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.


Thursday, May 9, 2013

Fifa World Rankings May 2013

Fifa World Rankings.
Fifa World Rankings May 2013

Fifa's World Rankings for May 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, Portugal, Colombia, England, Italy, Netherlands and Ecuador. Copa America champions Uruguay are 17th, while Brazil are still in their lowest ever position of 19th. A newly-strong Belgium are in 15th position. The Republic of Ireland are 39th, Wales stay 49th, Scotland are 79th and Northern Ireland are in 119th position.

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

Full world rankings

Previous Fifa World Rankings


Monday, May 6, 2013

Struggles of the Seoul in Korea

K League
K League Classic

The K League Classic season is now fully into its stride. Races for the title and to avoid the drop are now emerging. Fans can settle down and watch all the action unfold.

The story of the season is still FC Seoul. The defending champions went seven games without a win, then grabbed two successive victories, qualified for the second round of the Asian Champions League at a canter and then lost to ten-man Jeonbuk Motors.

It is more bad than good. The success in Asia came in a group that was underwhelming. The two victories came against Daegu and Gangwon at home -these are two teams that occupy the bottom spots of the league and have yet to win a game between them. Seoul have collected just one point on the road this season. The title is still not out of the question but there is now no room for error.

So what’s changed since last season? Well, nothing really and that’s the problem. The team, is pretty much the same, the coach is the same and the tactics are the same. What has changed has been the form of goalkeeper Kim Yong-dae, who has made some real clangers, and the defence which has struggled against anything mildly physical. And when you have the rest of league knowing that if you can stop the ‘Demolition Duo’, Dejan Damjanovic and Mauricio Molina, then you can get a good result.

Pohang Steelers are going well at the top despite a small squad and no foreign players to have a touch of flair to the line-up. Despite a lack of prolific strikers, the Steelers are three points clear at the top as they are well-organised and have a classy midfield with the likes of rising star Lee Myung-joo and the two Hwangs – Ji-soo and Jin-sung.

Jeju United are going solidly, not pulling up trees but slowly keeping the points total ticking over. Hamstrung by a number of injuries at the start of the season, the islanders are slowly building a decent squad. Their starting eleven does not yet have the quality of some of their rivals but nobody relishes a trip to the picturesque Jeju World Cup Stadium.

After a poor start to the season, Seongnam recovered in dramatic fashion by picking up successive wins against champions FC Seoul, Asian Champions Ulsan and 2012 runners-up Jeonbuk. Kim Dong-seob produced some mesmerising football in attack to score four goals and give fans of the Yellows hope for the season.  

At The Bottom

 It is common to see Daegu near the bottom although last season was an exception. That was under the stewardship of Moacir Pereria whose first season ended with a tenth place finish. Deagu may regret letting the Brazilian go, saying that he and coaching staff were too expensive. After eight games without a win, Baek Jong-chul replaced Dang Seong-jeung. Daegu have collected just a single point in the two games since but have at least stemmed the flood of goals that were leaking out of defence.

Seoul are only five points above the drop zone while Gyeongnam are only four. The Changwon team have lost just twice but have won only once. Lacking ruthlessness in front of goal, Gyeongnam need to start picking up points or a surprise relegation fight is on the cards.

Mixed bag in Asia

As mentioned above, Seoul strolled through their group to finish first and book a second round clash with Beijing Gouan. Jeonbuk Motors were not quite as smooth but collected a point at Guangzhou Evergrande to finish second behind the Chinese champions and will face Kashiwa Reysol of Japan.

Pohang missed out and were left to regret their decision to send a full reserve team to Bunyodkor in the second match though the Steelers don’t really have the squad to compete at home and abroad. But Suwon were truly poor.

The Bluewings failed to win a single game and only scored in two. The nadir was a 6-2 defeat at home to Kashiwa. Suwon were awarded no less than four penalties and proceeded to miss three of them. Interestingly, or painfully if you are a fan, within seconds of all four spot kicks being taken, the Japanese team went down the other end and scored. A master-class of attacking or defending, it was not.