Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Fifa World Rankings For December 2011

Fifa World Rankings For December 2011.
Fifa World Rankings, December 2011

Fifa's World Rankings for December 2011 were published today at FIFA HQ in Zurich, Switzerland.

2010 World Cup winners Spain remain on top followed by the Netherlands, Germany and Copa America champs Uruguay. England are in 5th.

Ranking Team
1 Spain
2 Netherlands
3 Germany
4 Uruguay
5 England
6 Brazil
7 Portugal
8 Croatia
9 Italy
10 Argentina
11 Denmark
12 Russia
13 Chile
14 Greece
15 France
16 Côte d'Ivoire
17 Switzerland
18 Sweden
19 Japan
20 Bosnia-Herzegovina

Full world rankings

Previous Fifa World Rankings


Monday, December 19, 2011

Barca Win 2011 Club World Cup

2011 Club World Cup

Barca duly wrapped up the 2011 Club World Cup in Yokohama on Sunday with a one-sided 4-0 win over South American champions Santos in front of a full house of 68,166 fans.

The team from Sao Paulo in Brazil had looked likely to provide stiffer opposition than they eventually offered after their impressive 3-1 win over J-League champions Kashiwa Reysol in the semi-final on Wednesday at Toyota Stadium.

Barca Win 2011 Club World Cup

In the final Barcelona quickly imposed their possession and hard-pressing game on their beleaguered opponents and racked up possession statistics of around 75% which is the team's average in La Liga.

The match was basically over by half time as Messi, Xavi and Fabregas all scored in a dominant first 45 minutes. Santos came more into the match in the second period but the individual talents of Neymar, Ganso and Elano were left chasing elusive shadows as the Catalans took the sting out of the game and Messi added a fourth late on to seal Barcelona's second Club World Cup in three years.

In the 3rd/4th place play off Al Sadd made history by beating Kashiwa 5-3 on penalties after the teams had played out a goalless draw.


Friday, December 16, 2011

Santos v Kashiwa Reysol Images

Santos v Kashiwa Reysol Images

See some photographs of the Kashiwa Reysol v Santos game at the Club World Cup at Toyota Stadium.

Santos v Kashiwa Reysol

Santos v Kashiwa Reysol


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Neymar Magic Inspires Santos To Win Over Reysol

Neymar Magic Inspires Santos

Neymar Magic Inspires Santos To Win Over Reysol

Santos overcame J-League champions Kashiwa Reysol at Toyota Stadium in the first semi-final of the 2011 Club World Cup.

19-year-old superstar-in-waiting Neymar opened the scoring in the 19th minute with a superb looping left foot shot. The genuinely two-footed player was sensational in the opening half, linking well with his team-mates and showing some amazing dribbling skills. Reysol resorted to crude fouling to try and contain the young tyro.

Five minutes later Borges rifled home a great second goal for Santos from just outside the area and it looked as if Kashiwa would be overwhelmed. To their credit, the Japanese side regrouped in the second half and got back in the match with a headed goal by Hiroki Sakai from a corner by Wagner.

Santos' third was another spectacular strike, this time from a free kick by Danilo, that he expertly bent around the wall. Danilo, who can play in defence or midfield will be joining Porto after the tournament and should make a big impression in Europe.

The team in yellow refused to buckle, however, and came close to a reply from Masakatsu Saka, who spurned two great chances created down the left of Santos' defence.

The 30,000 strong crowd, who braved a cold evening in Nagoya, left happily after witnessing a fine match full of attacking play by both sides.

Santos go on to the final in Yokohama on Sunday where they will expect to face European Champions and holders Barcelona.


Monday, December 12, 2011

Exciting Sunday at Club World Cup

Club World Cup 2011

An exciting pair of matches in the 2011 Club World Cup took place on Sunday at Toyota Stadium, just outside Nagoya.

In the early kick off, Al Sadd from Qatar defeated Esperance Sportive De Tunis 2-1 in a fractious match which saw a shoe thrown on to the pitch and a solitary fan run on to the field as Al Sadd wasted time at the end to hold on to a hard fought win over the African champions.

Very much against the run of play Asian champions Al Sadd took the lead in the first half with a headed goal from Khalfan Al Khalfan and doubled that lead five minutes in to the second half with a goal from Abdulla Koni with the assist provided by much-travelled Korean center-back Lee Jung-Soo.

Esperance pulled a goal back on the hour mark when a free kick from Ousama Darragi evaded everyone and found the net. Al Sadd now advance to a semi-final against mighty Barcelona fresh from their 3-1 win over Real Madrid in the Spanish clasico.

In the later match, J.League champions Kashiwa Reysol advanced to a meeting with Santos on Wednesday after a penalty shoot out win over Monterrey of Mexico. In a see-saw match that witnessed a number of missed chances by both teams, Reysol's Brazilian midfielder Leandro Domingues opened the scoring in the second half but the home team were soon pegged back by a goal from Monterrey's Chilean forward, Humberto Suazo.

Extra time produced no further goals and it was substitute Ryohei Hayashi, who won the match for Reysol 4-3 on penalties, sending the crowd rushing for the last train home.


Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Jeonbuk Motors Win Deserved Title

Jeonbuk Motors

It didn’t come as a surprise. Jeonbuk Motors led the K-League from early in the season and were the best team for most of it. Choi Kang-hee’s men should have won the Asian title too but had to make do with the domestic title to add to the 2009 crown.

The inevitable came to pass on December 4 in the second leg of the Championship play-off final against Ulsan Horangi. Jeonbuk won the away leg 2-1 and then, despite falling a goal behind at home, recovered to take the return match by the same scoreline in front of a big crowd, which took the league past the three million mark for the season.

Even stony-faced Choi Kang-hee managed a smile during the celebrations after which he told reporters that he felt now that Jeonbuk had become a big club. He is right. Until their 2006 Asian title, the Jeonju outfit had never been a serious contender but is now one of the best in Korea and the continent at large.

Striker Lee Dong-guk didn’t get on the score sheet and even missed a penalty (Ulsan conceded five in five play-off matches but only two were scored) but had already done enough to be overwhelmingly voted in as the 2011 K-League MVP almost exactly 48 hours after lifting the trophy.

Jeonbuk are not a team full of internationals, Korean squads come and go with barely a name in it from the champions, but coach Choi knows all about winning in the K-League. He rarely smiles but he often wins. Well-organised, tough but with players who can really play, the champions have been formidable.

Ulsan finished sixth in the regular standings after a fairly mediocre campaign. The team saved their best for the play-offs, deservedly beating FC Seoul in the opening game and then squeezing past Suwon Bluewings and Pohang Steelers to get the shot at Jeonbuk and the title.

Pohang finished second in the league but didn’t get too much reward for a solid first season under Hwang Sun-hong. The team was never really in danger of losing second spot but, for a thrilling 3-2 win over Jeonbuk aside, rarely threatened to occupy the summit.

Big boys FC Seoul and Suwon both had disappointing starts to the season. Seoul lost coach Hwangbo Kwan and while caretaker Choi Yong-soo stepped in to steady the ship, he struggled to produce the goods in the games when it mattered. Montenegrin marksman Dejan Damjanovic had another season to remember however, scoring 22 goals, an impressive tally and six more than the next in the charts – Lee Dong-guk.

Suwon’s season took a turn for the better with the summer signing of Stevica Ristic. The muscular Macedonian scored for fun and sent the Bluewings soaring into the play-offs. He never appeared in the loss against Ulsan however as he had to serve a six-game suspension handed out by the AFC. His part in the mass brawl against Al Sadd in the semi-final of the 2011 Asian Champions League was worst than most but the punishment seemed excessive.

It was an unlucky season for Suwon. A controversial goal knocked the team out of the Asian Champions League, the same happened in the final of the FA Cup and they were eliminated from the play-offs after a penalty shootout.

The surprise package of the season were Busan I’Park. Ahn Ik-soo was in his first season as coach and after an indifferent start led the team into fifth helped by talented attackers such as Park Hee-do and Yang Dong-hyun. Park has already left for Seoul and the problem for Busan over the coming months is going to be keeping hold of their best players when the bigger boys come calling.

Seongnam Ilhwa started the season as Asian champs and ended it by winning the FA Cup to book a place in the 2012 version. Not much in between was good as the team without sold stars such as Mauricio Molina and Jung Sung-ryong struggled but coach Shin Tae-yong is hopeful of a return to form both at home and overseas for Korea’s most successful team.

Gyeongnam FC
almost made the play-offs but failed at the end. Their season was disrupted by the sale of star striker Lucio to Ulsan in the summer and the sale of star midfielder Yoon Bitgaram to Seongnam as soon as the season ended, despite interest from Glasgow Rangers suggests that the future may not be so bright.

Chunnam Dragons also just missed out and the day after it all finished, coach Jung Hae-sung handed in his notice but was persuaded to stay on by the club. Also in Jeolla Province, Gwangju FC had a reasonable first season and finished in 11th with Lee Sung-ki impressing in midfield, so much so that he was named Rookie of the Year. Last season’s runners-up Jeju United ended in ninth after a disappointing season.

Then there are the strugglers. Daegu FC, Daejeon Citizen and Sangju Sangmu spent the season in the lower reaches of the standings along usual mid-table team Incheon United. . Gangwon FC failed to score for the first four matches, setting the scene for a pretty dire season.

The season was dominated however not by Jeonbuk or anyone else for that matter but match-fixing. Rumours have abounded for some time but the scale of the practice surprised everyone with around 60 players, some still playing others not, prosecuted and all banned from football from various numbers of years and sometimes life.

It was all a bit depressing but some good could come out of it if the K-league sticks to its guns and launches a more professional version of Asia’s oldest professional league. Relegation is coming in 2012 for the first time though it has yet to be confirmed just how many teams will drop through the trapdoor.

World Cup Posters


Friday, December 2, 2011

Euro 2012 Draw & Groups

Euro 2012 Draw

Euro 2012 Draw

The draw for the 2012 European Championships was made today at the Palace of Arts in Kiev, Ukraine.

England in Group D will kick off their Euro 2012 campaign against France in Donetsk on 11 June, followed by games against Sweden in Kiev on 15 June, and then face hosts Ukraine again at the 51,504-capacity Donbass Arena in Donetsk on 19 June.

The Republic of Ireland in Group C will face Croatia in Poznan on 10 June, followed by World and European champions Spain in the Baltic port city of Gdansk on 14 June before ending their group games with a match versus Italy in Poznan on 18 June.

The four groups are as follows:

Group A




Czech Republic

Group B





Group C



Republic of Ireland


Group D





Soccer - Capello expects tough finale

England head coach Fabio Capello thinks that Euro 2012 will be even harder to win than the World Cup in South Africa two years ago. Capello's reign as England boss will end after next year's finals in Poland and Ukraine, with England 10/1 to send the Italian off on a winning note. However, Capello believes that his side will face a massive test of their mettle, with the likes of reigning champions Spain (5/2) and Germany (3/1) among the favourites. Capello said: "It will be stronger because if you look at the groups and all the teams - particularly the three European teams who reached the World Cup semi-finals - the technical level is at the top, the organisation of the teams is at the top. "Also some teams who didn't play well at the World Cup will now be back at the top. "Portugal, France and Italy will be better. It will be a really tough tournament."


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Football must learn from Speed's death

Gary Speed

Football must learn from Speed's death.
Gary Speed

"All we've done is cried. None of this makes sense. I don't know if we'll ever know." Jonathan Ford, Chief Executive, Football Association of Wales.

For once Sepp Blatter said the right thing in calling Gary Speed, who died unexpectedly on Sunday, "a model professional and a fantastic ambassador for the game".

The Welsh national team manager seemed a flawless sportsman in so many ways, always trim and industrious, never hot-headed or lazy. Speed always made friends, had no enemies and appeared to have a settled life and loving family as he embarked on a new and successful career. His past was bright and so was his future.

He won a title with Leeds United in 1992, an M.B.E. in 2010 for services to football, enjoyed passing on his experience as a coach and was a popular teacher. His effect on a moribund Wales has been immediately extraordinary. After a remarkably long playing career he excelled in his final job, which makes his apparent suicide all the more unfathomable.The facts just do not seem to fit.

He had planned a family holiday and working trip to the Middle East at Christmas; only hours before he hanged himself, Speed appeared on BBC television, watched a match with Alan Shearer, and joked with Welsh colleague Robbie Savage on the phone before hosting a dinner party.

He spoke in his final hours of organising future friendlies for Wales, of returning to the Football Focus show before Christmas and of meeting a friend this weekend.Never has a suicide made less sense.

The testimony of TV presenter Dan Walker on Speed's final day is typical:

"He was as bubbly as I've known him," said Walker. "He was talking about his kids, how they were really coming on, and talking about playing golf next week."

Gary Speed

Welsh teammate Savage concurred, incredulous,

"I spoke to him yesterday and we were laughing and joking."

"Just cannot believe the news regarding Gary Speed, " tweeted Michael Owen. "We waved at each other two days ago dropping our kids off at school. I'm numb."

Former Leeds teammate Gordon Strachan said that Speed, unlike some players he had come across with mental health issues, had shown no signs of suffering from depression.

"This one is right out of the blue," he commented, while Welsh starlet Gareth Bale, who has shown impressive form under Speed, summed up the ubiquitous sense of dismay:

"Everyone still can't get their head around this."

FAW Chief Exec, Ford added, "He was a model professional, a lovely guy, gregarious person. Players wanted to play for him, fans lo
ved him."

Shearer, who like Speed's former Leeds boss Howard Wilkinson and others has taken the death badly, called Speed "bright" and "fun" and that he "lit up every room he walked into."

And this was the man who felt he could not go on living?

Nobody yet claims to have ever spotted any warning signs. His wife, via his agent, has insisted theirs was a happy marriage and that no row had preceded the tragedy. Speed's suicide remains a baffling mystery to one and all, a completely out-of-character decision, as far as everyone can understand. But the truth must be out there.

The police reported no suspicious circumstances to the coroner, while a full inquest will be held in January. All we know so far is that Speed's wife discovered his body hanging in the garage at 7 a.m. on Sunday morning.

This has set the theory-mongers off, but until we hear otherwise we cannot but play amateur psychologists. We need the world to make sense for our own sanity.

If Paul Gascoigne had taken his own life, no-one would have been surprised. But Gary Speed?

So are skeletons about to jump from the closet to explain his sudden death, or was the placid exterior and professional perfectionism an elaborate mask for a highly troubled soul and his apparent whim of an exit in fact long in the planning? And was this another Robert Enke, a second victim of a high-profile sport's failure to treat mental health as a serious ailment?

In his column for the Daily Telegraph, Liverpool legend Alan Hansen confirmed depression remains a taboo in the dressing-room, and that football is fundamentally a "brutal culture."

"Players know that any admission of a problem or a call for help would see them annihilated by their teammates," he wrote, "so as a result there would be a real air of silence when it came to telling people that you needed help."

Paul Farmer, head of mental health charity MIND, appeared to confirm football itself might have a case to answer."The high-pressure environment of top-level sport can cause huge levels of stress," he wrote, "and just because someone appears to be able to carry on their usual daily life, it does not mean that they are not struggling in private...Three quarters of suicides are by men. The macho culture of football means that we have seen very few professionals come forward to talk about mental health problems."

Society at large understands little about depression, and football still has not got a clue. That a man so apparently successful on the outside should feel so cornered by his inner demons that he could not face another day alive is something we all need to sit down and take stock of. We may not understand it at this moment, but we need to try.

Football must learn from Speed's death
Speed in his playing days
We think we know the symptoms of depression well when we seem them in a person on a regular basis, but they can also remain invisible to outsiders as well as to the sufferer.

Stan Collymore remains the only player to have publicly railed against his treatment when suffering depression as a player, making the unarguable case that missing a match with a bout of poor mental health should be as acceptable as missing a game with a pulled hamstring.

Speed's was a death in the football family and perhaps this will be a catalyst for it to wake up to its dereliction of duty to its members. Sue Baker of the 'Time to Change' campaign for acceptance of mental health issues certainly hopes so.

"We want to encourage anyone experiencing similar levels of despair to try and speak to someone, whether friend, family or their doctor," she said. " We hope that everyone feels able to follow Collymore's advice to seek help if they feel like this."
Encouragingly, Tony Adams' Sporting Chance clinic reports that more than ten players have rung since Sunday revealing serious fears about their states of mind.

Away from match-days, I saw Speed in person once, in a Cardiff nightclub with fellow Welsh internationals about 15 years ago. He was smart, clean-cut, relaxed and had a calm aura about him. In a fascinating moment, he, Ryan Giggs and Dean Saunders stood on a balcony together, the entire dance floor below cheering in worship of the three Welsh demi-gods looking down on them. Speed looked on contentedly, though maybe a little blasé as well.

He was undemonstrative compared to most players and was always in peak physical condition, which suggests he led a life of discipline, perhaps too much so - is this the clue to the mystery? If no-one spotted the signs, then obviously no-one really knew the real Gary Speed. The fame and money probably made it harder for him to come clean about his feelings and certainly distanced us, the public, from the man inside. Better to lose it on and off the pitch like Gazza then, so life-saving help can be forthcoming.

The loss to Welsh football remains immense, yet to his loved ones incalculable. 840 club appearances and 134 goals is a fantastic tally, plus 85 national team caps and six strikes for Cymru completes a remarkable innings.

Football must learn from Speed's death

Whilst he probably considered himself a failure when he took his own life, Speed's final accomplishment in catapulting his little country from 117th to 45th in the FIFA World Rankings with four wins out of five proves he died a shining success.

My abiding memory is of a crowd at Cardiff Arms Park chanting for a substitution to be made during a Wales home game, and a fan turned to ask his friend what was being sung:

"We want Gary Speed, say we want Gary Speed!"When the tears have dried, our best tribute to Speed will not just be a continuation of the winning Welsh team he forged, but a sea-change in football's attitude to the disease which took his life, so tragically at the age of only 42.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

- Coincidentally, Ronald Reng's book on Robert Enke's suicide, "A Life Too Short," has just won the William Hill Sports book of the year award.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

International night, Euro 2012 finalists set

Euro 2012

Euro 2012
Euro 2012
Euro 2012
The final lineup for next summer's European Championship in Poland & Ukraine is now set after tonight's playoff second legs, with a strong field of sixteen heading for Eastern Europe.

There were no winning fightbacks following the first legs and Portugal, the Czech Republic, the Republic of Ireland and Croatia all advanced to Euro 2012, eliminating respectively Bosnia & Herzogovina, Montenegro, Estonia and Turkey.

The sixteen qualifiers are thus:

Poland, Ukraine
, Spain, Germany, Netherlands, Italy, France, England, Portugal, Denmark, Croatia, Sweden, Eire, Czech Republic, Greece and Russia.

All the big guns are there, and Croatia, Sweden, Russia and Ireland make the boat having missed out on the World Cup in South Africa in 2010.

The Netherlands' Klaas-Jan Huntelaar finished as top scorer in Europe with twelve goals, followed by Germany's Miroslav Klose with nine.
England were the best supported team with an average home crowd of 77,000, followed by France with 65,000.
The draw for the finals takes place in Kiev on the 2nd of December and the tournament itself is from the 8th of June until the 1st of July.


* World Champions Spain's lukewarm friendly form continued when they scraped a 2-2 draw in Costa Rica. Trailing 2-0 at the interval, David Silva pulled one back in the 83rd minute and David Villa spared their blushes with a leveller three minutes into injury time. As with Saturday's defeat to England, Spain fielded a full-strength team for the clash in San Jose, Costa Rica.

In other European friendlies, Germany blanked the Netherlands 3-0 in Hamburg, Italy lost 0-1 to Uruguay in Rome, England beat Sweden for the first time since 1968, 1-0 in London, while France drew 0-0 at home to Belgium. The USA won 3-2 in Slovenia while there were home wins for both Euro 2012 hosts: Poland beat Hungary and Ukraine Austria, both by 2-1 scorelines.

* Argentina overturned a half-time deficit to beat Colombia 2-1 in their 2014 World Cup qualifier in Barranquilla, Colombia. Lionel Messi equalised Dorlan Pabon's opener on the hour mark and Sergio Aguero bagged the winner with five minutes to play. In another CONMEBOL qualifier, Ecuador beat Peru 2-0 in Quito.

* Asian giants Japan and South Korea both lost in 2014 qualifying tonight - Nippon lost 1-0 away to North Korea, while the Korean Republic lost 2-1 away to Lebanon. Australia won 1-0 in Thailand, China won 4-0 in Singapore and Iran won 4-1 in Indonesia. There were also qualifiers among the lesser nations of Africa and the CONCACAF region.

* In the pick of tonight's African friendlies, Nigeria beat Zambia 2-0, Ghana beat Gabon 2-1 and Zimbabwe beat neighbours South Africa 2-1.

(c) Sean O'Conor and Soccerphile

Sunday, November 13, 2011

When the Kings came to town

England v Spain Friendly, 2011

Spain Fans
Spain Fans
England v Spain
England v Spain
England 1:0 Spain Wembley Stadium, London

Wembley was full, sold on the dream of the king's touch, as the world's No.1 soccer nation Spain dropped by for an evening.

A strange pre-match atmosphere, as the usual patriotic fantasy rang increasingly hollow: No-one expected England to win and most were hoping for a defeat short of embarrassing.

A 90,000 defending army expected its fortress to be breached, and that it would only be a matter of when, not if the Spanish Armada would get revenge for 1588.

They had their full team out: Xavi, Iniesta and David Villa were facing Phil Jones, Joleon Lescott and Danny Welbeck - ouch!

In the first five minutes the red sea washed over Wembley as expected, Spain marinating possession and donning the mantle of the home side as they took their game confid
ently to their raw hosts. England were second best, pinned back in their own half, unable to string multiple passes together or create moments of danger. This was no ordinary home game.
Spain enjoyed the (three) lions' share of of the ball and out-shot England 21 to 3 overall, but never showed real 'animo' until they chased an equalizer in the final quarter, instead stroking the ball around as gently as crown green bowls. It was a lesson for the land of macho power-play from a visiting maestro. Simple yet brilliant: Play it to feet and flick it quickly when danger nears but never lose possession.

Yet Fabio Capello's team still merited their win for holding firm having stolen the lead against the run of play. Scott Parker's astute anchoring and his last-ditch lunges saved the day more than once, while the lone strike was a goal made in England. James Milner muscled away on the left and won a free-kick. He looped his set piece into the melée and Darren Bent soared highest to nod the ball
against the post.

Enter the wily old head of Frank Lampard, increasingly tipped to lose his place as he drew level with Bryan Robson on 90 caps, as the only one following up as an open goal gaped. England wanted it more and were hungry for the scalp of FIFA's No.1-ranked nation. Their defence held firm and withstood the Spanish onslaught; job done.

Yet Spain were clearly a class apart and England fans left buoyant but slightly subdued, knowing a narrow win had probably flattered the hosts. Even the loudest loudmouths at Wembley began hollering at England to pass and keep the ball down after a few minutes of watching la furia roja hold sway with effortless élan.

The fruits of tiki-taka are still ripe, a playing system streets ahead of any other in 2011.

England v Spain
England v Spain
England and other nations play in a linear fashion, hitting front men with crosses or runners in channels or working the ball upfield with diagonal passes or dribbles. Spain eschew the 'droit au but' approach and prefer to keep possession, spinning a spider's web of flicks and passing triangles which send ball-watchers' heads spinning as the play changes direction with every pass.

Only late in the game with the introduction of Fernando Torres to supplement Ces
c Fabregas did Spain attack in a more 'vertical' way.
Tiki-taka is maddeningly predictable yet unplayable at the same time, a winning formula that has bagged the European Championship and World Cup in an unprecedented golden age for a hitherto jinxed giant.
England v Spain
England v Spain
Wembley Welcome
Wembley Welcome
Spain are not all-conquering however and have already been beaten five times since 2008 as it happens, twice competitively - the USA beat them 2-0 at 2009's Confederations Cup and Switzerland edged them 1-0 at last year's World Cup. Make that six losses for the champions now. Friendly defeats have come in Italy (2-1) this summer, and in Portugal (4-0) and Argentina (4-1) last year.

It is as if in away friendlies the Spaniards take their feet off the gas and use them for practice and make sure they do not lose when it really matters, while the home teams are eager to beat the World Champions.

The US beat Spain in 2009 through conceding the wings and forming two solid banks of four to frustrate their close-passing through the middle, leaving American speedsters Landon Donovan and Charlie Davies to chase balls over midfield and stop the Spanish full-backs overlapping. Like England at Wembley, Switzerland grabbed a goal and kept a tight ship to frustrate the more talented Spaniards and hold out for a close win. Spain are beatable.

Being reigning European and World champions can become a millstone - everyone wants to say they beat you so they raise their game accordingly. As Spain manager Vicente del Bosque confirms,

"Anything except winning will be seen as a disaster and that doesn't help us at all."

For England, there was little to get excited about, but some green shoots showing promise: Danny Welbeck and Jack Rodwell impressed, Phil Jones fought manfully out of position, while man of the match Scott Parker proved why he should have gone to South Africa.

England remain an underachiever on the competitive stage but had beaten three World Cup holders at Wembley before Saturday: West Germany were dispatched 3-1 in 1954 and 2-0 in 1974, while Argentina with a teenage Diego Maradona succumbed 3-1 under the twin towers in 1978.

Beating the mighty Spain in 2011 in a friendly will not count for much in the long run, though a win is a win is a win.

Euro 2012 will be a whole different ball game.

ENG: Hart, G.Johnson, Lescott, Jagielka, Cole, Walcott (Downing 46'), Jones (Rodwell 56'), Parker (Walker 85'), Milner (A.Johnson 76'), Lampard (Barry 56'), Bent (Wellbeck) 63'.

SPA: Casillas (Reina 46'), Arbeloa, Pique, Ramos (Puyol 74'), Alba, Busquets (Torres 64'), Alonso, Xavi (Fabregas 46'), Iniesta (Cazorla 74'), Silva (Mata 46'), Villa.

Goal: Lampard 49'.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Thursday, November 10, 2011

FIFA back down in poppy row

Poppy Pains

FIFA back down in poppy row.
FIFA back down in poppy row
England will be allowed to wear poppies on their shirts against Spain on Saturday after all, albeit as an armband.

An extraordinary row had been stirred up after the Football Association announced the England team would sport the Remembrance Day flower for their friendly against the World Champions. Scotland and Wales plan to do the same for their games against Cyprus and Norway. 
FIFA reacted monolithically by refusing to countenance it, citing their regulations against "political, religious or commercial" symbols on national team shirts.

Political leaders and royalty reacted with rage, the London media went into frenzy and two members of the English Defence League, a protest group which draws a number of soccer thugs, scaled the roof of FIFA House in Zurich to protest.

Ignoring the fact that several nations' shirts have Christian crosses or Islamic crescents on them, or that Adidas, FIFA's favourite manufacturer, Nike, Umbro and other brands already have their logos emblazoned on shirts, the accusation that the poppy was a political symbol was well wide of the mark.

Poppies are ubiquitous in England in the week leading up to the 11th of September commemoration of those who served and/or died in conflicts. Military veterans man the entrances and exits to every major railway station, adults and children alike wear them and no TV presenter would be seen dead without the little red flower in their lapel.

Indeed, the pressure to be seen honouring the fallen has led to some complaining of 'poppy fascism'.

But it is definitely not "political". All parties unite to lay wreaths at the Cenotaph in Whitehall, Britain's national war memorial. The poppy, which comes from Canadian John McCrae's 'In Flanders Fields' poem and American campaigner Moina Michael, succeeds in uniting the nation in quiet reflection, pacifists and non-pacifists alike.

On that basis, FIFA should never have interfered with something so close to a nation's heart which was a one-off because it just so happened England had a friendly at home a day after Armistice Day. The interventions of UK Prime Minister David Cameron and future king Prince William were probably due to their unpleasant experiences at the World Cup vote a year ago, where both left fuming at having been lied to by FIFA Ex.Co. members.

At the same time, did England need to wear a poppy? Their alternative plans of having a giant red flower on the pitch and having poppies on England training shirts and tracksuits and a minute's silence before kick-off surely would have made the point that football remembers too.

1,000 servicemen and women are due to attend to as part of the FA's 'Tickets for Troops' giveaway. Indeed, there has been a creeping military feel to England home games in the last few years. Now it is customary for uniformed soldiers to carry the flags around the field, to sometimes line up to be honoured and for the P.A. system to encourage the crowd to applaud, as 'Help for Heroes' collectors raise money for the families of those serving in Afghanistan.

The connection between the national team and the national army is becoming a little blurred in England, and FIFA were right to assume all national shirts should be left alone, but equally the strength of feeling in Britain on the issue was something they should have been aware of before clumsily putting their foot down.

In terms of football politics, England and FIFA look as far apart as ever, with the motherland of the game having given up the dream of ever hosting the World Cup again. Until regime change happens in Zurich, the FA can content themselves with mini-victories like this one.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

England To Base In Krakow For Euro 2012

Euro 2012

The English FA have announced that the England team at Euro 2012 will be based in the historic city of Krakow in Poland. The team will stay at the city centre Hotel Stary close to Rynek Square in the Old Town district and train at the rather dilapidated Hutnik Municipality Stadium on the city's outskirts.

Krakow is Poland's second largest city after Warsaw, the capital, and is Poland's major cultural and artistic centre. Krakow is not one of Poland's Euro 2012 venue cities and is a five hour train journey (with no beer on sale) to Wroclaw.


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Al Sadd Defy Odds To Take Asian Crown

Al Sadd Defy Odds To Take Asian Crown

Jeonju World Cup Stadium before kick-off

“I think I am not in the best condition to analyse it. At this moment, my feeling is stronger than my reason.”

Those were the words of Jorge Fossati, the coach of newly-crowned Asian Champions Al Sadd, deep in the bowels of Jeonju World Cup Stadium on Saturday evening. The Uruguayan had just watched a fantastic final in which his team overcame favourites and host Jeonbuk Motors thanks to a penalty shootout.

120 minutes ended 2-2 in a game that the Koreans had the chances to win but the Qataris held out and took the shootout 4-2 thanks to two saves from man of the match Mohamed Saqr.

“I am happy for everyone but especially for Saqr,” said Fossati. “When I came back to the club in January, many people told me that he couldn’t play anymore and that he was too old. Today, he was fantastic but that was not the only game in this competition in which he was fantastic. Jeonbuk players did not miss the penalties, he saved them. In the game also, he made two or three very important saves. One in the last minute was extraordinary.”

Al Sadd weren’t even supposed to be in the competition at all and were only placed in the qualifying round to replace a Vietnamese team that had failed to submit the correct documentation. Fossati steered the team to the knockout stage where they managed to make the last four despite losing both legs of the quarter-final to Sepahan. The Iranians had fielded an ineligible player and were punished accordingly.

The teams warm up

Onwards went the men from Doha to a tricky semi-final against two-time continental champs Suwon Bluewings. In Korea in the first leg, Al Sadd were surprisingly leading 1-0 when Senegalese striker Mamadou Niang scored his second of the evening. It almost caused a riot. Suwon had allowed the ball to go out of play to give injured players time for treatment and expected to get it ball.

Kader Keita didn’t see it that way. Suwon had attacked for a while before the ball was out for a throw-in and the Ivory Coast international decided that cancelled any rights to sportsmanship and with the entire Suwon team in the Qatari half, he passed the ball forward for an unmarked and almost unseen Niang to score.

A huge fight followed. Fans were on the pitch, noses were broken, kicks came flying in and coaching staff got involved. Eventually the dust settled and although Al Sadd lost the second leg 1-0 in one of the most defensive home displays you will see, the team booked their place in the final.

Jeonbuk should have won. The 2006 champions took an 18th minute lead with an Eninho free-kick but soon after Sim Woo-yeon headed into his own net from a Keita cross. The African produced a moment of real quality on the hour to volley home past Kim Min-sik to put the Qataris ahead.

Jeonbuk had already had chances and put on tournament top scorer Lee Dong-gook who had been struggling to recover from a thigh injury. Eventually the pressure paid off and Lee Hyun-sung headed home a last-minute equaliser.

Another corner for Jeonbuk

As the game went into extra-time, again, all expected Jeonbuk to triumph. Al Sadd looked tired and had taken off their two most creative players, Keita and Ibrahim Khalfan. The Koreans had their tails up and 41,805 fans were in full voice. But three times the home team hit the woodwork and just as in normal time, when they were on target, Saqr was on hand to palm the ball away. Whatever Jeonbuk did, they could just not get the all important goal.

“Tonight's defeat came from so many chances from which we failed to score,” said coach Choi Kang-hee. “Conceding the first goal was decisive. Some of our players got too excited during the game...I told the players we would have chances to score in extra-time but we were not able to take them. It is very frustrating to lose in this way but the players did all they could."

They did but it was just not to be and even before the shootout, there was a sense that Sadd would finish triumphant. That was before Kim Dong-chan and Lee Hyun-sung saw Saqr save their spot kicks. In between, Al Sadd’s Korean defender Lee Jung-soo hit the bar to give fans some hope but his team-mates soon extinguished that faint flame to signal the start of a parth thousands of miles to the west.


Friday, October 28, 2011

Three-way race for the J. League title

J. League
J.League 2011

And then there were three. Two familiar contenders, one plucky outsider and four league games are all that stand between Kashiwa Reysol, Gamba Osaka, Nagoya Grampus and the J. League title.

Autumn is especially beautiful across the Kantō Plain, when the deciduous leaves fall and a mellow sunlight light frames the back streets and alleys of one of the world's most populous regions. That's true even in the gritty industrial Chiba town of Kashiwa, where the locals are hoping their promoted upstarts can win back to back championships.

Kashiwa Reysol coasted through J2 last season, holding off the challenge of Ventforet Kofu to win the second division by ten points. At the helm was grizzled Brazilian coach Nelsinho, whose association with Japanese football is so lengthy his first club Verdy was still based in Kawasaki. The much-travelled tactician won the J. League with Verdy and later took over at the club formerly known as Nagoya Grampus Eight, before embarking on a peripatetic waltz around his native Brazil.

He's back in the J. League now and Nelsinho's knowledge of Brazilian has proved especially useful in the realm of player recruitment. In 2010 he signed Leandro Domingues from Bahia club Vitoria and watched contentedly as the playmaker steered the Sun Kings to the second tier title. This year he drafted in veteran Jorge Wagner from Sao Paulo and the versatile attacking talent has produced a stellar campaign. Add to that the goals of strikers Junya Tanaka and Hideaki Kitajima and it's no surprise Kashiwa's sheer attacking strength has propelled them to the top of the table.

Standing in Kashiwa's way are defending champions Nagoya Grampus. The Aichi side broke their long trophy drought by winning the J. League for the first time last season, employing the not-so-novel tactic of simply signing the best players from rival teams.

Former Urawa Reds talisman Marcus Tulio Tanaka and ex-Yokohama F. Marinos defender Hayuma Tanaka were joined this season by one-time Shimizu S-Pulse star Jungo Fujimoto and ex-Vissel Kobe speedster Kensuke Nagai - widely regarded as one of the most promising talents in Asian football. It's a tried-and-true tactic and combined with Australian international Josh Kennedy's unquenchable thirst for goals, Nagoya have slowly muscled their way up the standings and are currently breathing down Kashiwa's neck in the race for the championship.

Nagoya mascot Grampako-chan still hoping to celebrate

Sandwiched between the pair are Gamba Osaka, who have endured a strange campaign at their Suita city home. The Osakans started slowly and sold prolific striker Adriano to Qatari club Al-Jaish, after he'd scored nine goals in just eight league games. They looked like they'd struggle without him, until the arrival of Rafinha from J2 side Thespa Kusatsu.

The Brazilian has made his compatriot look positively sluggish, blasting home 10 goals in 14 league games - including a hat-trick against Kawasaki Frontale - and just as importantly laying on several more for strike partner Lee Keun-Ho, who has suddenly transformed into one of the most dynamic strikers in the league. With Yasuhito Endo pulling the strings in midfield and plenty of big-match experience behind them, it's unlikely Gamba will be the first to blink in a tense three-team tussle for the title.

Nagoya arguably have the easiest run home, while all three teams face tough looking away trips on the final day of the campaign. Grampus are on the road to Big Swan Stadium where they will face Albirex Niigata, while Gamba Osaka face a daunting trip to the parochial Nihondaira Stadium to take on mid-table outfit Shimizu S-Pulse. It's Kashiwa who look set to face the toughest trip of all, as they cross the Kantō Plain to take on a Urawa Reds side battling relegation.

Urawa's wretched campaign is perhaps best summed up by the fact they sacked coach Zeljko Petrovic just a fortnight out from a League Cup final. The final straw was a 1-0 home defeat to Saitama city rivals Omiya Ardija, which prompted Petrovic to claim he'd resign at the end of the season. He wasn't given the chance, and former youth team coach Takafumi Hori is the man charged with the task of ensuring one of Japan's most popular clubs avoids relegation for the second time in their checkered history.

Urawa are locked in a dogged battle with Ventforet Kofu to avoid the final relegation place - Montedio Yamagata and Avispa Fukuoka are already doomed - and Kofu's lanky Japan international Mike Havenaar is on a single-handed mission to prolong Kofu's stay in the top flight. The man known as "Mike" has scored 16 of Kofu's 36 goals so far and with European clubs rumoured to be taking an interest in the 194-centimetre giant, a player who recently scored his first international goals for Japan could be set for a barnstorming finish to the campaign.

There's little doubt another thrilling finale lies in store for one of the world's most entertaining leagues. Will Kashiwa Reysol hold their nerve and become the first team to win back to back J2 and J1 championships? Will Gamba Osaka spoil the party and destroy the dreams of Nagoya Grampus in the process? And can Urawa Reds shake off Ventforet Kofu in the quest to maintain their top-flight status? Time will tell, but as the first of the winter chills rustles the falling leaves on Japan's busy thoroughfares and streets, the J. League is only just starting to heat up.

Copyright © Mike Tuckerman &

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

City's pyrrhic victory?

Manchester United 1:6 Manchester City

Manchester United 1:6 Manchester City

Scorelines don't come much more amazing than Sunday's Mancunian derby, but was there really much reason to celebrate, however many records tumbled at Old Trafford?

With a few days' recuperation from that shellshock of a final score, can the result be deemed a welcome riposte to or even whole scale power shift from the hegemony of moneybags Chelsea and Manchester United, or another symptom of the obscene, out-of-control spending in the English top division which is upsetting its natural order of competition?

Watching Fergie's nose rubbed into the dirt certainly had its charms for those of us who do not buy into the 'Glory glory Man United' hype machine, as the Scot's lazily applied moniker of 'football genius' suddenly hung by a thread after such a an utter pasting.

And it was not unpleasant to see City's supporters for once get the upper hand on their storied and hitherto more monied rivals. The Blues have played Torino to Juventus, Espanol to Barcelona for so many long and grueling years, that anyone's sense of fairness would not begrudge them a moment in the sun.

For my whole life Man City, who last lifted the Championship in 1968 and whose last taste of glory was the 1970 Cup Winners' Cup before last season's FA Cup win, have seemed cursed to underachieve. Even when they looked like winning the FA Cup in 1981, their goalscorer Tommy Hutchinson then put through his own net to let Tottenham back in to triumph, after a replay.

A sense of injustice turned into angry frustration among some fans, a similar phenomenon one can witness at Cardiff City or Leeds, but after an endless string of disappointments, along came rich men from the East bearing gifts. David could fear Goliath no more and City had arrived.

Yet the underdog tag which won City sympathy is fast evaporating in the face of such a merciless spending spree by the Abu Dhabian owners. Just take a look at the Blues' winning team. Whilst five were Englishmen, only one had come through the City youth system (Micah Richards). United by comparison fielded eight Brits throughout the 90 minutes, two of whom had been developed in-house. But City's foreign legion surely eclipsed United's, whose overseas stars comprised Anderson, David De Gea, Patrice Evra, Javier Hernandez and Nani.

Compare that to the ambrosial cornucopia of Sergio Aguero, Mario Balotelli, Gael Clichy, Edin Dzeko, Alexsandar Kolarov, Vincent Kompany, Samir Nasri and Yaya Touré, plus the Premier League's top entertainer of the hour, David Silva. United had been outspent off the field and thus outgunned on the pitch.

With the Arab owners pouring money into a new academy complex and showing no signs of acknowledging any recession, City will soon spend their way to the heights of England, Europe and the world.

With no restriction on salaries, money does not just talk in the Premier League, it bellows. The pyrrhic element to this famous win will tell in the signal it has sent to soccer's governing bodies. If the Blues maintain their unerring march to European conquest, UEFA and FIFA will be forced to act and impose control on clubs' spending as the playing field will have become too tilted.

City's devastating victory shows the Premier League is absurdly top-heavy, listing like the Mary Rose into the waters of the Solent. There is no pretence of a 20-team competition and a gulf now exists even amongst the top teams. On any given Sunday, to plagiarise a term from American Football, Man U, the reigning champions, should not lose 6-1 at home to anyone. What made it so shocking was that it seemed no aberration, no one-off.

Does it have to be like this? No. Later that night some miles to the south, the Chicago Bears and Tampa Bay Buccaneers fought out a much closer NFL game at Wembley. In America, that well-known communist regime, a salary cap keeps its football field level, and the worse teams get first pick of the best young players.

The more the Premier League continues with no regulation, the more meaningless games like Sunday's will become. Bring on the UEFA Financial Fair Play rules.

Doubtless some new fans in Asia will be sporting blue shirts instead of their elder siblings' red ones, but there was a time when you supported a team for reasons other than it was far richer than the others, who are clearly finding it increasingly impossible to compete.

With this elephant in the room, Sunday's thrashing of United was less proof that the Premier League is unpredictable and competitive, but that its free-market model is in serious need of financial regulation.

For it seemed less a case of one club outplaying another through superior football than one simply outspending another, in an increasingly frightening way.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Friday, October 21, 2011

The 2014 World Cup trek

Brasil.World Cup 2014, Brazil

FIFA have released the dates and venues for the matches of the 2014 World Cup finals in Brazil, with the patience of traveling supporters set to be tested once again.

Instead of keeping group games within a couple of venues located close to one-another, as used to be the norm, fans will face trips of up to 2,000 miles in order to watch all of their nation's opening clashes.

One unlucky Group A team will begin in Sao Paulo, then trek 1,680 miles (2,700 km) up to Manaus, before an odyssey of 3,538 miles (5,698 km) across the Amazon to Recife, a voyage one team from Group D and another from Group G must also endure. Even the hosts are not spared, with the seleçao kicking off in Sao Paulo before flying 1465 miles (2357 km) to Fortaleza and then making another journey of 1042 miles (1677 km) to Brasilia.

The explanation for clocking-up so many air miles, according to the organising committee, is the varying weather, with the south of Brazil much cooler than the north.
"The climate is so different you do not want to give an advantage to one country over another," said Head of Operations Ricardo Trade.

The semi-finals will take place in Belo Horizonte's Estadio Mineirao (70,000) and Sao Paulo's Novo Estadio do Corinthians (68,000), with the final in Rio's renovated Maracana (85,000) on the 13th of July 2014.

Starting times for matches will be 1700, 1900, 2300 and 0200 GMT.

Brazil will kick-off the whole shebang in Sao Paolo on Thursday the 12th of June 2014.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

World Cup Posters

Morocco to host Club World Cup

Club World Cup

Morocco to host Club World Cup

Morocco to host Club World Cup
Club World Cup

Morocco will host both the 2013 and 2014 FIFA Club World Cups.

Iran, South Africa and the U.A.E. all withdrew their bids, leaving FIFA to bring the competition to Africa for the first time. The hosting is set to be rubber-stamped in Zurich in December.

The North African nation has a strong soccer tradition, and the national team memorably became the first African nation to win a group in the World Cup Finals, topping England, Portugal and Poland at Mexico '86, before losing to a late Lothar Matthaus goal from eventual finalists West Germany in the next round.
Morocco will also host the 2015 African Cup of Nations, whose centerpiece will be the new 80,000-seat Grand Stade de Casablanca. Their current national team boasts QPR's mercurial midfielder Adel Taraabt and Arsenal striker Marouane Chamakh.

The 2011 edition of the Club World Cup, featuring Barcelona (Spain), Santos (Brazil), Monterrey (Mexico), Auckland City (New Zealand), a representative from Asia and one from Africa, as well as Japan's A-League champions, takes place in the land of the rising sun between the 8th and 18th of December this year, with the final in Yokohama.

European clubs have won the cup the past four years (Milan, Manchester United, Barcelona and Inter), following three consecutive Brazilian triumphs from 2005 to 2007 (Corinthians, Sao Paolo and Internacional).

Next year's tournament will also take place in Japan.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Abolishing promotion deserves relegation


Richard Bevan of England's League Managers Association inadvertently raised the frightening prospect of a breakaway from the Premier League when he mentioned some club owners wanted to do away with promotion to and relegation from the Premier League.

Newcastle fans
Newcastle fans
While he did not mention the 'b' word, a rebel division surely remains a potential threat if a majority of the mega-rich (foreign) owners decide they can worry no longer about their investments and thus remove the risk of a season or more outside the top flight.

Bevan cited "American owners...and some of the Asian owners" for raising the unthinkable idea of the top league being cut off from the rest for good. The prospect of no promotion would kill the dreams of millions of supporters, particularly hurting fans of sleeping giants like Cardiff City, Leeds United and Sheffield Wednesday.

While the arriviste 'die-hards' of England's big clubs in the emerging m
arkets for the 'EPL' of Asia and North America would probably see no problem, every fan in England appears violently opposed to any deracination of the top division. But we would be fools to ignore the risk.

"If we have four or five more new (owners)," said Bevan ominously, "that could happen."

So who are these quislings in the Premier League?

The American owners harbouring mutinous thoughts remain unnamed but it would be remarkable if they included Arsenal's Stan Kroenke, the Fenway Sports Group at Liverpool and the Glazers at Manchester United, none of whose teams are ever in real risk of relegation.

The Yanks without thanks for tradition could include Randy Lerner at Aston Villa, often touted as a model owner, and quite probably Ellis Short at Sunderland. The "Asians" probably mean Venky's at Blackburn, and possibly Lakshmi Mittal and Tony Fernandes at QPR.

That said though, it is often forgotten that Gary Cook, formerly Chief Executive at Manchester City, and Bolton's Phil Gartside have suggested doing away with the drop zone in the past.

If those calling for a pulling-up of the ladder do represent top-four teams that indeed would reveal an exceptional paranoia or unforgivable ignorance of England's football culture and traditions.

In a sense it would make little difference as the status quo is utterly dominated by big-spending teams for whom the other end of the table makes little difference, but the idea of lopping off the top of the pyramid is anathema to true football supporters.

While the public at large is wedded to the tradition of promotion and relegation and would kick such an idea across the rooftops given half a chance, the fact the unsayable has even been said, barely days after Liverpool FC openly called for a greater share of television money, is confirmation that the big clubs still have itchy feet.

Last season France Football revealed the big European teams were indeed hatching plans for a potential split, which presumably would entail some sort of hegemony without fear of demotion. And it should not be forgotten rebellion is in the clubs' blood: The FA's key involvement in the birth of the Premier League was precisely to stop existing breakaway plans in their tracks.

While the Premier League is not a purely two-horse race like Spain, the entre
nched dominance of a few monied clubs has left the top division looking increasingly devalued as an open competition in recent years. Unlike in previous decades, it has become easy to predict who will finish in the top three or four every season.
In the Guardian this week, Jonathan Wilson revisits that oft-made criticism of the Premier League that the title race is not open enough; indeed the days when a Norwich, Southampton or Watford could finish second or Nottingham Forest win the title in their first season since promotion are long-gone. And the lack of a salary/spending cap ensures only a select few can challenge for the title now. The two issues are not necessarily connected: A top division where the money was spread evenly would ensure a competitive title race just with no demotion or new teams arriving. This is the NFL/NHL/NBA model which with American owners are familiar.

The question surely is about the value of the pyramid and whether the age-old 'meritocracy' should be preserved.

As it stands, without a billionaire backer, the best a club can hope for is to avoid relegation, win one of the Cups and sneak into the Europa League.

If the Premier League were cut adrift and promotion & relegation, two sources of endless excitement, abolished, the sale of English football's soul would be complete.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Fifa World Rankings For October 2011

Fifa World Rankings For October 2011.
Fifa World Rankings, October 2011

Fifa's World Rankings for October 2011 were published today at FIFA HQ in Zurich, Switzerland.

2010 World Cup winners Spain are on top followed by the Netherlands, Germany and Copa America champs Uruguay. England are in 7th.

Ranking Team
1 Spain
2 Netherlands
3 Germany
4 Uruguay
5 Brazil
6 Italy
7 England
8 Greece
8 Portugal
10 Argentina
10 Denmark
12 Croatia
13 Russia
14 Sweden
15 France
16 Chile
17 Japan
18 Switzerland
19 Côte d'Ivoire
20 Australia

Full world rankings

Previous Fifa World Rankings


Monday, October 17, 2011

Hillsborough truth in sight at last

Liverpool FC: Hillsborough Truth in Sight

Justice for the 96
Justice For The 96
The end to an arduous 22-year campaign for truth surrounding the Hillsborough disaster could at last be in sight as the UK government has confirmed it will release all contemporary documents relating to the day in question.

The Sun
The Sun
After a 139,000-strong online petition and a moving parliamentary debate led Home Secretary Theresa May to announce up to 300,000 files will be released.

The relatives of the 96 Liverpool fans who died at the 1989 FA Cup semi-final have maintained a relentless campaign for government minutes to be publicised, to prove once and for all that Reds fans were innocent and that South Yorkshire police alone were to blame for the tragedy and lied to cover the fact up.

While the famous Taylor Report, which paved the way for the all-seater stadia of the Premier League we have today, exonerated the supporters and confirmed the police were responsible for the crowd control which turned fatal, the South Yorkshire force's role in spreading misinformation has never been confirmed officially.
What seems clear is that the policeman in charge of opening the gates that April day, David Duckenfield, tried to cover his back by putting out stories to the FA, government and press of drunken and rowdy Liverpool fans barging their way into the Leppings Lane end and crushing their colleagues to death.

This dishonest spin was taken up and amplified by a Rupert Murdoch tabloid and a Conservative government already hostile to football and its fan culture - at the time the impish Sports Minister Colin Moynihan was running an ill-conceived campaign to make English supporters carry I.D. cards to gain entry to stadia.

Margaret Thatcher's bullish press officer Bernard Ingh
am told the cabinet "tanked-up" fans were to blame, while oafish local Tory MP Irvine Patnick, despite not having been at the match, gleefully supplied the ammo for the Sun's notorious headline 'The Truth', which claimed Reds fans had stolen from, sexually assaulted and urinated upon their fellow supporters as they lay dying. Sun editor Kelvin Mackenzie remains unapologetic for the nadir of British journalism, telling an after-dinner crowd in 2006:"I wasn't sorry then and I'm not sorry now because we told the truth."

Clearing the final hurdle in the campaign for truth has probably arrived on the back of this summer's phone-hacking scandal, when a nexus of collusion between the Murdoch press, the police and politicians was laid bare for the public to punish.

Liverpool FC
Liverpool FC
Those affected by the disaster, from the victims' relatives to the millions who had passed through English turnstiles to stand in caged pens and who empathised fully with the tragic events as they unfolded, may soon be able to relax in the knowledge the whole truth of the darkest day in English soccer has been established.

Football history has recorded Hillsborough not only as a human tragedy but as the death knell for the fortress-like stadia of cages and barbed wire and gritty supporter culture which was the norm throughout the 1970s and '80s. Hooliganism, which seemed out of control a
t times in the 1980s, lost its sheen after Hillsborough, as the seriousness of fans losing their lives was brought home to one and all in England.
In the aftermath of the disaster, the removal of perimeter fencing for the Liverpool v Everton FA Cup Final heralded the spectator-friendly stadia we know today, and along with England's heroics at Italia '90, beckoned new private investment in the game which would become the behemoth of today's FA Premier League.

Tragically, it took a human disaster for morons to realise violence was stupid, and for the authorities to realise that crowds and revenues would grow if they treated their paying customers with respect.

The 96 dead, whose names were read out in parliament today, ranged in age from 10 to 67 and included the cousin of current Liverpool FC captain Steven Gerrard.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile