Thursday, December 21, 2017

Fifa World Rankings December 2017

FIFA World Fifa Rankings
Fifa World Rankings December 2017

Fifa's World Rankings for December 2017 were published on December 21 at FIFA HQ in Zurich, Switzerland. They are the last rankings of the year and a pointer to the favorites for the 2018 World Cup.

Confederations Cup winners Germany remain first with Brazil second and Portugal third. Argentina, who struggled to qualify for World Cup 2018 are in fourth. There is no change in the top 20 teams.

The full top ten is: Germany, Brazil, Euro 2016 winners Portugal, Argentina, Belgium, Spain, Poland, Switzerland, France and Chile.

England are 15th, Wales are 19th. Senegal are the top African team in 23rd place.

Asian Cup winners Australia are in 38th place; Japan are in 57th spot and have qualified for the 2018 World Cup. Near neighbors South Korea are in 60th place and have also qualified for the 2018 World Cup.

The USA are in 24th but failed to qualify for World Cup 2018. Scotland are in 32nd position equal with The Republic of Ireland. Northern Ireland are in equal 24th position.

1 Germany
2 Brazil
3 Portugal
4 Argentina
5 Belgium
6 Spain
7 Poland
8 Switzerland
9 France
10 Chile
11 Peru
12 Denmark
13 Colombia
14 Italy
15 England
16 Mexico
17 Croatia
18 Sweden
19 Wales
20 Netherlands

Full world rankings

Previous Fifa World Rankings


Sunday, December 3, 2017

The Fall of Rome 2017

The Fall of Rome 2017.

"Here sighs and lamentations and loud cries were echoing across the starless air...strange utterances, horrible pronouncements, accents of anger, words of suffering and voices shrill and faint, and beating hands." Canto III, The Inferno, Dante

Russia 2018 has already written itself into the history books.

Three and a half big hitters have failed to qualify: The Netherlands, finalists in 2010 and semi-finalists at Brazil 2014, were the first VIP casualty, ending up third in their qualifying group to compound the gloom swirling through the lowlands after missing out on Euro 2016. Three times losing finalists, Oranje's wait for the ultimate prize goes on.

The next big name to miss the deadline were reigning South American champions Chile, whose golden generation finished just outside the playoff spot on the last day of action. A glorious couple of years but then a cup too far.

Then the USA, where MLS grows ever stronger and whose national team drew more supporters to the last World Cup than any other, ended a lamentable fifth in the fairly manageable region of CONCACAF, missing the boat by a mile and leaving its legions of new fans lost for words. Welcome to the cruel world of association football.

But none of those absences compare to the jaw-dropping fact that four-time winners and six-times finalists Italy will not be travelling to Russia next summer. This is their first World Cup qualification failure since 1958, when oriundi (overseas-born players of Italian heritage) like Eddie Firmani and Alcides Ghiggia played in blue.

Gli Azzurri's 1-0 aggregate loss to Sweden was an atomic bomb of a soccer shock and is still somewhat hard to believe: Italy are a staple of World Cups as much as Brazil, Argentina or Germany and the average supporter expects the big boys to all be there. Hell, even Panini albums are made in Italy!

But while Italy might be joint-second in the list of World Cup winning nations, a quick flick through the annals confirms a litany of tragedy as well as triumph for the Azzurri:

The Superga air crash wiped out moved of their side in 1949, in 1958 they failed to qualify having lost to little Northern Ireland and in 1962 the 'Battle of Santiago' saw them crash out of the World Cup after the most violent match in its history.

Four years later the unheralded North Koreans humiliated the Azzurri at the 1966 finals and the team was pelted with tomatoes on their return to Genoa.

In 1970 Italy won a legendary semi-final 4-3 against West Germany but then suffered the heaviest ever defeat in a World Cup final, losing 4-1 to Pele and the indomitable seleçao. Their semi-final heroics had probably knackered them out.

At home in 1990 under Azeglio Vicini they had a golden chance to win the trophy but blew it in a nervous 2-1 loss to Argentina in the semi-final.

1994 brought more agony as they lost on penalties to Brazil in the final and in 2002 their Korean nightmare returned as they were knocked out by the South, due in part to a string of bizarre decisions by Ecuadorian referee Byron Moreno.

Zeniths were the victories in 1982 and 2006, not least because they were so unexpected.

Yet the setbacks and black marks surrounding Italian football, whether self-inflicted - the totonero and calciopoli scandals (betting and influencing officials) or not, as at Heysel, paint a decidedly black and white tableau.

That country gave us the perfect word for this duality - chiaroscuro - 'light-dark', used to describe the combination of darkness and brightness in Caravaggio's 17th century paintings.

In keeping with this tradition, this year's disaster is only one tick of the metronome.

All the previous tragedies noted have sparked a pyre of polemics, recriminations and conspiracy theories back in Italy, the 'ci hanno rubato' - 'we wuz robbed' default their way of coping with soccer adversity, although this time the wound seems clearly self-inflicted.

For this qualifying campaign, Italy had been drawn into the same group as Spain so one big gun was always going to end up in the playoffs.

This challenge occurred in the first place because the Azzurri were unusually in the second pot of UEFA teams when the draw was made. This happened because having won only three of their past dozen friendlies they were ranked 17th in the world in July 2015. Italy - only 17th...As surprise World Cup seeds Poland allegedly discovered, it sometimes pays to not play friendlies.

Losing 3-0 to the Spaniards in Madrid in September this year was the straw which broke the camel's back, given they had tied 1-1 in Turin a year before.

Yet the manner of the surrender to the team they had beaten at the Euros last summer implied they would be at risk of elimination should they play anyone half decent in the playoffs.

When the draw for the final eliminators was made, instead of Greece or one of the two Irelands, one of the tougher teams indeed came out of the hat: Sweden, who had beaten France and finished above the Netherlands in Group A.

To make their task even harder, Italy had a doddery old manager without top team experience in Gian Piero Ventura, who had lost the dressing-room following his team's 1-1 draw with Macedonia and had allegedly stormed out of the camp for a few hours following a heated rant before the do-or-die game with the Swedes at San Siro.

Throughout the qualification campaign, the mojo was missing in the team, not only in being outplayed twice by the Spanish but also in a pair of nervous home performances - a narrow 1-0 win over Israel and a more worrying 1-1 draw with Macedonia, hardly the stuff of champions.

This latter draw prompted the players to get together and decide to revert to Antonio Conte's 3-5-2 formation of Euro 2016, without the input of Ventura whose 4-2-4 had failed against Spain and whose 3-4-3 had floundered against the Macedonians.

On the fateful night in Milan, Italy panicked however and instead of playing without fear, hammered away at a prearranged plan of battle - a banal tactic of bombarding the tall and well-drilled Swedes with endless crosses which never looked like opening them up.

The stats often belie the true tale: Italy had three-quarters of possession and took 23 shots to Sweden's four but failed to find the net.

Despite the hammering at the door, the Scandinavian shield wall never yielded. A night of unfolding Italian tragedy was confirmed to one and all when cameras caught defensive midfielder Daniele De Rossi refusing Ventura's instruction to go on in the second half, insisting he field attacker Lorenzo Insigne instead.

It was only one deflected shot over the course of 180 minutes which decided who progressed, but despite that most slender of deficits, the humiliation of a football giant not making it to Russia is enormous.

If only little things had gone differently. In the first leg, Andrea Belotti should have guided a header over the line instead of wide of the upright and Matteo Darmian beat goalkeeper Robin Olsen comfortably from 20 yards but with half the goal gaping stuck a post.

They say when Italy play, there are 60 million managers, so when they crashed out there must have been 60 million miserable.

Because, more than any other European nation, Italy lives and breathes football.

While AS, Marca, Sport and Mundo Deportivo reign in Spain, their reach does not feel as ubiquitous as that of Italy's football dailies - Corriere dello Sport (Rome) Gazzetta dello Sport (Milan) and Tuttosport (Turin).

Walk through any Italian town and you see men sat down reading them in cafes, squares and hairdressers.

Coming from England, I cherish fond memories of Italia '90, which even for non-football fans was a hugely romantic cultural event replete with operatic arias, colours, drama, passion and historic backdrops.

I still see the tearful eyes of the kneeling, pleading Toto Schillaci, that Sicilian goal-machine, looking like a saint in a renaissance masterpiece, with his Armani-designed shirt glistening in the Mediterranean warmth, as his short story of glory and tragedy was at its height.

When I moved to Italy in the mid 1990s I was amazed how football was the opium of the people there with saturating print and television coverage and how much it was such a staple of daily conversation in a way it was not back home in England.

So one can only imagine how this latest failure was received - with a cocktail of shock, bewilderment, humiliation, fury and sadness. For those who treat football as a matter of life and death there was surely a modicum of mild trauma.

I was too young to experience England missing out on 1974 ('The End of the World' was a notorious headline) but I felt the 1994 failure keenly (one tabloid repeated the headline).

Although the US World Cup produced a festival of goals before its turgid final, our absence was still one of bitter regret for us as we knew we had missed the biggest party of them all.

I was on my university year abroad in France and it was hard to keep up with the score from Rotterdam where England and the Netherlands were battling out a do-or-die qualifier.

There was no internet in those days, no expat pubs in my town and the only British radio I could tune into was the sport-free BBC World Service. Domestic telly was showing France's final qualifier at home to Bulgaria where Les Bleus only needed a point to make it to the States.

France were comfortably in control and when Eric Cantona scored it seemed their passage to America was sown up.

As the second half wore on and French passage seemed assured, my nerves were in the Netherlands and I could bear it no more. I left the bar and retired home to bed, a little worse for wear and fearful of English elimination but holding the optimism of all true fans that I would wake up to some good news.

Early the next morning I nipped out to the news kiosk to buy l'Équipe and at once in the corner of the front page spied Dennis Bergkamp with the headline 'Angleterre sur le quai' - England on the quayside. We were out, having lost 2-0 at De Kuip.

To say I felt winded by the news would be a massive understatement. When I saw that France had thrown it away in a last minute tragicomedy and missed the boat as well it was only half the shock it should have been.

I called home to ask my father to relate in painstaking detail how the tragedy had unfolded. We almost made the final on penalties in 1990 so how could we not even qualify the following time and in an English-speaking country to boot?

Much later, when the wonderful documentary "An Impossible Job" was aired, England's failure became much less bitter a pill to swallow and even something to laugh about.

How will the Italians cope psychologically with being locked out of the World Cup now? It was the pitchside camera which made An Impossible Job so revelatory and riveting but the Italian public have already seen the bust-up between manager and players on the night of elimination.

The inadvertent transmission of Ventura's clash with De Rossi echoed Giorgio Chinaglia's 'F*** Off' to the bench as he was hauled off at the 1974 World Cup.

Since anger is an accepted stage of grief, Italians were quick to try to punish someone.

FIGC President Carlo Tavecchio conveniently deflected all blame towards the manager he had helped select:

"It is the fault of the coach," he boldly stated, adding, "We should have gone around those Swedish giants with the little players, keeping the ball on the ground. It was completely the wrong lineup."

Beyond Ventura, blame was commonly apportioned to the FIGC, the size of Serie A (20 clubs, the same as England and Spain as it happens but two more than it was between 1988 and 2004), the relative lack of investment in youth football and the number of foreign players in Italy's top flight, in other words the usual suspects.

It is true that Serie A has fallen behind in the 21st century, while it was top of the tree for the period stretching between the mid 1980s and the year 2000.

UEFA league coefficients, which are based on clubs' performances in the Champions League and Europa League over the previous five seasons, rank it third behind the Premier League and La Liga but ahead of the Bundesliga and Ligue 1.

Spain's ascent can be attributed to the quantum leap made by tiki-taka and Real and Atletico Madrid's desperation to compete with Barcelona, but Italy has offered little in tactical innovation by comparison, resting on its laurels of professional preparation, mean defending and not a little gamesmanship.

Former Azzurri coach Arrigo Sacchi called bravely for an attacking revolution in the wake of elimination, complaining that,

"Our (style of play) has remained roughly that of 60-70 years ago: Catenaccio and counter-attack. Two years ago to the question 'What are the innovations of Italian football?', Capello answered, 'We have rediscovered the sweeper.'"

Italy's famously defence-first approach seems ingrained in them however so any metamorphosis would surely take some time.

England's rise meanwhile is money-driven. As the Premier League has imported the best players and managers from around the world the domestic selection has shrunken, forcing the Football Association into rejuvenating the Three Lions set-up.

La Gazzetta dello Sport advocated a compulsory 10% of club revenue be spent on player development and a single playing system taught from top to bottom of Italy's national teams.

This Ajax-inspired idea has recently been taken up by England, whose magical summer at youth level appears to justify it.

The FIGC already has its dedicated training centre, Coverciano, but the entire national team set-up has clearly fallen behind those of its major European rivals France, Germany, Spain and now England.

Howls about the foreign player influx continue but à propos, 53% of Serie A players come from overseas versus 67% in England, whose national team did make it to Russia.

But Fabio Cannavaro, the last Italian to lift the famous trophy and the only Italian present at the draw in Moscow, was more relaxed in his explanation:

"Words do not matter now," he told TMW radio. "We could discuss 3,000 options. It was not just about one game or a tactical issue," adding more interestingly, "I think that this is a defeat that was ten years in the making."

Cannavaro was right. Italy have been on a gradual downward trajectory since their unexpected 2006 World Cup win and No.1 FIFA World Ranking of February 2007. When you are top of the tree, sooner or later, the only way is down.

The following year saw the dawn of tiki-taka and the Spanish empire as Italian methods were bypassed. This handover always happens in the evolving world of match tactics but not even qualifying for the World Cup is a serious decline.

Euro 2008 saw the Azzurri exit the quarter-finals on penalties against the rising star of Spain and La Roja hammered them 4-0 in the Euro 2012 final.

Euro 2016 saw another last eight elimination - this time on penalties by Germany, but in the past two World Cups, 2010 and 2014, Italy went out in the first round, which surely should have rung the alarm bells at Coverciano.

We might not have realised it until now, but the Azzurri have slipped out of the first bracket of national teams.

The player pool does seem rather shallow when compared to Italy squads of the past.
Website Transfermarkt lists only four Italians in the top 20 most valuable footballers playing in Italy: Leonardo Bonucci and Insigne they rate the 4th and 5th, Federico Bernardeschi 13th and Andrea Belotti 17th.

Competing through a lean period when it comes to quality players was the same malady afflicting the Netherlands and the USA, although that criticism cannot be as easy levelled at fellow absentees Chile.

Some of the senior players have just had enough. Andrea Barzagli, Buffon, Giorgio Chiellini and De Rossi all announced their retirements after Sweden.

As regards young starlets, Bernadeschi and Fiorentina's Federico Chiesa promise much but are not enough alone to carry the team.

It is goals which win games and Ciro Immobile, Stephan El Shaarawy and Marco Verratti are all competent but not lethal strikers.

Things might have been different if Insigne, who is starring for Serie A leaders Napoli this season, had gained more than 15 minutes playing time across the two playoff matches, but hindsight is always 20/20.

One cannot help wonder whether the rejuvenated Mario Balotelli should have been recalled too from his French exile but it is believed senior players vetoed that potential lifeline.

Ironically, Italy's best player on the night was Brazilian-born midfield orchestrator Jorginho, absurdly only making his debut.

After Ventura's quick scalp, public anger then claimed a sacrificial victim when the egregious Tavecchio finally resigned a week after the Swedish debacle.

Old demons of racism and sexism accusations conveniently came back to hound him out of office, but that was somewhat closing the door after the horse had bolted.

In speaking of "an apocalypse" back in September should Italy not qualify, he had inadvertently built his own scaffold. Now il apocalisse is on everyone's lips.

Missing out on USA '94 was painful for the English having been so buoyed by the euphoria of Italia '90, but it had a silver lining in that the nationalist-patriotic drum banged moronically by the tabloid press was silenced for a change, allowing the World Cup to unfold as an entertainment which allowed true football fanatics to appreciate and debate in peace.

A mass-market spectacle for the English it was not. The Italian public, who normally watch i mondiali to a man, woman and child are now entering territory unknown to most of them.

The fanatical civil religion will miss its quadrennial ceremony for the first time since the Fifties. Only those aged 60 and over remember the last time this happened.

In his 2006 book, "Calcio - A History of Italian Football", academic John Foot noted,

"When a number of intellectuals were asked, in the 1990s, what it was that held Italians together, a fair number cited the national football team."

La Gazzetta dello Sport asked journalist Filippo Conticello as "The Intellectual" for his take and he concurred,

"We have lost a symbol," he explained. "Things which add a national sentiment create a popular narrative and places of memory. I think of the Giro d'Italia and the San Remo music festival. But look, no symbol is more powerful than the national team."

Football is clearly as big a chunk of Italy's national identity as its historic towns and cities, intense visual language, ambrosial food and rich musical tradition. For this reason it used to infuriate me that so many Anglophone books blithely ignored calcio while waxing lyrical about the nation's other cultural icons.

I will not forget walking through Rome during the first half of one of Italy's World Cup matches and seeing mostly Americans and English bourgeois tourists on the otherwise deserted streets, wondering what all the locals were up to.

For a nation only born in 1870 and which is still an imperfect assembly of foaming regional identities glued together by a central state few trust that deeply, cheering the blue shirts is something which genuinely unites the entire peninsula. But next summer they cannot do that.

Buffon, announcing his international retirement with grace, hit the nail on the head.

"I'm not sorry for myself," he said, "but for all Italian football. We failed at something that also means something on a social level."

Indeed, a nation's summer plans are now up in the air. How many Italians will not even watch the World Cup and how bizarre and painful will it feel for those who do?

There is also an economic hit to be had. With millions of summer plans unexpectedly cancelled, extraordinary losses of more than €15 billion have been floated.

Sales of pizzas, barbecues and beers will miss their sales targets. Replica shirts and tricolour flags will sit unsold in boxes. Panini stickers will stay in their packets and orders of many goods will be cancelled. Nobody wants bitter souvenirs and a nation without the feel-good factor does not spend its lucre easily.

Mothers and fathers up and down the land have faced the awkward job of explaining to their bambini that their country will not be playing in Russia. With the farce of a winter tournament in 2022, Italians will not be able to celebrate a summer World Cup until 2026 at the earliest now.

State broadcaster RAI, who registered 27 million views the last time Italy won the World Cup, are notably horrified at having shelled out for TV rights for Russia 2018.

"I am very, very disappointed," said its sporting director Gabriele Romagnoli, laconically.

Soccer success is a pendolino and for now the Italian pendulum has swung the wrong way.

But that in a nutshell is Italy the nation and not just the football team: La Nazionale have been bad just as much as they have been good, pulled shirts as much as netted beautiful goals.

For Marco Tardelli's unforgettable celebration in 1982 there is also Marco Materazzi abusing Zinedine Zidane in the 2006 final.

Italy the country is as infuriating as much as it is delightful. Like many outsiders I hate it as much as I love it.

Harry Lime put the duality of that land quite sweetly in Graham Greene's The Third Man in his famous 'cuckoo-clock' speech:

"In Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance."

So this year it is Berlusconi rather than Botticelli but there will be another Italian football rebirth as the nation is just too calcio-dipendente to go missing for long.

If the FIGC reacts as it should do, failure to qualify could be catalyst for greater things down the line. Remember how woeful Germany were at Euro 2000?

Italy have been a staple of World Cups for so long so their absence in 2018 upsets the natural order.

Fans of clubs or countries without much chance of winning trophies are loathe to admit it, but they secretly want the big boys to stay big, otherwise David cannot defeat Goliath.

Russia 2018 will feel different without the Azzurri there, and poorer for their absence.
(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Fifa World Rankings November 2017

FIFA World Fifa Rankings
Fifa World Rankings November 2017

Fifa's World Rankings for November 2017 were published on November 23 at FIFA HQ in Zurich, Switzerland. They are the last rankings before the World Cup 2018 finals draw in Moscow on December 1.

Confederations Cup winners Germany remain first with Brazil second and Portugal third. Argentina, who struggled to qualify for World Cup 2018 are in fourth.

The full top ten is: Germany, Brazil, Euro 2016 winners Portugal, Argentina, Belgium, Spain, Poland, Switzerland, France and Chile.

England are 15th, Wales are 19th. Senegal are the top African team in 23rd place.

Asian Cup winners Australia are in 39th place; Japan are in 55th spot and have qualified for the 2018 World Cup. Near neighbors South Korea are in 59th place and have also qualified for the 2018 World Cup.

The USA are in 24th and failed to qualify for World Cup 2018. Scotland are in 32nd position. The Republic of Ireland are in 32nd place now behind Northern Ireland who are in 24th position.

1 Germany
2 Brazil
3 Portugal
4 Argentina
5 Belgium
6 Spain
7 Poland
8 Switzerland
9 France
10 Chile
11 Peru
12 Denmark
13 Colombia
14 Italy
15 England
16 Mexico
17 Croatia
18 Sweden
19 Wales
20 Netherlands

Full world rankings

Previous Fifa World Rankings


Monday, November 6, 2017

How the mighty fall

How the mighty fall.

What are we to make of Real Madrid's 3-1 capitulation to Tottenham?

The definitive dethronement of the world club champions or merely a hiccup in the midst of a bad run of form and confidence?

Cast your minds back to Cardiff last May and Real looked unbeatable if not particularly thrilling or attractive to watch.

Yet the Champions Cup holders looked oddly unmotivated for their visit to London and for the first time, their spine of veterans - Marcelo, Sergio Ramos, Karim Benzema, Luka Modric and Cristiano Ronaldo, looked somewhat long in the tooth when being overrun by Spurs' younger guns.

It could have been worse for the holders as Dele Ali missed a great chance to bag a hat-trick and ace marksman Harry Kane was not fully fit and failed to impose as he has done so often.

Sooner or later Los Blancos were due to fall from their perch but the descent appears to have come much sooner than expected. Their defeat at Wembley followed an embarrassing loss in the league to Girona, a modest side in a stadium which holds 13,500.

Real are stuttering anyway this season. After 11 games they are third, a full eight points behind Barcelona, having to lost at home to Real Betis and drawn with Valencia and Levante. This constitutes an outrage to the Madrid fans and newspapers.

The Spanish press, particularly its bestselling dailies AS and Marca are always talking about a crisis at the Bernabeu, but for the first time in a while, their shrill squawing seems to have a point.

Only half a year after a commanding victory in the Champions League final in Wales, Zinedine Zidane’s hitherto Midas touch appears to have departed him.

Ronaldo has cited the departure of Alvaro Morata, compatriot Pepe and James Rodriguez as factors in his team's ropey form but none of these men were first-team regulars.

Real's traditional medicine for melancholy has been to reach for the cheque book and given Gareth Bale and Modric were plucked from White Hart Lane, it seems a given they will bid to snare one or more of Kane, Ali and Christian Eriksen next summer.

Add to that shopping list Mauricio Pochettino, whose reputation only goes from strength to strength.

Can Tottenham keep their talented team together or will their stellar eleven go the way of last season’s Monaco lineup, the best of which now ply their trade beyond the principality.

Another midweek fall of giants which passed under the radar somewhat was Chelsea’s 0-3 loss away at Roma.

The Blues were well beaten by a team unlikely to challenge for the trophy. Serie A is behind La Liga and the Premier League, a fact confirmed by leaders Napoli losing at home to a rampant Manchester City.

Chelsea might have bounced back with a 1-0 win over Manchester United at the weekend but still appear to have lost their mojo of last season - it is easy to forget the fourth-placed team in the Premier League are the reigning domestic champions.

Antonio Conte appears to have fallen out with the board room as opposed to the dressing room and his single-minded approach, as with Jose Mourinho, is now coming home to roost.

Conte failed to get his transfer targets in the summer and at one point allegedly was out of reach for a couple of weeks, which led the club to think he was about to quit. However big the egos or talents of the managers, when the board do not sanction his transfer requests he is left with a sense of immense frustration and feels boxed in.

"If you are great team, you must have stability and consistency," Conte explained. "Last season we won the league and did a miracle. This season has been up and down. We must find the hunger we showed last season."

While Chelsea’s attack still boasts gems like Eden Hazard, Alvaro Morarta, Pedro and Willian, the loss of Diego Costa, however inevitable that was given the player’s attitude and conflict with Conte, has made a difference.

The selling of midfield anchor Nemanja Matic has probably been more of a negative, as Chelsea have struggled to find the right balance in the centre this season.

Conte looks distant and morose this campaign, as if waiting for assassination from above, so to speak.

What might save his season is the fact he still has the players on board and they are still in contention for the Champions League, thanks in some part to Atletico Madrid’s draw with unfancied Qarabag.

But do not be surprised if Conte leaves Stamford Bridge next summer and lands at one of the Italian giants like Internazionale.

Everyone has rightly condemned his lack of professionalism but at the same time sit in sympathy with Patrice Evra, who lunged at the Marseille yobs who were verbally abusing him before their Europa League tie at Vitoria Guimaraes.

At 36 and facing a lengthy ban, the French international may be leaving the stage on a sour note, much like Zidane's playing days ended in a headbutt.

Let us not throw stones at the wrong man. No-one should have to experience repeated verbal abuse at their workplace, whether from colleagues or members of the general public. Can we really blame Evra with such outrage for reacting as he did?

Back in the 1990s, Eric Cantona was well within his moral rights to react to a man yelling obscene racial abuse at him, even if the Football Association had to be seen to be upholding their rules by banning him in response.

Who really brings the game more into disrepute - the neanderthal spectator who spouts the bile in the first place, or the human being who reacts to the outrageous provocation?

These 'ultras', and Marseille is clearly an Italian club in spirit if not in name, act with a level of cheek and impunity unheard of in English or German football.

Not content with gaining free entry to stadia, which they treat like personal fiefdoms, full of bellicose banners and vile chanting, these self-appointed superfans also think they have the right to confront players and owners alike and issue absurd demands.

They justify their actions by insisting they devote their lives to following the club, but make the elemental error of not having got a life in the first place. They cluelessly pass the invisible barrier that most people know never to cross.

As children we might worship footballers but there comes a point in most folks’ lives when they realise those players do not merit such selfless adoration and they stop their obsessed fandom.

Adult ultras, who refuse to admit their gods are human, are in essence still kids.

Former OM striker Tony Cascarino mentioned one such lunatic was once allowed onto the Marseille team bus to lecture a cowed squad and another got access to the training ground gym where he was working out and proceeded to abuse him up close.

The owners are culpable in allowing the kids to run the school in this way, and as a result, Italian football at least is plagued by unfilled and unfriendly stadia for the general spectator.

It has been clear for years that the ultras need to be put in their place but so it goes on.

Expect the authorities to come down on Evra like a ton of bricks but shrug their shoulders when it comes to enforcing life bans to the so-called fans involved, whose deadly malarkey will carry on with impunity.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Monday, October 23, 2017

Futbol's Going South


What would a World Cup be without the South Americans?

The opportunity to test the best of European football nations against the faraway empire of CONMEBOL is so exciting because it only happens every four years.

Yes there is the Confederations Cup now and the World Club Championship as well but in effect the two poles of world soccer only cross swords for the FIFA World Cup.

Growing up I assumed Brazil were always the best and that their players were born with superhuman ball skills and effortless flair, two qualities traditionally absent from their prosaic English equivalents.

Whenever the seleçao came to Wembley for a friendly it was a big event as the name Brazil carried so much weight and legend behind it.

Argentina were close behind in our imaginations. If they lacked the samba rhythm of Brazil, they were always an extremely tough cookie to crack for European sides, stacked with talent.

Their 1998 team for instance only made it to the last eight but included the dazzling skills of Gabriel Batistuta, Hernan Crespo, Marcelo Gallardo, Ariel Ortega, Juan Sebastian Veron and Javier Zanetti.

On the rare occasions we saw a Peru or Colombia in London we would still waxelyrical about their Latin élan on the ball.

The bubble burst somewhat in 2014 of course when a European team won the trophy on South American soil for the first time. Not only did Argentina lose the final but Brazil, the hosts, were utterly humiliated in the semi final.

I would still like to think the South Americans are the big boys to beat in Russia next year but the greater resources of UEFA associations have probably favoured a European victory in Russia next year.

Money talks sooner or later and the increasing professionalism of the European club game in recent years has tilted the balance of power towards the UEFA nations and their higher levels of funding.

When you compare football to the Olympic Games where advanced industrialised nations swamp the medals table thanks to their elite funding programmes, it is a wonder South American football associations have managed to keep pace at all in the World Cup.

Surely no South American nation can match the organised professional preparation behind the Deutscher Fussball Bund's top to bottom planning for success for instance.

France, Spain and England also have detailed plans for achievement while the Latin American nations still rely to a great extent on their ingrained skills.

Brazil have improved since their 7-1 Mineirazo and group exit in the 2016 Copa America and qualified with ease for the World Cup finals in 2018. A new crop of starlets like Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino and Gabriel Jesus have brought hope of a return to the golden days of the green and gold.

While the 2014 hosts concluded an impressive campaign by eliminating Chile 3-0 and probably put the misery of their 2014 exit behind them, sterner tests await in Russia.

Brazil are playing with confidence and dominance right now but the possibility of falling flat again at the finals can never be ruled out.

For now they can relax but should beware of having peaked too soon. A comfortable qualification counts for nothing when you do not impress at the finals. Just ask England.

Argentina are a traditional power at the World Cup but have only scraped through the qualifiers.

The biggest story on the final night of CONMEBOL qualifiers was undoubtedly Argentina's last-gasp qualification against Ecuador thanks to a vintage hat-trick from their talisman.

Cometh the hour, cometh the Messi. The World Cup without soccer's best player? Not in 2018.

Argentina's win in Quito was almost the stuff of legend after they had fallen behind after only 30 seconds. An already demoralised and under-pressure side reacted by showing fighting spirit, not succumbing to their beckoning fate.

Messi's second was breathtaking, firing a catapult past an unprepared goalkeeper to put his side in the driving seat after their nightmare start.

The Argentines I know stayed up all night partying afterwards. More than anything else I can name, football can turn gloom into elation in matter of seconds.

Messi probably never will win a World Cup which in many eyes sets him apart from Pele and Diego Maradona, the other all-time greats. This is unfair as Johann Cruyff never won it either and Cristiano Ronaldo probably never will.

Similar ball wizards George Best and Alfredo Di Stefano never even played in a World Cup finals.

The romanticist in us all wants Messi to play again at a World Cup finals and that is reason enough that it should transpire. Hoping against hope is an integral part of the game. If it all depended on cold logic few would be interested.

Argentina's win spared huge embarrassment for one of football’s greatest nations and the first time that a World Cup finalist had not made it to the following edition since the Netherlands failed to qualify for Espana '82 after losing the final in 1978.

The fact Argentina qualified for Russia should not disguise the fact the Albiceleste are in a bad way - three managers in a year and three draws and a defeat going into their must-win night in Quito. At the start of CONMEBOL qualifiers, they were ranked No.1 in the FIFA World Rankings.

Luckily for them perhaps, Ecuador were already eliminated after a more demoralising collapse having been the early pace-setters with four straight victories.

While it would be churlish to call Argentina a one-man team, the fact is with Leo Messi on the field they won 20 points from nine games, without him only seven.

Accommodating Messi has been an ongoing conundrum for Argentina managers but the trident with Angel Di Maria and Messi behind Boca Juniors striker Dario Benedetto against Ecuador allowed the Barcelona star to run riot.

A dose of vintage Messi, snatching glorious victory from the jaws of defeat should not paper over the cracks however, particularly in Argentina’s leaky defence.

Outstanding individuals can and often do paper over the cracks in flawed teams it should not be forgotten, not least when a certain Diego Maradona hauled a workmanlike Argentina eleven to become world champions in 1986.

The four automatic CONMEBOL qualifers for Russia are ranked thus by FIFA at time of press: Brazil are second, Argentina fourth, Colombia 13th and Uruguay 17th in the world. Should Peru make it as the fifth South American nation in Russia, the tenth-best team in the FIFA family will be at the World Cup.

But the ninth-best nation in the world will not be among the 32 finalists.

Chile will be the biggest absentee in Russia, missing the boat after a 3-0 capitulation to group winners Brazil in Sao Paolo, their fourth qualifying loss in 2017. Alexis Sanchez, one of the Premier League’s best players, will be watching the finals on television, as will Bayern's Arturo Vidal.

While Chile do not carry the star appeal of Brazil or Argentina, it is easy to forget that the team which finished sixth in the CONMEBOL group of ten had not only won the previous two Copa Americas in 2015 and 2016 but also reached the 2017 Confederations Cup final. On paper that country should be at the World Cup as well.

The nucleus of Chile's purple patch had been together since the 2007 FIFA U20 World Cup, but they seem to have reached the end of the road.

Their inspirational coach Jorge Sampaoli resigned in January of last year and will now be in Russia coaching Argentina. The golden age of Chilean football is surely over.

Ironically Chile had won six of their nine home games in qualifying, two more than the three teams who finished above them - Argentina, Colombia and Peru. Their away form let them down badly but their nadir was really a calamitous 3-0 home defeat to Paraguay in August.

A loss of confidence, team spirit and off-field discipline have been to blame, alongside an inability to maintain the high-intensity football which had brought them silverware.

Bizarrely the 3-0 wins awarded to Chile and Peru after Bolivia had fielded an ineligible player in their 2016 qualifiers cost Chile their place in Russia - they had originally drawn 0-0 with the Bolivians, who had beaten Peru 2-0.

That said, La Roja only missed out on fifth-place and a playoff on goal difference to Peru. The Peruvians, who should overcome New Zealand next month, have not been in the finals since 1982 and duly celebrated wildly at the end of their 1-1 draw with Colombia.

Los Cafeteros, buoyed by a quarter-final in 2014 and James Rodriguez’s golden boot, bagged the last automatic spot but the collective feeling in Colombia was one of disappointment that they had limped over the line after failing to beat bottom team Venezuela and giving away two late goals cheaply at home to Paraguay the week before.

Colombia began qualifying ranked fifth in the world and they have risen as high as third since the last World Cup finals but their wilting towards the end is a cause for concern.

Falcao should get to play in a World Cup finals having missed out through injury in 2014, but despite much of the 2014 team - David Ospina in goal, Rodriguez and Juan Cuadrado in attacking midfield still there as well as the manager, the defence looks ropey. Tottenham’s talented young centre-back Davinson Sanchez provides hope however but the full-backs are beatable.

Jose Pekerman's side were the exciting new blood of 2014 after missing the previous three World Cups but it is far from clear if they can build on that success this time around. As with Argentina, they suffered a disjointed qualification campaign and have only a few months to find a rhythm for Russia.

Paraguay's surprise 2-1 win in Baranquilla against Colombia had given them an unexpectedly golden chance of making the finals but fluffed their big opportunity by shockingly losing at home to last-placed Venezuela when a win would have carried them to Russia.

They had beaten Argentina, Colombia, Chile and Venezuela away but won only three of their nine ties games in front of their own fans in Asuncion.

Winning the lion's share of one's games at home and not losing more than twice away is still the winning formula for World Cup qualification.

So South America's football nations head to Russia without the wind in their sails at this stage.

Brazil lost much of their fear factor in losing humiliatingly in 2014 to Germany while the other qualifiers looked riddled with shortcomings.

They have just over seven months to hone their engines for the greatest race of all.

New Zealand v Peru 11th November
Peru v New Zealand 15th November

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Monday, October 16, 2017

Fifa World Rankings October 2017

FIFA World Fifa Rankings
Fifa World Rankings October 2017

Fifa's World Rankings for October 2017 were published on October 16 at FIFA HQ in Zurich, Switzerland after the final round of qualifying matches for World Cup 2018.

Confederations Cup winners Germany remain first with Brazil second and Portugal third. Argentina, who struggled to qualify for World Cup 2018 are in fourth.

The full top ten is: Germany, Brazil, Euro 2016 winners Portugal, Argentina, Belgium, Poland, France, Spain, Chile, and Peru.

England are 12th, Wales are 14th. Egypt are the top African team in 30th place.

Asian Cup winners Australia are in 43rd place; Japan are in 44th spot and have qualified for the 2018 World Cup. Near neighbors South Korea are in 62nd place and have also qualified for the 2018 World Cup.

The USA are in 30th and failed to qualify for World Cup 2018. Scotland are in 29th position. The Republic of Ireland are in 26th place now behind Northern Ireland who are in 23rd position.

1 Germany
2 Brazil
3 Portugal
4 Argentina
5 Belgium
6 Poland
7 France
8 Spain
9 Chile
10 Peru
11 Switzerland
12 England
13 Colombia
14 Wales
15 Italy
16 Mexico
17 Uruguay
18 Croatia
19 Denmark
20 Netherlands

Full world rankings

Previous Fifa World Rankings


Saturday, September 23, 2017

Oldham Athletic 0 v Wigan Athletic 2

Oldham Athletic 0 v Wigan Athletic 2

Oldham Athletic and Wigan Athletic have both fallen on relatively hard times as of late and find themselves at opposite ends of League One.

Oldham Athletic 0 v Wigan Athletic 2.

Oldham, under Joe Royle, were one of the founding clubs of the Premier League in 1992-1993 and Wigan won the FA Cup as recently as 2013, the year the club were also relegated to the Championship.

Oldham Athletic 0 v Wigan Athletic 2, August 19, 2017.

Oldham's heart-breaking loss to Manchester United in a 1994 FA Cup semi-final reply after Mark's Hughes equalizer in the first game at Wembley, is seen by many fans as the start of a long and gradual decline.

Oldham Athletic 0 v Wigan Athletic 2, August 19, 2017.

The two athletics, both nicked named the "Latics" met at Boundary Park (aka Park) on August 19, on a typically cool, grey August day in the north.

Oldham Athletic 0 v Wigan Athletic 2, August 19, 2017.

The more vocal Wigan supporters were packed into the "Chaddy" end (ZenOffice Stand) which was once the preserve of the home fans, who were subdued, not surprisingly perhaps considering their current plight, and now don't seem to have a home end of their own.

This is similar to Wigan's situation at the DW Stadium where away fans now occupy what was once the home end.

Oldham Athletic 0 v Wigan Athletic 2, August 19, 2017.

From the outset, Wigan seemed the more composed team on the ball and took an early lead through goals from Ivan Toney and Michael Jacobs within the first quarter. Oldham improved after the break but
when Wigan's star performer, former Manchester United midfielder Nick Powell, was substituted on the hour, the game petered out and some fans began to turn to their phones to keep up with the action elsewhere.

Oldham Athletic 0 v Wigan Athletic 2.

At the end, Wigan supporters chanted "We are top of the league" while home fans contemplated rock bottom, where they unfortunately remain with four points from eight games.

Oldham Athletic 0 v Wigan Athletic 2, August 19, 2017.


Friday, September 22, 2017

Sheffield FC Happy 160th Birthday Football

Sheffield FC Happy 160th Birthday Football

On the 24th October 1857, Sheffield FC was founded and the World’s most popular sport was born. The World's First Football Club, Sheffield FC turn 160 years old this year and have long been recognised by World football for their impact on the game through the creation of the rulebook, the first organised team, the first football derby and much more.

Happy 160th Birthday Football.

160 years on and #theworldsfirst is still pioneering, leading the way with the lowest priced current season fan jersey in World football, working to rebuild the original 'Home of Football' stadium, uniting the oldest football clubs from each country under the banner of 'The Club of Pioneers' and developing grassroots football around the world, through social projects like 'Boots for Roots', which includes shipping over 38,000 pairs of football boots to disadvantaged children worldwide.


To mark this special occasion, Sheffield FC will be looking to celebrate with fans, players, teams and media from around the World. Highlight activities will include a celebration dinner in Sheffield and the release of a limited edition heritage shirt based on the earliest known kit designs of the club, alongside partners Classic Football Shirts.

Talking on the birthday, Sheffield FC Chairman Richard Tims stated: "160 years of the beautiful game is an historic landmark for football and a great opportunity for all involved to celebrate the roots of our beautiful game. We're looking forward to taking the story out to the world and also using the 160th as a platform to create never before seen content. We're inviting, fans, players, clubs, media & brands worldwide to join the celebrations, cherishing the roots and kick off of football".

Sheffield FC Happy 160th Birthday Football.

For more information please visit us at


Friday, September 15, 2017

Parisian starlets set the pace

Parisian starlets set the pace.
The UEFA Champions League gets going once again

After the first round of Champions League games it looks like money talks for PSG.

Their galacticos made light work of Scottish champions Celtic at Parkhead, cruising to a 5-0 away win in Glasgow with their newly acquired gemstones, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe both on target.

While it is hardly news to say that a club's success correlates with their spending, the quantum leap PSG took in the summer by bagging that duo made the transfer arms race that much more of a handicapped one.

It is probably true that their summer splurge had more to do with Middle Eastern geopolitics than football, as Qatar is quarrelling with its Arab neighbours right now, but that puts more of an onus on UEFA to enforce its financial fair play rules and prove that the game has a soul.

When sovereign nations start owning teams the only end game is China v the USA, and given the ownership of several Premier League teams (7:3 to America so far), that already seems to be happening.
The Dutch champions Feyenoord lost 4-0 at home to another expensively assembled toy shop Manchester City, proving the gap between Europe's top leagues and the rest is now an impossible chasm.

Pity the fans at De Kuip, eager to see their side back in top continental action, winded and grounded within minutes as their visitors cruised into a commanding lead.

The days of Ajax, PSV, Porto, Red Star or Steaua Bucharest, sides skilfully assembled with a modest amount of money, capturing the Champions Cup, are long gone.

Monaco, the most exciting team in last season's competition, were decisively asset-stripped over the summer, losing Tiemoue Bakayoko, Benjamin Mendy, Bernardo Silva as well as Mbappe, and began their campaign inauspiciously with a 1-1 draw away to Leipzig. There are no obvious suspects for a dark horse this time.

The usual suspects all won convincingly with the exception of Juventus, who defended uncharacteristically abysmally in losing 3-0 in Barcelona.
Only Besiktas' 3-1 win at Porto and Tottenham's defeat of Borussia Dortmund by the same score could be seen as surprises but neither are expected to topple the big usual suspects.

The latter game was exceptionally entertaining and interesting for the fact once more that clinical, thrusting attacks trumped ball possession. Spurs too, have finally managed to make the vast spaces of Wembley work for them.

The most notable event of the night however was Sevilla coach Eduardo Berizzo, recently arrived from Celta Vigo, being sent off for idiotically throwing the ball away twice when gathering Liverpool throw-ins.

How such infantile behaviour is still practised by top team managers in front of the camera beggars belief, but any entertainment is welcome to the neutral.

His team had started off some lovely passing football beyond the ken of their English (despite not fielding one British Isles player) hosts and were good value for their 2-2 draw in the end, reminding us the Premier League still has a technical deficit.

The bookies rate the top five in order this season as Real Madrid, PSG, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Manchester City.

PSG look already likely to reach the semi finals at least but their lucre-gilded gatecrashing of the party seems to devalue their challenge somewhat.

Bayern seemed to stutter at home to Anderlecht but came out 3-0 winners in the end, a reminder that the German giants are always a wise bet for the final four.

City's slick win in Rotterdam seemed to suggest they could make the semi-finals this time, while Chelsea's equally efficient 6-0 demolition of Qarabag means nobody should write off their chances either.

Even Manchester United, with a world-class No.9 in Romelu Lukaku, defensive steel in Nemanja Matic and Victor Lindelof and an emboldened Jose Mourinho, still the tactician par excellence, could be in with a shout.

Barcelona remain in transition, longing for a new Xavi and a young Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi and hoping Luis Suarez remains fit and avoids suspensions. Roma and Juventus showed hairline cracks ready to be breached.

Atletico Madrid are hampered by their transfer ban which expires in early 2018 and Tottenham lack Champions League experience however attractive their game is to watch.

Real are clearly therefore the team to beat again, as their polished, well-honed capture of the crown in Cardiff last season confirmed.

They might have some players who seem to have been there for yonks - Marcelo, Sergio Ramos and Cristiano Ronaldo for instance, but 21 year-old Marco Asensio is shining very brightly and the old guard still have plenty of life in them.

For the sake of spectator interest however, let us hope Zinedine Zidane's men face some stiff competition at least in this season's competition.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Fifa World Rankings September 2017

FIFA World Fifa Rankings
Fifa World Rankings September 2017

Fifa's World Rankings for September 2017 were published on September 14 at FIFA HQ in Zurich, Switzerland.

Confederations Cup winners Germany change places again with Brazil with Portugal third. Argentina, who are struggling to qualify for World Cup 2018 drop to fourth.

The full top ten is: Germany, Brazil, Euro 2016 winners Portugal, Argentina, Belgium, Poland, Switzerland, France, Chile, and Colombia.

England are 15th, Wales are 13th. Egypt are the top African team in 30th place.

Asian Cup winners Australia are in 50th place; Japan are in 40th spot and have qualified for the 2018 World Cup. Near neighbors South Korea are in 51st place and have qualified for the 2018 World Cup.

The USA are in 28th. Scotland are in 43rd position. The Republic of Ireland are in 34th place now behind Northern Ireland who are in 20th position.

1 Germany
2 Brazil
3 Portugal
4 Argentina
5 Belgium
6 Poland
7 Switzerland
8 France
9 Chile
10 Colombia
11 Spain
12 Peru
13 Wales
14 Mexico
15 England
16 Uruguay
17 Italy
18 Croatia
19 Slovakia
20 Northern Ireland

Full world rankings

Previous Fifa World Rankings


Saturday, August 26, 2017

Oranje squash

Oranje squash.

Spare a thought for Ajax, who thrilled at times on their way to last season's Europa League final before a Mourinho masterclass floored them.

Unsurprisingly, the stellar eleven which dazzled as recently as May has now been whittled away.

Inspirational midfield skipper Davy Klaassen was snapped up by Everton in the summer and the Amsterdam club's offer of doubling the wages of talented centre-back Davinson Sanchez was easily outgunned by Tottenham, who bought the young Colombian last week.

Two more of their starting eleven in Stockholm have left. Defender Jairo Riedewald has swapped Ajax for Crystal Palace and on-loan Bertrand Traore was sold by parent club Chelsea to Lyon.

On the bench for the final in Sweden, defender Kenny Tete is now at Monaco and reserve goalkeeper Diederik Boer has gone to Zwolle.

Yesterday, the depleted team, having been eliminated from the Champions League earlier this summer by Nice, albeit only on away goals, was knocked out of the qualifying round of this season's Europa League by Rosenborg 4-2 on aggregate, leaving the modest challenge of the Dutch league alone.

The domestic season has barely started but one of last season’s major performers in UEFA is already out of Europe.

Holland's other clubs have fared little better. PSV were knocked out of the Europa League by Osijek of Croatia 2-0 on aggregate in the third qualifying round and Utrecht went the same way as Ajax in the play-off round, losing 2-1 overall to Zenit St Petersburg.

Feyenoord are the last Dutch club standing by mid August and they have not played in Europe yet.

Having won the Eredivisie last season they progressed directly to the Champions League group stages, where they will play Manchester City, Napoli and Shakhtar Donetsk in Group F.

Ajax’s precocious prodigies have long been cherry-picked by richer teams abroad, particularly after their young guns reached two European Cup finals in the mid 1990s, so this is nothing new.

It was just that last season's run to the Europa League final had teased a renaissance of one of the continent's most storied clubs.

And it is not just the players who happily leave Holland in search of a greater payday. Last season's Ajax manager Peter Bosz is now coaching Borussia Dortmund, which is certainly a bigger club, but other top Dutch managers of the moment are exchanging top Dutch teams for modest English clubs which pay higher wages.

Ronald Koeman has coached Holland's big three of Ajax, Feyenoord and PSV but was happy to leave Feyenoord for Southampton, on paper a lower club, though it gave him a stepping-stone to Everton where he is now; Martin Jol swapped Ajax for Fulham in 2011 and Frank De Boer is now managing Crystal Palace having left Ajax for Inter in 2016.

Ajax remain unable to keep their top players or managers. The Dutch league's modest market simply cannot produce enough capital to pay wages on a par with Europe’s big four leagues.

The best they, PSV or Feyenoord can hope for, unless the proposed 'Atlantic League' featuring the best of the Netherlands, Portugal and Scotland ever got going, is to earn more from progressing in Europe.

And this week, less than three months after their first European final in over two decades, the club of Johann Cruyff, Dennis Bergkamp, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Rinus Michels, Johan Neeskens, Piet Keizer, Frank Rijkaard and the De Boer brothers, was out of Europe.

For how long, nobody knows.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Fifa World Rankings August 2017

FIFA World Fifa Rankings
Fifa World Rankings August 2017

Fifa's World Rankings for August 2017 were published on August 10 at FIFA HQ in Zurich, Switzerland.

Brazil are top ahead of Confederations Cup winners, Germany and Argentina.

The full top ten is: Brazil, Germany, Argentina, Switzerland, Poland, Euro 2016 winners Portugal, Chile, Colombia, Belgium and France.

England are 13th, Wales are 18th. Egypt are the top African team in 25th place.

Asian Cup winners Australia are in 45th place; Japan are in 44th spot. Near neighbors South Korea are in 49th place.

The USA are in 26th. Scotland are in 58th position. The Republic of Ireland are in 29th place now behind Northern Ireland who are in 23rd position.

1 Brazil
2 Germany
3 Argentina
4 Switzerland
5 Poland
6 Portugal
7 Chile
8 Colombia
9 Belgium
10 France
11 Spain
12 Italy
13 England
14 Mexico
15 Peru
16 Croatia
17 Uruguay
18 Wales
19 Sweden
20 Iceland

Full world rankings

Previous Fifa World Rankings


Friday, July 28, 2017

Football's Oldest Derby

Football's Oldest Derby

Football's oldest derby takes place this Sunday, 30th July 2017, for the 157th year.

Football's Oldest Derby - Sheffield FC v Hallam.

The World's oldest football derby will once again take place on Sunday 30th July as Sheffield FC face Hallam FC. Now in its 157th year, the derby was first played on Boxing Day 1860 under the original "gentleman's rules" and is a celebration of football's true and original values of Integrity, Respect & Community.

Once again promoting fan accessibility, Classic Football Shirts and Sheffield FC are offering adult entry to the match for just £3 adults and £1 concessions with the attached ticket #FansComeFirst

Football's Oldest Derby - Sheffield FC v Hallam.

Sheffield FC Chairman Richard Tims said "It's a great derby and a great tradition, one which has forever been based on football's original values of Integrity, Respect & Community. The 157th derby year is particularly special for us with Sheffield FC turning 160 years old in less than a 100 days time. We can't wait for the match and celebrating football's history once again for fans all across the world".

FIFA Documentary on the Derby

10 JULY 2017

#FansComeFirst: Sheffield FC release the lowest price current season jersey in World Football.

The World's first football club, Sheffield FC are proud to continue their role as football's pioneers, this time through the release of the lowest price current season jersey in World Football. With the average football jersey now retailing at around the £60 mark, we felt it vitally important to keep football affordable and put the fans first, allowing them to show their colours with pride.

Football's Oldest Derby.

Priced at just £19.99 the shirts have been released alongside partners Classic Football Shirts & Joma Sport and are now available for fans across the globe to purchase ahead of the club’s historic 160th celebratory season. Get the World's first at the World's lowest price here

Sheffield FC hope to once again prove their commitment to the founding values of Integrity, Respect, Community and the philosophy that fans come first in the beautiful game. Fans are able to join the initiative by sharing the story alongside #FansComeFirst or purchasing a shirt to help support Sheffield FC in other grassroots projects.

Excited about the pioneering initiative, Sheffield FC Chairman Richard Tims stated: "In 1857 Sheffield FC was founded on the values of Integrity, Respect & Community and the belief that the beautiful game should be for everyone. 160 years later and we’re still living by these values, offering the lowest price jersey in World Football to make the game as accessible as possible for fans across the World. We hope this will not only allow more fans to support football’s first but also encourage other clubs around the world to always live by the philosophy, fans first!"

Football's Oldest Derby.


Saturday, July 15, 2017

Surviving a dry summer


Surviving a dry summer.
Summers in these off-years are hard to get through for football fans like me.

By off-years I mean those ending in odd numbers which have neither the World Cup nor European Championships to get excited about.

July is the dryest of dry seasons in years like this, with the daily mash of transfer gossip a poor substitute for the meat of real football news.

With some reluctance I find myself getting into summer sports here in England like cricket and tennis. When I was a child I looked in the newspapers for the football section and found only the Australian Pools forecasts.

In truth we all need a break of course and a reminder that there are other things in life. But breaking such a deep bond, even for a few weeks, is never easy.

I am already harking back to a less than vintage domestic calendar just passed, wondering if we will ever see the young wonders of Ajax or Monaco shine again, now their assets have inevitably begun to be stripped.

Neither won their respective continental cups of course, a reminder that pragmatism trumps creative genius all too often. Perspiration beat inspiration once more as Real Madrid won another UEFA Champions League without setting the world alight, while Jose Mourinho's tactical masterclass in winning the UEFA Europa League final for Manchester United was more proof the devil has all the best tunes.

England winning the U-20 World Cup was a brief highlight and an exciting final, but we are kidding ourselves if it relates much to the national team's prospects.

I mean no disrespect to fans of the CONCACAF Gold Cup either, but when the finals feature Curacao, French Guyana and Martinique, this competition sits some way behind the Euros and the Copa America, so much so that there has been talk of merging it with its southern neighbour for good, a format experimented with last summer in the Copa America Centenario.

Mexico, the traditional Central American powerhouse, has sent a B team this summer after its first eleven contested the Confederations Cup, a clear vote of demotion, while the USA's squad has a decidedly experimental feel to it with Russia 2018 qualification the clear priority after their poor start.

The Confederations Cup remains an odd tournament, a decidedly lukewarm, pallid and ultimately meaningless impression of the World Cup the following summer. Making a list of World Cup winners is relatively easy for the committed fan, but try to make a list of Confederations Cup winners and you have to stop and think.

Another problem with the cup is that the line-up for the finals always seems a little bizarre. This is for two reasons:

One, because it takes teams who have gone off the boil since winning their regional competitions as opposed to nations freshly qualified for the World Cup who are in good form.

Three of the eight in Russia this summer had won their cups in 2015 and one in 2014.

And secondly because some FIFA regions are much stronger than others, a final eight lineup looks much better in the World Cup than the Confederations Cup, where only half of the finalists could realistically stand a chance of making it to the quarter-finals next summer.

New Zealand relish it for their only chance at crossing swords with the stars but the persistent presence of such a week football nation diminishes the tournament as well.

Many fans seem to forget it is even taking place and as a journalist at the 2005 tournament in Germany I still felt duty bound to ask players how they felt about participating in it after a gruelling season.

Qualifiers France (1999), Germany (1997 and 2003) and Italy (2003) even declined to take part.

What started off as the invitational King Fahd Cup in Saudi Arabia only really justifies its existence now as a dry run for the following summer's World Cup finals host.

We should not worry excessively that Germany's less than best eleven winning the 2017 edition means a certain victory for the Mannschaft in Moscow next summer: No previous Confederations Cup winner has gone on to lift the biggest prize the following year.

Having said that, no European nation had ever won the World Cup outside of Europe until Germany broke that duck in 2014.

Germany's Russian conquest this summer combined with their U21s recapturing their European crown in Poland serves as a piquant reminder to the world which country remains the top dog in soccer.

Any football nation which aspires to greater things surely should be aping the German youth system and the DFB's overall planning instead of dreaming of Barcelona, Brazil and Cristiano Ronaldo.

Studying the German youth sides should be instructive: Their U21s took England apart in the 2009 final 4-0 and then using the same tactics and some of same players did the same to the national team, 4-1, at the 2010 World Cup.

Now both the Confederations Cup and the U21s are over I am scrambling around to feed my lifelong addiction to the Beautiful Game.

I have attended both those competitions as fan as well as journalist and enjoyed the experiences but they can only be hors d'oeuvres to the main courses of the Henri Delaunay or Jules Rimet trophies.

There really is only one remedy:

Bring on 2018 asap.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Garcia fallout and the 2026 World Cup

Garcia fallout and the 2026 World Cup

With little on the field to get excited about, my thoughts turn to football politics.

Garcia fallout and the 2026 World Cup.

The Michael Garcia report on the 2018 and 2022 World Cup awarding decisions has finally been published, but sadly did not provide enough ammunition to charge Russia and Qatar or strip them of their World Cup hosting.

That Qatar paid $2 million to the ten year-old daughter of a FIFA official (the fantastically bent Brazilian Ricardo Texeira) would be hilarious if it were not so tragic. That a nation with no discernible football heritage, a hostile climate and apparently incompatible culture could trump the superior claims of Australia and the United States immediately shocked.

The subsequent humiliation of Qatari AFC President Mohammed Bin Hammam, aka Mr Bribe, and the tsunami of FIFA corruption cases has done nothing to change the impression that hosting the World Cup was a tainted victory for the tiny Gulf state, yet Garcia believed Bin Hammams's payments to individuals to help his bid for the FIFA presidency had no connection to Qatar's 2022 bid.

That said, other bidding nations came out just as embarrassed - Japan and South Korea for their largesse to potential supporters and Australia and England in their clumsy attempts to woo the kingmaker Jack Warner, the epitome of FIFA corruption and malfeasance, with money, friendlies and jobs for the boys.

England also tried to do a vote swap with the Koreans on the eve of the vote, but that nation already had a deal in place with Spain, an inevitable consequence of scheduling two hosting votes together. It was all to no avail of course as none of those three nations emerged victorious.

Along with Michel Platini's, Franz Beckenbauer's football career is over as a result of the fall of the house of Blatter. Der Kaiser was shown to be evasive in his answers to Garcia and appears to have violated his organisation's Ethics Code in assisting his advisors to help with Australia's bid.

Spaniard Angel Maria Villar Llona, who famously said "All the fish are sold" referring to his nation's tie up with Korea for 2018, also came out badly from Garcia's dossier, but uniquely amongst Sepp Blatter's tarnished FIFA Executive Committee, remains in a position of power, second only to current president Gianni Infantino as we speak...

The only 2018 bid apparently beyond criticism was that of Belgium & The Netherlands it should be noted.

This was a perfectly valid application, promoted by Johann Cruyff and Ruud Gullit amongst others, yet fell at the second hurdle, only beaten in unpopularity by that of England, which despite being the best host on paper was firmly dismissed by the squalid ExCo as punishment for its investigative journalism, as Blatter confirmed in his brazen instructions to voters.

Russia escaped pretty neatly from the Garcia report but question marks remain at the miraculously fortuitous destruction of the computers used in its bidding process. Amid the shadow of Russian involvement in the US presidential election and international cyber-crime, the 2018 tournament hosting still looks less than bona fide.

At the same time however, the football world accepts a show as big as the World Cup must sooner or later visit all the world big nations, even those with short footballing traditions like India or China.

Since Russia has a long footballing heritage with household names like the Moscow clubs Dynamo and Spartak, it lets them somewhat off the hook.

We have all been left so jaded by the fireworks at FIFA since the December 2010 vote set the whole house on fire that for now it is hard to get excited about who is iine for the 2026 World Cup Finals.

By rights England should be hosting the World Cup before long but there is no appetite here to trust FIFA again after what happened in Zurich in 2010, with our heir to the throne and Prime Minister present for the debacle, lest we forget.

By the time of the bidding process for 2030, the first possible time England could host again, the culture of FIFA might just have become fair enough for the FA to consider throwing its hat into the ring.

2026 will encompass a whopping 80 games with 48 finalists, which seems to rule out most of FIFA's membership and major football nations. Absurdly, there will be as many finalists from CONCACAF as from CONMEBOL (six a-piece).

With Europe and Asia prevented from bidding because they are hosting the next two tournaments, and Africa hosting as recently as 2010, 2026 will therefore take place in the Americas or Australia.

Colombia has announced its interest but the country has poor infrastructure, with no railway network for instance, although arguably no worse than that of South Africa in 2010.

Their main challenger and the favourite is clearly the combined one of the USA, Canada and Mexico, which envisages 60 games in the States and ten in each of their joint-hosts. Three versus one, Colombia already looks outgunned.

That a nation as big as the USA is not proposing to host the finals alone is proof enough that expansion is a bad idea. Who beyond China could host such a behemoth alone in the future? The quality of first-round matches is already an issue at the 32-team finals so a 50% expansion can only makes things worse.

Of course it will make more money for FIFA though, the prime motivation as always.

With the deadline of the 11th of August looming, it seem the North/Central American bid is the only game in town. Morocco, Chile and Australia have mentioned interest in hosting but are not expected to launch a serious bid in time.

The final decision is set for 13th of June next summer, on the eve of the Russian World Cup.

After being controversially jilted for 2022, CONCACAF and particularly US Soccer expect to be cracking open the champagne in Moscow.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

James joins Bayern

James joins Bayern

Never mind the hype about the Premier League: James Rodriguez has agreed to join Bayern Munich, it was announced this morning.

The move is only a two-year loan but includes an option to buy the 25 year-old for £35 million at the end of it.

James joins Bayern.

The 2014 World Cup golden boot winner sorely needed a change of scenery after being exiled to the bench for most of the season at Real Madrid, but his final destination is a real shock after so much linking of him to England.

Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and most of all Manchester United, whose manager Jose Mourinho shares the same agent as Rodriguez, 'super-agent' Jorge Mendes, had been tipped to nab his signature, with Bayern, PSG and Juventus firmly thought to be in the chasing pack.

According to the endless miasma of transfer gossip, such English teams had been "in advanced talks" for weeks, which makes Bayern's press release the snatch of the summer.

That the Colombian is headed to Germany must be down to manager Carlo Ancelotti's personal intervention.

How short our memories are. The Italian brought him to the Bernabeu after the last World Cup, where in his first campaign he was Real's player of the season. James was used in a variety of midfield roles by Ancelotti, who clearly valued him as a crucial and versatile support for the BBC (Bale, Benzema & Cristiano) trident ahead of him.

James might not score like a forward, but he certainly gets involved in attacks and supplies the bullets to his teammates.

However, his mentor Ancelotti did not last beyond 2015 in Madrid. Despite winning the Club World Cup, Real finished two points behind Barcelona in the league, exited the Copa del Rey in the round of 16 after losing to Atletico Madrid and were knocked out of the Champions League at the semi-final stage by Juventus.

Rafael Benitez was brought it but lasted less than a season before Zinedine Zidane was promoted to first-team boss.

Zizou was never convinced by James, preferring the tough Brazilian Casemiro as an anchor behind the duo of defensive Toni Kroos and creative Luka Modric.

When he rejigged the formation into a diamond, Isco was his preferred attacking midfielder and more recently Marco Asensio and Lukas Vasquez have been called upon. And so the hottest property in world football after the last World Cup became a bench-warmer, a reserve and substitute at best.

One domestic title and two Champions Leagues in three seasons sounds a reasonably impressive haul but James has played a less than key role in all of them.

By last summer it was clear the Colombian captain should move on and this past season must be really go down as a waste of his talents with only 13 starts made. When Zidane failed to name James for Real's squad for the Champions League final in Cardiff this May, the game was up for him.

Cardiff was a sad bookend to his Real career because it was in the Welsh capital where he had made his debut for the merengues, in their European Super Cup win in 2014.

But this move is clearly a wise one for him, to a top European club who play excellent football and with a manager who has always believed in him.

Whilst the Bundesliga fails to match the star-quality of the Premier League or the big three in Spain, Bayern continue to be unfairly forgotten about on a wider stage.

Yet the Bavarians have won the last five Bundesligas and reached at least the last four of the Champions League in five of the past six seasons. There is no reason to believe they will achieve anything less in 2017-'18.

So all eyes will be on James in his new domestic challenge and after his marvels in Brazil, much is expected of him at next year's World Cup finals, should Colombia make it through as expected.

He leaves Real having scored 36 goals in 111 appearances.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile