Sunday, January 31, 2021

AFC Champions League 2021 and AFC Cup 2021 – Official Draw Result

AFC Champions League 2021

AFC Champions League 2021

AFC Champions League 2021 and AFC Cup 2021 - Official Draw Result

[Hong Kong, 27 Jan 2021] The official draw ceremonies for the AFC Champions League 2021 (ACL) and AFC Cup 2021 (ACC) were held this afternoon.

After the draw, Kitchee has been drawn to Group J in the ACL and will face the teams of Shandong Luneng (CHN), Port FC (THA) and the Winner of PO 2 (Cerezo Osaka (JPN)/Melbourne City FC (AUS) /Shan United FC (MYA)). ACL Group J will be played from 21 April to 7 May. 

Eastern Long Lions (Hong Kong) and Lee Man (Hong Kong) will participate in Group J in ACC 2021. The opponent will be Tainan City FC (Chinese Taipei) and Athletic 220 FC (MNG). ACC Group J will be played from 14 to 20 May.

Match fixtures and venues for the ACL 2021 and ACC 2021 will be announced by the AFC.

Saturday, January 30, 2021

Palmeiras bag the Copa

COPA LIBERTADORES FINAL 2020: PALMEIRAS 1:0 SANTOS 

It was an all-Brazilian affair, won in the end by a late, late goal from Breno Lopes.

At the end of a long hot season, Palmeiras became champions of South America for the second time and advance to the FIFA Club World Cup in Qatar. Portuguese coach Abel Ferreira bagged the biggest continental prize after less than three months in the job.

COPA LIBERTADORES FINAL 2020
COPA LIBERTADORES FINAL 2020

434 days separated this Copa Libertadores final from the last thanks to the Pandemic and the winners would only have barely a week before taking the field in the Middle East and a probable clash with Bayern Munich.

Boca Juniors and River Plate fell in the semis, so there would be no Superclásico final in Rio. This instead was a Clássico de Saudade (Nostalgia Derby) of two of Sao Paulo state's great sides, 76km apart, although both have bigger beefs with city rivals Corinthians.

There were almost no fans inside anyway thanks to Covid, but the Maracana's sweeping curves glowed majestically in the afternoon sun.

How I wished I were there in sultry Rio sipping a cool Brahma instead of sat here in England drinking hot chocolate to keep the cold at bay. 

That said, it did not take long for the myth of the Beautiful Game Brazil sold the world to evaporate.

After ten minutes two Santos players, Lucas Verissimo and Marinho made flying lunges from the Bruce Lee school of tackling. Players writhed on the deck or surrounded the referee. Before long the goalkeepers were rolling on the ground for treatment, or rather a respite.

It was not lyrical football to a samba beat, rather clash and pain to discordant noise.

Oh dear is it going to be one of those unwatchable matches the Mexican league specialises in, I wondered? Thankfully no, the frustrated fouls petered out and a football duel commenced. Both sides mercifully entered the dressing rooms with only a yellow card apiece.

Despite the internet, we Europeans still do not watch as much South American football as we should. We know more about their national teams than club sides, but hopefully that will change as the FIFA Club World Championship grows. Terrestrial coverage would help too.

So when we do watch it, we revert to our comfortable stereotypes of Brazil being a synonym for flair or skill and get our eyes opened when an all-Brazilian clash is a slug-fest instead. The other thing we ignore is how different the CONMEBOL calendars are to ours and how much air travel is involved.

After playing fifty plus games already this season, it would have been no wonder if both sides wilted in the heat today. 

Those factors plus the Latin football traditions meant a slower rhythm than in our equivalent - the UEFA Champions League final, and more space in midfield thanks to a welcome lack of gegenpressing.

Chances were slim in the first half with neither side on top.

Palmeiras' Raphael Vega scuffed a shot a yard wide from a tight angle in the 36th, the first and only attempt of the 45 and not a great one at that. On the other flank Rony made a high-speed raid and thumped the ball across the box against the goalkeeper.

Santos pushed forward more but Palmeiras remained solid, biding their time perhaps. Marinho looked the most likely gamechanger from Santos, with wing back Felipe Jonatan a willing lieutenant.

Just after the hour mark Raphael Vega dipped a free kick onto the roof of the Santos net to hint of Palmeiras remembering their lines.

With 15 minutes to go the field was very open and the tempo slow so the window for goals was open but a lack of quality touches from the forwards was limiting chances. 

Palmeiras seemed to want to play on the counter but could have supported their isolated striker Luiz Adriano better. 

Santos sparked into life in the 77th minute as Diego Pituca let rip from outside the box, Weverton could only parry and Jonatan rifled the rebound just wide.

In the 96th minute, hell briefly broke loose. Cuca, the Santos manager wearing a Virgin & Child t-shirt, was shown a red card for trying to pick up the ball as it crossed the touchline, possibly to waste time, and was bundled over by Palmerias' Marcos Rocha.

After a multi-player argument, the sending-off stood and the game exploded.

Cuca barely had time to join the Santos fans in the stands as from the restart Rony launched a diagonal long ball to the edge of the box and substitute Breno Lopes rose to power a header into the opposite corner of the Santos net.

1-0. A goal in the blink of an eye deep into injury time. A red card and drama at the death. Tears of joy and grief flowed.

Obrigado.

It was a real Brazilian football match in the end.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Qatar on the right track

2022 HOSTS REBUILD RELATIONS AND SHOW STADIUM PROGRESS

Things are looking up for Qatar 2022.

FIFA's most controversial World Cup hosts have not had it easy. But with two years to go, they seem to be on course.

The cards are beginning to fall into place. The fourth of eight World Cup stadia has just been finished and the Gulf state's neighbours have just ended a three-year blockade which had shut Qatar's land border with the United Arab Emirates and stopped flights and shipping between the two countries.

With the country set to host FIFA's Club World Cup again next month, PR for the 2022 tournament will get another boost. While the idea of a winter World Cup still appals many traditionalists, most fans would die for a top-quality football tournament to enjoy right now to take their minds off this bleak virus-plagued winter.

The venues of Ahmed Bin-Ali (40,000), Al-Bayt (60,000), Al-Janoub (40,000) and Education City (40,000) are now complete and ready for football, with work progressing well on the remaining stadia. 

Bin-Ali & Education City are the venues for next month's Club World Cup, featuring Bayern Munich (Germany), Ulsan Hyundai (Korea), UANL Tigres (Mexico), Al Ahly (Egypt) and Al Dusail from Qatar, as well as the winners of South America's Copa Libertadores  - either Palmeiras or Santos (both Brazil).

The Club World Cup kicks off on the 1st of February with the final on the 11th.

World Cup 2022
World Cup 2022

The showpiece venue for the World Cup in two years' time is the 80,000 seat Lusail stadium, designed by Foster & Partners, which is yet to be finished.

With regional relations now being gradually restored there is hope that travel to the finals will be hassle-free for the million or so fans expected.

FIFA is cautiously optimistic its most controversial hosting decision will not be made any worse. 

Its showpiece event being hosted by an international pariah would not be a good look. That said, outside opprobrium did not stop them going to Fascist Italy in 1934 or the military junta of Argentina in 1978, the last time an authoritarian regime was in charge. 

Qatar is no democracy either but its immense wealth and high standard of living paper over the cracks. 

It is not a volatile nation like Iraq or Yemen are right now yet its location in the Middle East is inevitably a cause of worry in the West, concerns confirmed by the three-year blockade which is thankfully now easing.

The UAE, Bahrain, Egypt and Saudi Arabia had imposed an embargo on the World Cup hosts in June 2017 because of Qatar's alleged links to terrorism. Time and again, the finger was pointed at the little state for harbouring individuals funding radical causes in the region.

This was complicated because although Qatar has admitted wealthy backers of banned groups are living within its borders it has also pledged international cooperation to fight extremism a number of times and now agreed to a Kuwaiti/USA brokered deal to normalise relations with its neighbours.

World Cup 2022

Other reasons for the blockade are probably political - Qatar shares a gas field with Iran, which annoyed Saudi Arabia, and has a military tie-up with Turkey, which angered the UAE because those nations backed opposing sides in the Libyan conflict.

Perhaps the small and wealthy nation has never really wanted to immerse itself in the fiery politics of the Middle East for good reason, but that policy has been exploited by some rich men with bad intentions.

Relations with its big neighbour Saudi Arabia appear to be healing now, with both nations' leaders embracing and Doha's international news network Al-Jazeera striking a notably softer tone in its reporting of the kingdom.

Fingers crossed, the World Cup will be hassle and trouble-free. With Covid-19 still the major challenge worldwide for football, FIFA could do without any additional headaches down the line.

Given the scale of recovery from pandemic required, the extra five and a half months FIFA & Qatar will have the year after next to organise the World Cup suddenly looks like a blessing in disguise.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Liverpool FC x Nike Chinese New Year 21 Top

Liverpool FC x Nike Chinese New Year Make Your Own Fortune

Liverpool FC x Nike Chinese New Year

To celebrate the upcoming Chinese New Year, Liverpool FC & Nike present the limited-edition top "Make Your Own Fortune", with design elements taking inspiration from traditional Chinese Knots that are used as symbols of good luck during the New Year celebrations.

The top also features Dri-FIT technology to help keep you dry and comfortable.

The top is available to pre-order online from Monday 18 January.

Liverpool FC x Nike Chinese New Year.

Liverpool FC x Nike Chinese New Year

Friday, January 22, 2021

Euros Still in Doubt

EURO 2020 MAY NOT HAPPEN IN 2021

The delayed UEFA European Championship could be hosted by a single country or may not happen at all this summer as Covid-19 continues to grip the world.

Euro 2020

UEFA's plan for a multinational tournament and 24 teams has already been delayed by a year but the rejigged tournament looks increasingly threatened as European nations wilt under the third and worst wave of the pandemic.

Northern Ireland has just extended its national lockdown until the 5th of March, coincidentally UEFA's deadline for deciding on the fate of their showpiece tournament. 

As it stands it is slated to begin on the 11th of June in Rome and end a month later in London, but should other nations follow Ulster's suit and extend their lockdowns into the Spring, the prospect of Euro 2020  happening this summer grows smaller.

And yet, domestic leagues plow on and the Champions League and Europa League were concluded last year, behind closed doors of course. 

The multi-country hosting was the "romantic" brainchild of former UEFA President Michel Platini in 2012, expanding the number of finalists to 24 to boot, but the French legend was banned from football three years later for corruption. Nine years since the hosting decision, UEFA is still having to live with the disgraced Platini's vision, or monster.

Michel Platini

Bayern Munich chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge has told German newspapers that UEFA boss Aleksander Ceferin is currently mulling over whether to award the whole tournament to a single host nation instead of the 12 planned.

Ceferin said UEFA were assessing the options of playing in nine or ten countries as well as just one as well as in stadia a third or a half-full.

England, as the major host with seven matches including both semis and the final at Wembley, may be in pole position to host the whole show but other nearby venues would be required too as the finals comprise 51 games in total. Ten were used in France for the 24-team Euro 2016

Glasgow's Hampden Park is due to host three group matches, while Cardiff's Millennium Stadium, which narrowly missed the cut, could be brought back into the fold too.

That said, Great Britain is statistically the least safe place in Europe right now to hold the finals as it boasts the continent's highest death and infection rates.

If the worst happens and the Euros cannot go ahead in June they could be played in summer 2022, two years late, but with winter 2022 taken up by the Qatar World Cup, footballers would have a packed calendar. The fact the World Cup is not being played in summer however does leave that window uniquely open.

This week, the Tokyo Olympics, like the Euros delayed since last year, has had to deny press rumours their tournament is on the brink of cancellation or postponement. 

The Olympics are slated to start two weeks after the Euros finish but a Japanese minister admitted it was touch and go and the head of World Athletics Sebastian Coe has said the games might go ahead but behind closed doors. 

In his New Year's message, Ceferin was ever the politician: "I am 99.9% sure we will have the European Championship in all twelve cities as planned," he said.

Today those words seem extremely doubtful.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Young Reds can learn to play the Liverpool way with launch of new platform

Young Reds can learn to play the Liverpool way

Liverpool FC has launched a brand-new online platform to help young footballers master the skills necessary to play the Liverpool way.

Developed by coaches at LFC, this is an unparalleled opportunity for young players to benefit from the leading academy expertise of one of the world's most successful clubs. Whether they are starting out in the game or want to supplement other forms of training they may be undertaking.

Young Reds can learn to play the Liverpool way

Through world-class academy training methods, elite technical insights and inspiring content from the Reds' first team heroes, LFC's new eAcademy provides youngsters with the unique opportunity to develop their individual skills and techniques.

So, for players hoping to learn how to shoot like Mo Salah, dribble like Sadio Mane, pass like Thiago or strike a ball like Trent Alexander-Arnold, the eAcademy will show them how to do it.

Designed to be easily accessible to young fans around the world, the platform provides access to professional skills development videos and LFC coach demonstrations to break each technique down in to the most important aspects to focus on.

For added aspirational value and to help push young players closer towards their goals, eAcademy includes LFC match footage to inspire and motivate, whilst identifying examples of the techniques deemed to be the most important by our coaches. And young Reds can also get pointers from the first team boss himself with Jurgen Klopp endorsing which skills to focus on, giving an authentic insight into the areas most valued at LFC.

Jurgen Klopp, said: "The eAcademy gives users a unique insight into the skills we value when playing the Liverpool way. It's a great platform to help young players learn the techniques they need to advance their skills and become a better footballer. The LFC eAcademy will show you how to master the most important skills and techniques."

Reds captain, Jordan Henderson, said: "Developing your skills to become the best footballer you can be is about hard work, dedication and commitment. You need to spend hours and hours practicing and mastering techniques as a young player.

The LFC eAcademy will support and guide young footballers to make sure they are working on the areas that will help them the most."

eAcademy is the ideal way for parents and guardians to help their children learn to play the Liverpool Way and improve their game performance from home.

LFC Academy graduate and first team player, Trent Alexander-Arnold, said: "I didn't only rely on my training with my coaches to improve my game, I had to work hard and practice on my own to make sure I was going to achieve my goals. I'd have loved to have something like this when I was growing up.

The eAcademy is a fantastic platform to show young players how to play the Liverpool way."

The perfect gift for any young player and Liverpool FC fan, LFC eAcademy is available for the one-off cost of £50 for 12 months, providing access to the full programme and masterclass content.

LFC eAcademy is available to access via: eacademy.liverpoolfc.com

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Liverpool FC scoops win at the ISC International Sports Awards 2020

Liverpool FC scoops win at the ISC International Sports Awards 2020

Liverpool FC has been recognised as a leader in sports innovation at the ISC International Sports Awards 2020 for the launch of its eAcademy platform. Beating off tough competition within the category, the Reds took home the accolade for innovation, with judges impressed by the new platform. LFC eAcademy launched last month and has been designed to help young footballers master the skills necessary to play The Liverpool Way.

Liverpool FC scoops win at the ISC International Sports Awards 2020

Developed by coaches at LFC, this is an unparalleled opportunity for young players to benefit from the leading academy expertise of one of the world's most successful clubs.

Through world-class academy training methods, elite technical insights and inspiring content from the Reds' first team heroes, LFC's new eAcademy provides youngsters with the unique opportunity to develop their individual skills and techniques.

Celebrating exceptional success in the sports industry, the International Sports Awards recognise the achievements of individuals, groups and companies with honour and recognition on an annual basis.

Overall, seven categories saw seven outstanding winners recognised for demonstrating the best creativity, innovation and solutions in 2020.

The awards will be presented to the winners during ISC Virtual Week 2020, which takes place December 7-11, 2020.

Commenting on the award win, Dan White, Vice President, LFC International Academies, said: "The eAcademy has been created to help young players learn the techniques and skills they need to become better footballers.

To achieve this, we required a unique platform that would inspire, support and guide the user, whether they were starting out in the game or using the eAcademy to supplement other forms of training.

"We're thrilled to have been named the winner of the innovation award at the ISC International Sports Awards 2020.

It's fantastic for the eAcademy to be recognised for its approach to skills development, the insight given to the user and also the innovative approach taken."

The perfect gift for any young player and Liverpool FC fan. Register at www.LFCeAcademy.com and access the full programme of masterclass content.

Saturday, January 9, 2021

傑志落實丹恩奴域加盟

傑志落實丹恩奴域加盟

Dejan Damjanovic

傑志今日正式宣佈,在韓職效力多年的前鋒丹恩奴域(Dejan Damjanovic) 將轉往香港繼續其足球生涯,他早前已動筆簽約,落實加盟傑志,預計他將於本月尾至下月初抵港,隔離檢疫後再正式報到。

來自黑山的丹恩奴域自2007年登陸韓職以來,先後效力過仁川聯和FC首爾,並於2011-2013年三度奪得韓職神射手。及後他雖曾轉投中超兩季,效力江蘇舜天及北京國安,但之後重投FC首爾,再先後效力水原藍翼及FC大邱,在韓職合共射入接近200球,三度為FC首爾奪得聯賽冠軍寶座。

他於亞冠盃亦有豐富的比賽經驗,2013年隨FC首爾打入決賽,最後不敵廣州恆大屈居亞軍,他個人歷來在亞冠盃攻入36球,在賽事歷史射手榜名列次席,僅落後第一位的李同國1球。

傑志足球總監朱志光對丹恩奴域加盟表示欣喜,認為他豐富的亞洲賽經驗是對球隊有極大幫助。今屆亞協盃和亞冠盃將於1月27日抽籤,相關賽制和賽期屆時亦將更明朗化。

Sunday, January 3, 2021

Feeling the New Year Blues

THE PREMIER LEAGUE IS NOT GOING THE WAY I THOUGHT IT WOULD

I do not support Chelsea, but I am feeling blue.

Roman Abramovich, showing no sign of fatigue, had let his oligarch millions flow in the summer and a box of delights duly arrived at Stamford Bridge.

The building blocks for a serious title assault were in place: I was sure Timo Werner, Hakim Ziyech and Kai Havertz would score a sack of goals. At the back, England's Ben Chilwell looked a shrewd signing alongside the wise old head of Thiago Silva, while in Edouard Mendy they had found a safe pair of hands after their prolonged problems with Kepa.

As far as I could see, those purchases, added to their existing arsenal of Tammy Abraham, Billy Gilmour, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Mason Mount and Christian Pulisic, all led by a local hero in Frank Lampard, meant the West Londoners were if not a racing cert for the title then a good bet at least.

I also thought Liverpool would stay hungover from last year's glory, Manchester City needed an injection of new ideas and signings and Arsenal and Manchester United would continue their travails under newish managers to recapture their prowess. If anyone could challenge Chelsea I thought it would be in the form of a gallant run by Tottenham, as there is life in the old dog Mourinho.

But I was wrong again, which is why I never bet on football. After 16 matches, Chelsea lie sixth in the league seven points short of the points leaders Liverpool and Man United. 

Losses at Everton, Wolves and a surprisingly rampant Arsenal have shown a weakness away from home and they certainly do not look title material.

They have come undone, or at least failed to fire on all their undoubtedly capable cylinders. Lampard has been at pains to dampen expectations, insisting his collective are short on the experience needed to land the big prize.

Chelsea
Chelsea feeling blue

But to blame it on their youth? Wasn't Alan Hansen's notorious phrase 'You can't win anything with kids' disproved by Ajax's 1995 Champions League win (average age under 24)?

What is noticeable looking at the table as a whole as we enter 2021 is how many games the champions and league leaders have drawn - Liverpool have tied six compared to United's three. 

It is also clear that no side is consistent; Man U's four wins out of the last five and Sheffield United's four losses are the exceptions.

Spurs are third but with only one win in five. Everton had a flying start thanks to some great summer buys but then went on a run of only one win in seven before recovering to fifth as the new year began, before losing again. It is impossible to find a horse that will maintain an even gallop right now. 

Maybe I got them confused with the blue shirts of Everton and Leicester, both above Chelsea in the table. Every year the season's serpentine twists and turns convince me, even more, I should never be a betting man.

Who foresaw Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's team's resurgence or indeed Arsenal's recent renewal only a few games ago? The Gunners looked down for the count in the bottom half of the table. 

How did these men change losing streaks into winning runs? How did they inject all-round confidence into dressing rooms apparently losing hope? One game they are slow to react and second to the ball, the next they are raring to go and first to the fight. What are they doing that Lampard is not?

It was a mixture of motivation and new faces in both sides which saw them turn their corners. Solskjaer and Mikel Arteta found new armaments in their managerial toolboxes, as all good coaches do. They made changes because repeating the same process expecting a different result is the classic definition of madness. All managers need time to bear fruit, but only deserve it if they use those hours wisely.

Once again, the importance of psychology rears its head, particularly at this stage of the season when impatient or nervous directors tend to go for the nuclear option and fire their beleaguered managers instead of relying on them to pull an iron out of the fire.

Can it be taught? If education in mental skills, as opposed to physical ones, counts for anything, then Graham Potter of Brighton should be a much-coveted manager.

Potter has a degree in social sciences and a master's in leadership and emotional intelligence. His methods at Ostersund were legendary. We could all do with a mental health boost right now amid this pandemic and positive thinking is useful in all walks of life.

And yet Brighton are hovering right above the drop zone. Perhaps Potter's wizardry is not potent enough to make up for his club's financial weaknesses.

Despite all the joy of the unpredictable Premier League, one imagines the end of season table will tell a familiar story of the richest clubs at the top and the poorest at the bottom. 

But it looks like the winners will be wearing red.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile