Saturday, August 30, 2008
FC BATE Borisov provided a breakthrough in Belarusian football by becoming the country’s first ever representatives in the Group Stages of the Champions League. It is rare that a club, let alone a new country, advances as far as the last 32 in Europe’s biggest club competition as the usual faces normally occupy the positions. The reigning champions of Belarus can savour an infamous trip to the Santiago Bernabéu and welcome Italian giants Juventus and UEFA Cup holders Zenit St Petersburg - a metaphoric eternity away from entertaining the likes of Iceland‘s Valur in the First Qualifying Round. Some teams claim to always have the ‘luck of the draw’, but BATE have stamped their authority in European football by overcoming established clubs and their Group Stage place is fully deserved. Many expected BATE to fall at the second qualifying hurdle against Anderlecht of Belgium but the apparent underdogs won 3-4 on aggregate. Levski Sofia too failed to halt BATE as they were defeated 2-1 across both legs, allowing them to break history and advance to the promised land. As BATE’s position in the Group Stage had already been secured, the draw awaited them and the hopes of their players were realised. Midfielder Sergei Kryvets declared "It would be nice to bring Europe's finest to Belarus. Personally, I want to face Real Madrid.” As the draw was made, the Belarusian outfit found that, almost by fate, they had been placed in arguably the most difficult group against Real Madrid, Juventus and Zenit St Petersburg in Group H. While they have provided some of the surprises of the tournament so far, it would take a miracle for BATE to make it out of their group.
BATE’s coach Viktor Goncharenko is remaining cautious, declaring “To tell the truth, we're not ready. We weren't looking too far ahead and we concentrated only on the Levski date. As a matter of fact, I can't imagine how we'll be come mid-September.” For a team that only has an annual budget of £1.2m, Champions League prize money will boost BATE significantly and they have already received 1 million euros for becoming the first club from Belarus to break into the Group Stages. Even if they lost every match, the club now has European recognition that nobody had ever deemed realistic and it will place them on a financial footing that will see them dominate Belarusian football for many years to come.
In similar fashion, Anorthosis Famagusta became the pride of Cyprus by progressing to the latter stages for the first time in the club‘s and nation‘s history. They defeated Greek champions Olympiacos, who made it past the Group Stage last season.
Losing finalists Chelsea will encounter Roma, Bordeaux and Romanian debutants CFR Cluj in Group A, while Fernando Torres returns to his former club Atletico Madrid with Liverpool in an intriguing set of matches. In Group D, Liverpool have also been paired with PSV Eindhoven and Marseille, who they met at the same stage last season.
Holders Manchester United will face Celtic in a ‘Battle of Britain’, a repeat of the 2006/07 Group Stage where both sides won their homes matches as Gordon Strachen faces his former boss Sir Alex Ferguson. They will also face Spanish runners-up Villareal and Denmark’s Aalborg in Group E.
Arsenal were drawn alongside FC Porto, 2007/08 quarter-finalists Fenerbache and Dynamo Kiev of Ukraine in Group G.
In Group B, Inter Milan will play Werder Bremen of Germany while Anorthosis Famagusta hope to claim another Greek scalp in Panathinaikos.
Barcelona entertain Sporting Lisbon, FC Basel and Shakhtar Donetsk in what appears to be one of the easier draws in Group C.
Group F witnesses the clash of the champions from France and Germany as Lyon and Bayern Munich entertain Steaua Bucharest and Serie A outfit Fiorentina.
The ‘Group of Death’ in Group H sees two former victors Real Madrid, 9-time winners and the most successful team in the history of the tournament, and Juventus face UEFA Cup holders Zenit St Petersburg and Belarus entrants FC BATE Borisov.
Thursday, August 28, 2008
One team which can particularly claim to benefit the national team is FC Vaduz, who became Liechtenstein’s representative at the pinnacle of Swiss football. They were promoted from last season’s Swiss Challenge League to the Axpo Super League by finishing top of the division. Nine members of the national team are in their ranks, including defender Marco Ritzberger, and their promotion means they will face their greatest opposition ever in their history. FC Vaduz are currently lying 9th and in the relegation play-off spot but much of the season is still to be played, while Liechtenstein’s other major representatives in Swiss football are USV Eschen/Mauren in the third tier and FC Balzers in the fourth tier. Whilst the national team has largely struggled during its existence, their dire record can only improve and with Vaduz’s presence in Switzerland’s top flight it will at least provide their Liechtenstein contingent the perfect opportunity to develop.
As expected, FC Vaduz are Liechtenstein's most recognised and dominant club having won the domestic cup competition no fewer than 37 times and consecutively since 1998. A cup triumph allows the victors the chance to play European football in the UEFA Cup First Qualifying Round, with FC Vaduz losing to Zrinjski Mostar of Bosnia and Herzegovina in this season's competition.
Liechtenstein’s seemingly doomed bid to qualify for the World Cup in 2010 starts next month in a daunting home fixture against Germany on September 6th before a less demanding journey to Azerbaijan four days later. A replication of their 2006 campaign, where they achieved their first home and away victories in a World Cup qualifier, would indicate healthy progress and the target should be to finish above Azerbaijan. Should they reproduce their infamous home draw against Portugal from two years ago, an abrupt shock could be awaiting Germany or Russia.
Four clubs surprised the pundits by pulling off impressive victories against higher ranked outfits. Based on current rankings:
- Anorthosis Famagusta (ranked 193) defeated Olympiacos (ranked 44)
- FC BATE Borisov (unranked) defeated Levski Sofia (ranked 80)
- Atlético Madrid (ranked 67) defeated Schalke 04 (ranked 22)
- Dynamo Kyiv (ranked 74) defeated Spartak Moscow (ranked 61)
FC BATE from Belarus and Anorthosis from Cyprus are the first clubs from their perspective countries to ever qualify for the UEFA Champions League.
Monday, August 25, 2008
Position: Defensive midfielder, centre-back
Present Club: Manchester City
Former Clubs: Anderlecht, Hamburger SV
Current Squad Number: 33
Being likened to Franz Beckenbauer is not a comparison which many footballers could honestly admit to, but for one Belgian defender it is a justified truth and one he can be honoured about. Vincent Kompany, once described by Belgium legend Paul Van Himst as being able to “beat three opponents with one pass”, has switched life in the German Bundesliga for the starry lights of the Premiership with Manchester City.
Kompany is aged just 22 but has managed to place a foothold in European football as one of the continent’s most promising talents. The term ‘potential’ and ’promising’ are branded about on up-and-coming footballers too often and perhaps the cliché of using them should be avoided, but Kompany is an exception to the rule having shown his talent and establishing himself on both the domestic and international stage. His strengths lie in the centre of defence or as a defensive midfielder where he has the vision to break up attacks and precisely pass to team-mates to launch an attack.
The versatile defender came through the ranks of Anderlecht, where he donned the shirt on 73 occasions and scored 5 goals and contributed significantly to their title wins in 2004 and 2006. Kompany’s invaluable role in the team’s league triumph in 2004 was recognised through individual honours after being awarded the prestigious Belgian Golden Shoe and the Belgian Ebony Shoe. He achieved his first cap for Belgium when only 17 and has become a prominent figure in the nation’s defence. Unsurprisingly and as expected, Europe’s biggest clubs were rumoured to be targeting Kompany after his thriving rise into the fore of Belgian football. The inevitable departure from his homeland was confirmed in the summer of 2006 when he joined German outfit Hamburger SV.
A daunting move to replace compatriot and Bayern Munich-bound Daniel Van Buyten at Hamburger SV was a transfer which did not deter Kompany or his club and he set about making an immediate impact for the German club. On his competitive debut he scored in the German League Cup and he began to restore Hamburg’s faith in him after they paid a record transfer fee for the defender. Kompany adapted quickly to the Bundesliga but was frustratingly limited to only six starts in his first season for Hamburg in 2006 after suffering an Achilles injury. He recovered for the 2007/2008 campaign and made 22 appearances during the season but by the season’s end a move was anticipated after a disagreement erupted regarding his call-up to the Belgian Olympic team. Hamburg had ordered Kompany to return from Beijing in time for their first Bundesliga match of the season despite Belgium advancing into the semi-final. This fall-out paved the way for a move to England’s top flight.
A move to the Premiership had always beckoned for Kompany following Chelsea’s interest in him whilst at Anderlecht. A move to Stamford Bridge was rejected by the Belgian as he felt he needed first-team football immediately and prioritised his long-term future rather than settling for glamorous offers at such an early stage in his career. Two seasons later having matured and developed, Kompany was heading to England through the doors of Manchester City. Kompany stated that he was very impressed by the ambition of the club and ‘the confidence you feel from him [Hughes] and the ambitious type of character that he is will make you a better player” as the key reasons behind why he wanted to join.
Having originated from Anderlecht’s youth academy before rapidly progressing into the senior team and shortly after a place in Belgium’s national team, Kompany has remarkable experience in a career that has seen him ply his trade in Germany’s reputable Bundesliga and thus has the knowledge of how to play in one of Europe’s finest leagues. With 23 international caps already to his honour and Champions League appearances for Anderlecht and Hamburg, Kompany’s experiences have resulted in an “unbelievably mature” attitude despite his age and will prove to be useful in his Premiership career. Whether he will be a rock at either the heart of defence or midfield for Manchester City, Kompany is in good hands to develop his already impressive talents and he has the opportunity to shine in another league at the age of 22.
On his debut in the home victory against West Ham, Kompany played outstanding and demonstrated his versatility by performing admirably in midfield and also defence, and his efforts were rewarded with man of the match. Manager Mark Hughes declared “I think everybody today saw what an accomplished football player he is and what an asset he’s going to be for us.“ It is too early to state whether Vincent will be successful at Manchester City, but his credentials, vision and undoubted ability indicate he has a big future with the club.
Danny has signed for Zenit for a fee worth £24 million and the highly-rated attacking midfielder has scored 17 goals in 97 appearances for Dinamo. An initial bid was rejected but Dinamo had no choice but the player expressed his desire to leave. Dick Advocaat has high hopes of his new signing and the immense transfer fee obviously suggests he has a strong regard for him. "I consider him the best midfielder in the Russian league and he can become a very useful member of our team. I see Danny as an attacking midfielder or winger."
When asked if the arrival of Danny would signal the end of the ongoing Arshavin transfer saga, Advocaat stated "No, because Andrei is still with Zenit, and I am still not sure if he is going away." Should Arshavin depart from the Russian champions it is likely to start a chain of other transfers. Bulgarian striker Dimitar Berbatov has handed in a transfer request at Tottenham and so they deem Arshavin as a direct replacement for him, while Berbatov seeks a "dream" move to Premiership champions Manchester United.
A listing of some interesting points from around the globe follows.
Saturday, August 23, 2008
With Australia now off qualifying in Asia for the 2010 World Cup, New Zealand will likely come out of the Oceania bracket if the squad can outplay New Caledonia this September.
18-man All Whites squad.
Goalkeepers: Glen Moss (Wellington Phoenix ), Mark Paston (Wellington Phoenix)
Defenders: Andrew Boyens (New York Red Bulls), Tony Lochhead (Wellington Phoenix), David Mulligan (Wellington Phoenix), Ryan Nelsen (Blackburn Rovers), Steven Old (Macarthur Rams), Ben Sigmund (Wellington Phoenix)
Midfielders: Leo Bertos (Wellington Phoenix), Tim Brown (Wellington Phoenix), Jeremy Christie (Wellington Phoenix), Simon Elliott (Unattached), Chris James (Tampere United), Duncan Oughton (Columbus Crew), Allan Pearce (Waitakere United)
Forwards: Chris Killen (Celtic FC), Shane Smeltz (Wellington Phoenix), Jarrod Smith (Toronto FC)
September 6 – New Caledonia vs New Zealand
Stade Numa-Daly Magenta
Kickoff: 5pm in New Caledonia
September 10 – New Zealand vs New Caledonia
North Harbour Stadium
Kickoff: 7.35pm in New Zealand
Here are the rest of the scores from Saturday's Premiership action:
BLACKBURN ROVERS 1 HULL CITY 1
FULHAM 1 ARSENAL 0
LIVERPOOOL 2 MIDDLESBROUGH 1
NEWCASTLE UNITED 1 BOLTON WANDERERS 0
STOKE CITY 3 ASTON VILLA 2
WEST BROMWICH ALBION 1 EVERTON 2
Friday, August 22, 2008
City also officially added Vincent Kompany via Hamburg SV. The 22-year-old Belgian defender will add depth to Mark Hughes' back line and could see action starting at right back. He signed a four-year contract with the club. He could also see action in the defensive midfield.
City square off against West Ham United on Sunday.
Thursday, August 21, 2008
In other City news, it appears that midfielder Michael Johnson has reopened contract talks with the club. The English U-21 international has been the focus of high-profile clubs Arsenal, Liverpool, and Everton, but it now appears that he is determined to remain with City.
Also in Championship news:
Sheffield Wednesday have signed Middlesbrough defender Tony McMahon. The 22-year-old became surplus to the requirements at Boro with the arrival of highly regarded Justin Hoyte. McMahon spent time last season with Championship outfit Blackpool.
And Reading added another forward recently with the signing of 23-year-old Irishman Dave Mooney. In 22 League of Ireland appearances last season with Cork City, Mooney netted 15 goals.
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
Soccer City FC
At long last the new year of football is underway and all is right with the world, if only for 90 minutes at a time. Off the pitch, we’ve still got the normal events of the day with Dimitar Berbatov asking to leave Tottenham in favour of greener pastures with Manchester United. Emmanuel Adebayor has signed a new, long-term contract with Arsenal for bigger money than he was making, despite still having a valid contract with the club. Perhaps most interesting is that Everton continues on without having made a single singing, even after losing Andy Johnson to Fulham. Yes, life off the pitch is as confusing and ever-changing as expected.
What of Bolton, you ask? Well, life moves on much as it has this past while. Things look bright for the Trotters this season, having had a relatively successful round of pre-season friendlies and doing exceptionally well in their season opener against Stoke. What’s more, Gary Megson has come out to state publically that there will be at least one more signing before the close of the transfer window, with two offers currently on the table. Who those offers are geared towards remains unknown; however, it is believed that one offer is dead in the water and the other could come to fruition within the new couple of days. What will be most interesting about that is just who Megson is targeting at this point. Many speculate that one offer was directed towards Milan Baros, whilst the other could be for highly-sought after big man Nikola Zigic. Another claim has one contract offer directed towards the much-rumoured James Harper move, whilst still others link Bolton with a handful of players spread throughout the world. Whether those claims will prove true or not remains to be seen; however, what the hunt is still on at the Reebok, and Trotters fans are just as anxious as ever to see who else will join the squad after a very expensive summer spending spree from Gary Megson.
What has been very good news for Bolton fans the world over has been the emergence of Johan Elmander into the Trotters lineup. While it’s true he took his time to get his touches in during the Stoke game, Elmander has proven to be worth every penny and has certainly found the back of the net during his time with the club so far. What remains to be seen is whether or not Johan will continue to provide the goals, and whether or not Megson will continue to play a 4-5-1, leaving Kevin Davies to service and support Elmander, rather than playing a genuine striker’s role. Furthermore, it will be interesting to see what role Mustapha Riga will have to play in the overall sway of things, given that he is the speedy winger that Bolton needed to pick up with once it became clear that El-Hadji Diouf was on his way out. Having the role present will add the extra dimension that Bolton will need, but we have yet to see Megson field a side that encompasses the full complement of Davo, Elmander and Riga in one go. Given that stance, will we see Bolton play a 4-4-2, or will it be a combination of Davo and Riga serving Elmander out front? What we do know is that Bolton should have plenty of variance within their squad at this point to keep things moving in the right direction.
As expected, the back four have also been exceptional, with Andy O’Brien and Gary Cahill forming a terrific tandem in the middle, and Gretar Steinsson being absolutely pivotal in Bolton’s matches to date. Having a right back willing to come forward and play the ball in attack is something Bolton haven’t had in quite some time, and it certainly adds that extra dynamic that, when couple with the speed of Riga on the other wing, should be a potent force throughout the remainder of the season. On the whole, things look fantastic in the Bolton camp this time around. Maybe this next addition will be the missing piece that sees Bolton pushing hard for a European spot.
What hasn’t been going so well for Bolton during this summer and subsequently during the first week of Prem football is the media perspective. With nearly every media outlet having had their say, and every fan of the footballing world posting their own expectations, Bolton are consistently being ranked in the bottom 5, with a few exceptions placing Bolton as high as 13th in the table in terms of where they will finish. The vast majority of these tables go one step further, saying that Bolton will finish in the bottom 3, or in still another exception, dead last. These are completely unfounded comments to make at this point, and Bolton’s run of form in the past few games certainly supports this position. Why Bolton are being consistently down-trodden based on their struggles last season, despite their 5 game unbeaten streak when it mattered the most, is absolutely beyond any real supporter, and certainly beyond me.
Bolton have done nothing but play good football, and since the addition of Johan Elmander, the play has been nothing short of incredible. So, to see the club constantly pushed down to lower levels of the table, despite no genuine proof that Bolton will struggle in the least this time around, is exceptionally frustrating for Bolton fans to see and leaves most of us asking: Where is the love?
Let us hope that Bolton continue to prove them all wrong!
Tuesday, August 19, 2008
The semi-final witnessed one of the most famous and fearce rivalries in football, but one country had to prevail. Barcelona starlet Lionel Messi was just one of a number of players who inspired their country to victory and left their Brazilian counterparts ruing their performance. Sergio Aguero's goal on 52 minutes broke the deadlock and a second only six minutes later tilted the advantage firmly into the hands of the Argentinians. The third goal that sentenced Brazil to defeat was from the spot, converted by Riquelme on 75 minutes. Brazil were not only wounded by this resounding loss as Lucas saw red for an ugly fowl on fellow Liverpool teammate Javier Mascherano. Thiago Neves was dismissed in similar fashion that reduced Brazil to only 9 men. A Ronaldinho free-kick which hit the post and a goal ruled offside by Alexandre Pato were Brazil's main highlights of the match.
Argentina will hope to be the first team in Olympic history to successfully defend the men's football gold medal, and they will face Nigeria in the final. Captain Javier Mascherano was thrilled by his country's performance, saying "It was the greatest game for everyone and fortunately we managed to win it. We haven't achieved anything yet, but beating Brazil with a result like this is wonderful."
Nigeria will provide the competition for the gold medal as they overcame Belgian opposition 4-1 to advance to the last stage. Chinedu Ogbuke Obasi was involved in the scoring as he netted twice in Shanghai. The other goalscorers were Olubayo Adefemi, who opened the scoring after 17 minutes, and Chibuzor Okonkwo as he condemned Belgium to a third place play-off. Belgium scored a consolation goal through substitute Laurent Ciman but their fate had already been sealed. Coach Samson Siasia was ecstatic and was optimistic of his team achieving the main prize, "It was unbelievable. You just have to look at the scoreboard. We are going for gold."
Monday, August 18, 2008
After a season of ultimately being in the shadow of Manchester United both domestically and on the continent, Chelsea sent a warning to the defending champions that they intend to see the Premiership return to Stamford Bridge. Luiz Felipe Scolari's first match in charge saw a rampant Chelsea overcome FA Cup Winners Portsmouth 4-0 in a game which saw them showcase Lampard, Deco and Ballack in the same midfield. Meanwhile the champions stuttered to a draw against Newcastle at Old Trafford. The chasing pack of Arsenal and Liverpool will both be encouraged by the results if not performances of their sides as they began the new season with three points. Of the newly promoted teams, Hull City beat Fulham 2-1 but West Brom fell to a Samir Nasri goal in a defeat to Arsenal and Stoke lost to Bolton 3-1. All of the results and goalscorers from the opening day of the 2008/2009 Premiership season are below:
Aston Villa 4-2 Man City
Carew, Agbonlahor (3); Elano (pen), Corluka
Chelsea 4-0 Portsmouth
J Cole, Anelka, Lampard (pen), Deco
Man Utd 1-1 Newcastle
Arsenal 1-0 West Brom
Bolton 3-1 Stoke
Steinsson, Davies, Elmander; Fuller
Everton 2-3 Blackburn
Arteta, Yakubu; Dunn, Santa Cruz, Ooijer
Hull 2-1 Fulham
Geovanni, Folan; Ki-Hyeon
Middlesbrough 2-1 Tottenham
Wheater, Mido; Huth (o.g.)
Sunderland 0-1 Liverpool
West Ham 2-1 Wigan
Ashton (2), Zaki
Scottish Premier League (Matchday 2)
Dundee United 1 - 1 Celtic
Rangers 2 - 0 Hearts
Motherwell 0 - 1 Aberdeen
Inverness CT 0 - 1 Hamilton
Hibernian 3 - 2 Falkirk
St Mirren 0 - 0 Kilmarnock
French Ligue I (Matchday 2)
Grenoble 1 - 0 Rennes
Lorient 0 - 0 Lyon
Marsaille 4 -0 Auxerre
Caen 3-1 Valenciennes
Lille 1 - 3 Le Mans
Nantes 1 - 1 Monaco
Nice 2 - 1 AS Nancy
PSG 1 - 0 Bordeaux
St Etienne 2 - 1 Sochaux
Toulouse 2 - 1 Le Havre
German Bundesliga (Matchday 1)
Borussia Mochengladbach 1 - 3 VfB Stuttgart
Eintracht Frankfurt 0 - 2 Hertha Berlin
Arminia Bielefeld 2 - 2 Werder Bremen
Bayer Leverkusen 2 - 3 Borussia Dortmund
Cottbus 0 - 3 TSG Hoffenheim
Karlsruhe 1 - 0 VfL Bochum
Schalke 04 3 - 0 Hannover 96
Wolfsburg 2 - 1 Cologne
Bayern Munich 2 - 2 Hamburg
Frank Lampard's agreement to a new contract was not the only good news for Chelsea, as the prolific midfielder scored in their 4-0 victory over Portsmouth.
Bojinov had to be carried off the pitch after rupturing his Achilles tendon in the pre-match warm-up as injury struck again for the unfortunate striker. The Premiership campaign will be in full-swing by the time Bojinov recovers from the injury and there are fresh doubts about whether he will figure at all this season. The most positive outlook is that he will be able to start full training in February, but as we saw with his previous injury complications can arise that delay his return date. Welsh striker Ched Evans took his place in Manchester City's starting lineup but the team went down to rivals Aston Villa in a 4-2 defeat.
Only a matter of days ago, Bojinov declared his intent to show the Manchester City fans what they were missing last season. "It will also be very special for me to return to the City of Manchester Stadium and play in front of the supporters." Frustratingly, it will have to wait another six months, or even more disappointingly the start of the 2009/2010 season.
The injury leaves manager Mark Hughes with a crisis in attacking options as Manchester City are missing five first-team strikers despite the season only one game old. Darius Vassell and Benjani are both injured for considerable time yet, while Jo is still unavailable through international duty at the Olympics for Brazil and thus leaving inexperienced youngsters Ched Evans, Daniel Sturridge and Felipe Caicedo to fight for places. Hughes must now decide whether to dive into the transfer market for another forward and renew interest in Blackburn's Roque Santa Cruz after an initial bid of £12 million was swiftly rejected. Few would argue that it is another forward they need though, as the void left gaping on the right of midfield remains unfilled and will continue to be City's own Achilles.
Newcastle United begins the season on a fine note. Could a return to Europe be in store for Newcastle?
Singapore Cup quarterfinal recap with photos. Home United now out of the Cup.
Yanks Soccer with a fine report on Heath Pearce and his potential move to Borussia Dortmund. A step in the right direction for Pearce?
Sunday, August 17, 2008
Peter Crouch in particular will feel aggrieved to have missed out following his move to Portsmouth for first team football, where he will at least have the opportunity to start consecutive games. In this respect it is mystifying why when he made the switch for more football he has been dropped from the international team, yet when he was on the bench for Liverpool week-in week-out he was still in the England side. Crouch scored five Premiership goals last season to Heskey’s three, but Crouch managed eleven in all competitions and it is this figure, in a year of limited opportunities, which was superior. Another striker who could have made the team was Darren Bent who scored the most pre-season goals out of any other footballer. His absence is understandable as again he did not make the starting eleven for Tottenham on a regular basis, but there would be as much sense as including Bent in the England squad as Heskey. Other than Crouch, the one admission I was most surprised about was Aston Villa’s Gabriel Agbonlahor, who is yet to make his international debut. Two solid seasons constantly in the starting eleven for an upcoming and exciting young team has seen the U-21 international on the verge of breaking into the England senior team. Last season Agbonlahor scored a credible eleven goals and is one of England’s most exciting prospects for the future - a friendly would appear to be a perfect time for him to make his debut. His omission is therefore all the more stranger. Rather, the inclusion of Heskey suggests that England have in fact not advanced or developed over the past few years and are relying on more experienced players rather than moving forward with one or two younger options. The strikers mentioned all have their own strengths and weaknesses, but in reality the attacking options available to England are fairly poor in terms of number of goals scored last season. Heskey is one of the best footballers in the country for link-up play in a partnership, but some will feel Capello should look for options who are the future of England and his record of three goals last term is fairly abysmal. There is no doubt that Heskey will carry out a fine job and will assist England’s attack, but his goal record is particularly poor and I would have thought others would have been ahead of him in the pecking order. Few would have thought Heskey would be leading England’s attack in a bid to secure qualification for the World Cup 2010, which is a more than realistic vision should he impress in the friendly next Wednesday.
The immediate priority for Capello is to secure the qualification needed to progress to the World Cup in the summer of 2010, but this has not diminished his ambitions and expectations. "I will win the World Cup. If I didn't think that, I would not have taken the job.” From the embarrassing state of affairs of Euro 2008 to World Champions by 2010, for that dream to become reality there is still much work to be done. England will have to overcome foes Croatia once again and actually beat them this time to finish top of the standings. They have the manager to do so, but the self-christened ‘Golden Generation’ has proved to be nothing but hype to this point. It is hard to foresee a World Cup win with the current squad and seemingly over-reliance on their older players. To miss out Ashley Young is a bizarre decision and the Aston Villa winger was a talisman for creativity. Only Cesc Fabregas claimed more assists and he comfortably led the English chart and chipped in with a fair amount of goals. Micah Richards too will feel disappointed to have been dropped to the England U-21 squad after impressive performances at right-back for his country.
Since McClaren’s well-known decision to drop David Beckham from the setup back in 2006 when he declared "I'm looking to take this team in a different direction, it's a new direction, a new era and a clean sheet of paper for everybody”, England have found themselves recalling players whose international careers appeared to have come to a halt. The international team hasn’t move forward much at all and is evident in the past twelve months. David Beckham, Sol Campbell, David James and Emile Heskey had been recalled by McClaren and now Fabio Capello at some point - if a footballer is talented enough and is in strong form then there is every reason for them to be included in the international team, but it is safe to say that England has not developed and will surely continue to underachieve until they do so. Still, at least there's some sense in Joe Hart and Theo Walcott's inclusion.
England squad for Czech Republic friendly
Goalkeepers: David James (Portsmouth), Paul Robinson (Blackburn), Joe Hart (Manchester City)
Defenders: Wayne Bridge (Chelsea), Ashley Cole (Chelsea), John Terry (Chelsea), Wes Brown (Manchester United), Rio Ferdinand (Manchester United), Glen Johnson (Portsmouth), Jonathan Woodgate (Tottenham), Matthew Upson (West Ham)
Midfielders: Theo Walcott (Arsenal), Gareth Barry (Aston Villa), Joe Cole (Chelsea), Frank Lampard (Chelsea), David Beckham (Los Angeles Galaxy), Steven Gerrard (Liverpool), Michael Carrick (Manchester United), Stewart Downing (Middlesbrough), David Bentley (Tottenham)
Strikers: Wayne Rooney (Manchester United), Jermain Defoe (Portsmouth), Emile Heskey (Wigan)
What is your take? Is he going to be a superstar or will he fade like so many other promising youngsters?
Friday, August 15, 2008
New signing Luke Young is expected to make his debut in Aston Villa's defence on Sunday, striker Marlon Harewood is expected to be replaced by the fit-again John Carew after missing Thursday's UEFA Cup qualifier. £7.8m signing Carlos Cuellar and Steve Sidwell are both struggling with calf problems and are expected to miss out. For Man City, Tal Ben Heim is expected to fill in for Dunne's absence due to suspension. Javier Garrido and Michael Ball will battle for the left-back slot available, while Vassell and Benjani miss out due to injury and Jo is still unavailable due to international duties at the Olympics.
Chelsea V Portsmouth
Chelsea are missing prolific scorer Didier Drogba for their season opener, while summer signing Jose Bosingwa has been ruled out with a thigh injury. Deco is expected to make his debut following his arrival from Barcelona. Portsmouth welcome back Kanu after the Nigerian returned to training this week, but he will have to settle for a place on the bench as Peter Crouch and Jermain Defoe start upfront.
West Ham V Wigan
West Ham striker Craig Bellamy will miss the tie as he is expected to be on the sidelines for another month. Defenders George McCartney and Anton Ferdinand are both doubtful and Dyer is another absentee. England goalkeeper Chris Kirkland has been passed fit for the visitors along with Emile Heskey but Paul Scharner is not expected to play.
Sunderland V Liverpool
Sunderland are expected to give debuts to new signings Diouf, Tainio, Chimbonda and Malbranque. Winger Keiron Richardson has returned to training but the match will come too soon for him, while veteran Dwight Yorke and frontman Kenwyne Jones miss out through injury and fellow striker Michael Chopra begins a three-match suspension. Liverpool may give Andrea Dossena his Premiership debut and captain Steven Gerrard is expected to start. A full strength attack means the much-fancied strike partnership of Keane and Torres will be on display, but injuries to Steve Finnan, Martin Skrtel, Fabio Aurelio and Philipp Degen means a lack of options at the back.
Arsenal V West Brom
Arsenal are set to keep the majority of the starting eleven who beat Steve McClaren's FC Twente in the Champions League qualifier midweek. Cesc Fabregas and Abou Diaby are both sidelined but the return of Samir Nasri and Kolo Toure will strengthen Wenger's team. Newly-promoted West Brom have injuries to striker Luke Moore and creative midfielder Robert Koren but can expect new signing Abdoulaye Meite to play.
Everton V Blackburn
Chile utility man Villanueva is not expected to play but they welcome Brett Emerton into the squad and the return of captain Ryan Nelson following New Zealand’s elimination at the Olympics is positive news. Everton have concerns in attack as Yakubu remains their only fit striker as Victor Anichebe is still on international duty and James Vaughan may not be fit following an injury to his foot.
Man Utd V Newcastle
Wayne Rooney has recovered from a virus to start Sunday’s match alongside Carlos Tevez, but Hargreaves and Ronaldo miss out. Nani is suspended for the first two matches of the season following a dismissal at the end of last season. Newcastle have been boosted by the news that Jonas Gutierrez has received intentional clearance in time to make his Premiership debut. Frontmen Michael Owen and Obafemi Martins are doubtful along with Viduka to leave the North-East outfit short of offensive options. Argentine defender Coloccini is in contention to make his debut along with Danny Guthrie.
Middlesbrough V Tottenham
Captain Julio Arca misses out for Middlesbrough while Mido should partner record signing Afonso Alves. Tottenham full-back Alan Hutton has been ruled out through injury and inspirational captain Ledley King will start in centre defence.
Hull V Fulham
Jamaican international Marlon King should start following his arrival from Wigan and he will be partnered by either veteran Dean Windass or Caleb Folan. Halmosi, Boateng, record signing Gardner, defender Mendy and Brazilian winger Geovanni could feature for the promoted side. For Fulham, Andy Johnson will not feature so their frontline is expected to consist of Bobby Zamora and David Healy. Goalkeeper Schwarzer should beat Pascal Zuberbuhler to the number one jersey for the opening match of the season.
Bolton V Stoke
Heidar Helguson is Gary Megson’s only absentee and new signings Johan Elmader, Danny Shittu and Fabrice Muamba should all start. Stoke may have to do without Ricardo Fuller and Liam Lawrence as they both fill face late fitness tests as Stoke play their first match in England’s top flight for 23 years.
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
Brazil are second-favourites to win the Gold medal in the men’s football at the 2008 Summer Olympics held in Beijing after they eased to the top of the standings in Group C. Victories in their three group matches meant they advanced to the quarter-finals in a storming fashion. The 2007 South American Youth Championship victors eased past the hosts China 3-0 in their final match and they will now face Cameroon, who finished runners-up in Group D behind Italy. Favourites Argentina progressed in similar fashion as they next encounter Netherlands.
The third match day saw the tournament’s latter stages take shape as Argentina, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Netherlands, Brazil, Belgium, Italy and Cameroon booked their place in the last eight. The surviving nations from the group stages will now compete in a knock-out round with a position in the semi-finals at stake.
The likelihood of the gold medal being awarded to a South American country is rapidly increasing after Argentina topped Group A with complete ease. A converted penalty from Napoli forward Lavezzi and a goal by River Plate’s Buonanotte allowed Argentina to be sure of their win over Serbia. They will face tougher opposition in the form of the 2007 UEFA U-21 Championship victors Netherlands, who themselves will hope for a more productive tournament. Ivory Coast secured their place by beating Australia 1-0 due to Kalou’s second goal of the competition.
An all-African quarter-final was set-up between Nigeria and Ivory Coast. The former proceed after remaining unbeaten in Group B and claiming 7 points with wins over USA and Japan and a draw against Netherlands. USA were in a favourable situation to oust Netherlands from the top two positions but defeat to Nigeria and a Dutch triumph over pointless Japan ended their Olympic dream.
Brazil went into the final Group C match with the confidence of knowing that they had already qualified, but nevertheless overcame China 3-0 to finish off any lingering hopes of the home nation progressing. Fluminense’s in-form midfielder Thiago Neves struck twice in the final 21 minutes following Diego’s opener. The triumph meant that Brazil were rewarded with a more favourable draw in the quarter-finals. Additionally, Belgium face Italy in the next round following their second place finish in Group C. They narrowly beat New Zealand by a single goal from Haroun.
A goalless stalemate in Group D between Cameroon and Italy guaranteed both nations a place in the quarter-finals at the expense of Korea Republic and Honduras, who lost in all three of their matches. Italy finished top of the table with 7 points with runners-up Cameroon behind on 5 points, shortly followed by Korea Republic.
A semi-final encounter between Brazil and Argentina is on the cards following their dominance of the competition so far. Both South American nations have already shown their flair and attacking superiority over the teams they have faced to this point - thus a meeting between the tournaments favourite and second-favourite is likely. Cameroon stand in Brazil’s way of a semi-final appearance but the Africans’ lack of quality in comparison should see Brazil advance. Netherlands have been disappointing so far and only scarcely progressed ahead of USA and so Argentina are naturally favourites in the tie, but the Europeans will be hard to defeat. A clash of the favourites promises to be a great spectacle and one neutrals will hope for, especially as the household names of Ronaldinho, Diego and Pato will clash with Messi, Agüero and Riquelme. Remarkably, Brazil have failed to win the gold in this tournament before and so will be eager to rewrite history. Both nations will have to guard against complacency though to make it that far and, as we know, there are no guarantees in football.
Monday, August 11, 2008
Soccer City FC
The Scottish Premier League and the French Ligue 1 both started last weekend with champions Celtic and Lyon opening their title defences with victories respectively.
Celtic hosted St Mirren in a scrappy encounter at Parkhead and it took a penalty by Barry Robson to claim three points for the Glasgow outfit. The referee ruled that Dutch striker Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink had been held back by opposition defender Will Haining, who was sent off and Robson slotted the penalty that threw the advantage to Celtic. The first half gave the home crowd little to celebrate as St Mirren frustrated their counterparts into long-range efforts. The reigning champions soon found themselves defending in the second half with Boruc's hand tipping a shot by Mehmet onto the post. However, it was Robson's controversial penalty that handed Celtic a hard-fought win.
Rangers, hopeful of preventing Celtic from winning the title for a fourth year consecutively, beat Falkirk by a one-goal margin away from home. It was the contributions of two new strikers which gave them the victory. Andrius Velicka scored at close range from a Kyle Lafferty cross and the Gers will be hoping that the Lithuanian can continue to provide the firepower for them upfront this season. Ironically, Rangers were eliminated from the UEFA Champions League Second Qualifying Round by Velicka’s former club Kaunas. The UEFA Cup finalists will not be participating in Europe any further this season following their surprise exit from Europe’s elite club competition and so the season has not begun perfectly.
In other results, Hearts overcame Motherwell 3-2, Inverness CT’s new signing Barrowman was on the score sheet in their win against Aberdeen and Kilmarnock started their season by taking three points at the expense of Hibernian.
Across the channel, Lyon began their target of claiming an eighth successive French title with victory over Toulouse. Cameroon midfielder Jean Makoun made his debut one to remember by scoring the opening goal before Karim Benzema netted twice. Rennes came from a 3-1 deficit to salvage a 4-4 draw against Marseille, with new signings Bakary Kone and Hatem Ben Arfa involved in the scoring, while last year‘s runners-up Bordeaux beat Caen 2-1.
Rubin Kazan, the surprise package of the Russian Premier League season, comprehensively beat reigning champions Zenit St. Petersburg 4-1 to defend their position at the top of the table. The scoreline not only signifies Zenit's struggle since their heroics in the UEFA Cup last season, but also Rubin Kazan's sudden elevation to potential champions. Kazan finished 10th in the Russia's domestic league last time around while Zenit won the title for the first time in their history.
Kazan took the lead after only eight minutes through Bukharov and former Tottenham Serhiy Rebrov doubled the advantage shortly after. Fellow Ukranian Anatoliy Tymoschuk salvaged a goal back for Zenit from a penalty but the hosts strengthened their lead through Bukharov's second goal of the match and the victory was rounded off by Kobenko.
Dick Advocaat's problems did not finish there as the match also saw two of their players sent off and the defeat was only days after their shock exit from the Russian Cup at the hands of lower league opposition. Sibir Novosibirsk, who play in Russia's second flight, produced the shock of the round by beating Zenit 1-0. Zenit will be hoping for better fortunes in the UEFA Champions League where they enter at the Group Stages.
Elsewhere in Russia, CSKA Moscow beat Saturn Mosk Oblast 4-0 with Vagnar Love scoring twice. CSKA Moscow consequently moved up to 6th while Dinamo Moscow and Amkar Perm switched positions to 2nd and 3rd respectively.
Friday, August 8, 2008
Soccer City FC
Bolivia's FIFA World Ranking: 69 (August 2008)
Soccer City FC starts its coverage of the World Cup in 2010 by looking at the South American nations vying for a place in the finals hosted in South Africa. The first country to be profiled is Bolivia.
Bolivia is not the most renowned name on the continent of South America, let alone the world but their fans have a passion for the game which is on par with any in the world. Unfortunately, this has not been met with success on the pitch and it does not look like changing during the current World Cup campaign.
The former Copa America winners have struggled to make an impact in their history, with recent years only bringing times of difficulty rather than of prosperity. The vision of Bolivia lining up at South Africa in 2010 appears to be disintegrating as the campaign is already one-third of the way through and they currently lie second-off bottom. The faithful are, however, hoping to salvage their qualifying campaign following a recent success over surprise leaders Paraguay - their first victory in the sole CONMEBOL group.
The nation’s moment of glory was in the Copa America in 1963, but it remains their only silverware to date and their only stand-out achievement since was gaining qualification to the World Cup in 1994. With only three World Cup qualifications to their name in their entire history, only Ecuador and Venezuela have a poorer record than Bolivia but it is their recent results in competitions which has been ultimately disappointing. Despite the honour of being present for the first World Cup back in 1930, they have since only progressed beyond qualification twice - in 1950 and more recently 1994. The structure of the CONMEBOL qualification group provides a fantastic opportunity for each nation to progress to the finals, with potentially five out of the ten countries proceeding to the elite international competition - a fact which must act as encouragement for Bolivia.
The situation Bolivia have found themselves in is a sense of frustration, with one factor particularly harming the development of both the national team and its domestic league. For many years there has been a lack of professionalism from those in charge of the game within Bolivia, with it being the only FIFA-sanctioned nation with three-separate entities. These are the Bolivian Football Federation, who are responsible for the national team, the Bolivian Professional League, who administer any professional club-level official tournaments, and finally the Professional Football Association, who are a union for all of the professional teams in the three divisions. It is this inadequately managed and poorly organised structure which is only bringing problems to the country‘s football. The selfish approach and constant clashing with one another will only continue to result in underachievement.
Hope can be drawn from a small batch of stars who could lift Bolivia’s fortunes. Marcelo Martins is Bolivia’s most gifted striker and can showcase his ability in Europe following a move to Ukrainian champions Shakhtahr Donetsk from Cruziero. Aged only 21, he has scored 43 goals in 68 league appearances for Vitória and Cruzeiro. Martins finished joint top goalscorer in South America’s Copa Libertadores in 2008 despite his club being knocked-out in the round of 16. Bolivia’s captain Ronald Raldes has been the rock in defence and the only ounce of consistency in the back four. His vision and positional sense made him an asset for his previous club Rosario Central, who were reluctant to see him leave but he is now playing for Saudi Arabian champions Al Hilal. Another player plying his trade in Asia is Juan Carlos Arce, who has been playing in Qatar and most recently in South Korea. Arce was criticised for his big-money move from relegated Brazilian giants Corinthians to Al-Arabi and his development has since stuttered. However, he played his role in Copa America 2007 by scoring against hosts Venezuela and has good technique and pace, but a move back to his homeland would be beneficial. Ronald Garcia, currently at Aris of Greece, has been a consistent presence for both club and country. Another promising young player is 19 year-old midfielder Jhasmani Campos. The Oriente Petrolero player operates on the wings for Bolivia and has become a significant player in their bid for qualification. European clubs are tracking his progress and it appears to be only a matter of time before he leaves South America. Campos is predicted to have a bright career ahead of him, especially on the international stage where he has been capped at all levels for his country. Campos scored in Copa America 2007 against Peru and made his debut in the same year against South Africa.
There is a stream of talented youngsters who have the potential to grace the country’s shirt in future years. Other youngsters hopeful of making a breakthrough soon or in future years are Luis Ali, a 13 year-old forward being pursued by Barcelona and Real Madrid, Eduardo Fierro who was due to be heading to the Dutch Eredivisie and Carlos Tordoya, a 20 year-old defender with great pace and technique.
Bolivia’s greatest asset in football has to be the productive Tahuichi academy, responsible for developing the backbone of the national team. It is internationally renowned for its excellent production line of talented players, not only from Bolivia but from South America and beyond. Quoted from the official website, ‘Since 1991, over 1,600 players, male and female, have taken the challenge of the Tahuichi Way Program. Players have come from the USA, Japan, Mexico, Costa Rica, Saudi Arabia, Panama, Canada, England, Wales, France, Bermuda, New Zealand and Sweden. These players are looking for impact. Not just for the moment, but for their entire lives. A commitment towards excellence with a tradition of winning.’ It is undoubtedly one of the most successful academies worldwide and in its three decades of existence it has ‘represented itself in over 125 top international soccer tournaments in the USA, Europe, Asia, and Latin America, where it has won 91 times, and come in second 14 times. A success rate of 85%. It has played more than 300 international games and has lost less than 35. Currently, over 60 Tahuichi graduates have signed lucrative professional contracts, including Platini Sánchez (Benfica, Portugal), Ko Ishikawa (Yarimuri, Japan), Marco Etcheverry and Jaime Moreno (DC United, USA), Joselito Vaca (Dallas Burn, USA), Juan Pena (Villareal, Spain) and Raul Medeiros (BK Hacken, Sweden). Eleven members of the Bolivian National Team are ex-Tahuichi.’ It is not only giving young people the chance to live out their dreams of becoming a professional footballer, but to better their lives through a morally-correct education. Praise from Pele and FIFA President Sepp Blatter is most definitely deserved. The Tahuichi academy continues to provide Bolivian football with a strong base of talented footballers that the national team depends upon. Without it, football in the nation would surely be much bleaker.
It has to be a case of onwards and upwards for Bolivian football. The potential is there in a small group of players, and if they are nurtured and live up to their promise then qualification for future World Cups will start to become a realistic target rather than a pipe dream. Gaining qualification for the 2010 World Cup appears to be unlikely, but if the fans’ hopes of the team finishing in a respectable position are realised then the future will look brighter. There is a need for professionalism within the Bolivian domestic game, the creation of a stronger league will improve the performances in club competitions such as Copa Libertadores and for the national team. However, there is no guarantee of Bolivia of improving, in reality the expectations of the young players may be too high and there is currently only a small talent of pool to select from. There are questions over the capabilities of the manager Erwin Sánchez, who needs to introduce consistency by selecting the same core group of players if they are to progress. On a higher note, in the team’s previous four matches they have encouragingly managed three victories, albeit two were friendlies. Bolivia’s next two fixtures are both away against Ecuador and an indifferent Brazil and 3 points from the former would show a signal of intent. The two matches against Peru, the only country beneath Bolivia, are must-win matches and gaining 6 points is essential.
Tuesday, August 5, 2008
In a twist of fate, the most recent Scottish Cup winner is now out of Europe while runner-up Queen of the South remains in UEFA Cup play.