Thursday, June 30, 2011

Cesc Fabregas – Home is where the Heart is……………..


So it finally happened….after nearly three years of one of the most protracted and drawn out transfer stories, Cesc Fabregas, the heartbeat of the Arsenal team for so long, has left to rejoin his childhood team, Barcelona.

After years of counter stories, negotiations and cloak and dagger business dealings, the dust has finally settled and Fabregas will rejoin his childhood friends, Messi, Pique and co and there is no doubt, he will achieve something he was barely able to do at Arsenal… trophies. In all his eight years at Arsenal, at a club and city he so clearly loves, there was a sense that he could lead them to the next level but this never manifested itself and as the disappointments continued so did his own disillusionment and it became a matter of not if but when he would leave.

On the positive side, his time in London allowed him to grow as both a player and a person and he has always been grateful to Arsene Wenger for giving him so many opportunities to evolve. For all the finals and close finishes in the league he achieved, the endless near misses and frustrations clearly broke his heart and the seeds of doubt rooted themselves in his mind.

In Fabregas, Arsenal had a world class player but the teams unwillingness to sign key players to build their team further and develop the foundations of another dynasty showed a lack of desire and all he could do was look at his friends at home win, win endlessly; no one would begrudge him a move back to his hometown to further his career. In the end, all the key defeats suffered, no doubt hurt him deeply but he provided some wonderful memories which will last a lifetime for so many and a new chapter in his life will see him reach even greater heights……………..

By Chris KL Lau

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Fifa World Rankings 29 June 2011

Fifa World Rankings 29 June 2011

Fifa World Rankings 29 June 2011.
Fifa's World Rankings for June were published today. 2010 World Cup winners Spain remain in top spot followed by The Netherlands, Germany and England.

Nepal are in 148th place!

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

Full world rankings

Previous Fifa World Rankings


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Where are they now?

What happened to the stars of Euro 2009?
Mesut Ozil
Mesut Ozil
Two years ago at the UEFA U-21 Championship in Sweden, I made a list of the players to watch out for in the future - those young guns who looked set to make the next step to the big time.

After all, 'Stars of today, superstars of tomorrow' was the slogan for UEFA's summer tournament in Denmark.

Zoran Tosic
Zoran Tosic
These were my hot tips for the future:

Mesut Ozil, Mario Balotelli, Marcus Berg, Andrew Driver and Zoran Tosic

Ozil has obviously scaled the heights since 2009, starring at the World Cup finals and signing for Real Madrid, while Balotelli is asserting himself for Manchester City and Italy, although his volatility is still an issue and his future for Italy remains in the balance.
The other three haven't exactly taken off since. Berg, the tournament's golden shoe winner, joined Hamburg but four strikes in 30 games does not scream goal machine.

English right-winger Andrew Driver wowed me on his debut against Germany but amazingly never won another cap and has switched allegiance to Scotland, where he has lived for years.

Zoran Tosic
gave a dribbler's masterclass in Sweden but could not fill Cristiano Ronaldo's shoes at Old Trafford and now works at CSKA Moscow. He played half an hour for Serbia at the World Cup finals in South Africa.

As for the others who caught my eye, Serb Gojko Kacar also graduated to the 2010 World Cup, but teammate Nikola Petkovic has fallen away, and at the age of 25 now rests in the elephants' graveyard of Saudi Arabia having failed to make the grade with Eintracht Frankfurt.

Mario Balotelli
Mario Balotelli
Finland's Teemu Pukki fell out of favour with Sevilla and is now back home with HJK Helsinki; Belarussian enforcer Sergei Kryvets is a journeyman player with Lech Poznan as is Swede Gustav Svensson, who plays for Bursaspor in Turkey. Fellow Viking Rasmus Elm has gone on to win 15 caps for Sweden and is a success in the Dutch Eredivisie, with 51 appearances for AZ Alkmaar.

Sweden's deep-lying attacker Ola Toivonen has also been a hit in Holland, with 34 goals in 75 games for PSV since Euro 2009. Italian midfielder Sebastiano Giovinco finally made his debut for the Azzurri this year and now has four caps and a permanent contract with Parma, while Javi Martinez is perhaps the most successful of the starlets of 2009.

Still only 22, the commanding midfielder has clocked up 170 appearances for Athletic Bilbao and played 20 minutes in South Africa for the eventual World Cup winners.

Jack Rodwell has cemented a place in Everton's midfield but has yet to step up to being an England squad regular.
Thiago Alcantara
Thiago Alcantara
A mixed bag therefore, which makes me wary of tipping anyone from 2011, except Barcelona & Spain's Thiago Alcantara.

The rocky road traveled by the starlets of 2009 reminds us that footballers peak at different ages. Some excel aged 14 (Freddy Adu), while others are not discovered until they are almost 22 (Ian Wright) or
even 25 (Jay DeMerit).

Some 'golden generations' pass through the age rankings, while others disintegrate and uncapped players are brought in instead. Whilst a robust youth soccer system is vital for every country, its value in predicting future national team players remains shaky.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

So far in the Women's World Cup


Womens World Cup.
Women's World Cup

Group A
Germany 2:1 Canada
France 1:0 Nigeria

Group B
Japan 2:1 New Zealand
England 1:1 Mexico

Group C - USA v North Korea, Colombia v Sweden

Group D - Brazil v Australia, Norway v Equatorial Guinea

By the end of Wednesday we should have an idea who are the teams to watch in this summer's Women's World Cup.

The host nation Germany got off to a winning start against Canada, cementing their status as tournament favourites in front of 73,680 in Berlin's Olympic Stadium.

Brazil, second favourites, kick-off against Australia on Wednesday while the USA, the reigning Olympic champions, should have no trouble against North Kore

Sweden, who play first-time qualifiers Colombia in Leverkusen, are a good bet for the last four along with France, who got off to a winning start against Nigeria.

And that leaves England, a fast-improving team who beat the US in a friendly in London this Spring. Hope Powell's side battled to a tie with Mexico in Wolfsburg today, failing to build on Fara Williams' 21st minute opener and their dominant play and allowing the Mexicans to draw level through a spectacular long-range effort from Monica Ocampo.

Women's World Cup Winners

1991 - USA
1995 - Norway
1999 - USA
2003 - Germany
2007 - Germany

Women's Olympic Champions

1996 - USA
2000 - Norway
2004 - USA
2008 - USA

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

World Cup Posters

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Mexico strike Gold in California

Mexico strike Gold in California

Mexico celebrate

CONCACAF Gold Cup Final, Rose Bowl, Pasadena
Mexico 4:2 USA
Bradley 8', Donovan 23'
Barrera 29' & 50', Guardado 36', Dos Santos 76'

Mexico overturned a two-goal deficit to retain their status as champions of North & Central America following an action-packed win over the United States in Pasadena.

In front of a largely pro-Mexican crowd of 93,420 which left the Rose Bowl feeling more like the Azteca, the USA stormed into a 2-0 advantage after Michael Bradley headed Freddy Adu's corner in after eight minutes and Landon Donovan coolly slotted home Clint Dempsey's deft through-ball a quarter of an hour later. Donovan celebrated by mimicking a chicken, a mocking reference to the contaminated fowl Mexico had blamed for returning five positive drug tests shortly before the tournament.

Unlike in 2009 when the more lucrative pull of the FIFA Confederations Cup saw the US field a B-team in the Gold Cup, Bob Bradley picked a strong starting eleven with Donovan the sole MLS representative.

But a crucial injury early on to experienced full-back Steve Cherundolo left Jonathan Bornstein, who plays his football for Tigres in Mexico, and Aston Villa's Eric Lichaj, who spent last season on loan at Leeds, holding the backline together. Their inexperience proved costly as the US left several gaps which were exploited by raiding Mexicans. Tactically, the Americans proved their own worst enemy by gambling on maintaining an open game when two goals to the good.

Bornstein was caught out of position when Pablo Barrera pulled one back just short of the half-hour, the West Ham man finding the time and space to fire past Tim Howard from Israel Castro's defence-splitting lance.

With 36 minutes gone the American cushion had evaporated.

Dos Santos

Giovani Dos Santos was again a tormentor supreme, running onto Castro's chip before teasing Bornstein and whipping in a cross which Lichaj could only knock into the path of Andres Guardado for an easy tap-in.

So dangerous was Dos Santos in a Mexican shirt, that once more it raised the question of why he cannot find a place in Tottenham Hotspur's first-team squad.

The former Barcelona starlet has been on the North London club's books since 2008 but has only made ten appearances, spending more time on loan at Ipswich, Galatasaray and last season, at Racing Santander in Spain.

Barrera netted his second and Mexico's third five minutes after the break with the goal of the game. Having peeled away from Carlos Bocanegra on the edge of the box, he met Guardado's diagonal assist first-time with a classy hit from the outside of his boot which left Howard clutching air.

Now the US had to play catch-up. Bocanegra crashed the box at a set-piece as he does so well but guided his header inches wide of the upright. And when Dempsey curled a shot against the crossbar with goalkeeper Alfredo Talavera rooted to the spot just short of the hour it looked like it was not going to be the US' day.

The ebullient Dos Santos clinched the cup fourteen minutes from time as he ran onto Gerardo Torrado's incisive ball and smuggled it from Howard's despairing lunges. He then led a host of white shirts on a merry-dance through the box before lobbing the lot of them with a spectacular finish worthy of a tournament-decider.

Chicharito failed to get on the day's scoresheet but ended up player of the tournament (MVP) and top scorer with seven goals.

The defeat was doubly sour for the US as it means there will be no repeat of their 2009 Confederations Cup heroics when they beat Spain and led Brazil 2-0 in the final before succumbing 3-2.

Instead, Mexico join hosts Brazil, Spain and Japan as qualifiers in the eight-team tournament in June 2013. The winners of the 2011 Copa America, Euro 2012, the 2012 OFC Nations Cup and the 2013 African Cup of Nations will complete the line-up.

The Gold Cup remains somewhat of an oddity for several reasons: It is biennial instead of every four years, has had guest teams almost win it before and its only two strong sides invariably make it to the final, unless a superior tournament robs them of their first-teamers.

When as this year it hands the winners passage to the next Confederations Cup however, it is taken seriously. It is always held in one country (the USA) but as on Sunday, the volume of Latino expat support can leave the host nation feeling like it is playing tough away games.Tim Howard was less than impressed by the Spanish-language trophy presentation:"CONCACAF should be ashamed of themselves," he fumed. "I think it's a f*****g disgrace...You can bet your ass if we were in Mexico City, it wouldn't be all in English."

For a region turned upside-down this month through internecine conflict ending in the resignation of its notorious boss Jack Warner, there was at least an exciting game of football to remind everyone what it should all be about.

USA: Tim Howard, Carlos Bocanegra, Clarence Goodson, Eric Lichaj, Steve Cherundolo (Jonathan Bornstein 11'), Clint Dempsey, Jermaine Jones, Michael Bradley, Alejandro Bedoya (Juan Agudelo 63'), Landon Donovan, Freddy Adu (Sacha Kljestan 86').

Mexico: Alfredo Talavera, Rafael Marquez, Carlos Salcido (Torres 28'), Hector Moreno, Andres Guardado, Gerado Torrado, Israel Castro, Pablo Barrera, Efrain Juarez, Giovani Dos Santos, Javier Hernandez.

Shots on target: USA 4, Mexico 8
Possession: USA 46%, Mexico 54%
Att: 93,420

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Spain are the U21 kings of Europe

Spain are the U21 kings of Europe

Spain are the U21 kings of Europe.
Denmark 2011
UEFA U21 Championship Final, Aarhus, Denmark

Spain 2:0 Switzerland
Herrera 41', Thiago 81'
Att: 16,110

Spanish football wrote another chapter in its golden age as its Under-21s bagged the European Championship in Denmark this evening with a convincing 2:0 win over Switzerland.

Athletic Bilbao's Ander Herrera scored the opening goal four minutes before the interval, meeting a curling cross from Didac Vila on the run to power a header past Yann Sommer, the first goal the Swiss had conceded in the tournament.

Spain are the U21 kings of Europe
Spain are the U21 kings of Europe
With nine minutes left on the clock, Barcelona's junior wizard Thiago Alcantara grabbed the clincher, lobbing Sommer spectacularly from around 35 yards.

The favourites played much of the second half in cruise control, comfortably sweeping the ball around while Switzerland huffed and puffed in an effort to get level.

Juan Mata took the tournament's golden boot with five goals.

In the day's earlier third-place play-off, Belarus booked their ticket to the 2012 Olympics with a 1-0 win over the Czech Republic.

Spain (4-1-4-1): David De Gea, Alvaro Dominguez, Javi Martinez, Adrian Lopez (Jeffren Suarez 80'), Juan Mata, Martin Montoya, Didac Vila, Ander Herera (Diego Capel 90'), Thiago Alcantara, Alberto Botia, Iker Muniain (Daniel Parejo 85')Switzerland (4-1-4-1): Yann Sommer, Philippe Koch, Jonathan Rossini, Fabian Lustenberger, Innocent Emeghara (Mario Gavranovic 53'), Fabian Frei (Amir Abrashi 54'), Xherdan Shaqiri, Admir Mehmedi, Granit Xhaka (Pajtim Kasami 67'), Timm Klose, Gaetano Berardi.

Ball Possession: Spain 54%, Switzerland 46%
Shots on Target: Spain 3, Switzerland 2
Cautions: Spain 2, Switzerland 2

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Friday, June 24, 2011

FIFA should move to Denmark

FIFA should move to Denmark

Shakespeare was wrong: There is nothing rotten in the state of Denmark.

At least that is my impression from traveling around the country at the UEFA U21 Championship these past two weeks.
Half-way between Germany and Sweden both geographically and culturally, close enough to London and the continent, yet far enough away to dance to its own Viking beat, this seems as close as it gets to a model country.

Add to that the high quality of life and standard of living and a most liveable capital in 'wonderful, wonderful' Copenhagen - it is just the sort of place FIFA should relocate to.

After such an annus horribilis in Zurich, surely it is time to start afresh in pastures new.

Like Switzerland, Denmark is small and manageable - only five million inhabitants, and it makes some sense for FIFA not be working in the glare of a major football nation. A location near the heart of Europe is useful from a travel perspective, so the obvious candidates for a FIFA house-move would be Belgium (already home to the EU & NATO), Denmark or Luxembourg.

Here really would be ideal: Denmark is civilised and peaceful; it might not have the Alpine majesty of Switzerland - much of Denmark is flat or gently rolling farmland, although unlike that country, it does have a large and beguiling coastline, tranquil islands and plenty of Nordic gods and goddesses gliding by on bicycles. But more importantly it has cultivated a reputation for honesty and transparency which the sport's governing body desperately needs in 2011.

This is no Hans Christian Andersen fairy story: Any visit proves how socialism and capitalism can blend successfully. It might be known for a robust welfare state with a top tax rate of 72%, but Denmark was also classed as the best country in the world for entrepreneurs in 2011 by London-based think-tank Legatum. There certainly seems no obvious poverty.

Living well
Last October, the Berlin-based Transparency International produced a list of the least corrupt nations on earth, and ranked Denmark the world's No.1.

Life in Denmark
Denmark always ranks high on international rankings for its perspicacious business practices, respect for human rights and robust family and social provision. If it has a flaw it is with immigration, or more specifically handling multiculturalism, which turned sour after the Danish cartoon row of 2005. But this is common to all European nations now, including Switzerland.

An initially reluctant member of the European Union, Denmark has successfully married its role amid Europe's free-trade zone with a commitment to uphold its Scandinavian state model. Any Dane will tell you their post-war welfare model is crumbling by the day, but cast an eye around Copenhagen and life still seems to be better than elsewhere.

A pleasant ambience enfolds the largest city, whose terrasse culture has more in common with the Mediterranean than Northern Europe, and its housing models more collective and social than the English home-as-castle mentality. Nowhere else on earth do you see so many children being ferried around in boxes attached to bicycles, and the ubiquitous two-wheeled transportation seems to make people healthier and happier than sitting in traffic jams or standing on a sweaty tube train. Pedalling bikes beats pedalling drugs.

The proof is in the pudding, and Danes consistently top surveys of personal happiness. Most recently as late 2010, Rotterdam University ranked Denmark as the world's happiest nation. When Gallup asked people around the world how blissful they were in 2011, guess which nation came first again...

And what is the most famous untranslatable Danish word - 'hygge' - an untranslatable concept, roughly explained as ‘spending a calm, comfortable time with good friends or loved ones, often while enjoying good food, snacks and something to drink’.
Surely FIFA employees would enjoy the life here too. So why not consider moving?

Greed for a start. Switzerland is a tax haven, not an accountable member of the EU. And the Swiss famously turn a blind eye to bank details. In the vaults of a courthouse in Zug, Switzerland, lies the verdict on the collapse of FIFA's marketing company ISL, whose contents would spell the end of Sepp Blatter as President and his expense-account cronies.

In a transparent EU member state, this verdict would have been revealed and justice would have been served. FIFA accounts in Denmark would be inspected, not concealed by auditors, and it would have to pay tax like any other multi-billion dollar organisation. A move to the EU would probably call time on FIFA's tax-free demands on any World Cup host too.

A move to Scandinavia would transform football's governing body from a shady and suspicious cabal ensconced in an impregnable bunker upon a Swiss hillside, redolent of the the lair of a Bond villain, into a universally trusted and respected steward of the game.

I do not expect Sepp & his gang to up sticks any time soon, but if the Swiss M.P Roland Buechel pursues his campaign to clean FIFA up to its logical conclusion, they will have to start scanning the 'for sale' ads before long.

FIFA moving to Denmark - now what could be wrong with that?

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Gold Cup 2011 – 'Handicapped Soccer'

Gold Cup 2011 – 'Handicapped Soccer'

Dr. Joel Rookwood

The beautiful game known globally as 'football' has a patchy history in America, barely permeating the sporting world so often dominated by baseball, basketball and American football. 'Soccer' (allegedly taken from asSOCiation football) has become a reference to a lesser sport, distancing language employed in USA and in other countries with a more dominant national variant. The performance and prestige of the men's game in America is in stark contrast to that of the women's, further substantiating a common view that it is neither a male nor a masculine sport.

The CONCOCAF Gold Cup provides the latest example of soccer's obscurity, an international competition currently being hosted by the USA. The thirteen venues each play host to a single day's play, meaning the tournament is stretched across nine states. Spreading the game may be a FIFA agenda, but this event is spread a little thin. In any one place it has been and gone before anyone notices. Results receive a bare passing mention in the press, and peripheral commentary is almost entirely absent. Compare this to a European Championships, where journalists present competing claims about how David Beckham files his nails, or how Wayne Rooney waxes his head.

Of the five regularly staged confederation events, the Gold Cup certainly brings up the rear. For some unknown reason however I was eager to explore this for myself, so I planned a week's trip to three cities – Miami, Tampa and Harrison - for a trio of group stage double-headers involving football powerhouses such as Guadeloupe, Grenada and Guatemala.

Within hours of my arrival in south Florida however, I was hospitalised. The chest pains were misdiagnosed a few times, before medics 'settled' on pneumonia / pleurisy as a prognosis. By the time I was discharged, all three match days had passed. Football aside, by God's grace I departed the Spanish speaking world and eventually arrived in New York, where I was rescued by my incredible girlfriend and her amazing extended family.

My incapacitated lungs forced a reliance on a wheelchair, the manoeuvring of which was to test more than the lungs of my girlfriend. With football confined to the back seat, it seemed the Gold Cup would defeat me. However, my final day in America saw nearby East Rutherford host the first two quarterfinal matches. I successfully defended my case to attend, only to arrive at the New Meadowlands stadium five hours before kick off to find the event sold out.

Yet where there is demand, there is supply. I may not have been in a strong bargaining position with the 'scalpers' (that's 'touts' to you and me) yet I still managed to secure a couple of overpriced tickets. The intense heat was matched by the aroma of the car park barbeques and beers and the excited Spanish chatter, as fans of the four Central American teams involved mixed happily. Observing this I considered an equivalent scene in Europe, with fans from England, Poland, Germany and Belgium 'mingling' before a double-header. Confined to a wheelchair, I was grateful to be amongst fans with a traditional use for chairs of the plastic variety.

Our tickets for the sell-out games were for the top tier of the 82,000 seater stadium. After negotiating a couple of steps by the 'handicapped' ramp, a lift took us to the seventh floor, and a central view of the pitch. It was an interesting insight into disabled fandom. I was grateful to have exchanged a bed for a chair, and the noise and excitement felt a million miles from the Miami hospital.

The first contest saw Costa Rica face Honduras in a game that seemed to matter more to the excited Hondurans who filled the stands. The goals exchanged early in the second half provided the only notable statistics in the first two hours of play. This was the first football game my girlfriend had ever seen, and it had gone to penalties. Borges and Saborio both hit the bar for Costa Rica, with Honduras successfully converting all four of their penalty kicks. Bengston’s decisive strike earned them a place in the semi-finals for the fourth time.

Playing for the right to face Honduras, five-time champions Mexico then played a feisty Guatemala team who have never progressed to the last four in this competition. Although the Guatemalans took an early lead and held it until the interval, the vastly superior Mexican side ensured a continuation of form against their neighbours. Manchester United's Hernandez scored the second and ultimately decisive goal, which saw Mexico progress to the semi-finals, as they have done in ten out of the eleven Gold Cups.

The following day, USA defeated Jamaica and El Salvador lost on penalties to Panama, setting up the other semi-final. America have already suffered defeat to the Panamanians in this year's event, but today’s penultimate round is likely to see victories for USA and Mexico, with a fifth final between the two teams to take place on Saturday.

This piece is dedicated to Ruth, Barney and Ciaran Finnegan – who will always have my gratitude.


Thursday, June 23, 2011

Spanish and Swiss advance to U21 final

UEFA u21.UEFA U21 Championship 2011 Semi-Finals

Belarus 1:3 Spain
Czech Republic 0:1 Switzerland

Spain will play Switzerland in the European Under-21 final on Saturday after both semi-finals went to extra-time in Denmark.

Belarus almost pulled off a shock by leading Spain in Viborg until the 89th minute through Andrei Voronkov's bicycle kick, until Adrian Lopez equalised then added a second at the end of the first period of extra-time. Substitute Jeffren Suarez made it 3-1 in the 113th minute to secure Spain's passage to the final in Aarhus.

Switzerland made heavy weather of beating the Czech Republic in Herning before Ahmed Mehmedi's long-range effort broke the deadlock six minutes before penalty kicks.

The losing semi-finalists have the consolation of knowing one of them will qualify for the 2012 Olympics if they win Saturday's third-place play-off, meaning there will be one East European team at the London games.

Sat 25th June

3rd Place Play-Off : Belarus v Czech Republic 15:00 Aalborg
Final : Spain v Switzerland 20:45 Aarhus


Monday, June 20, 2011

Motors Driving Towards Success In Korea

Motors Driving Towards Success In Korea.
K-League News

It has been a topsy-turvy season in the K-League so far. Asian champions Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma have been kept off the bottom of the standings only thanks to the dreadful form of Gangwon FC. Suwon Bluewings find themselves in one of their annual slumps in form while champions FC Seoul have improved since earlier in the season but still can’t quite break free of the middle level.

One team though has been head and shoulders above the rest for much of the current campaign and that is Jeonbuk Motors. The team from Jeonju have found a level of consistency that the other 15 teams simply haven’t been able to match and not only that, it is entertaining fans in the south-west too. As Brazilian playmaker Eninho said on twitter at the weekend, “This is a Motors team without any brakes.”

Until Jeonbuk won the 2006 Asian Champions League, the Jeolla club was never really seen as a major contender in Korean soccer. They would win the occasional cup (which is how it qualified for the continental competition in the first place) but it wasn’t one of the big boys that vied for the league title. That started to change and in 2009, Jeonbuk lifted the golden K-League trophy for the first time. It would not be a surprise at all if it repeated that in 2011.

Just like the famous bi-bim-bap dish that hails from the city, Jeonbuk have all the right ingredients to give fans and players a taste of success. There is a solid foundation in defense, a lively and creative midfield; a strikeforce that can actually score goals with some Brazilian flair adding a little extra spice to what is already a tasty dish.

Jeonbuk are top of the standings with Lee Dong-gook getting most of the headlines. The Lion King’s time as an international is over but the striker is still hungry for success and has managed ten goals already this season. Despite topping the scoring charts along with Sangju’s Kim Jung-woo, Lee is not yet ready to start thinking about winning the Golden Boot just yet. “We have to see after the season is over. I personally want to finish the season without injury,” he said. “This year, I feel comfortable playing because my teammates are scoring easily. The team is getting stronger because many players are scoring goals.”

The former Middlesbrough marksman is right. Jeonbuk has scored an impressive 33 goals already this season in just 14 games. Gwangju was thrashed 6-1 and Incheon swatted aside 6-2. Just last weekend, the Motors came back from 1-0 and 2-1 down at home to Jeju United to win 3-2.

Jeonbuk were also top scorers in the group stage of the Asian Champions League and has been perhaps the most impressive team in the continental competition so far. The team have reached the last eight and could repeat its success of 2006 when it was crowned champion of Asia. The quarter-final against Cerezo Osaka is not until September, leaving enough time to increase its lead at the top of the K-League.

Lee may have been grabbing the headlines but it has been a real team effort. Lee pointed to the leadership of Kim Sang-sik in defence. The veteran pulls the strings. Former Korean coach Pim Verbeek often said that Kim was the best player in the country when he had the ball at his feet, so comfortable he was in possession.

The Brazilians in the team Luiz Henrique and especially Eninho have been around for a number of years. Eninho can be inconsistent but often reserves his best performances for the big games. The likes of Kim Dong-chan and Lee Sung-hyun may not grab the headlines but are quietly efficient with Lee being called up to the national team recently. The team’s Chinese midfielder Huang Bowen is also finding his feet in the K-League.

And in long-serving coach Choi Kang-hee, the club has a man who doesn’t say much but has seen it all in Korean and Asian soccer. “We are playing well at the moment but there is still a long way to go this season,” said Choi. “The challenge for us is to be doing the same at the end of the year and be challenging in both Korea and Asia.”

At the moment, nowhere holds any fears for the team from Jeonju.


Sunday, June 19, 2011

UEFA U21: Spain and the Czechs go through; England crash out with Ukraine

England 1:2 Czech Republic
Welbeck 76', Pekhart 89', Chramosta 94'.

England 1:2 Czech Republic
England 1:2 Czech Republic
England 1:2 Czech Republic
England 1:2 Czech Republic
England 1:2 Czech Republic

England produced their best performance of the tournament but crashed out of the European Under-21 Championship after conceding two late-late goals in Viborg.

Stuart Pearce's men appeared to have earned their passage after a Danny Welbeck header with a quarter of an hour to go repaid their superiority in the second half, but their defence, of all things, slipped up with 89 minutes on the clock to allow a killer equaliser for the Czech Republic.

As the white shirts pushed up in desperate hope during stoppage time, the Czechs added a breakaway second to confirm a night of misery for England and a remarkable turnaround.

Both teams had made three changes to their previous starting lineups.

For England, the much-criticised Michael Mancienne made way at defensive midfield for the more muscular Fabrice Muamba, while Jack Rodwell and Danny Rose, who both disappointed against Ukraine, were on the bench, replaced by Tom Cleverley and Scott Sinclair in a 4-2-3-1 formation with Welbeck and Dean Sturridge the alternating points of attack.

The Czechs also make three switches in a 4-1-4-1 shape with Jan Moravek and Lukas Marecek in midfield tandem in place of Lukas Vacha and
Adam Hlousek, while Libor Kozak replaced Tomas Pekhart at centre-forward.

Both sides had four men on yellow-cards in danger of missing the semi-final, yet both started brightly, knowing only a win would suffice. Tomas Vaclik's gloves were the first to be dirtied, comfortably palming away a Welbeck effort from a tight angle in the tenth minute.

But the Czechs carved out the first clear chance, when Marecek pulled the trigger from ten yards in the 17th minute, only to see Frankie Fielding's quick reflexes tip it away from a certain goal. Was luck on England's side?

Scott Sinclair was forging buccaneering runs up the left flank, careering past Czech defenders, but it was the central Europeans' darting through the middle which looked more likely to produce a goal.

Finally some interplay from England with a multi-pass move in the 27th minute ending with Tom Cleverley volleying into the side-netting from a Ryan Bertrand cross. Maybe Pearce had read Kierkegaard after all.

Chris Smalling's exquisite dummy on the half hour mark sent two Czechs chasing shadows, as England appeared to be on the threshold of either a surprising win or yet another disappointing draw or loss.

Four minutes before the break, another of Sinclair's high-speed runs almost yielded a goal as the Swansea attacker cut in from the left and rifled a foot over the bar. England looked, dare we say it, almost comfortable, while the Czechs seemed to have taken their foot off the accelerator after half an hour's power play.

0-0 at the half but both coaches Pearce and Jakub Dovalil went in painfully aware that Denmark had dominated for 45 minutes on Saturday before ending up defeated and eliminated.

The Viborg stadium was enshrouded in a cloud of drizzle at the interval but the expected downpour did not follow and the pitch was not as slippery as might have been feared.

It took England a quarter of an hour to resume their green shoots of the first half but a nice spell of possession (yes from England!) emerged just short of the hour mark, with Sturridge finding space on the right and Cleverley swivelling and shooting over the bar.

Pearce swapped Jordan Henderson for Henri Lansbury in the 63rd, with less than half an hour to snatch that vital, and increasingly deserved, goal.

If there were inspiration waiting, it looked like coming from Sturridge, whose footballing brain stood out. In the 71st minute he almost chipped the goalkeeper from the touchline 30 yards away, his set-piece landing on the roof of the net.

Pearce consulted his pack again and played a new card for the first time in Denmark: Marc Albrighton, but before the Aston Villa winger could enter the fray, England struck gold.

Sturridge swung in a cross from the right and Welbeck, racing into the area, met it perfectly with a glancing header past the despairing Vaclik. A breakthrough at last. Lansbury's drive three minutes later whistled inches past the post as English confidence was in the ascendancy.

Eight minutes remaining and Sturridge again the instigator, driving into the box from the right and causing momentary panic as Vaclik failed to hold onto his shot.

With the anxiety on Czech minds, a double substitution: Jan Chramosta replaced Moravek and the qualifiers' top-gunner Tomas Pekhart came on for the ponderous Kozak. Milan Cerny glanced a header wide in the 83rd to remind England not to celebrate yet, but the night looked increasingly to belong to the Northern Europeans.

With English minds turning to Switzerland and the semi-finals, disaster struck in the 90th minute. Marcel Gecov's cross from the right deflected off Welbeck and fell invitingly for Chramosta to stick out a boot just ahead of Smalling and lift the ball over Fielding. Kyle Walker hugged the net disconsolate.

Now it was the Czechs' turn to keep ball. When Sturridge went down under a tackle it looked for a moment that England had won a penalty but the linesman's flag was up for offside instead.

The hourglass was almost overturned; suddenly time had run out for England. As the white shirts made one last raid upfield and Fielding advanced, the Czechs won possession and charged back the other way. Chramosta the goalscorer turned provider to centre for Pekhart to tap into an empty net and knock England out.

In the other game in Herning, Spain beat Ukraine 3-0 through a Juan Mata brace and a a strike from Adrian. England and Ukraine are on the next flight home while the semi-final lineup pits the Swiss against the Czechs and Spain against Belarus.

England 1:2 Czech Republic
England v Czech Republic

England's elimination also means there will be a play-off to determine the third qualifier for the London 2012 Olympic Games from the losing semi-finalists. England U21, with Pearce at the helm, is expected to represent Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

(4-2-3-1): Frank Fielding, Ryan Bertrand, Fabrice Muamba, Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Jordan Henderson (Henri Lansbury 63'), Danny Welbeck, Daniel Sturridge, Scott Sinclair (Danny Rose 87'), Kyle Walker, Tom Cleverley (Marc Albrighton 76').

Czech Republic (4-1-4-1): Tomas Vaclik, Jan Lecjaks, Ondrej Mazuch, Ondrej Celustka, Borek Dockal, Libor Kozak (Tomas Pekhart), Jan Moravek (Jan Chramosta), Jan Kovarik (Milan Cerny 67'), Marcel Gecov, Marek Suchy, Lukas Marecek
Att: 5, 262

Group B Final positions
Q- Spain 7pts
Q- Czech Republic 6pts
England 2pts
Ukraine 1pt

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile, Viborg, Denmark.

How Kierkegaard could help Psycho tonight

UEFA U21 Championship Group B:
2045 Viborg

"Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards'"
- Soren Kierkegaard, 1813-1855

No one wore his heart on his sleeve qu
ite like he did as a player.

Some said he embodied 'England' more than anyone since Bobby Moore.

Before a UEFA cup tie with Nottingham Forest, in the 'going over the top' military speak which English manhood has always drawn on, Stuart Pearce told his troops, who included the Dutch maestro Bryan Roy and the elegant Norwegian playmaker Lars Bohinen,

"Your hearts are bigger than theirs - that's why you were born English!"
Blond locks and a bulldog spirit, rippling muscles and at the base of a tree-trunk leg a cannon of a left foot
which billowed many a net and sent several right-wingers to casualty.

Pearce of England, or should that be Ing-ger-lund.

When the beleaguered Graham Taylor needed a boost, he recalled the out-of-form left-back and made him England captain, demoting his former star pupil David Platt in confident hope that the Wealdstone-born defender's warrior cult would inspire his struggling team; Pearce would not have been out of place in Beowulf.

He skippered his country but fell short of honours, reaching nothing beyond the European Championship and World Cup semi-finals. But physical retirement only meant a transfer of ambition to the other side of the touchline.

There the similarity with his success as a player began to wane, as it has with so many great footballers. A brief spell with a disintegrating Forest led to an assistant managership spell at Manchester City alongside another English lionheart Kevin Keegan.

Pearce assumed Keegan's role eventually but City performed without flair or success and he was fired in 2007. Luckily a few months before then he had entered the England set-up despite a relative lack of coaching experience. Pearce quietly slipped into being the No.2 to Fabio Capello in 2008, as well remaining in charge of the Under 21s.

He is unlikely to take over from the Italian in 2012, but surely has his eyes on the prize as any Englishman so close to the top job would. At the very least he wants Under 21 glory in Europe and to coach the UK's Olympic Team next autumn.
But after a humiliating drubbing by Germany's youngsters in Euro 2009 in Sweden, and two disappointing draws in Euro 2011, now 'Psycho' maybe only has 90 minutes to save his bacon tonight in Viborg.

His England U21s are clearly pining for the enlightened feet of Jack Wilshere and the marauding forward play of Andy Carroll, but still have no excuses for the moribund fare they have served up in Denmark so far.

A sterling defence is about the only laurel wreath on Pearce's head right now. Frank Fielding is a talented goalkeeper and in the raiding full-back Kyle Walker and the old head on young shoulders that is Phil Jones, England have some of the best players in the competition.

But a clueless midfield and insipid attack, apart from the mis-employed Dean Sturridge, mean England are failing to impose themselves on opponents. They were lucky to snatch a draw from a more talented Spain, and while the Swiss are looking a class apart in Group A, it is hard to feel confident that Pearce's young lions will get the result they crave against the able Czechs. A draw is not enough and sooner or later England's lack of firepower will be found out.Perhaps he is too much like Keegan - all Henry V and no Hamlet. So what can he do?

He could look to his current locality to find inspiration. Now it is unlikely Pearce has been sitting up reading Soren Kierkegaard but given two lacklustre showings by his team he really coul
d do worse than plunder Denmark's great philosopher for ideas.

'Psycho' might baulk and some of the thinker's bestselling titles - 'Fear & Trembling', 'The Concept of Anxiety' and 'The Sickness unto Death' as too close to the knuckle of his England undertaking, but would surely relate to some of the maxims Kierkegaard devised while trudging the gentle sands of the Zealand coast.

Like Pearce, Kierkegaard believed that "It is impossible to exist without passion" and that passion should translate into an undying and invisible belief in what you are doing. So far so similar.

"Faith is the highest passion in a human being," he wrote, adding crucially, "but only after reflection."

At times it seems Pearce still believes, as he did as a player, that passion alone can carry you to victory, an Anglo-Saxon masculine tenet that sustained its football for years but seems wholly obsolete amid the age of tiki-taka.

"Our life always expresses the result of our dominant thoughts...Face the facts of being what you are, for that is what changes what you are."

Pearce was a limited player and it appears a limited manager, but honest introspection should show him the way forward as the U21 coach. England's midfield and attack do not play in tandem and revert to hopeful balls instead of possession and getting rid of it instead of passing it out of danger, in a throwback to the past. Pearce needs to admit they are failing, even if he does not tell it to the press, and alter their teamwork.

"It seems essential, in relationships and all tasks, that we concentrate only on what is most significant and important."

So win at all costs? Perhaps that is the whole point of a football match. And maybe Pearce believes his boys are so limited it is too late to re-educate them tactically and technically, and that a backs-to-the-wall English approach is all he can muster.

"Life has its own hidden forces which you can only discover by living. Patience is necessary, and one cannot reap immediately where one has sown."

True enough, but Pearce has been in charge of England U21 since early 2007 and if anything the team has regressed since Euro 2009. Yet something, whether tonight, in the knock-out stages in Denmark or at next summer's Olympic Games, has to change in order for England to achieve. And Pearce should be prepared to re-evaluate his core beliefs and be bold enough to change them:

"To dare is to lose one's footing momentarily. Not to dare is to lose oneself."After had his tears at fluffing the crucial penalty at Italia '90 were replayed around the world, followed by his equally public self-exorcism at Euro '96 when he successfully converted penalties against Germany and Spain, the former Forest favourite does not fear public failure. He is still a hard man, inside and outside, though perhaps that is part of the problem.

Stuart Pearce
Stuart Pearce
"Trouble is the common denominator of living. It is the great equalizer."

If reading Kierkegaard, Pearce would get depressed and disillusioned that he had taken the thinker's best-known maxim too literally - "The most noble thing in life is to die for an idea" - then he should at least console himself at the height of battle that no one questions his pride in wearing the three lions.

That much respect for his devotion will remain even if England are eliminated tonight. With the wolves of Fleet Street snapping at your heels and the expectations of a nation on top of you, managing England is no walk in the park. Or as Kierkegaard said,
"Only the noble of heart are called to difficulty."And if at the end of the day, Kierkegaard is too much for Pearce, then there is always Hans Christian Andersen.

Group B

Spain pts 4 GD +2
Czech Rep pts 3 GD -1
England pts 2 GD -
Ukraine pts 1 GD -1

Tonight (both 20:45) - England v Czech Republic (Viborg), Spain v Ukraine (Herning).

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Danish dream frozen out by Iceland

Danish dream frozen out by Iceland

Danish dream frozen out by Iceland.
Danish dream frozen out by Iceland
UEFA U21 Championship - Denmark 1:3 Iceland"No jocund health that Denmark drinks today" - Hamlet I.ii

'The History of Danish Dreams' was the 1988 novel which launched Copenhagen's Peter Høeg onto the world's literary stage, but tonight in Aalborg dreams of making history became nightmares as Denmark's U21 team was eliminated as host nation after a demoralising 3-1 defeat to Iceland.

Saturday night fever struck the home side, who needed only a point to qualify for the semi-finals as Switzerland trounced Belarus in Aarhus. As it transpired, both the Swiss and Belarussians made it to the last four after three teams finished on three points, leaving the Scandinavian nations on the quayside and Belarus advancing on head-to-head goal difference.

The Viking gods were not smiling on the Danes who missed a hatful of chances on a rainy night in the Jutland peninsula. They took the game to their visitors and dominated the first half, yet while nullifying the Icelandic threat, worryingly failed to find a way of unlocking their defence at the other end.

All the goals came after the break, as Iceland finally showed the form which took them to the finals ahead of Germany and made them much fancied before the tournament began.

Kolbeinn Sigthorsson opened the scoring on 58 minutes and Birkir Bjarnason added a second on the hour to leave Denmark staring down the abyss. The Danes had already had no luck in front of goal and with no choice but to throw caution to the wind, left more exploitable space in midfield.

A glimmer of hope arrived with Bashkim Kadrii's 81st minute header, but more missed Danish chances followed and
Hjörtur Valgardsson killed the game with an injury-time curler from just outside the area.

3-1 to Iceland but both teams eliminated. Denmark, like its famous prince Hamlet, had suffered the 'slings and arrows of outrageous fortune' and at the final whistle, exited stage left.

Group A - final positions

Q- Switzerland 9 pts
Q- Belarus 3 pts
Iceland 3 pts
Denmark 3 pts

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Friday, June 17, 2011

UEFA U21 - Great Danes spread a little happiness

The 2-1 comeback win for Denmark against Belarus in Aarhus underlined the importance of the host nation progressing in a tournament.UEFA U21 - Great Danes spread a little happiness.
While it might be too big a leap of faith to credit Danish Football Association chief Allan Hansen's claim that the UEFA U21 tournament "has caught the imagination of the Danish public," - too many of them were enjoying the Pentecost weekend holiday to watch their Under-21s lose to Switzerland - the Denmark v Belarus clash was an 18,000 sell-out, double the crowd of any other game so far.
Outsiders might look on the U21s as a provincial tournament, and the sleepy setting of Herning appears to confirm that impresssion, yet fully one fifth of Denmark's popu
lation watched the Belarus game on TV, the equivalent of a 12 million viewership in the UK.

The England v Spain crowd was
about a thousand short of capacity in Herning (9,000), which made official claims of being able to sell the stadium out again worth investigating.

Either way, the decision not to use Copenhagen as a host city still
seems odd. FC Kobenhavn's Parken stadium holds 38,000. And travelling fans and journalists are spending as much time as possible in the capital, whose myriad attractions heavily outweigh the monotone fields and bucolic hamlets of Jutland, where the tournament is taking place.
Denmark has always been a minor football nation in Europe, which ma
kes this somewhat of a highlight in its football history. Its best club side, F.C. Kobenhavn, have only once made it to the knock-out staes of the UEFA Champions League (in 2010-11 when they lost to Chelsea), whilst its national team fell victim to Japan at the 2010 World Cup in the most symbolic testament yet to the Asian football ascendancy.

After years of mediocrity, 1984 saw the birth of 'Danish Dynamite' as the national team beat England to reach the European Championship in F
rance, going as far as the semi-final where they lost on penalties to Spain.
The Danish team which made it to Mexico '86 briefly dazzled the world in a 6-1 thrashing of Uruguay, before, to everyone's surprise, being duly turned over 5-1 by the Spanish in the second round. Success on the World stage has eluded them since, although they did reach the 1998 quarter-final where they lost 3-2 to Brazil.

The Danes' crowning glory of course came in 1992 when they came from literally nowhere to win the European Championship. Denmark had failed to qualify and were bussed in as a last-minute replacement for war-torn Yugosalvia. From relaxing on the beach when they received the unexpected phone calls, the players ended u
p beating France, the Netherlands and World Champions Germany to hoist the trophy aloft in Gothenburg.

Hope lies in youth, as it does with many nations, and the Danes seem to have unearthed a gem in Ajax midfielder Christian Eriksen, a name on many scouts' radar at the U21s. Another talent they are proud of is Villareal striker Nicki Bille Nielsen, who netted 13 in 20 for the Danish U21s before the tournament.
Five of the 23-man Danish squad play overseas - Eriksen and Nicolai Boilesen at Aja
x, Mikkel Andersen at Reading, Nicolai Jorgensen at Bayer Leverkusen and Bille Nielsen at Villareal.
It is too early to say if a new Preben Elkjaer is upon us, or stars as bright a
s Brian or Michael Laudrup or Peter Schmeichel were, but unearthing the "superstars of tomorrow" are what UEFA reminds us this competition is all about.
For the people of Denmark at least, a country too
small to host a European Championship or World Cup alone, this is a big footballing occasion, and they are not willing for it to end as soon as on Saturday evening in Aalborg.

Group A points after two games:
Switzerland 6, Denmark 3, Iceland 3, Belarus 0.

Sat 18th June 20:45

Denmark v Iceland (Aalborg)
Switzerland v Belarus (Aarhus)

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Euro 2016 stadia confirmed

Euro 2016 Stadiums in France

UEFA has confirmed eleven stadia as venues for the 2016 European ChampionshipThe French Football Federation have finalised the following as host cities for Euro 2016:

Paris - Stade de France 81,000Marseilles - 67,000Paris - Parc des Princes 51,000
Lyon - 51,000
Lille - 50,000Lens - 45,000Bordeaux - 42,000Toulouse - 41,000
Saint Etienne - 41,000
Nancy - 35,000
- 35.000

At next year's Euro 2012 tournament, the finalists increase from 16 to 24 out of UEFA's 53 member nations.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

This Crud's for you

FA Cup

FA Cup.
FA Cup
The world's oldest football competition the F.A. Cup continues its descent into mediocrity as the Football Association has signed a £24 million sponsorship deal with Budweiser.

America's best-selling 'beer' (over 11 billion bottles per year) continues to seek new ways to shake off its reputation for tasting too weak and tepid to tempt Europeans away from their native brews. The three-year deal sees the great competition renamed as "The FA Cup with Budweiser," amid much talk of brands and promoting the cup overseas, but unless the prize money increases immensely it is hard to see how it can regain the prestige it enjoyed for decades.

Bud has been the exclusive beer of World Cup stadia for years now, a fact bemoaned by fans far and wide and the subject of a major campaign by German supporters before the 2006 tournament. In a pathetic effort to avoid negative associations, Budweiser changed its name inside Germany's 2006 stadia to the more Teutonic sounding 'Anheuser Busch', but the same fizzy drink emerged from the taps. The company is now part of the Belgian-Brazilian giant AB InBev, whose brands include Becks, Hoegaarden, Labatt's and Stella Artois.

Despite the alarming rise in alcohol-related illnesses
from Britain's binge-drinking culture, and the obvious appeal of football and advertising to children, the news of Bud's hook-up with the FA confirms the link between football and booze remains strong.

- Sean O'Conor