Friday, December 20, 2013

Scottish Premier League News December 2013

Scottish Premier League News December 2013
SPL News


Neil Lennon could not hide his anguish as Celtic went out of the group stages of the UEFA Champions League limply and without any of the fight and determination which has characterised recent campaigns in the illustrious competition.

The Hoops boss found himself competing in a group that contained four teams who could all claim to be previous winners in what was quickly dubbed the group of death. But with poor results against AC Milan, Barcelona and Ajax, there was no parachute into the Europa League and Celtic's European adventure was snuffed out before the final group game was played in the Nou Camp.

Scottish Premier League News December 2013

If anything, the campaign highlighted the chronic shortage of quality within the Celtic camp, with the likes of Victor Wanyama and Gary Hooper, who departed the club last summer, never having quite being replaced with players of similar quality.

In six group games Celtic scored just three goals - a penalty, a deflection and a late consolation when they were being humbled in the Nou Camp - an obvious reflection on their crying need for an out-and-out striker.

Despite his obvious frustrations at dealing with a restricted budget, Lennon is in no rush to down tools and cross the border into the English Premiership where the riches are incomparable with anything that the SPL has to offer. "I love my job," said Lennon. "Everybody is asking me 'Are you looking down to England?' Nobody's picked up the phone. Nobody's shown any interest. I can't sit here and go 'Yeah, I'll go and manage in the Premier League whenever it suits me'. It doesn't work that way."

Lennon explained his disappointment at not having landed the quality of striker he was looking for in the summer and explained why the club are currently working with players who seem long-term projects rather than ones who can make an immediate impact.

"We worked quite hard on [Artjoms] Rudnevs [of Hamburg] and got quite far down the line with that one but, in the end, he made it clear he didn't want to come. That only gave us about two weeks to get players in.

"I went to watch [Teemu] Pukki and I liked him. I think he'll come good for us but I knew he wouldn't score the same volume of goals as Hooper scored for us. Now I need to go out and find that type. That's not taking anything away from the players I have here because they've been brilliant for us. But, to improve, I need to find someone who will be really consistent at all levels.

"We did try, we looked at three or four players, we tried to get a real goalscorer in and we were prepared to pay the money but for one reason or another [it didn't happen]. We have to look at that again. There's no question that we need a replacement for Hooper because we haven't got one yet."

It's not just the European market that Lennon may search as he tries to bolster his squad. "I know Dundee United have some very good young players and there are others floating around we like the look of. The players [here] know the environment so maybe we'll look at British types rather than always looking abroad. British types might suit us better."

Meanwhile, keeper Fraser Forster could be tempted to quit the club in order to try and force his way into England's World Cup squad this summer. The keeper's best chance of maintaining his profile and his place in Roy Hodgson's squad was by showcasing himself on the European stage, something that has been put to bed now this season.

"Obviously I'm contracted to Celtic and I will be for the foreseeable future, I imagine," he said. "It is just important that I do the best I can do, whether it is for Celtic or whoever.

"I've just got to be positive and do everything I can between now and the end of the season to try and force my way onto the plane with the England squad," the former Newcastle United player said.


Ally McCoist is fooling no-one. The Rangers boss has attempted to talk up how tough life has been in League One for the Ibrox club this season, but the bare facts clearly contradict him.

Rangers are coasting it; they have yet to drop a point in the league with only a hiccup against Forfar in the Scottish League Cup blotting their copybook. Off the field it is a different story with civil war continuing to rage in the boardroom but on it, things have been plain sailing all the way. The only real pressure on McCoist may be that there is a feeling that Rangers need to prove themselves by winning the Scottish Cup. They'll play Dunfermline in February in the fifth round of the competition but the Gers boss is reluctant to talk up what the tournament means to his side.

"I would put us in the bracket as having the same chance as one of the teams in the top flight outwith Celtic," said McCoist.

"It makes sense to me. It's not rocket science. We've signed boys from Motherwell, Dundee United, Kilmarnock - I don't see automatically how you become favourites to win anything when they were never favourites before. "With the greatest respect to them, they're doing great but they've not suddenly turned into world-class international players. We've signed free transfers. "I would accept the fact we're on a level with clubs in the Premiership outwith Celtic." Winning League One, then the Championship, and getting into the top flight remains McCoist's overriding ambition, and he said that while he might sign players in January's transfer window, it would be for league reasons and not just to boost cup chances.

"We would maybe need it to maintain the level of results we're getting in the league," said McCoist. "Andy Little will be out longer term and that only leaves us Jon Daly and Nicky Clark as forwards. So straight away you would say you're short staffed in that department. "It's vitally important to give the fans something they enjoy watching. Obviously winning is the most important thing, but we're lucky in that we've got 36,000 season tickets so that in itself should determine we have a higher budget than the vast majority of the clubs in the country.

"So I think it's our job, within the means of the budget, to give the best possible product on the park. "You can spin the wages thing either way - we're down 60 to 70 per cent, but at the same time they're massively higher than anyone else, which I fully appreciate. So it's about getting the balance right." As the league run continues, so too does the talk of a 'perfect' season. "It genuinely doesn't cross my mind, honest to God," he insisted. " I just think that it's not going to happen - it won't happen. For any team in any league to even think that - and I'm not playing mind games here - it's just not feasible in the modern game.

"The proof for me would be the games we've had already at Stenhousemuir, Forfar and Brechin. I really don't think that there's much between any of the other teams in this division and the majority of them will fancy their chances against us on their own patch."


Dundee United may not be able to keep Ryan Gauld for too long, but the teenager who has lit up the SPFL this season has insisted that he is in no rush to head elsewhere too soon.

Real Madrid, Juventus, Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool have all been linked with the Dundee United playmaker and, in case anyone thought that stellar list incomplete, the tag of 'Baby Messi' has also been hung from the diminutive 18-year-old's shoulders.

"The comparison to Messi is quite laughable, but it is good to read," laughed the youngster. "I don't think about it - I read it then forget about it straight away. I look up to Messi because he's the best in the world. Every young boy should be watching and trying to emulate him in training. Don't be an ordinary person, go and try something special." The steady stream of Premier League scouts flocking to Tannadice has led to an assumption that the youngster will be lured south imminently but, although money may yet talk, he seems more inclined to wait for a more cultured opportunity to present itself.

At United, Gauld has assumed a central role that allows him to dictate United's attacking play and float in whichever direction his instincts suggests. A bigger stage inevitably awaits but having recently signed a contract extension that ties him to Tannadice until May 2016, he is happy to bide his time and wait for the right move.

"I need to sit down and think what's best for me in the future,' he said. "Growing up, I watched the Spanish Leagues and prefer that style. Getting the ball down and being patient with the build-up play. In England, it's maybe more direct. If you are a winger, you are expected to take on a full-back and get a cross in. Abroad, you can turn out, keep the ball and just keep the attack going. You also see players who are smaller in stature.

"In England, it's more athletes. Being a smaller guy, I need to think about what's best for me and what's best around me and I think being abroad is the best culture of football for me.

"I've got to think what's best for me even four or five years down the line. If I was to go down there, I'd have to think what my chances are of first-team football, if I was stuck out in the reserves how much I would enjoy that? I can't just think: 'It's a big club, so I'll jump at the chance to sign for them.'"


Thursday, December 19, 2013

Fifa World Rankings December 2013

FIFA World Fifa Rankings
Fifa World Rankings December 2013

Fifa's World Rankings for December 2013 were published today at FIFA HQ in Zurich, Switzerland. The Fifa World Rankings are now published on Thursday and not Wednesday as before.

Euro 2012 winners Spain are still on top of the FIFA rankings, where they have been since September 2011, followed by Germany, Argentina, Colombia, Portugal, fresh from their play-off win over Sweden, Uruguay, Italy, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and World Cup 2014 hosts Brazil.

England are 13th unchanged after successive home friendly losses to Chile and Germany at Wembley.

Scotland are in 34th position, down one place. The Republic of Ireland are in 67th place, still an all-time low, Wales are in 56th with Northern Ireland down in 89th place, up one spot from last month.

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

Full world rankings

Previous Fifa World Rankings

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Unpredictable City flying under the radar

Manchester City

Based on their unpredictable form since Manuel Pellegrini took charge at the Etihad, only Manchester City could beat the reigning European champions on their own ground and then still only make headlines for failing to win the game 4-2 rather than 3-2.

Allianz Arena, Munich

You just never know quite what to expect from this current Manchester City side, whose progression under Pellegrini this season has been sufficiently inconsistent that few commentators have marked them out as potential Premier League champions let alone Champions League destroyers.

That inconsistency was laid bare again last night in the space of 90 minutes against a Bayern side that was aiming to win its 10th straight Champions League match.

A second string City XI was torn apart multiple times in the opening 20 minutes, and fell behind to goals from Thomas Muller and Mario Gotze before striking back in the most unexpected manner through David Silva, Aleksandar Kolarov and James Milner.

As if to underline City's capriciousness, Milner's man-of-the-display was in stark contrast to his past 18 months of gradual slipping down the pecking order for club and country, with the former Aston Villa midfielder winning the penalty converted by Kolarov and striking the decisive winner.

Etihad Stadium.

Contextualising the performance and the result by a City side missing the likes of captain Vincent Kompany, Yaya Toure, Sergio Agüero and Alvaro Negredo, especially on the back being outclassed by Bayern in Manchester earlier in the group phase, is bordering on impossible.

Throw in the fact that Pellegrini's side have already lost four times on the road against Premier League sides this season - at Cardiff, Aston Villa, Chelsea and Sunderland - and the conundrum is complete.

Of course, City's unpredictability has been glaring in the past two seasons, too.

Under Roberto Mancini two years ago, they needed to close a seemingly impossible gap on rivals Manchester United and rely on a last minute Agüero winner against Sunderland to claim their first Premier League trophy.

The mediocrity of their title defence last season then led to Mancini's sacking.

Pellegrini has maintained that his focus remains on finding a pattern of play that suits his talented squad.

"We felt we needed revenge for what happened in Manchester because we played very bad. Winning here after being two goals behind is very good, I'm very happy," the Chilean said last night.

"It’s important for the team. I am trying to find a style of playing. I know some of the results in the Premier League playing away have not been what we want but it is more important we find a way to play.

"I thought this was the chance for players to demonstrate why they are in the squad so it was important to win without Kompany, Yaya, Agüero and Negredo."

Despite the numerous defensive lapses and the frequent high-profile mistakes of goalkeeper Joe Hart, City remain a potent threat going forward.

Their home form in the league is rampant, and has already included huge wins over Norwich (7-0), Tottenham (6-0), Manchester United (4-1) and Newcastle (4-0) this term.

Given their vast armoury in attack, maybe Pellegrini's so-called blunder at not realising that his enterprising side could top their Champions League group ahead of Bayern was actually a cunning plan to take just enough gloss off the side to keeping fooling the pundits.


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Weekly Football News 10 December 2014

Celtic ban own supporters after violence

Weekly Football News 10 December 2014

Celtic, the Scottish Premier League champions, have taken the remarkable step of banning over hundred of their own supporters from watching the side home and away.

Following the damage caused to Motherwell's Fir Park on Friday during Celtic’s 5-0 win, Celtic have suspended 128 fans from their matches and relocated another 250 season ticket holders.

The move has been taken is response to the rising levels of antisocial behaviour by a group of fans known as The Green Brigade, who attend home matches in Section 111 of the Celtic Park stadium.

Last month, the fan group unfurled political banners at Celtic's Champions League game against AC Milan, leading to the club being called before a Uefa disciplinary hearing.

Celtic have even threatened to close Section 111 in the past due to the group’s refusal to adhere to safety regulations.

In a statement, the club said that they had issued "precautionary suspensions against 128 individuals preventing them attending matches involving Celtic, pending further investigation".

Drop Vidic or Ferdinand: Savage

Former Manchester United midfielder Robbie Savage has urged boss David Moyes to drop either captain Nemanja Vidic or former England defender Rio Ferdinand and instead build a new back-line around Phil Jones.

Jones had played across the defence and in central midfield for both Manchester United and England in his short career to date, but arrived from Blackburn in 2011 as an accomplished central defender.

Savage said: "Moyes needs to establish his first-choice pair. When he does that, he has to think who he will be building his defence around in the future, and the answer is clearly not Ferdinand or Vidic.

"Instead he needs to look to Phil Jones. His best position is going to be at centre half and that is where Moyes needs to play him now if he is to make the most of his talent.

"If that means playing Jones regularly there for the rest of this season, then Moyes has to do it. Even if Jones plays badly there, he cannot do much worse than United are doing at the moment."

We can still improve: Guardiola

Pep Guardiola has demanded that Bayern Munich continue to work towards correcting their faults despite their record-breaking runs in both the domestic league and the Champions League.

Bayern extended their unbeaten run in the Bundesliga to 40 matches with Saturday’s 7-0 rout of Werder Bremen, while the European champions are also on a record run of 10 consecutive Champions League victories.

Allianz Arena, Munich, Germany

Furthermore, if they beat Manchester City on Tuesday they will top Group D with 18 points, something they failed to achieve last season under former coach Jupp Heynckes despite winning the title.

Nevertheless, Guardiola remains on the quest for perfection.

"We lose the ball too often over 90 minutes. I can't stand losing possession," he said.

"A 7-0 win at Bremen is good for the confidence, but they had their chances in the first half.

"We have to keep improving and that's why we are here.

Forget Belgium, we're favourites, says Capello

Russia manager Fabio Capello has claimed that it is Russia rather than Belgium that are favourites to progress out of Group H in the World Cup finals next year.

"Everybody is saying that Belgium are the favourites in our group, but I feel that it’s Russia who are the true favourites," Capello was quoted as saying by Sport Express daily. However, he added: "Belgium are an excellent team consisting of young and skilled players. We will need to find the means to cope with them."

South Korea and Algeria make up the remainder of the group.


Thursday, December 5, 2013

Brazuca World Cup Ball 2014

Brazuca World Cup Ball 2014

After the controversy of the lightweight, almost seamless Jabulani ball at World Cup 2010, the new Brazuca ball for World Cup 2014, seems to be getting more favorable reviews from players and experts.

Brazuca World Cup Ball 2014

The new Brazuca by Adidas was unveiled in a lavish ceremony earlier this week in Rio de Janeiro.

The new ball is still lightweight and has six boomerang-shaped seams.

Over a million fans in Brazil voted on the name last year with "Brazuca" which means "Typically Brazilian" coming out on top in the poll.

Adidas has manufactured the World Cup ball since 1970. In 2006 the ball was the +Teamgeist ball and in 2002 the Fevernova.


FIFA's folly as Groups of Death beckon

World Cup 2014, Brazil World Cup Draw

Friday 13:00 local time (17:00 GMT), Costa do Sauipe, Brazil.

Ah World Cup draws, those ersatz episodes when FIFA tries to do showbiz.

World Cup 2014, Brazil World Cup Draw

It was not always thus. The blazers and ties of bigwigs and bureaucrats sufficed for years.

Remember the Spain ’82 draw when the little matadors and flamencistas took the wrong balls from the wrong urns - some groups were bigger than others. That was my favourite.

The USA ’94 draw in that soccer hotbed of Las Vegas set the tone for future extravaganzas, with Robin Williams at work and James Brown and Barry Manilow amongst the crooners.

The use of celebs is surely redundant as the World Cup is watched by all and sundry anyway and the only people taking time off work to follow the draw are already aficionados.

“Heidi Klum has sent us to hell” cried Serbian daily Blic in 2005 as the German supermodel’s choice of ball had dumped them in a ‘group of death’ with Argentina, the Ivory Coast and the Netherlands.

Are certain balls ever heated or chilled to ensure shenanigans? I doubt it, though to my untrained eye the hosts always seem to land cushy groups.

This year the seeding seems utterly barking: in case anyone had forgotten, FIFA is crazy, irrational, unfair and unfit to run football. I would like England to play the USA and Colombia for emotional reasons, but I would take anyone as long as Joe Hart does not do a ‘Rob Green of Rustenburg’.

With the Europeans’ dismal record in the Americas, five entrants including the host and two other seeds, CONMEBOL looks to have it in the bag anyway.  Chile dazzled when beating England 2-0 at Wembley last month, while Colombia, boasting star striker Radamel Falcao make a welcome return for the first time since 1998 having finished second in the South American table behind Argentina.

But don’t write off the holders just yet or the other big Eurostars – Germany, Holland and Italy, for that matter.

I am most keen to watch Japan next summer. Their dismissal of Denmark in 2010 was a frightening warning of how far Asian soccer had come, I thought, and only Paraguayan penalties halted their advance.

Brazil has a sizeable Japanese expat population and the connections between the two countries run deep in soccer with many Brazilians having coached in Japan, most famously Zico.  Nippon will not feel lost in Brazil.

Roy Hodgson mentioned the heat could affect Northern European teams like his but England performed better in baking Mexico in 1970 and ’86, reaching the Quarter-Final both times, than in chilly South Africa in 2010, where they struggled out of an easy group before being hammered in the Second Round.

But back to the seeding, which is more proof of how Sepp Blatter’s FIFA has lost the plot. How on earth are Italy and Holland unseeded while Belgium and Switzerland are? Why are South American group qualifiers Chile and Ecuador unseeded while Uruguay, who only made it via the playoffs, a seed?

According to the byzantine detail of the World Rankings, the eight seeds are correct: The host nation plus the top seven ranked nations in October 2013.

The Netherlands just missed out in eighth spot, followed by Italy and England. This was due to them playing a friendly against former possession Indonesia, a weak opponent which afforded the Dutch few points in the FIFA World Rankings as a result.

For historical reasons England too played weaker nations this year – Scotland and Ireland, and slipped down the charts. Strong nations are tougher to beat of course but the ranking difference a win brings is invaluable. 

If friendlies were not counted by FIFA, then Chile, Holland and Italy would replace Colombia, Switzerland and Uruguay as World Cup seeds and no-one would be crying foul.

Quite clearly the system is so flawed that Friday’s draw could throw up any of the following nightmare groupings:

Germany, Chile, Japan, Netherlands
Brazil, England, USA, Italy
Argentina, France, South Korea, England
Spain, Chile, Honduras, Netherlands
The possibility of a real Group of Death or two is there. And FIFA must shoulder most of the blame for persisting with a pedantic rankings system in defiance of common sense.

Yet national associations like the F.A. and the Dutch K.N.V.B. should also have done their homework while planning their friendlies for the season leading up to the World Cup draw.

Pot One: Brazil, Spain, Germany, Argentina, Colombia, Belgium, Uruguay and Switzerland.

Pot Two: Chile, Ecuador, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Algeria, Nigeria, Cameroon, (plus one team from Pot Four)

Pot Three: Australia, Iran, Japan, South Korea, Costa Rica, Mexico, Honduras, USA

Pot Four: Bosnia, Croatia, England, France, Greece, Italy, Holland, Portugal, Russia (minus one team)

 (c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Fifa World Rankings November 2013

FIFA World Fifa Rankings
Fifa World Rankings November 2013

Fifa's World Rankings for November 2013 were published today at FIFA HQ in Zurich, Switzerland. The Fifa World Rankings are now published on Thursday and not Wednesday as before.

Euro 2012 winners Spain are still on top of the FIFA rankings, where they have been since September 2011, followed by Germany, Argentina, Colombia, Portugal, fresh from their play-off win over Sweden, Uruguay, Italy, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and World Cup 2014 hosts Brazil.

England are 13th after successive home friendly losses to Chile and Germany at Wembley.

Scotland are in 33rd position, up two places. The Republic of Ireland are in 67th place, another all-time low, Wales are in 56th with Northern Ireland down in 90th place, unchanged from last month.

Ranking Team
1 Spain
2 Germany
3 Argentina
4 Colombia
5 Portugal
6 Uruguay
7 Italy
8 Switzerland
9 Netherlands
10 Brazil
11 Belgium
12 Greece
13 England
14 USA
15 Chile
16 Croatia
17 Côte d'Ivoire
18 Ukraine
19 France
20 Mexico

Full world rankings

Previous Fifa World Rankings


Croatia edges Iceland makes it eight out of ten appearances at big tournaments

An amazing feat for a small country

By Ozren Podnar

Iceland came within inches of becoming the smallest country by population ever represented at a World Cup final tournament when they were drawn against Croatia in the European zone playoffs. With 320,000 citizens, the insular nation in the North Atlantic is three times less populous than the current champions - Trinidad and Tobago.

Iceland flag.

But, it was not to be for the descendants of the Viking explorers. Croatia edged Iceland with a 2-0 home win in Zagreb after a goalless draw in Reykjavik. The newly appointed manager Niko Kovac (ex-Hertha, HSV and Bayern midfielder) outsmarted his ultra-experienced counterpart on the Icelandic bench, Lars Lagerback.

Instead of Iceland, travelling to Brazil will be Croatia, another of the small nations, but with a respectable international record. Croatia, with 4.3 million inhabitants a giant compared to Iceland, will appear in its 8th final tournament, counting both World Cups and Euros. Taking into account the country's size, population, number of registered players and its GNP, Croatia is in fact one of the most successful soccer nations.

According to an analysis published on the Zagreb-based web site, a total of 60 teams, 28 of which are European, have qualified for the last five World Cups, including Brazil 2014. The analysis covered the period since 1994, when the red-and-whites were first allowed to take part in a qualifying stage, which happened to be for Euro 1996 in England.

David among Goliaths

Only eleven teams, five of which are European, have reached all five tournaments. France and Germany qualified automatically for the tournament each of them hosted, while England, Italy and Spain qualified every time by playing in the qualifiers.

Six countries have made it to four out of five tournaments, three coming from Europe: Holland, Portugal and Croatia. Compared to the other seven countries that have qualified for at least four out of five latest World Cups, Croatia is by far smallest in size, population and GNP.

Only four other European nations have taken part in three out of the last five World Cups - Belgium, Denmark, Switzerland and Serbia (including Serbia-Montenegro and FR Yugoslavia, as Serbia's legal predecessors). Judging by the number of participations at the World Cups since 1998, Croatia is among the eight most successful European countries, in spite of its numerical and financial inferiority with respect to many countries with fewer appearances.

But, there's also the European championship. All in all, 27 teams have taken part at the five most recent editions. Seven teams have been present at all five final tournaments: Spain, France, Italy, Germany, the Czech Republic, Holland and Portugal, but the latter two received a bye for the tournaments they organized.

Croatia is in the second group of five nations which have participated at four of the past five Euros. The others are Russia, Sweden, Denmark and England, who missed out on Euro 2008 due to an embarrassing 2-3 loss to Croatia at Wembley. Therefore, Croatia is among the eleven European countries with the most participations, ahead of Greece, Turkey, Belgium or Poland.

Considering both competitions, only four teams have qualified for all ten of the most recent tournaments - Italy, Spain, France and Germany. Three more have reached nine out of ten final tournaments - England, Holland and Portugal, but all three received a bye for the Euros they organized.

Croatia are the only team represented at eight out of ten big events, and one of the four who qualified for eight events by actually playing, alongside England, Holland and Portugal. Compared to the seven countries that have fared better regarding participations, Croatia is by far the least populous. Its population is just two fifths that of the closest rival, Portugal, whose GNP is by 17 percent higher than Croatia's.

Many wealthier, larger and more populous countries have remained behind Croatia in this analysis; not one which is inferior by the criteria used in this analysis has achieved more participations. And the Croats are apparently very proud of this achievement, as the fans' euphoria and the manager Niko Kovac's tears demonstrated on the night Iceland was beaten.

Least populous countries ever to feature at a World Cup

1. Trinidad and Tobago (2006) - 1 million 2. Northern Ireland (1958, 1982, 1986) - 1,8 million 3. Slovenia (2002, 2010) - 2 million 4. Kuwait (1982) - 2,5 million 5. Jamaica (1998) - 2,9 million

In brackets: featured World Cup(s)

Top teams by participation in last 10 big events 1-4. France* - 10/10 Germany* Italy Spain 5-7. England* - 9/10 Holland* Portugal 8. Croatia - 8/10

Note: the teams marked with an asterisk qualified automatically for one tournament each


Thursday, November 21, 2013

Progress made on all fronts in Korea

K League
Tight at top and bottom

The Korean season is coming to a close but the final week or so promises to be full of action at both bottom and top, even if quite a few of those in between are starting to dream of, or dread, 2014. Ulsan Horangi took the 2012 Asian Champions League title but have benefitted domestically after not qualifying for the 2013 version of the continental competition. Focusing on the league alone has really helped Kim Ho-gon’s men stride into the lead.

Going into the weekend’s round, Ulsan are two points clear at the summit above their only challengers Pohang Steelers although Pohang have played a game more with just two matches remaining.

These two south-eastern rivals have pulled away from a fading pack. Pohang have won the last four games, a recent record surpassed only by Ulsan with 15 points taken out of a possible 15. Striker Kim Shin-wook has been banging in the goals with 19 this season with Rafinha helping out with ten after returning from injury in the summer. This partnership – the original little and large combo –has been working very well. With Japanese midfielder Chikashi Masuda pulling the strings in midfield with Han Sung-woon consistently dangerous out wide, Ulsan have a constant goal threat and their strong defence means that a title is within reach.

With Pohang defeating Jeonbuk Motors on penalties in the FA Cup final in October, there is already some silverware in the Steelers’ cupboard. Hwang Sun-hong’s men have been consistent without really hitting the heights this season. Even so, a title would be a fantastic achievement.

The scramble to avoid the trapdoor

Jeonbuk and Seoul look to have a place in the 2014 Asian Champions League place in the bag leaving much attention on the battle to avoid the drop, a fight that has really got going in recent weeks. The bottom two go down while the team in 14th plays off against the winner of the second division. The bottom three Daejeon, Daegu and Gangwon have all started winning even if it is all a little late for Daejeon.

The team has taken 12 points from the last four games which would be great had it not managed just 16 from the 32 before that. A stress-related illness in October had coach Kim In-wan indisposed as his assistant Cho Jin ho has done a fine job. Daejeon are four points from safety with just two games left to play, if it happens, it will be the greatest escape since relegation was introduced in 2012. Gangwon also looked dead and buried but the situation in the east was not quite as dire. Under new coach Kim Yong-gap, they have taken five wins from the last seven and have moved out of the automatic drop zone, ahead of Daegu by three points.

Daegu's recent form has not been quite as impressive. They are three points behind Gangwon and Gyeongnam with three games left to play. The final game of the season when Gangwon come to visit could be decisive. Gyeongnam have slipped down into trouble with only goal difference keeping them in 13th. Just four wins from the last 16 has put the team in trouble with fans in September demanding the head of Ilija Petrovic. The club stood by Serbia’s 2006 World Cup coach and it remains to be seen if such loyalty will be rewarded.

Seoul lose out to Guangzhou

FC Seoul failed in their bid to become champions of Asia for the first time, losing to Guangzhou Evergrande in the final of the 2013 competition on away goals. Over 55,000 fans witnessed an exciting 2-2 draw in the first leg in the Korean capital on October 26. Seoul drew first blood through Sergio Escudero only for Elkeson to head Marcello Lippi’s men level on the half hour. It was looking grim for the K-League team just after the break when Gao Lin put the Chinese visitors ahead but Dejan Damjanovic gave the hosts a deserved equaliser four minutes from time.

Guangzhou controlled much of the second leg at home in southern China on November 9 and the pressure finally paid off after 58 minutes when Elkeson scored a fine goal. Just four minutes later however, Damjanovic silenced the stadium but Seoul were unable to get the all-important winner.

Better news for national team

For South Korea coach Hong Myong-bo, performances since he was appointed in July had been better than results but neither were perfect. That was why a 2-1 win over Switzerland in Seoul on November 15 was so well-received. The Swiss took an early lead but after the break, Korea sparkled thanks to Lee Chung-yong, Lee Keun-ho and Son Heung-min. The team ranked seven in the world did tire a little but just couldn’t keep up with the lightning-fast attacking play of the Taeguk Warriors.

A 2-1 defeat against Russia in Dubai four days later was not quite so good but still, there was little to choose between the two teams. This time Korea took an early lead but a goalkeeper howler from Jung Sung-ryung, struggling at the moment, let the Russians back in at a time when it was looking likelier that Korea would extend their lead. Progress is being made though there is still some way to go.


Friday, October 25, 2013

George's Premiership Predictions October 26 2013

George's Premiership Predictions October 26 2013

George correctly predicted 4 results last weekend and will be hoping for better luck this time out. Man Utd should at last get a home win against a Stoke team struggling for goals. The Chelsea v Man City game seems a nailed on draw. Elsewhere home wins for Liverpool, Norwich, and Spurs.

George's Premiership Predictions

Saturday 26 October 2013

Crystal Palace 1 v Arsenal 3
Man United 1 v Stoke City 0
Norwich City 2 v Cardiff City 1
Liverpool 3 v West Brom 2
Aston Villa 1 v Everton 2
Southampton 2 v Fulham 0

Sunday 27 October 2013

Sunderland 1 v Newcastle 1
Chelsea 0 v Man City 0
Swansea City 1 v West Ham 1
Tottenham 3 v Hull City 1

Soccer - Pellegrini up for Chelsea showdown

Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini hopes to have a fully-fit squad for the Premier League showdown with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Sunday. Captain Vincent Kompany sat out the midweek Champions League victory away at CSKA Moscow, but is expected to be in contention to face the Blues come the weekend. Pellegrini said after success in the Russian capital: "We are now starting to think about this game with Chelsea. It is a very tough game, but we don't have any injury problems with the squad. "Vincent Kompany and all the other players are fit, so we are in a good shape." The Citizens are fourth in the Premier League table, just a point behind Chelsea in second, with Arsenal currently three points ahead of City at the top-flight summit. Pellegrini's men are 7/4 to win the Premier League title this season, having been crowned champions on a dramatic final day of the 2011/12 season.‎

Last time's Premier League predictions


Friday, October 18, 2013

Fifa World Rankings October 2013

FIFA World Fifa Rankings
Fifa World Rankings October 2013

Fifa's World Rankings for October 2013 were published this month at FIFA HQ in Zurich, Switzerland. The Fifa World Rankings are now published on Thursday and not Wednesday as before.

Euro 2012 winners Spain are still on top of the FIFA rankings, where they have been since September 2011, followed by Germany, Argentina, Colombia, Belgium, Uruguay, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Italy and England, who rise 7 spots after qualifying wins over Montenegro and Poland.

World Cup 2014 hosts, Brazil, are 11th.

Scotland are in 35th position, a huge leap after their win over Croatia in their qualifying group. The Republic of Ireland are in 60th place, an all-time low, Wales are in 44th level with Japan, Northern Ireland are 90th.

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

Full world rankings

Previous Fifa World Rankings


Thursday, October 17, 2013

Europe's road to Brazil takes final turn

World Cup Brazil 2014

European teams have played their last big night of qualifiers with a handful of tickets to Brazil 2014 given out.

The big names – Germany, Italy, Spain, England and the Netherlands all made it through as group winners and Switzerland kept up their recently consistent record in qualifying for major finals. Of UEFA’s nine group seeds, only Norway were eliminated, but three of them could only make the playoffs. Three third-tier seeds – Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Switzerland, jumped to first place finishes.

World Cup Brazil 2014

In truth there were no big-name casualties, although some famous names live to fight another day via the playoffs.

1998 World Cup winners and 2006 finalists France is the biggest name to miss the initial cut, though Les Bleus remain a strong favourite to reach Brazil via the playoffs. In their defence they had Spain to contend with in Group I. Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal will also await the draw, having finished second to Fabio Capello’s Russia, who bagged the golden ticket from Group F.

Belgium make a welcome return to the finals and will bring a string of outstanding young players to Brazil, but little Bosnia & Herzegovina are the most notable European qualifier, topping the less than arduous Group G above Greece.

The Euro 2004 winners join Sweden, Iceland, Croatia, Romania and Ukraine alongside France and Portugal in the playoffs. Iceland are the most unusual name in the hat, having beaten Slovenia and Norway to second place in Group E, and it is nice to see Romania, whose dazzling team from 1994 lives long in the memory, back in contention having failed to make it to the last three World Cups.

Of the eliminated, 2002 semi-finalists Turkey missed the boat again, as did 1998 semi-finalists Croatia. Eastern Europe had slim pickings overall, with 2010 qualifiers Slovenia, the Czech Republic, Serbia and Euro 2012 co-hosts Poland left on the quayside and only Bosnia-Herzegovina and Russia passing automatically.

Denmark were the unlucky second-placed team to miss the playoff cut, having finished second behind Italy in Group B but gaining fewer points than the eight other second-place teams. The Danes will surely rue their three draws in Copenhagen for costing them advancement.

An off-colour 90 minutes often made the difference between going through and going out. Had the Czechs not lost at home to Armenia or the Serbs to minnows Macedonia, things would have been different for them.

Italy won the fewest games of any qualifier, with six victories out of ten, and Germany the most with nine.

Holland’s Robin Van Persie was the continent’s top gunner with 11 goals, followed by Bosnia-Herzegovina’s Edin Dzeko with ten. Germany were the top-scoring nation with 36 strikes in ten games, Holland were second with 34 and England third with 31.

Bosnia-Herzegovina, England and Holland all scored eight times in a single match, but only Ukraine netted nine, at home to San Marino. The Italian-speaking republic had the worse statistics across UEFA, with a goal difference of -53 far worse than the next leakiest defence, that of Andorra who finished -30 with Malta on -29. Unlike Andorra however, San Marino at least found the net once, in their 1-5 home loss to Poland.

The UEFA playoffs draw is on the 21st of October with the two-legged games taking place on the 15th & 19th of November.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Fifa World Rankings September 2013

FIFA World Fifa Rankings
Fifa World Rankings September 2013

Fifa's World Rankings for September 2013 were published this month at FIFA HQ in Zurich, Switzerland. The Fifa World Rankings are now published on Thursday and not Wednesday as before.

Euro 2012 winners Spain are still on top of the FIFA rankings, where they have been since September 2011, followed by Argentina, Germany, Italy, Colombia, Belgium, Uruguay, World Cup 2014 hosts, Brazil, Netherlands and Croatia.

England are 17th, down three places, to their lowest ever ranking for a dozen years. Scotland are in 63rd position. The Republic of Ireland are in 59th place, an all-time low, Wales are in 52nd, Northern Ireland are 86th.

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

Full world rankings

Previous Fifa World Rankings


Friday, September 6, 2013

September Split in South Korea

K League
The K League Classic Divides 

The first day of September marks the end of summer in South Korea and the end of the league as we know it. From now, until the end of the season, the K-League’s 14 teams will be split into two Known simply as Group A and Group B, the top half will fight it out for the title while those downstairs will be hoping to avoid relegation.

After 26 rounds, there are 12 left, meaning that the teams in each group will meet each other twice. Authorities hope that this leads to more meaningful games and more excitement. It does for the top half but for Group B, not so much.  

The Title Race is ON

Pohang Steelers are in pole position but only just. Two straight defeats going into the split have cut the lead that the three-time Asian champions have to a single point. Indeed, the top four are just three points apart. It is set to be quite a finish.

The Steelers are not the real story, though the absence of foreign stars is certainly unusual and of interest, and neither are Ulsan Horangi, a point behind in second. In the past few weeks, it has been all about FC Seoul and Jeonbuk Motors. The top two from 2012, have both put together quite a run of results.

Seoul, don’t forget, started the season with four points from the first seven games and even after that, for a while, were not exactly the model of consistency. Nobody ever really thought that the team would miss out on the top half of the league but the defence of the title looked over almost before it begun. But Choi Yong-soo’s men ended the first stage with 28 points from a possible 30 and even the two points dropped were done so in slightly unlucky fashion with a late winner ruled out when the goal looked good.

Some of the wins were dramatic in the extreme with last-minute victories something of specialty as the games against Incheon United and Daejeon Citizen showed. And then there was the long-awaited and much-enjoyed win over rivals Suwon Bluewings. It could be that the team's Asian Champions League campaign, a 1-1 draw in Saudi Arabia at the home of Al Ahli in the first leg of the quarter-final leaves the semi-final within reach, slows down the Seoul domestic charge.

The resurgence of Jeonbuk Motors since the return of Choi Kang-hee from his spell with the national team has been only a little less impressive. Just one defeat in 12 games, with 27 points collected have put the 2011 champions right back in it and that is even with the loss of playmaker Eninho to China.  

Four into two didn't go

On the final day, there was a four-way sprint to jump and hold on to the fast-retreating ladder that gave the final two spots in the upper level. Suwon didn't look to be in much danger of missing out and got the point they needed and, in the end, it was needed as the other three teams all won.

That meant Jeju United had no chance as the islanders, who have faded of late, needed Busan I’Park and Seongnam Ilhwa to slip. Few gave Busan a chance at Pohang but the well-drilled southerners team collected a dramatic 2-1 win at the home of the leaders. That meant that Seongnam had to win by two goals and the Yellows started well with a first minute strike against Gyeongnam but try as they might, they just could not get the second.

Beating the drop
Not that Seongnam and Jeju are in danger of relegation as they are 25 and 24 points respectively above the trapdoor. Daejeon Citizen have just 14 points, one less than Gangwon, the other team sitting in the drop zone.

Gangwon recently fired coach Kim Hak-beom, harshly in the view of many, and hired Kim Yong-kab, assistant at Chinese powerhouse Guangzhou Evergrande. Kim has left a team that can't stop winning and is now with one that can't stop losing. He hasn't been able to stop the rot with four straight defeats making a losing streak of eight for the easterners.

Seongnam and Jeju may be safe but the likes of Gyeongnam and especially Daegu will have to watch their step.  

Hong searching for a win

Four games, one goal and no wins. It does not make for good reading but then it does not tell the full story for South Korea under new coach Hong Myong-bo.

July's East Asian Cup saw the Taeguk Warriors record goalless draws with Australia and China before being defeated by Japan in Seoul. The first two should really have ended in victory. The game against the Socceroos was as one-sided as a goalless draw could possibly be and the stalemate against China once again saw the opposition goalkeeper in great form and the home strikers in generous mood.

The game against the Asian champions was slightly different, and controversial with banners and flags making headlines. Korea put Japan under a good deal of pressure that the Samurai Blue largely withstood before snatching a last-minute winner.

Then came an August goalless draw with Peru in Suwon that followed earlier patterns of domination and then frustration. September 6 against Haiti in Incheon marks the first time that Hong has summoned the European-based stars. Failure to win that game will not go down well.


Tuesday, August 27, 2013

England weekend review, Qatar winter switch due for approval next month, 67,000 MLS crowd

England weekend review

*Manchester United's match with Chelsea at Old Trafford had been teed up to be the first big clash of the season but ended in a disappointing stalemate.

Manchester United

A host of subplots and an evening kick-off at the end of a sunny Bank Holiday was the perfect setting for a big night of football but despite some high-quality approach play from both teams, the game finished 0:0 with few real chances carved out.

Wayne Rooney made staying at Old Trafford look a little more likely by being handed a starting role and impressing. His opposite number Fernando Torres looked glum on the sidelines after Jose Mourinho had stressed the need for mobility up front in preferring Andre Schurrle.

Chelsea effectively played without a striker, using Oscar, Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard closely behing the German. Jose Mourinho reminded England how canny a tactician he can be, and how his team's style takes second billing to its score.

Mourinho afterwards called on Rooney again to clarify his desires, which added to his pre-match comment that David Moyes had unsettled him, appears to confirm Chelsea still want to prise him away.

Real Madrid

*Gareth Bale's interminable transfer to Real Madrid drags on, with the surprising news that a second club have entered a bid with only days to go before the window closes. The identity of the last-minute suitor remains hidden, but Paris Saint-Germain or Manchester City/United are about the only clubs who could find the £86 million Real have offered. Given Tottenham's recent spending spree it seems inevitable chairman Daniel Levy will sign on the dotted line before next weekend.

*Cardiff City's 3:2 win over Manchester City was the highlight of the weekend's games, and the Bluebirds fans were doubly happy to see Welsh rivals Swansea stuck at the bottom of the Premier League. Some local fans staged a march before the match to continue the protest against the switch from blue to red shirts and the replacement of their Bluebird logo with a Welsh dragon, the work of Malaysian owner Vincent Tan, who nevertheless has been instrumental in returning the club to the top flight for the first time since the early 1960s.

* Liverpool & Tottenham maintained the only 100% records in the Premier League. The Reds won 1-0 at Aston Villa and Spurs by the same score at home to Swansea.

*Arsenal grabbed their first points of the season with a comfortable 3-1 win at Fulham in heavy rain.


* In other news, Sepp Blatter has said a decision on a switch to winter for World Cup 2022 could come as early as the 3rd of October this year. The FIFA President added he would be "very surprised" if the Executive Committee did not rubber-stamp the controversial decision at its meeting in Zurich.

Europe's league schedule faces turmoil in 2021-'22 while losing bidders Australia, Japan, South Korea and the USA could examine legal challenges to any date change. Qatar beat the USA 14-8 in the final round of voting. The Winter Olympics are slated for January 2022, which points to a World Cup finals in November 2021 or even February 2022. Either way, the 2022 World Cup controversy has a long way to run.


* Across the pond, 67, 385 watched Seattle Sounders beat Pacific Northwest rivals Portland Timbers 1-0 with an Eddie Johnson goal. The huge crowd, the second largest in MLS history, was due in part to the local derby and part to the first home game of returning US hero Clint Dempsey. Only two crowds in Europe this weekend, both in Germany, were bigger. Bayern Munich drew 71,000 and Borussia Dortmund 80,000.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Opening thoughts on the new Premier League season

New Premier League Season

The 2013-'14 Premier League season has kicked off and will go down in history as the first one to use goal-line technology.

On the field, the first weekend appeared to be a continuation of the previous one.

Opening thoughts on the new Premier League season

Champions Manchester United, with the disgruntled Wayne Rooney starring alongside the exquisite Robin Van Persie and fast-improving Danny Welbeck, began with aplomb, dispatching Michael Laudrup's much-lauded Swansea City 4-1 at their Liberty Stadium. David Moyes could hardly have wished for a smoother landing into Alex Ferguson's shoes.

Chelsea, with Jose Mourinho back at the helm, also hit the ground running, with an opening 45 minutes of dynamic attacking in their 2-0 defeat of newly-promoted Hull City.

The three teams who came up from the Championship all lost their opening games and failed to trouble their opponents' goals, a depressing reiteration of the gap between England's top two divisions.

Yet Manchester City's 4-0 demolition of Newcastle confirmed there are also divisions within the Premier League.

After a barren summer in the transfer market in spite of a £70 million war chest, Arsenal remain in the mire following a 3-1 home defeat to a resurgent Aston Villa, who had managed to hold on to their top striker Christian Benteke.

Arsene Wenger cuts an increasingly cornered figure, unwilling to overspend while bearing the brunt of a constituency of supporters increasingly furious at the Gunners' inability to challenge for trophies. His players' apparent fatalism and lethargy in their opening home match should give him more sleepless nights.

While Tottenham lost the last Champions League place to their North London rivals at the end of last season, their summer shopping, including the shrewd acquisitions of Brazilian international midfielder Paulinho and Spanish striker Roberto Soldado, and the transfer of England midfielder Scott Parker to Fulham, suggest Andre Villas-Boas has already planned on life without Gareth Bale, whose purchase Real Madrid have just over a week left to finalise.

The loss of two world-class performers in Bale and Luis Suarez, who wants out of Liverpool, would hurt the prestige of the Premier League, which missed out on most of the big name transfers this summer. Until this year it would have been unthinkable for Chelsea and Manchester City to be outbid by French teams, but they were in the case of Edinson Cavani (PSG) and Radamel Falcao (Monaco).

The Premier League remains a strong global brand, as attested to by its latest TV & internet deals, and the fact the World Cup will conclude this season is not news right now.

One man less than excited about the new campaign is probably Roy Hodgson, who has only 34% of the division to choose his England XI from. After a summer of failure from England's U20 & U21 sides and the continued lack of a winter break in the domestic season, the league's host nation's prospects of glory in Brazil next summer look slim.

Meanwhile the premier carnival of cash carries on as usual.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Fifa World Rankings August 2013

FIFA World Fifa Rankings
Fifa World Rankings August 2013

Fifa's World Rankings for August 2013 were published this month at FIFA HQ in Zurich, Switzerland. The Fifa World Rankings are now published on Thursday and not Wednesday as before.

Euro 2012 winners Spain are once again on top of the FIFA rankings followed by Germany, Colombia, Argentina, Netherlands, Italy, Portugal, Croatia, World Cup 2014 hosts, Brazil and high-flying Belgium.

Copa America champions Uruguay are 12th, England are 14th, up one. Scotland are in 50th position. The Republic of Ireland are in 44th place, Wales are in 46th, Northern Ireland are 109th..

Ranking Team
1 Spain
2 Germany
3 Colombia
4 Argentina
5 The Netherlands
6 Italy
7 Portugal
8 Croatia
9 Brazil
10 Belgium
11 Greece
12 Uruguay
13 Bosnia-Herzegovina
14 England
15 Switzerland
16 Russia
17 Ecuador
18 Côte d'Ivoire
19 USA
20 Mexico

Full world rankings

Previous Fifa World Rankings


Thursday, July 4, 2013

Fifa World Rankings July 2013

FIFA World Fifa Rankings
Fifa World Rankings July 2013

Fifa's World Rankings for July 2013 were published today at FIFA HQ in Zurich, Switzerland. The Fifa World Rankings are now published on Thursday and not Wednesday as before.

Euro 2012 winners Spain are once again on top of the FIFA rankings followed by Germany, Colombia, Argentina, Netherlands, Italy, Portugal, Croatia and World Cup 2014 hosts, Brazil. Copa America champions Uruguay are 12th, High-flying Belgium are in 10th position. Scotland are in 50th position. The Republic of Ireland are in 44th place, Wales are in 46th, Northern Ireland are 111th.

Ranking Team
1 Spain
2 Germany
3 Colombia
4 Argentina
5 The Netherlands
6 Italy
7 Portugal
8 Croatia
9 Brazil
10 Belgium
11 Greece
12 Uruguay
13 Côte d'Ivoire
14 Bosnia-Herzegovina
15 England
16 Switzerland
17 Russia
18 Ecuador
19 Peru
20 Mexico

Full world rankings

Previous Fifa World Rankings


Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Comings and Goings in South Korea

K League
Hong Comes Home

After 135 caps, and spells in charge of the Under-20 and Under-23 national teams, Hong Myong-bo is now the head coach of the South Korean senior side. The charismatic captain of the 2002 semi-final reaching squad, the ex-defender was always going to become the main man, it was just a question of when.

It is now. He has a lot of work to do. With less than a year to the World Cup he has to take a team that struggled and stumbled along the road to Brazil and turn it into a Taeguk Warriors machine that can get past the group stage in South America. Fans believe and the KFA hopes that he can do it. After all, he led the Under-20s to the last eight at the 2009 World Cup and more famously, brought home the bronze medal at the 2012 Olympics.

Choi goes home

After 18 months of mild torture, some for the fans but mostly for the man himself, Choi Kang-hee has returned to his true love Jeonbuk Motors. The former international defender was appointed under duress in December 2011 and always planned to return to Jeonju at the end of qualification. That was achieved on June 18 by the narrowest of goal difference margins. Fans were not sorry to see Choi leave and the KFA made no effort to persuade him otherwise. The football had not been great and the results were just enough. In the end, both sides were relieved to part ways.

He returned to a Jeonbuk team struggling. The team’s previous two games had seen a remarkable 4-1 defeat suffered at home to the low-scoring Busan I’Park and then came a wild 5-4 loss at rivals Suwon. Choi had planned a week’s holiday after the end of his national team contract but decided he was needed as soon as possible. Fans and players were happy to see him and the team responded with a thumping 4-0 win over Gyeongnam.

Tight at the top

At the end of June, six points separate the top six teams in the K-League Classic. Pohang Steelers had threatened to pull away but have dropped eight points from the last 15 – nothing to worry about too much but a source of frustration for the three-time continental champions. Ulsan Horang-I are second and looking good. The Tigers are in good form and welcoming players back from injury such as Brazilian goalgetter Rafinha. With Kim Shin-wook finding the net of a regular basis and the defence usually - apart from a recent 5-3 loss to lowly Daegu - is pretty solid.

Incheon United have been the surprise package of the season and currently sit in third. Young stars such as Lee Seok-hoon have impressed. Lee scored both goals in the recent win over Pohang Steelers, the winner a spectacular 25 yarder that flew past the goalkeeper. Lee 2002 midfielder Kim Nam-il has been a steady presence with another veteran Lee Chun-soo coming back to Korean football and performing solidly. If Lee can recreate his form circa 2005 to 2007 then Incheon really will fancy their chances of a top three finish. Especially as FC Seoul and Suwon Bluewings are more inconsistent that the runny tofu so beloved in Korea. Seoul recovered, of a sort, from a very poor start but all is not well. The team is predictable and with star striker Dejan Damjanovic, was lacking of ideas in a recent defeat against Ulsan.

Suwon have won just one of the last six and have a number of injuries and there are rumours that overseas players could be on their way with Stevica Ristic set to head to pastures new, probably in China. There are uncertain times.

Battle at the Bottom

Daejeon Citizen and Daegu FC are rooted to the bottom. Daejeon look to be in serious trouble with no wins in eleven and the club looking lost. New coach Kim In-wan has not got any kind of grip on the job and fans are understandably growing restless. Daegu are in slightly better shape and at least seem to be playing a little better from earlier in the season. The club have some decent attacking talent.

Gangwon FC are doing their utmost to pull away. Kim Hak-beom’s men have been playing well at various times all season but have not often got the points deserved in return. That all changed at the end of June with a vital 2-1 win over Suwon. It could be a turning point.


Thursday, June 13, 2013

Confederations Cup 2013 - 15th-30th June

Confederations Cup 2013 - 15th-30th June

Background Info

The tournament was originally organised by and held in Saudi Arabia and called the 'King Fahd Cup', contested by the Saudi national side and some continental champions. In 1997, FIFA took over the organisation of the tournament, named it the FIFA Confederations Cup and staged the competition every two years.

Since 2005, it has been held every four years, in the year prior to each World Cup in the host country of the forth coming World Cup. Considered a dress rehearsal for the World Cup it precedes, it uses around half of the stadia intended for use at the following year’s competition.


Generally, the host nation, the World Cup holders, and the six continental champions qualify for the competition. In those cases where a team meets more than one of the qualification criteria (such as Spain this year, being both the World Cup & European Cup holders); another team is invited to participate, often the runner-up in a competition that the extra-qualified team won.

It follows a similar pattern of the Champions League within domestic football in that each participant has qualified through success in another competition.

2013 Participants

• Brazil - Hosts
• Spain - World Cup Holders
• Italy - European Championship Runners Up
• Nigeria - Africa Cup of Nations Winners
• Mexico - Gold Cup Winners
• Uruguay - Copa America Winners
• Tahiti - OFC nations Cup Winners
• Japan - Asia Cup Winners.


Thursday, June 6, 2013

Fifa World Rankings June 2013

FIFA World Fifa Rankings
Fifa World Rankings June 2013

Fifa's World Rankings for June 2013 were published today at FIFA HQ in Zurich, Switzerland. The Fifa World Rankings are now published on Thursday and not Wednesday as before.

Euro 2012 winners Spain are once again on top of the FIFA rankings followed by Germany, Argentina, Croatia, Netherlands, Portugal, Colombia, Italy, England and Ecuador.

Copa America champions Uruguay are 19th, while Brazil are in their lowest ever position of 22nd. A newly-strong Belgium are in 12th position. Scotland are in 74th position. The Republic of Ireland are in 41st place, Wales are in 45th, Northern Ireland are 116th.

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

Full world rankings

Previous Fifa World Rankings


Saturday, May 25, 2013

Season of farewells in English Premiership

Season of farewells in English Premiership.
English Premiership Farewells

While previous English Premier League campaigns have signed off on the final day with a bang - most notably last year’s spine-tingling last-gasp title-winning goal from Sergio Aguero - this year somewhat ended with a whimper as a number of drawn out farewells came to a close.

Remarkably, the managers at three of the Premier League's top seven teams walked away from their respective clubs on Sunday, and that's with Roberto Mancini having already departed runners up Manchester City after their FA Cup final loss to relegated Wigan. The contrasts between the departures of Sir Alex Ferguson, David Moyes and Rafa Benitez, however, were stark.

Ferguson, the former Manchester United manager, was awarded a guard of honour before his side's memorable 5-5 draw at West Brom and acknowledged all four sides of the Hawthorns ground at the final whistle, while Moyes, his successor in the Old Trafford hot seat, was given a similarly respectful send-off by Everton fans. On the other hand, Benitez slunk away following Chelsea's 2-1 win over Everton at Stamford Bridge.

The Spaniard, after seven turbulent months in charge, did not want to risk a final embarrassing backlash from the Chelsea supporters he has found it almost impossible to win over this season as the players paraded the Europa League trophy.

Indeed, Benitez did not even receive a thank you from long-time Chelsea servants John Terry, Frank Lampard or Paulo Ferreira, who is retiring, during on-pitch speeches after the final whistle in contrast, as one English tabloid put it, to the "£200,000 watch Chelsea’s players gave Guus Hiddink at the end of his spell at Stamford Bridge". Had Benitez have ventured further than the safety of his technical area, the former Liverpool manager might have felt a slight thawing of the vociferous abuse he has tended to have been subjected to since replacing Roberto di Matteo.

There were even sightings of banners thanking Benitez and wishing him luck for the future. But Chelsea fans still seemed united that Rafa was not the manager they wished to take the club forward in next season’s title push - most likely under current Real Madrid and former Blues boss Jose Mourinho.

Benitez, who averaged two points per Premier League game since taking charge of the club as well as qualifying for the Uefa Champions League in third place and winning the Europa League, wants to remain coaching in England for family reasons.

However, his Liverpool Football Club connections - rather than his family connections to the city - seem to have ruled him out of replacing Moyes at Everton.

"I don’t think it will be easy for them to approach me and not easy for me to go there," the 53-year-old said. "I think I have to be consistent with my ideas. “I have a lot of respect for Everton but it would be difficult."

On the pitch, the procession of departures has likewise ended, with Paul Scholes, Jamie Carragher, Michael Owen, Paulo Ferreira and, of course, David Beckham, all calling time on careers that added together have accumulated a mind-boggling assortment of silverware. Of those, only 33-year-old Owen's slipping away from football will perhaps be mourned as talent unfulfilled.

For a generation of football fans around the world, Owen will unfairly be labelled as an injury-prone benchwarmer, when during his stint at Liverpool after breaking into the team ahead of the 1998 World Cup, the striker was one of the most natural finishers around.

Scholes' final retirement also offers some pangs of regret in that he decided to stop making himself available for England aged 29, primarily - and astonishingly looking back at England over the past decade - because he was deemed surplus to requirements in a central role.

Carragher, a player never shy to speak his mind during his 737-appearance playing career for Liverpool, will like Owen become a media pundit in the interim; however, the 35-year-old will surely be a manager of wonderful poise when the time is right. "He’s been an absolutely colossal player and at 35 he's still fit and strong," said Reds manager Brendan Rodgers. "It’s with great sadness that he has to move on but we now have to."


Saturday, May 18, 2013

The Ultimate Battle for German Supremacy Takes Center Stage at Champions League Final

Bayern Munich v Borussia Dortmund

Bayern Munich is far and away the most prestigious club in German soccer. With a record 23 Bundesliga championships and having consistently dominated the league while accumulating the best of Germany's talent, they are truly the pride of the nation.

Bayern Munich v Borussia Dortmund

But recently, a rival club has emerged to shake up the foundation. Borussia Dortmund has assembled a squad of talented youngsters that has provided a true test for Bayern Munich.

Borussia Dortmund won the Bundesliga last season, and although Bayern Munich did reclaim the title this year, the ultimate prize for both teams is the Champions League Final. These teams are now set to play in the final for the greatest of glory and bragging rights in Germany.

Bayern Munich has been a team of disappointment in recent Champions League Finals. Losing the 2010 final to Inter Milan was heartbreaking, but even worse was the final last year when Chelsea equalized at the end of regulation and ended up winning the title on penalties, in the home stadium of Bayern Munich no less.

Having been so disappointed in themselves, the club roared into action this season and claimed the Bundesliga crown in record time.

In the Champions League, Bayern Munich has been ruthless, dispatching of Arsenal, Juventus, and Barcelona often in quite decisive fashion. Their victory over Barcelona was legendary as Bayern Munich won with a 7-0 aggregate score, proving their worth with every goal.

But as impressive as Bayern Munich has been, Borussia Dortmund has been exciting. Topping the "group of death" consisting of Manchester City, Real Madrid, and Ajax, Borussia Dortmund then went on to defeat Shaktar Donetsk, Malaga, and Real Madrid, often in quite thrilling fashion. Their victory over Malaga was most exciting as two stoppage-time goals pushed the side through in the tie.

Against Real Madrid, Borussia Dortmund won commandingly at home 4-1 with Robert Lewandowksi the hero scoring all 4 goals. For the return leg, they thwarted a late Real Madrid charge and held on to secure a place in the final.

And now the two clubs will play for the largest of stakes at Wembley Stadium in London, and will lay to rest the argument over which club is the king of Germany.

There is always an added element of excitement when a Champions League Final is between two teams of the same country, as the players, coaches, and fans truly know each other inside and out. Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund have met twice so far this season, with both matches ending in 1-1 draws.

However, the Champions League Final will require a winner, and both teams have more than enough players that are capable of sparking such a victorious moment in the match.

Bayern Munich is a team built around speed and ruthless power. Wide players like Arjen Robben and Frank Ribery often lead the attacks and send in passes to players like Mario Gomez and Thomas Muller to finish off for goals.

With so much offensive creativity, Munich is excellent at manufacturing quick goals. With other German international stars like Phillip Lahm, Manuel Neuer, and Bastian Schweinsteiger, Munich is a well-balanced and organized team. Bayern Munich has had one of their best years in history and has only lost 3 total games in all their competitions. To wrap up their fine year with a Champions League trophy is now an obsession and any failure to do so would result in a sad end to such a fine season.

Additionally, Bayern Munich will say farewell to manager Jupp Heynckes at the end of the season, who is to be replaced by former Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola. Heynckes will surely want to become a Bayern Munich legend by winning the trophy, especially having seen his team come so close a year ago.

Borussia Dortmund is also a team devoted to speed and quick breaks. They have brilliantly amassed a team of young players that are a sure bet to become world-renowned stars in the coming years.

Leading the frontline is Robert Lewandowski, a very talented Polish goal scorer with 35 goals on the season. Additionally, the team houses a great deal of Germany’s best young talent with midfielders Mario Gotze and Marco Reus.

The defense is manned by Mats Hummels who is a superstar defender in the making. Manager Jurgen Klopp must be praised for his ability to mold this young crop of players into Champions League contenders. Dortmund is experiencing a great upheaval though and will lose several key players next year.

Lewandowski has been linked away for a while and is expected to depart soon. Mario Gotze broke the hearts of fans when it was recently announced that he is already headed for Bayern Munich this summer in a big money deal.

Such a transfer is a sad affair for the player, especially considering this massive game between the two clubs. For Borussia Dortmund, one has the feeling that winning the Champions League is a now or never proposition. Bayern Munich has great talent and is widely expected to simply bring in more star players, so we should expect their dominance to continue.

The match should be an exciting, fast paced affair with two teams that will go for it. Based on their incredible season domestically, and with the dominance showed against Barcelona in both legs of their semi-final matchup, I feel that Bayern Munich are the favorites in this game. Borussia Dortmund is a great test though and will provide an enthralling match.

Additionally, one would have to be brave to put money on Munich considering their two recent Champions League Final defeats. Truth be told, this is a total toss-up of a match with two teams that play free-flowing soccer. I envision Bayern Munich winning it late, 3-2.

Nicholas Spiller

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

FIFA Ballon d'Or 2012 Season winners

FIFA Ballon d'Or 2012

FIFA held its annual Ballon d’Or ceremony recently to award the players and coaches who had performed the best in last year's season. For the 3rd year in a row, Argentinean Lionel Messi took first place and claimed the prestigious men's Ballon d'Or award, beating runners up Cristiano Ronaldo and Andres Iniesta to the trophy. Messi was elected by the captains and coaches of the national teams who form the 209 FIFA Member Associations and a select group of media voters.

Messi masks

Bets are already laid on whether Messi will hand the trophy over at the end of the season after his hat trick, or if he will once again claim the title for a fourth time. Sport bettors and mobile casino fans can keep a close eye on his progress and determine whether they think this year the odds are stacked for or against him. And for those looking to place some other bets can also do so at sites like

The FIFA Women's World Player of the year 2012 award went to American Abby Wambach. Wambach is often considered one of the most lethal goal scorers in the world and has racked up a phenomenal 125 goals to date, massively increasing team USA's goal rate. She beat Brazilian runner up Marta, and fellow USA team member Alex Morgan to second and third place respectively.

In the FIFA Coach of the Year for men's football, Vicente del Bosque earned himself first place, beating off Spain's Pep Guardiola and Real Madrid's Jose Mourinho to earn himself the esteemed top spot.

For the Ladies Coach of the Year award Pia Sundhage beat both runner up male coaches and proved that equality in sport was entirely feasible. Japans Norio Sasaki placed second and France's Bruno Bini came in third.

The FIFA Puskás Award 2012 was awarded to Miroslav Stoch for the most beautiful and aesthetically pleasing goal of the season. Following in Ronaldo, Neymar and Altintops footsteps, Stoch becomes only the fourth player to claim this prestigious award.

Finally, the FIFA presidential Award for 2012 was awarded to one of the all time Soccer greats, Franz Beckenbauer. Known in Germany as Lichtgestalt or "shining light" the former player, coach and senior official was recognised for his extraordinary achievements and contribution to the game.

That rounds up this year's FIFA Ballon d'Or, so start placing your bets on the winners for 2013.


Saturday, May 11, 2013

Wigan Athletic

Wigan Athletic

Wigan Athletic face probably the most important four days in the history of the club starting today when they face Manchester City at Wembley Stadium in the final of the FA Cup.

Wigan Athletic

Next Tuesday they have a crucial away game at Arsenal at the Emirates where they really need a win or at least a draw to give themselves a fighting chance of retaining their Premier league status with a home game at the DW Stadium against Aston Villa.

This is Wigan's fourth relegation dog-fight in the upper tier of English football since they were promoted to the Premiership in 2005.

Wigan, located on the western outskirts of Manchester, is primarily a rugby town (Wigan share their stadium with Wigan Warriors rugby league team).

The club has to compete for support among a plethora of clubs within 50 miles of their home turf, among them such teams as the two Manchester giants, Everton, Liverpool, Bolton, Blackburn and Burnley, all of which have a longer heritage than the Latics, who were "only" formed in 1932 and entered the old Fourth Division at the end of the 1977-1978 season.

Indeed in the dark days of 1995 Wigan's home gate was a paltry 1,845 when they were relegated from the third to fourth tier. This was to be the nadir of the club, who were then purchased by JJB Sports owner Dave Whelan, who has overseen a meteoric rise in Wigan's fortunes from the old third division to Premiership status.

Since their arrival in the Barclay's Premier League Wigan have confounded expectations and reached the Carling Cup Final (losing 4-0 to Manchester United) and holding their own in mid to lower table until the relegation scares of the last few years.

To survive Wigan have had to sell on their best talent including Winston Palacios to Spurs (now at Stoke), Antonio Valencia to Manchester United, Emile Heskey to Aston Villa (now plying his trade in the Australian A-League), Leighton Baines to Everton and more recently Victor Moses to Chelsea.

Wigan Athletic FC

Indeed, even though Spanish manager and former Wigan player Roberto Martinez is hailed as a bright young coach, often linked with vacancies at the big clubs such as Liverpool and Everton, it is under his guidance that Wigan, who now employ a more "cultured" style than their previous "route one" stuff under Steve Bruce have begun to flirt with relegation despite improving their results against the Premier League's "big" teams.

Wigan's present season got off to a bad start at the DW Stadium when a sloppy first ten minutes cost them two goals (Ivanovic; Lampard, pen) against Chelsea and despite a spirited second half showing, Wigan got nothing from a game, which they really didn't deserve to lose. From then on Wigan have been unable to gain enough points at home to avoid a season-long fight for survival.

Wigan need to tighten up at the back and cut out individual mistakes if they are going to preserve their top flight status in the next week or two, but there is a silver lining - Wigan are guaranteed a place in next season's Europa League.