Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Loss of a Red Legend


Roger Hunt - record goal scorer for Liverpool.
Roger Hunt - record goalscorer for Liverpool

Roger Hunt, Liverpool F.C.'s greatest league marksman with 244 goals for the Reds, has died aged 83. 

In the Anfield roll of goalscoring honour, Hunt's total of 286 is second only to Ian Rush's. For that reason, the Kop knew him as "Sir Roger".

He cemented his place in Liverpool folklore as his goals helped whisk the Reds from the second tier to the top of English football under Bill Shankly's charismatic management in the swinging sixties. 

The Lancashire-born forward won two league championships and an F.A. Cup with the club and then the World Cup with his country, playing in all of England's games in 1966.

Alongside Geoff Hurst, Hunt was famously preferred by manager Alf Ramsey to the more purely talented Jimmy Greaves, who died last week. He scored 18 goals in 34 matches for the Three Lions, netting three at the '66 finals.

Hunt was a hard-working centre forward with a good right foot, who not only scored plenty himself but also created so much space and chances for colleagues with his tireless running that England skipper Bobby Moore rightly called him "a player's player".

His career tally of 272 goals in 486 matches with only two bookings is testament to the positive way in which he played the game.

Hunt's greatest domestic season was 1963-'64 when Liverpool became champions of England and Hunt scored 31 league goals in a stellar partnership with Ian St John. 

That was the Reds' first title in 17 years and the start of their golden era of dominating English and later European football.

His death leaves England with three survivors from their only World Cup-winning team - Bobby Charlton, George Cohen and Hurst. 

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile


Sunday, September 26, 2021

傑志與Nike共同發佈2021-2022球衣 展現90週年乘勢而上精神

傑志與Nike共同發佈2021-2022球衣 展現90週年乘勢而上精神

傑志與Nike共同發佈2021-2022球衣 展現90週年乘勢而上精神

傑志2021-2022全新主場球衣隆重登場,由官方運動用品及裝備贊助商Nike設計及生產。新球季球衣以球會傳統藍色作主調,加上粉紅色搭配,以色彩展現傑志引以為傲的光輝時代。 適逢球會成立90週年,傑志復刻了創會初期的斜間作主場球衣設計,顏色上融合了3種不同藍色,展現出藍鳥過往不同時期輝煌歷史,向前輩致敬之餘,亦以富現代感的配搭突顯勇往直前,乘勢而上精神;衣領、袖口、球衣和短褲側面以及長袜則以粉紅色作呼應。


「心懷傑志」字句一如以往出現在球衣衣領內,體現堅守傑志核心價值。 90b.jpeg 傑志與Nike由2009年起攜手合作,傑志在賽場上爭勝,Nike則在裝備上作最強後盾,繼續以創造香港足球更好未來作共同目標。

今季傑志新球衣,首次應用了Nike最新的「4D FIT」測量技術;透過邀請超過300位職業球員到實驗室,利用電腦掃描球員不同身體部位的體型動態數據,再結合Nike的電腦運算技術,精準地設計球衣剪裁,製造出最舒適合身的球衣,讓每名傑志球員以最佳狀態投入比賽。 傑志後防靈魂人物艾里奧試穿新球衣後,立即回想起剛完成的亞冠盃之旅:「在泰國進行的6場比賽,一時下雨,一時炎熱,Nike的Dri-FIT球衣一向以透氣見稱,快速地將汗水吸收及揮發,讓我們盡情發揮。而穿上了今季的新球衣,感覺是比之前更進一步,絕對有助我們在賽場上乘勢而上,創出更佳成績。」


Friday, September 24, 2021

James to Al-Rayyan - a Sign of the Times

James to Al-Rayyan
James to Al-Rayyan


James Rodriguez
's swift move from Everton to Al-Rayyan has raised a few eyebrows with many claiming it is a bad move for the World Cup 2014 Golden Boot Winner.

Aged 30, the Colombian should normally be at the peak of his powers, starring for a big club in the UEFA Champions League and challenging for titles.

Instead, Rodriguez found himself frozen out at Everton under new manager Rafael Benitez so was offloaded unceremoniously to the Qatar Stars League, where he will be the only South American or European in his team's squad, coached by French World Cup winner Laurent Blanc.

The Lions' 36-man roster is all Qatari except for Iranian Shojae Khalilzadeh, Cameroonian Franck Kom and the Ivory Coast's Yohan Boli. 

At Everton by contrast he played with 12 different nationalities including five current or former England internationals, two Brazilian internationals, one French and one fellow Colombian, Yerry Mina.

Compared to Rodriguez's previous homes the Premier League, La Liga, Ligue Un or the Bundesliga, the QSL is not exactly overflowing with star names, but James will at least recognise former Bayern teammate Javi Martinez at Qatar SC, Belgian defender Toby Alderweireld at Al-Duhail and Barcelona legend Xavi in charge of Al-Sadd. There is one other Colombian in Qatar, Jeison Medina of Al-Shamal.

"It's not easy to find good offers when you want," Rafael Benitez explained at today's Everton press conference, "and that was the time. That was the right one for him and he is happy with that and we have to do it because we have to maximise our resources."

James was Everton's highest-played player at around £200,000 a week and with six goals and 26 appearances last season, could have been seen as somewhat of a luxury. Benitez also lamented James' regular injuries, saying, "when you have a player...available for 50% of the games in the Premier League, it is not something we can manage easily." He also cited the UEFA rules on spending as a factor in the Colombian's exit.

Financial Fair Play Rules were probably a factor in his departure, as was the Covid hit all clubs took last season without paying spectators. It cannot be a coincidence that the continent's two brightest stars, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, were both sold in the most recent transfer window. But one wonders if it was not merely a case of a coach not rating a player's abilities or attitude.

Benitez did not want him and James wanted to play, so that was that. With the European transfer window shut, the only options for selling James, therefore, were in the USA and Asia, but the clubs with the dollars to afford him were in China and the Middle East. 

There had been interest in Europe from Milan, Porto and Istanbul Basaksehir but no agreement could be reached before the window shut, presumably because James or his super-agent, the famous Jorge Mendes, held out for a big salary. James did admit playing in Italy sounded attractive but never showed interest in a move to Turkey, while Porto could not agree on a swap involving compatriot Luis Diaz.

In the end they settled for £6 million per annum with Al-Rayyan, 57% of what he was getting on Merseyside. The transfer interestingly includes a clause that he can break his contract at a loss if a team in the UEFA Champions League comes calling and given Qatar's connections with Paris Saint-Germain, there remains a possibility of a return to France, where James previously played with Monaco.

Although he has just headed in the opposite direction, a player of James's calibre surely still belongs in Europe, or at least at a top South American club.

For Al-Rayyan and the Qatari league, signing James is therefore a big coup, which reflects well on the country's football in the run-up to the 2022 World Cup, which will make use of the club's 47,000 capacity stadium.

Qatar World Cup stadium

That competition and the need for first-team football must also have been in his mind as the offer arrived. 

In May, James issued an extraordinary press release expressing his "great disappointment" and "huge pain" at being dropped for Colombia's September World Cup qualifiers. He remains the team's talisman as far as the fans are concerned and his absence grates on a nation who all gather round to watch 'La Seleccion.'

While he and the federation disputed his fitness levels this summer, the real reason for his exclusion must have been his persistent calf muscle problems at Everton last season which restricted his appearances, as well as his complete rejection by incoming manager Benitez. 

Given James arrived on a free transfer from Real Madrid and the Toffees made £7 million on his sale, it could be argued he was not a big financial drain on the club. Had Carlo Ancelotti still been on Merseyside, the Colombian would surely have remained a first-team regular having signed him and coached him at Real Madrid and Bayern Munich.

Benitez of course had coached James at Real too, albeit briefly and has also changed the Everton style by eschewing his playmakers in favour of the newly-acquired Demarai Gray and Andros Townsend, tramline wingers tasked with firing in fast crosses to strikers Richarlison and Dominic Calvert-Lewin.

Four opening wins seemed to justify his changes, although the past two defeats have led many to question why James was not at least on the bench. His assists and passing last season for Everton proved he had lost none of his famous technique.

James himself recently lamented the decline of No.10s, the creative hubs between defence and attack. He is 'un atipico', a player who is hard to define, loosely described as an attacking midfielder. He plays high up and drifts in the hole, threading clever balls beyond back fours with a palpable footballing brain. 

In addition he scores goals and his six at Brazil 2014, including that wonder strike against Uruguay,which won the FIFA Puskas Award, remain the high point of his career. Afterwards, Diego Maradona said he should have won player of the tournament ahead of Messi.

As for Everton, their sudden rise in popularity in South America has come to an abrupt halt. 

James' signing saw Colombia's tallest building, the Colpatria tower, bathed in blue. Supporters' clubs were set up in Latin America, the club played Bogota club Millionarios in a Florida friendly and the club website was given a Spanish translation. 

The sudden departure of the country's star player has left the Latino Toffees followers dismayed and season-ticket holders are also sad they never had the chance to see the Colombian play in person.

"A pity not to have played in Goodison Park with you. It would have been very nice," Rodriguez wrote laconically on Instagram.

Last year James admitted how much it hurt not playing in the Champions League, so one wonders how he will adapt to what is in footballing terms, a bit of a backwater. He has penned a three-year contract with Al-Rayyan but one has to wonder if he will fulfil it. The Middle East, as they say, is not for everyone.

He will have to adapt quickly to a new culture but Qatar will be the eighth country in which he has plied his trade, so he is unlikely to suffer from homesickness.

Al-Rayyan, the western suburb of Doha, is a world away from Merseyside. 

It contains the Doha Zoo, National Stadium and the Villaggio Mall, a typically bling block of high-end Western stores, where, given his Instagram posts of relaxing on private jets and yachts, James should feel right at home.

Even the intense sun of Doha should not be too much for a man who grew up in the all-round heat of Cucuta, in northern Colombia.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile


Sunday, September 19, 2021

Farewell to the Goal Machine


Today's sad announcement that Jimmy Greaves had died aged 81 was not wholly unexpected.

The record Tottenham goalscorer (266 goals) and fourth-highest England marksman (44 goals) had been ill for some time. 

Jimmy Greaves

A stroke in 2015 had left him speechless and wheelchair-bound and he had spent time in hospital last year.

The East Londoner had all the gifts for being a goal poacher -  two good and quick feet, a hawk's eye and a bloodhound's nose for the target. For those reasons, he scored a whopping 357 top-flight goals in England between 1957 and 1971 for Chelsea, Spurs, and West Ham. 

Across Europe's top leagues, only Cristiano Ronaldo has netted more in his career.

After 125 goals for Chelsea, a brief sojourn for Milan in Serie A brought an impressive nine strikes in 12 games but Greaves failed hopelessly to adapt to a different culture and hurried back home to sign for Spurs, where he became their record goalscorer and won two F.A. Cups and one European Cup Winners' Cup.

He played at two World Cups, famously catching an encroaching dog at Chile 1962 and playing in England's three first-round matches in '66.

Subsequently dropped by Alf Ramsey, Greaves' miserable face at the final whistle as England won the Jules Rimet trophy, was unforgettable. He did not attend the after party and his perceived failure lived with him. 43 years later, in 2009, he was at last awarded a winners' medal.

He had famously battled alcoholism and bankruptcy in the 1970s as his career petered out but conquered both to reinvent himself in the '80s as a pally, vaudevillian pundit alongside the laughing Ian St John, who passed away earlier this year, on ITV's Saint & Greavsie show, cementing a different Jimmy Greaves into the minds of a younger generation who had never seen him play.

In later years he would periodically appear in the tabloids with reactionary political opinions or would admit he had fallen so out of love with football that he preferred watching cricket and rugby instead.

In his final year he at last achieved national recognition with an MBE. He remains in football history as a pure goal machine, probably the best England has ever made. 

A schoolteacher of mine told us, "If the ball ever fell to him in the box, Greaves would always get it in."

How fitting that today his two main former clubs, Spurs and Chelsea, play each other in London.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

利物浦足球會宣布與 Sonos 建立音響合作夥伴關係

利物浦足球會宣布與全球領先的聲音體驗公司Sonos 簽署多年協議,正式歡迎 Sonos 成為紅軍的官方音響合作夥伴。 這個全球協議象徵着Sonos 首個與運動品牌的合作,並將會更加深入地關注球迷與運動聲音之間的緊密聯繫,為球迷和球員創造出「身臨其境的音響體驗」。 


從 Kop看台的音響至全新主看台的擴大聲學設計,可看得出紅軍及我們的城市均與聲音有着明確無誤的聯繫。 利物浦商業總監Matt Scammell表示:「利物浦足球會與 Sonos之間的關係和諧共融,我們均對原聲配樂的體驗充滿熱誠。

聲音成功讓晏菲路球場打做為如此特別的地方 - 當我們的支持者於團隊奮戰的背後,『第 12 人』發出改變比賽節奏的聲音,這正正是我們本賽季迫不及待想再次聽到的聲音。 我們非常期待與 Sonos 合作,將我們世界各地的支持者與Anfield的聲音聯繫起來。」 Sonos 營銷副總裁 Pete Pedersen 亦指出: 「聲音一直是體育運動重要組成的一部分 - 它為每場比賽注入能量,無論是球員在作賽時播放的音樂、看台上球迷反覆高歌的振聲,或是在家裡建立球場體驗。


Thursday, September 16, 2021

Messi & Ronaldo's Indian Summer


Last time I was in Colombia, two years ago, my wife's little nephew Felipe told me a joke:

"Why didn't Messi want to baptize his son? - Because he didn't want him to be a Cristiano" (it works better in Spanish).

The thing was, Felipe had no interest in football, but the fame of the two titans of the modern game had found its way into the eight year old's jokes cabinet.

Lionel Messi

The Argentine and the Portuguese have bestrode the sport for the past decade as outstanding individuals at excellent clubs, although have struggled to translate their greatness to their national teams.

Lionel Messi seemed embossed into the crest of FC Barcelona and Cristiano Ronaldo looked similarly chiselled into the keystone of Real Madrid. But CR7 upped sticks for Juventus three seasons ago and last month rejoined Manchester United, while Messi has stunned the world by swapping the Camp Nou for the Parc des Princes.

This week, both legends played in the Champions League. Neither won, but Ronaldo scored and Messi played his 150th game in the competition and his first for Paris Saint-Germain.

After their aeons of Spanish booty had become a defining narrative, you have to pinch yourself to realise neither is playing in La Liga anymore, after scoring 785 goals between them. Who are the biggest stars in Spain now? Gareth Bale, Antoine Griezmann or maybe the 36 year-old Luka Modric?

Using the Arsene Wenger forensic approach to transfers, when you sell your prize assets as soon as their value starts to diminish, offloading Messi & Ronaldo made perfect financial sense for the two giant clubs because the men in question are no spring chickens at 34 and 36 respectively.

But CR7 made a mockery of age on Saturday by netting two goals on his Man Utd return debut, outsprinting and outthinking much younger opponents. Three goals in his first two games for the Red Devils hint at many more to come.

The Madeiran veteran was also top scorer in Serie A last season and at Euro 2020, aged closer to 40 than 30. Messi, too, has plenty of gas left in the tank and a mind as fast as any footballer's. Last night he caused panic in the Brugge defence with his familiar dribbles and hit the bar for the Parisians with a typically powerful snapshot.

So why sell them now? For money of course, or the lack of it as reality has finally seemed to catch up with the two Spanish behemoths, whose serial indebtedness epitomised the ‘too big to fail' motto of irresponsible corporatism. Last season alone, Barcelona incurred a debt of half a billion Euros, more than enough to sink any normal business. Their total debt is more than double that.

La Liga is getting tougher with this reckless management and tightening salary requirements, which Barça boss Joan Laporta said meant Messi's wage packet alone would have constituted 110% of his club's total salary pot. Even a 50% salary reduction, the maximum legally allowed, would have left the blaugrana breaching the league rules.

Covid must also have been a factor, as a season without ticket revenue has hit football clubs as it has other businesses in the wallet. It was no coincidence that the desperate and ultimately doomed attempt at a breakaway league occurred during the pandemic.

The egregious Real owner Florentino Perez's plea of poverty was met with suitable derision but had a grain of truth, if he was planning on another summer spending spree despite having taken no money through the turnstiles.

Ronaldo’s €60 million salary of was also a drain on Juventus, who are roughly €400 million in the red, but unlike Messi who seemed glued to Catalonia and left only in tears, the Portuguese was apparently happy to depart Turin having finished fourth in Serie A and been knocked out of the Champions League in the quarter finals.

The Madeiran felt the need for yet more trophies in his twilight so he could end his career on a high and he felt there was more chance of that happening in England.

It is the end of a golden era for Spanish football,  but Messi moving to France and Ronaldo back to England have enlivened those particular leagues unexpectedly.

From the perspectives of Paris and Manchester, there is plenty here to celebrate, as there is for the neutrals, who can enjoy two genuine greats in their enduring sunsets.

Leo Messi is playing alongside Kylian Mbappe, Neymar and Sergio Ramos and finally won the Copa America this summer.

Messi and Ronaldo themselves have long been assured of seats in footballing Valhalla. Let us see how end their storied careers at new clubs and for the last time, at a World Cup finals next year in Qatar.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile


Fifa World Rankings September 2021

Fifa World Rankings September 2021

Fifa World Rankings

Fifa's World Rankings for September 2021 were published on September 16 at FIFA HQ in Zurich, Switzerland.

Belgium who exited Euro 2020 in the quarterfinals are still top followed by Brazil and England. England are presently in their highest position since September 2012.

France who lost in the round of 16 at Eiro 2020 to Switzerland fall to fourth. Euro 2020 winners Italy, Copa America winners Argentina, Portugal, Spain, Mexico, and Denmark round out the top 10.

Senegal are the top African team in 20th place. Wales remain in 19th with the USA now in 13th spot. Australia are in 32nd place; Japan drop to 26th position down two from August. Near neighbors South Korea are 36th in the list. Scotland are 45th. The Republic of Ireland are in 50th place, Northern Ireland are up to 47th.

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

Full world rankings

Previous Fifa World Rankings

© Soccerphile.com

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Premier League launches Boot Out Piracy campaign in Hong Kong for second year

Premier League launches Boot Out Piracy campaign in Hong Kong for a second year

Premier League launches Boot Out Piracy campaign in Hong Kong for a second year.

The Premier League today launches the second season of its 'Boot Out Piracy' campaign in Hong Kong to raise awareness of the dangers of viewing pirate content, as well as the compromised viewing experience offered by illegal streams.

The campaign highlights the risks that fans face by watching Premier League matches via unauthorised websites or streaming devices, including potential exposure to malicious malware or ransomware, which increases their risk of data theft and fraud.

Their viewing experience is also likely to be disrupted by broken links, pop-up ads and delays.

The campaign will run across digital platforms, with content featuring some of the Premier League's top players including Manchester United's Marcus Rashford, Liverpool's Mohamed Salah and Tottenham Hotspur's Son Heung-Min.

This is the second time the campaign will run in Hong Kong, having first launched at the start of the 2020/2021 season. Outside of Hong Kong, 'Boot Out Piracy' will also run in Malaysia, Indonesia and, for the first time, Singapore.

Premier League General Counsel Kevin Plumb said: "We are launching the 'Boot Out Piracy' campaign in Hong Kong for the second year in a row to continue building awareness of the risks involved in watching Premier League matches via illegal streams. We know these sites often contain malicious content and it is important passionate Hong Kong football fans realise that watching Premier League matches through these operators brings security risks and an unreliable viewing experience.

"We are working together with our broadcast partners and local authorities in Hong Kong and throughout Asia to protect fans from accessing pirate sites so they can watch our matches in the best and safest way. Educating fans on the dangers of viewing pirated content is a core part of our anti-piracy programme as well as the significant legal actions we undertake such as blocking sites and the prosecution of sellers of illegal streaming devices."

External research has shown a clear link between watching pirated content - including pirated Premier League content - and cybersecurity issues. According to research findings from intellectual property and data analytics company, White Bullet Solutions, 60 per cent of the most popular pirate websites in Hong Kong for illegally watching Premier League content carried advertisements considered risky, containing either fraud, malware, adult or gambling content.

White Bullet Solutions founder and chief executive officer Peter Szyszko said: "It is important for people to understand that visiting pirate websites or using pirate apps will greatly increase the risk of falling victim to cybercrime. The type of malware and ransomware we find on pirate websites and apps can be very serious - visiting them can put at risk all sorts of personal or financial information. Our clear message to consumers would be to think twice before taking a big risk and searching for an illegal stream."

Raising awareness among fans of the risks posed by illegal streams is just one part of the Premier League's comprehensive anti-piracy work in the region. Since the establishment of its Asia-Pacific office more than two years ago, the Premier League has initiated blocking action against illegal websites in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand, and has worked closely with local authorities to bring criminal action against website operators and suppliers of illicit streaming devices across the region, including in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam.

The League is also a member of the Coalition Against Piracy which represents the creative industries across Asia-Pacific.

The 'Boot Out Piracy' campaign was developed with creative agency DDB Worldwide.

In Hong Kong, the campaign is a collaboration between the Premier League and local broadcast partner, Now TV, the Pay TV Platform under PCCW Media Limited.

Derek Choi, Head of Pay TV, PCCW Media Limited said: "We are very supportive of the Premier League's anti-piracy work in Hong Kong and the wider region. As the official broadcaster of the Premier League in Hong Kong, we are committed to providing Hong Kong's community of passionate football fans with a high-quality viewing experience of all 380 Premier League matches on both Now TV and Now E OTT Platform, with selected matches available live in 4K too."

Saturday, September 11, 2021

The Second Coming of CR7


CR7 returns
Cristiano Ronaldo back in red

The faithful always want a second coming, but usually die without it ever happening.

But later today, the impossible becomes reality. The god who left for the stars has answered the prayers and returned.

Of the eight Premier League games kicking off tomorrow, there is no question that most eyes and ears will be trained to Manchester United v Newcastle United at three o'clock.

Cristiano Ronaldo has double the 18 years he had when he first stepped out on the turf for Alex Ferguson in 2003. His subsequent achievements, too many to mention, but he has won everything he has aimed for except the World Cup, place him in the pantheon of the greatest.

Perhaps the highest accolades of all were bagging last year's capocannoniere (league top scorer) trophy in Serie A with a phenomenal 29 goals for Juventus, and becoming the top scorer at Euro 2020, aged 36.

As a model professional obsessed with fitness and performance more than any other player, Ronaldo does not have a standard footballer's body or mind, which belies his advanced years.

He is the epitome of the self-made star, whose iron discipline and rigorous regimes saw him mature from a young wing wizard into a consummate centre forward with power and prowess in the air and rapier speed in the box, where he devours chances, as well as a specialist at free kicks, where he perfected a lethal technique.

Ronaldo can appear overly serious for our liking, at worse a robotic narcissist, in stark contrast with the boyishly charming Lionel Messi, the other outstanding player of his generation.

But his human side, evident in his love for his family and work for charity, was also to the fore when he admitted his fondness for his former club and its legendary manager Fergie were behind his return.

He may not be a complete sporting personality like Muhammad Ali was, but he remains, as the title of a recent BBC documentary on him said, impossible to ignore. As Ronaldo himself explained, "the numbers say everything."

Indeed they do and has there ever been such excitement at signing a man who will be 37 in a few months?

This event is an embrace of youth's unforgettable first-time feelings and a validation of dreams. Joining Manchester City would not have had anything so romantic about it. Some say you should never go back in life - nah, whatever.

Ronaldo's unexpected return to Old Trafford has created a real buzz across English football, and is a boost for the league after Messi chose France for his next chapter.

Most of us never expected the perma-tanned Madeiran to swap southern Europe for the rainy north-west of England after so many years in the sun, but we underestimated his love for Manchester and his youth as well as his need for fresh challenges and new silverware.

At both Real Madrid and in Turin he came, saw and conquered all right but got increasingly frustrated with colleagues around him while his employers worried about the drag of his salary on the club finances.

Amid the fervour in the red half of Manchester, it is important to remember Ronaldo has not come back 'home' to go gently into that good night. The Portuguese is a ruthless winner and has returned to bag more trophies, sensing the Red Devils are catching fire again under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

While the new dynamic with his former teammate will be fascinating, so too will his presence in the dressing room with senior players like Edinson Cavani and Paul Pogba. One senses his name is just too big for him not to be looked up to by all the others or not given free rein in the starting eleven.

When he began in Manchester back in 2003 he was an aspiring teenager, deferring to the established players. Now his presence will tower over all the others.

Ruud Gullitt made a disastrous return to Milan in 1994 when his leader's attitude met with a hostile new dressing room. Ronaldo will surely not make the same error as his desire for glory in his twilight years is too fierce.

Pity Newcastle this afternoon. The poor magpies seem to have landed in a no-win situation through no fault of their own.

Today will be the day of the homecoming king. CR7 has turned the clock back twelve years.

Now it begins, again.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile


Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Europe's Back in Action


Qatar 2022
Qatar 2022

The first European international action since Euro 2020 has been a welcome return to normal service after the empty stadia of the summer and the fire and fury of the final day in London.

After the belated Euros, they halfway point in the World Cup qualifiers reminds us that Qatar 2022 is only 14 months away, a wake-up call that places are up for grabs.

With only the first in each qualifying group guaranteed a place in the finals, as it stands the UEFA representatives at the World Cup finals next year will be:


That is pretty much the usual suspects, but there will also be three other European qualifiers, drawn from a repechage featuring the ten second-place sides and two Nations League group winners.

The Azzurri surprisingly drew twice, still hungover from their glorious summer perhaps, but woke up by thumping Lithuania 5-0 in their third joust. Top of their group, Italy could still be pipped at the post by Switzerland for automatic qualification for Qatar.

Losing Euro finalists England have scored ten in three games with one in reply, picking up more smoothly from their ultimately unsuccessful summer campaign.

The Three Lions' 4-0 win in Budapest was an impressive scoreline but what on earth were Hungary doing sitting back from the start instead of tapping into the raucous crowd in the Ferenk Puskas Arena which had helped them so much in the Euros?

European Qualifiers
The Road to Qatar

Parking the bus and hoping for a lucky break makes sense if you are the calibre of Andorra, Gibraltar, Lichtenstein et al but not if you took points off France and Germany only a few weeks ago.

Gareth Southgate's star waned a little when England conceded an injury-time equaliser against Poland this evening, having oddly passed on making any substitutions to use up the dying seconds.

Of the other Euro stars, semi-finalists Denmark are the only side with maximum points from the first six games. Seven points clear of Scotland, the Roligans can reasonably start planning a winter getaway in the Middle East next year.

Spain, Euro 2020 semi-finalists, looked set to be leapfrogged on top of Group B by Sweden, who beat La Roja 2-1 in Stockholm, inflicting La Roja's first World Cup qualifying loss since 1993, but the Scandinavians surprisingly lost 2-1 at home to Greece on Wednesday to leave the gap at four points with two games in hand.

The most unlikely second-placed team in the UEFA qualifiers is probably Armenia in Group J, four points behind Germany after home wins over Iceland and Romania, but a disappointing home draw against Liechtenstein.

With only the group winners guaranteed a place in Qatar, Group G is finely poised with the Dutch and Norwegians level on points, as is the case in Group H with Croatia and Russia tied at the top.

Portugal, with the evergreen Cristiano Ronaldo aiming for a final World Cup next year, lead Serbia by two points in Group A.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile