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