Thursday, April 30, 2009

Kashima Antlers back on top as Urawa Reds held


Kashima Antlers moved back to the top of the J.League standings following a hard-fought 1-0 win over Vissel Kobe last night.

In a full round of midweek fixtures, Kashima took advantage of Urawa's 2-2 draw away at Shimizu S-Pulse to leapfrog the Saitama giants in the standings.

Kashima Antlers back on top as Urawa Reds held

Imposing defender Daiki Iwamasa scored the only goal of the game, powering home a header to register Kashima's 1000th league goal in the process.

The match of the round took place at Ecopa Stadium in Fukuroi, and it lived up to expectations as a crowd of 30,851 were thrilled by an absorbing battle between Shimizu S-Pulse and Urawa Reds.

The hosts opened the scoring from the penalty spot after young striker Kazuki Hara was felled in the box, with Hara himself stepping up to send Reds keeper Ryota Tsuzuki the wrong way.

Despite fielding three defensive midfielders, Shimizu struggled desperately to contain Urawa's rapid-fire counter-attacks, and it was no surprise when Brazilian playmaker Robson Ponte levelled the scores through a scrappy goal shortly before half-time.

Urawa's second goal was a more note-worthy effort, as 18-year-old midfielder Naoki Yamada sliced through the S-Pulse defence before curling a superb strike into the far corner of the goal with just sixteen minutes remaining.

With the Reds fans already celebrating another victory, former Urawa striker Yuichiro Nagai missed a golden opportunity to level the score for Shimizu, as shot-stopper Tsuzuki somehow clawed Nagai's goal-bound header out.

Nevertheless the hosts were not to be denied, and from the same passage of play stand-in skipper Arata Kodama produced a coolly taken volley to ensure that both teams left the 2002 FIFA World Cup venue with a share of the spoils.

Elsewhere a crowd of 28,317 was on hand at Nissan Stadium to see Yokohama F. Marinos striker Kazuma Watanabe score the only goal of the game, as Marinos beat fellow fallen giants Jubilo Iwata 1-0.

The biggest crowd of the day saw 34,060 fans pile into Big Swan Stadium in Niigata to watch home team Albirex twice take the lead against struggling JEF United, only to be pegged back in an entertaining 2-2 draw.

Elsewhere Kawasaki Frontale hammered Kyoto Sanga 4-1 at Todoroki Stadium, Nagoya Grampus were held to a scoreless home draw by Sanfrecce Hiroshima, Omiya Ardija slumped to a worrying 3-0 defeat to promoted outfit Montedio Yamagata at Omiya Park, Kashiwa Reysol beat Oita Trinita 2-1 in a battle of the cellar dwellers at Hitachidai, while Gamba Osaka returned to form to beat FC Tokyo 4-2 at Expo '70 Stadium.

The pick of the J2 action saw league leaders Cerezo Osaka beat bottom club Yokohama FC 2-0, while Ventforet Kofu beat fellow high-fliers Shonan Bellmare 1-0 in front of 11,546 fans at Kose Sports Park, with substitute Masaru Matsuhashi coming off the bench to score a late winner.

Vegalta Sendai beat Mito Hollyhock 2-1 in front of 11,261 fans at Miyagi Stadium, and 11,242 fans turned out at the Sapporo Dome to see hosts Consadole triumph 3-2 over Ehime FC.

Of the newly promoted sides, Kataller Toyama are the best placed in eleventh following their latest 3-0 home win over FC Gifu, however Fagiano Okayama and Tochigi SC are struggling in fifteenth and seventeenth place respectively in the eighteen team league.

Copyright © Michael Tuckerman &

J.League News

World Soccer News

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

South Africa World Cup Goods

South Africa World Cup Goods

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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Klinsmann forced out by Bayern’s past

Klinsmann forced out by Bayern’s past.
Jurgen Klinsmann

As we approach the climax to the season with sides across Europe beginning to know where they are going to end up it always comes as a shock to see a manager depart with such little time remaining.

Especially when that manager is former German international Jurgen Klinsmann and his tenure at his current club has only been eight months. The former Tottenham striker upset the football odds by being forced to leave Germany’s biggest club Bayern Munich following their 1-0 defeat to Schalke despite being only three points off top spot with five games to go.

The situation all seems a little odd, looking on from the outside, when you consider that the season isn’t over and to make a change this late on might not have the desired impact. Bayern’s owners crave success, the fans crave it and most German football fans expect it when you consider how many Bundesliga titles and European Cups the club has won. The record breaking total of 21 league titles will certainly place pressure on whoever is in charge but you get the impression that Bayern’s on the field form was used as an excuse to sack the former German national coach.

Defeat at the weekend was only their seventh loss this season and in what is an incredibly tight Bundesliga that still leaves them in third spot, three points off the top. The real reason for the sacking of Klinsmann appears to be the disapproval over his training methods and the way he handles the players. The 44-year-old is known to be heavily influenced by the training methods he observed of athletes in America, especially the way they psychologically prepared before an event.

Unfortunately for Klinsmann the methods he brought to the club don’t appear to have sat well with the board and it has been reported that Bayern president Franz Beckenbauer disagreed with the way the manager was training the players. Those of you who know your history will already be aware that Beckenbauer had two spells as manager himself. It seems then that the two German legends clashed when it came to the methods being used off the pitch and when push came to shove there was only going to be one winner.

Klinsmann’s sacking is a timely reminder that the manager doesn’t always have complete control over matters on the pitch, a certain Jose Mourinho will tell you all about that. Klinsmann has paid the price for trying something different and despite Beckenbauer being a national legend perhaps he should have taken a step back and seen how the season finished before dropping the axe on a promising young manager in a difficult job.


South Korean Old Boys Gunning For 2010

South Korea.
There must be something in the water in South Korea. Anybody who spends time on the coaching staff of the national team seems to spend the rest of their career doing pretty well for themselves.

A Korean Football Association (KFA) official told me recently that the organization should start charging commission or finding fees. He has a point as it is not impossible that four teams at the 2010 World Cup could have former member of the South Korean coaching staff as their head coaches.

Just take a look at the recent history. Guus Hiddink isn’t doing too badly for himself and is now preparing Chelsea for a UEFA Champions League semi-final and is also trying to guide the Russian national team to the 2010 World Cup.

His successor in Korea was Humberto Coelho. The Portuguese tactician is now in charge of Tunisia and aiming for 2010. Dick Advocaat was the boss at the 2006 global tournament and has since led Russian club Zenit St Petersburg to the national title and the UEFA Cup.

These guys all had national team experience before taking charge of the Taeguk Warriors but the same can’t be said (except for the Netherlands Antilles) of the head coach and assistant that led South Korea to the 2007 Asian Cup.

Pim Verbeek was the number two at the 2002 and 2006 World Cups and then stepped up to the plate in 2007. The last in a series of four Dutchman from December 2000, Verbeek took the team to third place at the Asian Cup. As soon as that regional competition was over, he resigned.

He turned up in Australia in December of the same year, charged with leading the Socceroos to only their third World Cup ever. Reception down under was lukewarm but Verbeek has won them over with a series of good results. Now, with three World Cup qualification games remaining, Australia is as good as in South Africa. Even if rival teams win all of their games, the Aussies need just a single point.

KFA officials are publicly happy at Verbeek’s success but were privately relieved that, with his in-depth knowledge of the game in the Land of the Morning Calm, Korea and the Socceroos were not drawn together in the qualification campaign.

What the KFA still has to deal with however is the former assistant of the national team – Afshin Ghotbi. The Iranian – American was on the Korean bench at the 2002 and 2006 World Cups and the 2007 Asian Cup. Last week he took over Iran’s national team.

Unlike Australia, Iran is in Korea’s World Cup qualification group and Ghotbi will be back in Seoul on June 17 –it remains to be seen if ends up at his old home of the capital’s Grand Hilton Hotel - for the final match of the round and one that could be dramatic as well as decisive.

The reason why Ghotbi got the job is because Iran, nicknamed Team Melli, is struggling. A traditional powerhouse of Asian soccer, Iran has collected just six points from five games.

Only the top two teams from the group automatically qualify for the competition so authorities in Tehran are naturally worried at missing out, South Korea leads the group and will hope to have guaranteed qualification before the Persians arrive in Seoul.

As Iran is four points behind Saudi Arabia in third and North Korea in second -, though the pair has played one game more – Iran needs to start picking up points. Most of the dozen-plus sports papers in Tehran reckon that the team needs seven points from its last three games –two of which come on the Korean peninsula.

South Africa should prepare itself to host the Iranian soccer squad," Ghotbi said upon getting the job. "I will do my best to fulfill my ambition to take Iran to the 2010 World Cup. I hope I can be a soldier for Iran.”

Copyright: John Duerden &

Saturday, April 25, 2009

April Newsletter

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April Newsletter


Thursday, April 23, 2009

Afshin Ghotbi New Coach of Iran

Afshin Ghotbi New Coach of IranAfshin Ghotbi New Coach of Iran

Afshin Ghotbi has been appointed the new national team coach of Iran, following the resignation of Mohammad Mayelikohan.

Mayelikohan lasted less than two weeks in the hot seat after the sacking of Iranian football legend Ali Daei.

Iranian football is in turmoil as the national team are struggling to qualify for the World Cup from Asian Zone Group 2, headed by the two Koreas.

Ghotbi has experience as a coach in Korea, the USA and in Iran, where he lead Persepolis to a championship.

Ghotbi faces the uphill task of dragging Team Melli into a play-off spot and taking the national team to the World Cup finals in South Africa.


Aussie clubs floundering in the face of Japanese might


Twelve games played. Seven defeats. Four draws. One win.

That's the record A-League clubs currently hold against their Japanese counterparts in the Asian Champions League, with Australian teams struggling to hold their own against the might of the Japanese game.

The trend continued this week when Central Coast Mariners lost for the second straight time to Kawasaki Frontale, while Newcastle Jets missed a penalty in succumbing to Nagoya Grampus at home.

Aussie clubs floundering in the face of Japanese might.

There were grave doubts about the quality of the A-League when Kawasaki Frontale dished out a humiliating 5-0 thrashing of Central Coast Mariners in Gosford a fortnight ago.

"I hope the players are embarrassed, I am embarrassed," quipped Mariners coach Lawrie McKinna in the wake of that pummelling. "It was the worst moment of my coaching career."

And while the Mariners turned in a vastly improved performance in going down 2-1 in the return fixture in Kawasaki, torrential rain mitigated Frontale's free-flowing passing game.

Newcastle Jets fared better against Nagoya Grampus, although they too were beaten in Australia - going down 1-0 when the two sides squared off in New South Wales last night.

The Jets' star signing Sash Petrovski came off the bench to earn his side a penalty in that game, only to fire the resultant spot-kick straight at Nagoya goalkeeper Seigo Narazaki.

That miss came after Nagoya winger Yoshizumi Ogawa had fired his side into the lead with a well-taken half-volley, and on the balance of play, Grampus deserved all three points from what was a relatively one-sided encounter.

While some Australians point to Adelaide United's win over J. League giants Kashima Antlers last year as proof that it's not all doom and gloom in the Australian game, there's growing awareness that the gap in technical ability between the A-League and the J. League is not going to be bridged any time soon.

The most obvious obstacle to Australian success is the fact that the A-League does not send its current champions to the Champions League, with the Central Coast Mariners and Newcastle Jets both qualifying for this year's Champions League on the back of their success in the 2007-08 A-League campaign.

But while many believe that Melbourne Victory and the battle-hardened Adelaide United would offer a greater threat to Japanese sides, there's no guarantee that even they would come away with better results, after Gamba Osaka hammered both en route to lifting the Champions League title in 2008.

Once considered "the great unknown" in the land Down Under, the Asian Champions League has so far proved both a blessing and a curse to Australian football.

It's an increasingly valued component of the local football landscape, but in brutally exposing the technical gulf between Japanese and Australian sides, the Champions League has also lead some fans to question the true value of the A-League - as Australian clubs scramble to close the gap between themselves and their more established rivals to the north.

Copyright © Michael Tuckerman &

J.League News

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Three Down, Three To Go - Mixed Fortunes For Korean Teams

Mixed Fortunes For Korean Teams.

For at least two of South Korea’s four representatives in the Asian Champions League, this week is make or break time. The quartet stands at the halfway point of the group stage with three games gone and three to go. With the top two in each group of four progressing to the second round, now is the time to start picking up points.

Interestingly, each of Korea’s four hopefuls occupies different positions in their respective groups. Suwon Bluewings are first in Group G, Pohang Steelers second in Group H, FC Seoul third in Group F and Ulsan Hyundai Horang-I fourth in Group E. All four are in with a chance of the next round but equally, all four could fail.

Much will depend on this week’s action when, for the second successive matchday, the four Korean teams take on Chinese opposition. In football, China has something of an inferiority complex when it comes to South Korea. This stems from the fact that in 27 meetings between the two national teams at senior and Olympic level, Korea has never lost.

This gave rise to a term in the Chinese media called ‘Koreaphobia’ – the fear of playing Korea on the football pitch. As you may expect, it was something that was gleefully adopted by the Seoul press too.

Three Down, Three To Go - Mixed Fortunes For Korean Teams

Before every meeting of the respective national teams, the Chinese coach tells reporters how this time, the jinx will be lifted and the curse broken forever. One day, that will happen but until it does, Seoul soccer scribes intend to make the most of it.

Chinese Super League clubs have occasionally tasted victory against their K-league equivalents but not often, and not enough for Korean fans to stop looking down at the Middle Kingdom’s version of the beautiful game.

Two weeks ago, the four games between the teams ended 2-2. China won the two matches at home while in the Land of the Morning Calm, Korea triumphed.

The same teams meet again this week. Suwon is in the best position, its 2-1 defeat in Shanghai was the first loss of the competition and the Bluewings are still, despite poor form at home, top of the group.

In more need of the points is FC Seoul. The capital club started the season so well with a 6-1 win at Chunnam Dragons in the K-League and then, just three days later, followed that with a 4-2 victory at the Indonesian home of Sriwijaya.

The pundits prematurely predicted a season of domination but it has all gone a little wrong since. Seoul has won just one of the following five K-league matches and lost both of its subsequent Asian games. After ten goals in two games, just five have followed in seven.

Coach Senol Gunes is keen to make his mark on the continent in what will probably be his last season in Korea. To do that, anything less than a home win against Shandong Luneng will be disappointing. Seoul lost at the Jinan home of the Chinese champions two weeks previously thought the game was more competitive than the 2-0 scoreline perhaps suggested.

Despite their indifferent domestic form, Seoul and Suwon are regarded as Korea’s two strongest clubs and it will be a blow to fans if the pair fall at the first hurdle.

Korea’s other two representatives are both looking to build on their 1-0 wins at home two weeks ago. A repeat of those results in China will see Pohang Steelers and Ulsan Hyundai Horang-I in good positions.

Pohang are better off. The Steelers travel to Tianjin to take on the Chinese league leaders. A win could see the south-eastern club go top of its group with two matches left. Tianjin, a team that has spent heavily in recent months, has just one point from three games and needs nothing less than a win.

Ulsan Hyundai Horang-i have been struggling at home and abroad this season but finally picked up a win two weeks at home to Beijing and that followed that last weekend with a first K-League win away at Jeju.

The Tigers need at least a tie in the Chinese capital. It won’t be easy, Beijing, coached by a Korean, are under pressure after the owners invested significant sums of money in the off-season.

Copyright: John Duerden &

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Word Cup qualifying round-up

Word Cup qualifying round-up.
2010 World Cup Qualifiers

European zone – UEFA

Group six: Second place race wide open as England goes clear

The WC qualifiers in the European zone have reached the halfway stage and England can already relish their presence in South Africa next year. The team that stopped them on the way to the latest European Championships, Croatia, are well aware that this time the best they could achieve is the second place, leading to the additional qualifications in November.

In Croatia there was a great deal of discussion as to what score would suit their team best in the game between England and Ukraine. The optimistic minority hoped for a Ukraine win, hoping that that would still give Croatia some chances of overtaking England. Provided, of course, that Slaven Bilic boys emulate their 2007 feat when they won by 3-2.

The majority wholeheartedly supported England, justifying that choice with the estimate that any other score would only complicate things further for Croatia, rather than open a window for another upset. The 2-1 win for Fabio Capello's team was welcomed by that group of fans and writers, because the Croats now have a realistic chance of finishing second, rather than having to depend on other teams' results for even that consolation prize.

While England are considered certains champions of the group, Croats are aware that with four more wins and a calculated loss in London they would surely end up at least level on points with Ukraine; also, should the Eastern Slavs drop any more points apart from the three in Zagreb next June, Croatia would finish ahead of them on points. And then hope for the best possible draw for the additional qualifiers, where they could encounter their neigbours Bosnia and Hercegovina coached by Miroslav "Ciro" Blazevic.

Scotland, Northern Ireland and Eire still in play

Of other UK teams, Northern Ireland currently fare best, following up on their marvellous Euros campaign. Even though they hold the top position in the Group 3, it seems unlikely they could actually win the group since Slovakia are just one point adrift with two games in hand, while the group's favourites Poland and Czechia can still be counted on to wake up and show their class.

Scotland's options of achieving the direct qualifications have all but vanished now that Holland have opened an eight-point gap at the top. Still, the second spot is well within reach for the Tartan Army, provided enough points are won to avoid the worst record in the separate table of all second-placed teams in the nine groups.

Wales in the Group 4 have already lost all hope, having suffered four defeats out of six games, with Germany and Russia far, far ahead.

The remaining English-speaking nation, Ireland, may regret having only drawn with the newcomers Montenegro last September, because the loss of those two points made a win over Italy in Dublin next October an imperative. Even though the Irish managed to snatch a marvellous 1-1 draw in Italy on April 1st, the mission of beating Azzurri, the world champs and battle-hardened veterans, looks a bit daunting. Just as Scotland discovered 18 months ago when they came tantalizingly close to their second ever European championships, only to suffer a last minute 1-2 defeat to the undisputed kings of qualifying campaigns.

Copyright Ozren Podnar & Soccerphile

World Soccer News 19 April 2009

Soccer news.
Ferguson labels Benitez as "arrogant" and "contemptuous"

War of words has intensified between Sir Alex Ferguson and Don Rafael Benitez in view of the decisive month in the Premier League 

The master of the psychological warfare, Ferguson has launched a furious attack at Liverpool's coach hoping it will destabilize the Spaniard further after a heroic, but ultimately futile battle at Stamford Bridge in midweek
Manchester United manager accused Benitez of arrogance and contempt toward other Premier League managers, illustrating his claims with the way the Spaniard once qualified Everton and his dismissive attitude during a game against Blackburn
"Everton are a big club, not a small one, as Benitez arrogantly said," remarked Ferguson
"But arrogance is one thing You cannot forgive contempt, which is what he showed Sam Allardyce last weekend When Liverpool scored their second goal he signalled as if the game was finished I do not think Sam deserved that No Liverpool manager has ever behaved like that," concluded Ferguson
United's advantage over Liverpool is just one point, but the Red Devils also have a game in hand And Ferguson, the undisputed champion of unsettling rival coaches, provided they are naive enough to read the press and pay any attention at all to what the wily Scotsman has to say

UEFA throws out Pobeda for eight years

The Macedonian club FK Pobeda Prilep have been banned from UEFA's cup competitions for the next eight years because of a match-fixing scandal that took place in 2004
UEFA's Control and Disciplinary Body also banned for life the club chairman Aleksandar Zabrcanec and the player Nikolce Zdravevski
The European soccer governing body has stated that Pobeda "breached the principles of integrity and sportsmanship under Article 5 of the UEFA disciplinary regulations by manipulating the outcome of a match"
The breach in question occured on the occasion of the Champions League preliminary round tie between Pobeda and Armenia's Pyunik Erevan
Charges were brought against the club due to reports of irregular betting patterns and statements from several witnesses
The decision was taken on Friday after a seven-hour-long meeting at UEFA's headquarters, during which Pobeda's representatives and a betting expert were heard

Red Star's player fears eviction over failure to pay the rent

Slovenia's midfielder Mirnes Sisic revealed that Red Star's systematic failure to pay players' wages have brought him to the verge of being evicted from his Belgrade apartment
Red Star, endebted for 22,3 million euros, are going through the most severe (in fact, the first) crisis in their illustrious history, which includes a European Cup and a World Club Cup wins in early nineties
"We give some money to our young teammates on a daily basis so that they can eat," claims Sisic
"The landlord came to me last week and told me I had to pay my outstanding rent or pack my things and leave If Red Star cannot afford to pay me what I owe for the rent, let alone the wages, then I'll have to go back to Slovenia and live with my parents"
The player of Bosnian-Moslem origins has even compared the top Serb club with the Titanic
"I cannot believe that a club with Red Star's status could have allowed this to happen It's like being on board of the Titanic"
Red Star used to be the Serb sporting flagship and enjoyed strong political support before the democracy (of sorts) and market principles came to the Balkans country at the start of the millennium
It seems that their city rivals Partizan have adapted much better to the new climate, as they are on the verge of winning another domestic League title in soccer, whereas in basketball, the other big Serb sport, their domination has been unquestioned for years
In fact, Red Star's directors fear the FA will not issue their licence for the next season on account of their huge debt In case the funds are not raised over the next couple of weeks, the club may well be declared bankrupt and go into administration, which according to the Serb legislation would entail their relegation to the Fourth division

Depressed Adriano temporarily retires

Brazil's international forward Adriano Leite has announced his temporary retirement from soccer until he feels well enough, according to the sports daily Lancenet
Inter Milan's player has been depressed and apathetic ever since his father died two years ago and has been a shadow of his former "imperial" self The alleged break-up with his girlfriend Joana may have added insult to injury, leaving Adriano incapable of handling the pressure of professional soccer in Italy, of all places
The robust centre-forward has even rejected the idea of joining a Brazilian team, which he did in the second half of 2008, when he played for Sao Paulo This time, his state of mind has reached new lows, leading him to quit soccer altogether, at least for a while
"I was not happy in Italy, and I am happy in Brazil, in the company of my friends and relatives," said Adriano in one of his rare appearances in the media

After the South American Qualifiers game held last April 1, Adriano didn't return to Italy, but instead returned to his family in Rio de Janeiro His coach at Inter, Jose Mourinho, apparently understands the turmoils Adriano is in
"I think that the fans should not be angry at him The most important thing now is for Adriano to be happy We may lose a soccer player, but not a person," said the Portuguese

Manchester United still tops Forbes rich list

The business magazine Forbes has published its new list of the most valuable soccer clubs in the world showing yet again the astounding domination of English soccer in the financial matters No less than nine English clubs have made the top-25, including Newcastle United (19th), which may well be relegated this season in spite of their estimated wealth of 217 million euros
Real Madrid, Bayern, Milan and Barcelona are the strongest rival for the English contingent, Barça being one of the most-revalorized club over the last year (by 22%) As far as the revalorization is concerned, no-one has made such progress as Manchester City, whose value has soared by 62%, notably thanks to the investments made by their new owners, sheikhs of Abu Dhabi

The 25 most valuable clubs
(in millions of euros)

1 Manchester United 1,423
2 Real Madrid 1,030
3 Arsenal 913
4 Bayern Múnich 845
5 Liverpool 768
6 AC Milan 753
7 Barcelona 730
8 Chelsea 609
9 Juventus 457
10 Schalke 04 388
11 Tottenham Hotspur 339
12 Olympique Lyon 322
13 AS Roma 290
14 Inter Milan 281
15 Hamburger SV 251
16 Borussia Dortmund 247
17 Manchester City 236
18 Werder Bremen 222
19 Newcastle United 217
20 VfB Stuttgart 201
21 Aston Villa 183
21 Olympique Marseille 183
23 Celtic 166
24 Everton 158
25 Glasgow Rangers 148

Becks keeps on attracting the most cash

The Forbes has also listed the best paid soccer players in 2008 and David Beckham suitably tops that list just as his former club Manchester United is perched on top of the clubs' rankings. Most of Becks' earnings came from endorsement deals, almost a third of 35 million euros.
Full ten million euros behind Beckham is his teammate at Milan, Ronaldinho, who also owes his earning power to his past soccer achievements. The world's top performer, Cristiano Ronaldo, lies far behind Beckham, but at 24 he can still hope for many, many more lucrative years, even when he's well past his prime, as his colleague's examples show.

Highest earning players
(in millions of euros)

1 David Beckham (LA Galaxy / Milan) 35
2 Ronaldinho (Milan) 25
3 Thierry Henry (Barcelona) 20
4 Kaka (Milan) 16
5 Cristiano Ronaldo (Manchester United) 14,5
6 Lionel Messi (Barcelona) 14
7 Frank Lampard (Chelsea) 14
8 Wayne Rooney (Manchester United) 14
9 John Terry (Chelsea) 14
10 Steven Gerrard (Liverpool) 14

Copyright Ozren Podnar & Soccerphile

Friday, April 17, 2009

South American under-17 Championships: Preview

South American under-17 Championships: Preview.
South American under-17 Championships

The 2009 Sudamericano Sub 17 takes place in the sleepy seaside town of Iquique in northern Chile over the coming weeks.
The fishing port enjoys a burgeoning reputation among surfers from around the world but just now the Armani suits of football agents are outnumbering Bermuda shorts three to one down on the boardwalk.
The Latin American footballing superstars of tomorrow are preparing to do battle for their domestic crown and gain qualification for the u-17 World Cup in Nigeria later this year.
The tournament starts with two groups of five teams, each side playing each other once. The group winners will book their ticket to Nigeria there and then and the top three from each group will progress to a second round robin of six teams.
Two more World Cup berths will be dished out to the best performing teams in the second group stage and the team topping this round will take the title.

Bolivia – Group A

Bolivia will be on show on the opening day of the tournament when they make their bow against Colombia.
Coach Oscar Villegas has been given the resources to play nine friendly internationals in the lead up to the Sudamericano but even so he believes his squad are still short of preparation compared to their rivals.
“The experience which has been achieved with the international encounters is valuable,” Villegas said. “But it is still insufficient when compare to what other teams have done.”
Bolivia started their run of nine matches with impressive wins over Chile, Peru and Guatemala but have since failed to record a win in games against Colombia, U.S.A., Uruguay, Costa Rica twice and a rematch with Peru.
Further problems for Bolivia involve Jorge Pontons being held back by AC Milan who has represented the u-20 team but is still eligible to play.
Also Jorge Toco a promising defender who has excelled at youth level is ruled out of the tournament.
But its not all doom and gloom for the Bolivians as there is a fair splattering of talent in the squad and they possess players who can mix it at this level.
Villegas is thankful for extra time he has been with the squad and hopes to spring a few surprises in Chile.
“Compare to other years our group has had more time together,” Villegas said. “Hopefully this will make the difference.”

One to watch: Juan Peña (Vaca Díez)

Brazil – Group A

The current holders of the Sudamericano Sub 17 kick off this year’s tournament against Paraguay, the competition’s dark horse.
If Brazil can come through this first test unscathed then they should be on course for another victory in the tournament they have already won 8 times out of twelve.
So impressive is Brazil’s record in this competition that they have only finished outside the top two on one occasion.
They also share the record for the most FIFA u-17 World Cup final wins, like Nigeria they have won it three times.
A 22 strong squad crammed with talent, some already signed up to top European teams, will look to emulate seleção stars such as Ronaldinho who have gained success at this level before them.
Of the most exciting talents in their team this year is Neymar of Santos and Philippe Coutinho of Inter Milan.
Neymar looks like a carbon copy of Robinho and quickly won over Santos fans who were raised on Pele with some stellar performances.
Neymar’s displays have even led the three time World Cup winner to praise his youthful talent.
“He’s a great player and could become a great footballer,” The Brazilian legend said. “He must work hard in training at Santos, but he has some good qualities.”
On the other hand Philippe Coutinho has been dubbed ‘the new Pato’ and Inter Milan saw fit to shell out €4 million on the precocious talent.

One to watch: Neymar (Santos)

Colombia – Group A

The Coffee Growers turn up at this year’s Sudamericano with a proud recent tradition to maintain.
In the last three South American u-17 championships Colombia have finished third, fourth and more recently second in 2007.
Coming into this year’s tournament Colombia have endured a mixed bag of results in their friendlies.
A 2-1 defeat to Bolivia was put to bed when Colombia played Peru two days later. Even though Peru managed to take the lead Colombia fought back in fine fashion running out 5-1 winners.
During this quadrangular tournament Colombia also beat Costa Rica 1-0
Colombia now meet Bolivia and Peru in Group A along with Brazil and Paraguay and will hope their experience will count against the opposition.
With Colombia’s physical approach, especially against more skillful opposition, chances on goal may be few and far between. Fortunately for them they have Edwin Cardona upfront, a striker who can create his own opposition and convert them.
In recent friendlies Cardona found the net three times in two days as he terrorized the backlines of Peru and Bolivia.
His presence on the teamsheet maybe enough to tip the physiological advantage towards Colombia before a ball is kicked when the teams meet again in Chile.
Confidence of continuing their tradition for upsetting the natural order of things in Latin America is sprouting at just the right time for Colombia.
“We have done important work with the boys so far,” Assistant coach Harold Rivera said. “We’re training hard to achieve qualification to the World Cup in Nigeria.”

One to watch: Edwin Cardona (Club Atlético Nacional)

Paraguay – Group A

Paraguay have come to the fore as many people’s outside bet to spring a few surprises in Iquique at this year’s Sudamericano.
An early test will come when they meet Brazil but even defeat in that game will not signal the end of the road for Paraguay.
However, if they could spring a surprise against the Brazilians they could then focus on winning the group and therefore booking their ticket to the World Cup finals in Nigeria early.
Part of the Paraguay squad’s preparation for the tournament has featured intensive training at the Paraguayan Football Association´s Centre for High Performance in Ypané.
It was in Ypané that head coach Jorge Luis Campos ran the rule over his team and trimmed the squad down from 23 to the final 20 who will travel to Chile.
Campos himself knows what it takes to reach the highest level having represented Paraguay in two World Cups. The forward played his part in 1998 and 2002 as La Albirroja reached the knockout stages on both occasions.
In total Campos picked up 46 senior caps for Paraguay and bagged six goals along the way.
Campos will hope his attacking midfielder Jorge Salinas can bring his fine recent form to the tournament.
Salinas has a tendency to pepper the opposition goal with rasping volleys and strikes from long range as well as giving good supply to the forward line.
His exploits at youth level have been watched by senior coach Gerardo Mastino and it is hoped he will transfer his skills to the top level one day.

One to watch: Jorge Salinas (Club Libertad)

Peru – Group A

Despite the current malaise in Peruvian football the u-17 squad arrive in Chile full of expectation.
Team captain Renato Zapata believes there is enough talent in the squad to push for a World Cup finals berth.
“We are calm and we are confident,” The Universitario youngster said. “We had the chance to play all these teams a year ago in u-15 championships and we know what to expect.”
Zapata´s partner in defense Pedro Diez Canseco was even bullish enough to suggest the Incas could go all the way and snatch the title in Iquique.
“We are going to Chile to qualify for the World Cup,” The defender said. “And to win the South American championship. Why not?”
The confidence in the camp perhaps comes from Peru’s last outing in these championships.
The Incas provided a strong showing at the South American under-17 championships in Ecuador two years ago. Player of the tournament Reimond Manco’s talismanic performances led Peru to fourth place and an appearance at the World Cup quarter-finals.
Of the current crop the player who is most likely replicate Manco’s impact on the Sudamericano is Joazhiño Arroe
Arroe has already secured a move to Europe with Italy’s Siena and has laid out his aims for the tournament in Chile
We want to match what the coach did with the previous u-17 team and get beyond the group stage,” Arroe said. “It will be difficult, but we want to do things right, we are calm and not tense.”

One to watch: Joazhiño Arroe – Siena

South American under-17 Championships

Argentina – Group B

The mood in the Argentine camp is high coming into this year’s tournament in Iquique, Chile.
In their final preparation game Jose Luis Brown’s side swotted opposition from Guatemala 8-0 in Buenos Aires.
On that occasion Eduardo Rotondi bagged a brace while Gonzalo Olid Apaza, Esteban Orfano, Daniel Villalva, Matías Sosa, Sebastián González and Sergio Araujo all got a goal apiece.
Such a result has served to swell the confidence in the camp which was already overflowing after Argentina beat the U.S.A 5-1 a week before.
Again Villalva, Sosa and Rotondi got on the scoresheet along with Jorge Balbuena plus an own goal by US captain Perry Kitchen.
These teenagers have an inbuilt appreciation of the game and their movement is frightening, also in Jose Luis Brown they have a coach who is already a living legend in his homeland.
Brown starred in Argentina’s 3-2 win over West Germany in the final of Mexico 1986. The defender rose highest at the far post to head home the opening goal of the contest and when he injured his arm later in the game he played through the pain barrier to secure victory for his nation.
“We are a very confident team and we are a country which is very passionate about football,” The coach who worked with Argentina’s 2008 Olympic gold medal team said.
“When we play we respect every team because we know everyone wants to beat Argentina.”
The Argentines may well be due to come up against far tougher opposition than Guatemala or the U.S.A. when they arrive in Chile but still nothing less than qualification for the World Cup in Nigeria will do

One to watch: Daniel Villalva (River Plate)

Chile – Group B

Chile enjoy home advantage at this year’s South American u-17 championships in Iquique.
A host nation can normally expect a good run at a championship and Chile will be hoping that this year is no exception.
However, when Chile put on a friendly tournament two months ago as part of their preparations of Iquique they found home advantage did not count for much.
Peru, Ecuador and the U.S.A. were invited to Chile in February to participate in La Serena Cup. Chile suffered a 2-0 defeat in their first game against the States and finished the tournament in last place after falling 3-1 to Peru.
Another hiccup in Chile’s preparations is the absence of the ultra skillful Nelson Bustamante.
Bustamante has not been released by Italian club Brescia to take part in the tournament. He is believed to be in the middle of a hormone therapy treatment similar to the procedure undergone by Lionel Messi at Barcelona.
Bustamante´s treatment is rumoured to have cost Brescia $300,000 and they are not willing to jeopardize their investment by allowing the player to return home.
Even with these hurdles coach César Vaccia insists his side will settle for nothing less than World Cup qualification.
“We want to go for top spot in the group and ensure direct passage to Nigeria,” Vaccia said. “If not, then we will go into the second group and qualify from there.”

One to watch: Camilo Peña (Universidad Católica)

Ecuador – Group B

Ecuador will have the chance to see all their opponents in action before they kick-off their campaign against Venezuela.
The squad will hope that the knowledge they can glean from watching these games plus the relatively easy game they have been handed as their first fixture will stand them in good stead for the tournament.
Coach Javier Rodríguez has used his time with the squad to forge a work ethic in the players so when they time comes they will stand together.
“Having good players does not count for anything if they cannot fit in with the tactics of the team,” The coach said. “This is a team that will fight for a ticket to the World Cup.”
Ecuador have identified the weaknesses and the strengths within their camp and Rodríguez believes he has come up with the best plan for success.
“Our players can take on our instructions without any difficulty,” Rodríguez claims. “Tactically they continue to improve both individually and collectively.”
That’s not to say that there haven’t been a few bumps in the road for Ecuador in preparation for Chile.
Leading marksman Luis Celi picked up a knock last month and was doubtful to travel to Iquique but has eventually managed to make the 20 player squad.
Another player who was not so lucky was first choice goalkeeper Diego Posligua of El Nacional. The glovesman fractured his right hand in a training match and sits out the tournament.

One to watch: Luis Celi (Universidad Católica)

Uruguay – Group B

Uruguay arrive in Chile with expectation to make their presence felt once more as a major power in South American football.
The majority of the squad were present at the u-15 equivalent of the tournament two years ago. On that occasion Uruguay finished second only to hosts Brazil and the same players are looking forward to a rematch on neutral ground.
Off the back of his performances in 2007 Uruguayan captain Diego Polenta was snapped up by the Italian outfit Genoa. The defensive lynchpin looked in fine form recently in friendlies against Bolivia and the U.S.A.
Uruguay played out a one-all draw with Bolivia but came alive two days later, putting the States to the sword by three goals to one.
Overseas interest has also come looking at forwards Jhon Pirez and Nicholas Mezquida from Chelsea and Schalke 04 respectively.
Another striker, Emiliano González has crossed the Rio de la Plata to sign for River Plate so there’s plenty of pedigree up front as well as in defense for Uruguay.
A good showing will make a welcome change for Uruguay at u-17 level. In their domestic championships they have finished 2nd twice, 3rd twice and 4th once but have never won the competition.

One to watch: Diego Polenta (Genoa)

Venezuela – Group B

Venezuela must negotiate their way out of a tricky group if they are to get anywhere near Nigeria for the World Cup.
Argentina and Uruguay are both fancied at the tournament and Chile have beaten Venezuela within the last year.
In preparation for Iquique the squad took themselves off to Florida, USA in March for a series of practice matches.
The tour started with a 3-1 loss against the University of Notre Dame and a 4-2 reverse against the University of Nebraska in the first two games. Rómulo Otero, Fernando Aristigueta and Luis Sadovnic getting on the scoresheet during the pair of defeats.
Next up was a double header against the U.S.A. u-17 team in their backyard at Bradenton. A nil-nil draw in the first game was followed by a 3-2 defeat in second, Otero and Josef Martínez getting the goals for Venezuela.
Coach Daniel de Oliveira was able to take many positives away from the trip to the States despite a disappointing series of results.
Since returning from Florida the team have been training in the Venezuelan coastal town of Higuerote. Here they have been put through their paces as well as taking time out to drub the local side 14-0.

One to watch: Josmar Zambrano (Tenerife)

Copyright © Tim Sturtridge &

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


96 - Dr. Joel Rookwood


Twenty years ago today more than 24,000 Liverpool fans travelled to a football match, the semi-final of the FA Cup. The match was played at Sheffield Wednesday’s Hillsborough stadium. Due to the criminal disorganisation of the police and stadium officials, 96 Liverpool supporters never returned home that day. It was the worst disaster British football has ever seen.

The tragedy, the lies that were told to explain it and the lack of justice that followed it continue to haunt the city of Liverpool, its football supporters, and far more significantly, the families of the victims.

I could discuss last night’s incredible game which is still ringing in my ears, but that story is for another day. On this day it is always about the 96. The number and the memories it signifies are etched in the fabric of the club.

Today the memorial service, which is held in the Kop at Anfield on 15th April each year, will be particularly poignant, particularly for those of us who poured into the stadium the day after the disaster.

Please, wherever you are today at 15:06 GMT, remember those who lost their lives and pray for their families.

Justice for the 96.

Rest in peace

John Alfred Anderson (62)
Thomas Howard (39)
Colin Mark Ashcroft (19)
Thomas Anthony Howard (14)
James Gary Aspinall (18)
Eric George Hughes (42)
Kester Roger Marcus Ball (16)
Alan Johnston (29)
Gerard Bernard Patrick Baron (67)
Christine Anne Jones (27)
Simon Bell (17)
Gary Philip Jones (18)
Barry Sidney Bennett (26)
Richard Jones (25)
David John Benson (22)
Nicholas Peter Joynes (27)
David William Birtle (22)
Anthony Peter Kelly (29)
Tony Bland (22)
Michael David Kelly (38)
Paul David Brady (21)
Carl David Lewis (18)
Andrew Mark Brookes (26)
David William Mather (19)
Carl Brown (18)
Brian Christopher Mathews (38)
David Steven Brown (25)
Francis Joseph McAllister (27)
Henry Thomas Burke (47)
John McBrien (18)
Peter Andrew Burkett (24)
Marion Hazel McCabe (21)
Paul William Carlile (19)
Joseph Daniel McCarthy (21)
Raymond Thomas Chapman (50)
Peter McDonnell (21)
Gary Christopher Church (19)
Alan McGlone (28)
Joseph Clark (29)
Keith McGrath (17)
Paul Clark (18)
Paul Brian Murray (14)
Gary Collins (22) Lee Nicol (14)
Stephen Paul Copoc (20)
Stephen Francis O'Neill (17)
Tracey Elizabeth Cox (23)
Jonathon Owens (18)
James Philip Delaney (19)
William Roy Pemberton (23)
Christopher Barry Devonside (18)
Carl William Rimmer (21)
Christopher Edwards (29)
David George Rimmer (38)
Vincent Michael Fitzsimmons (34)
Graham John Roberts (24)
Thomas Steven Fox (21)
Steven Joseph Robinson (17)
Jon-Paul Gilhooley (10)
Henry Charles Rogers (17)
Barry Glover (27)
Colin Andrew Hugh William Sefton (23)
Ian Thomas Glover (20)
Inger Shah (38)
Derrick George Godwin (24)
Paula Ann Smith (26)
Roy Harry Hamilton (34)
Adam Edward Spearritt (14)
Philip Hammond (14)
Philip John Steele (15)
Eric Hankin (33)
David Leonard Thomas (23)
Gary Harrison (27) Patrik
John Thompson (35)
Stephen Francis Harrison (31)
Peter Reuben Thompson (30)
Peter Andrew Harrison (15)
Stuart Paul William Thompson (17)
David Hawley (39)
Peter Francis Tootle (21)
James Robert Hennessy (29)
Christopher James Traynor (26)
Paul Anthony Hewitson (26)
Martin Kevin Traynor (16)
Carl Darren Hewitt (17)
Kevin Tyrrell (15)
Nicholas Michael Hewitt (16)
Colin Wafer (19)
Sarah Louise Hicks (19)
Ian David Whelan (19)
Victoria Jane Hicks (15)
Martin Kenneth Wild (29)
Gordon Rodney Horn (20)
Kevin Daniel Williams (15)
Arthur Horrocks (41)
Graham John Wright (17)

You’ll never walk alone.

Justice for the 96.


Monday, April 13, 2009

Nagoya Grampus disappoint in Toyota Stadium blockbuster

Nagoya Grampus

Following their uninspiring performance in a 1-1 draw with Newcastle Jets in the AFC Champions League in midweek, Nagoya Grampus rounded out a disappointing week by going down 1-0 to Urawa Reds in front of 32,435 fans at Toyota Stadium.

Nagoya Grampus disappoint in Toyota Stadium blockbuster.

17-year-old midfielder Genki Haraguchi was the hero for the Reds - coming off the bench to replace the injured Tatsuya Tanaka after just 22 minutes, before blasting home his first ever top flight goal two minutes before the break.

Volker Finke's decision to start 18-year-old midfielder Naoki Yamada and bring fellow teen Haraguchi off the bench was vindicated with a mature performance from both, with Urawa's acclaimed youth set-up once again churning out potential first team stars.

Defeat capped a disappointing week for Nagoya Grampus, who started it by going down to Kawasaki Frontale - as two of their direct J. League rivals suggested that last season's third-placed finish may have been a flash-in-the-pan for Dragan Stojkovic's team.

Elsewhere on Sunday, FC Tokyo went down 2-1 to Kashima Antlers in front of 32,913 fans at Ajinomoto Stadium, with Marquinhos and 18-year-old Yuya Osako both scoring before the quarter hour mark in this contest. Shingo Akamine pulled a goal back before half-time, but it wasn't enough to prevent the capital club from slumping to another disappointing defeat.

A clearly jet-lagged Kawasaki Frontale went down 1-0 to Shimizu S-Pulse in front of 17,256 fans at Nihondaira, while at Omiya Park a capacity crowd of 14,070 saw hosts Omiya Ardija beat Gamba Osaka 3-2 - with Omiya now the only unbeaten team in the league.

The pick of the Saturday fixtures saw Yokohama F. Marinos record their first win of the season as they thrashed a lacklustre Vissel Kobe 5-0 in front of a full house of 12,912 at a sun-drenched Mitsuzawa Stadium.

Kazuma Watanabe and Koji Yamase both scored doubles for the Kanagawa giants, while Kenta Kano added a late fifth as Marinos ran riot over a desperately disappointing Kobe side.

JEF United held Jubilo Iwata to a 1-1 draw in a battle of the cellar-dwellers watched by 14,496 fans at Fukuda Denshi Arena in Chiba, while the day's other fixtures saw Kyoto Sanga grind out a 1-0 win over Albirex Niigata, with promoted Sanfrecce Hiroshima thrashing Kashiwa Reysol 4-1.

The warm weather saw improved attendances in J2, although a disappointing crowd of 12,425 was on hand at Vegalta Sendai's second home Miyagi Stadium to watch the home team slump to a 2-1 defeat at the hands of fellow big guns Cerezo Osaka.

Avispa Fukuoka drew 1-1 with Roasso Kumamoto in front of 11,603 fans in Kyushu, while Fagiano Okayama came from behind to record the same result against Yokohama FC in front of 13,228 fans at Okayama Stadium.

Cerezo Osaka lead the way in J2, a point ahead of Shonan Bellmare - who beat Tokyo Verdy 2-0 in their most recent match. Mito Hollyhock and Ventforet Kofu follow, while Ehime FC round out the top five following seven rounds of fixtures.

Japanese players overseas

Takayuki Morimoto : Catania

The former Tokyo Verdy striker was on the verge of cementing a permanent place in Catania's starting eleven, but after a starring role in a 4-0 thrashing of local rivals Palermo in March, injuries have since derailed Morimoto's campaign, and he did not feature in Catania's most recent 2-1 loss to Torino.

Yoshito Okubo and Makoto Hasebe : VfL Wolfsburg

Yoshito Okubo has struggled to make an impact at VfL Wolfsburg since his January switch from Vissel Kobe, making just seven league appearances - six of which have come from the bench.

Compatriot Makoto Hasebe suffered a knee injury playing for Japan in March but the former Urawa Reds midfielder is expected to return to first team action before the month is out.

Shunsuke Nakamura : Celtic

Celtic's lead at the top of the Scottish Premier League has been cut to just a point from Rangers and Shunsuke Nakamura missed a gilt-edged late chance to register a winner in his team's most recent 1-1 draw away at Hearts.

Daisuke Matsui : St. Etienne

Former Le Mans man Daisuke Matsui is struggling with the team he joined last summer, with St. Etienne stranded in the relegation zone, second-from-bottom in the table. Les Verts have seven games remaining to salvage their top flight status.

Takuro Nishimura : Portland Timbers

After being released by Omiya Ardija at the end of last season, pacy wing-back Takuro Nishimura has joined former Yokohama F. Marinos striker Takayuki Suzuki at US Soccer League First Division side Portland Timbers.

Portland are set to join the MLS in 2011, but until then the Timbers will be plying their trade in USL1, where Nishimura and team-mates will kick off their campaign against fellow expansion side Vancouver Whitecaps on April 25.

Copyright © Michael Tuckerman &

J.League News

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Ronaldson's Directory of Faroese Football

Ronaldson's Directory of Faroese Football

Ronaldson's Directory of Faroese Football

When Alex Bellos kicked off his critically acclaimed history of Brazilian football "Futebol: The Brazilian Way Of Life" with a chapter on Faroese football, there were no doubt eyebrows raised at the bold choice of starting from one of football's most remote outposts.

Yet if Bellos introduced a host of readers to a league brimming with club-names seemingly borrowed from the dregs of an alphabet soup, "Ronaldson's Directory of Faroese Football" goes one step further.

Sub-titled "The Comprehensive guide to football in the Faroe Islands," - with no hint of irony given that it's almost certainly the only English-language guide to Faroese football - Ronaldson's guide is nevertheless a fantastic addition to the canon of football literature.

Beginning with the contact details of those in charge of administering Faroese football and indexing the island's two national stadia at Tórsvøllur and Svangaskarð, the guide then meanders through the various clubs that make up the Faroe Islands Premier League and First Division.

The layout is pleasing to the eye, with a clear fact box sitting atop a black-and-white photo of each club's ground, while notes on each team provide brief details of club history and team colours.

Concise directions ensure you'll never get lost on the way to the big Tórshavn derby - and all the clubs are here - from HB and B36 to KÍ Klaksvík and the league's most recent champions EB/Streymur, as well as the many minor clubs that also compete in this rugged North Atlantic island nation.

"The Rough Guide To European Football," it is not, but editor and publisher John Ronaldson deserves praise for his concise, yet unquestionably effective guide to Faroese football.

Whether a fan of Faroese football or a conneissuer looking to add another niche title to the collection, "Ronaldson's Directory of Faroese Football" is a worthy addition to any book shelf.

To obtain a copy, email ronaldsonpublications[at]googlemail[dot]com or visit for more details.

Copyright © Michael Tuckerman &

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Nolan knows

Kevin Nolan.
Kevin Nolan

There must be a handful of fixtures preferable for Newcastle United interim boss Alan Shearer's first managerial venture away from the North-East.

Stoke City's form at the Britannia Stadium rarely disappoints with their 28-point haul at home likely to provide the crucial edge in the tightest bottom-of-the-table scrap seen for a long time.

But it's the timing of such a vital clash which must further trouble Shearer after the fixture was switched to a Saturday teatime kick-off to suit the paying TV audience.

The delay will most certainly not please the former England captain, who continues to insist he'll return to TV punditry next season and allow full-time manager Joe Kinnear to resume the hot seat after a triple heart bypass.

Newcastle start the weekend in the bottom three and could be languishing six points from safety by kick-off if closest rivals Sunderland inflict further pain on Manchester United.

A Stoke win would leave the Potters nine points ahead of United with just six more Premier League battles to wage.

After losing comfortably to Chelsea a fortnight ago on his coaching debut, Shearer must already be wondering whether he has the types of players required for the club's relegation scrap - those willing to give everything to the Geordie cause.

He has at his disposal former England man Alan Smith, who was part of the Leeds team which was relegated from the Premiership in 2004 after they failed to win in their final seven games.

Smith has only played three times this season because of injury - the last time a month ago when Newcastle drew with Hull.

But the ex-Manchester United midfielder captained the reserves earlier this week after failing to make Shearer's first team selection against Chelsea and his battle qualities could be earmarked for the trip to Stoke.

Another midfielder with a recent track record in facing adversity is Kevin Nolan.

Nolan's switch to Newcastle was an emergency transfer window move by Kinnear. But his arrival does bring fresh experience of battling and beating the dreaded drop with Bolton Wanderers last season.

Bolton found themselves four points adrift of safety towards the business end of the 2007/08 campaign, but went unbeaten in their final five Premier League games to avoid relegation by a solitary point.

Nolan, who played a pivotal role in Bolton's survival, this week said it was vital his new team-mates kept their concentration and self-belief.

"The most important thing is not to get disillusioned," he told Newcastle's official website.

"I know we're three points below Sunderland and four or five away from a few other teams.

"But I was in a similar situation with Bolton last year - four points behind with five games to go and we managed to do it.

"We're determined to get the win at Stoke and that's what we're going for, but we must remember there are still six games after that and you have to keep on going until the very end."

Copyright © Marc Fox and

Nagoya Grampus v Newcastle Jets

Nagoya Grampus v Newcastle Jets

The dire fare served up on a beautiful spring evening between Nagoya Grampus and Newcastle Jets was not a great advert for the 2009 Asian Champions League.

Nagoya Grampus v Newcastle Jets

Just over 7,000 fans forsook the lively bars and stunning cherry blossom around Mizuho Stadium to watch two poor teams struggle through a a J- v A-League bore draw.

Nagoya Grampus v Newcastle Jets

Newcastle took an unexpected early lead through Tarek Elrich and we settled back for an entertaining contest -- it never arrived. The disappointment at the "entertainment" on offer was matched only by the news that the lukewarm stadium beer had gone up 50 yen since last season. Cheers!

The only moment of quality in the game was Japan international Keiji Tamada's stunning free kick just after the hour mark.

Nagoya Grampus v Newcastle Jets