Friday, June 21, 2019

Uruguay 2-2 Japan

Copa America 2019 Uruguay v Japan, Porto Alegre, Brazil

Copa America 2019 Uruguay v Japan
Japan v Uruguay
Uruguay and Japan played out an exciting 2-2 draw in Porto Alegre. Japan twice took the lead through Koji Miyoshi but were pegged back by a controversial penalty awarded after a VAR review and a Jose Gimenez header.

Japan fans
Japan fans

The teams
The teams

The huddle
The huddle

Nippon, Nippon!
Nippon, Nippon!
Japan fan
Japan fan with happi coat, Hinomaru flag, hachimaki headband and rubbish bag
Japan v Uruguay
Japan v Uruguay

Japan celebrates
Japan celebrates
Free kick
Free kick
© Ross Clegg &

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Have England lost their mojo?


It was all looking so rosy not that long ago.

In 2017 England were U17 and U20 World and U19 European champions, before the national team reached the FIFA World Cup semi final in Russia 2018.

Some even dared to breath the words 'golden generation' once again.

Now the crop has matured into a U21 side, the magic seems to have petered out.

Last night's England U21 team debuted in the UEFA finals in comical style, conceding two penalties (which France contrived to miss) before two of their most vaunted players screwed up.

Leicester's Hamza Choudhury was shown a straight red for a rash tackle in the box while Crystal Palace's Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Old Trafford-bound, scored an athletic own goal in the 95th minute to hand France a last-gasp victory.

The French U21s outpassed and outshot Aidy Boothroyd's side to boot.

The one bright spot was Manchester City protege Phil Foden dancing through the French defence to score and confirm his young talent.

England's U17 and U20 sides both failed to qualify for their respective World Cups this year. The U19s were eliminated in the first round of last year's UEFA tournament and missed the cut for this year's tournament by losing at home to Greece.

And what of the national team? England were beaten in the UEFA Nations League semi final by the Netherlands, who had failed to reach Russia 2018. A rusty side succumbed 3-1 after defensive howlers from John Stones and Ross Barkley.

Yes Gareth Southgate and the England coaching staff have St George's Park training centre as a base for future tournaments but if there was a golden generation two years ago it seems to have burnt out already.

After all the euphoria, England have fallen back down to earth again.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Saturday, June 15, 2019

A Chinese Cat Amongst the Pigeons


It seems a long way away but we will know within three to five years who will host the centenary World Cup tournament.


FIFA first have the headache of Qatar 2022, in the Middle East and in the middle of the football calendar, to overcome.

Then comes the biggest shebang yet, as three countries - Canada, Mexico and the United States will host 48 finalists in 2026.

The next tournament should be back in one of the World Cup's traditional heartlands, Europe or South America, with England the probable host from UEFA and Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and Chile in the frame from CONMEBOL.

Uruguay can claim to be honouring the centenary of the 1930 World Cup they hosted and won, although that line did not work for the 1996 Olympics and Athens, who had to wait until 2004.

However, the prospect of a bid from China in 2030 has suddenly loomed into view. Already hosts for the 24-team Asian Cup in 2023, China is the biggest missing piece in the jigsaw of World Cup hosting history, a list missing India and Australia as well.

The Chinese first expressed an interest in World Cup hosting back in 2011 but as it stands, FIFA rules mean they cannot hold the tournament before 2034, when two World Cups will have passed since the Asian Football Confederation's hosting in 2022.

However, money talks more than anything in football and the temptation to let China host sooner rather than later will be hard to ignore. There is no doubt the Chinese are capable of building the required stadia and infrastructure and with a billion potential customers for the Beautiful Game, any bid will be hard to ignore.

Already Chinese group Wanda, whose name adorns Atletico Madrid's new stadium, the host of this year's Champions League final, is one of FIFA's seven major sponsors, alongside Visa, Adidas, Hyundai-Kia, Qatar Airways, Coca-Cola and Gazprom.

Marcello Lippi, recently reappointed Chinese national team coach, told journalists last winter that his adopted country was gunning for 2030 and FIFA President Gianni Infantino last week confirmed the governing body was open to a rule change - "The more the merrier" he told reporters.

FIFA will have to change their existing bidding rules at their Council conference in October this year - which tellingly takes place in Shanghai.

A combined North African proposal from Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria for 2030 has already been announced, as well as a Balkan bid featuring Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia and Greece.

England's bid is set to be a British one, involving between two and four of the other British Isles nations and Spain & Portugal, having failed to land 2018, may try again too.

So it looks set to be an almighty global struggle to host 2030, but a very, very big fish could be about to join the race.

With Shanghai in the frame for the 2032 Olympic Games, it could be a busy few years for international sport in China but 2030 is also a symbolic date.

That year it is expected that China will become the world's most popular tourist destination and that the nation's economy will finally overtake the USA's, confirming China as the richest land on earth.

What better way to confirm you are top dog on the planet than by hosting the planet's biggest show?

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Reds Bag a Sixth as Spurs Stutter


Reds Bag a Sixth as Spurs Stutter

Jurgen Klopp got his gong at last after so many final defeats and that is how history will remember last night's UEFA Champions League Final. The big question mark hanging over one of the game's top managers is no more.

The first-minute penalty was the key. After Mo Salah had converted it with lethal aplomb, Liverpool had an excuse to absorb Tottenham's possession in the hope of releasing their full backs Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson, whose barnstorming charges up the flanks have been a delight to watch this season.

Unfortunately we saw little of their exciting wing play and Liverpool had to wait until the 87th minute to apply the coup de grace.

Both managers erred in their starting elevens. Roberto Firmino was not match-sharp and lasted less than an hour for Liverpool while Spurs' Harry Kane was even rustier. Lucas Moura, hat-trick hero against Ajax, must have felt doubly aggrieved, until he finally got his chance, albeit for only 24 minutes.

As Spurs' slick passing from the first 45 gave way to long punts and diagonal lances in the second, the case for bringing on target man Fernando Llorente became louder, but the Spaniard who like Moura had been so useful against Ajax, was called upon with only nine minutes to go.

Tottenham fans trekked back to London somewhat nonplussed their stars Dele Ali and Kane both failed to fire and Christian Eriksen and Son Heung-Min had not found the net.

Despite having more of the ball before the break, Spurs' attack was blunter than the Reds' and supersub Divock Origi only sharpened the trident alongside Sadio Mane and Salah.

Spurs' lack of concentration for twenty seconds following kick-off cost them the trophy one could argue, as the immediate goal wrecked their game plan.

There was plenty of time to recover of course but their final balls were poor and frustration increases chasing a game. When that chase lasts an hour and a half you leave yourselves vulnerable to a sucker punch.

The entire game descended in the second half and was not up to the standard of the top half of the Premier League, let alone the Champions League, a fact not lost on anyone watching.

Why was this? The heat, the occasion, the lag from the end of the league season? Or maybe the super-early score which destabilised the players' mindsets.

It was not all bad. There was no Sergio Ramos to concuss Liverpool's goalkeeper this time and Alisson played well. Virgil Van Dijk confirmed his world-class defensive prowess and after so much talk of English football losing its soul, Spurs began with five Englishmen while Liverpool finished with four.

Klopp, a vocal pro-European, is by now as much a Scouser as Scotsman Bill Shankly was and like Manchester and elsewhere in English football, the city of Liverpool has embraced the world. The club which dominated Europe in the '80s with British players is now an international brigade.

Off-field too the tens of thousands of Englishmen seem to have left Madrid in good nick and in good spirits. The vast street parties in the Spanish capital and overflowing fan zones stood in stark contrast to the Europa League final and UEFA's insane decision to award Baku that final.

How Spanish fans must have wanted a Real Madrid v Barcelona clasico when the final venue was first announced by UEFA and how Dutch fans would have relished a first Ajax participation since the mid 1990's. How Liverpool fans deep down would have preferred to have won the league.

Alas the English Premier League served up a rather bland and undercooked dish but that meant little to the winners. As with Spain in the 2010 World Cup Final, the better team came out on top when playing badly.

A win is a win and Klopp has his cup.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile