Friday, March 18, 2011

Sasa Ognenovski & Seongnam Want More Of The Same

Ognenovski receives ACL 2010 MVP award from Junji Ogura
Sasa Ognenovski & Seongnam

2010 was a year to remember for Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma. The team from just south of Seoul not only won the Asian Champions League but went on to finish third place at the FIFA Club World Cup after meeting European champions Inter Milan.

It was even better for Sasa Ognenovski, a man looking forward to his third K-League season. The big Australian was the man handed the Asian trophy in Tokyo in November. He was also named the MVP for the entire tournament and then the awarded the prize as the 2010 Asian Player of the Year. It was a dream season. Even better, the 31 year-old made his debut for the Australian national team in November and went on to star in the Asian Cup in January when the Socceroos made the final before losing to Japan.

That is all history now. The new season has just kicked-off for Seongnam and the 15 other teams in the K-League. The question I put to him was: how do you follow a season that was almost as perfect as it could be?

“Well, it is impossible if only because we are not in the Asian Champions League,” Ognenovski said. “However, it gives us a chance to focus on domestic issues such as the K-league and the FA Cup and doing our best to win those.”

Not being in the Asian Champions League is a blow for the club. Seongnam’s exploits last season came at a cost at home and they failed to qualify for the 2011 version by finishing high enough in the K-League rankings. In the past, winners were given an automatic place in the tournament for the following year. That is no longer the case.

“I think we should be allowed to defend the title,” said Ognenovski. “Any team that wins a major tournament should be able to defend that title but I don’t make the rules, we just have to not worry about Asia this year and all the travelling and just deal with the soccer in Korea.”

There is another consequence of not having to deal with the Asian Champions League and it is not as positive. As the competition, featuring 32 teams from all over the continent, grows in prestige and profile, players want to be in it, especially those that have experienced it.

Mauricio Molina was one. He could have been named the Player of the Tournament in Ognenovski’s stead and nobody would have batted an eyelid. Coming from Colombia, the wideman couldn’t, of course, have been named Asian Player of the Year but he was one of the best to play on the continent in 2010. So much so that FC Seoul paid out over $1 million to secure his services. He will be badly missed.

I asked Ognenovski if Seoul being in the Champions League and Seongnam not was the reason for Molina’s departure.

“Maybe,” he replied. “Obviously when you are playing on that stage, the whole of Asia is watching you and much of the world watches the final and then there is of course the FIFA Club World Cup. Players want to keep playing at the level and Seoul came in for him and they are in the champions League and we are not so he left.

“He brought goals in all competitions that he played in. Overall, he scored 27 or 28 goals. It is hard to replace that and talent like that is not always easy to find and he wasn’t even playing as a striker so it was even more valuable. His set pieces were excellent and his assists too. Whoever comes in has big shoes to fill.”

South Korean national team goalkeeper Jung Sung-ryeong has left for Suwon, another team in the Asian Champions League, and he was followed by Choi Sung-kuk. Ognenovski’s central defensive partner Cho Byung-kuk has left for Japan.

So despite not having the distraction of Asia, some of the team’s biggest stars have left. Winning an eighth K-league title will not be easy.

“It is never positive to lose good players, especially ones who are in the national team but the replacement goalkeeper we have is quality. We have been in pre-season now for a while and I have had chance to watch him in action and I can say he is good.” Ha Kang-jin certainly was in the opening weekend of the K-League season as he saved a last-minute penalty kick at Pohang Steelers to secure a 1-1 tie and has been named in the squad to face Honduras on March 25.

Seongnam coach Shin Tae-yong, one of the most highly-rated young tacticians in Asia, has promised fans two new players from Brazil that he hopes will replace the likes of Molina. Ognenovski hopes so: “In the K-League, if you get good foreigners then they can make a big difference. Hopefully the ones we bring in are better than the ones who left.”

Whatever happens, the big man from down under will not feel lonely in 2011. Three more imports have followed in his footsteps from Australia’s A-League. Iain Fyfe and Dutchman Bas Van der Brink have joined Busan I’Park while Luke Devere is now a Gyeongnam player.

“They talk to me and ask me about the lifestyle and the league. I usually answer in a positive fashion. I talked to Luke Devere and told him that he will improve as a player because he will be marking better players as a defender and will also be playing with better players.

“It is a great experience. I haven’t talked to the other guys but am sure that we will get a chance at some point. But we are here to play football in the end and that is our job. The other things are not so important. We are not here to look around and go sightseeing.”

World Cup Posters


Saturday, March 12, 2011

All J. League games off as earthquake shatters Japan

All J. League games off as earthquake shatters Japan

The 8.8 magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami which tore through north-eastern Japan have forced the postponement of all J. League games this weekend.

The J. League announced this morning that no games would take place in J1 or J2 over the weekend, with early reports suggesting some grounds may have suffered structural damage.

Vegalta Sendai were due to host defending champions Nagoya Grampus at Yurtec Sendai Stadium on Saturday, but with the stadium just over 10 kilometres from the coastline, it's unclear whether the 20,000-capacity venue has suffered damage.

Unverified reports suggest Kashima Stadium has also been rattled by the quake, while JEF United's Fukuda Denshi Arena is not far from an oil factory currently ablaze in the aftermath of the devastating quake.

It's not known when football will resume following the deadly temblor, which was one of the strongest earthquakes in recorded history.

Copyright © Mike Tuckerman &

World Cup Posters

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Fifa World Rankings March 2011

Fifa World Rankings March 2011.
Fifa World Rankings March 2011

Fifa's World Rankings for March were published today. World Cup winners Spain remain in top spot followed by The Netherlands, Germany and Argentina. Brazil drop to 5th.

England are in 6th place. Ghana are the top African team.

The USA drop to 19th. Japan, winners of the Asian Cup, are up to 15th.

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

Full world rankings

Previous Fifa World Rankings


Beating the Barça blues

Champions League

Barca Bus
Barca Bus
In the aftermath of Arsenal's European death in the Camp Nou, the football world is wondering just who if anyone can beat the behemoth of Barcelona to the biggest prize.

The Gunners could yet turn out to be the English champions in 2011 but will not be making the trip to Wembley in May for the Champions League final. A 4-3 aggregate loss to the blaugrana sounds like no disgrace but the vital statistics paint a devastating picture - 738 completed passes from Barcelona to 199 from Arsenal, 19 shots to none.

Forget the harsh second yellow card for Robin Van Persie; the G
unners were outgunned and imprisoned out of possession for the best part of the match. The Londoners failed to fire a single shot on their opponents' goal and only registered two touches inside the Barça box throughout the course of the contest.

Robbed? Hardly when even their equalizer was an own goal scored by Sergio Busquets. How good were Barcelona? In the following night's clash between Tottenham and Milan, no slouches themselves, neither side looked like they could hold a candle to the Catalans.

Domestically, Arsene Wenger's team are accustomed to guarding the ball from their opponents and circulating it with a sleek élan. At home against Barça, they were forced to play like an away team and in the Camp Nou cauldron hardly had a sniff of what could be called possession, struggling to string sequential passes together in the face of some truly fierce pressing high up the field. The sad irony was that Arsenal play the closest thing there is in England to Barcelona's style yet clearly have an awful lot of ground to make up.

Wenger and Gunners diehards bemoaned the red card as their fall guy and have every right to release their frustration on something. The Frenchman has sweat blood and tears for years forging an Empire at the Emirates only to be cruelly reminded Rome was not built in a day.

The hosts' attacking wizardry was as expected, the ferocious closing-down a shock to the English system. The pressing game properly began with Liverpool in the late 1970's before being honed by Milan in the early 1990s. Barça's pack of hounds haring after the ball were matched by their silky attackers ganging up when bearing down on goal. Playing so close allowed them to unfurl the tiki-taka tactics which let a blue and burgundy-inspired Spain bag both the World Cup and European Championship over the past three years.

Lionel Messi's opener came with some quick feet and an exquisite split-second chip over the advancing goalkeeper, while Xavi's goal was a textbook example of how to zig-zag right through the middle of a tight backline. Their crack troops are primed for short sprints and talented enough to dart through tight angles.

When the gaps appear, Barça's artisans have the skill to craft something magical. By contrast, when Arsenal's golden chance arrived late in the day, the sturdy yet gangling Nicklas Bendtner failed to control Jack Wilshere's pass properly and the chance was lost.

The actual gap between the blaugrana and the rest of Europe is worrying. Last week I watched Barcelona defeat Valencia 1-0 away with another goal from Messi. The hosts were third in La Liga behind the big two but looked a good division below in quality as their visitors outclassed them utterly on their own patch. Barça could have scored a hatful in the first half at La Mestalla, torturing their hosts with the same harrying tactics they used to destroy Arsenal. Surely no team in the world is using space as ruthlessly as Barcelona at the moment.

So how do we beat them? Once your team has done the basics of keeping its shape and its marking tight, it could try to tempt Barcelona upfield and then hit them on the break, but you have to be lightning quick as they scurry back after the ball faster than anyone. Nevertheless, full-backs Adriano and Daniel Alves stay true to their Brazilian blood and fly up the flanks into attack, leaving yards of grass behind to exploit on the counter.

Their goalkeeper Victor Valdes and back four are not as stellar as their midfield and attack, and can crack under pressure and at set pieces, as Arsenal's goal proved. Applying any pressure is the hardest thing to do as Barça not only fight like tigers for the ball but run like cheetahs on the counter, making committing men forward a highly risky business.

But Pep Guardiola's men are certainly beatable by a well-organised team, as Inter showed last year on their way to the trophy. Perhaps it is only Real Madrid, buoyed by their historical feud and by Jose Mourinho, who would take Barcelona on without fear and give them a run for their money.

More than a club? Certainly, but more than human they are not.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

World Cup Posters

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

J League Results March 6 2011

J League
Saturday 5 March

Last season's champions Nagoya Grampus kicked off the new J. League season with a 1-1 draw against Yokohama F Marinos in front of 27,153 spectators at Toyota Stadium.

Gamba Osaka won the Osaka derby 2-1 against last season's surprise package Cerezo, while Kashima Antlers were held to a surprise home draw.

J. League Results

Nagoya Grampus 1 Yokohama F Marinos 1
Gamba Osaka 2 Cerezo Osaka 1
Ventforet Kofu 0 Jubilo Iwata 1
Sanfrecce Hiroshima 0 Vegalta Sendai 0
Avispa Fukuoka 0 Albirex Niigata 3
Kawasaki Frontale 2 Montedio Yamagata 0
Kashiwa Reysol 3 Shimizu S-Pulse 0

Sun 6 March 2011

Vissel Kobe 1 Urawa Reds 0
Kashima Antlers 3 Omiya Ardija 3

The highest attendance was 27,153 at Toyota Stadium for the Grampus v Marinos match.

Last Season's Leading Scorers

Josh Kennedy, Nagoya Grampus 16
Edmilson, Urawa Reds 15
Shoki Hirai, Gamba Osaka 14
Ryoichi Maeda, Jubilo 14

Previous Results

J.League News

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Ready for kick-off in the 2011 J. League


The 2011 J.League kicks off on March 5, and it looks set to be another bumper season.

A handful of marquee match-ups dominate the opening day, including the Osaka derby between Gamba and Cerezo and a regional showdown between promoted Ventforet Kofu and Jubilo Iwata.

Ready for kick-off in the 2011 J. League.
Defending champions Nagoya Grampus kick off their campaign with a tricky home fixture against Yokohama F. Marinos at Toyota Stadium, while promoted Kashiwa Reysol host Shimizu S-Pulse in a Saturday night slugfest that has been sold out for weeks.

Sunday's games see Vissel Kobe take on Urawa Reds just months after Vissel salvaged their top flight status with an astonishing 4-0 final-day victory over the Reds, while heavyweights Kashima Antlers welcome Omiya Ardija to Kashima Stadium.

Round 1 fixtures:

March 5

Ventforet Kofu vs Jubilo Iwata (Yamanashibank Stadium)
Nagoya Grampus vs Yokohama F. Marinos (Toyota Stadium)
Gamba Osaka vs Cerezo Osaka (Expo '70 Stadium)
Sanfrecce Hiroshima vs Vegalta Sendai (Big Arch Stadium)
Avispa Fukuoka vs Albirex Niigata (Level-5 Stadium)
Kawasaki Frontale vs Montedio Yamagata (Todoroki Stadium)
Kashiwa Reysol vs Shimizu S-Pulse (Kashiwa Hitachi Stadium)

March 6

Vissel Kobe vs Urawa Reds (HOME'S Stadium)
Kashima Antlers vs Omiya Ardija (Kashima Stadium)

Copyright © Mike Tuckerman &

Owl Mascot Kicked To Death Stirs Protest

Owl Mascot Kicked To Death

An owl kicked to death in a match in Colombia between Barranquilla club Atletico Junior and Deportivo Pereira has lead to a storm of protests and internet controversy.

The owl was the unofficial mascot of Atletico Junior and had already been hit by the ball before it was unceremoniously booted off the pitch by Deportivo Pereira defender Luis Moreno, who has subsequently been suspended for two games and fined.

The poor owl didn't look too healthy before the chain of events and questions must be asked why it was on the pitch to begin with. Birds of prey as club mascots are growing in popularity: Lazio now parade an eagle they "signed" from Benfica in Lisbon. Animal rights groups have condemned the fashion.