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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: Thu, 20 Jul 2017 00:32:58 PDT

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Surviving a dry summer

Sat, 15 Jul 2017 09:22:58 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. allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="300" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/rsScE5kfki4" width="500">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 gruelling season.Qualifiers France (1999), Germany (1997 and 2003) and Italy (2003) even declined to take part.What started off as the invitational King Fahd Cup in Saudi Arabia only really justifies its existence now as a dry run for the following summer's World Cup finals host.We should not worry excessively that Germany's less than best eleven winning the 2017 edition means a certain victory for the Mannschaft in Moscow next summer: No pr[...]



Garcia fallout and the 2026 World Cup

Wed, 12 Jul 2017 10:14:16 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 December 2010 vote set the whole house on fire that for now it is hard to get excited about who is iine for the 2026 World Cup Finals.By rights England should be hosting the World Cup before long but there is no appetite here to trust FIFA again after what happened in Zurich in 2010, with our heir to the throne and Prime Minister present for the debacle, lest we forget.By the time of the bidding process for 2030, the first possible time England could host again, the culture of FIFA might just have become fair enough for the FA to consid[...]



James joins Bayern

Wed, 12 Jul 2017 05:22:16 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 will be on James in his new domestic challenge and after his marvels in Brazil, much is expected of him at next year's World Cup finals, should Colombia make it through as expected.He leaves Real having scored 36 goals in 111 appearances.(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile [...]



Fifa World Rankings July 2017

Thu, 06 Jul 2017 04:46:38 PDT

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 RankingsBet with Bet 365Soccer Books & DVDs [...]



Fifa World Rankings June 2017

Thu, 06 Jul 2017 04:32:26 PDT

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 RankingsBet with Bet 365Soccer Books & DVDs [...]



One night to shine in Sweden

Sat, 10 Jun 2017 23:32:46 PDT

UEFA EUROPA LEAGUE FINAL 2017Manchester United v AjaxFriends Arena, Stockholm 19:45 GMTThe heat appears to be on Manchester United tonight, or more specifically Jose Mourinho.The club is bigger and richer than Ajax and demands success so winning the Europa League against a lesser side is expected at boardroom level.Louis Van Gaal was given two years and did not deliver so was sacked, Mourinho is well aware.But the so-called special one has so far failed to apply his Midas touch to the Red Devils since arriving last summer and has even managed to finish lower than Louis Van Gaal did during his two-year reign at Old Trafford.Mourinho has jettisoned any humour or wit in the past few weeks for earnest seriousness as he has homed in on the Stockholm final for his make-or-break 90 minutes this season.Fielding below-strength sides should in a perfect world incur a penalty but sympathy for the logic of the manager's stance is axiomatic.The former Champions League and Europa League winner is clearly under tremendous pressure to win in Stockholm so we can cut him some slack.Man Utd shelled out a fortune last summer, not least £89 million on Paul Pogba from Juventus, yet have failed to qualify for the Champions League from the Premier League.Despite their youth, Ajax have been the far more impressive team in the knock-out stages, winning big with an elan and fluency the Man U fans can only remember wistfully after the error-strewn David Moyes era, two years of possession-marinating under Van Gaal and another fitful, stuttering season this time around.Then to cap it all, United players have been dropping like flies to injury. Were centre-backs Eric Bailly and Marcus Rojo as well as former Ajax striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic on the field, one would surely tip the English side to overcome the Dutch one.Yet the now the outcome hangs decidedly in the balance.Have no doubt,  despite their injury headaches, Man U's pre-match analysts have been working long into the night with Mourinho to hatch a plan to defeat Ajax.United have lumbered through the lesser of UEFA's two big club competitions winning few admirers with their lone-goal aggregate victories while failing to provide any rousing victories for their home supporters.Mourinho is well-known for putting results before style however and as a master tactician for the big occasion he is probably without comparison, but this winner-takes-all tie is his biggest test yet.In United's favour of course is their superior experience, a factor boosted by Ajax's near collapse in their semi-final second leg when they scraped through 5-4 on aggregate having led 4-1 from the first leg.At their best this young Amsterdam side look irresistible, as in their home wins over Schalke and Lyon. The club best known for valuing style over results tonight meets the manager proud to preach the opposite.Memories inevitably hark back to the glorious kids of 1995 who won the European Cup, but that side and its system was quite regimented as befitted its coach Van Gaal, a man who clashed with Johan Cruyff and his footballing philosophies.Ajax's current manager Peter Bosz however takes his cue from his mentor Johan Cruyff's desire to let flare into the equation.Patrick Kluivert who scored the '95 winner is back in the form of his son Justin, while Edwin Van der Sar and Marc Overmars are part of the back-room staff alongside Dennis Bergkamp and Winston Bogarde.Will this side of starlets go the same way as the '95 outfit and be cherry-picked by bigger, richer European sides than Ajax?Danish teenage striker Kasper Dolberg, Colombian centre-back Davinson Sanchez and midfielders Davy Klaasen and Hakim Ziyech are already firmly on the radar of other teams.Perhaps then the pressure is just as much on Ajax tonight as after over twenty years of restructuring, internecine disputes and struggle, the club has finally reached another European final.If they win, the lure of the Champions Le[...]



Cardiff's big night of the Champions League final

Sat, 10 Jun 2017 23:29:10 PDT

I am delighted Cardiff, the first city I made my home, is hosting next month's UEFA Champions League Final, but I am also keen it puts on a good show to the continent and increasingly the world.Whilst no-one can deny the impressive 74,500 Millennium Stadium is a fine venue for any soccer showpiece, eyebrows everywhere have been raised at the realisation that Cardiff is a little on the small size as a city (population 340,000) and does not have a major airport nearby.Cardiff-Wales airport flies a summer timetable largely to beach resorts. Hopefully there will be extra flights laid on from Madrid and Turin, the two finalist cities.Whilst the Welsh capital has experience of dealing with F.A. Cup finals, Football League playoffs and football and rugby internationals, the tens of thousands expected for European football's showdown will be coming from overseas via London so there must be plenty of transport options before and crucially after a game which could go on through extra-time and maybe penalties.Given local hotel rooms for the night have been jacked up to outrageous rates, a depressing occurrence whenever a big sporting event happens, most will be leaving Cardiff the same night.With only 4000 hotel rooms, all booked up some time ago, there is little option other than car hire and hotels further afield, or in one of the tents specially erected in a city park, Pontcanna Fields.The now customary Final Festival will take place around a mile away in Cardiff Bay as the Millennium Stadium itself sits in the very tight streets of the city centre, which of course is a fabulous location for so big a venue. Fans arriving by train at Cardiff Central will see its looming stands and cantilevers as soon as they exit the station.Unlike at Wembley or other out-of-town venues, there are plenty of bars and eateries within a stone's throw of the stadium. If it is a sunny day, Cardiff's ample urban parkland, particularly Bute Park beside the castle will provide a great place to relax and have a kickaround.The centre has two main avenues. Fans will probably stroll down the pedestrianised Queen Street but not linger in the shops. St Mary Street leading to the castle is mostly bars and restaurants and will be buzzing on final day however.The castle, originally Roman but added to by Normans and others, most notably the C19th coal baron the Marquess of Bute, is the one photo stop every visitor will make, its impressive outer walls now surmounted by a blue UEFA dragon clasping the Champions League trophy.There will be road closures and plenty of police but if everyone is relaxed the visiting supporters will enjoy the occasion.I have travelled to Cardiff from London by train on big match days before and found long queues at Paddington Station for passage to the Welsh capital. Pre-booking is of course advised but the fact so many Italians and Spaniards will be landing that day in London none the wiser will surely mean the railways and bus lines need extra capacity.21 post-match trains to London have been promised and I hope that will be enough.In changing the final from Wednesday to Saturday and adding a festival for a few days around it, UEFA have consciously tried to ape the Superbowl, increasing the price of tickets concomitantly, to make it a global event.As much as I love Cardiff, it is not a city on the large side. Only Gelsenkirchen, the 2004 host, was a smaller place but Schalke's home is close to several other German cities in the most densely-populated part of that country.Near to Cardiff there are only other modestly-sized cities like Swansea, Bristol and Bath. The only realistic result is that many will hop back on the London train after the match, meaning four hours of travelling on the day instead of soaking up the atmosphere of the host city.London remains the major pull for overseas fans like it is for visitors. Travelling around Euro '96 it was clear many foreign fans[...]



Real's familiar machine motors on to Cardiff

Sat, 10 Jun 2017 23:22:33 PDT

Real Madrid maintained their march of glory in Europe by thumping city rivals Atletico 3-0 in their UEFA Champions League semi-final first leg last week.Cristiano Ronaldo scored another hat-trick and bagged yet another record, the first man to reach 50 goals in the knock-out stage of the competition.Barring an almighty upset Los Merengues are heading to Cardiff to defend their trophy on the 3rd of June. But are we excited? Not really.Real of course have won two out of the last three Champions Leagues and FIFA Club World Cup and successfully moved out of the intimidating shadow of the Barcelona renaissance.And yet there is still something underwhelming about Real being the world's top team. Perhaps it is because the core of the side have been there for some years there is no excitement of expectation of the future, or maybe it is because Barça invented a new form of football - tiki-taka, which defied conventional wisdom by attacking through the middle and most congested part of the field with short passes.Real by contrast use the conventional weapons of spreading passes wide, putting balls frequently into the box, and piling in on corners and crosses with aerial threats like Sergio Ramos and Ronaldo and the muscular Karim Benzema.In Ronaldo they also posess the best accelerator in the game and perhaps the best aerial attacker. Gareth Bale we also know has exceptional blessings of pace and power to penetrate the best defences.But a lot of their side underwhelm when considered as footballers alone: Keylor Navas is able between the sticks but not one of Europe's top ten goalkeepers.While Pepe and Sergio Ramos (combined age 65) are evergreen, the rest of their back line do not excite: Fabio Coentrao, Danilo, Nacho and Rafael Varane seem reliable but not exceptional defenders, while Marcelo, a useful crosser of the ball in the final third, has long been error-strewn.In midfield Real seem solid rather than skilful. Toni Kroos is an adequate but unexceptional holding midfielder and even his more creative partner Luka Modric is not as inventive or penetrative as his replacement at Tottenham, Christian Eriksen, who is surely on the Bernabeu radar.Croatian midfielder Mateo Kovacic has made 24 starts this campaign but only scored once, while Brazilians Casemiro and Danilo hardly get the heart racing either.Young Spanish attacking talent in the form of Isco and Alvaro Morata have played minor roles this season, with 16 and 13 starts this season respectively.Meanwhile James Rodriguez, golden boot winner at the 2014 World Cup for Colombia, has made only 12 starts and eight substitute appearances in 2016/'17, although his eight goals make a decent return.Obviously the system employed by coach Zinedine Zidane works like a treat, based around making the most of Ronaldo's talents and if they are both fit, Bale and Benzema. The midfielders work hard to make sure the back four is not exposed at the other end.And they also have strength in depth, as evinced by their comfortable 4-0 win away at Granada last weekend with a second eleven, a strength which makes up for the lack of galacticos in every position.Clubs with big pockets can afford to have big squads to navigate a variety of competitions and whatever injuries come their way, so what keeps Real ahead of the pack is probably settled players and a simple system, a manager they trust and the high quality of their attackers.There have been more remarkable dynasties in the Champions League/European Cup - think of the Real who won the first five, Cruyff's Ajax of the 1970s, Liverpool of the early 1980s, Milan a decade later or Pep Guardiola's Barça for starters.There have also been some stellar one-off winners: Red Star in 1990 (although they played for penalties in the final they had dazzled on their way there), Louis Van Gaal's youthful Ajax of 1995 and Jose Mourinh[...]



Fifa World Rankings May 2017

Sat, 10 Jun 2017 23:44:07 PDT

Fifa's World Rankings for May 2017 were published on May 4 at FIFA HQ in Zurich, Switzerland.The Fifa World Rankings are now published on Thursday and not Wednesday as before.The top 100 positions show little change from April.The full top ten is: Brazil, Argentina, Germany, Chile, Colombia, beaten Euro 2016 finalists, France, Belgium, Euro 2016 winners Portugal, Switzerland and Spain.England are 14th, unchanged from April, still behind Euro 2016 semi-finalists Wales and Poland in 11th. Egypt are the top African team in 19th place.Asian Cup winners Australia are in 50th place; Japan are in the 44th spot. Near neighbors South Korea are in 43rd place.The USA are in 23rd. Wales are 13th. Scotland are in 59th position. The Republic of Ireland in 26th place level with Northern Ireland also in joint 26th position.1 Brazil2 Argentina3 Germany4 Chile5 Colombia6 France7 Belgium8 Portugal9 Switzerland10 Spain11 Poland12 Italy13 Wales14 England15 Uruguay16 Mexico17 Peru18 Croatia19 Egypt20 Costa RicaFull world rankingsPrevious Fifa World RankingsBet with Bet 365Soccer Books & DVDs [...]



Fifa World Rankings April 2017

Sat, 10 Jun 2017 23:44:18 PDT

Fifa's World Rankings for April 2017 were published on April 6 at FIFA HQ in Zurich, Switzerland.The Fifa World Rankings are now published on Thursday and not Wednesday as before.The full top ten is: Brazil, Argentina, Germany, Chile, Colombia, beaten Euro 2016 finalists, France, Belgium, Euro 2016 winners Portugal, Switzerland and Spain.England are 14th, unchanged from March, still behind Euro 2016 semi-finalists Wales and Poland in 11th. Egypt are the top African team in 19th place.Asian Cup winners Australia are in 50th place; Japan are in the 44th spot. Near neighbors South Korea are in 43rd place.The USA are in 23rd. Wales are 13th. Scotland are in 59th position. The Republic of Ireland in 26th place level with Northern Ireland also in joint 26th position.1 Brazil2 Argentina3 Germany4 Chile5 Colombia6 France7 Belgium8 Portugal9 Switzerland10 Spain11 Poland12 Italy13 Wales14 England15 Uruguay16 Mexico17 Peru18 Croatia19 Egypt20 Costa RicaFull world rankingsPrevious Fifa World RankingsBet with Bet 365Soccer Books & DVDs [...]



Dutch in the ditch

Fri, 31 Mar 2017 18:55:27 PDT

The latest round of European World Cup qualifiers went largely to script.The big boys all won comfortably - Germany, Italy, Spain, France, Portugal and England all registered victories. Surprise European Championship semi-finalists Wales drew again and struggling to make it to Russia next year have probably reverted to type.Only Switzerland and Germany have 100% records after five games. Gibraltar, Lichtenstein, Malta and San Marino kept up their pointless campaigns. As it stands the seven automatic UEFA qualifiers will be France, Switzerland, Germany, Serbia, Poland, England, Spain, Belgium and Croatia. In the playoff berths are Sweden, Portugal, Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland, Montenegro, Slovakia, Italy. Greece and Iceland.Happier days for Dutch fans at World Cup 2010The one stand-out story has to be the demise of the Netherlands, who lost 2-0 in Bulgaria and sacked coach Danny Blind afterwards.As if failing to make it to Euro 2016 was not stunning enough for the doyens of classy soccer, the country which has produced Johan Cruyff, Ruud Gullitt, Dennis Bergkamp and Arjen Robben and who finished third at the last World Cup, now languishes fourth in their group behind France, Sweden and Bulgaria.All is not lost. For a first half of the campaign, two wins, a draw and two losses is not qualification form but recovery is still possible. The Dutch sit only three points behind second-place Sweden and a play-off spot.Their rocky road to Russia in Group A so far:06/09/16 Sweden 1:1 Netherlands07/10/16 Netherlands 4:1 Belarus10/10/16 Netherlands 0:1 France13/11/16 Luxembourg 1:3 Netherlands25/03/17 Bulgaria 2:0 NetherlandsThey will surely take three points at home to Luxembourg in their next outing before a tricky trip to Paris at the end of August, where they really need to avoid defeat. Three days later they will have to take revenge at home to Bulgaria before winning in October in Belarus, a side who have surprisingly beaten the Dutch before in qualifying.It looks however, like the fight for the playoff spot will all come down to the final day when the Netherlands host Sweden. What has gone wrong with the Netherlands? It seems to be a classic case of being caught amid an inter-generational transition. Only four of the players who came third in Brazil in 2014 were on the pitch in Sofia: Defenders Bruno Martins Indi and Daley Blind and attackers Arjen Robben and Georginio Wijnaldum.Attention has centred on Danny Blind's fielding of 17 year-old debutant Matthijs De Ligt at centre-back, which even by the Netherlands' standards of developing young stars seemed recklessly premature.The risk turned duly sour as Bulgaria raced into a two-goal lead after twenty minutes and De Ligt was hauled off at half-time. Blind, skipper of Ajax's youthful European Cup-winning team in 1995, may have seen something similar in the young Ajax defender, but it proved his downfall as manager.Fred Grim is the caretaker choice but the KNVB will surely ring up Ronald Koeman to see if they can tempt him from Goodison Park, which seems unlikely.Frank De Boer, most recently Inter coach last season, is a more likely possibility, or maybe Philip Cocu of PSV. One name surprisingly doing the rounds is Louis Van Gaal, who took them to third in WC 2014.Looking at the young faces in Blind's side, none seem obviously to be of the same calibre of the great Dutch players of the last quarter-century, a revival which began with the Euro '88 triumph and featured consecutive Champions League finals for Ajax in the mid 1990's, World Cup semi-finals for the national team in 1998 and 2014 and second place in 2010.Their domestic league was never powerful but now looks increasingly lightweight compared to England, Germany, Italy, Spain and France. As with good players, its best managers[...]



Yu keeps the Chinese Dream Alive

Fri, 31 Mar 2017 18:38:45 PDT

* China kept their slim hopes of making it to Russia 2018 alive with a 1-0 win over South Korea 1-0 in Changsha in their AFC World Cup qualifier this afternoon.Yu Dabao of Beijing Guoan got the only goal for Marcelo Lippi's side in the 34th minute, his nation's second win over Korea in 32 attempts.With four games to play, Iran 1-0 winners in Qatar, remain four points clear of the Reds at the top with Uzbekistan, who fell to a last-gasp penalty away to Syria, a point behind in the playoff position. Despite a 100% home record, Uli Stieleke's Korea have only point in their three matches away from home.China is scattering money around its domestic league to attract overseas stars and its hour must surely come, but fifth out of sixth, their national team's next realistic hope of World Cup participation is at Qatar 2022.In Asia's Group B, Saudi Arabia and Japan occupy the top two slots with 13 points, and Australia are third with ten.The Saudis won 3-0 away in Thailand, Japan won 2-0 in the U.A.E. but Australia could only draw 1-1 in Iraq. The top two in each group go to Russia with the two third-place nations playing off against each other home and away before another two-leg tiebreaker with CONCACAF's fourth-best for the final ticket to Russia.*The South American qualifiers kick off later with Argentina and Colombia, fifth and sixth respectively and out of the automatic qualification spots, desperately seeking home wins against Chile and Bolivia respectively.Elsewhere, second play first in Montevideo where Uruguay host Brazil.* Lukas Podolski's rocket against England last night was the perfect swansong, a Roy of the Rovers winner even every Englishman watching had to doff his cap to and applaud.Germany's wonder goal and result should not make the world champions lie back with confidence they can defend their crown in 2018: For the first half England were clearly the better team with a superior shape and excellent pressing.But for Adam Lallana striking a post and Dele Alli letting Marc-Andre Ter Stegen off the hook with a tame shot, the visitors would have led at the break.In the second half, the usual routine of multiple substitutions altered the nature of the game wholesale.Gareth Southgate can nevertheless leave thrilled by his experimental formation which bodes well for the future. 3-4-3 seems to be the formation flavour of the month, much like 4-2-3-1 was in 2010.* In a rare moment of sanity, FIFA have talked about limiting squad sizes to help increase the competitiveness of top leagues. When Premier League leaders Chelsea can send a whopping 38 players out on loan, something surely must change to even things up.(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile [...]



Fifa World Rankings March 2017

Sat, 10 Jun 2017 23:44:30 PDT

Fifa's World Rankings for March 2017 were published on March 9 at FIFA HQ in Zurich, Switzerland.The Fifa World Rankings are now published on Thursday and not Wednesday as before.The full top ten is: Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Chile, Belgium, beaten Euro 2016 finalists, France, Colombia, Euro 2016 winners Portugal, Uruguay and Spain.England are 14th, down one, behind Euro 2016 semi-finalists Wales and Poland in joint 12th. Egypt replace Iceland in 20th and are the top African team, ahead of Senegal, who are in 28th place.Asian Cup winners Australia are in 55th place; Japan are in 51st spot. Near neighbors South Korea are in 40th place.The USA are in 30th. Wales are 12th. Scotland are in 67th position. The Republic of Ireland in 24th place, Northern Ireland are in 39th position.1 Argentina2 Brazil3 Germany4 Chile5 Belgium6 France7 Colombia8 Portugal9 Uruguay10 Spain11 Switzerland12 Wales12 Poland14 England15 Italy16 Croatia17 Mexico18 Peru19 Costa Rica20 EgyptFull world rankingsPrevious Fifa World RankingsBet with Bet 365Soccer Books & DVDs [...]



New Chelsea Stadium Gets Green Light

Thu, 09 Mar 2017 13:16:59 PST

Chelsea's new 60,000 seat stadium has received final planning permission and should be ready for the 2021-'22 season.The 'matchstick cathedral' design by Swiss architects Herzog & De Meuron, who designed the Beijing Birds' Nest Olympic arena and renovated London's Tate Modern, got the final nod from London Mayor Sadiq Khan today.It will certainly be a distinctive stadium with 264 bent brick piers giving a skeletal surround with no sliding roof although one wonders how much sunlight will penetrate, as with many modern arenas.Best known for the Bird's Nest, possibly the greatest Olympic arena of all time, the firm has also designed football stadia before: Munich's Allianz Arena, Basel's St Jakob Park and Bordeaux's stadium.On the plus side, Chelsea are staying on their historic Stamford Bridge site where they have played since 1905. After a long quest by owner Roman Abramovich to find a new home, a search which included Battersea Power Station, Earls Court exhibition centre and allegedly even an enquiry about Hyde Park, the club is staying put after all.The new stadium will along with Arsenal's Ashburton Grove and Tottenham's rebuilt White Hart Lane be the third club ground in the capital coming in at 60,000 seats (Spurs will have 61,000).As with Tottenham, Chelsea will have to decamp to Wembley while their new home takes shape. Tottenham are due to play at the national stadium from next season but have hinted at waiting an extra season. That might eat into Chelsea's plan to play three years away from home before moving back to the Bridge.Stamford Bridge is the closest London stadium to the city centre, accessible by tube and surrounded by housing, albeit expensive apartments and Georgian avenues rather than the working class terraces which usually accompany English club grounds.It has the wealthiest location of any London club, as part of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, although the adjoining Fulham Road was traditionally more blue collar than the neighbouring King's Road and its exclusive boutiques.Unlike at Tottenham, where club owners have slammed City Hall for not subsidising transport improvements to London's most famously hard-to-reach ground, Chelsea has a tube station Fulham Broadway close by and several bus services calling outside the stadium, meaning getting to and from their new home should not be a problem even with an increase in crowds.The name Stamford Bridge refers not to the English Civil War battle but to a crossing of a long-vanished tributary of the Thames, the Stanford or sandy creek.60,000 is a significant increase on the current capacity of 42,000 and will boost the club's coffers as they stake a claim to return to being one of the leading sides in the Champions League, which they won in 2012. As it stands, Arsenal make substantially more money in matchday income.The new capacity will fall short of the ground's record attendance however, 82,905 for the visit of Arsenal in October 1935.London clubs record home attendancesChelsea - 82,905 v Arsenal, 1935Charlton - 75,031 v Aston Villa, 1938Tottenham - 75,038 v Sunderland, 1938*Arsenal - 73,295 v Sunderland, 1935West Ham - 56,985 v Sunderland, 2016Crystal Palace - 51,482 v Burnley, 1979Fulham - 49,335 v Millwall, 1938Millwall - 48,672 v Derby, 1937Brentford - 38,678 v Leicester, 1949Orient - 38,219 v Tottenham, 1929QPR - 35,353 v Leeds, 1974* At White Hart Lane; 85,512 watched Spurs play Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions League at Wembley in 2016.(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile [...]



Fifa World Rankings February 2017

Wed, 15 Mar 2017 05:50:35 PDT

Fifa's World Rankings for February 2017 were published on February 9 at FIFA HQ in Zurich, Switzerland.The Fifa World Rankings are now published on Thursday and not Wednesday as before.The full top ten is: Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Chile, Belgium, beaten Euro 2016 finalists, France, Colombia, Euro 2016 winners Portugal, Uruguay and Spain.England are 13th, behind Euro 2016 semi-finalists Wales in 12th.Senegal are the top African team in 31st place.Asian Cup winners Australia are in 54th place; Japan are in 52nd spot. Near neighbors South Korea are in 37th place.The USA are in 29th. Wales are 12th. Scotland are in 67th position. The Republic of Ireland in 25th place, Northern Ireland are in 39th position.1 Argentina2 Brazil3 Germany4 Chile5 Belgium6 France7 Colombia8 Portugal9 Uruguay10 Spain11 Switzerland12 Wales13 England14 Poland15 Italy16 Croatia17 Mexico18 Peru19 Costa Rica20 IcelandFull world rankingsPrevious Fifa World RankingsBet with Bet 365Soccer Books & DVDs [...]



Five Ways To Deal With Bullying

Fri, 03 Feb 2017 20:19:11 PST

When you're a coach, your biggest goal isn't just to win games. Rather, it's to shape the minds and lives of the young people who you work with. This comes from fostering a sense of teamwork and ensuring that all of your players get along.However, when you spot bullying, it can be hard to keep a feeling of teamwork alive. In order for you to keep your team at their very best, here are five ways that coaches can deal with bullying.1. Make It Clear To Everyone That Bullying Isn't ToleratedIf you've been noticing bullying at meets and practices, you don't have to go to the perpetrators directly, at least not right away. Instead, have a quick chat at the beginning of practice about how bullying harms everyone, both as individuals and as a team. Sometimes one of these simple group meetings is all it takes to nip bullying in the bud.2. Talk To Perpetrators DirectlyUnfortunately, not all students will respond to meetings about combatting bullying. If some team members are still participating in hurtful or mean activities, talk to them directly. While a group meeting might not reach them, a one on one discussion can often do the trick.3. Talk To The ParentsAs nice as it'd be if all kids would listen to their coaches and teachers the first time, sometimes it takes the stern voice of Mom or Dad to really drive the anti-bullying message home. If a student continues to bully others despite being spoken to about it, either call the parents or schedule a meeting. Chances are that the parents will take action.4. Administer Disciplinary ActionIf one student doesn't respond to notes home or one on one conversations about the dangers of bullying, it might be time to administer disciplinary action. If a student continues to pick on or abuse others, bench them from a practice. If the behavior continues, bench them from a game or meet.5. Contact The School or Recreation CommitteeSadly, there will always be a few students who don't respond to discussions, notes home or disciplinary action. When you have a student who's caused you to hit a wall, talk to the school or to the recreation committee that oversees your league. If all else fails, suspending the student from a season or indefinitely might be the only option. While we'd like to accommodate all of our players, once in awhile you might encounter young people who simply aren't ready or fit to play team sports.Bullying is a sad reality of youngsters' lives. However, it doesn't have to be an inevitable part of childhood. As long as teachers, school administrators and coaches take an active role in combatting bullying, we can all reduce the amount of harm that our children experience. Ultimately, you want to teach your kids about teamwork and the importance of supporting one another instead of tearing each other down.Jessica Kane is a writer for SteelLocker Sports. A leading provider of sporting goods and training programs for coaches, players, parents and institutions with a primary focus on youth sports. [...]



Two Weeks in Gabon

Wed, 01 Feb 2017 04:58:21 PST

After the final Gabon group match in Libreville six of us went to a nearby restaurant in the dimly lit night. Though it was hard to read the menu, there seemed to be a lot of options.We called the waiter over and he explained that the restaurant's speciality was wine.There were four items on the food menu, and two of them were off.(Do not trust this menu!)That should have made the choice easy, we took so long to decide that I suspect that next time we appear there will only be one item on the menu.The choices were sausage and pork. We ordered 4 sausage meals between us.We waited patiently (I have saved this phrase so I can type at the touch of one key). Eventually after they caught whatever they served they arrived with two plates. One sausage and one pork.The waiter explained that the chef had just told him that this was all they had left.We amicably agreed who would have what, before they arrived with two more plates of pork.Meanwhile we heard a screech of car brakes and a crash. I turned round to see a telegraph pole wobbling.Settling the bill seemed to take as long as the food, as firstly food that they didn't have was added to the bill. Then the adding up was clearly wrong. Then the Germans sorted out who had had what and announced how much person owed based on what they had - well you can't imagine Germans going Dutch can you?Later we waited patiently for a taxi, and flagged one down just near the teetering telegraph pole. He he took a left turn round the roundabout to reach us. (Yes you guessed they drive on the right in Gabon.) Of course he wanted far too much for the fare and if that's how he drives then we made the right decision to carry on waiting patiently.The next day I decided to stay in Libreville and had a lazy day. That was after my morning run and swim, sitting around under the palm trees at the Tropicana, attending Tunisia v Zimbabwe in the evening along with 1,800 others.The final group matches were being played at the same time so now there is only one match to watch each day and tomorrow the action moves to Port Gentil and Oyem for two days.I chose Oyem and made plans on how to get there. Of course I looked to see if there was a flight, but confirmation of these sometimes does not come through until after 9pm in the evening. I confirmed where the local bus left from and found that I should leave at 6am to get to Oyem for 2pm.Thankfully the email confirmation came through in the morning saying I was booked on the next day's flight from Franceville to Oyem at 3pm.Arriving at the airport terminal, the first thing I noticed was that the flight had been changed to 3.30pm. Then when on the plane they announced the flight time as 30 minutes. I was sure it had taken longer last time. Have you ever got on a bus and been unsure if it was taking you where you wanted to go? Have you ever been on a plane and sat there thinking this is not going where I thought it was!Sure enough we landed at what appeared to be a military base in Mongomo, Equatorial Guinea. We then disembarked our plane and walked across the tarmac to the waiting helicopter. This must be the helicopter that was out of service four days ago! Inside it is just a shell with fold down seats along the sides. I quickly found a seat and attempted to fasten the seatbelt. It fastened, but it was for someone at least three times my size, and it didn't appear adjustable. There was some luggage and it was stacked loosely in the middle of the helicopter. Now all the seats were taken and it was standing room only for about twenty of our party.Not sure what make it was but it was Russian, at least second hand and at least 40 yea[...]



A week in Gabon for Afcon 2017

Mon, 23 Jan 2017 19:19:37 PST

I have been here in Gabon for 14 games of the Africa Cup of Nations 2017 now, but it seems like just over a week. I have managed to make my way around the country. Not by the different modes of transport I intended but by flights that I have found that were not available to book before I came.We have completed the second round of matches and the games have gone from Libreville to Franceville, Oyem and then Port Gentil. So have I. But I have had to go back to Libreville, the capital, every time in order to make the next destination.When I last wrote I had lost the two Germans I met earlier as they failed to make their scheduled flight back to Libreville.No worries. Thirty minutes after I got back to our apartment they turned up. They had got a lift and arrived at the other airport terminal.Instead of walking 50 metres to the terminal that they arrived from, they caught a different plane which departed after mine.The next morning the heavens opened and the rainy season has shown itself for the first time in Libreville. We tried to wait for a gap in the weather but there didn't seem to be one.Outside the stadium we met a group of Burkina Faso supporters. One was keen to practice his English. He was a big man with body paint depicting his country's flag. (I have a picture somewhere but am struggling to download photos at present.) His opening words: "I am from Burkina Faso."At the end of the match I heard a shout in English, I turned round to see it was him. He was delighted with his team's performance and gave me a big hug. I looked at my arm and saw red. His body paint had rubbed off on me.My trip to Franceville was uneventful, although this time I went with Sebastiane.We agreed to meet at the end of the second match to catch the shuttle back to the airport. With 10 minutes to go, a shout went out that all journalists for Libreville should go to get their bus now.There was no sign of Sebastiane (from DRC), so I waited in the stadium and watched the game while looking for him. He sauntered over towards us slowly after the final whistle. Unaware that we had nearly gone without him. I can't lose anyone else, can I?The next day the football moved to Oyem and this time I received confirmation for the Oyem flight, returning the next day. So no helicopter, that was for CAF officials.Before leaving the Tropicana, where I was staying I advised them that my room would not be used and they could sell it again if they wanted.Went for my breakfast at the airport, croque monsieur, and then to Afrijet terminal about 11.00. Plane wasn't due to depart until 13.30.Sebastiane was there, but had some bad news. There was a problem with the helicopter and the CAF delegation were now going to join us on our flight.At this stage we weren't sure of the implications, but an hour later they advised us that no journalists would travel.So Sebastiane and I went to the airport terminal to try and book a flight to Oyem. All the flights for Oyem had left, there were no more today.We were offered a taxi who guaranteed he could get us to Oyem in time for kick off. With less than five hours to go. We declined, and went back to Afrijet.I was in the throes of sending an email to a travelling companion who was in Libreville to ask him where he was and where he would be watching tonight's games. I didn't finish the email. We heard that a request had been put to the CAF president to pay for a flight for the journalists. But it is not that simple, how do you get a plane that is ready to fly immediately from your point of departure.The media scrum followed the person in charge round the room. Eventually an a[...]



Africa Cup of Nations 2017 Images

Mon, 23 Jan 2017 06:00:06 PST

Enjoy these images of the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations in Gabon.Check back as we add more each day. Click on the image to enlarge it.Ghana fans enjoy Afcon 2017Uganda fanGabon fansStade de l'Amitié, Libreville, GabonMali fans at Afcon 2017Stade de Franceville (capacity 22,000) in FrancevilleGabon mascot & dancing girlsGhana fans give their team a big handMali manStade de Port-Gentil (capacity 20,000) in Port-GentilBurkina Faso FansIvory Coast Fans [...]



Fifa World Rankings January 2017

Wed, 15 Mar 2017 05:39:25 PDT

Fifa's World Rankings for January 2017 were published on January 12 at FIFA HQ in Zurich, Switzerland. These are the first rankings of the year.The Fifa World Rankings are now published on Thursday and not Wednesday as before.The full top ten is the same as last month: Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Chile, Belgium, Colombia, beaten Euro 2016 finalists, France, Euro 2016 winners Portugal, Uruguay and Spain.England are 13th, behind Euro 2016 semi-finalists Wales in 12th.Senegal are the top African team in 33rd place, no change from last month.Asian Cup winners Australia are in 44th place; Japan are in 46th spot. Near neighbors South Korea are in 37th place.The USA are in 28th. Wales are 12th. Scotland are in 67th position. The Republic of Ireland in 23rd place, Northern Ireland are in 32nd position.1 Argentina2 Brazil3 Germany4 Chile5 Belgium6 Colombia7 France8 Portugal9 Uruguay10 Spain11 Switzerland12 Wales13 England14 Croatia15 Poland16 Italy17 Costa Rica18 Mexico19 Peru20 EcuadorFull world rankingsPrevious Fifa World RankingsBet with Bet 365Soccer betting tipsSoccer Books & DVDs [...]



Afcon Three Down

Wed, 18 Jan 2017 04:45:39 PST

Four days of the Afcon 2017 tournament and I am now three down.On the eve of the opening game we had been assured by the local volunteers that no tickets were available for the opening game and that the ground would be full.On the day of the game you would not have believed that as the opening ceremony began with only a few thousand in attendance. People kept coming even after Gabon kicked off the competition. There was a healthy attendance, but it was not full. Keyboard warriors have been busy opposing the tournament and have allegedly been organising peaceful protests and asked people to stay away from the tournament. There have been no sign of any protests so far, although I have spotted police wagons loaded with police positioned in strategic places, but at ease.Although nothing happened in the first 45 minutes, the football fayre improved considerably over the next 135 with the group ending up level and every team in with a chance of the next round after two draws.The next day I went to the airport in the hope of sorting out my travel arrangements for later in the week. Instead of doing that I just got a plane to Franceville to watch that day's games. I was assured I would also be able to return that night.I met Maher an Algerian as I went in to the departure lounge, he was stopped before we entered and they took his bag, to put it in the plane.There were people waiting to go to Port Gentil as well as Franceville and Maher then started to wonder where his bag was going. They hadn't asked; he hadn't told them.Anyway, we boarded after checking with a porter who thought he remembered seeing a brown bag.The stewardess asked which team we were, "FC Bohemia" I replied.Trying to sort out a schedule is proving impossible, so I was talking to others, about future days.Planes seem to be added to schedules at a moments notice.The conversation went along the lines of"What time should you be at the airport?" One hour before the flight?"What time is the flight?"I don't know."So what time do you have to be at the airport."So you will gather that I still have no firm plans.During the day I booked the hotel that I had stayed at the previous two nights online.The stadium was about 20 kilometres from the airport, and the windy country roads were decorated with game for sale.... tortoise, fish, ape and others! During the second game I made enquiries about how I would get back to the airport. I was told there would be a shuttle after the match and just to come to the reception.Sure enough I went to the reception, and asked. Now I got a quizzical look. There no longer seemed to be one. An official was called over and he said he would arrange it. I was told to follow a volunteer and led outside and across the road.I waited as he went down to a car park and returned 10 minutes later with a mini bus. For me.We waited as convoy of CAF officials left with a police convoy, and joined the end of it hastily making our way to the airport. I had noticed on the journey there that the cars have a tendency to drive in the middle of the road and put their hazard lights on.As we climbed windy roads the convoy could be seen for some way into the distance.I presented myself at check in, and they checked the list for my name. They double checked, triple checked and still couldn't find it.They questioned how I had got to Franceville and luckily I found the boarding card I had been given earlier in the day.With this they added my name to the list and I was on the plane eventually landing after one in the morning.Staying[...]



One down and we haven't kicked off!

Sun, 15 Jan 2017 15:57:01 PST

Three of my favourite books Catch-22 by Joseph Heller, The Trial by Franz Kafka and Rates of Exchange by Malcolm Bradbury. Imagine if you merged these three and moved the setting to Central Africa. I wonder what would happen? Of course they are all works of fiction but This is Africa.My journey took a familiar path starting with playing football the evening before, calling into the pub afterwards and walking into town to catch the 23.30 bus to Heathrow.The weather forecast is currently grim and snow is expected. News reached me earlier in the day that 80 flights from Heathrow had already been cancelled. As the coach was leaving Milton Keynes a passenger shouted to the driver. "The luggage side door is still open." He quickly stopped and closed the door.Spent the journey waiting for us to hit the bad weather. On the M1 after Milton Keynes the gritters were out, but I could see by the signs saying 18 miles in 18 minutes that traffic was flowing.We made it to Heathrow on schedule with no sign of any bad weather whatsoever.I was the only passenger getting off at Terminal 4. The bus driver had a perplexed looked as he searched for my luggage. "You don't think I'd put anything in there do you?" I said.At Heathrow as we were about to board I was asked for my visa, which I duly provided and was allowed to proceed. I mentioned the visa process earlier and had advised a friend what to do. He chose to ignore me after he had booked his flight and received an accreditation to act as a photographer at the tournament. He wasn't allowed to board his plane and won't be coming.Changed planes in Paris, no one asked to see my visa. This is France.We waited over an hour on the runway as the plane was de-iced.Upon arrival in Libreville the plane seemed to take a swerve that Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang would have been proud of. But we emerged unscathed ready for the next challenge to collect the visa.We were ushered from one queue to another and eventually a hand took my passport along with my paper confirmation of my evisa. I could see a pile of passports on a desk the other side of the glass and photocopies being taken. We all waited, impatiently as time passed. It was 90 minutes after we landed before we were reunited.The next day I met a German friend who had arrived that morning after missing his connection in Paris, by seconds - I didn't make it worse and tell him about the de-icing. He had been rerouted via Morocco and arrived at 4am. He applied for his visa at the airport! [...]



Africa Cup of Nations 2017 Managers

Sat, 14 Jan 2017 00:46:09 PST

A list of the coaches of the participating teams at the Africa Cup of Nations 2017.Black managers have a hard job getting a look-in at clubs in England, they also have a struggle to manage their own national sides. Only 4 teams at the Africa Cup of Nations 2017 have native African coaches: DR Congo, Guinea-Bissau, Senegal and Zimbabwe.France provides the most managers with four followed by Belgium with two.The coaches most known to an international audience include Hector Cuper who had spells with Valencia and Inter and Avram Grant who managed Chelsea, Portsmouth and West Ham in the Premier League.Ex-Spain coach Jose Antonio Camacho has managed Real Madrid (twice), Benfica (twice), Espanyol (twice) and the China national team. He is remembered for having very sweaty armpits during the 2002 World Cup in Korea/Japan. Camacho, who has one only trophy in his career as manager, a Portuguese Cup with Benfica in 2004, might find the weather in Gabon a challenge for his shirts.Frenchmen Herve Renard and Claude Le Roy both have connections with Cambridge United back in 2004. Renard has won the trophy twice with Zambia in 2012 and Ivory Coast in 2015.Group AGabon - Jose Antonio Camacho (Spain)Burkina-Faso - Paulo Duarte (Portugal)Cameroon - Hugo Broos (Belgium)Guinea-Bissau - Baciro Cande (Guinea-Bissau)Group BAlgeria - Georges Leekens (Belgium)Senegal - Allou Cisse (Senegal)Tunisia - Henryk Kasperczak (Poland)Zimbabwe - Callisto Pasuwa (Zimbabwe)Group CIvory Coast - Michel Dussuyer (France)DR Congo - Florent Ibenge (DR Congo)Morocco - Herve Renard (France)Togo - Claude Le Roy (France)Group DEgypt - Hector Cuper (Argentina)Ghana - Avram Grant (Israel)Mali - Alain Giresse (France)Uganda - Milutin Sredojevic (Serbia) [...]



Gabon hosts Africa Cup of Nations 2017

Sat, 07 Jan 2017 07:59:26 PST

So, who would have thought it. Gabon will host the African continent's biggest tournament for the second time in 5 years (Yes, that's right they also hosted in 2012, when they shared hosting with Equatorial Guinea).The bidding process for these things started back in 2010 when Botswana, Cameroon, DR Congo, Guinea, Morocco, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe first expressed an interest. In the end only three countries put in bids - DR Congo, Morocco and South Africa. 2017 was awarded to South Africa.Now just to complicate things further in 2011, due to the Libyan Civil War, South Africa agreed to host the 2013 competition, which was due to be held in Libya that year, with Libya hosting in 2017.Now unfortunately the Libyan Civil War has lasted longer than we hoped and in 2014 Libya was withdrawn as the venue. There was interest from Ethiopia, Mali, Tanzania and Kenya discussed a joint bid with Rwanda and Uganda. In the end seven countries submitted bids: Algeria, Egypt, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya (alone), Sudan and Zimbabwe.In April 2015 Gabon were named as hosts.So when bidding began in 2010 there were 53 African countries and 20 of them have expressed an interest in hosting this tournament. There are of course now 54 African countries with South Sudan being the newest formed in July 2011.This tournament was originally going to be held in South Africa, then Libya and now Gabon - although CAF  (Confederation of African Football) were forced to issue a statement on 25 November 2016 denying the fact that the venue was to be changed again.So, with Gabon having hosted in 2012 the infrastructure will be there to hold another successful Championship.The first obstacle to overcome will be to get into the country - for which you need a visa. To make this easy Gabon announced the introduction of an electronic visa from January 2015. However to complete the visa you need details of your accommodation and of a contact in Gabon.So I duly went out and bought the only guide book there is on Gabon. I went through the whole book and took note of all the email addresses and sent an email introducing myself and that I was looking for help with my trip.Yes, those are the replies I got above...over 30 of them. You might think this was strange. Well let me tell you a little more. Last August there was a Presidential election where incumbent President Ali Bongo Ondimba ran for re-election against the former Minister for Foreign Affairs Jean Ping.The election is decided in a single round by plurality that is, the person with the most votes wins regardless of whether they have secured an overall majority.On the day after the elections Ping (whose supporters had collected results showing him winning by 59% to 38%) said that "he was waiting for the outgoing president to congratulate me."The result were delayed a day and Ali Bongo was announced the winner with 49.80% against Jean Ping's 48.2%.Results from Haut-Ogooue, Bongo's heartland showed that he had secured 95.5% of the votes in a 99.9% turnout.As you can imagine chaos ensued. As a result a media blackout was introduced. I believe that may be the cause for my returned emails.Now to get this visa a contact in Gabon would be really useful. But if I haven't got that then the other way would be to book a hotel that could help. I was told that the Le Méridien Rendama would help with visas, but I decided against this even[...]



Portimonense Sporting Clube

Sat, 07 Jan 2017 07:40:01 PST

Portimonense Sporting Clube are the major football team in Portimão, a fishing port and former sardine canning center on the Algarve coast of southern Portugal.Founded in 1914 by students returning from England, Portimonense S C are presently in the second division of Portuguese football, the Segunda Liga, but are hoping for a return to their glory days of the 1980's when the team were a presence in the top flight and even competed in the UEFA Cup in 1985-86. Portimonense, nicknamed Alvinegros, were last in the top flight in the 2009-2010 season.The team is presently top of the Segunda Liga after 20 games with a good chance of promotion as they are four points clear of second-placed Aves and 14 points clear of third-placed Santa Clara.Portimonense play in black and white stripes at the 9,500 capacity Estádio Municipal de Portimão, right in the center of the town. One stand at the ground is covered.www.portimonense.ptwww.facebook.com/PortimonenseSC [...]