb performance providing a selection headache for coach Graham Arnold.

Milligan is a quick and agile player, with a knack for reading the game. What he lacks is physical presence - something that Seiichiro Maki has in spades, and if Japan coach Ivica Osim can coax some more aggression out of his lanky forward, then Japan might have an unexpected aerial advantage over their opponents.

Nevertheless the Blue Samurai are not without their problems. Urawa Reds defensive midfielder Yuki Abe has looked shaky in a central defensive role alongside Yuji Nakazawa, and it was Abe who committed a late foul that saw Japan concede an equaliser in their opening 1-1 draw with Qatar. Akira Kaji has been dreadful at the back, so much so that there is conjecture about his place in the team.

There has also been a conspicuous absence of any meaningful contribution from Kawasaki Frontale playmaker Kengo Nakamura, with the diminutive midfielder seemingly overshadowed by his more illustrious namesake in midfield. Ivica Osim, meanwhile, has attracted mirth with his increasingly bizarre rants in his role as coach of a country renowned for its non-confrontational attitude.

Australia are arguably the polar opposite of Japan in that respect, and their brashness in practically declaring themselves pre-tournament favourites served to heap pressure on them when they stumbled in the group stage. They'll require no further motivation for this clash, however, with the Australian team constantly needled by suggestions - whether real or imagined, that they are an overly physical team.

They were incensed when Japan opened the scoring in Kaiserslautern just over twelve months ago, claiming that burly striker Naohiro Takahara had fouled goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer in the build up to Japan's goal. The Socceroos will hope that Kuwaiti referee Saad Kameel Al Fadhli keeps a firm grip on this potentially explosive encounter, even if their bustling style draws attention from the man in black.

Australia's hero in Kaiserslautern was Everton midfielder Tim Cahill, who came off the bench to score twice in the dying minutes and propel Australia to that famous 3-1 victory. Cahill is unlikely to start against Japan in Hanoi, having only just returned from a long injury layoff.

There is also concern over the form of injury-plagued Liverpool midfielder Harry Kewell. The wing wizard came off the bench and scored a virtuoso goal in the 4-0 win over Thailand, but the Australians can ill afford to start slowly against Japan, with the two-time defending champions having played arguably the most up-tempo football of any team in the tournament. Kewell may be required from the start, and he will certainly need to fire.

Thus a fascinating duel between these two regional rivals awaits, with the winner to face either Saudi Arabia or Uzbekistan in the semi-final. The loser will go home with their ambition unfulfilled, with Japan chasing a third straight continental crown, whilst Australia earlier claimed that anything less than a place in the final would be viewed as a failure.

Copyright © Michael Tuckerman &

Asian Cup Quarterfinals Line Up

Asian Cup Quarterfinals Line Up

Asian Cup Quarterfinals Line Up
Who's Through?

Asian Cup Quarter Finals

Sat 21 July 17.20 Japan vs Australia My Dinh National Stadium, Hanoi
Sat 21 July 20.20 Iraq vs Vietnam Rajamangala National Stadium, Bangkok
Sun 22 July 18.20 Iran vs Korea National Stadium Bukit Jalil, Kuala Lumpur
Sun 22 July 20.20 Saudi Arabia vs Uzbekistan Gelora Bung Karno Stadium, Jakarta


Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Fifa World Rankings July 2007

Fifa World Rankings July 2007

Fifa World Rankings July 2007

Brazil are back on top of the FIFA World Rankings after beating Argentina in the Copa America 2007. Argentina rise to second, followed by Italy. England drop out of the top 10 and are down in 12th place below Euro 2008 qualifying opponents Croatia.


Bangkok City Street Survival

Bangkok City Street Survival

I’m not entirely certain that I’m staying in one of the more reputable hotels in Bangkok. Now that I think about it, I’m not sure how many hotels usher you in through a side entrance because they are building a highway out the front. I can think of at least one. Still, I appreciated the thoughtfulness of the staff when I arrived back from Thailand’s recent clash with Australia.

Bangkok City Street Survival

“Sawat dii,” they all said, clasping their hands in unison. “Congratulations on the victory!”

“Thank you!” I replied, smiling jovially and no doubt looking slightly demented. “Mind you, I didn’t actually play myself. I just watched!”

Cue worried faces from the bemused staff.

Nevertheless their demeanour was an improvement on the behaviour of Bangkok’s notorious cabbies. Taxi’s in Bangkok are a bit like elections. There’s always one around the corner, and you just know they are going to be useless.

Catching a taxi after Australia had thumped Thailand proved a difficult proposition.

“Hello, will you take me to the Hotel de Concrete, please?” I would ask.

“Get out,” the cabbie would reply, evidently hoping for a larger fare, although I’m not sure where he expected to go – the planet Mars, perhaps?

My next tactic proved equally unsuccessful. Hailing a cab on busy Ramkhamhaeng Road, I simply sat down and refused to move until the driver took me to my salubrious destination. This had the effect of further grid-locking the capital’s already choked streets, as my cabbie and I locked horns in a tense stand-off for control of the meter. It took the driver behind us stepping out to retrieve what I presume was a baseball bat for me to flee the scene.

Maybe I shouldn’t have been wearing my Australia jacket. Or maybe I should have offered a bribe that would have bought more than a small cheeseburger at the local food emporium. At any rate, Spot-The-Aussie was proving a popular spectator sport as hordes of Australia fans hopped frantically from one taxi to the next. Eventually, two young men wandered over.

“Where are you going?” they enquired.

I raised a quizzical eyebrow, somewhat concerned by the prospect of making an unscheduled trip to the Cambodian border. Then I handed them my crumpled directions.

“Ah, the Hotel de Concrete!” they chuckled. “No taxi driver will take you there! You need to take the bus.”

I looked in my wallet. Not a single Thai coin to be found. I knew I’d live to regret buying so many spicy chicken wings from the street-side vendors before the match.

“Will they take this?” I said sheepishly, holding out a 50 Baht note like the clueless tourist that I am.

Lin and Toto - as they told me their names were, reached deep into their pockets and handed me several small coins. I was touched. I tried to give them my 50 Baht note, but they would have none of it.

Leaping onto the moving bus in a style reminiscent of Indiana Jones - at least in a scene where he doesn’t trip on the stairs and nearly fly head first out the window, I began to ponder the lessons learned on my trip back to the hotel.

I learned that the majority of Thai’s are friendly and compassionate and willing to help – even after their national team has just lost a match that saw them knocked out of a major international tournament.

Perhaps just as importantly – at least for anyone planning on attending a match at Rajamangala Stadium in the near future, I learned another crucial lesson that I am willing to share with you, valued reader, right now…

Take the bus home.

Copyright © Michael Tuckerman &

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Manchester United v Urawa Reds

Manchester United v Urawa Reds
Manchester United v Urawa Reds

Manchester United's pre-season tour to Asia kicked off with a 2-2 draw with J-League champions Urawa Reds in Saitama tonight.

United last played the Reds in 2005 winning 2-0 with a goal from Wayne Rooney being the highlight of the match.

This time it was 2-2 at Saitama Stadium. United's goals came from Darren Fletcher and Cristiano Ronaldo, Urawa replying with strikes from Hideki Uchidate and Shinji Ono in front of a passionate home crowd.

Urawa partially model themselves on Manchester United, with a lot of Bayern Munich thrown in to the mix. The Mancunian Red Devils traditionally include a fixture with the team from the working class suburbs of Tokyo on their pre-season East Asian money-making jaunts.

Listen to some quasi-fascist chanting by Urawa Reds fans

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Joy in Hanoi

Joy in Hanoi

Joy in Hanoi

A 4-1 loss has never been so satisfying.

Co-host Vietnam squeaked into the quarterfinals of the Asian Cup on Monday as Group B runners-up, despite receiving a footballing lesson from defending champions Japan at My Dinh Stadium.

Vietnam booked their ticket to the knockout round in place of Qatar, who crashed out of the competition with a 2-1 loss to the United Arab Emirates in Ho Chi Minh.

News of that loss triggered wild celebrations across Hanoi that lasted well into the night. The humbling loss to Japan was quickly forgotten, as was the match-fixing scandal that sent seven of the team’s players to jail only three months before the tournament. Monday night was all about celebrating the present; there was no need to dwell on the past.

The team most pundits predicted would lose three straight had reached the second round of a competition they hadn’t appeared in since 1960, and nobody could dampen their spirits.

“I think it’s a sensation,” gushed Vietnam coach Alfred Riedl, who earlier called the match against Japan the biggest in the nation’s history. “It is very good for Vietnamese football, a good education for us. Very few people expected us to go through.”

Flag-waving fans on motorbikes tore through the capital honking their horns and chanting “Vietnam! Vietnam!” for hours after the match.

One of them, Ngo Ngoc Khanh, was overcome with joy. “This is the best thing to happen to Vietnam in years,” said Khanh, adding that he was unfazed by the prospect of Vietnam having to play its remaining games away from home. “I don’t care about that. It would be nice to see them play in Vietnam, but the important thing is that we got to the quarterfinals. Vietnam is number one!”
Riedl also said he wasn’t bothered with having to play play Group A winners Iraq in Bangkok.

“It’s not where we play that’s important but how we play when we get there against a strong opponent,” Riedl said. “I don’t see any problems with our fitness or anything else just because we’re in a different country. We may surprise again. You never know.”
Japan, meanwhile, will stay in Hanoi for their Final Eight match against Australia on Saturday after topping Group B with two wins and a draw.

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Brazil win 2007 Copa America

Brazil win 2007 Copa America.
Brazil win 2007 Copa America

Brazil confounded the doubters to bag their fourth Copa America title in five, beating much-fancied Argentina 3-0 in Maracaibo, Venezuela.

The two South American giants had met in the previous final in 2004 in Peru, which Brazil had won on penalties after a 2-2 draw, but it was their old rivals who had been the more impressive going into this game.

Brazil had lost their opening match 2-0 to Mexico while Argentina had dazzled the tournament with some fireworks football, blitzing all opposition including Mexico 3-0 in the semi-final.

Much was expected of their three musketeers of Juan Riquelme, Carlos Tevez and Lionel Messi, but before the albiceleste could find their feet in the 34C Venezuelan afternoon, Julio Baptista gave Brazil a dream start with a thumping strike in the fourth minute.

Baptista, who was on loan at Arsenal from Real Madrid last season, picked up a long spear from Elano, took two taps to beat veteran Roberto Ayala and then rifled past a frozen Roberto Abbondanzieri in the Argentina goal to give Brazil the lead.

Riquelme hit the post with Argentina’s first attack five minutes later and a dream final looked in the making.

Argentina then took the game to Brazil but always looked vulnerable to a swift counter from their more muscular opponents.

Riquelme then drew a diving save from Brazil goalie Doni before disaster struck again for the albiceleste.

Five minutes before the break, Daniel Alves swung over a cross from the right and the unlucky Ayala, threatened by the lurking Vagner Love, stretched and turned the ball into his own net.

Two-nil down, Argentina laboured hard in their efforts to eke out a comeback, only to succumb again to a break in the 69th minute.

Vagner Love carried the ball forward against the retreating Argentina defenders before releasing Alves, who found the net with an inch-perfect diagonal drive to make it 3-0.

Carlos was the victim of a split-second offside call error late on as he found the goal, but otherwise his country was well-beaten by the hitherto-underrated holders.

Leo Messi.

Brazil’s strength and power comfortably dominated Argentina’s skill and finesse, and every time the albiceleste strove to drag themselves back into the match, their silky techinique ran aground against a yellow wall of rugged tackles and massed defending.

The trophy represents a triumph for coach Dunga, golden boot winner Robinho and the Brazilian national team as a whole after the let-down of the 2006 World Cup.

The victory also reminds the rest of the football world that you write off the seleçao at your peril. With Brazil top of the South American tree once more, normal service is restored to world soccer.

Copa America Final 2007, Maracaibo, Venezuela

Brazil 3:0 Argentina

Julio Baptista 4’
o.g. Vagner Love 40’
Alves 69’

Argentina: Abbondanzieri, Zanetti, Ayala, Milito, Heinze, Veron (Gonzalez 67'), Mascherano, Cambiasso (Aimar 59'), Riquelme, Messi, Tevez. Coach: Alfio Basile.

Brazil: Doni, Maicon, Juan, Alex Costa, Gilberto, Elano (Alves 34'), Mineiro, Josue, Julio Baptista, Robinho (Diego 90') , Vagner Love (Fernando 90'). Manager: Carlos Dunga.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Monday, July 16, 2007

Advance Australia Fair

Asian Cup 2007

Rajamangala Stadium

Australia have progressed to the quarter-finals of the Asian Cup after they defeated Thailand 4-0 at a rain-soaked Rajamangala Stadium.

Coach Graham Arnold rang in the changes ahead of this match, and it was one of the newcomers in Michael Beauchamp who opened the scoring for The Socceroos, heading home his first ever goal for the national team after twenty-one minutes.

Captain Mark Viduka then scored twice, before substitute Harry Kewell added a fourth in stoppage time at the end of the match as Thailand's tired legs gave way.

The scoreline was harsh on the tournament co-hosts, who pushed Australia for eighty minutes of this encounter and who tested Australian goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer on several occasions.

Thai players line up a free-kick
Despite the unflattering scoreline, Thai coach Chanvit Polchovin spoke glowingly of his side, which ultimately finished the group stage level on points with Australia - albeit with an inferior head-to-head record and goal difference.

Polchovin told reporters that he hoped Thailand's performance in the competition would inspire local fans to pay more attention to the domestic scene, with Thai fans well renowned for supporting teams in the English Premier League.

Chanvit Polchovin
A vociferous crowd of 46,000 predominantly Thai fans roared on their team, and Thailand went agonisingly close when Kiatisuk Senamuang only just failed to connect with Suree Sukha's low cross into the penalty area.

By then Thailand were already a goal behind, with 1.FC Nürnberg defender Beauchamp having risen highest to head home a Luke Wilkshire free-kick midway through the first half.

It took until ten minutes from time for Australia to make the game safe, with skipper Mark Viduka scoring a tremendous solo goal, taking a cross from substitute Tim Cahill on his chest before twisting passed the Thai defence and picking his moment to fire beyond Kosin Hathairatanakul in the Thai goal.

Just three minutes later Cahill and Viduka combined again, with the Newcastle United striker heading home to take his goal tally for the tournament to three.

Liverpool midfielder Harry Kewell - on as a substitute for the final half hour, then sealed proceedings with a goal in stoppage time, gallopping down the right hand side before slotting the ball passed the luckless Kosin.

Australian fans celebrate

Australia's reward is a quarter-final showdown with Japan, just over a year after The Socceroos beat Japan 3-1 at the FIFA World Cup in Germany.

Japan captain Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi claimed before the tournament that Japan were "burning for revenge," and Japan will have the chance to avenge that defeat when these two old foes clash at My Dinh Stadium in Hanoi on July 21.

Australia v Iraq

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Taeguk Warriors? Korea Need To Get Tough

Asian Cup 2007

It’s looking grim for South Korea at the 2007 Asian Cup. With one game remaining in Group D, the Taeguk Warriors no longer control their own destiny. After one draw and one defeat, Korea’s Asian Cup hopes are, as headline writers around the world like to say in such situations, ‘hanging by a thread.’

Taeguk Warriors? Korea Need To Get Tough

It was the 2-1 loss at the hands of Bahrain on a warm Sunday evening in Jakarta that has pushed the 2002 World Cup semi-finalists to the edge of elimination. Perhaps it is more accurate to say that the team crawled to the brink itself after shooting itself in the foot.

Only a win against Indonesia in Jakarta on Wednesday and a positive result in the game between Bahrain and Saudi Arabia elsewhere will see one of the pre-tournament favourites squeeze into the last eight.

It shouldn’t be this way. Korea took an early lead, dominated most of the game against Bahrain but somehow ended up with nothing. Surprising as the loss was, the scenario is not an unfamiliar one.

If lowly Taiwan are taken out of the occasion; in the five competitive games played since the World Cup, Korea has now taken the lead four times yet failed to record a single victory. In qualifiers for the Asian Cup in Seoul, Korea went ahead against Iran and Syria, controlled proceedings but were undone by defensive mistakes. Saudi Arabia may not have been dominated but weren’t killed off and we all saw what happened against Bahrain.

Friendly matches don’t seem to be a problem however. In the five so far this year, Korea took the lead in three and won and fell behind in the other two and lost.

In the post-match press conference on Sunday, a Korean journalist questioned the players’ famed mental strength. In Asian football circles, it is an oft-repeated assertion that those who pull on the red shirt have an indomitable, never-say-die attitude and all-round rock solid mentality - the Taeguk Warriors.

Maybe they are not quite as strong as previously assumed. In competitive games that they are expected to win, a South Korea team that holds a narrow lead rarely gives confidence that it has the capability to protect or add to it.

Perhaps like Australia, Korea just feel more comfortable as underdogs with their backs against the wall battling against the 'big' teams.

Bahrain are no slouches on the Asian scene and almost reached the final of the 2004 competition. However in the 12 previous meetings between the two countries, the Gulf State had drawn three and lost nine and that sorry record was looking likely to be extended to an unlucky 13 after Kim Doo-hyun’s early strike.

Just before half-time however, the Korean defence went to sleep and was undone in the simplest of manners. A free-kick on the edge of the centre circle was lofted over the defence and into the penalty area for Salman Ali to fire home. Six minutes from time, another defensive mistake led to Ismaeel Abdullatiff scoring the winner.

Both were classic examples of Korea’s concentration problems at the back. No defence is immune from such lapses but for much of the post 2002 World Cup period, the Korean back-line has demonstrated all too often that is liable to switch off at crucial moments. The worst part is that such mistakes seem to have an incredibly high conversion rate into goals – as Bahrain’s two shots and two goals demonstrated.

Coupled with the problems at the back is the team’s inability to kill teams off when they have both the lead and control of the game. Much of the second half was spent in and around the Bahraini penalty area but possession and pressure didn’t yield the expected number of clear-cut chances. When opportunities did come, they weren’t taken.

The team is missing such stars as Park Ji-sung, Lee Young-pyo, Seol Ki-hyeon and Kim Nam-il and it is likely that results would have been different with that experienced quartet available. However, the starting eleven that took the field against Bahrain was not full of fresh-faced youngsters. Many of them had World Cup and overseas experience – certainly enough to avoid defeat against Bahrain after taking an early lead.

Bahrain coach Milan Macala said after the game that for all Korea’s personnel changes from the previous game, the style and tactics were exactly the same. A settled system is all well and good but when attacks become predictable the team has to be so effective that it doesn’t matter or changes have to be made.

It is harsh on Korea that they are in this position. Australia have performed much more poorly yet, unlike the east Asians, still control their own destiny going into the final game. Korea could easily be leading the group yet find themselves propping it up - such is football.

As I write, I can see the local fans outside the Gelora Bung Karno Stadium in Jakarta lining the streets in an attempt to get tickets for Wednesday's game. It will be a red-hot atmosphere in front of over 90,000 screaming fans. The going has gotten tough, now is the time for the tough to get going.

Copyright: John Duerden & Soccerphile

Japan & Vietnam Advance in Group B

Asian Cup 2007.
Asian Cup
Asian Cup 2007

Japan and co-hosts Vietnam advanced from Group B to the knock out stages of the Asian Cup on a dramatic night in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam.

Despite being on the wrong end of a 4-1 hammering from current Asian cup holders Japan at My Dinh National Stadium in Hanoi in the north of the country, Vietnam progressed thanks to a stoppage time goal by Faisal Khalil, which gave UAE a 2-1 win over Qatar in Ho Chi Minh in the south.

Asian Cup 2007

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