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Football & Travel for the big tournaments including World Cup, European Championships, J-League, K-League, A-League, Premiership.

Last Build Date: Mon, 19 Mar 2018 13:47:37 PDT

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A Date From Hell?

Mon, 19 Mar 2018 13:47:37 PDT

ENGLAND & RUSSIA ARE THE BEST OF ENEMIES HEADING INTO THE WORLD CUPMany a lonely man has fallen in love with a beautiful Russian woman online and sent her cash, only to find out she has taken the money and run and was probably never even a woman in the first place.This summer the Football Association has a date to keep with Mother Russia herself but is currently squabbling with her like a betrayed groom to be, even threatening to call the whole thing off.How unfavourably aligned are their stars right now.The apparently state-sponsored murders of a Russian dissident in London and the use of a banned nerve agent to dispatch another in sleepy Salisbury do not bode well for a stress-free visit of the Football Association to Russia in June.Its president the Duke of Cambridge has already cancelled his trip.Above the world of football the two nations are at loggerheads, trading insults and expelling each other's diplomats willy-nilly while binning once again any hopes of a healthy relationship.And England's supporters, already planning their trips with a little trepidation after what happened in Marseille two years ago, will be sighing at yet another external worry.Keep politics out of sport cry the exasperated; if only that were possible.At the England v Russia clash at Euro 2016, Russian hooligans charged harmless England supporters inside the Stade Velodrome and attacked others outside with weapons including iron bars, leaving two Englishmen in comas.Why? Was it merely the thugs' desire to test their nastiness against the inventor of the pastime?Seasoned watchers were shocked at the level of violence but Russian leaders tut-tutted and even joked about the blatant crimes committed by their citizens, instead of offering the unequivocal condemnation one expects from governments.Subsequent reports in England suggested the state had encouraged the attacks as part of President Vladimir Putin's asymmetric or 'hybrid warfare' with the West.As Putin celebrates another election win by fanning the flames of nationalism, it would be a surprise if there is no violence surrounding England's first round games in Volgograd, Niszhny Novgorod and Kaliningrad.Should Gareth Southgate's men advance, England will play next in Moscow or Rostov-on-Don. The events in France and the well-documented football hooliganism in Russian domestic football do not bode well for a trouble-free summer.We should forget a unilateral boycott however. That would be the ultimate act of self-harm to the England team and hurt the purity of the sport's greatest competition.A multi-country opt-out sounds attractive but is logistically impossible this close to the tournament, while it should be remembered that the American refusal to travel to the 1980 Moscow Olympics made no difference to the Soviet Union's presence in Afghanistan, their stated reason for not participating.Maybe England's fans will misbehave so badly the team will be sent packing anyway while Russian hooligans can enjoy the luxury of being at home already so can run amok, in theory.It is tempting to think the press is being unduly alarmist with its slew of scare stories on this topic where every bonehead is given a microphone, a pattern repeated before every major tournament, often by journalists with no experience of being travelling supporters.Travelling overseas with England in the 1990s I got frustrated with the fantastical coverage of spectator violence coming from Fleet Street, which often bore little reality to the situation on the ground, even from the broadsheet press.The media should be more responsible and not promote hooliganism before each tournament, pour encourager les autres. But chicanery, standard in a country without a free press, is also one of the prices of a free press in others.Alas, Russian football racism and violence has a long and blotted copybook so fears of violence cannot be completely dismissed as the usual hooligan hysteria.In October 2017, Detective Chief Constable Mark Roberts, head of UK policing at Euro 2016 and Russia 2018, said that English fans faced "a genuine [...]

Champions & Europa League QF draws

Fri, 16 Mar 2018 17:41:30 PDT

ONE ENGLISH CLUB MAKES THE SEMIS, BUT SPANISH GIANTS REMAINThe English torrent of five clubs in the Round of 16 of the UEFA Champions League has become a trickle with only one making it through to the last four.Liverpool and Manchester City have been drawn against each other in the quarter finals, leaving the possibility of three Spanish teams in the semi finals.Sevilla put a lame dog to the sword at Old Trafford but are less likely to overcome Bayern Munich, who routed Besiktas 8-1 on aggregate in the Round of 16. Bayern are often ignored compared to the Spanish giants for not being sexy enough but they are always a good bet for the last four at least. As with Barcelona and Manchester City, Bayern are running away with their domestic league.As of now it looks like Pep Guardiola's side will be joining the usual suspects of Barcelona, Bayern  and Real Madrid in the next round, but only a fool would write off Jurgen Klopp's men before their two-legged clash with the Premier League leaders.The Reds are the only side to have inflicted a league defeat on City this season and if they can register a home win in the first leg without conceding an away goal, then do not bet against them nicking one at the City of Manchester stadium.With the knowledge of how to undermine the Blues banked at Anfield, the electrifying Mohamed Salah in imperious form and Liverpool's Champions Cup pedigree as a fillip, City's passage to the final four is no foregone conclusion.The Reds may be far behind the Blues in the league in 2018 but equally they were not the best team in England when they won the Champions League in 2005 or reached the final in 2007.Juventus will be keen to exact revenge on Real for last season's Champions League final hammering and against Tottenham they showed their will to fight back and inflict telling blows on an arguably superior foe. However, reports of Real's death have been greatly exaggerated after their confident despatch of young pretenders Paris Saint Germain woke everyone up. Like Liverpool they are struggling domestically but are finding a new lease of life and brimming with confidence in Europe. They could even repeat last year's win.Like Real, Barcelona are another ageing outfit who refuse to lie down and whose simple game plan is still frighteningly effective. Their efficient use of space and clinical finishing made light work of a talented Chelsea side and with Lionel Messi as effervescent as ever, it seems hard to see who can beat them.Roma should succumb in the intimidating cavern of the Camp Nou as Chelsea did, leaving the Catalans in touching distance of the final, their first for three seasons. Now what price a clasico in Kiev on the 26th of May?The Europa League meanwhile lost a few big names in Borussia Dortmund, Lyon and Milan in the last round and unless they are drawn against each other, the two big names left, Arsenal and Atletico Madrid, appear to be closing in on a final showdown on the 16th of May in Lyon.While pleased to avoid Atletico, who thrashed Lokomotiv Moscow 8-1 on aggregate, Arsenal would have wished to avoid a Russian club at a time when the two countries are at loggerheads over the nerve agent attack in Salisbury.The two favourites could draw each other in the semi finals of course and Marseille, 5-2 aggregate conquerors of Athletic Bilbao, might have something to say about that too.CHAMPIONS LEAGUE QUARTER FINALSBarcelona v RomaSevilla v Bayern MunichJuventus v Real MadridLiverpool v Manchester CityTies to be played on the 3rd/4th and 10th/11th of AprilRecent Winners:2013 Bayern Munich2014 Real Madrid2015 Barcelona2016 Real Madrid2017 Real MadridEUROPA LEAGUE QUARTER FINALSLeipzig v MarseilleArsenal v CSKA MoscowAtletico Madrid v Sporting LisbonLazio v SalzburgTies to be played on the 5th and 12th of April.Recent Winners:2013 Chelsea2014 Sevilla2015 Sevilla2016 Sevilla2017 Manchester United(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile [...]

City's millions sweep Arsenal aside

Wed, 28 Feb 2018 12:45:21 PST

GUARDIOLA BAGS HIS FIRST SILVERWARE AS ARSENAL STRUGGLE AGAINLeague Cup Final: Manchester City 3:0 ArsenalPep Guardiola has finally won a trophy in England, albeit the least prestigious, the League Cup. Yet no-one could begrudge the stunning improvement he has made to Manchester City this season.The Blues are playing dynamic and flowing football week-in, week-out, garnished by a panoply of attacking talent, which rightly makes them the runaway leaders of the Premier League.A bias for attacking has been rewarded, while Jose Mourinho's defence-first, deny-second, attack-third mentality resides in a distant second in the table.The acid test is of course Europe and the prospect of a Champions League final between City and Guardiola's former kingdom of FC Barcelona is an exceptionally attractive one.For every winner there is a loser of course and Arsenal did not just lose but took a brow-beating at Wembley. So comprehensive and numbing was their defeat that the fans probably wished they had been knocked out earlier.The manner in which £35 million signing Shkodran Mustafi allowed Sergio Aguero to break free and open the scoring was truly the stuff of schoolboy football.Domestic cups have been a tonic in recent seasons for Gunners fans coming to sorry terms with their gradual decline as a big club, last season's surprise F.A. Cup final win over Chelsea being a case in point.But now Arsenal are out of both the League and F.A. Cup, having surrendered ignominiously away to Nottingham Forest in the latter. And with the North Londoners adrift again in the league, that leaves the gargantuan slog of this season's Europa League as their only hope.That competition however has a stronger than usual lineup with Atletico Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, Atheltic Bilbao, Lazio, Lyon and Marseille in the last 16. Oh and Milan, whom Arsenal face next.Nevertheless, for all the gloom in Highbury, for all the angst that Arsenal cannot put together a run of good results and all the frustration that the club's faceless owners cannot think beyond a manager clearly in decline, Arsene Wenger still has the ability to pull the odd rabbit out of a hat as the recent win over Chelsea showed.Guardiola is in a sense the new Wenger, the cultured multilingual foreigner bringing novel and exciting ideas to a staid football culture. The irony of Sunday's defeat was that Guardiola was said to have been interested in taking over at Arsenal after coaching Bayern Munich, but Wenger was going nowhere.Yet make no mistake that the majority of the Blues' meteoric rise from perennial unachievers to potential European champions is still down to its owners' deep wallets.While the coach is an outstanding one, probably the world's best in fact, the glittering arsenal (no pun) of talent that has jetted in to the Etihad is the main reason for his team's success.City's squad for the final was collectively worth £777 million in transfer fees, constituting the most valuable in the history of the game.Yet the most startling pre-match statistic from Wembley is worth repeating and ruminating upon: In 21  months, Guardiola had spent more money than Wenger had spent in 21 years.If there were ever a reason for enforcing some financial fair-play in football, it is that jaw-dropping, inconvenient truth.(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile [...]

The Champions League resumes

Thu, 22 Feb 2018 08:09:15 PST

AND IT'S LOOKING LIKE A PREMIER YEARIt feels a little churlish to have grown up in the 'terrace generation' of the 1970s and then look forward to the knockout stages of the UEFA Champions League, given that I grew up understanding it as a cup for champions alone, as it still says on the tin.However, in 2018 I was delighted to see the planet's premier club competition spurt into action again after the winter hiatus. January is a dead month in Europe in more ways than one, a turgid, virus-plagued icy slog after the lights of the Christmas period are packed away, the festivity forgotten and the summer is still hidden over the horizon.Without the joyful injection of meaningful football, life is always a little grey and pallid so anything soccer-related is a welcome fillip right now.There is no international football to get your teeth stuck into yet and even in a World Cup year, the 'Coupe du monde/Mondiale/Mundial/WM' is a long way off.Some players changed clubs in the transfer window to get noticed in the run-up to the final squad announcement, but for most international-class players the World Cup is still at the back of their minds right now.While the domestic leagues are wearily getting back into gear after the Christmas recess (outside of England that is), the domestic cups afford only slim pickings. In England the biggest story seemed to be that megabucks Manchester City might get some of their stars crocked when playing in such lesser tournaments, more proof that the Champions League and Premier League have sucked the lifeblood out of domestic football.Across the continent, Champions League money has created several domestic hegemonies but those same dynasties from the minor leagues have been caught in a no-man's-land of dominating at home but failing abysmally in Europe.Porto's 0-5 and Basel's 0-4 home reverses to English clubs were proof enough of that. Those sort of scorelines should not be happening in the knockout stages but there are big inequalities even among the elite.While Liverpool's erratic league form and lack of recent Champions League pedigree suggest they are unlikely to lift the trophy, they could equally make the last four and should not be underestimated.Man City however look ominously good on all fronts. Pep Guardiola's magic powers are not confined to the playing fields of England and his side must be a candidate for the final now.City have never won the competition before of course which makes talk of them being an unstoppable force a little unfair. In five years' time we might think differently of course. With the relentless buying power of their Emirate owners showing no signs of slowing down, a blue conquest of Europe seems inevitable.Tottenham's rise is just as exciting and supporters nervously expect a famous night at Wembley in three weeks when they host Juventus, with whom they drew 2-2 in Turin.Last season's finalists were humbled on their own patch having been so impregnable for so long, although Spurs' double concession in the first ten minutes was a reminder they still have things to learn at this level.Rather like Monaco last season, Tottenham's exciting crashing of the party could lead to a feeding frenzy of its stars in the summer unless the club pull out all the stops. Dele Ali, Christian Eriksen and Harry Kane will soon be weighing up staying part of an exciting project or earning more at one of the two Spanish giants or PSG.Reports of Real Madrid's death have been exaggerated as they breathed late fire to defeat PSG 3-1 at home, although the second leg will still be a stiff test as the French have an away goal. Neymar, supposedly wishing to move to the Bernabeu, performed a surprisingly boorish audition and was lucky not to have received a second yellow card for an obvious act of simulation.Chelsea v Barcelona is the pick of next week's ties and it would be a surprise if the Blues and their beleaguered coach can pull off a famous victory over the Spanish league leaders.A blaugrana win could sti[...]

Fifa World Rankings February 2018

Thu, 22 Feb 2018 08:19:57 PST

Fifa's World Rankings for February 2018 were published on February 15 at FIFA HQ in Zurich, Switzerland. There is little change in the top 20 ranked teams in the world from January.Confederations Cup winners Germany remain first with Brazil second and Portugal third. Argentina, who struggled to qualify for World Cup 2018 are in fourth. There is no change in the top 17 teams.The full top ten is: Germany, Brazil, Euro 2016 winners Portugal, Argentina, Belgium, Spain, Poland, Switzerland, France and Chile.England are 16th, Wales are 20th. Tunisia are the top African team in 23rd place followed by Senegal in 27th.Asian Cup winners Australia are in 36th place; Japan are in 55th spot. Near neighbors South Korea are in 58th place and have also qualified for the 2018 World Cup. The South Koreans are in Group F.The USA are in 24th but failed to qualify for World Cup 2018. Scotland are in 31st position equal with The Republic of Ireland. Northern Ireland are in 26th position.1 Germany2 Brazil3 Portugal4 Argentina5 Belgium6 Spain7 Poland8 Switzerland9 France10 Chile11 Peru12 Denmark13 Colombia14 Italy15 Croatia16 England17 Mexico18 Iceland19 Sweden20 WalesFull world rankingsPrevious Fifa World Rankings [...]

Fifa World Rankings January 2018

Thu, 22 Feb 2018 08:17:21 PST

Fifa's World Rankings for January 2018 were published on January 18 at FIFA HQ in Zurich, Switzerland. They are the first rankings of the new year and a pointer to the favorites for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.Confederations Cup winners Germany remain first with Brazil second and Portugal third. Argentina, who struggled to qualify for World Cup 2018 are in fourth. There is no change in the top 14 teams.The full top ten is: Germany, Brazil, Euro 2016 winners Portugal, Argentina, Belgium, Spain, Poland, Switzerland, France and Chile.England are 16th, Wales are 19th. Tunisia are the top African team in 23rd place followed by Senegal in 24th.Asian Cup winners Australia are in 36th place; Japan are in 56th spot and have qualified for the 2018 World Cup and are in Group H with Poland, Senegal and Colombia. Near neighbors South Korea are in 59th place and have also qualified for the 2018 World Cup. The South Koreans are in Group F - a tough call with holders Germany, Sweden and Mexico.The USA are in 25th but failed to qualify for World Cup 2018. Scotland are in 32nd position equal with The Republic of Ireland. Northern Ireland are in 25th position along with the USA.1 Germany2 Brazil3 Portugal4 Argentina5 Belgium6 Spain7 Poland8 Switzerland9 France10 Chile11 Peru12 Denmark13 Colombia14 Italy15 Croatia16 England17 Mexico18 Sweden19 Wales20 IcelandFull world rankingsPrevious Fifa World Rankings [...]

Slaying the Giant-Killers

Tue, 16 Jan 2018 23:34:14 PST

FOREST'S WIN OVER ARSENAL AND OTHER 3RD ROUND MIASMASAnother Third Round Saturday and another unappetising serving of false shocks and watered-down lineups.Where are the soccer gods when you need them to save the game's oldest competition and revive its famous magic?Arsene Wenger dominated the headlines again with another hapless setback but within a day the fuss over Arsenal's humiliating 4-2 loss to Nottingham Forest had died down, such is the diminution of the Cup and the Gunners' chronic failure syndrome under the Frenchman.In a fan's perfect world, F.A. Cup holders should fight tooth and nail to hold on to their precious crown, not relinquish it by fielding a second eleven against a mediocre team with a caretaker manager in the lower half of the old second division.Wenger's excuse of needing to save his stars for this Wednesday's League Cup semi-final with Chelsea sounded much like Mark Hughes' famous last words for Stoke last week: Resting his best players away to Chelsea in the hope of beating Newcastle at home resulted in him losing both matches and getting his P45 to boot.To be fair, the punishing Christmas/New Year schedule is an annual insanity which no sane professional sport should entertain, especially in a World Cup year.For Arsenal, a task-list of five games over two weeks in icy weather demands an extensive squad of the quality required to make an assault on the Champions League places.On this evidence Arsenal just do not have that, which makes their end of season goal of reaching the top four already look like a lost cause in January.Sure, they might win the League Cup and make the Europa League again, but London's biggest club must have higher ambitions than secondary tournaments.The only alternative route to the Champions League is by winning the Europa League but Arsenal are still nine games away from that conquest, with clubs like Serie A leaders Napoli, Atletico Madrid (second in La Liga) and Borussia Dortmund (third in the Bundesliga) to overcome first.If the economist Wenger had calculated he had more chance of winning the League Cup or Europa League than the F.A. Cup then his educated guess backfired badly, yet rest assured had he beaten Forest he would have fielded another lacklustre lineup in the next round  - a case of gambler's conceit.Tonight's clash with Chelsea now takes on more of a must-win nature for Arsenal, or else the pressure on their coach from the press, which was intense in the second half of last season, will surely return. Later this month before the transfer window shuts they could lose talisman Alexis Sanchez and fail to land a replacement like Monaco's Thomas Lemar in time.Arsenal fans are increasingly weary of the lack of boardroom action to halt the ongoing regression from the heady days of Thierry Henry, the Invincibles and the 2006 Champions League final, especially as derby rivals Tottenham are so effervescent under Mauricio Pochettino. If Wenger guides the Gunners to yet another flaccid season of no major signings and nothing better than Europa League qualification, it is hard to see how he can remain at the helm. Five points adrift of the Champions League places, the gloom over Highbury persists and a last-gasp sweetener like last season's F.A. Cup final cannot be guaranteed.Yet whisper it - Forest had also made changes to their starting eleven on Sunday, albeit not as many as Arsenal. For the twice champions of Europe the league is also the priority this season, firstly by avoiding relegation to the third tier and secondly by making a run for the playoffs and possible ascension to the Premier League, where many feel they still belong.Forest dream of a steady ship more than any flash in the pan cup win. They have employed 16 different managers in eight years - an extraordinarily unstable spell in the history of a club who kept just one manager (Brian Clough) between 1975 and 1993, an outstan[...]

Fifa World Rankings December 2017

Thu, 18 Jan 2018 07:17:39 PST

Fifa's World Rankings for December 2017 were published on December 21 at FIFA HQ in Zurich, Switzerland. They are the last rankings of the year and a pointer to the favorites for the 2018 World Cup.Confederations Cup winners Germany remain first with Brazil second and Portugal third. Argentina, who struggled to qualify for World Cup 2018 are in fourth. There is no change in the top 20 teams.The full top ten is: Germany, Brazil, Euro 2016 winners Portugal, Argentina, Belgium, Spain, Poland, Switzerland, France and Chile.England are 15th, Wales are 19th. Senegal are the top African team in 23rd place.Asian Cup winners Australia are in 38th place; Japan are in 57th spot and have qualified for the 2018 World Cup. Near neighbors South Korea are in 60th place and have also qualified for the 2018 World Cup.The USA are in 24th but failed to qualify for World Cup 2018. Scotland are in 32nd position equal with The Republic of Ireland. Northern Ireland are in equal 24th position.1 Germany2 Brazil3 Portugal4 Argentina5 Belgium6 Spain7 Poland8 Switzerland9 France10 Chile11 Peru12 Denmark13 Colombia14 Italy15 England16 Mexico17 Croatia18 Sweden19 Wales20 NetherlandsFull world rankingsPrevious Fifa World Rankings [...]

The Fall of Rome 2017

Sat, 23 Dec 2017 06:26:21 PST

THE AZZURRI’S ABSENCE FROM RUSSIA IS A LOSS TO THE GAME“Here sighs and lamentations and loud cries were echoing across the starless air...strange utterances, horrible pronouncements, accents of anger, words of suffering and voices shrill and faint, and beating hands.”Canto III, The Inferno, DanteRussia 2018 has already written itself into the history books.Three and a half big hitters have failed to qualify: The Netherlands, finalists in 2010 and semi-finalists at Brazil 2014, were the first VIP casualty, ending up third in their qualifying group to compound the gloom swirling through the lowlands after missing out on Euro 2016. Three times losing finalists, Oranje’s wait for the ultimate prize goes on.The next big name to miss the deadline were reigning South American champions Chile, whose golden generation finished just outside the playoff spot on the last day of action. A glorious couple of years but then a cup too far.Then the USA, where MLS grows ever stronger and whose national team drew more supporters to the last World Cup than any other, ended a lamentable fifth in the fairly manageable region of CONCACAF, missing the boat by a mile and leaving its legions of new fans lost for words. Welcome to the cruel world of association football.But none of those absences compare to the jaw-dropping fact that four-time winners and six-times finalists Italy will not be travelling to Russia next summer. This is their first World Cup qualification failure since 1958, when oriundi (overseas-born players of Italian heritage) like Eddie Firmani and Alcides Ghiggia played in blue.Gli Azzurri’s 1-0 aggregate loss to Sweden was an atomic bomb of a soccer shock and is still somewhat hard to believe: Italy are a staple of World Cups as much as Brazil, Argentina or Germany and the average supporter expects the big boys to all be there. Hell, even Panini albums are made in Italy!But while Italy might be joint-second in the list of World Cup winning nations, a quick flick through the annals confirms a litany of tragedy as well as triumph for the Azzurri:The Superga air crash wiped out moved of their side in 1949, in 1958 they failed to qualify having lost to little Northern Ireland and in 1962 the ‘Battle of Santiago’ saw them crash out of the World Cup after the most violent match in its history.Four years later the unheralded North Koreans humiliated the Azzurri at the 1966 finals and the team was pelted with tomatoes on their return to Genoa.In 1970 Italy won a legendary semi-final 4-3 against West Germany but then suffered the heaviest ever defeat in a World Cup final, losing 4-1 to Pele and the indomitable seleçao. Their semi-final heroics had probably knackered them out.At home in 1990 under Azeglio Vicini they had a golden chance to win the trophy but blew it in a nervous 2-1 loss to Argentina in the semi-final.1994 brought more agony as they lost on penalties to Brazil in the final and in 2002 their Korean nightmare returned as they were knocked out by the South, due in part to a string of bizarre decisions by Ecuadorian referee Byron Moreno.Zeniths were the victories in 1982 and 2006, not least because they were so unexpected. Yet the setbacks and black marks surrounding Italian football, whether self-inflicted - the totonero and calciopoli scandals (betting and influencing officials) or not, as at Heysel, paint a decidedly black and white tableau.That country gave us the perfect word for this duality - chiaroscuro - ‘light-dark’, used to describe the combination of darkness and brightness in Caravaggio’s 17th century paintings. In keeping with this tradition, this year’s disaster is only one tick of the metronome.All the previous tragedies noted have sparked a pyre of polemics, recriminations and conspiracy theories back in Italy, the ‘ci hanno rubato’ - ‘we wuz robbed’ default the[...]

Fifa World Rankings November 2017

Fri, 22 Dec 2017 21:37:24 PST

Fifa's World Rankings for November 2017 were published on November 23 at FIFA HQ in Zurich, Switzerland. They are the last rankings before the World Cup 2018 finals draw in Moscow on December 1.Confederations Cup winners Germany remain first with Brazil second and Portugal third. Argentina, who struggled to qualify for World Cup 2018 are in fourth.The full top ten is: Germany, Brazil, Euro 2016 winners Portugal, Argentina, Belgium, Spain, Poland, Switzerland, France and Chile.England are 15th, Wales are 19th. Senegal are the top African team in 23rd place.Asian Cup winners Australia are in 39th place; Japan are in 55th spot and have qualified for the 2018 World Cup. Near neighbors South Korea are in 59th place and have also qualified for the 2018 World Cup.The USA are in 24th and failed to qualify for World Cup 2018. Scotland are in 32nd position. The Republic of Ireland are in 32nd place now behind Northern Ireland who are in 24th position.1 Germany2 Brazil3 Portugal4 Argentina5 Belgium6 Spain7 Poland8 Switzerland9 France10 Chile11 Peru12 Denmark13 Colombia14 Italy15 England16 Mexico17 Croatia18 Sweden19 Wales20 NetherlandsFull world rankingsPrevious Fifa World Rankings [...]

How the mighty fall

Thu, 09 Nov 2017 00:14:54 PST

REAL REEL, CHELSEA CHOKE AND EVRA THE MARTYRWhat are we to make of Real Madrid's 3-1 capitulation to Tottenham?The definitive dethronement of the world club champions or merely a hiccup in the midst of a bad run of form and confidence?Cast your minds back to Cardiff last May and Real looked unbeatable if not particularly thrilling or attractive to watch.Yet the Champions Cup holders looked oddly unmotivated for their visit to London and for the first time, their spine of veterans - Marcelo, Sergio Ramos, Karim Benzema, Luka Modric and Cristiano Ronaldo, looked somewhat long in the tooth when being overrun by Spurs' younger guns. It could have been worse for the holders as Dele Ali missed a great chance to bag a hat-trick and ace marksman Harry Kane was not fully fit and failed to impose as he has done so often. Sooner or later Los Blancos were due to fall from their perch but the descent appears to have come much sooner than expected. Their defeat at Wembley followed an embarrassing loss in the league to Girona, a modest side in a stadium which holds 13,500. Real are stuttering anyway this season. After 11 games they are third, a full eight points behind Barcelona, having to lost at home to Real Betis and drawn with Valencia and Levante. This constitutes an outrage to the Madrid fans and newspapers. The Spanish press, particularly its bestselling dailies AS and Marca are always talking about a crisis at the Bernabeu, but for the first time in a while, their shrill squawing seems to have a point. Only half a year after a commanding victory in the Champions League final in Wales, Zinedine Zidane’s hitherto Midas touch appears to have departed him. Ronaldo has cited the departure of Alvaro Morata, compatriot Pepe and James Rodriguez as factors in his team's ropey form but none of these men were first-team regulars. Real's traditional medicine for melancholy has been to reach for the cheque book and given Gareth Bale and Modric were plucked from White Hart Lane, it seems a given they will bid to snare one or more of Kane, Ali and Christian Eriksen next summer. Add to that shopping list Mauricio Pochettino, whose reputation only goes from strength to strength. Can Tottenham keep their talented team together or will their stellar eleven go the way of last season’s Monaco lineup, the best of which now ply their trade beyond the principality. Another midweek fall of giants which passed under the radar somewhat was Chelsea’s 0-3 loss away at Roma. The Blues were well beaten by a team unlikely to challenge for the trophy. Serie A is behind La Liga and the Premier League, a fact confirmed by leaders Napoli losing at home to a rampant Manchester City.Chelsea might have bounced back with a 1-0 win over Manchester United at the weekend but still appear to have lost their mojo of last season - it is easy to forget the fourth-placed team in the Premier League are the reigning domestic champions. Antonio Conte appears to have fallen out with the board room as opposed to the dressing room and his single-minded approach, as with Jose Mourinho, is now coming home to roost. Conte failed to get his transfer targets in the summer and at one point allegedly was out of reach for a couple of weeks, which led the club to think he was about to quit. However big the egos or talents of the managers, when the board do not sanction his transfer requests he is left with a sense of immense frustration and feels boxed in. "If you are great team, you must have stability and consistency," Conte explained. "Last season we won the league and did a miracle. This season has been up and down. We must find the hunger we showed last season." While Chelsea’s attack still boasts gems like Eden Hazard, Alvaro Morarta, Pedro and Willian, the loss of Diego Costa, however inevitable that was[...]

Futbol's Going South

Thu, 09 Nov 2017 00:07:56 PST

CONMEBOL NATIONS MUST UP THEIR GAME BEFORE RUSSIA 2018What would a World Cup be without the South Americans? The opportunity to test the best of European football nations against the faraway empire of CONMEBOL is so exciting because it only happens every four years. Yes there is the Confederations Cup now and the World Club Championship as well but in effect the two poles of world soccer only cross swords for the FIFA World Cup. Growing up I assumed Brazil were always the best and that their players were born with superhuman ball skills and effortless flair, two qualities traditionally absent from their prosaic English equivalents. Whenever the seleçao came to Wembley for a friendly it was a big event as the name Brazil carried so much weight and legend behind it. Argentina were close behind in our imaginations. If they lacked the samba rhythm of Brazil, they were always an extremely tough cookie to crack for European sides, stacked with talent. Their 1998 team for instance only made it to the last eight but included the dazzling skills of Gabriel Batistuta, Hernan Crespo, Marcelo Gallardo, Ariel Ortega, Juan Sebastian Veron and Javier Zanetti. On the rare occasions we saw a Peru or Colombia in London we would still waxelyrical about their Latin élan on the ball. The bubble burst somewhat in 2014 of course when a European team won the trophy on South American soil for the first time. Not only did Argentina lose the final but Brazil, the hosts, were utterly humiliated in the semi final. I would still like to think the South Americans are the big boys to beat in Russia next year but the greater resources of UEFA associations have probably favoured a European victory in Russia next year. Money talks sooner or later and the increasing professionalism of the European club game in recent years has tilted the balance of power towards the UEFA nations and their higher levels of funding. When you compare football to the Olympic Games where advanced industrialised nations swamp the medals table thanks to their elite funding programmes, it is a wonder South American football associations have managed to keep pace at all in the World Cup. Surely no South American nation can match the organised professional preparation behind the Deutscher Fussball Bund's top to bottom planning for success for instance. France, Spain and England also have detailed plans for achievement while the Latin American nations still rely to a great extent on their ingrained skills. Brazil have improved since their 7-1 Mineirazo and group exit in the 2016 Copa America and qualified with ease for the World Cup finals in 2018. A new crop of starlets like Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino and Gabriel Jesus have brought hope of a return to the golden days of the green and gold. While the 2014 hosts concluded an impressive campaign by eliminating Chile 3-0 and probably put the misery of their 2014 exit behind them, sterner tests await in Russia. Brazil are playing with confidence and dominance right now but the possibility of falling flat again at the finals can never be ruled out. For now they can relax but should beware of having peaked too soon. A comfortable qualification counts for nothing when you do not impress at the finals. Just ask England. Argentina are a traditional power at the World Cup but have only scraped through the qualifiers. The biggest story on the final night of CONMEBOL qualifiers was undoubtedly Argentina's last-gasp qualification against Ecuador thanks to a vintage hat-trick from their talisman. Cometh the hour, cometh the Messi. The World Cup without soccer's best player? Not in 2018. Argentina's win in Quito was almost the stuff of legend after they had fallen behind after only 30 seconds. An already demoralised and under-pressure sid[...]

Fifa World Rankings October 2017

Thu, 21 Dec 2017 06:17:20 PST

Fifa's World Rankings for October 2017 were published on October 16 at FIFA HQ in Zurich, Switzerland after the final round of qualifying matches for World Cup 2018.Confederations Cup winners Germany remain first with Brazil second and Portugal third. Argentina, who struggled to qualify for World Cup 2018 are in fourth.The full top ten is: Germany, Brazil, Euro 2016 winners Portugal, Argentina, Belgium, Poland, France, Spain, Chile, and Peru.England are 12th, Wales are 14th. Egypt are the top African team in 30th place.Asian Cup winners Australia are in 43rd place; Japan are in 44th spot and have qualified for the 2018 World Cup. Near neighbors South Korea are in 62nd place and have also qualified for the 2018 World Cup.The USA are in 30th and failed to qualify for World Cup 2018. Scotland are in 29th position. The Republic of Ireland are in 26th place now behind Northern Ireland who are in 23rd position.1 Germany2 Brazil3 Portugal4 Argentina5 Belgium6 Poland7 France8 Spain9 Chile10 Peru11 Switzerland12 England13 Colombia14 Wales15 Italy16 Mexico17 Uruguay18 Croatia19 Denmark20 NetherlandsFull world rankingsPrevious Fifa World Rankings [...]

Oldham Athletic 0 v Wigan Athletic 2

Fri, 22 Sep 2017 22:37:26 PDT

Oldham Athletic and Wigan Athletic have both fallen on relatively hard times as of late and find themselves at opposite ends of League One.Oldham, under Joe Royle, were one of the founding clubs of the Premier League in 1992-1993 and Wigan won the FA Cup as recently as 2013, the year the club were also relegated to the Championship.Oldham's heart-breaking loss to Manchester United in a 1994 FA Cup semi-final reply after Mark's Hughes equalizer in the first game at Wembley, is seen by many fans as the start of a long and gradual decline.The two athletics, both nicked named the "Latics" met at Boundary Park (aka Park) on August 19, on a typically cool, grey August day in the north.The more vocal Wigan supporters were packed into the "Chaddy" end (ZenOffice Stand) which was once the preserve of the home fans, who were subdued, not surprisingly perhaps considering their current plight, and now don't seem to have a home end of their own.This is similar to Wigan's situation at the DW Stadium where away fans now occupy what was once the home end.From the outset, Wigan seemed the more composed team on the ball and took an early lead through goals from Ivan Toney and Michael Jacobs within the first quarter. Oldham improved after the break butwhen Wigan's star performer, former Manchester United midfielder Nick Powell, was substituted on the hour, the game petered out and some fans began to turn to their phones to keep up with the action elsewhere.At the end, Wigan supporters chanted "We are top of the league" while home fans contemplated rock bottom, where they unfortunately remain with four points from eight games. [...]

Sheffield FC Happy 160th Birthday Football

Fri, 22 Sep 2017 00:56:05 PDT

On the 24th October 1857, Sheffield FC was founded and the World’s most popular sport was born. The World's First Football Club, Sheffield FC turn 160 years old this year and have long been recognised by World football for their impact on the game through the creation of the rulebook, the first organised team, the first football derby and much more.160 years on and #theworldsfirst is still pioneering, leading the way with the lowest priced current season fan jersey in World football, working to rebuild the original 'Home of Football' stadium, uniting the oldest football clubs from each country under the banner of 'The Club of Pioneers' and developing grassroots football around the world, through social projects like 'Boots for Roots', which includes shipping over 38,000 pairs of football boots to disadvantaged children worldwide.To mark this special occasion, Sheffield FC will be looking to celebrate with fans, players, teams and media from around the World. Highlight activities will include a celebration dinner in Sheffield and the release of a limited edition heritage shirt based on the earliest known kit designs of the club, alongside partners Classic Football Shirts.Talking on the birthday, Sheffield FC Chairman Richard Tims stated: "160 years of the beautiful game is an historic landmark for football and a great opportunity for all involved to celebrate the roots of our beautiful game. We're looking forward to taking the story out to the world and also using the 160th as a platform to create never before seen content. We're inviting, fans, players, clubs, media & brands worldwide to join the celebrations, cherishing the roots and kick off of football".For more information please visit us at [...]

Parisian starlets set the pace

Fri, 22 Sep 2017 00:40:55 PDT

The UEFA Champions League gets going once again After the first round of Champions League games it looks like money talks for PSG. Their galacticos made light work of Scottish champions Celtic at Parkhead, cruising to a 5-0 away win in Glasgow with their newly acquired gemstones, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe both on target.While it is hardly news to say that a club's success correlates with their spending, the quantum leap PSG took in the summer by bagging that duo made the transfer arms race that much more of a handicapped one.It is probably true that their summer splurge had more to do with Middle Eastern geopolitics than football, as Qatar is quarrelling with its Arab neighbours right now, but that puts more of an onus on UEFA to enforce its financial fair play rules and prove that the game has a soul. When sovereign nations start owning teams the only end game is China v the USA, and given the ownership of several Premier League teams (7:3 to America so far), that already seems to be happening.The Dutch champions Feyenoord lost 4-0 at home to another expensively assembled toy shop Manchester City, proving the gap between Europe's top leagues and the rest is now an impossible chasm.Pity the fans at De Kuip, eager to see their side back in top continental action, winded and grounded within minutes as their visitors cruised into a commanding lead.The days of Ajax, PSV, Porto, Red Star or Steaua Bucharest, sides skilfully assembled with a modest amount of money, capturing the Champions Cup, are long gone.Monaco, the most exciting team in last season's competition, were decisively asset-stripped over the summer, losing Tiemoue Bakayoko, Benjamin Mendy, Bernardo Silva as well as Mbappe, and began their campaign inauspiciously with a 1-1 draw away to Leipzig. There are no obvious suspects for a dark horse this time.The usual suspects all won convincingly with the exception of Juventus, who defended uncharacteristically abysmally in losing 3-0 in Barcelona. Only Besiktas' 3-1 win at Porto and Tottenham's defeat of Borussia Dortmund by the same score could be seen as surprises but neither are expected to topple the big usual suspects.The latter game was exceptionally entertaining and interesting for the fact once more that clinical, thrusting attacks trumped ball possession. Spurs too, have finally managed to make the vast spaces of Wembley work for them.The most notable event of the night however was Sevilla coach Eduardo Berizzo, recently arrived from Celta Vigo, being sent off for idiotically throwing the ball away twice when gathering Liverpool throw-ins. How such infantile behaviour is still practised by top team managers in front of the camera beggars belief, but any entertainment is welcome to the neutral.His team had started off some lovely passing football beyond the ken of their English (despite not fielding one British Isles player) hosts and were good value for their 2-2 draw in the end, reminding us the Premier League still has a technical deficit.The bookies rate the top five in order this season as Real Madrid, PSG, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Manchester City.PSG look already likely to reach the semi finals at least but their lucre-gilded gatecrashing of the party seems to devalue their challenge somewhat. Bayern seemed to stutter at home to Anderlecht but came out 3-0 winners in the end, a reminder that the German giants are always a wise bet for the final four.City's slick win in Rotterdam seemed to suggest they could make the semi-finals this time, while Chelsea's equally efficient 6-0 demolition of Qarabag means nobody should write off their chances either.Even Manchester United, with a world-class No.[...]

Fifa World Rankings September 2017

Thu, 21 Dec 2017 06:16:46 PST

Fifa's World Rankings for September 2017 were published on September 14 at FIFA HQ in Zurich, Switzerland.Confederations Cup winners Germany change places again with Brazil with Portugal third. Argentina, who are struggling to qualify for World Cup 2018 drop to fourth.The full top ten is: Germany, Brazil, Euro 2016 winners Portugal, Argentina, Belgium, Poland, Switzerland, France,   Chile, and Colombia.England are 15th, Wales are 13th. Egypt are the top African team in 30th place.Asian Cup winners Australia are in 50th place; Japan are in 40th spot and have qualified for the 2018 World Cup. Near neighbors South Korea are in 51st place and have qualified for the 2018 World Cup.The USA are in 28th. Scotland are in 43rd position. The Republic of Ireland are in 34th place now behind Northern Ireland who are in 20th position.1 Germany2 Brazil3 Portugal4 Argentina5 Belgium6 Poland7 Switzerland8 France9 Chile10 Colombia11 Spain12 Peru13 Wales14 Mexico15 England16 Uruguay17 Italy18 Croatia19 Slovakia20 Northern IrelandFull world rankingsPrevious Fifa World Rankings [...]

Oranje squash

Thu, 14 Sep 2017 04:57:00 PDT

LAST SEASON'S EUROPA LEAGUE FINALISTS ARE OUT OF EUROPE ALREADYSpare a thought for Ajax, who thrilled at times on their way to last season's Europa League final before a Mourinho masterclass floored them.Unsurprisingly, the stellar eleven which dazzled as recently as May has now been whittled away. Inspirational midfield skipper Davy Klaassen was snapped up by Everton in the summer and the Amsterdam club's offer of doubling the wages of talented centre-back Davinson Sanchez was easily outgunned by Tottenham, who bought the young Colombian last week.Two more of their starting eleven in Stockholm have left. Defender Jairo Riedewald has swapped Ajax for Crystal Palace and on-loan Bertrand Traore was sold by parent club Chelsea to Lyon.On the bench for the final in Sweden, defender Kenny Tete is now at Monaco and reserve goalkeeper Diederik Boer has gone to Zwolle.Yesterday, the depleted team, having been eliminated from the Champions League earlier this summer by Nice, albeit only on away goals, was knocked out of the qualifying round of this season's Europa League by Rosenborg 4-2 on aggregate, leaving the modest challenge of the Dutch league alone.The domestic season has barely started but one of last season’s major performers in UEFA is already out of Europe.Holland's other clubs have fared little better. PSV were knocked out of the Europa League by Osijek of Croatia 2-0 on aggregate in the third qualifying round and Utrecht went the same way as Ajax in the play-off round, losing 2-1 overall to Zenit St Petersburg.Feyenoord are the last Dutch club standing by mid August and they have not played in Europe yet.Having won the Eredivisie last season they progressed directly to the Champions League group stages, where they will play Manchester City, Napoli and Shakhtar Donetsk in Group F.Ajax’s precocious prodigies have long been cherry-picked by richer teams abroad, particularly after their young guns reached two European Cup finals in the mid 1990s, so this is nothing new. It was just that last season's run to the Europa League final had teased a renaissance of one of the continent's most storied clubs.And it is not just the players who happily leave Holland in search of a greater payday. Last season's Ajax manager Peter Bosz is now coaching Borussia Dortmund, which is certainly a bigger club, but other top Dutch managers of the moment are exchanging top Dutch teams for modest English clubs which pay higher wages.Ronald Koeman has coached Holland's big three of Ajax, Feyenoord and PSV but was happy to leave Feyenoord for Southampton, on paper a lower club, though it gave him a stepping-stone to Everton where he is now; Martin Jol swapped Ajax for Fulham in 2011 and Frank De Boer is now managing Crystal Palace having left Ajax for Inter in 2016.Ajax remain unable to keep their top players or managers. The Dutch league's modest market simply cannot produce enough capital to pay wages on a par with Europe’s big four leagues.The best they, PSV or Feyenoord can hope for, unless the proposed 'Atlantic League' featuring the best of the Netherlands, Portugal and Scotland ever got going, is to earn more from progressing in Europe.And this week, less than three months after their first European final in over two decades, the club of Johann Cruyff, Dennis Bergkamp, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Rinus Michels, Johan Neeskens, Piet Keizer, Frank Rijkaard and the De Boer brothers, was out of Europe.For how long, nobody knows.(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile [...]

Fifa World Rankings August 2017

Thu, 21 Dec 2017 06:17:52 PST

Fifa's World Rankings for August 2017 were published on August 10 at FIFA HQ in Zurich, Switzerland.Brazil are top ahead of Confederations Cup winners, Germany and Argentina.The full top ten is: Brazil, Germany, Argentina, Switzerland, Poland, Euro 2016 winners Portugal,  Chile, Colombia, Belgium and France.England are 13th, Wales are 18th. Egypt are the top African team in 25th place.Asian Cup winners Australia are in 45th place; Japan are in 44th spot. Near neighbors South Korea are in 49th place.The USA are in 26th. Scotland are in 58th position. The Republic of Ireland are in 29th place now behind Northern Ireland who are in 23rd position.1 Brazil2 Germany3 Argentina4 Switzerland5 Poland6 Portugal7 Chile8 Colombia9 Belgium10 France11 Spain12 Italy13 England14 Mexico15 Peru16 Croatia17 Uruguay18 Wales19 Sweden20 IcelandFull world rankingsPrevious Fifa World Rankings [...]

Football's Oldest Derby

Thu, 27 Jul 2017 20:43:26 PDT

Football's oldest derby takes place this Sunday, 30th July 2017, for the 157th year.The World's oldest football derby will once again take place on Sunday 30th July as Sheffield FC face Hallam FC. Now in its 157th year, the derby was first played on Boxing Day 1860 under the original "gentleman's rules" and is a celebration of football's true and original values of Integrity, Respect & Community. Once again promoting fan accessibility, Classic Football Shirts and Sheffield FC are offering adult entry to the match for just £3 adults and £1 concessions with the attached ticket #FansComeFirstSheffield FC Chairman Richard Tims said "It's a great derby and a great tradition, one which has forever been based on football's original values of Integrity, Respect & Community. The 157th derby year is particularly special for us with Sheffield FC turning 160 years old in less than a 100 days time. We can't wait for the match and celebrating football's history once again for fans all across the world".FIFA Documentary on the Derby allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="315" src="" width="560">SHEFFIELD FC: PRESS RELEASE 10 JULY 2017#FansComeFirst: Sheffield FC release the lowest price current season jersey in World Football.The World's first football club, Sheffield FC are proud to continue their role as football's pioneers, this time through the release of the lowest price current season jersey in World Football. With the average football jersey now retailing at around the £60 mark, we felt it vitally important to keep football affordable and put the fans first, allowing them to show their colours with pride.Priced at just £19.99 the shirts have been released alongside partners Classic Football Shirts & Joma Sport and are now available for fans across the globe to purchase ahead of the club’s historic 160th celebratory season. Get the World's first at the World's lowest price hereSheffield FC hope to once again prove their commitment to the founding values of Integrity, Respect, Community and the philosophy that fans come first in the beautiful game. Fans are able to join the initiative by sharing the story alongside #FansComeFirst or purchasing a shirt to help support Sheffield FC in other grassroots projects.Excited about the pioneering initiative, Sheffield FC Chairman Richard Tims stated: "In 1857 Sheffield FC was founded on the values of Integrity, Respect & Community and the belief that the beautiful game should be for everyone. 160 years later and we’re still living by these values, offering the lowest price jersey in World Football to make the game as accessible as possible for fans across the World. We hope this will not only allow more fans to support football’s first but also encourage other clubs around the world to always live by the philosophy, fans first!" [...]

Surviving a dry summer

Fri, 22 Sep 2017 01:03:02 PDT

THE DRAG OF THE CLOSE-SEASON IN ODD-NUMBERED YEARSSummers in these off-years are hard to get through for football fans like me.By off-years I mean those ending in odd numbers which have neither the World Cup nor European Championships to get excited about.July is the dryest of dry seasons in years like this, with the daily mash of transfer gossip a poor substitute for the meat of real football news.With some reluctance I find myself getting into summer sports here in England like cricket and tennis. When I was a child I looked in the newspapers for the football section and found only the Australian Pools forecasts.In truth we all need a break of course and a reminder that there are other things in life. But breaking such a deep bond, even for a few weeks, is never easy.I am already harking back to a less than vintage domestic calendar just passed, wondering if we will ever see the young wonders of Ajax or Monaco shine again, now their assets have inevitably begun to be stripped.Neither won their respective continental cups of course, a reminder that pragmatism trumps creative genius all too often. Perspiration beat inspiration once more as Real Madrid won another UEFA Champions League without setting the world alight, while Jose Mourinho's tactical masterclass in winning the UEFA Europa League final for Manchester United was more proof the devil has all the best tunes.England winning the U-20 World Cup was a brief highlight and an exciting final, but we are kidding ourselves if it relates much to the national team's prospects.I mean no disrespect to fans of the CONCACAF Gold Cup either, but when the finals feature Curacao, French Guyana and Martinique, this competition sits some way behind the Euros and the Copa America, so much so that there has been talk of merging it with its southern neighbour for good, a format experimented with last summer in the Copa America Centenario.Mexico, the traditional Central American powerhouse, has sent a B team this summer after its first eleven contested the Confederations Cup, a clear vote of demotion, while the USA's squad has a decidedly experimental feel to it with Russia 2018 qualification the clear priority after their poor start.The Confederations Cup remains an odd tournament, a decidedly lukewarm, pallid and ultimately meaningless impression of the World Cup the following summer. Making a list of World Cup winners is relatively easy for the committed fan, but try to make a list of Confederations Cup winners and you have to stop and think.Another problem with the cup is that the line-up for the finals always seems a little bizarre. This is for two reasons:One, because it takes teams who have gone off the boil since winning their regional competitions as opposed to nations freshly qualified for the World Cup who are in good form.Three of the eight in Russia this summer had won their cups in 2015 and one in 2014.And secondly because some FIFA regions are much stronger than others, a final eight lineup looks much better in the World Cup than the Confederations Cup, where only half of the finalists could realistically stand a chance of making it to the quarter-finals next summer.New Zealand relish it for their only chance at crossing swords with the stars but the persistent presence of such a week football nation diminishes the tournament as well.Many fans seem to forget it is even taking place and as a journalist at the 2005 tournament in Germany I still felt duty bound to ask players how they felt about participating in it after a gruelli[...]

Garcia fallout and the 2026 World Cup

Thu, 27 Jul 2017 21:03:37 PDT

With little on the field to get excited about, my thoughts turn to football politics.The Michael Garcia report on the 2018 and 2022 World Cup awarding decisions has finally been published, but sadly did not provide enough ammunition to charge Russia and Qatar or strip them of their World Cup hosting.That Qatar paid $2 million to the ten year-old daughter of a FIFA official (the fantastically bent Brazilian Ricardo Texeira) would be hilarious if it were not so tragic. That a nation with no discernible football heritage, a hostile climate and apparently incompatible culture could trump the superior claims of Australia and the United States immediately shocked.The subsequent humiliation of Qatari AFC President Mohammed Bin Hammam, aka Mr Bribe, and the tsunami of FIFA corruption cases has done nothing to change the impression that hosting the World Cup was a tainted victory for the tiny Gulf state, yet Garcia believed Bin Hammams's payments to individuals to help his bid for the FIFA presidency had no connection to Qatar's 2022 bid.That said, other bidding nations came out just as embarrassed - Japan and South Korea for their largesse to potential supporters and Australia and England in their clumsy attempts to woo the kingmaker Jack Warner, the epitome of FIFA corruption and malfeasance, with money, friendlies and jobs for the boys.England also tried to do a vote swap with the Koreans on the eve of the vote, but that nation already had a deal in place with Spain, an inevitable consequence of scheduling two hosting votes together. It was all to no avail of course as none of those three nations emerged victorious.Along with Michel Platini's, Franz Beckenbauer's football career is over as a result of the fall of the house of Blatter. Der Kaiser was shown to be evasive in his answers to Garcia and appears to have violated his organisation's Ethics Code in assisting his advisors to help with Australia's bid.Spaniard Angel Maria Villar Llona, who famously said "All the fish are sold" referring to his nation's tie up with Korea for 2018, also came out badly from Garcia's dossier, but uniquely amongst Sepp Blatter's tarnished FIFA Executive Committee, remains in a position of power, second only to current president Gianni Infantino as we speak...The only 2018 bid apparently beyond criticism was that of Belgium & The Netherlands it should be noted.This was a perfectly valid application, promoted by Johann Cruyff and Ruud Gullit amongst others, yet fell at the second hurdle, only beaten in unpopularity by that of England, which despite being the best host on paper was firmly dismissed by the squalid ExCo as punishment for its investigative journalism, as Blatter confirmed in his brazen instructions to voters.Russia escaped pretty neatly from the Garcia report but question marks remain at the miraculously fortuitous destruction of the computers used in its bidding process. Amid the shadow of Russian involvement in the US presidential election and international cyber-crime, the 2018 tournament hosting still looks less than bona fide.At the same time however, the football world accepts a show as big as the World Cup must sooner or later visit all the world big nations, even those with short footballing traditions like India or China.Since Russia has a long footballing heritage with household names like the Moscow clubs Dynamo and Spartak, it lets them somewhat off the hook.We have all been left so jaded by the fireworks at FIFA since the D[...]

James joins Bayern

Thu, 27 Jul 2017 20:52:28 PDT

Never mind the hype about the Premier League: James Rodriguez has agreed to join Bayern Munich, it was announced this morning.The move is only a two-year loan but includes an option to buy the 25 year-old for £35 million at the end of it.The 2014 World Cup golden boot winner sorely needed a change of scenery after being exiled to the bench for most of the season at Real Madrid, but his final destination is a real shock after so much linking of him to England.Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and most of all Manchester United, whose manager Jose Mourinho shares the same agent as Rodriguez, 'super-agent' Jorge Mendes, had been tipped to nab his signature, with Bayern, PSG and Juventus firmly thought to be in the chasing pack.According to the endless miasma of transfer gossip, such English teams had been "in advanced talks" for weeks, which makes Bayern's press release the snatch of the summer.That the Colombian is headed to Germany must be down to manager Carlo Ancelotti's personal intervention.How short our memories are. The Italian brought him to the Bernabeu after the last World Cup, where in his first campaign he was Real's player of the season. James was used in a variety of midfield roles by Ancelotti, who clearly valued him as a crucial and versatile support for the BBC (Bale, Benzema & Cristiano) trident ahead of him.James might not score like a forward, but he certainly gets involved in attacks and supplies the bullets to his teammates.However, his mentor Ancelotti did not last beyond 2015 in Madrid. Despite winning the Club World Cup, Real finished two points behind Barcelona in the league, exited the Copa del Rey in the round of 16 after losing to Atletico Madrid and were knocked out of the Champions League at the semi-final stage by Juventus.Rafael Benitez was brought it but lasted less than a season before Zinedine Zidane was promoted to first-team boss.Zizou was never convinced by James, preferring the tough Brazilian Casemiro as an anchor behind the duo of defensive Toni Kroos and creative Luka Modric.When he rejigged the formation into a diamond, Isco was his preferred attacking midfielder and more recently Marco Asensio and Lukas Vasquez have been called upon. And so the hottest property in world football after the last World Cup became a bench-warmer, a reserve and substitute at best.One domestic title and two Champions Leagues in three seasons sounds a reasonably impressive haul but James has played a less than key role in all of them.By last summer it was clear the Colombian captain should move on and this past season must be really go down as a waste of his talents with only 13 starts made. When Zidane failed to name James for Real's squad for the Champions League final in Cardiff this May, the game was up for him.Cardiff was a sad bookend to his Real career because it was in the Welsh capital where he had made his debut for the merengues, in their European Super Cup win in 2014.But this move is clearly a wise one for him, to a top European club who play excellent football and with a manager who has always believed in him.Whilst the Bundesliga fails to match the star-quality of the Premier League or the big three in Spain, Bayern continue to be unfairly forgotten about on a wider stage.Yet the Bavarians have won the last five Bundesligas and reached at least the last four of the Champions League in five of the past six seasons. There is no reason to believe they will achieve anything less in 2017-'18.So all eyes w[...]

Fifa World Rankings July 2017

Thu, 21 Dec 2017 06:18:13 PST

Fifa's World Rankings for July 2017 were published on July 6 at FIFA HQ in Zurich, Switzerland.The Fifa World Rankings are now published on Thursday and not Wednesday as before.Confederations Cup winners, Germany go top ahead of Brazil and Argentina.The full top ten is: Germany, Brazil, Argentina, Euro 2016 winners Portugal, Switzerland, Poland, Chile, Colombia, France and Belgium.England are 13th, Wales drop to 20th. Egypt are the top African team in 24th place.Asian Cup winners Australia are in 45th place up three spots; Japan are in 46th spot. Near neighbors South Korea are in 51st place.The USA are in 35th. Scotland are in 58th position. The Republic of Ireland in 29th place now behind Northern Ireland who climb to 22nd position.1 Germany2 Brazil3 Argentina4 Portugal5 Switzerland6 Poland7 Chile8 Colombia9 France10 Belgium11 Spain12 Italy13 England14 Peru15 Croatia16 Mexico17 Uruguay18 Sweden19 Iceland20 WalesFull world rankingsPrevious Fifa World Rankings [...]

Fifa World Rankings June 2017

Thu, 21 Dec 2017 06:18:35 PST

Fifa's World Rankings for June 2017 were published on June 1 at FIFA HQ in Zurich, Switzerland.The Fifa World Rankings are now published on Thursday and not Wednesday as before.The top 100 positions again show few changes from May.The full top ten is: Brazil, Argentina, Germany, Chile, Colombia, beaten Euro 2016 finalists, France, Belgium, Euro 2016 winners Portugal, Switzerland, Spain and Poland.England are 13th, level with Euro 2016 semi-finalists Wales. Poland move up to joint 10th with Spain. Egypt are the top African team in 20th place.Asian Cup winners Australia are in 48th place up two spots; Japan are in the 45th spot. Near neighbors South Korea are in 43rd place.The USA are in 23rd. Wales are 13th. Scotland are in 61st position. The Republic of Ireland in 26th place now ahead of Northern Ireland in 28th position.1 Brazil2 Argentina3 Germany4 Chile5 Colombia6 France7 Belgium8 Portugal9 Switzerland10 Spain10 Poland12 Italy13 Wales13 England15 Peru16 Uruguay17 Mexico18 Croatia19 Costa Rica20 EgyptFull world rankingsPrevious Fifa World Rankings [...]