Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Weekly Football News March 25 2014

Weekly Football News 3 February 2014
Clasico dual ends with Barca victory

Lionel Messi's brilliance sealed a thrilling 4-3 victory in the Clasico and ensured that Barcelona remain in the hunt to retain their La Liga title.
In a match featuring three penalties - all scored - and the harsh sending off of Real defender Sergio Ramos, Messi scored a hat-trick and also provided the assist for Andres Iniesta's opener and a sublime pass for the penalty won by Neymar. "La Liga is not over," Gerardo Martino said after watching his side close to within a point of title rivals Real and Atletico Madrid.
"We were given up for dead but with this result today we are right back in it. This was our last chance. We did not want to be left out."
Messi's hat-trick took him onto a total of 236 goals in the league, overtaking Hugo Sanchez in La Liga history.

Weekly Football News March 25 2014.

Goals galore in record-breaking Premier League weekend

Premier League supporters were thrilled by a record-breaking weekend of goalscoring from the latest round of action in England.
The primary headline-makers were Chelsea, who ran riot against title rivals Arsenal, scoring four times before half-time in a 6-0 thrashing that maintained their four-point lead at the head of the EPL table.
That scoreline only marginally overshadowed the ruthless performances of the other title challengers, with second-placed Liverpool also scoring six in their away win in Cardiff and Manchester City, third but with three games in hand over the leaders, winning 5-0 against bottom side Fulham.
Of his side's demolition of Arsenal on the day of Arsene Wenger's 1000th match in charge of the Gunners, Blues manager Jose Mourinho claimed, "We came to kill and in 10 minutes we destroyed [them].
"The way we started, the way we pressed them and recovered the ball, it was fantastic. "Everyone in the stadium felt it would be an easy Chelsea win after only 10 minutes and it was then easy and comfortable."

Kehl signs for one more season

Former Germany international Sebastian Kehl has revealed that he will retire at the end of next season, after penning a one-year contract extension at Borussia Dortmund. Kehl has help Dortmund to three Bundesliga crowns in his 12-year spell with the club, including the league and cup double in 2012.
"Borussia Dortmund, our wonderful team, fans and the city of Dortmund has been my home for many years, so I have decided to continue my stay," said the midfielder, who played 31 times for Germany.
"The decision to end my active career in 2015 has been growing and I hope to still experience some unforgettable moments and great success with the team until then."

English referee sends off wrong player

Referee Andre Marriner has apologised for sending off Arsenal defender Kieran Gibbs by mistake during the Gunners' 6-0 defeat by league leaders Chelsea.
Marriner and his officials wrongly identified Gibbs, the Arsenal left-back, as having deliberately handled the ball in the penalty area, when in fact the culprit was England midfielder Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Referees' body the Professional Game Match Officials Limited said in the statement: "Incidents of mistaken identity are very rare and are often the result of a number of different technical factors.
"Whilst this was a difficult decision, Andre is disappointed that he failed to identify the correct player.
"He expressed his disappointment to Arsenal when he was made aware of the issue."

Marc Fox

Monday, March 24, 2014

Scottish Premier League News March 2014

Scottish Premier League News
SPL News

by Lisa Dillon


The resurgence of fortunes within the Scottish national team continued with a friendly win over Poland in an interesting prelude to the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign. The teams will come up against one another in October in a competitive qualifier, but manager Gordon Strachan dismissed the suggestion that the 1-0 victory, courtesy of a Scott Brown goal, was a psychological advantage.

"It meant absolutely nothing, because there will be changes," said Strachan. "These two teams won't be the same. But what it does, for the next couple of months, is give us confidence." Scotland's next friendly is likely to be at Fulham's Craven Cottage in May, with Nigeria having invited Strachan's side to play them in London.

The win over Poland was Scotland's third successive away win, and they have gone five matches unbeaten, the past four without conceding a goal.

"That's good and it's not easy to do that," said Strachan, though, somewhat typically, he was not getting carried away with the improvements he has seen since taking over the helm from Craig Levein.

"It wasn't a great game. I don't think you could expect anything other than that at this time of the season in a friendly. It gave us a chance to have a look at them and vice versa, but we got some bonuses."

Strachan also used the game to assess debutant Andrew Robertson. The 19-year-old Dundee United left-back came on as a second-half substitute just a year to the day after playing for amateurs Queen's Park in a victory over Elgin City in Scotland's lowest tier.

"I thought it didn't faze him and that adds to our squad. If he can keep up his performances then there's no reason why he shouldn't be in the next one," Strachan said.

But the manager reserved most praise for captain Brown, whose powerful finish from the edge of the box followed up his winner in the previous friendly in Norway. "He has been fantastic," enthused the Scotland boss. "We're looking to be more potent in attack. We need to work at that, that's for sure, but we're hopeful of having players over the next six months who will add to that."



Virgil van Dijk's agent has suggest that the Dutch defender is likely to head to the English Premierhip this summer, a move that may be prompted by the 22-year-old's failure to earn international recognition while in Glasgow.

The defender has been one of Celtic’s most consistent performers this season and there was some surprise when he was omitted from the Dutch provisional squad for this summer’s World Cup finals.

"I'm surprised because I think he's good enough to be in the provisional squad of 33,” said Neil Lennon, the Celtic manager. "I don't know why he didn’t make it. You'd have to ask the coach of Holland about that."

Van Dijk has been linked with Arsenal, Manchester City and Manchester United after impressing in his first season with Celtic, having joined from Groningen last summer. "He's played very well and been very consistent domestically and he was superb at the highest level in the Champions League," said Lennon. "He is only 22, so he's got a lot of scope to be even better."

Van Dijk was a replacement for Kelvin Wilson, who moved to Nottingham Forest, and Lennon admitted that the Dutchman had exceeded his expectations.

"We knew we had a good player having seen him and then looked at him in pre-season, but it's his temperament you don't know about beforehand - he's got a fantastic attitude to the game as well," said the manager.

"Kelvin was an excellent player here and had a big bearing on the Champions League last year - he had some great games. We felt it might take a little time to replace him, but Virgil's been a very good fit."

Lennon stressed that Van Dijk, who has represented his country at under-21 level, should not dwell on missing out on Dutch coach Louis van Gaal's initial squad.

"He’s what you what you want in the modern-day centre-half. He's big, he's got great timing in the air, tactically proficient with both feet, he's got good pace and reads the game very well." Meanwhile, Lennon has admitted that the tantalising possibility of Celtic playing in England is one that he has given thought to. There is always an issue of Scottish clubs playing in the Premiership, but it is doubtful whether or not it will ever come to fruition. Lennon, though, has revealed his perfect future would be to manage Celtic south of the border.

"The ideal scenario for me would be to manage Celtic in the Premier League but whether that will ever happen or not I don't know," said the Hoops boss. "Maybe one day it will happen but at the minute we are content to keep going as we are."

“There are always moves behind the scenes but there are always buffers in the way. It's just a nice thought. We all harbour ambitions to better ourselves and I'm no different from anyone else but I've got a big job on my hands at the minute.

"European football and winning championships is the driving force behind us. Can we get to play in what would be perceived to be a better environment for the club?


Ibrox boss Ally McCoist has once again found himself shying away from public queries about the financial state of Rangers. Yet another war of words has broken out between former director Dave King and the current Rangers board over the financial running of the beleaguered Glasgow club.

King called on Rangers fans not to renew their season tickets, a move which irked chairman David Somers, who accused the prospective investor of  'attempting to destabilise the club'.

The South Africa-based businessman has now agreed to meet Somers, and other members of the Rangers board, but when asked how he felt the showdown talks would go, McCoist was reluctant to voice a public opinion. "I don't have to pay attention to that," he said. "What I pay attention to at the moment is the football team," he said. "Matches, games, results... that's my job as a football manager. "Everything else will look after itself. I'm not saying it's secondary but everything else will look after itself. Our boys have been doing particularly well in terms of results."

When pushed on the imminent arrival of King in Scotland, he replied: "I think Dave King said 'Ally McCoist was doing the right thing by actually talking about the football'. "So is the chief executive and the board. So if all parties are quite happy with me talking about the football, which indeed I am, I think I will continue to talk about the football. "The last two years have been what they've been. I don't get frustrated, I just have a job to do."

Friday, March 21, 2014

George's Premiership Predictions March 22 2014

George's Premiership Predictions March 22 2014

Chelsea v Arsenal is this week's big Premier League. Jose doesn't do defeats at home to his nearest rivals. Arsene Wenger has a poor record against the man from Setubal. George is going for a tense and dreary 1-1 draw. Other title contenders Manchester City should beat bottom club Fulham at home and Liverpool are heavy favourites to take all three points at Cardiff after their win at Old Trafford last weekend.

George's Premiership Predictions March 22 2014

Saturday 22 March 2014

Chelsea 1 v Arsenal 1
Cardiff  1 v Liverpool 3
Everton 2 v Swansea 1
Hull 1 v West Brom 2
Man City 3 v Fulham 1
Newcastle 1 v Crystal Palace 1
Norwich 1 v Sunderland 0
West Ham 1 v Man Utd 2

Sunday 23 March

Tottenham 1 v Southampton 2
Aston Villa 1 v Stoke 1

English Pair 4/11 To Miss Out On Champions League Final

Chelsea and Manchester United are in the hat for Friday’s 2013/14 Champions League quarter final draw but bookmakers are 4/11 about no Premier League club being in the final come May with the Red Devils the outsiders of eight to lift the famous trophy once more.

Spokesman Steve Freeth "Both sides were handed favourable last 16 ties, which of course Manchester United made heavy weather of, but a glance at the betting now shows the pair might struggle this time around."

Chelsea and Man Utd are 11/2 to be drawn together on Friday with an English winner quoted at 7/1.

2013/14 Champions League Outright EW ½ 1,2

Bayern Munich 15/8 Barcelona 7/2
Real Madrid 4/1 PSG 9/1
Atletico Madrid 12/1 Chelsea 12/1
Borussia Dortmund 14/1 Man Utd 16/1

Nationality Of Winner

Spain Evs Germany 7/5
England 7/1 France 9/1

Number Of English Sides To Reach The Final

None 4/11 One 2/1 Two 66/1

Next Round Draw

Chelsea & Manchester United to meet at Quarter Final Stage 11/2

Soccer - Moyes targets European glory

Manchester United boss David Moyes believes that his side can go all the way in the Champions League this season, with the Red Devils 16/1 with bookmakers to win the tournament. United came from two goals down to record a 3-2 aggregate success over Olympiacos in the last-16 and now await the quarter-final draw, where Moyes' men stand alongside Chelsea, Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, Paris St-Germain and Atletico Madrid. And, although Moyes accepts that his team are not highly fancied to be crowned European champions, he thinks that United could yet surprise a few people. "We will probably go into the quarter-final tie as underdogs, but I don't see why not (we can't win the trophy)," Moyes told reporters. "This football club is capable of it. If we play to our capabilities, which we've not shown that often this season, I think we can be a match for any team."

Clichy issues silverware warning

Manchester City left-back Gael Clichy has warned his team-mates that they need to win the Premier League to make this season a success. The Citizens have already secured the Capital One Cup, but France international Clichy says that his club need to add to that trophy to be able to look back on the campaign with pride. He warned: "The Capital One Cup won't be enough. It's crunch time and we have to get the points until the end of the season. "Basically, if we win all the games we are going to be champions. It's easy to say, but not easy to do, but we're going to try really hard to make this happen." The Citizens, who are 13/10 with bookmakers to be crowned champions, are currently fourth in the table, six points behind leaders Chelsea with three games in hand. City host Fulham on Saturday, having won each of their last four meetings with the Londoners.

Last time's Premier League predictions

© Soccerphile.com

Friday, March 14, 2014

England & Italy victims of Europe's New Wave

UEFA Champions League

UEFA Champions League

The second round of the UEFA Champions League is only a quarter done but once again it looks like it will be glory to the Germans and Spanish.

Atletico Madrid and Barcelona are already in the last eight, with Real Madrid sure to join them. Borussia Dortmund should join Bayern and Paris Saint-Germain, leaving Chelsea or Galatasaray (1:1 from the first leg) and Manchester United or Olympiakos (0:2) to scrap for the final two places.

The top two nations in FIFA's World Rankings are also dominating their continent's top club competition.

Reigning champions Bayern Munich cruised past Arsenal 3-1 on aggregate with a superiority so embarrassing it made for painful viewing in England.

For a coach so number-crunching as Arsene Wenger, the raw statistics of the 1-1 tie at the Allianz Arena must have felt like daggers to his heart:

Starting two goals down from the first leg at Ashburton Grove, in the second leg, Arsenal made 433 passes to Bayern's 791, with a completion rate of 67% against the Germans' 81%.

The Gunners' most prolific passer was Bacary Sagna, with 36, yet Bayern's top translator was Thiago Alcantara with 89. Arsenal struggled to leave their half or string passes together in the face of Bayern's ferocious 'gegenpressing', a Germanic take on Barcelona's closing-down.

With Pep Guardiola cutting a sartorial dash on the touchline and Thiago buzzing, it was as if the blaugrana had upped sticks to Bavaria.

The only Gunner who came away with credit was goalkeeper Lukas Fabianski, who saved a penalty from Thomas Muller, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, whose mazy runs provided some threat and have surely stamped his England ticket to Brazil.

Barça themselves comfortably sank another English warship the following night, defeating moneybags Manchester City 4-1 over two legs. This leaves Chelsea, who drew 1-1 away to Galatasaray, and Manchester United, who lost 2-0 at Olimpiakos in their first legs, clutching the battered Premier League flag amid the German-Spanish cavalcade.

Man United are still suffering from the inevitable post-Fergie hangover, yet one should not underestimate any side under the tutelage of Jose Mourinho.

Anyone still absurdly crowing about how good the Premier League is can at least cry on the shoulders of Italians, who have also been wailing and blaming after the ageing legs of Milan, their last CL representative, surrendered 5-1 on aggregate to the ebullient Atletico Madrid, conceding four at the Vicente Calderon.

In this match, the stats interestingly favoured the thrashed: Milan won 56% of possession and made 507 successful passes against Atletico's 391, yet lost 4-1.

11 Milanese shots, 5 of which were on target, versus Atletico's 7 accurate shots out of 13 do not portray such a one-sided scoreline, and nor does the fact Milan made more runs in the attacking third and into the box.

Roy Hodgson was perhaps right when he said he did not hold much stock in the stats but concentrated on who creates the more goalscoring chances.

Yet the figures comparing Mario Balotelli and Diego Costa are consistent with their performances. The Brazilian-born Costa, who made his debut for his adoptive Spain last week, ran ten kilometres against Balotelli's eight, made 35 passes against 22, combined seven times with teammates versus Balotelli's none and shot three times against Balotelli's once.

Costa was full of energy and explosive, leaping to connect with the end of his shoe to open the scoring before he added another goal; Balotelli on the other hand had one of his stinkers, trudging around moodily and unmotivated.

In their make-or-break clash, Milan started only one goal behind but Kaka apart, were never at the races. Their lethargic and error-strewn midfield trio of Michael Essien, Nigel de Jong and Andrea Poli were eclipsed by the mobile and fiery Mario Suarez, Gabi and Koke.

"We are sad and disappointed," manager Clarence Seedorf indeed confirmed.

The post-mortems have switched to the general malaise in Italian football on and off the field - the bent owners and officials, the hooligans and the now shabby-looking stadia, which in Italia '90 had dazzled the world.

Unthinkable as it might have been a few years back, Italians are worried that Portugal will overtake them in the UEFA coefficients and they will receive fewer European places in future.

Serie A's death has long been exaggerated it must be said, despite the latest bad news. Italian clubs might have missed out on the Champions League quarter-finals four times in the 21st Century but in the same spell have also won the cup three times, as many times as England and more than Germany. The Azzurri also won the 2006 World Cup.

The municipally-owned stadia are a problem however, and compare unfavourably with those in Germany and England. Even the relatively new Juventus arena rakes in half the money the similarly-sized Stamford Bridge does. The persistence of hundreds of militaristic and often racist ultras in the 'curva' does not help win sponsors either.

Big name players tend to pick Spain, England or Bayern Munich now instead of Serie A having first bite at the cherry. And ambitious owners favour higher-profile leagues than Italy's.

The international clamour to control Premier League clubs shows no signs of abating, and top English teams, on the back of the latest bumper TV deal, can, unlike Serie A, look forward to more huge cash injections for the foreseeable future.

This financial advantage means there are five English clubs and only two Italian in Deloitte's latest top ten list of wealthy teams. Even Inter have slipped to twelfth.

While Germany and Spain dominate on the field for now, English teams will be splashing the cash to fight back to their perch a decade or so ago when three out of the four semi-finalists were from the Premier League (2005) or both of the finalists (2008).

For Italian clubs however, a return to their glory days still looks far away.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile


World Soccer football

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Fifa World Rankings March 2014

FIFA World Fifa Rankings
Fifa World Rankings March 2014

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 for yet another month and there were only a few changes in the top 20 positions. Spain are followed by Germany, Argentina, Portugal, Colombia, Uruguay, Switzerland, Italy, World Cup 2014 hosts Brazil and Belgium who overtake neighbors the Netherlands.

England are 12th up three places with their last game a home friendly win against Denmark at Wembley.

Scotland are in 37th position, down 3 places. The Republic of Ireland are still in 68th place down one place, an all-time low, Wales are in 49th, up 2 places with Northern Ireland down in 86th place, down spot from last month.

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

Full world rankings

Previous Fifa World Rankings

© Soccerphile.com

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Despite Featuring Many Top Teams Expect European Nations to Struggle at 2014 World Cup

World Cup 2014, Brazil
Expect European Nations to Struggle at 2014 World Cup

The 2014 World Cup of soccer is fast approaching, and fans of the 32 involved nations are getting more and more excited with each passing day for their prospects of glory in Brazil.

But while the majority of tournament favorites come from the continent of Europe, I can almost guarantee you that the World Cup winner will not be a European nation.

Perhaps that comes across as a mighty bold statement considering the prowess of international superpowers like Germany, Spain, France, and Italy, but there is an unfortunate fact in football that will doom these teams. The problem is the location of Brazil for the World Cup. Here is the fact: Only one European team has ever won a World Cup outside of Europe!

That team was Spain, which won the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. While that achievement does give hope for the European teams headed for Brazil, it really should not. For one thing, the home teams are generally boosted by their friendly surroundings at international sporting competitions. Just like Russia recently dominated the medal count at the Sochi Olympics, so will Brazil likely stroll to a World Cup title.

Brazil World Cup 2014

And the surrounding nations like Uruguay and Argentina should also figure to dominate at this event, potentially even pulling off a victory themselves. Meanwhile, at the African World Cup of 2010, the African teams were boosted, but I doubt anyone had expected one of them to actually win. They are simply unable to compete against many of the world's best. However, Ghana did manage to reach the quarterfinals.

The reason that Spain proved to be an anomaly was that their team was freakishly talented beyond all others. They simply dominated possession in every game forcing opponents to scramble keeping up. While they will still carry many of the same players of that triumph, they will be without a vital piece of their former squad: Carlos Puyol. The often-barbaric central defender was crucial to the success of Spain and often sucked the life out of their opponents. He was also a hero after scoring a powerful header to lead Spain to victory over Germany in the semifinals. Without Puyol in the side, expect Spain to not be quite as strong. And as evidenced by their 3-0 thrashing at the hands of Brazil in the 2013 Confederation Cup Final, I doubt the Spanish will be able to contend.

But why have World Cup victories proved so difficult for countries to earn outside of their respective continents? There are actually a ton of reasons. For one, fan support is limited. While World Cups do make for wonderful traveling opportunities, it is will be both costly and possibly dangerous for foreigners to make the trek out to Brazil.

There will be definite security threats throughout the tournament and most fans simply cannot afford trans-Atlantic plane flights, World Cup tickets, and all the additional costs of hotel arrangements and pricey dinners.

In essence, every European match (especially those against South American teams) will be an away game. As we see time and time again in club soccer throughout the world, winning an away match can be mighty tricky. The same effect is reversed for home teams. With their fans at their backs, they often rise above the odds and push forward to win.

Thus, the South American teams at the World Cup will be blessed with home support throughout the tournament. With some of the rowdiest known fans on the planet, expect these sides to work magic and win most of the games. For everyone else? The going will be tough. In fact, the only nation other than Spain to even win a World Cup outside of their home continent has been Brazil. And now they will be the host nation.

Another factor that will come into play is the time zone difference. For the European nations, they will have to play matches on an average of 4 hours later. While teams will attempt to counter this by arriving early and settling into the new surroundings, there’s no doubt that they will struggle to adapt to the new time zones.

A whole other issue resides in the weather in Brazil. This is literally a nation through which the equator of the world runs. It will be hot. It will be humid. And as we will soon see, European players, most of whom are not used to playing in temperatures above 60 degrees (and often play in far colder weather) will probably suffer in these conditions.

Perhaps it won’t be too much of an issue in earlier games, but as the tournament wears on towards the final, some of these European stars will certainly be feeling the heat and get fatigued!

And lastly, I expect Europe to fail as a whole at this World Cup because of the players. Sure, there are many wonderful European soccer stars, but South America is home to some potential soccer legends, and they have the supporting casts to back them up. For Brazil, it is all about Neymar, the sensational 22-year-old striker who has already scored 30 goals for his country. His task will be made easier with the likes of Oscar, David Luiz, Dani Alves, Hulk, and Thiago Silva.

For Argentina, the talk is all about Lionel Messi, and his quest will be aided by the likes of Sergio Aguero, Pablo Zabaleta, Javier Mascherano, and Angel di Maria. Or take a look at Uruguay, led by superstar striker Luis Suarez and a supporting cast of Edinson Cavani, Diego Forlan, Christian Rodriguez, and Diego Lugano. These guys are the ones that could win a World Cup.

Elsewhere, there may be some star players, but the supporting cast isn’t quite up to par. Sure Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben could make a claim for the Netherlands, but their back line will be a major area of concern. Yes, Cristiano Ronaldo is an incredible player, but who else on Portugal will get him the ball?

Mario Balotelli will carry the burden of Italy on his shoulders, but who else on that team can really support him? And yes, France and Germany both have great squads, but are any one of their players actually world-class superstars? By the players alone, South America will dominate this World Cup.

And so while the 2014 World Cup beckons warmly for all soccer fans and their visions of success, I think there are many reasons to keep a level head and not expect a European winner this time around. Sure, there will be enthralling matches, and a team like Germany could potentially reach the final, but make no mistake about it, a South American team (probably Brazil) is going to walk away as World Cup Champions!

© Nicholas Spiller & Soccerphile.com

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Revenge served cold on Pohang

K-League news.
2014 K-League

It has been a low-key start to the 2014 K-League season. Blame the Winter Olympics and the controversy surrounding Queen Yu-na Kim being awarded the silver medal to a local Russian skater despite most thinking she deserved to win. And then there was a big national team game away in Greece and then the 32nd campaign of Asia’s oldest professional league got underway. It started as the 2013 campaign finished with a late goal settling affairs between Pohang Steelers and Ulsan Horangi.

Readers will remember (how could they forget?) how Pohang scored in the last minute of the final game at Ulsan to take the title from their despondent hosts who had been five points clear with two games remaining. That day, Kim Shin-wook was suspended and went pitchside to celebrate for the final seconds only to arrive just as the Pohang end of the stadium was going crazy.

Three months on, he scored the only goal of the game to give the Tigers a winning start. It was a deserved win. Fans at the Steelyard, still celebrating their unlikely title win, got a reminder that Pohang may not be out in front this season after not strengthening, perhaps even becoming weaker over the winter.

FC Seoul fans know the feeling. Despite a classy win over Central Coast Mariners in the opening round of the Asian Champions League at the end of February, the club got a glimpse of life with stars Dejan Damjanovic and Ha Dae-sung, who moved to China at the start of the year. Seoul, who were beaten finalists in the 2013 Asian Champions League, lost 1-0 at home to Chunnam. Seoul habitually are slow starters and don’t have the best of records against the Dragons, one of the league’s smaller side, but the performance was as tame as white kimchi.

Jeonbuk Motors have moved into gear with ominous ease. The club has signed a number of players over the close season such as Han Kyo-won and 2002 star Kim Nam-il from Incheon as Brazilian duo Marcos Aurelio and Kaio. The club has decent strength in depth and when it talks of challenging for the K-League and the Asian Champions League, it has the talent to do so and was proved when the Jeonju club scored three great goals to sweep aside Busan I’Park on the opening day, just ten days after defeating Yokohama F Marinos by the same 3-0 scoreline.

Suwon Bluewings were the other big power to get off to a win, albeit a lucky 1-0 victory at jeju United thanks to a Lee Yong own goal. The Gyeonggi giants are looking to put a disappointing 2013 behind them and while three points won’t do that, they will help. Jeju, who signed a huge amount of players over the past few months, will need time to settle.

Elsewhere, military team Sangju Sangmi are back in the top flight and played out an entertaining 2-2 draw with Incheon United while the new Seongnam FC lost 1-0 to a late Luke Devere goal.

Park Chu-young reborn

It took just 12 minutes for the Arsenal striker to announce his return to the international stage as he thrashed a half-volley into the Greek net in Athens. Now on loan at Watford in the English championship, Park showed few signs of rust after his recent inaction and helped Korea to a fine 2-0 win the capital of the team ranked 12 in the world.

Son Heung-min grabbed the second in the second half, an equally sumptuous strike that almost tore the roof off the net. After some indifferent performances by the team in January against Costa Rica, Mexico and the United States, going forward Korea looked excellent at times. At the back, it wasn’t quite as impressive. But under coach Hong Myong-bo, who took the job just eight months ago, the team is moving in the right direction. Or so it seems.

So far in Asia, so good. Six games in and two draws and four wins. The K-League has a good record in Asia and while there is still some way to go in 2014, the start has been good. Especially impressive was Jeonbuk’s 3-0 defeat of Yokohama F. Marinos, even if the scoreline was slightly flattering, and Ulsan's come from behind 3-1 win down under at the home of Western Sydney Wanderers.

© Soccerphile.com

Weekly Football News March 11 2014

Weekly Football News 3 February 2014
Wigan in dreamland - again

Wigan Athletic have been rewarded for knocking high-flying Manchester City out of the FA Cup with a second trip to Wembley within 12 months.

The FA Cup holders repeated their feat of overcoming City in last season's final at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday, despite the fact that the club has been relegated from the Premier League and seen their inspirational manager Roberto Martinez depart for Everton in the meantime.

Wigan's route to the semi-final has also included notable wins over Premier League sides Crystal Palace and Cardiff City and they now face Arsenal in their semi-final tie.

In the other semi-final, League One side Sheffield United will play Hull City. "To win - and the way we won - is my biggest achievement as a football manager," Wigan manager Uwe Rosler said. "We did not do it just by parking the bus and being lucky. We played very good football and over long periods."

Wigan Athletic FC

Hunt's sportsmanship a shining light

Germany midfielder Aaron Hunt has been hailed for his sportsmanship after refusing to accept a penalty decision that was wrongly awarded in his favour. The 27-year-old Werder Bremen captain told referee Manuel Graefe to reverse his 75th-minute decision to award Werder a penalty, after Nuremberg's defender Javier Pinola had appeared to bring down Hunt in the box.

"Out of instinct, I wanted to provoke the penalty, but that was wrong," Hunt told Sky Sports. "I struggled with myself a bit (to say something), but we don't want to win any games like that, even if we are in a relegation battle." Bremen went on to win 2-0.

Fulham's chances are diminishing: Magath

Fulham manager Felix Magath has admitted that his side's Premier League status is hanging by a thread after their 3-1 defeat by fellow cellar dwellers Cardiff City. Magath, Fulham's third manager of a turbulent season, boldly predicted that he would turn around the side's fortunes on his arrival last month.

However, he has been forced to concede that Fulham might slip into the Championship after watching his team humbled by out-of-form Cardiff.

"Our chances are worse than before (to stay up)," said the former Bayern Munich manager. "We have to win our home games, that is the most important thing. The next game is a home game against Newcastle and we need three points."

Fulham are now three points behind second-from bottom Sunderland, who have three matches in hand.

Roar power on in Australia

Brisbane Roar are virtually assured of securing the Premier's Plate in Australia after moving 10 points clear at the top of the A-League table following a 2-1 win over Adelaide United. With five rounds of the regular season remaining, the premiership and a berth in next year's AFC Champions League are seemingly assured for the 2010/11 and 2011/12 champions. Star striker Besart Berisha scored both goals to secure Brisbane's 14th win of the season. "Five games to go, plus finals, winning at home - it's a good habit to get into," coach Mike Mulvey said afterwards.

Marc Fox

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Friendly fire 2014

Friendly Fire

Most of this summer's World Cup qualifiers were in friendly action last night. The following teams who will be in Brazil ended up on the losing side:

Friendly Fire

  • Australia - 4-3 to Ecuador in London
  • Iran  - 2-1 at home to Guinea
  • Italy - 1-0 away to Spain
  • Netherlands - 2-0 away to France
  • USA - 2-0 to Ukraine in Cyprus
  • Chile - 1-0 away to Germany
  • Ghana - 1-0 away to Montenegro
  • Greece - 2-0 at home to South Korea
  • Cameroon - 5-1 away to Portugal
51,000 witnessed the 2010 hosts South Africa crash 5-0 at home to the 2014 hosts Brazil. Neymar bagged a hat-trick and Fernandinho and Oscar completed the rout.

Gibraltar lost 2-0 at home to Estonia in preparation for their Euro 2016 debut in September

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Muddling on under Hodgson

Another fine mess at the F.A.

England 1:0 Denmark

Wembley, London

Roy Hodgson must be the anxious-looking manager around. Once more at Wembley last night, as the camera homed in on the England bench, a nervous-looking middle-aged man, biting his fingernails, sat glued to his seat.

Off-field the much-travelled coach speaks with calm assuredness and authority, but the key ninety minutes always sets his pulse-rate soaring.

Last night it was his side's inability to break down second-rate European opponents until eight minutes from time which meant the manager's face of worry was beamed across the nation.

His task in Brazil is indeed immense, with Italy, Uruguay and Costa Rica at the first hurdle.

With less than a hundred days to go until the World Cup Finals, one would hope Hodgson's mind is full of last-minute plans and the never easy job of trimming the squad down to 23.

The arrival of Southampton's young legion in the upper reaches of the Premier League has given him a welcome host of new options. Adam Lallana looks the most likely of the young Saints to get the nod, having injected real zest into the attack in the second half.

Lallana glided fluently up the left flank, supplied the assist for Daniel Sturridge's clincher and performed a perfect Cruyff turn in the box to boot.  His contribution was certainly more effective than the comparatively slow and increasingly disappointing Jack Wilshere.

Luke Shaw generated a lot of hype before the game but Ashley Cole, although struggling to keep his place at Chelsea, performed better at left-back in his 45 minute audition.

With John Terry's enforced retirement, central defence still looks less than airtight. Last night it was Gary Cahill and Chris Smalling who twice let Danish attackers slip between them for chances they luckily spurned. Memories of Terry and Matthew Upson leaving acres between them in 2010 against Germany are all too raw.

Steven Gerrard seems sure to play the role of deep midfield anchorman in Brazil ahead of Michael Carrick, while Jordan Henderson did a reasonable job of hoovering around him in the centre, an alternative to Tom Cleverley.

In their own half, England look smooth and organised, whipping the ball around confidently, but by the time the ball reaches the final third, telepathy has gone to pot.

If the Three Lions are going to challenge for the World Cup, there is no sign that they have the requisite attacking fluency.

Sturridge, despite a couple of snap-shots, was oddly marooned in a right-sided role in the first half, afraid of raiding the box, which left Wayne Rooney, expertly positioned as a support striker beyond his markers, with no-one to combine with.

The result was a static attack taking hopeful pot-shots from distance or lumping optimistic crosses into a box full of Danish shirts. Over in Madrid meanwhile, Spain were attacking with alacrity and beautiful waves of dribbling and overlapping in their win over Italy.

Would that England had the likes of Santi Cazorla, Andres Iniesta, Pedro Rodriguez or David Silva in their ranks.

In the absence of top individuals, England need a system to progress and Hodgson admitted last year he wanted to play a quick counter-attacking style, despite the tropical heat of Manaus presumably.

This implies his team will be on the back foot in Brazil most of the time. Against poorer opponents like Denmark however, there did not seem to be much of a plan B, until Lallana replaced Wilshere. If this was a night of experimentation, then the late inclusion of James Milner, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Andros Townsend and Danny Welbeck might hint at Hodgson's first choice men.

Sturridge seems ahead of Welbeck for now, but league form up until June is what counts. If Andy Carroll can find the net for West Ham, his physical presence could be a useful alternative for what is not a glittering range of attacking options. Adam Johnson's recent goals for Sunderland should have merited a call-up, but the phone oddly remained silent.

Roy Hodgson

Raheem Sterling  is a last-minute possibility for the England attack and he was lively on the left at Wembley but his schoolboy-esque tricks need to be matched by good final balls and team-play which only experience can provide.

Scouts from England's World Cup opponents are unlikely to have been worried by what they saw. England are lacking ideas up front and Hodgson is still using a variety of attackers. The defence looks more settled, yet far from secure.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Alen Halilovic joins Barcelona from Dinamo Zagreb

Alen Halilovic joins Barca
"Croatian Messi" will learn from the real one

Ozren Podnar

Barcelona have snatched Alen Halilovic, arguably the biggest Croatian soccer prospect since Luka Modric.

After several weeks of negotiations, the 17-year-old right midfielder signed a five year contract for an undisclosed sum, believed to be in the neighbourhood of 10 million euros plus variables of up to five million more.

"Thanks to Dinamo Zagreb for everything. My first club and my greatest love. The time has come to go to Barcelona," he posted on his Instagram profile along with a photo showing him posing beside Dinamo's and Barcelona's coats of arms.

Barcelona overtook other teams chasing the player, including Bayern, Arsenal and Tottenham, like they did with Neymar last June.

The deal was finalized on February 27th between Barcelona's directors Andoni Zubizarreta and Raúl Sanllehí and Dinamo's executive president Zdravko Mamic.

The family of the young virtuoso said they were happy with the developments reminding that Halilovic always dreamt of joining the Catalans.

"Barca was the only club Alen desired to join if he left Dinamo. He is very happy and I am too," said his father Sejad, a prominent member of the Croatian League champions Dinamo in mid-nineties, to La Xarxa Radio.

"Signing for Barca was a dream for him. He never contemplated offers from other clubs, just Barca's."

A monicker he could do without

Even before he debuted in Dinamo Zagreb's first team aged just 16 years and two months, Halilovic earned the controversial nickname of "the Croatian Messi".

Both he and his father Sejad are rather unhappy with this tag as it is more likely to create inappropriate pressure than act as motivation.

Still, he will have to live with this label when he lands in Barcelona B, Barcelona's reserves, next July. The Catalan press has not missed the opportunity to showcase the glamurous signing by splashing the "Croatian Messi" thing all over the covers.

Hardly a favour for the youngster who has yet to display the real Messi's trademark finishing in front of goal.

Halilovic is clearly not a prolific goal scorer in Messi's mould, although he does put them away in important games. A day before the deal was clinched he scored two crucial goals for leaders Dinamo.

After his team fell 2-0 behind in a difficult game at the third placed Rijeka, Halilovic took the center-stage and grabbed two stunning goals to give Dinamo a precious point.

Masterful dribbler

Rather than a goal-getter, Halilovic is a prodigious dribbler, apt at taking on any number of players, sneaking through the defenses, opening spaces and providing his teammates with perfect passes.

"He is not like Modric, since (Alen) plays in a more advanced position. He has some similarities with (Andrés) Iniesta and Messi though," claims the former Real Betis, Real Madrid and Croatia winger Robert Jarni.

"He plays mostly on the right, is very fast, has plenty of skills and a great quality. His style of play is highly compatible with that of Barca. The boy loves to play the ball. As far as defending is concerned, he has not mastered it yet, he still has to work on it, added Jarni.

The whole Halilovic family will move to Barcelona in the summer, including his brothers Damir (9) and Dino (16), who is supposedly just as talented as Alan.

In Barcelona's La Masía they will be overjoyed, and the youngster will not have the reason to complain either: if there is a place where a rough talent can be polished, it is this famed soccer academy which produced, among others, Carles Puyol, Gerard Piqué, Cesc Fábregas, Xavi Hernández, Iniesta and Messi himself.

Now Halilovic is poised to shine for Croatia at the forthcoming World Cup in Brazil, right? Well, no, not really. The current manager Niko Kovac is relying on the players proven at the international level as he believes Croatia can actually qualify for the knock-out stage from the group containing Brazil, Mexico and Cameroon.

Asked about Halilovic's chances of being called up, Kovac has always been elusive. What we do know is that he hasn't called the youngster for the friendly against Switzerland, which may provide some clues regarding his odds of making the list for the World Cup.

© Soccerphile.com

Monday, March 3, 2014

Asian Champions League 2014

Asian Champions League
Asian Champions League 2014

Ah ACL it's good to have you back!

108 days have passed since Guangzhou Evergrande were crowned 2013 Champions, and while we were served a great entrée with the entertaining playoff rounds there is nothing like a main course.

And what a main course!

On the opening night there were a number of intriguing battles, especially in Group E. Shandong Luneng have put together a quality side and, on paper at least, look like they could pose a threat to Guangzhou's dominance of China over the last three years.

They were at home to Buriram United, who shocked everyone last year when they made the Quarter Final after coming through qualifying. Surely no one would underestimate the Thai side this time around?

The two were pitted together in the opening encounter of the group stage, an oddly timed afternoon kick off in China. It was a great way to start the new campaign, with both teams attacking from the outset. Shandong had a penalty saved before finally taking the lead in the 83rd minute after Hao Junmin's perfectly weighted pass split the Buriram defence and allowed for Liu Binbin to finish coolly past Siwaruck.

They could be forgiven for thinking they had the three points in the bag as they entered stoppage time, however Buriram pushed forward and from a set piece they found the equaliser after the Shandong defence couldn't clear the ball and substitute Adisak Kraisorn tapped home the simplest of goals.

Once again the Thai champions had manage to pull off the upset, earning a valuable point on the road.

There were storylines everywhere you looked across all groups, and many questions were answered.

How would 2013 runners-up FC Seoul cope after losing captain Ha Dae-sung and leading scorer Dejan Damjanovic to China in the off-season? Albeit against a poor Central Coast side the answer is fairly well, with the Korean side controlling the game from start to finish and fully deserved their 2-0 win, even if they were awarded one of the softest penalties you are likely to see.

Could Diego Forlan help propel Cerezo Osaka of the J-League to continental success? It was probably asking too much to expect Forlan to have such an immediate impact, but things looked good when Cerezo’s now-almost forgotten star, Yoichiro Kakitani, scored a classy goal to give the away side the lead. But Pohang are a tough nut to crack at home, having only been beaten twice at home in the ACL since 2008 and so it proved again when Bae Chun-suk slotted home in the 61st minute.

In West Asia one of the more entertaining games was Al Jazira's 3-2 win over Al Rayyan. In a match littered with terrible defensive errors, it was the Abu Dhabi side, playing at home in front of a healthy crowd of over 13,000 that emerged victorious thanks to a masterclass from Moroccan attacker Abdelaziz Barrada, who laid on the assist for the first and third goals and scored the second himself.

UAE clubs have promised over the years to progress deep into the tournament, but none have. A couple of Round of 16 appearances, one to Al Jazira in 2012, has been the return over the last couple of years.

But this season they have a couple of clubs who could and should do well, Al Jazira being one. The others include the Al Ain, with the goal-scoring machine that is Asamoah Gyan and Omar Abdulrahman, arguably the hottest young talent in Asia, and Al Ahli who sit six points clear at the top of the Arabian Gulf League.

Al Ahli travelled to Saudi Arabia to take on Al Hilal in one of the most mouth watering clashes of Matchday 1. It was the UAE side that raced to a 2-0 lead shortly after half time with two goals in five minutes putting them on course for all three points and a crucial away victory. But Al Hilal hit back with two goals to Nasser Al Shamrani to ensure it finished at 2-2 in front of over 38,500 fans in Riyadh.

One of the all-time great upsets in the ACL was on the cards at half time in Guangzhou when Australia's Melbourne Victory led the defending champions 2-0 after goals to Pablo Contreras and Leigh Broxham, who scored arguably the goal of the tournament so far with a thundering volley just before half time.

But after getting the shock of their lives in the first half, the true Guangzhou emerged after half time and steamrolled Melbourne in a dominant display that will sound warning bells all across Asia. Despite only being at the club for a matter of weeks, new signing Alessandro Diamanti showed enough to justify why Guangzhou chased so hard for his signature.

In the other Group G game it was Jeonbuk Hyundai who took all three points against a poor Yokohama F.Marinos, while in their ACL debut Western Sydney Wanderers scored one of the fastest goals in ACL history when Brenton Santalab scored after 42 seconds, but the quality of Ulsan won out as they punished an unusually sloppy Wanderers defence with three unanswered goals.

While some dinosaurs in Australia continue to deride the ACL as a "pointless" and "second-rate" competition, the action on the pitch suggests otherwise. It’s only going from strength to strength. And if the action of the opening matchday is any indication we're in for a stunning 2014 AFC Champions League.

It's so good to be back!

Copyright © Paul Williams and Soccerphile.com