Sunday, June 28, 2020

King Klopp ends the Long March


Liverpool's long wait is over. 30 years of hurt are no more. The Reds are kings of England again.

Liverpool win Premier League

For those of us who remember their previous reign, three empty domestic decades are all the more astonishing.

Liverpool felt almost invincible when I was young. It was a given they would win the title and demolish all European challengers too, although for some reason they usually stumbled in the F.A. Cup.

Whenever my team Nottingham Forest played them I prayed for a miracle but it almost never came. Liverpool just seemed impossible to beat. Their mesmeric passing, whether short or long, bewitched other sides but it was their intensity which set them apart.

Even if other sides took the lead, Liverpool seemed to draw on high-octane reserves to blitz the opposition, an extra gear no other side possessed.

Roared on by Anfield, a near-perfect stadium for atmosphere, the Reds kept marching on. The passion of the players was matched by the stirring regional identity of the Scousers. It was no wonder they wore red - the tint of passion, blood, and fervour. Bill Shankly was the prophet who found the magic formula his successors imbibed.

In an era when Liverpool the city was gripped by industrial decline and social breakdown the shining success and endless victories of the football club proved a tonic and a head-scratching flip side.

No one could live with them home or abroad. From 1977 to 1985 the Reds reached five European Cup finals, winning four of them.

Jurgen Klopp

Heysel then kept them out of Europe for five years and it was a pity for European football their 1988 championship-winning side never got the chance to take on the continent's best.

When they came back under Graeme Souness, they were not the force they had been before. 

The unbroken spell kindled by Shanks and Bob Paisley had dried up and the spell was only found again in 2019.

Liverpool's magic flared up again with a UEFA Cup win in 2001 under Gerard Houllier before Rafael Benitez recaptured their Champions Cup crown in 2005, a feat repeated by Jurgen Klopp last year.

Inevitably those with memories of great sides will try to compare Klopp's 2020 vintage to those of the '70s and '80s but this is a bit of a fool's errand. Football gets better every year so Klopp's current crop would defeat all previous Liverpool teams.

The German has cleverly assembled a backbone of platinum players: £75 million for Virgil Van Dijk was the world record price for a defender but has been one of the best Premier League investments, on a par with Leicester City buying N'Golo Kanté or Manchester United bagging Eric Cantona and Peter Schmeichel for modest sums.

Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane, and Mohamed Salah have become as feared an attacking trident as any and buccaneering Scottish left-back Andrew Robertson has been outstanding too. Klopp's backroom staff are top class and his love of intensity, the gegenpressing we first saw at Borussia Dortmund, has translated seamlessly into Liverpool's attacking front-foot tradition.

They are the most worthy winners. English and European Champions and World Club Cup holders to boot. It does not get much better than that. As with Pep Guardiola's grand slam of trophies at Barcelona, the challenge now for Klopp is to sustain the success and not rest on his laurels.

Benitez's miracle of Istanbul was supposed to have ended the hoodoo and ushered in a new age, but it kept stalling. The Spaniard put all his eggs into the European basket at the expense of the league. Klopp seems to have a stronger winning formula this time around.

The German is a victor, blessed with charisma, intelligence, and an ability to get others to follow him. He also comes across as a fair man, not a mad genius like Jose Mourinho. 

As with Gareth Southgate's statesmanlike performance during the 2018 World Cup, Klopp's unifying spirit and strong leadership skills stand in stark contrast to the nation's flailing politicians, and many wish he were in charge of Britain as well as Liverpool F.C.

When asked in March about the Covid-19 lockdown, however, he was fast to distance himself from politics. Render unto Caesar...

Klopp works wonders but is still only human. He will nevertheless go down in history as the man who ended Liverpool's long wait for the title and that is enough for now.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Asian Football Confederation U-16 Championship Bahrain 2020 - Official Draw Results

Photos highlights from the AFC U-16 Championship Bahrain 2020 - Official Draw Results

Sixteen (16) qualified AFC Member Associations of the Asian Football Confederation will be part of the AFC U-16 Championship 2020 in Bahrain.

Asian Football Confederation U-16 Championship Bahrain 2020

Asian Football Confederation U-16 Championship Bahrain 2020

Asian Football Confederation U-16 Championship Bahrain 2020

Official Draw

Official Draw

Welcome to Bahrain.

Official Draw


Official Draw




A bald guy


Saturday, June 20, 2020



To champion the return of top-flight Spanish football, LaLiga has launched 'United Streets of LaLiga', a worldwide urban artwork campaign to commission unique football-inspired murals in cities across the globe. Urban artists from five continents and 12 separate locations were given license to bring to life the passion and excitement of LaLiga fans across the world and create unique pieces of urban artwork for fans to experience in person and share online.

The end result is a colourful array of bespoke artworks that blend colloquial characteristics and iconic LaLiga symbolism while bringing to life the raw emotions embodied by the campaign #BacktoWin (in Spanish, #VolverEsGanar). The #BackToWin campaign has been launched by LaLiga and its Spanish broadcast partner Movistar to celebrate the importance of bringing back professional football for a series of stakeholders across society: including clubs, fans, and the wider sports industry.

The locations for the ‘United Streets of LaLiga’ artwork include 12 cities across five continents: Mexico City (Mexico), Sao Paulo (Brazil), Bogotá (Colombia), Hong Kong SAR, Bali (Indonesia), Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam), London (UK), Paris (France), Copenhagen (Denmark), Lagos (Nigeria), Dar Es Salam (Tanzania) and Kabul (Afghanistan).

In Hong Kong, its citizens will be able to see this new piece of artwork on the 26 Cochrane street, in Central District, and discover an interpretation of two Spanish players, Joaquin Sanchez (Real Betis) and Santi Cazorla (Villarreal CF), and the Japanese star Takefusa Kubo, currently part of RCD Mallorca squad.

Speaking about the campaign, Eduard Castell, LaLiga’s delegate in Hong Kong: “After 92 days without official matches we are delighted that football is returning. The fact that LaLiga is back means so much to everyone who loves football, and to celebrate we wanted to capture that raw emotion with our ‘United Streets of LaLiga’ campaign.

Hong Kong is an important place for us and we want to share part of our joy and invite them to join us in this return of the competition .” “Is always nice to express your ideas, emotions and aspirations through the art and this piece wants to show the excitement of LaLiga fans here in Hong Kong and around the world for the return of the competition as a sign of the whole world coming, little by little, back to normal”, Axe Colours HK, the artist behind the piece of artwork in Cochrane Street, said. LaLiga Communications Department

@LaLiga on Twitter / LaLiga on Facebook / LaLiga on Instagram  All the pieces of artwork can be viewed on LaLiga social channels here:




This initiative is part of more than 100 global activations that the league has organised to mark the return of LaLiga. Among them, exhibitions of LaLiga club shirts are on display above the streets of Madrid, Seville and Bilbao, while an emotive video along with fan images is being projected onto some of Spain’s most famous attractions, including Madrid's Puerta del Sol and the City of Arts and Sciences complex in Valencia.

Sunday, June 7, 2020

They Think it's All Over?

The enduring legend of England's 1966 World Cup win

Lockdown soccer watching has taken many forms.

With no live football at home, more people than usual have been taking an interest in the Bundesliga and its empty arenas. For the once and only time in its history the Belarus Premier League has even been on some English lips.

England's 1966 World Cup win
England's 1966 World Cup win

Terrestrial football coverage has concentrated on Euro '96 with both BBC and ITV replaying what was in all truth a mediocre competition, while today Channel 4 revived the old chestnut of the 1966 World Cup Final.

Knowing this national anthem by heart, I would have preferred to have seen England's other World Cup campaigns, especially ones less remembered today such as Chile 1962 or France 1998.

The issue must be the cost of TV rights to show them again, given FIFA owns all the World Cup footage and charges a bomb for any reproduction.

1966 is still England's only glory which means it cannot be forgotten, although for years I felt there has been an excessive veneration of a day which grows ever more distant.

We will always have '66. But we do not want it forever as our only idol.

Nostalgia and conservatism are famous attributes of the English mindset but also weaknesses so the fact England has not won anything since '66 only bolsters the clichés.

Yet, as the years pass and the Three Lions continue to stumble what else can we commemorate and what else can we aim to emulate?

Hungary were the best team in the world in the early 1950s but lost the '54 World Cup final to West Germany, leaving them to honour their 1953 conquest of Wembley - the Mighty Magyars' 6-3 win over England, as their golden day ever since.

In the same way in England we are stuck with '66.

I was not even born then but can name the starting eleven like a litany of saints better than I can recall the 2018 semi-finalists.

I cleave more to the Italia '90 boys because I was an avid teenager then but through osmosis I have learnt to venerate England's one and only triumph.

I am intimate with that day's minutiae; the Hurst crossbar goal and the 'Russian' linesman, Bobby Moore wiping his hands when he spies the Queen's white gloves, the jackets and ties of the pitch invaders and Jimmy Greaves' sullen face on the bench etc.

Within seconds of watching the 1966 final the most obvious difference you note now is the old leather ball.

The orange Slazenger Challenge made the game slower than it is today as it was harder to control and there was no room for the trickery of subsequent stars like Jay-Jay Okocha or Ronaldinho.

There were always skilful players so it is tantalising to wonder what the ball wizards of then - Eusebio, Garrincha and Pele, would have done with today's lighter footballs such as 2010's notorious Jabulani and its unpredictable aerodynamics.

By 1974 the leather Telstar Durlast had a polyurethane coating and by 1986 the Adidas Azteca had completed the evolution to fully artificial materials.

The leather sphere meant free kicks could not be curled or dipped so set pieces were more aerial serves onto attackers' heads. Pressing in '66 was nothing like it is today and defences were more porous. The way Geoff Hurst sailed wholly unmarked into the German box to nod the equaliser was jaw-dropping.

Goalkeepers were similar; Gordon Banks' abilities have not dated, although the sweeper-keeper had not arrived yet. That was popularised by the Netherlands' Jan Jongbloed in 1974.  

All goals can be attributed to defensive errors as much as attacking class but in the '66 final the errors glare more. Half the six strikes in the final were down to right clangers.

The technique of some defenders on both sides was notably wobbly, which cannot just be attributed to the leather ball. Defenders rarely overlapped so were more practised in clearing than passing.

Whatever the ball-skills of 54 years ago compared to today, the quality players of then still stood out: Bobby Moore was imperious, Bobby Charlton dangerous and Franz Beckenbauer precocious.

There seem to have been far more turnovers of possession than there are today and more optimistic snapshots and efforts from outside the box, which is interesting given the heavier ball. It was an open final, if rather nervous and ragged by today's standards.

Passing back to the goalkeeper in the '66 final catches your eye; it was allowed until 1992. This meant custodians only needed good hands, not feet like today. Simulation and time-wasting seemed absent. Strikingly and ludicrously, there were no substitutes allowed.

Statistics on distances run would be interesting because of the advances in modern player fitness - there are no cups of tea at half time or steak and chips as a pre-match meal anymore.

But the athleticism and physical commitment 54 years ago still look impressive. The players were clearly exhausted at the end of 120 minutes.

Regarding the third England goal the less said the better as it did not cross the line, whatever the Azerbaijani linesman said to the Swiss referee. What is remarkable in the light of today's VAR obsession is how lightning quick the pair were to reach the decision, barely a couple of seconds in fact.

The fourth goal, as some fans invaded the pitch and appeared to distract the German goalkeeper Hans Tilkowski, was a surreal cherry on the cake.

Times change rapidly. Off the field the 1966 final seems a world away.

When I see clips of English football in the 1970s I am aware of the growing menace on the terraces, but watching the '66 final you hear nothing more sinister than 'Rule Britannia', 'We Want Goals' and 'Ee Aye Addio We Won the Cup'. Did it all go sour after the 1970 loss?

There is something of the Beatles & Shea Stadium about the '66 final, a joyous pinnacle never to be reached again.

Channel 4 interspersed their coverage with in-picture interviews with England players old and young, including some of the '66 men, as well as Jurgen Klinsmann, who provided some welcome context.

Klinsi helped a united Germany win in 1990 months after the Berlin Wall became rubble, noting the cultural significance of World Cups.

In that sense '66 was a chapter of an English golden age of Swinging London, the Beatles, the sexual revolution, a healthy economy and a charismatic leader in Harold Wilson. If you were young at the time it must have been a hell of party that summer night in the Trafalgar Square fountains.

The golden-haired gentleman captain Bobby Moore, sporting a sweaty blood-red shirt, raising the shining golden cup aloft with a lush green background on an English summer's day has easily become a sacred event. The symbolism of defeating the Germans again on a field of conflict was perfect.

Yet unlike England, Germany has moved on. It has won three World Cups since '66 and still honours the '54 Miracle of Bern as their exit from the dark years of the Nazis and a recovery from the trauma of WWII.

England by contrast still cleaves to '66 through necessity, inevitably over-eulogising it and rose-tinting it in the process. Given the explosion of world soccer since 1966, matching that win has only got harder.

My father was at the game, one of 100,000 lucky souls to have been there in person for the Three Lions's finest hour. How I wish I could say the same. A Euro '96 hammering of Holland will have to do for me.

England's glory aside, 1966 is notable as the last World Cup before commercialism took hold.
There was no advertising inside the stadium or visible sponsor names.

The official programme carried adverts for provincial English brands like Charrington beer and Embassy cigarettes, not multinationals like Coca-Cola and VISA. Sir Stanley Rous, for all his faults, was in charge of FIFA until 1974 when the corrupt Joao Havelange stole the reins of world football.

England's World Cup also heralded the rise of African football via Mozambique-born Eusebio, the star of the tournament, as well as Asian soccer in the form of the astonishing North Korea.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Saturday, June 6, 2020

LaLiga sets official matchday schedule for the return of football in Spain

LaLiga sets official matchday schedule for the return of football in Spain

The return of LaLiga is imminent. Javier Tebas confirmed as much in an interview with the El Partidazo #VolverEsGanar show on Movistar, LaLiga’s broadcaster in Spain. The LaLiga President announced that there will be games on every day of the week, and also confirmed the kick- off times for the first and second matchday back.

No end of excitement awaits us in the coming days, with clashes such as Athletic Club vs Atletico de Madrid and the Valencia derby, pitting Valencia CF against Levante UD, set to be played on the first matchday back following the competition’s restart. The LaLiga president also revealed a project to involve LaLiga fans in matches, which will be played behind closed doors for the time being.

The Applause to Infinity initiative will see applause from fans from across the world played out in stadiums in the 20th minute of matches. Kick-offs in three time slots, with flexibility Among the news revealed by Javier Tebas was the announcement of official kick-off times for the first and second matchdays, and also confirmation that there will be three time slots for matches which can be adjusted based on weather conditions, in particular high temperatures.

From now until the end of the season, weekdays will feature regular match slots at 19:30 and 22:00 CET, while regular match times for weekend fixtures will be 17:00, 19:30 and 22:00 CET. The first of these slots will be reserved for games played in the north of Spain, where June and July temperatures are milder than the rest of the country. In addition, if the weather conditions are favourable, one more weekend match slot will be included at 13:00 CET.

Over 40 LaLiga Santander and LaLiga SmartBank games are planned to be played each week. Sevilla FC vs Real Betis will be played on Thursday 11th June at 22:00 CET to kick off Matchday 28 of LaLiga Santander, Elche C.F vs Extremadura UD, CF Fuenlabrada vs CD Tenerife and Málaga CF vs SD Huesca will kick off Matchday 32 in LaLiga SmartBank on Friday 12th June at 19:30 CET. The best players and match-ups in the world are back, with LaLiga Santander and LaLiga SmartBank set to take to the field once again.

Starting June 11th, LaLiga will be back on Now Sports - BeIN Sports in Hong Kong. LaLiga Communications Department / TEL +34 912 055 000 / TEL +34 616 035 335 / @LaLiga on Twitter / LaLiga on Facebook / LaLiga on Instagram Applause to Infinity:

A tribute by LaLiga, the clubs and fans to the heroes of COVID-19 In addition to kick-off times, the LaLiga president also unveiled the Applause to Infinity project, an initiative which will involve LaLiga fans from all over the world and pay tribute to the heroes who are fighting to overcome the current global health pandemic.

The restart of the league season will see all LaLiga teams forced to play behind closed doors due to the exceptional measures taken to deal with the pandemic. Applause to Infinity will, however, ensure that fans' presence is felt during every LaLiga Santander and LaLiga SmartBank match, with their applause ringing out in stadiums in the 20th minute.

To this end, LaLiga has created where fans from all over the world can upload applause in support of their club as well as the heroes of the COVID-19 pandemic. A single track will then be created using sounds from across the globe and played in stadiums in the 20th minute of matches.

The applause will help build a wall of sound in commemoration of the heroic efforts that have been made to overcome the crisis. "Supporters in the stands make football complete but now, due to reasons beyond their control, they won’t be able to be there. We have created this initiative to help fans be a part of LaLiga’s return and also as an opportunity for them to show their support for the heroes of the COVID-19 pandemic. We want them to feel close to their team, even if they cannot be in the stadiums cheering them on, and for players to feel the support of their fans," said Javier Tebas.