Thursday, December 30, 2010

Return of the meddling midget Colin Moynihan

Colin Moynihan

Colin Moynihan
Colin Moynihan

An annoying ghost from the past is back to haunt English football.

Colin Moynihan, Margaret Thatcher's loyal elf who shrilly yet unsuccessfully hawked her ill-conceived plan for I.D. cards for football fans around an unwilling nation 22 years ago, has returned to put his foot in it with soccer again.

Moynihan, UK Minister for Sport between 1987 and 1990, has waded into the debate over the 2012 Great Britain Olympic team, in his role as chairman of the British Olympic Association.

Despite categorical opposition from the Northern Irish, Scottish and Welsh football associations, Moynihan has insisted the Olympic team must reflect the UK as a whole, and allow the likes of Gareth Bale, this season's outstanding performer in the UEFA Champions League, to play for Britain.

Colin Moynihan

The diminutive Tory points to the BOA's Constitutional requirement that all British sportsmen must be considered for selection and warned that an English-only team could trigger a flood of legal challenges from excluded Celts.

FIFA President Sepp Blatter has assured the four associations in writing that a truly British Olympic team will not change anything regarding their status, but he alone cannot out-vote any motion to that effect supported by a majority of his organisation's delegates.

The infamous ID-card plan which Moynihan trumpeted was a desperate response to 1985's Heysel tragedy and a never-ending saga of domestic skirmishes involving English football fans.

It had first been mooted in Judge Popplewell's verdict on 1985's Bradford fire, but the driving force behind it was the late and unlamented MP David Evans, a former chairman of Luton Town. Evans, who belonged to what was colloquially known as 'The Broadmoor Wing' of the Conservative Party, took the unprecedented decision in 1985 to ban all away fans from Luton's Kenilworth Road ground following a famous riot by Millwall supporters. Meanwhile, Luton's own supporters had to register and gain an identity card which was swiped at the turnstiles.

Moynihan, crassly, sported a Charlton Athletic tie for his TV appearances - he was MP
for nearby Lewisham East at the time, but wore his soccer knowledge lightly as he told us again and again the only way to stop hooliganism was for all fans to carry cards. The then government was football-unfriendly, with the exception of Nottingham Forest-supporting Ken Clarke, and made no effort to tap into the sport's popularity like every subsequent government has.

Thatcher's provincial market town upbringing and education at Oxford had kept her far from professional football and the industrial regions it sprang from. Her reign coincided with the darkest years of English hooliganism but she adamantly refused to accept that it was social, rather than footballing problems, that she was dealing with.

The opposition to ID cards was near-universal amongst football folk and the whole sorry episode was instrumental in giving birth to a national supporters' association in response to a suddenly politicised environment.

It was the Hillsborough Disaster of 1989 and the subsequent Taylor Report which delivered the coup de grace to Thatcher's foray into football.
The axing of a dud idea was welcome, but it should not have taken 96 deaths for it to have happened. CCTV had already turned the tide against stadium violence, and by the early 1990s, football fighting was just no longer a cool thing to do. Cards would have made no difference.
The Iron Lady resigned in 1990 and Moynihan scuttled away into the shadows after losing his seat at the 1992 General Election, only briefly reappearing in court in 1996 to claim the title 'Baron Moynihan' after the death of his brothel-keeping half-brother. Football fans were glad to see the back of him.Perhaps the Celtic associations do have nothing to fear from the passing novelty of a UK team, but being clearly petrified of the unthinkable, they have every right to refuse to participate.

What Moynihan the BOA man fails to understand is that Olympic football has so little prestige compared to the real prizes in the game that the three smaller British associations cannot allow a minor competition they never enter anyway to risk ending their existences.

Against this background, a man with apparently no knowledge of the sport really should back off. Football decisions should be down to football people, and Moynihan is not one of us. If no association apart from the FA wishes to participate in the UK eleven then we can all live with that.

One man who knew how to deal with Moynihan was Brian Clough. Cloughie referred to him as 'The Miniature for Sport' and brought a puppet of him onto television to ridicule. When Moynihan charged onto the field to congratulate Britain's gold medal-winning hockey team at the 1988 Olympics, Clough judiciously pointed out how Moynihan could never again lecture football fans about pitch invasions.

When Lord Justice Taylor killed the ID cards off once and for all, Cloughie concluded,

"I would like to thank Mr Moynihan, and anyone who is above him...which is most of us."

Sean O'Conor


Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Flying another flag

Flying another flag

Catalonia is not Spain banner

There's nothing like Christmas to bring up old and unresolved family issues.

With the rest of Europe, England apart, on hibernal hiatus, 32,000 turned out at Barcelona's Olympic Stadium tonight to watch Catalonia hammer Honduras, a representative in last summer's World Cup Finals, 4-0, with a brace from Barça's Bojan Krkic.

The Catalan eleven also boasted blaugrana stalwart Carles Puyol and teammate Sergio Busquets, who both lifted the World Cup in Spanish colours in South Africa this year. Barça heavy though the team was, the Catalonia squad actually contained more players from the city's other team, Español.

The Catalan national team remains of course unrecognised by FIFA or UEFA, as are a handful of European 'countries' like Corsica, Gibraltar, Jersey, Kosovo, Monaco and the Vatican City. FIFA now demand full United Nations recognition before they rubber-stamp anything, but in their quest for acceptance, the 'forgotten nations' point to the footballing status of not entirely sovereign states such as Andorra, the Faroe Islands, Liechtenstein and San Marino, as well as the four nations which make up the United Kingdom, which has only one seat at the UN.

Johan Cruyff
Johan Cruyff
The Spanish close season or mid-winter break are the only times the Catalan national team can realistically assemble, but on the evidence of recent outings, their side, now coached by Barcelona idol Johan Cruyff, would be a force in European football were it playing regularly: Last year they downed Diego Maradona's Argentina 4-2 at the Camp Nou, beat Colombia 2-1 the year before that and in 2003 thrashed Ecuador 4-0, five years after a memorable 5-0 walloping of Nigeria. And absent from their ranks tonight were Catalan aces Cesc Fabregas, Gerard Pique and Xavi, World Soccer's Player of the Year for 2010.

Indeed, Spain won the World Cup playing the Barcelona style and with far more Catalans (five) than any other regional nationality, although the skipper who hoisted the golden prize aloft in Soweto was Madrid-born and 100% Real man Iker Casillas.

That magical night in the Rainbow Nation shone a brighter than ever spotlight upon Spain's fractured footballing loyalties, which were last probed in depth following their Euro 2008 victory. Claim and counter-claim surrounded the extent to which the triumph of 'La Roja' ('The Red') was cheered in its less than ardently patriotic regions, and the apparently obvious semantics of the chant 'Yo soy español, español, español' ('I am Spanish, Spanish, Spanish') which echoed around the country this summer, were equally dissected at length.

Maybe it was the dawn of a new and modern Spain ready at last to jettison a painful past or perhaps it was just a passing fiesta where everyone fervently embraced each other in brotherly love as on New Year's Eve, toasting La Roja with ample Rioja, before waking up hungover the next morning with unforgiven feuds and remembered rivalries.

AS Diario, one of Spain's daily football papers, summed up the conundrum quite succinctly in its headline 'Visca España' - 'visca' being the Catalan version of 'viva'.

And Cruyff, despite his assimilated Senyera DNA - he named his son Jordi after all, does not foresee or even desire that Catalunya should become FIFA-recognised or an independent nation any time soon. He speaks (ropey) Castillian Spanish rather than Catalan, yet remains proud to take charge of what are essentially glorified friendlies once a season in his adopted homeland.

With Spain defeating Holland in the World Cup final only a few months ago, harvesting the fruit of the seeds he had planted as a player with Barcelona in the 1970's, perhaps this is not the best time to be questioning Cruyff's cultural leanings with any certainty anyway.

The Basque country also has a national team in action over Christmas, hosting Venezuela tomorrow night in Bilbao. Heavily dependent on the historically Basque club sides of Athletic Bilbao and Real Sociedad, their squad also boasts Spanish World Cup-winner Xabi Alonso of Real Madrid.

are no slouches either, having claimed the scalps of a host of FIFA nations across the last twenty years including Uruguay, Ghana, Russia, Serbia, Venezuela, Nigeria, Bolivia and Morocco. Famous former players from the Basque country include the great goalkeeper Andoni Zubizarreta, still Spain's record cap-winner, and the flying French World Cup-winning left back Bixente Lizarazu.

And the tapestry does not end there: Andalucia, Aragon, Asturias, the Canary Islands, Cantabria, Extremadura, Galicia, Murcia, Navarre and the Region of Valencia have all played friendlies against FIFA-recognised nations during the past decade.

A united Spain might have won the World Cup in June, but the red of its national shirt, in truth belies a coat of many cultures.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Monday, December 27, 2010

The last to know World Cup 2010

South Africa World Cup 2010
The night was foggy and the environs of the Royal Bafokeng Stadium poorly lit.
We had just finished a nightmare journey to reach the England v USA clash at last summer's World Cup on-time, though little did we know the absurdly delayed drive to Rustenburg from Johannesburg would be as nothing compared to the never-ending story that was the trip back.

Two hours after the final whistle we were still waiting to leave the car park, or rather the strip of wasteland commandeered to house the many vehicles used by fans
visiting the 42,000 venue; Rustenburg had no railway station.

What was FIFA thinking handing the World Cup
to a place like this, I thought. A veritable nightmare for visiting fans, by some margin the most inconvenient of the six World Cup finals I had attended. Then I got my answer - a military helicopter, searchlights beaming through the gloom, hovered in to land. The doors opened and a posse of security ushered US Vice-President Joe Biden into the stadium.

World Cup 2010
Biden doubtless had a five-star experience of the World Cup like all FIFA dignitaries did, and the TV feed did its job in pumping the games into people's homes across the globe.
But what about the real fans, those of us who had shelled out to be there in the South African winter in person. Did anyone care about our experience of the World Cup?
World Cup 2010
Talking of winter, and in South Africa the thermometer dipped below zero on many nights, a winter World Cup in the Middle East in 2022 looks ever likelier now the International Players' Union has come out in favour of it.

FIFPRO has added to calls from Franz Beckenbauer and Michel Platini, endorsed by Sepp Blatter and Jerome Valcke, for the Qatar tournament to be shifted to the European winter months, presumably January when the African Nations Cup takes place to avoid th
at continent's oppressive summer heat.
"Tourists are advised not to travel to Qatar in the summer months," said FIFPRO's spokesman Tijs Tummers. "Inhabitants of Qatar leave the country en masse during this period."
England fans
Tummers went on to note how supporters would suffer in the 50C midday heat "The summer months in Qatar do not provide suitable conditions for a festival of football."

Did someone mention supporters? Those quaint old aficionados who pay an arm and a leg to support multi-million pound stars across the world instead of watching it at home on their i-Pad. Since when were they a cons
ideration for the game's decision-makers in Switzerland?

South Africa was a challenge for them: The distances between venues was vast, the public transport next to non-existent and the road network wholly inadequate for a show of the World Cup's magnitude. The clogged one-lane highway in and out of Rustenburg will live long in this European fan's memory.

Brazil, the World Cup host in 2014, has equally vast distances and poor transport options compared to recent European and Far-Eastern host nations, plus a crime problem at least as worrying as South Africa's. 2018 host Russia has more enormous distances to cover in addition to a train network below Western European standards, problems shared by Euro 2012 hosts Poland and Ukraine. And then there is Qatar.

The fans, the lifeblood of the game after all, as it is they who provide the lion's share of club revenues in their ticket purchases, have become the last thought, if considered at all, by the game's decision makers.

What visiting this summer's World Cup finals, and witnessing Russia and Qatar win the right to host future ones confirmed to me was that TV rights, sponsor revenue, FIFA politics, moneyed suitors and geo-political pulls have left fans, the real ones that is, facing more mammoth journeys and myriad inconveniences in their unwavering, unchallengeable, yet increasingly unrequited love for the Beautiful Game.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

It's snow joke

Football in the Winter

Snow on pitch
It's the holiday season, unless you're a British footballer.

How bad is the winter in the UK, where football insists on playing o
n while other nations enjoy a hibernal hiatus? Some parts of Britain have recorded record low temperatures at the end of 2010, the coldest snap since detailed records began in 1910.

Given England's World Cup failure in the summer, calls for a December/January pause are resonating more loudly than ever.

Here's today's fixtures in Scotland's come rain or shine Highland League:

Brora Rangers OFF Fraserburgh
Buckie Thistle OFF Formatine United
Cove Rangers OFF Rothes
Deveronvale OFF Inverurie Loco Works
Fort William OFF Keith
Huntly OFF Strathspey Thistle
Lossiemouth OFF Forres Mechanics
Turriff United OFF Nairn County
Wick Academy OFF Clachnacuddin

A winter break? Q.E.D.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Eto'o is Africa's lion again

Samuel Eto'o

If Alexander the Great conquered the known world and beyond by the age of 30, Samuel Eto'o has come pretty close on the football field. He has just been named African Footballer of the Year for a record fourth time and shows no signs of calling a halt to an already illustrious career.

At 29, the Cameroonian captain has a soccer CV most of us would die for.

He is his country's captain and record goalscorer and has represented Cameroon in three FIFA World Cups, won an Olympic Games gold medal and won two African Nations Cups with the Indomitable Lions, while participating in a further four. He remains the all-time top scorer in that tournament and has netted 52 times in 101 games for his nation.

His club resumé includes Barcelona, Inter and Real Madrid and Eto'o has won the UEFA Champions League at all of them. This year he became the first footballer to win two continental trebles of league, cup and Champions League, having collected a clean sweep first at Barcelona and then at Inter.

Leaving Spain after five seasons and 171 strikes he joined José Mourinho at Inter in a swap deal with Zlatan Ibrahimovic and bagged 21 goals, not bad for an inaugural outing
in defence-heavy Serie A.
A string of other garlands include a purple year in 2006 when he became La Liga's top gunner and won the Man of the Match award in the Champions League final. Most recently, Eto'o scored in the FIFA World Club Cup final as Inter were crowned the best team on the planet, their Cameroonian ace receiving the Golden Ball.

A lithe runner blessed with turbo-charged heels, a quick-thinking footballing brain and a lethal shot, Eto'o has also had his fair share of knockers, from coaches, players and journalists who have questioned his attitude and priorities, to 'fans' bellowing racist abuse at him in Spain and Italy.

Yet like all great players, he answers his critics on the field of play, a perfect pitch for this indomitable lion of Africa.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Shahtar or Shakhtar

Shahtar or Shakhtar

Why it is that the Russian and Ukrainian sound /h/ (like in Hull or Harvard) is (mis)represented in English by the letters "kh"?

It's been bugging me somewhat.

Shahtar or Shakhtar

So, it should be Shahtar, not Shakhtar; also, Harkov, not Kharkov (or Harkiv, as the name is in Ukrainian).

Even funnier, some geniuses determined that the Ukrainian sound /g/ (almost like in Galloway or Glasgow, just a bit softer) should be transcribed into English with the letter "h"!

Thus, English transcribes the Ukrainian word Liga (League) as Liha (!), but Shahtar as Shakhtar. And naturally, 99.9% of English speakers will mispronounce both words... So weird.


Sunday, December 19, 2010

If FIFA can't stand the heat....

Fifa Watch

Sepp on the right
So Qatar is too hot in summer after all.

And at 40-50C in the shade, who can disagree? Even if the stadia are cool enough, the outside won't be, and the prospect of a million beer-hungry fans stumbling out into such a furnace in desperate search of a cool lager does not bear thinking about.

"I support definitely, definitely," Sepp Blatter said, "to play in winter here, to play when the climate is appropriate."

The FIFA President's support for a January World Cup in 2022 appears clear enough. The temperatures in the summer months in Qatar are far more oppressive than their anti-alcohol or anti-gay laws, that is for sure. Playing in the Middle East's winter makes sense therefore, when the thermometer rarely rises above 25c by day and has an average low of a pleasant 13C.

And Qatar has already successfully hosted big-name games of football outdoors at that time of year. But avoiding the sweltering summer and the need for expensive and unproven technology has a serious downside to it - a sandstorm brewing in club boardrooms across Europe all of FIFA's making and the spectre of an almighty club v country conflict on the horizon. Blackpool manager Ian Holloway, famous for his juicy quips to the press, was typical of the domestic reaction when he launched a fiery tirade at the possibility of the football season closing down for two months to make up for FIFA's initial error.

Holloway likened switching the World Cup to the European winter as akin to changing the date of Christmas.

"So we'll just change everything cos your weather's really hot," he said. "Brilliant! I mean come on, what's going on? What happened to the air-conditioned arenas. Bit too expensive 25 of them was it or what?"

The World Cup 2022
Qatar claim the cup

It was Franz Beckenbauer who first publicly floated the idea of switching the month of the tournament, closely followed by nods of approval from UEFA President Michel Platini, FIFA General Secretary Jerome Valcke and then Blatter himself: This hitherto unthinkable idea now has legs.

FIFA's own technical evaluation of the hosting bids, even though it was blithely ignored by the Executive Committee, marked Qatar as "high-risk" on account of its hellishly hot summer - "a potential health risk for players, officials, the FIFA family and spectat
ors".As it stood, the arena temperature would still have only been 27C at its coolest. But clearly the assurances that (carbon-neutral) air conditioning, powerful enough to cool a dozen big stadia and presumably 32 more for the finalists to train in, will be ready in time for 2022, are seriously doubted in Zurich, only two weeks after they made the controversial choice of a Middle Eastern summer host.

Now the vote is over, Blatter has also mentioned moving the Qatar World C
up into other Middle Eastern countries, surely against the spirit, if not the rules, of the bidding campaign. While staging matches in neighbouring countries such as the United Arab Emirates would not be disastrous, the move from June to January potentially is as it places the international game in its most direct opposition yet with the clubs they have been trying to placate for the past two decades.

Clubs are so far aghast at the prospect of having their leagues shut down by FIFA for a two-month hiatus and watching their best players come back jaded and/or injured mid-season. The risk FIFA runs is rebellion against its plans from the big European teams, leaving the governing body to think the unthinkable, recall the 2022 vote and select the USA, the runner-up, as host instead.
A stand-off could increase the already floated idea of a breakaway from FIFA led by major European nations, or at the very least, herald big concessions in the form of exemption from friendlies for top players or compensation paid by FIFA to clubs for borrowing their star men for international duty.

Instead of global harmony appearing around the 2022 World Cup decision, awarding the tournament to Qatar has created global warming of a different kind, and there appears no ready solution besides cancellation of the hosting. It's another fine mess from Sepp & Co.

As Henry Winter commented today in the Sunday Telegraph:

"FIFA is not just lobbing a pebble into the club waters, but a huge chunk of granite hewn from the Matterhorn."

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

World Cup Posters

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Fifa World Rankings December 15 2010

Fifa World Rankings December 2010

Fifa's last World Rankings of 2010 came out today from Fifa HQ in Zurich, Switzerland. World Cup winners Spain remain in top spot for 2010 followed by The Netherlands, Germany and Brazil.

England are in 7th place despite a friendly loss to France at Wembley, still one adrift of Argentina who remain in 5th.

Egypt is the highest African team in 9th. The USA are up to 18th. Italy are in 14th.

1 Spain
2 Netherlands
3 Germany
4 Brazil
5 Argentina
7 Uruguay
8 Portugal
9 Egypt
10 Croatia
11 Greece
12 Norway
13 Russia
14 Italy
15 Chile
16 Ghana
17 Slovenia
18 USA
19 France
20 Slovakia

Fifa World Rankings December 15 2010

Full world rankings

Previous Fifa World Rankings


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Blatter's Sexual Health Warning

Fifa Watch

Poor Sepp - maybe he's not the man to give out sexual health advice.

Aged 35 in 1971, Herr Blatter was elected President of the World Society of the Friends of Suspenders, a group of 120 men dedicated to reversing the march of tights (pantyhose) and bringing back garter belts for all women, a penchant which manifested itself again in 2004 when as FIFA President he called for women footballers to wear tighter shorts:

"Female players are pretty, if you excuse me for saying so," commented Sepp without mirth.

Today he was forced to wade in to the homophobia issue surrounding FIFA's choice of two less than gay-friendly World Cup hosts, one of which forbids non-heterosexuality by law, and fell into the mire:

To audience laughter, Blatter announced -

"I would say they (gay fans) should refrain from any sexual activities."

He did go on to note the Middle East is a different culture, but one that is in the process of changing, with the implied hope fan sexuality will not be an issue in twelve years' time. It is hard to imagine Qatar will enforce any of its usual laws when the West visits en masse in 2022, but equally Blatter's statement implies a shameful appeasement with a medieval mindset.

FIFA has conducted a relentless 'Kick Racism out of Football' campaign, but is still shying away from a similar one to eradicate soccer's last taboo - homophobia. The Football Association likewise is looking for excuses, having produced but pulled an anti-homophobia video at the last minute. Unlike in many sports, football still awaits its first working player to come out.

"In football we have no boundaries," Blatter concluded. Just like sex then?

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

World Cup Posters

Monday, December 13, 2010

Seongnam's Out For Inter

K.League news.
Seongnam's Out For Inter

2010 just keeps getting better and better for South Korean football and it could end on a real high if Seongnam Ilwha Chunma defeat European champions Inter Milan in the Club World Cup semi-final in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday.

It is a rare chance for a team from the K-League to mix it with the best in the world and fans back in East Asia will be eagerly tuning in to see if the seven-time champions can shock one of the biggest names in the world of football. If it happens, then a final is on the cards against either TP Mazembe of Congo and Brazil’s Internacional, no relation to the Italians.

Seongnam’s coach Shin Tae-yong thinks that the final is possible. Shin, just 40, led the team to the Asian Champions League title in November with a 3-1 win over Zob Ahan of Iran in Tokyo. That also granted access to the intercontinental competition behind held in United Arab Emirates.

On Saturday, Seongnam blew away local team Al Wahda with a 4-1 win. It was a fine display of clinical attacking soccer and served notice to the Italians, who won the European title with a victory over Bayern Munich back in May, that it will be a tough game in the fast-growing sporting city. Mauricio Molina, Sasa Ognenovski, Choi Sung-kuk and Cho Dong-keon were all on target for the K-League team.

“Inter are the top team in the world so it won’t be an easy game, but our players are here to do our very best and I’m sure we’ll play well against them," Shin said .“As an Asian team if we do get to the finals it will be an honour to Asia, to me and the players it will be a great honour.

“Inter are a very good team, but to challenge them at least once is a goal for all Asian teams. In Korea there is a proverb that goes something like ‘better than death is to challenge’ and we’ll apply that in the match. If we can show them that we can be in the same game as them, it will be great for us."

Inter boasts world stars such as the Netherlands’ Wesley Sneijder, one of the best players of 2010, Cameroon’s Samuel Eto’o, Diego Milito of Argentina and Sweden’s star Zlatan Ibrahamovic. It quite a line-up but the Nerazzurri, the blue-and-blacks, have not been in the best of form this season.

New coach Rafa Benitez, the Spaniard who took Liverpool to the 2005 European title, has found it tough to match the achievement of Jose Mourinho. The former Porto and Chelsea coach left to take control of Real Madrid in the summer. It has even been suggested that failure in this competition could cost Benitez his job. Three losses in the last four games in Italy have left the team in the unfamiliar position of sixth in the Serie A standings.

Benitez is aware of the rumours and reports.

“There is talk about many possible replacements for me, but I am the Inter coach, I want to win this Club World Cup and I am sure that if I do so, I will be here for a long time yet."

Shin has been called the “Asian Mourinho” for his confident comments but knows that the odds are against his team.

“In the media they’re talking a lot about Inter’s conflicts at home, but I’m not really concerned about that. The coach and players if they have a purpose and goal they’ll have a great game.

“If they show their unity they can beat us, but if we challenge them I’m sure there is a weakness because of their conflicts at home.”

“In the locker room I will tell them it’s worth a try because they will never have an opportunity like that, and now that we have an opportunity we should definitely make the most of it.”

Whatever happens, it will be a night to remember for Seongnam’s players. The eleven who swatted aside Al Wahda, supported by a passionate Abu Dhabi crowd of 35,000, will be desperate to take on the Italians.

It has been some year for the club on and increasingly off the field. The Asian success put around $2.5 million in the coffers and, so far, the Club World Cup has added another $2 million. A win over Inter would add an extra $3million.

But now is not the time to think about money. Seongnam has a game against one of the biggest teams in the world.


Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The New World Cup Stadia

The New World Cup Stadia



QATAR 2022

-Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Agony for FC Tokyo, ecstasy for Vissel Kobe

Japan soccer news.

What has numerous stadia, 35 million people and two struggling football teams?

You're wrong if you answered Qatar - it barely has any of those - but closer to the mark if you answered Tokyo; that megalopolis of neon lights, dense alleyways and comic kitsch so often associated with the less serious side of Japan.

In the same week Japan's bid to host the 2022 World Cup ground to a predictable halt, so too did top flight football in the capital, courtesy of a pair of extraordinary results on the final day of the 2010 J. League season.

Going into their last league game of the season away at Kyoto Sanga, FC Tokyo held a one-point advantage over sixteenth placed Vissel Kobe. That meant the capital club needed to win to guarantee themselves a place in J1 next season, or hope Vissel Kobe lost to Urawa Reds.

As fate would have it, neither occurred, with FC Tokyo surrendering meekly to Kyoto in a 2-0 defeat on the road, while Vissel Kobe thumped a lifeless Urawa Reds 4-0 in front of a stunned crowd at Saitama Stadium.

That means both of Tokyo's professional clubs will languish in J2 next season, with FC Tokyo joining Ajinomoto Stadium co-tenants Tokyo Verdy in the second tier of the Japanese game.

FC Tokyo's fall from grace is a surprising one given that some critics tipped them as dark horses for the title this season. In coach Hiroshi Jofuku, they had an attacking tactician not afraid to hand youth a chance, while names like Yasuyuki Konno, Naohiro Ishikawa and the mercurial Sota Hirayama suggested the capital club should have had enough talent to finish in the top half of the table.

But fresh from winning the 2009 League Cup title, FC Tokyo simply never got started in the 2010 league campaign, and with the club struggling in the lower reaches for most of the season, Jofuku was dismissed to make way for Kiyoshi Okuma to steady the ship.

Okuma was in charge when FC Tokyo made its top flight debut in 2000, but the former player failed to steer the Chofu-based outfit to safety, leaving one of Japan's best supported clubs to scrap it out in the second division next season.

FC Tokyo's despair is in stark contrast to Vissel Kobe's joy, as the Kansai side went on a seven-game unbeaten run to salvage their J1 status at the death. Vissel also sacked coach Toshiya Miura late in the campaign, but his replacement Masahiro Wada came up trumps to steer the much-maligned outfit to safety.

Vissel's regional rivals Nagoya Grampus had already wrapped up the title weeks ago, and with Gamba Osaka and Cerezo Osaka edging out Kashima Antlers for the remaining two AFC Champions League places, the balance of power could be shifting west in Japanese football.

The Kanto plain has long been a J. League stronghold, but with Kashima failing to win a fourth straight title and the likes of Kawasaki Frontale, Yokohama F. Marinos and Urawa Reds struggling to make much of an impact, it's the traditionally baseball-mad western region currently celebrating football success.

Kashiwa Reysol coast to J2 title

It's not all bad news for Kanto football fans after Kashiwa Reysol coasted to the J2 title, finishing ten points ahead of second placed Ventforet Kofu.

The pair will be joined in the top flight next season by Kyushu side Avispa Fukuoka, who ended a three-year spell in the second tier by comfortably securing a promotion place.

'King Kazu' strikes againHe's almost old enough for a walking stick, but in a land that venerates experience, Kazu Miura shows no signs of slowing down. The ageing veteran broke his own J2 goalscoring record on the final day of the season, scoring for Yokohama FC in a 2-2 draw away at Oita Trinita.

Copyright © Mike Tuckerman &

World Cup Posters

Ten ways to change FIFA

Ten ways to change FIFA

Now the whole world outside Russia and Qatar agrees that FIFA is bent and not fit for purpose, what do we do about it?

Former England international Viv Anderson was one of a number of voices this weekend to advocate withdrawal from FIFA and the establishment of a rival organisation. The Football Association did leave FIFA before, from 1928 until 1946 over a dispute over paying amateurs, of all things. And England missed three golden opportunities to win the World Cup.

The alternative to establishing a rival organisation is to reform FIFA from within, increasing domestic representation (only seven Englishmen work in
FIFA's 34 committees at present), and urging a purging of the endemic corruption.

This will take time and hard work. But in a perfect world, I wish the following would happen tomorrow to the World Cup decision procedure:

1. Suspend Jack Warner, Issa Hayatou, Ricardo Texeira and Nicolas Leoz from the Executive Committee immediately and let an independent body investigate the serious allegations against them raised by Andrew Jennings, Espen Sandli & Togeir Korkfjord and the BBC. Suspend Julio Grondona until the Wall Street Journal's allegations are dealt with too. Allow this body to probe further allegations of corruption made by Mel Brennan, David Yallop and various media outlets. Sepp Blatter's anger at the "evil media" is an admission
of guilt.
2. End the practice of concealing FIFA demands on potential hosts' governments. No nation should be bullied, as the Netherlands were this time, into becoming a temporary tax haven for FIFA.

World Cup 2022
World Cup 2022
3. Open up the World Cup vote beyond the 22 men on the Ex.Co. There are 208 FIFA member nations and until 1983 all had a say.
4. Never again schedule two hosting votes simultaneously - the potential for collusion was just too great, as Spain/Portugal and Qatar duly proved.

Sepp doesn't listen
Sepp doesn't listen
5. Make the ballots open and require voters to explain their decision to the press. Ensure every voter receives the bid books - only three requested England's 2018 presentation!
6. End this obsession with 'legacy' and 'new lands'. Create guidelines for deci
ding on the host which stress football heritage, existing ability to host the tournament and financial potential. It is ludicrous that bidders are being punished for having the best stadia and infrastructure already in place and that FIFA's own technical and commercial criteria (the Evaluation Reports and the McKinsey study) were blatantly ignored by the Ex.Co. No more than one out every three World Cups should be on virgin soil, not the three out of four we have at present. The game's heartlands deserve the lion's share because that is where football is most supported.
7. Impose financial limits on bids as political parties have in UK constituency elections. Russia outspent Spain/Portugal three to one and Qatar's largesse was well-documented.
8. Adopt the strict IOC rules on Olympic bid lobbying - no voter may holiday in a bidding nation, be approached outside of bidding conventions or even have a drink bought for them by a bidding representative.

9. Make integrity a bidding factor. Countries guilty of human rights abuses, money laundering & organised crime and restrictions on press freedom should not be rewarded with the world's biggest party.
10. Leave Switzerland for a more transparent country. FIFA should depart the land of secret bank accounts for somewhere which wants to engage with the world, preferably a small European Union nation like Belgium, Denmark or Luxembourg, where business and politics are more open and less shady. The whiff of corruption at FIFA H.Q. goes with the territory at present.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile 

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Friday, December 3, 2010

Breaking down the World Cup voting

Fifa Watch

The fall-out from yesterday's double-shock in Switzerland continues after FIFA selected Russia and Qatar as hosts for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.

England were humiliated with only two votes, one of which came from their own representative Geoff Thompson, and Spain/Portugal, the favourites, were left scratching their heads after Russia romped home 13-7 in the second round.

2022 provided a bigger shock as, despite its small size and searing heat,
Qatar beat the USA 14-8 in the fourth round of voting. Australia, once seen as the front-runner, crashed in flames with only one vote.

World Cup 2018
1st Round Russia 9, Spain/Port 7, Neth/Belgium 4, England 22nd Round Russia 13, Spain/Portugal 7, Neth/Belgium 2

World Cup 2022

1st round:
Qatar 11, South Korea 4, Japan 3, USA 3, Australia 1
2nd round: Qatar 10, South Korea 5, USA 5, Japan 2
3rd round: Qatar 11, USA 6, South Korea 5
4th round: Qatar 14, USA 8

The identities behind the 22 votes are kept anonymous by FIFA, who used blank ballots, but it appears clear that Russia won by picking up two of the Low Countries' supporters, plus Geoff Thompson and England's other supporter, believed to be Junji Ogura or Issa Hayatou. Spain/Portugal had seven key backers but could not move up from seven.

The 2022 decision went two more rounds because South Korea maintained a core vote of five and Japan two, four of whom eventually transferred to Qatar, who actually went down a vote between rounds one and two but maintained a comfortable lead over the USA throughout.

Qatar, Japan and the Netherlands/Belgium all saw their support reduce between particular rounds, proving certain FIFA delegates changed their minds during the process, while only Spain/Portugal had an unchanging block of votes.

Qatar finished with three and Russia with four more votes than they began with, but the USA showed the most improvement across the decision process, increasing its votes by five between the first and final round.

We may never know which delegate voted for which country, but the breakdown could have been thus:

2018 - 1st Round 

- Mutko, Blatter, Warner, Blazer, Salguero, Beckenbauer, Anouma, Lefkaritis, Hayatou
Spain/Portugal - Villar Llona, Leoz, Grondona, Abo Rida, Bin Hammam, Makudi, Teixeira
Netherlands/Belgium -D'Hooghe, Chung, Erzik, Platini
England - Thompson, Ogura

2nd Round

Russia - Mutko, Blatter, Warner, Blazer, Salguero, Beckenbauer, Anouma, Lefkaritis, Hayatou, Ogura, Chung, Erzik, Platini
Spain/Portugal - Villar Llona, Leoz, Grondona, Abo Rida, Bin Hammam, Makudi, Teixeira
Netherlands/Belgium -D'Hooghe, Thompson

2022 - 1st Round 

Qatar - Bin Hammam, Leoz, Grondona, Teixeira, Abo Rida, Makudi, Villar Llona, Platini, Hayatou, Anouma, Lefkaritis,
South Korea -Chung, D'Hooghe, Erzik, Blatter
Japan - Ogura, Thompson, Mutko
USA - Warner, Blazer, Salguero
Australia - Beckenbauer

2nd Round 

Qatar - Bin Hammam, Leoz, Grondona, Abo Rida, Makudi, Villar Llona, Platini, Hayatou, Anouma, Lefkaritis,
South Korea -Chung, D'Hooghe, Erzik, Blatter, Texeira
- Warner, Blazer, Salguero, Mutko, Beckenbauer
Japan - Ogura, Thompson

3rd Round

Qatar - Bin Hammam, Leoz, Grondona, Abo Rida, Makudi, Villar Llona, Platini, Hayatou, Anouma, Lefkaritis, Ogura
USA - Warner, Blazer, Salguero, Mutko, Beckenbauer, Thompson
South Korea - Chung, D'Hooghe, Erzik, Blatter, Texeira

4th Round 

- Bin Hammam, Leoz, Grondona, Abo Rida, Makudi, Villar Llona, Platini, Hayatou, Anouma, Lefkaritis, Ogura, Texeira, Chung, Erzik
USA - Warner, Blazer, Salguero, Mutko, Beckenbauer, Thompson, Blatter, D'Hooge

As for the motives for voting, that debate is only just beginning...

10 Ways To Change FIFA

-Sean O'Conor

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Japan's techno-dream for 2022 Junji Ogawa

2022 World Cup decision: Japan's quest

Soccerphile speaks exclusively to JFA Chief Junji Ogura

Junji Ogura
Junji Ogura
Junji Ogura
Junji Ogura

Soccerphile sat down with bid leader, Japan Football Association Chairman and FIFA Executive Committee member Junji Oguru to discuss his nation's audacious World Cup bid for 2022:

Few expect either Japan or South Korea to win the right to host the 2022 World Cup, it is true?

Despite excellent bids, the fact both nations staged the tournament as recently as eight years ago appears to be their biggest enemy, despite the fact that equally shows they are safe pairs of hands.

Up against the pulling power of the USA, the virgin soccer territory of Australia and the wow factor of the Qatari bid, not to mention South Korea's noble aim of uniting their peninsula, an arguably vainglorious wish in the light of this week's military exchange, Japan has had to come up with a good reason to host another World Cup twenty years after their last one.

Their proposal hinges on that Japanese emblem - technology, but the ideas are genuinely exciting, involving a smart card for match tickets, transport tickets and money, and setting 3-D viewing zones up all over the world free of charge. Japan's world-famous tech firms are on board including Sony, JVC and Panasonic, and the innovations, still in the developmental stage, would constitute a new, fourth revenue stream for FIFA after ticket sales, sponsorship and TV rights. The aim is for FIFA to embrace and control the technology, rather than letting others do it for them.

Junji Ogura
Junji Ogura
Junji Ogura
Junji Ogura

Soccerphile: Why should Japan host the World Cup again?

Junji Ogura: We enjoyed the 2002 World Cup so much and it was very successful. Not only every Japanese person enjoyed it but people from all over the world loved our hospitality. I remember how people from Kyushu took to Cameroon and how some of them traveled to South Africa to cheer them again! So, after such a happy experience in 2002, we said right after the tournament we should do it again.

Japan has the stadia but it is still a developing country with football so we can become a true football nation. Then there is the legacy. Technology is one of our best tools. We have discussed with Sony and other companies how to develop new technologies. That is why we are very confident.

Has football grown in Japan since 2002?

Yes, we now have a J-League 2, a second division, and the interest in football in general has increased with more players and fans. We have 38 professional clubs. We are the premier football nation in Asia.

Japan is using technology as the centre of its bid but isn't technology universal?

There are what, nine other bidding countries, but I could not find they are proposing anything to do with technology. We have the companies here and it comes directly from Japan - we are proposing things for the future - 3D vision without glasses in a few years for instance, which will be very popular in a few years. We can develop these ourselves in Japan with a serious programme.

The JFA originally planned to host the Cup again before 2050

And win it too, hahaha!

So if you don't win 2022, you will be trying again as soon as possible?

Oh yes, that is right, we are committed and ready.

Who do you think are your major rivals this time?

Every bidder is very strong. The USA has its major stadia, Australia can say they have never had the World Cup in Oceania. Qatar can say the same about West Asia.

What was your reaction to China's announcement it was aiming for 2026?

Junji Ogura
Junji Ogura

Oooh, China. I have friends in the Chinese Football Association and they did not say anything to the Asian Confederation about that. Some of the AFC members were angry. It was bad for the AFC's image.

Surely China was always going to bid sooner or later?

Yes, China is a big country with a big possibility of hosting the World Cup. China claim they never said they would not, but we need unity amongst the Asian members.

Oguru is a jolly and animated man, exploding some Western stereotypes about the inscrutable Asians. His eyes light up as he speaks with real enthusiasm about his country's bid. He is a man who truly loves football, and broke into a childish laugh when I brought up his love of West Ham United and Bobby Moore.

At the mention of China's announcement that it wishes to bid for 2026, a darker look came over him, a look of fear and of having been let down by a close friend. FIFA rules forbid consecutive hostings by one confederation, and it is felt China's lure will influence some Ex.Co. members to skip the Asian bidders for 2022 as a result.

The feeling remains that Japan will not host 2022, but their bid was brave, innovative and valid, and more proof that the country takes soccer seriously and is becoming a major player on and off the field of world soccer. Japan, football and technology will be together for years to come.

Gambare Nippon!

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

photos by Iman Simon -

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The only men who matter

World Cup.2018 World Cup Decision - Zurich

Hours of debate and acres of column inches have been expended debating the pluses and minuses of the various 2018 World Cup bids, and the FIFA Executive Committee have their exhaustive technical study to go on (which rated England and Spain/Portugal as the safest bets) as well as the McKinsey report (which claimed the English bid would be the most lucrative).

Recent news has hurt several bids - the military exchanges between the two Koreas, the looming financial crises in Portugal and Spain, the Wikileaks diplomatic assessment of Russia as a gangster state and the pitch invasion at the Birmingham derby in England. Only
the low countries' bid seems to have avoided the bad headlines, but it has missed the good ones too. The Dutch government's reluctance to turn the tournament into a tax haven for the tournament and bankroll FIFA to the tune of 300 million Euros probably dealt their bid the coup de grace.

Yet at the end of the day, the two-year lobbying process, which has become frenzied in Switzerland as the hours count down to the vote, tell the true tale about how World Cup hostings are decided - by forming alliances. With 22 different nationalities on the Executive Committee, international networking is a must.

According to all accounts, the low-key Spain/Portugal bid has been the most successful in making friends, despite a budget one third of England's or Russia's. The Iberians appear not only to have worked their cultural heritage in bagging the three South American votes
on offer, but also struck a potentially winning alliance with Mohamed Bin-Hammam of Qatar, whose influence is believed to extend to two further members. England's repeated courting of Jack Warner seems to have translated into an understanding that CONCACAF's three votes will support them, although Rafael Salguero of Guatemala may be tempted to join his Hispanic brothers.

Cultural heritage is clearly a factor, which means not only the North and South American votes will head back to their ancestral homelands but also that the Egyptian delegate Hany Abo Rida is more likely to follow Mohamed Bin Hammam from the Asian confederation than vote with other (sub-Sa
haran) Africans. If Korean Chung Mong-Joon plumps as expected for the Dutch/Belgian bid, it will partly be down to his federation has hired four Dutch coaches in the last ten years.

Personal friendships and sentimental reasons will be factors too, as well as old sores and prejudices. Predicting the outright winner is only an approximate exercise given the voting format where the lowest-scoring bid's votes will be allocated elsewhere with each successive round until one nation has an overall majority. And who knows, one or two wavering candidates may even change their mind between rounds in the anonymous ballot boxes.

If England and the Iberians have say seven votes apiece to begin with, that still leaves six second preferences to swing it either way. All that does seem sure
going into the final day is that the Dutch & Belgians have no hope of winning and that Spain & Portugal have a slender lead over England, who are narrowly ahead of Russia. Vladimir Putin's last-minute decision not to fly to Zurich while Prince William and David Cameron press the flesh sounds like an admission of defeat. Iberia is the favourite for now, but Angel Maria Villa Llona's boast that "all the fish is sold" a week ago may come back to haunt him if England turn an ear or two at the last minute.

Predictions are inevitably risky given the difficulty in reading the minds of 22 diverse men and the secret nature of the ballot renders prognostications doubly moot, but these nevertheless are mine:

2018 decision - possible first round voting intentions

Julio Grondona (Argentina)
Angel Maria Villa Llona (Spain)
Nicolas Leoz (Paraguay)
Ricardo Texeira (Brazil)
Mohamed Bin Hammam (Qatar)
Worawi Makudi (Thailand)
Hany Abo Rida (Egypt)

Geoff Thompson (England)
Jack Warner (Trinidad & Tobago)
Chuck Blazer (USA)
Senes Erzik (Turkey)
Junji Ogura (Japan)
Rafael Salguero (Guatemala)

Sepp Blatter (Switzerland)
Franz Beckenbauer (Germany)
Vitaly Mutko (Russia)
Marios Lefkaritis (Cyprus)
Jacques Anouma (Ivory Coast)
Issa Hayatou (Cameroon)

Michel D'Hooge (Belgium)
Michel Platini (France)
Chung Mong-Joon (South Korea)

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

2018 Cup race leaves sour taste

FIFA.On Thursday afternoon we will know the venues for the 2018 & 2022 World Cup Finals and a sorry 21-month multinational spat will blessedly come to an end.
What FIFA had wished would be a smooth process has degenerated into an unseemly mess. As wealthy nations squabble for victory, a public tired of perceived corruption in football politics sigh as their suspicions are reinforced. Whoever wins the 2018 race will not remove the whiff of a grubby power-grab of claim and counter-claim, backroom deals and illicit bribery that has dogged this latest World Cup bidding war.

Don't kill the messenger. The press has every right to shine a light anywhere on FIFA as much as on any form of government: Quis custodet ipsos custodes...FIFA is a nation-state with a global influence approaching the Vatican's, given the way world leaders genuflect before President Sepp Blatter when he visits and leave their domestic problems behind to jet into Switzerland for last-minute lobbying. Yet transparency before the law has been slow to catch up and
the continuing presence of the likes of Vice-President Jack Warner at high table and the closed vote for the hosting decision do not help clean up the general consensus that FIFA is far too secretive for such an internationally pervasive body.

The UK media, sensing a hefty, hard-to-miss quarry, has trained its guns on FIFA Headquarters in Zurich and scored some hits, notably bringing down Reynauld Temarii and Amos Adamu, removed from the 24-man Executive Committee who select the winning bids.

Yesterday the BBC broadcast persuasive allegations that three other Exec. Com. members - Issa Hayatou, Ricardo Teixeira and Nicolas Leoz, had trousered kickbacks from FIFA's now-collapsed marketing company ISL. England's bidding team had feared the show would derail their bid at the last minute, but in reality the impact is unlikely to tell, given the whole organisation has been under the spotlight for a while and the murky goings-on with ISL, highlighted by investigative reporter Andrew Jennings and others already, date from 1995.

The 2018 race has been particularly unseemly, with Russian bid leader Alexei Sorokin openly sledging against his rivals in breach of FIFA rules, claiming London ha
d a problem with crime and juvenile drinking. Qui accuse, s'accuse...
Spain/Portugal have seen CONMEBOL come out in support of them
before the vote and were cornered with stories they had struck a deal with 2022-bidders Qatar, allegations bolstered by Asian Football Confederation Mohamed Bin Hammam's confirmation of an "excellent relationship" which was "not breaking any rules." Iberian bid boss Miguel Angel Lopez in turn accused The Football Association and US Soccer of a similar pact and criticised English hotels.

England had a great bid on paper with no obvious drawbacks but has had to contend not only with its seemingly perennial lack of influence in FIFA corridors (as Jack Warner reiterated during the bidding process), but it
s own media's lust for blood: F.A. Chairman Lord Triesman resigned in ignominy after being secretly taped claiming Spain and Russia were working together to bribe referees at the World Cup and form a mutual voting pact.

FIFA evaluated England's and Spain/Portugal's bids to be the lowest-risk a
nd England's bid was also judged to be largest potential money-spinner by management consultants McKinsey, in a FIFA-commissioned appraisal. A diplomatic trident of Prime Minister David Cameron, soccer superstar David Beckham and the recently engaged HRH Prince William will be unleashed on the 22 delegates on Thursday morning in the hope of persuading them to forsake their alliances and back the home of football's bid on its merits alone.

The least controversial of the four bids and another perfectly valid one, Belgium & th
e Netherlands', is perhaps not coincidentally the least likely to win. Despite Johann Cruyff's electrifying presence, Ruud Gullit's enthusiasm and the greenness of the bid, elimination in the first-round of voting looms.

The sour grapes can be tasted already, the recriminations as sure as night follows day. As when Germany 'stole' the 2006 hosting from South Africa at the last minute, expect a burst of 'we wuz robbed' outrage and trans-European finger-pointing.
It has been an unpleasant and dirty trek to the final vote in Zurich, and for those of us who wish football were a beautiful game both on and off the field, Thursday cannot come quickly enough.

2018 bidders - Netherlands/Belgium, England, Russia, Spain/Portugal.2022 bidders - Australia, USA, Qatar, Japan, South Korea
(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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