Thursday, March 21, 2013

Reversals of fortune in Korea

K League
Early days 

Three games down and the big story in the K League Classic is that champions FC Seoul are having problems. One point out of a possible nine was not the start that was expected. An opening day draw at home against Pohang Steelers was not a terrible start but then a first home defeat in nine years against Incheon United followed and then came a depressing 1-0 loss at Busan I’Park.

Fans are saying that the tactics and team selections are predictable and there is an over-reliance on offensive stars such as Dejan Damjanovic and Mauricio Molina and if they are not in form, which they are not, then coach Choi Yong-soo does not seem to have a plan B. If you add an out-of-form goalkeeper into the mix and have a defence looking vulnerable to counter-attacks.

The season ahead is still long as is the road back to the top and Seoul have much to work out if they are going to get there. It wasn’t necessary in 2012, the Demolition Duo was unstoppable and that may prove to be the case in 2013, but it hasn’t happened yet.

Incheon finished last season very strongly and have been the story of the new season so far with two excellent wins in Seoul and Seongnam. Coach Kim Bong-kil has the team well-organised with wide men Nam Jun-jae and Han Gyo-won looking sharp and rookie Lee Seok-hyun looking talented just behind the main striker.

Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma is another struggler but the seven-time champions went through something similar in 2012. Like a number of teams, there is a new coach and like almost every other team there are a lot of new players. Seongnam’s new signing Server Djeparov made his debut in the home defeat at the hands of Incheon United, scoring a late consolation goal. The Uzbekistan captain will need time to settle back in the life in Korea but when he does, he can help lift the team back closer to where it used to be.  

K League Challenge

The new second division is already on its second name as it came to be felt that using the old K League name was confusing. K League Challenge won out against K League Basic, and rightly so.

The big game of the opening weekend was the game between Anyang and Goyang (pictured left, courtesy of the K League).

 Four thousand fans turned out to watch the first professional game in the city since 2004 when Anyang Cheetahs, champions of Korea in 2000 and finalists of the Asian Club Championship a year later, were moved by conglomerate owners LG, to the capital to use the vacant Seoul World Cup Stadium.

Anyang scored inside the first minute to send the fans wild but that was the only goal of the game. It was an entertaining affair the fans went home happy and with promotion a possibility this season, there is much to play for.

Road to Brazil approaching a crossroads

Things are not going exactly smoothly in Korea’s quest to qualify for an eighth successive World Cup. One point from the last two games has people nervous. Usually, the visit of Qatar would not be cause for concern but this is a game that Korea now see as a must-win.

Three points here and three points in Beirut in June and the last two games, both at home, against Iran and Uzbekistan will be much easier to handle. The big news was the exclusion of Park Chu-young from the squad. The former Arsenal striker has been in and out of action with Celta Vigo in Spain and while he has three goals to his name, coach Choi Kang-hee feels that it is not enough.

The other European-based stars have all been called up. Son Heung-min is still in good form in Germany with Hamburg and Koo Ja-cheol has been starring for FC Augusburg. And with Ki Sung-yeung coming off a solid first season in the English Premier League with Swansea, there should be enough talent to see off the Qataris.


Thursday, March 14, 2013

Fifa World Rankings March 2013

Fifa World Rankings March 2013

Fifa's World Rankings for March 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 followed by Germany, Argentina, England, then Italy, Colombia, Portugal and Holland. Croatia and Russia round out the top ten. Copa America champions Uruguay are 16th, while Brazil remain stuck for another month in 18th, their lowest ever ranking. A resurgent Belgium are in 19th position.

Fifa World Rankings March 2013

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

Full world rankings

Previous Fifa World Rankings


Sunday, March 10, 2013

Reading 1 - 2 Aston Villa

Premier League Soccer
Reading v Aston Villa. Saturday March 9, 2013

Though Reading and Villa fans may disagree, it is games like this that proves the strength of the relegation system. In leagues such as the United States' Major League Soccer (MLS), which feature no relegation, matches between teams at the lower end of the league table are meaningless.

Reading 1 - 2 Aston Villa

Today's match could well decide who stays up in the Premier League and who drops to the treacle of the ridiculously named Championship. A win for either team will take it out of the bottom three.

Villa have the worst goal differential in the Premiership at minus 27.

Reading have been in the bottom four since September 2012.

Villa have dropped 18 points from winning positions this season, but Reading have dropped 20.

One of the players in the spotlight today at Reading's Madjeski Stadium will be Brad Guzan in the Villa goal, as US men's national team goalie Tim Howard may be kept out of upcoming World Cup qualifying games due to a back injury. Guzan has been playing well this season, despite his team's lowly position.

The game starts and it appears Villa are going with a 4-3-3 formation against Reading's 4-4-2 and straight away Guzan has to make a smart save from Le Fondre's header. Worryingly for Villa supporters Le Fondre was completely unmarked at the far post. The poor defending continues as Villa seem unwilling or unable to defend crosses. Yet suddenly at the other end of the field Benteke hits the bar with a header as he outjumps Reading's ex-Leeds United star Ian Harte.

Within seconds of that, there's a very good save by Guzan on the half volley in what promises to be an end-to-end encounter.

14' Guzan comes a long way off his line to make an effective punch; he is a very proactive keeper and he shows this once more as he comes out and makes a clean catch from a Reading corner.

15' Reading are caught offside for the first time in the game, indicating that the Villa defence is getting bolder. Have the players worked this out by themselves, or has the coaching staff given instructions?

Though it is Benteke who looks to be the class act here it is Robson-Kanu who shoots just wide of Guzan's left post with the keeper slightly out of position 'cheating' into the middle instead of fully protecting the near post, seemingly one of this season's fashions. See Manchester City 3 - 2 Southampton.

With a quarter of the game gone, the impression one gets is of a Championship match: passes are made in hope that the defenders won't cut them out, incorrect technique on the ball, and unintelligent runs.

In goal for Reading, Stuart Taylor (who apparently has appeared just seven times in sixteen years as a pro) punches clear as his defence retreats to cover a high diagonal. Good solid keeping.

The pressure comes back on Reading in the form of Andreas Weimann, but the Austrian disappointingly fires wide.

After Guzan gets down smartly again to make a save, suddenly it's 1 – 0. An own goal by Baker after Hope Akpan plays a clever flick in front of goal with his trailing leg.

1 - 1. Just a minute elapses before Weimann dribbles forward in the inside right channel, classically cuts the ball back to the waiting Benteke on the penalty spot. A deflection helps the ball past Taylor. Guzan makes yet another save. This time from Ian Harte's cross-shot that almost beats the Chicagoan at the top corner of the near post.

44' Suddenly, without warning, possession football breaks out. Villa string together numerous passes, Bannan clips the ball against the post, it bounces out and Agbonlahor rockets an unstoppable ball with his left foot into Taylor's top right hand corner. It's the former England player's fourth goal in 42 Premiership matches. 1 – 2.

48' Weimann is again disappointing in not taking a shot. How different he is from Christian Benteke, whose shot on the turn is deflected out for a corner; little wonder he has scored nearly 50% of Villa's goals this season. Most pundits seem to be predicting a bigger and brighter future for the big Belgian, if such a thing exists.

52' A thriller by Sylla of Villa. He hammers a shot just over Reading's bar. He was anonymous in the game before that shot, and, apart from a hugely wayward second shot, slips back into anonymity once more.

The spotlight on Brad Guzan continues and he confidently clears the ball left footed from a backpass. A US national team call-up is looking increasingly likely.

54' Reading think they're back in it as Hunt nets at the far post from McAnuff's great cross, but he's marginally offside.

68' Guzan makes yet another solid save, this time at the near post. Without this skillful goalkeeper, it's clear that Aston Villa would have lost this game already.

A strange substitution is made by Villa coach Paul Lambert. Bannan is taken off, and Charles N'Zogbia is on. With the increasing Reading pressure, one might have thought adding another defender, rather than an attacker, would have been the best thing to do. Nevertheless, N'Zogbia, so good for Newcastle United before his move to Villa Park, immediately announces his presence by shooting. Perhaps attack really is the best form of defence.

77' In perhaps his best moment of the game, Brad Guzan comes out of his goal as far as the penalty spot to make a clean catch and immediately launches a swift counterattack.

This exciting game finishes Reading 1 - 2 Aston Villa. Perhaps this is the beginning of the end of Reading's stay in the Premier League, and though we must remember they have performed incredible escape acts in the past, their next two daunting matches are away to Manchester United and Arsenal. Bookmakers are making Reading the favourites for relegation.

© Peter Rodd & Soccerphile 2013

Monday, March 4, 2013

Tottenham Hotspur 2 v Arsenal 1

Premier League Soccer: Tottenham Hotspur v Arsenal. Sunday 3 March 2013

The north London derby at White Hart Lane is an important one this year: both teams are vying for a spot in next term's Champions League, for which the top four teams in the Premier League will qualify.

Tottenham Hotspur 2 v Arsenal 1

Currently Tottenham lie in fourth place and Arsenal in fifth. Spurs will be confident here at home as they currently have one of Europe's best players in the form of Welshman Gareth Bale; he is competing with Barcelona's Lionel Messi in terms of the number of Euro goals he has scored this season. They have finished below Arsenal in the league for the past 17 seasons.

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger is under pressure because of his stated aim at the beginning of the season of finishing in the top four by the end of it. His critics say that a big club like Arsenal should be aiming to win the Premier League. However, his club have a new stadium to pay for, and Champions League qualification is paramount.

It looks like Tottenham are planning to go with a 4-4-2 formation, with Arsenal having just the one forward in a 4-5-1.

Spurs kick off and work the ball to the right to make use of the speedy Lennon.

6' An exciting length-of-the-field run by Kyle Walker with the ball has the crowd on its feet, but it comes to naught and he has to run all the way back to his defensive position. 10' Spurs French goalkeeper Lloris, who has recently replaced U.S. fan-favorite Brad Friedel, makes a fine stop by rushing off his goal line.

16' Superstar Bale is finding little space between the Arsenal defensive back line and midfield. Just as AC Milan recently snuffed out the threat posed by Barcelona's Lionel Messi, by 'collapsing' 2 or 3 defenders on him as soon as he received the ball, Arsenal are doing to Bale.

20' Sigurdsson, on the left, plays an inswinging curling ball over the top of the Arsenal defense and Bale, untracked, just fails to make contact with it: a dangerous moment for the Arsenal defense.

26' A moment of rarity when we see Kyle Walker, Spurs' right-back appear in attack on the left wing! This is reminiscent of the 'total football' style of the Dutch national team of the 1970s.

36' The midfield stalemate is suddenly broken as, again from the left, Sigurdsson again feeds Bale, whose run has beaten the offside trap. He clips the ball expertly with the outside of his left foot past Arsenal keeper Szczesny. Good pass, great finish. 1 - 0. This is the fifth consecutive game in which he has scored, and a good example why teams like Real Madrid are interested in buying him.

38' Spurs' Parker, yet again from the left side of midfield, plays a similar ball in for the speedy Lennon. He takes a couple of touches to round Szczesny and finishes with aplomb. 2 - 0.

Two-nil at half-time looks a bit flattering to Tottenham, but the Arsenal defenders have neglected to track the Tottenham runners.

50' After good work by Arsenal's Welshman Ramsey, Arsenal win a free kick on the left. It is swung in and Arsenal's German giant Per Mertesacker leaps to head the ball, which comes off Bale's head and ends up in the Tottenham net. 2 – 1.

59' Bale's mixed game continues as he misses a cross from the left and he balloons the ball over the Arsenal goal from close in.

62' Arsenal bring on Czech player Rosicky, and his quick feet and first-time passing leads to one the prettiest passing sequences seen in the Premiership this season. 69' Despite having the lead, Spurs keep pressing and Sigurdsson surely must score, but he squares the ball instead of shooting.

88' Arsenal's Walcott - desperate to become the England national team's center-forward - takes a free kick that just misses the Tottenham goal.

93' Arsenal go close in a frenetic finish, but this exciting match ends.

Tottenham Hotspur 2 – 1 Arsenal.

© Peter Rodd & Soccerphile 2013