Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Spanish get going again

Sean O'Conor,
Ponferrada, Spain

Spanish football had a summer nightmare as La Roja meekly surrendered their world crown in Brazil, crashing out in the first round with only a dead rubber win over Australia to point to. But lest we forget, La Liga clubs made a clean sweep of UEFA trophies last season, as Real Madrid won the Champions League & Super Cup and Sevilla the Europa League.

While the national team finally returned to winning ways with a 5-1 victory over Macedonia in their first Euro 2016 qualifier, the Primera has also resumed proceedings with the annual Barça-Real ding-dong back into full swing.

Barcelona have resumed normal service, topping the Primera after six outings with five wins and a draw. Real Madrid have started more slowly, surprisingly losing their opening two games of the season, away at Real Sociedad and at home to Atletico Madrid.

Their city rivals are of course the reigning champions and Champions League runners-up, and it is very much to be hoped they can maintain that success to make the race for the Spanish title at least a little more interesting than a tussle between the usual two suspects.

Valencia is the most likely candidate to make it a four-horse race and the club coached by Portuguese Nuno Espirito Santo have made an encouraging start and find themselves second to Barça so far, just ahead of Atletico and Europa League winners Sevilla.

The rest of the Spanish top flight once more looks depressingly weedy however, with the likes of Almeria, Eibar and Getafe unlikely to set many pulses racing.

Barça v Real may be an overblown, vulgar carnival at least twice a season, but the pulling power of the star-heavy lineups remains undeniable. 

Their first clash, at the Bernabeu on the 25th of October, has been on people's lips since the start of the campaign, particularly as it will feature the long-awaited debut of Luis Suarez for the blaugrana.

If the domestic league turns out to be as predictable as ever, then at least in Europe the big two Spanish clubs face a battle. There is also Atletico and Athletic Bilbao making up Spain's Champions League quartet.

After last season's all-Madrid final, Barcelona will be eager to make their mark again in the competition they dominated so impressively three seasons ago under Pep Guardiola.

After edging past Cyprus’ Apoel unconvincingly 1-0, their first real test comes tonight away to Paris Saint-Germain, with their old boy Zlatan Ibrahimovic eager to prove a point. Ajax are the other team in their group.

Real began more convincingly thumping Basel 5-1 and look to have an easier ride to the knock-out stages with Liverpool and Bulgaria’s Ludogorets Razgrad to come.

Atletico lost their opening clash 3-2 away to Olympiakos, and must now up their game to finish second in a group containing Juventus and Malmo.

Athletic, who qualified after defeating Napoli in the play-off round, have a reasonable group on paper of Porto, Shakhtar Donetsk and Bate Borisov but have also started slowly, drawing 0-0 at home to Shakhtar.

In the Europa League, Real Sociedad surprisingly crashed out 3-1 to Russia’s Krasnodar in the play-off round, leaving Villareal and holders Sevilla flying the Spanish flag.

Villareal won a crucial point away to Group A rivals Borussia Moenchengladbach and should make it through against Apollon Limassol and Zurich, while Sevilla began with aplomb, beating Feyenoord 2-0 in Group G, with Rijeka and Standard Liege to come.

La Roja look like they have finally left the stage of global greatness after two European Championships and one World Cup across five magical years, but with a Euro 2016 qualifying group featuring the modest talents of Belarus, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Slovakia and Ukraine, Vicente Del Bosque has the luxury of time to rebuild and rethink.

In European club competition however, the expectation and pressure for Spanish gold is as great as ever.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Fifa World Rankings September 2014

Fifa World Rankings September 2014

FIFA World Fifa Rankings
Fifa's World Rankings for September 2014 were published today at FIFA HQ in Zurich, Switzerland. The Fifa World Rankings are now published on Thursday and not Wednesday as before.

New world champions Germany remain at the top of the Fifa pile followed by Argentina, Colombia, the Netherlands, Belgium, Brazil, Uruguay, Spain, and France and Switzerland.

England remain in a lowly 18th place up slightly after beating Switzerland away in Euro 2016 qualification.

Algeria are the top African team in 20th place.

Japan are in 48th place and on a downward spiral.

The USA are in 17th place. Scotland are in 29th position equal with Wales. The Republic of Ireland are in 62nd place, Northern Ireland are 71st.

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

Full world rankings

Previous Fifa World Rankings

© Soccerphile.com

Monday, September 8, 2014

Stielike Seoul, Struggles - September in South Korea

Korean Football News

This has been one crazy summer and most in Korean football are glad to see the back of it. The events of the World Cup are well-known. What comes next remains to be seen.

The search for Stielike

When the KFA reluctantly accepted the resignation of Hong Myung-bo in early July, they had no idea as to the identity of his replacement. Indeed, a number of senior figures in the organisation also resigned following the World Cup failure including vice-president Huh Jung-moo and chairman of the technical committee Hwangbo Kwan. His successor is Lee Yong-soo, who held the post back in 2002. Lee and the new committee wanted a European with World Cup experience, club experience and experience in developing young players as well as decent English skills.

Bert Van Marwijk was the name on top of the list. Lee went to the Netherlands to talk to the man who led the Oranje to the final of the 2010 World Cup but the deal broke down mainly due to the Dutchman's desire to spend much of his time in Europe. The KFA wanted someone willing to get involved at all levels of the country's football scene.

Former Juventus coach Ciro Ferrara was also high on the list but in the end, the successful candidate was something of a surprise. Uli Stielike was a fantastic midfielder for Real Madrid and West Germany in the seventies and eighties yet his coaching career is not quite as impressive. Unremarkable national team spells with Switzerland in the late eighties and the Ivory Coast in the previous decade are peppered by short-lived club terms, the most recent of which came in the volatile coaching region of West Asia. Years spent with German youth teams at the turn of the century appealed to the KFA and basically being German helped.

Reaction was not especially positive or negative, though there is some relief that the post has been filled with the Asian Cup just four months away. Friendlies in October and November will give him a little time, though not much, to prepare for Australia. His bosses are looking longer-term but a bad start will, obviously, make it tough for a man whose record does not excite. Fans seem open-minded but there is not much credit in the bank.

Stumbles in the K-League

Pohang Steelers and Jeonbuk Motors have been here before and know well what it takes to win the K-League title. That doesn't mean they won't be frustrated at their recent slips in form. The only positive is that the two defeats in the last three that Jeonbuk have suffered and the dropping of eight points from the last four games from Pohang have not been capitalised on by rivals such as Suwon Bluewings.

Lee Dong-gook

Jeonbuk are three points clear and the happier of the two, especially after their recent and clinical 2-0 win in Pohang, their bogey team in recent years. Lee Dong-gook was on the scoresheet once again and remains on the top of the K-League goalscoring charts, not bad for a 35 year-old. Such form earned him a recall to the national team and the Lion King scored two fine goals in a very welcome 3-1 win over Venezuela on September 5.

At the bottom, Gyeongnam FC are propping up the other 11 and despite not playing that badly of late have just not been getting the results that they have deserved. Two-time Asian champs and seven-time domestic winners Seongnam are starting to climb free of trouble, helped the return of legendary coach Kim Hak-beom. If he can perform anything like the same magic as the middle part of last decade, fans in the satellite city are in for a happier time.

The only team in excellent form are FC Seoul. The 2012 champions started the season so badly that their recent run is not going to end in a title challenge but it should at least ensure a top-half finish. Sixteen points from the last eighteen has taken some pressure off coach Choi Yong-soo though whether this season is regarded as a success will depend on what happens in a different theatre.

Seoul of Asia?

That is one of the slogans that can be seen around the big stadium in the capital city. Seoul reached the final of the Asian Champions League in 2013, losing on away goals to Guangzhou Evergrande. The Koreans are now one game (if two legs) away from a repeat performance after seeing off Pohang in a turgid quarter-final that ended goalless after 210 minutes of football. The Steelers failed to score a single spot-kick and Choi Yong-soo's men sneaked through.

Western Sydney Wanderers lie in wait in the semi-final and while it will be tough, an in-form Seoul, even one not as strong as the 2013 version, should be able to get through and then take on Al Ain or Al Hilal of Saudi Arabia.

If Seoul can collect a first continental title, then they will at least be able to end what has been a traumatic year for Korean football on a high.

© Soccerphile.com