Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Magpies fight for survival

As Newcastle readies for this weekend's match against Chelsea, the scratch and crawl fight to avoid relegation encompasses every breath of the clubs day. The enchanted memories of a bygone era, while filled with pride, must be cast aside for this brief moment or the club will return to the second division that it climbed out of in the early 1990's.

While I warrant each persons vantage of the situation might come from a different angle but from action alone, upper management have taken the threat of relegation a bit too light to my liking. Whether it is the notion that the club is "too big to drop" or simply too difficult to consider, the issue of relegation will cause excruciating consequences on Newcastle. This decade alone we've seen the devastation of a number of clubs including Nottingham Forest, Leeds and now Charlton and if relegated, Newcastle's perilous financial position will further complicate its return.

With the owners company Sports Direct PLC equity price roughly one-quarter the value when he bought Newcastle £134m, to deny the ability to extend significant financial investment is misleading. The efforts to off-load the club in the late fall were not abandoned because of noble ideas but simply because the worldwide economic slide and well-capitalized investors were unwilling to pay his bloated asking price. While Sports Direct, with a capitalized value in the £340m range, is quenching its thirst and growing in its market business, as well as going toe-to-toe with Dave Whelan's JJB Sports, for Newcastle's hearty supporters the question needs to be asked; how focused is the club on avoiding relegation? To push the point to the darkest of domains, should Newcastle be relegated the cash fallout would undoubtedly create a tsunami effect of off-loading talent and a number of financially motivated decisions.

While such a question is fruitless, the organization has done little to provide Joe Kinnear the resources to avoid the drop due to the simple reason that the club does not have the financial resources. The manager, despite his gruff exterior and one that I suspect was a well orchestrated event to cultivate a siege mentality, has done a very fine job in the rough seas. However while he wishes to return to the managers role, triple bypass surgery is nothing to be scoffed and hopefully his medical advisers will suggest a different role. Precisely who will lead the club next year is a question that only time will answer and much will be decided in the final eight matches. Unfortunately the little known fact that ownership has a horrendous reputation amongst the coaching fraternity and it is unlikely that the likes of Steve Bruce or Alan Shearer or other notables would take on the role, particularly if faced with the climb out of the Championship.

However all that is clatter for another time as the "here" and "now" is the utmost concern for Newcastle. The Magpies, pardon the pun, must pull together in a united effort or they will find the tumble a paralyzing one to reverse. Motivation is key and for that, the crest is all the answer they will ever need. More than ever, remember the past and fight on.

Wales v Germany match preview

With World Cup qualifying hopes quickly fading away, Wales welcome high-flying Germany to Cardiff's Millennium Stadium.

There is little denying that after Wales pithy 2-0 loss to Finland on Saturday John Toshack's side has faced the grim reality that despite gads of promise, an appearance in South Africa is looking very unlikely. While the team needs to, well act like a team and pull in its ranks, criticism from within has reared its ugly head. The managers choice to stack the midfield and use Manchester City's Craig Bellamy has come under significant scrutiny. Sounding very much like a Fletcher Christian-esque a number of players suggested the attacking pressure wasn't sufficient. While true to an extent, ball control wasn't the issue but instead the play-making touch in the final third.

In response to the criticism John Toshack has noted varying levels of fitness and per the BBC, pointing out Gareth Bale, Chris Gunter and Jason Koumas needing playing greater time with their various clubs. That aside Wales is likely to face the Germans with Wigan's Jason Koumas and Hwlffordd native Simon Davies, who plays for Fulham likely out.

Per the Bundesliga , German coach Joachim Löw spoke of Wales.

"The Welsh wanted to improve their position with two home wins during this week of qualifiers, but it didn't happen. Against us they will try to use the loss to Finland as motivation. They have to beat us to still have a theoretical chance to qualify, so they'll have to play more offensively than usual. I hope that will create more space for us to use on the pitch. We want to get three points and keep our spot as group leader into the summer break. But its obvious that Wales is a different caliber team than Liechtenstein."

Thoughts of qualifying aside, Wales must summon the courage against the formidable Germans. In referring their tight 1-0 loss this past October in Mönchengladbach, West Ham's James Collins said:

"As long as we go into it with a bit of confidence and playing like we did over there, there's no reason we can't get a result."

Monday, March 30, 2009

Rawbau guitarist stays in Split

Die Königsblauen hopes of attracting Slaven Bilić to the club ended as the Croatian manager and Rawbau guitarist told Bild:

"The people from Schalke were in Zagreb on Sunday and we spoke. It is a huge honour for me to be considered a candidate with such a big club. I thanked them and repeated that I just want to focus on the Croatia national team at the moment."

Fara Williams leads Everton Women to victory

While still days away from Wigan's visit of Goodison Park, not everyone in Blue have been quiet.

Everton LFC brought Arsenal's remarkable 108 match FA Women's Premier League undefeated streak to an end with a 3-0 victory. For Arsenal, decimated with the losses of England internationals Karen Carney, Alex Scott and Kelly Smith to the new Women's Professional Soccer league in the United States as well as absences of Faye White and Julie Fleeting it was their first loss in league play since Fall of 2003.

Led by captain and 2007 International Player of the Year Fara Williams' strike ten minutes in Everton took 1-0 lead, only to see it doubled three minutes later with young starlet, Michelle Hinnigan's mark. England international Jill Scott added an insurance goal eight minutes after the re-start.

Photo Credit: Everton FC

Armenia claws back to draw 2-2 to Estonia

In the most exciting World Cup qualifying match of the day , Armenia Հայաստան played Estonia to a 2-2 in Yerevan's Republican Stadium,. The match was decided with a stunning goal by Pyunik Yerevan's twenty-year old striker Gevorg Ghazaryan Գեւորգ Ղազարյան netting the equalizer with only two minutes remaining.

Armenia's manager Jan Børge Poulsen squad which was predominantly from the Armenian Premier League Բարձրագույն Խումբ, played with its typical pride and intensity from the start to the very minute. Against the tough Estonian side, the Danish manager called upon Roman Berezovsky Ռոման Բերեզովսկի of FC Khimki to take his place between the posts as he has in fifty-six matches with perennial captain Sargis Hovsepyan Սարգիս Հովսեփյան of Pyunik Yerevan anchoring the back-line with Randers FC's Robert Arzumanyan Ռոբերտ Արզումանյան, Ararat Yerevan's Vahagn Minasyan Վահագն Մինասյան and Mika Yerevan's Aghvan Mkrtchyan Աղվան Մկրտչյան. Using a five man midfield of Levon Pachajyan Լեւոն Պաչաջյան of Fredrikstad FK, Banants Yerevan's Arthur Voskanyan Արթուր Ոսկանյան, Metalurh Donetsk's Ararat Arakelyan Արարատ Առաքելյան, FC Timişoara's Artavazd Karamyan Արտավազդ Քարամյան and Pyunik Yerevan's Henrikh Mkhitarian Հենրիկ Մխիթարյան went forward servicing lone striker FC Timişoara Arman Karamyan Արման Քարամյան.

With points sides showing quality defending, scoring chances were at at premium. Following Arman Karamyan's effort being held back by Estonia 'keeper Sergei Pareiko of Tom Tomsk, Armenia took the lead at the thirty-first minute as Henrikh Mkhitarian's shot took an opportunistic bounce into the netting. Down by one, Estonia canceled the opening goal only five minutes later as Martin Vunk's cross was volleyed in by NK Nafta's Konstantin Vassiljev. Armenia came out with intent right after the break with Pyunik Yerevan's Arthur Yedigaryan Արթուր Եդիգարյան and Hrayr Mkoyan Հրայր Մկոյան of Ulisses Yerevan Ֆուտբոլային Ակումբ Ուլիս Երեւան entering the match. After Arman Karamyan and Levon Pachayan's efforts fell short, the visitors took the lead with a surprise counter nine minutes past the hour. Estonia 'keeper Sergei Pareiko sent a long ball to Sergei Zenjov, of Ukraine side FC Karpaty, who circumvented the Roman Berezovsky and dispatched the ball into the net. However as time wound down Gevorg Ghazaryan fired the ball in and while the Estonian 'keeper came close to pulling the ball back before it crossed the line, Luxembourg referee Luc Wilmes gave the signal that the ball was in.

Photo Credit: Football Federation of Armenia

Sunday, March 29, 2009

international round-up of PSV

With the international break a number of PSV players were involved in action this Saturday.

Ibrahim Afellay and Dirk Marcellis were both selected for Bert van Marwijk Netherlands provisional squad for World Cup qualifying matches against Scotland and Macedonia. Oranje pride blossomed in Amsterdam as they rolled over Scotland with ease 3-0 in a match they dominated from start to finish. After a number of near misses Bayern München's Mark van Bommel got things going for the home side as his cross was sent in by Klaas-Jan Huntelaar in what surely was a peculiar homecoming. Before the break KJH's Real Madrid teammate Arjen Robben sent in a corner that Arsenal's Robin van Persie nodded in. With hopes for the Tartan Army waning, Dirk Kuyt connected from the spot to make it 3-0 in the seventy-eighth minute. Following the goal Ibrahim Afellay entered the match as the match concluded without further mark. The Netherlands returns to action next Wednesday against Macedonia with a handy eight point lead on their nearest competition.

Timmy Simons took his position in the starting eleven for René Vandereycken Belgium side along with fellow Eredivisie players Moussa Dembélé and Gill Swerts of AZ and Thomas Vermaelen of Ajax against the rapidly emerging Bosnia and Herzegovina side. After giving up an early 1-0 lead to VfL Wolfsburg's Edin Džeko goal, the home side fought back level with Moussa Dembélé's goal from AZ teammate AZ Gill Swerts provision five minutes past the hour. However the Bosnian side stormed back with three rapid fire goals, first from Sanel Jahić of Super League Greece's Aris FC, followed up by Eintracht Frankfurt’s Zlatan Bajramović and lastly Wolfsburg’s Zvjezdan Misimović. While Wesley Sonck added a goal from the spot with a minute remaining, the match was decided and Belgium lost 4-2.

Danko Lazović was selected by Radomir Antić to be a part of the extraordinary resurgent Serbian squad. While both he and fellow fellow Eredivisie player Miralem Sulejmani of Ajax did not feature they can take solace that Serbia are in the drivers seat for World Cup qualification after dispatching Romania 3-2 in Constanta with goals from Standard Liège Milan Jovanović, Chelsea's Branislav Ivanović and an own-goal via Universitatea Craiova’s Dorel Stoica. The Romanian's canceled out with strikes of their own from VfB Stuttgart's Ciprian Marica as well as Dorel Stoica but it wasn't enough and Serbia took the 3-2 victory.

Balázs Dzsudzsák returned to Hungary as his homeland in one of the great stories of World Cup qualifying presently. Former PSV man Erwin Koeman has Hungary holding a share of Group 1 lead and with five matches remaining they are in line for their first World Cup appearance since 1986. With fellow Eredivisie players Gábor Babos of NEC Nijmegen and Boldizsár Bodor of Roda in Hungary's lineup they faced a very tough Albanian side. Led by Arie Haan, Albania is a far more challenging than their ranking of eighty in the world suggests. Captained by Hannover 96's Altin Lala with Lorik Cana of Marseille in their lineup as well as a formidable back-line that includes Armend Dallku and Debatik Curri of Ukrainian side Vorskla Poltava, the Albanians put forth a well disciplined side that is quite capable of launching a powerful counter offensive. After early efforts by Borussia Dortmund's Tamás Hajnal, last years Hungarian player of year, were wide by a fraction a rare defensive blunder gifted Sándor Torghelle an close range opportunity with the FC Augsburg striker making no mistake. The 1-0 lead was enough as Hungary's defending was fool proof.

Andreas Isaksson was named to Lars Lagerbäck's Sweden lineup in their critical match against faltering Portugal in beautiful Lisbon. With both sides watching their World Cup qualifying efforts dimming, the match was highly anticipated by many. In addition to the PSV 'keeper on the squad list he was joined with fellow Eredivisie players Viktor Elm of SC Heerenveen, Ajax's Rasmus Lindgren and Groningen duo Marcus Berg and Andreas Granqvist. The Portuguese side, while controlling much of the run of play and certainly the creator of significant scoring chances were held in a scoreless draw.

Die Wölfe in international action

While the international break is a perfect time for Felix Magath to prepare his side for the championship race that starts with next weeks battle against Bayern München, a host of Wolfsburg players proudly represented their homelands.

Wolfsburg's Bosnia and Herzegovina connection, Edin Džeko and Zvjezdan Misimović, have littered Bundesliga nets this campaign and returned to the Plavo-žuti to upset Belgium 4-2 at Stade Roi Baudouin in Brussels. Miroslav Blažević's Bosnian side, captained by Lokomotiv Moskva's Emir Spahić, featured fellow Bundesliga players Zlatan Bajramović of Eintracht Frankfurt, Vedad Ibišević 1899 Hoffenheim as well as the Wolfsburg duo in their squad list. Edin Džeko gave the visiting Bosnian's the lead seven minutes in as he capitalized on a loose ball to take the 1-0 lead. The match stayed deadlock until five minutes past the hour when AZ duo's of Gill Swerts and Moussa Dembélé combined for the equalizer with the later sliding in a cross from point-blank range. However the goal seemed to awake Bosnia as they erupted for three goals in a span of only eleven minutes. First Sanel Jahić, who plays for Aris FC of Super League Greece, restored the lead only minutes later with fifteen minutes remaining. Eintracht Frankfurt's Zlatan Bajramović doubled the margin six minutes later off the counter and only a few minutes later it was time for Wolfsburg's Zvjezdan Misimović to take centre stage as he made it 4-1. Club Brugge's Wesley Sonck added the fourth goal but it was too little for the Belgians and Bosnia took the victory.

Yoshito Ōkubo and Makoto Hasebe were both in Takeshi Okada starting eleven for Japan as they defeated Bahrain 1-0. In a match decided by Celtic’s Shunsuke Nakamura free kick just after the break, the Japanese side exhibited flawless defending and barely allowed the opposition ball possession in the final third.

Diego Benaglio was between the posts as Ottmar Hitzfeld’s Switzerland side defeated Moldova 2-0 to bring them level with Greece in Group Two. The Nati, who also had VfB Stuttgart's Ludovic Magnin, Bayer Leverkusen's Tranquillo Barnetta and Borussia Dortmund's Alexander Frei in their starting eleven found out like many that the tiny nation is far from a pushover. While the Swiss controlled the run of play it wasn't till two minutes past the half hour before they found the net as FC Twente skipper Blaise Kufo charged into the area before providing the ball to for Alexander Frei to send in. Moldova fought valiantly to get back into the match and while their attempts on goal were few and far between Diego Benaglio was up to every challenge. As time was winding down Manchester City's Gelson Fernandes added his name to the score sheet, nodding in Alexander Frei's cross.

Peter Pekarík played the full ninety minutes for Slovakia in their friendly loss against England but the action turns real Vladimír Weiss's side against the Czech Republic on Wednesday.

Marcel Schäfer did not feature for Joachim Löw's side in Germany’s defeat of Liechtenstein but is expected to do so as they face Wales on Wednesday.

auf gut Deutsch: 4-0

Straight and simple Germany's World Cup qualifying continued with a 4-0 devastation of Liechtenstein at the Zentralstadion in Leipzig. After recent disappointing friendlies against Norway and England, Joachim Löw was anxious to silence their critics and today's results Deutschland supporters breathing room over their competition.

Returning to a 4-4-2 formation Herr Löw handed the 'keeping duties to Hannover 96's Robert Enke with Lukas Podolski, soon to be FC Köln's captain, paired with Stuttgart's Mario Gómez up top. Tiny Liechtenstein was plundered for a goal only four minutes after the opening whistle as Bayern München's Bastian Schweinsteiger delicate cross was volleyed into the net by Michael Ballack to volley home, giving die Mannschaft the 1-0 lead. Attacking with a vengeance it was 2-0 as Lukas Podolski's drive was too strong to hand and HSV's Marcell Jansen sent the rebound in only four minutes later. The visitors settled down after the early play and much of the action was within a air-tight midfield of Marcell Jansen, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Michael Ballack and Thomas Hitzlsperger. After the restart, the visitors were quickly victimized for two more goals; first three minutes in as Bastian Schweinsteiger took advantage of a loose ball in point-blank range and only two minutes later Poldi made it 4-0. The back line work of Serdar Tasci, Philip Lahm, 1899 Hoffenheim's Andreas Beck and Werder Bremen's Per Mertesacker was to the letter as Enke's day was disturbed with only a single attempt, that a highly unprobable attempt six minutes before the hour. In the final thirty minutes Borussia Mönchengladbach Marko Marin and Bayer Leverkusen duo of Simon Rolfes and Patrick Helmes were brought-in and although Germany had a number of attempts they could not add to their goal total and the match ended in a 4-0 victor

In a matter-of-fact manner Bastian Schweinsteiger called the result "ok" but expressed disappointment with the inability to add more goals. As Germany heads to Wales on Wednesday they will need to exhibit greater finishing ability and killer instinct for the full three points.

Photo Credit: © DFB und Bongarts/Getty Images

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Serbia upends Romania 3-2

The Tricolorii World Cup qualifying charge ground to a halt as they fell 3-2 to Serbia in Constanţa. With the loss Victor Piţurcă's side are a distant fifth in the table requiring an extraordinary turn of events to see them to South Africa.

Asleep at the wheel, Romania showed little confidence before the break with the exception of a few intriguing efforts by Fiorentina's Adrian Mutu. The lightening quick counter attack of CSKA Moskova's Miloš Krasić and Milan Jovanović resulted in the Standard Liège striker pouncing on a close range rebound off the crossbar to give the White Eagles the 1-0 lead after seventeen minutes. Serbia came within a whisper of doubling the margin thirty minutes in but Dinamo Bucureşti 'keeper Bogdan Lobonţ made a crucial save. Disaster struck for Romania moments before the half as Serbia's in-swinging corner was headed in by Dorel Stoica, sending Romania to the break down 2-0. Between the break Victor Piţurcă seemed to work a bit of magic as Romania came out breathing fire and after a number of close range efforts Adrian Mutu provided Ciprian Marica the ball with the VfB Stuttgart man making no mistake. However Romanian supporters were silenced just before the hour mark as poor clearance off a corner allowed Branislav Ivanović to volley the ball in from close range, returning the two goal margin. Needing attacking spark, FC Timişoara's Gheorghe Bucur was called upon just past the hour mark and after an extended period of feverish play Universitatea Craiova's Dorel Stoica made up for the own-goal scoring with seventeen minutes remaining from the work of Adrian Mutu. Down by one Victor Piţurcă called up Marius Niculae of Dinamo Bucureşti for an extra striker and whilst they continued to launch aggressively forward, the leveling goal was not to be found as they lost 3-2.

The bitter pill for all Romanian supporters now is that despite an extraordinary pool of domestic talent qualifying for World Cup once again seems to be the most unlikely of scenarios. Behind second place Lithuania by five points a victory is an absolute must against Austria next Wednesday.

Photo Credit: Helix World Media

Wales World Cup hopes dim

From the onset, selected in Group Four with powerhouses Germany and Russia, Wales chances to make it through to the World Cup was a steepest of challenges. To be successful they would need a picture perfect run against fellow Group Four nations, Finland, Azerbaijan and Liechtenstein and pounce on a opportunity against the favoured Russian and German sides.

That basic plan came unraveled today as Wales lost 2-0 to Finland at Millennium Stadium. With the defeat Wales chances of making an appearance fade to the dimmest of hopes as they now stand fourth in the table with an extra match played. The Finnish side, sporting a starting eleven with only four players under the age of thirty displayed a patient style befitting their experience. Whilst Wales went forward with strong ball possession before the break it was without a serious attacking threat. Wales best scoring chance came through heated runs by Manchester City resurgent striker Craig Bellamy but the final provision could not break through the veteran Finn defenders. Slowly the visitors patience began to pay off. Efforts by Mikael Forssell of Hannover 96 forced Wolves 'keeper Wayne Hennessey into action with Sami Hyypiä doing the same moments later. However two minutes before the break Jari Litmanen, most notably of Ajax but now winding his career down with FC Lahti, sent a through ball to Jonatan Johansson and the Hibernian striker promptly gave Finland the 1-0 lead. Wales looked a morsel heavy legged after the break and looking for great pace and vision Aaron Ramsey was brought in for David Edwards just before the hour mark. However the day wasn't Wales as any launch forward was snuffed out before it could be a menacing threat. With Carl Robinson and Robert Earnshaw entering the match, Wales continued the search for the equalizer but it was the Finnish side that created more of concern and as time wound down Dynamo Kyiv's Roman Eremenko provided Shefki Kuqi the ball to which the Crystal Palace made no mistake with and sealed a 2-0 defeat of Wales.

Wales returns to play on Wednesday as Germany visits Millennium Stadium.

Russia eases by Azerbaijan 2-0

In a far from convincing style, Russia squeezed past Azerbaijan 2-0 in Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium. While the victory provides the heralded Russian side important points in their World Cup quest, it surely must raise into question the impact of Guus Hiddink's double duties with Chelsea.

With a hearty crowd of over 70,000 in song behind their hero's the Russian attack force of Roman Pavlyuchenko and Andrei Arshavin pushed forward. Yet the duo, who know play their trade in England for Tottenham and Arsenal respectively, were far from convincing as they made a foul mess of early chances. Facing a vastly superiour pedigree, Berti Vogts's Azerbaijan put their efforts towards defending and for the most part did quite well as Russia were unable to link up with the attacking flourish of the 2008 Euro's. After Andrei Arshavin modest attempt was cast straight to the visiting three minutes in and Roman Pavlyuchenko completely duffed an effort just before the half-hour mark questions began to rise up around Luzhniki. Finally at the thirty-third minute Russia took the lead Roman Pavlyuchenko free-kick from just outside the box made its way around the wall and was completely misplayed by the Azerbaijan 'keeper Farhad Veliyev. After the break, while Russia continued to knock on the door the final touch was absent and worst yet, the instinct to devour the opposition was absent. After a uneasy threat by the upstarts, Russia grabbed its insurance goal with twenty minutes left on the clock as Roman Pavlyuchenko played through Zenit Saint Petersburg's Konstantin Zyryanov for a text book finish. Up by two goals, Russia hunted for additional marks but once again, finishing was out of sych and were unable to do so. A late chance Azerbaijan by former CSKA Moskva man Vagif Dzavadov rang off the post and the match concluded with a 2-0 victory.

As the dust settles on this match there will be a number of questions that need to be answered. Whilst it is quite possible the rust of the Russia off-season is still not off, this was far from the work of a side ready to win South Africa. Guus Hiddink and company return to action next Wednesday against Liechtenstein.

Photo Credit: Helix World Media

Leeds drive forward with 2-0 victory over MK Dons

Leeds promotion efforts continued with a resounding 2-0 victory over the MK Dons at Elland Road. The victory propels the Whites within a point of the Dons, however victories by Millwall and Peterborough United's upset of Leicester City make their quest for automatic promotion more challenging.

For the match, Simon Grayson utilized the same lineup as last week excluding the return of Jermaine Beckford from suspension and new signing Sam Sodje jumping into the back four replacing an injured Rui Marques. Opening advances by Leeds were easily dealt with by the Dons and excluding Luciano Becchio effort at the twentieth minute and young Robert Snodgrass prospective attempt on the half-hour. Seemingly relegated to long ball advances, the Whites took the 1-0 lead as Argentine maestro Luciano headed-on Ben Parker's free kick to Jermaine Beckford resulting in the strikers classic finish from twelve metres. Leeds narrowly missed doubling the margin soon after but for the balance of the half the match was mostly a midfield joust of little vision or threat.

Nine minutes into the half Robert Snodgrass' creativity resulted in second goal as his provision for Jermaine Beckford saw the striker send the ball in from eighteen metres to bring his astonishing total up to thirty-one. Up by two Ľubomír Michalík came in for Sam Sodje as Leeds looked to lock down the match and take the three points. For the most part that planned was falling in-line however with twenty minutes remaining Roberto Di Matteo's side showed a morsel of life as Jason Puncheon's cross was met by Sam Baldock but his close-range effort was off target. However following that ever so brief threatening interlude, Leeds was able to keep the visitors at bay in route to a 2-0 victory.

For Leeds it was a satisfying victory that typified a very controlled run of play. Whilst the pace and vision of the attack was light years away from my liking or their ability, they were able to greatly limit the opposition in a style conducive to playoff success. Whether that was due to handiwork of the Whites or disintegrating play of the Dons, who have only won once in nine matches, is a debatable point but unquestionably showed the Whites are capable of winning a tight-fisted playoff match. Maybe it's the glint of spring in the air or just the eternal hope that stirs but with performances such as this, Leeds could well be on its way to the Championship.

Leeds returns to play next week against Colchester United.

Japan defeat Bahrain 1-0

Japan's World Cup qualifying hopes advanced with a 1-0 defeat of Bahrain at Saitama Stadium. The win moves the Blue Samurai one point above Australia who have a match in-hand and face Uzbekistan next Wednesday.

Takeshi Okada deployed a more aggressive 4-3-3 using Tatsuya Tanaka 田中 達也 (Urawa Red Diamonds), Keiji Tamada 玉田 圭司 (Nagoya Grampus) and Yoshito Ōkubo 大久保 嘉人 (VfL Wolfsburg) up top with Makoto Hasebe 長谷部 誠 (VfL Wolfsburg), Yasuhito Endō 遠藤 保仁 (Gamba Osaka) and Shunsuke Nakamura 中村 俊輔 Celtic in the midfield. The back-line of Atsuto Uchida 内田 篤人 (Kashima Antlers), Yuji Nakazawa 中澤 佑二 (Yokohama F. Marinos), Marcus Tulio Tanaka 田中 マルクス闘莉王 (Urawa Red Diamonds) and Yuto Nagatomo 長友 佑都 (F.C. Tokyo) was anchored with Seigo Narazaki 楢崎 正剛 (Nagoya Grampus) between the posts.

After a scoreless first half in which the Blue Samurai's best chance to score came from Yasuhito Endō's corner was headed on but Yuji Nakazawa header was cleared off the line, Takeshi Okada's side took the lead two minutes into the new half. Following a foul on Keiji Tamada, Celtic's Shunsuke Nakamura free kick from twenty-five metres took an opportunistic bounce off Bahrain defender Abdulla Marzooq and into the net giving the Blue Samurai the 1-0 lead. Japan should have increased the margin seven minutes later when Atsuto Uchida was alone in front but his effort didn't materialize and four minutes later the Kashima Antlers defender had another chance but this type it shook the crossbar. With Bahrain barely able to launch an threatening attack, Japan cruised through the remaining minutes for a 1-0 victory.


Borussia route to safety

With nine matches remaining, Borussia's climb to safety presses forward. Despite's last weeks disappointing loss against Bochum, Hans Meyer work has lived up to all his accolades as since the start of the Rückrunde die Fohlen have tallied up eleven points and climbed from automatic relegation to the playoff spot.

Clearly looking ahead the task at-hand is to leap forward to safety.Based upon prior years, the typical safety spot ranges from thirty-two to thirty-five points, which leaves Borussia in need of thirteen points in their final run. While far from out of the race both Karlsruhe and Energie Cottbus sit behind and Borussia's main target is Arminia Bielefeld who are within two points. Bochum are the closest thereafter with both Hannover and Frankfurt on the out-skirts of those concerned with relegation. Possibly a bit of unique Football justice in the scheduling world but Borussia fan's who recall 2007 will have the opportunity to send die schwarz-weiß-blauen to the lower division.

For Borussia there is no doubt that the race for an additional fourteen points is an uphill battle with the next month the decider as May's schedule is considerably harder with Bayern, Schalke 04, Leverkusen and Dortmund. Looking ahead from the international week next weeks match against KSC a near "must win" if the target is to be met. Following the the difficult trip to Baden-Württemberg, VfL returns home to the best team in the Bundesliga since the break, Wolfsburg. Rounding out are opportunities for maximal points, Eintracht Frankfurt and finally Arminia Bielefeld.

With the international break Borussia has used its time well with a friendly against Eredivisie side Heracles Almelo. Winning 3-1 with Roberto Colautti finding the net twice and Oliver Neuville adding the third before the half-hour, Borussia overwhelmed the Dutch club with an inspired effort. Most importantly the match featured Jean-Sébastien Jaurès, Dante, Patrick Paauwe and Tomáš Galásek working together with very promising results. Borussia now takes the weekend off before returning to training on Monday for next weeks big match.

Bundesliga race from relegation (teams concerned only):

Eintracht Frankfurt 25 6 8 11 30 39 26
Hannover 96 25 6 8 11 35 52 26
VfL Bochum 25 5 10 10 29 40 25
Arminia Bielefeld 25 4 12 9 21 36 24
Borussia Mönchengladbach 25 6 4 15 32 47 22
Energie Cottbus 25 5 5 15 21 44 20
Karlsruhe 25 5 2 18 18 42 17

Bundesliga table
Hertha BSC 25 15 4 6 39 29 49
Bayern München 25 14 6 5 53 31 48
VfL Wolfsburg 25 14 6 5 53 31 48
HSV 25 15 3 7 39 36 48
1899 Hoffenheim 25 12 8 5 52 34 44
VfB Stuttgart 25 12 6 7 44 36 42
Bayer 04 Leverkusen 25 11 5 9 46 33 38
Schalke 04 25 10 7 8 34 27 37
BVB 25 8 13 4 37 31 37
Werder Bremen 25 8 8 9 46 35 32
FC Köln 25 9 5 11 29 35 32
Eintracht Frankfurt 25 6 8 11 30 39 26
Hannover 96 25 6 8 11 35 52 26
VfL Bochum 25 5 10 10 29 40 25
Arminia Bielefeld 25 4 12 9 21 36 24
Borussia Mönchengladbach 25 6 4 15 32 47 22
Energie Cottbus 25 5 5 15 21 44 20
Karlsruhe 25 5 2 18 18 42 17

Friday, March 27, 2009

sold out Luzhniki Stadium

As Russia enters Luzhniki early Saturday evening to face Azerbaijan, they will have the voices of a sold out stadium behind them. With 80,000 Muscovites expected for Russia's return to World Cup qualifying, the club is sounding confident.

However looming ahead is a Azerbaijan and while short on pedigree, their manager Berti Vogts will have them gunning for an upset. The Borussia Mönchengladbach legend has amassed a fine group of young talent who while playing domestically at present could make their way to the European stage. Young striker, Vagif Dzavadov formerly of CSKA Moskova is certainly no stranger to Luzhniki and Belgrade native, Branimir Subašić formerly of Crvena zvezda can score. While Berti Vogts is likely to keep this attacking reigned in for the match, his natural approach is for a lightening assault.

Taking his place in Guus Hiddink is midfielder Diniyar Bilyaletdinov. With the Rosgosstrakh Championship of Russia only in its second week the Lokomotiv Moskva captain noted his readiness:

"I feel good and I am bursting with energy. Cold weather does not bother me either. The pitch is great and will be smooth and flat which is good for us."

Of the tremendous fan support he added:

"It is cool to have so many fans watching us. They will be there to see us, not our opponents. They expect us to win and their yelling and singing will help us to produce the result we need."

Rennais loses Kader Mangane to end of the season

The news of last few days has been terrible for les Rouge et Noir. After losing Jimmy Briand in a training grounds practice with France, the LFP (Ligue de Football Professionnel) has suspended Kader Mangane till the end of the season due to his badly timed tackle of Valenciennes' Jonathan Lacourt that resulted in the player breaking his leg.

While SRFC acknowledges the poor tackle, club Président Frédéric de Saint-Sernin said of the disciplinary commissions decision:

"Kader is a very honest man, who has been deeply touched by what happened and who expressed himself with a lot of emotion at the commission hearing. This accident is terrible for Jonathan Lacourt and Valenciennes, but Kader Mangane is not a violent player."

Noting the players other infractions this year were non-violent the Président further stated the ruling was too harsh and they acted incorrectly as "Football is a impact sport which unfortunately can cause serious accidents."

Borussia Mönchengladbach extends Tobias Levels contract

Borussia Mönchengladbach announced today that it has extended the contract of Tobias Levels through 2011. Sportdirektor Max Eberl noted his pleasure with keeping the twenty-two year-old defender with Borussia, where he started his development ten years ago. Featuring in fifty-two Bundesliga matches to-date, Tobias is through and through a Borussia man and solidified his core commitment of VfL. Said in any language it is what every Footballers commitment to their team should be:

"Ich habe immer gesagt, dass mir Borussia sehr am Herzen liegt und mein erster Ansprechpartner ist"

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Eintracht in international duty

During the international break seven members of Eintracht are representing their countries. Juvhel Tsoumou joins Horst Hrubesch's Deutschland U19 efforts against Finland and Serbia. Austria will have Ümit Korkmaz available in their tough match against Romania. Zlatan Bajramović will be a part of the exciting Bosnia and Herzegovina as they face Belgium twice. Striker Martin Fenin joins the Czech Republic in their very difficult race for qualification as they face Slovenia und Slovakia. Croatia will have Krešo Ljubičić for their match against Andorra while Nikos Liberopoulos Greece challenge Israel twice for the top spot of Group Two.

Fred Rutten to leave Königsblauen

Die Königsblauen acknowledged today that Fred Rutten's reign which started in July 2008 has now come to a close. Originally reported to be effective at the end of the season, the hopeless situation was averted and the Dutch coaches elimination is effective immediately. Assistants Mike Büskens, Youri Mulder and Oliver Reck will lead on a temporary basis.

Since the unceremonious elimination of Andreas Müller as general manager, Schalke has been looking for a replacement with Matthias Sammer, Oliver Bierhoff, Oliver Kahn and Heribert Bruchhagen listed as the top candidates. Most likely, once this position if filled the next step will to bring on a coach.

Leeds v MK Dons match preview

As Leeds welcome the MK Dons to Elland Road Saturday afternoon, the clubs vision is firmly planted on the goal of promotion. For a club on the cusp of promotion it has been the rockiest of rides this campaign. Starting with the unanimous belief of sure-fire promotion, an underachieving side saw those notions perish quickly and cost Gary McAllister his managerial role. In rode Simon Grayson and after a modest retooling to his styling the Whites have responded to a modest degree and sit fifth in the table, readying for a playoff battle with eight matches remaining.

At this stage of the campaign thoughts of winning automatic promotion is the haziest of visions albeit my optimistic sides through the cloudiest of moments and know it is possible. With Leicester City running away with the hardware, their fans can start to look forward to the encounters against Derby County and West Brom but the question looms, can Leeds find its way to second place?

While truthfully Leeds looks most likely headed towards a playoff run however for the sake of the argument, to earn automatic promotion the Whites will need to overtake Peterborough United ten points ahead, albeit with an extra match played. Possible, yes but highly unlikely and the type of action that garners the heaviest of odds. However on careful examination Leeds does have a slight opening given Posh has a tough schedule and a run of victories could move Simon Grayson's table into an unexpected automatic berth. What of-course needs to happen is that Leeds plays to its ability, something it hasn't done for a sustained period and Darren Ferguson's side stumbles against the likes of Leicester City, Oldham, Millwall and Stockport. All that aside, if there is any for second place it starts with a victory against the MK Dons.

For the final stretch run Leeds have fortified their forces with Reading defender Sam Sodje and Crystal Palace 'keeper Darryl Flahavan on-loan, with both joining the lineup immediately. Leeds is riding a seven match unbeaten streak with a home winning streak the same length. In the first match between the two, the Dons rolled over Leeds 3-1 in likely the low-point of the Whites campaign. The Dons have hit a late season slide where after humbling Oldham 6-2, they have been quite mundane in their play and riding a three match win-less. In customary fashion Simon Grayson has said virtually nothing before the match yet equally remarkably predictable tactically. With the return of Jermaine Beckford from suspension, the marksmen will returning to the starting eleven beside Argentine maestro Luciano Becchio. The key to beating Roberto Di Matteo's side will ultimately come down the attacking play of Fabian Delph, Jonny Howson and Robert Snodgrass in the midfield. Give the youngsters the keys and tell them to push the attack forward and Leeds will litter the goal but as we have found in the past, the Whites tactical plan will most typically keep the speed governor in-place.

Armin Reutershahn contract renewed

Eintracht Frankfurt Heribert Bruchhagen chairman announced that the assistant coach Armin Reutershahn has had his contract extended through the end of next year. Previously at HSV under Frank Pagelsdorf and Kurt Jara, the Duisburg joined Eintracht in 2004 and has become a highly regarded for his teaching methodologies.

He will continue working with Chief coach Friedhelm Funkel and goalkeeper coach Andreas Menger who had their contracts extended previously.

Photo Source: Eintracht Frankfurt

Zenit Saint Petersburg thanks fans

With last weeks Rosgosstrakh Russian Premier-League between Zenit Saint Peter and Saturn Moskovskaya Oblast played in a closed door setting at Petrovsky Stadium, fans filled the stadium with banners of support. While many clubs seem to forget their fans easily, Zenit has went out their way to thank their loyal supporters for work with the following statement:

"By decorating (the) stadium with banners, you have added some colors to the sorrowful atmosphere of the game behind closed doors. Yury Bondar, Pavel Valdens, Andrey Polyakov, Andrey Tsindaev, Dmitry Karchevsky, Vladimir Kuprienko, Mihail Goldberg, Konstantin NIkolaev, Vitaly Tarasenko, Alexander Alehanov, Alexander Rumyantsev, Valentin Varlamov, Sergey Bagautdinov, Daniil Trofimov, Igor Kereksha - there is a bit of your labor in the teams victory over Saturn. Thank you!"

It seems obvious all club should take a good lesson from Zenit's statement and learn to be more appreciative to those who respect their crest year after year.

Photo Source: Zenit Saint Petersburg

Jimmy Briand out with serious knee injury

The pride of Les Rennais Rod Fanni and Jimmy Briand being selected for France's World Cup hopes have quickly soured as the striker suffered a serious knee injury in training, tearing the nterior cruciate ligament.

The injury occurred during training at Clairefontaine when Briand collided with Toulouse goalkeeper Cédric Carrasso. While original reports suggested the injury was not as serious Rennais, once the diagnosis was complete the reality of situation was that the mercurial striker is out a minimum of six months. The schedule for the surgical procedure will be decided upon today along with a preliminary rehabilitation plan however there should be no mistaking that the given the type of player he is and the magnitude of the injury, a full recovery cannot be rushed. Additionally given the striker was hoping for a transfer at years end, it is very possible that we have seen the final days of Jimmy Briand in Les Rouge et Noir.

Photo Source / Auteur: Fédération Française de Football

Pelé clears up scandal

After reports came out the Pelé had accused Robinho and Ronaldo of drug problems, the Rei do Futebol denied making such claims when speaking with media mogul TV Globo.

"What happened was a misunderstanding because I never said anything like that."

Explaining that the media fabricated the story he added:

I know what the people who need to sell newspapers are like. When there's a story like this you need to ask for the recording to hear what was really said."

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Blue Samurai ready for Bahrain

Takeshi Okada's step towards his lofty World Cup goals continue on Saturday as the Blue Samuria face Bahrain at Saitama Stadium. At present Japan is in second place of Group B and know that a win is desperately needed to advance but know they have a difficult test as Bahrain, led by Cxech coach Milan Máčala, have upset Japan in two of the last four meetings.

The Japan coach said of the match:

"All matches are important, but this is the one where we really have to fight for the win.

"As we haven’t won our home games in the final-round qualifiers so far, we would love to win this time round.

"I know how they play and don’t think they will deviate much from that.

"They try to frustrate their opponents, but we’d like to focus on our own game."

Along with captain Yokohama F. Marinos's Yuji Nakazawa 中澤 佑二 and Gamba Osaka's Yasuhito Endo 遠藤 保仁, the European contingency of Celtic’s Shunsuke Nakamura 中村 俊輔, St. Etienne’s Daisuke Matsui 松井 大輔 and VfL Wolfsburg duo Makoto Hasebe 長谷 部誠and Yoshito Ōkubo 大久保 嘉人 return to the fold.

Goalkeepers—Seigo Narazaki (Nagoya Grampus), Ryota Tsuzuki (Urawa Reds), Eiji Kawashima (Kawasaki Frontale)

Defenders—Shuhei Terada (Kawasaki Frontale), Yuji Nakazawa (Yokohama F. Marinos), Marcus Tulio Tanaka (Urawa Reds), Yuichi Komano (Jubilo Iwata), Yuki Abe (Urawa Reds), Yuto Nagatomo (FC Tokyo), Atsuto Uchida (Kashima Antlers)

Midfielders—Shunsuke Nakamura (Celtic), Hideo Hashimoto (Gamba Osaka), Yasuhito Endo (Gamba Osaka), Kengo Nakamura (Kawasaki Frontale), Daisuke Matsui (St. Etienne), Yasuyuki Konno (FC Tokyo), Makoto Hasebe (VfL Wolfsburg), Mu Kanazaki (Oita Trinita), Shinji Kagawa (Cerezo Osaka)

Forwards—Keiji Tamada (Nagoya Grampus), Yoshito Ōkubo (VfL Wolfsburg), Tatsuya Tanaka (Urawa Reds), Kisho Yano (Albirex Niigata), Shinji Okazaki (Shimizu S-Pulse)

Die Wölfe on international duty

With the international week before us Wolfsburg looks ahead Bayern München's visit of Volkswagen Arena a week Saturday. Riding a crest of a wave, die Wölfe are showing no signs of letting up as they have won seven consecutive matches since the start of the Rückrunde.

During the break a host of Wolfsburg's own will on international duty.

Marcel Schäfer has been called up by Joachim Löw for Germany's World Cup qualifying matches against Liechtenstein and Wales. Daniel Adlung and Ashkan Dejagah are honored with representing the German U21 side whist the highly promising Alexander Esswein joins the U19 team. Edin Džeko and Zvjezdan Misimović will wear the Plavo-žuti as Bosnia and Herzegovina continues its efforts to qualify in Group 5 facing Belgium in a home and away series. Peter Pekarík joins Slovakia who face England in a friendly before a massive test against the Czech Republic. Jan Šimůnek returns to the Czech Republic colours as they face two extraordinary matches; Slovenia and Slovakia. Yoshito Ōkubo and Makoto Hasebe join Takeshi Okada's ambitious Japan side against Bahrain. Diego Benaglio joins Ottmar Hitzfeld's Switzerland side as the Nati face Moldova. Josué is a part of the Seleção as face Ecuador and Peru.

Guillaume Hoarau stands for Les Bleus with pride

With Nicolas Anelka out Guillaume Hoarau has finally received his long overdue call-up to Raymond Domenech's Les Bleus. The twenty-five year-old striker joins André-Pierre Gignac, Cédric Carrasso and Adil Rami in their introduction to representing France in international competition.

Reflecting on a day trip to Disneyland® Paris with former Le Havre team-mates Lassana Diarra and Steve Mandanda, he said::

"It was nice to see the others again. On Monday the three of us were sitting on a ride and it was really odd. A few years ago we were all there in Normandie playing together.

"When I arrived my eyes immediately looked for Gignac and I saw that he was right at home. The atmosphere here is terrific. Everyone's smiling. For a newcomer that's great.

"I'm very happy to be here, and very proud too. Getting the call shows me just how much ground I've covered. Not so long ago I was many miles away from the France squad. Now I have to get off my cloud very quickly and focus as we've got two important matches to play."

Defending problems for Paris Saint-Germain

Following two successive losses the international break couldn't come at a better time for Paris Saint-Germain. Exhausted from the demands of play, the lack of bench depth has been a telling story for les Rouge et Bleu and as evidenced by this past weekends loss to Toulouse, they are becoming prone to mental errors.

While Le Classique against l'OM was a match that was effectively settled with Zoumana Camara, against Alain Casanova’s Toulouse the wheels came off the cart as the Parisians were victimized with a series of academy mistakes that resulted in goals. Four points out of first place with nine matches to go Paul Le Guen has acknowledged that they have little room to slip up but equally with Lyonnais and Lille, the ink has not dried on Paris Saint-Germain's title aspirations.

That said, the Parisians efforts will be greatly hampered with the loss of vice-captain Sylvain Armand, who is out for four-to-six weeks with a knee injury. Suffered in the Toulouse debacle, the already troubled PSG back-line will need to adjust quickly with the left-backs omission.

Emanuel Pogatetz to captain Austria

Returning home from English Premier League side Middlesbrough Emanuel Pogatetz has been passed the arm-band by new manager Didi Constantini. The always feisty twenty-six year-old defender said to the ÖFB of the great honour:

"He asked me whether I wanted to be captain and whether I would be disappointed if he didn't name me. And I told him that I would indeed like to do it and that I actually would be disappointed."

A Graz native debuted at FC Kärnten before moving on the Bayer 04 Leverkusen and eventually captaining Gareth Southgate's Middlesbrough. Recipient of thirty-three caps for Austrian the hard-nosed defender is a pillar of strength whose heart can never be questioned.

Ahead of next weeks critical match against Romania die rot-weiß-rote have met in Velden am Wörthersee for training. Didi Constantini has named the following squad with a number of surprising absences, including Andreas Ivanschitz, Alexander Manninger and György Garics while providing debuts for Aleksandar Dragović and Yasin Pehlivan:

Goalkeepers: Michael Gspurning (Xanthi), Juergen Macho (AEK Athens), Andreas Schranz (Austria Kaernten)

Defenders: Aleksandar Dragović (Austria Vienna), Andreas Ibertsberger (Hoffenheim), Manuel Ortlechner (Austria Kärnten), Emanuel Pogatetz (Middlesbrough), Sebastian Prödl (Werder Bremen), Franz Schiemer (Austria Vienna), Andreas Ulmer (Red Bull Salzburg)

Midfielders: Daniel Beichler (Sturm Graz), Christian Fuchs (Bochum), Andreas Hoelzl (Sturm Graz), Zlatko Junuzović (Austria Kärnten), Ümit Korkmaz (Eintracht Frankfurt), Christoph Leitgeb (Red Bull Salzburg), Yasin Pehlivan (Rapid Vienna), Jürgen Säumel (FC Torino), Paul Scharner (Wigan), Manuel Weber (Austria Kärnten)

Forwards: Marko Arnautović (Twente), Erwin Hoffer (Rapid Vienna), Marc Janko (Red Bull Salzburg), Stefan Maierhofer (Rapid Vienna)

Photo Source: (c) GEPA-Pictures

Claude Makélélé is not retiring

Following the Toulouse loss Claude Makélélé made his way across the Pyrénées to Madrid for a few days off with the approval of Paul Le Guen. During the time he spoke with Spanish news source AS resulting in a number of controversial comments. Per the article the Parisian captain was quoted as saying he plans to retire at the conclusion of this year and take the role of Sports Director.

Disputing those comments, Paris Saint-Germain noted on its web-site that he was misquoted. While noting he did conduct an interview with the newspaper, he adds that he never said he wishes to end his career this year and become Sporting Director. While the possibility of him taking such a role at the end of his playing days is definitely there, the newspaper article conclusions are inaccurate. In summary he stated that he remains committed to Rouge et Bleu and any decision will wait till the summer.

Selecţionerul României

Heading into crucial matches against Serbia and Austria, Victor Piţurcă has a number of difficult choices to make for his Tricolorii squad. Along with missing Cristian Chivu who is out with injury Romania needs to solve its goal scoring woes quickly or be a shocking absentee to the World Cup. The opening match against Serbia in Constanţa is of particular concern as Radomir Antic has his White Eagle squad flying high and standing first in Group 7, they are within striking distance of landing a spot in the World Cup. Scoring has come at a premium and there had been a great deal of rumour of Dinamo Bucureşti striking duo Ionel Dãnciulescu and Florin Bratu who are presently filling Liga 1 nets with ample goals possibly being called up, however both veterans missed out on the final selection.

In a surprise move Maximilian Nicu of Bundesliga side Hertha BSC, only recently granted Romanian citizenship, makes his debut for the Tricolorii.

With the upcoming matches Victor Piţurcă will go forward with the following squad list:

Bogdan Lobonţ (Dinamo Bucureşti), Costel Pantilimon (Timişoara)

Cosmin Contra (Getafe CF), Cristian Săpunaru (FC Porto), Dorel Stoica (Universitatea Craiova), Gabriel Tamaş (Dinamo Bucureşti), Dorin Goian (Steaua Bucureşti), Mirel Rădoi (Al-Hilal), Răzvan Raţ (Shakhtar Donetsk), Mihai Neşu (FC Utrecht)

Bănel Nicoliţă (Steaua Bucureşti), Ovidiu Petre (Steaua Bucureşti), Alexandru Bourceanu (Oţelul Galaţi), Răzvan Cociş (Lokomotiv Moscova), Paul Codrea (AC Siena), Cristian Tănase (Argeş), Maximilian Nicu (Hertha BSC)

Gheorghe Bucur (Timişoara), Adrian Mutu (Fiorentina), Ciprian Marica (VfB Stuttgart), Florin Costea (Universitatea Craiova) şi Marius Niculae (FC Dinamo Bucureşti)

Magpies should not expect Terry Venables

Somewhat misleading, The Sun alluded to Terry Venables coming in to manage the Magpies in Joe Kinnear's absence.

While the article notes an unnamed club "insider" stating that, "the players have all been talking about how they need someone of real authority to sort it out", it fails to recognize that Mr. Venables was offered the reigns after the Kevin Keegan debacle in fall, he turned the position down.

While the choice of the former England manager this past fall was a natural, it seems unlikely he would take the position now with the club on the cusp of relegation but equally facing a very dire financial future that questions the clubs competitiveness in the upcoming season. Each of these situations are enough to convince the most aggressive of managers to re-consider a possible move and unless their is a significant financial incentive it is very unlikely.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Wales next step towards World Cup

As Wales looks ahead to their critical World Cup qualifying clash against Finland at Millennium Stadium, John Toshack is likely to have the services of captain Craig Bellamy and West Ham's James Collins, both now reporting as fully-fit.

Since joining Manchester City from the Hammers, Craig Bellamy has quickly become the Citizens top scoring threat and shown restored confidence under Mark Hughes. However of-late his concerns over his knee have thwarted his efforts but all appears go after Monday evenings training season.

John Toshack might not be so lucky with Swansea's Ashley Williams and Cardiff City midfielder Joe Ledley as both are a bit road weary with the Swans man has been on the pitch for every minute of their campaign. Additionally out for the Finland and upcoming match against Germany is Peterborough defender Craig Morgan and Hammers duo
Danny Gabbidon and the brilliant young midfielder Jack Collison.

John Toshack has named the following squad for the Finland and Germany matches:

Wayne Hennessey (Wolves), Boaz Myhill (Hull), Owain Fon Williams (Stockport), Gareth Bale (Tottenham), James Collins (West Ham), Neal Eardley (Oldham), Chris Gunter (Nottingham Forest), Lewin Nyatanga (Derby), Sam Ricketts (Hull), Ashley Williams (Swansea), Rhys Williams (Middlesbrough), Simon Davies (Fulham), David Edwards (Wolves), Carl Fletcher (Plymouth), Owain Tudur Jones (Swindon), Jason Koumas (Wigan), Joe Ledley (Cardiff), Aaron Ramsey (Arsenal), Carl Robinson (Toronto), Craig Bellamy (Manchester City), David Cotterill (Sheffield United), Robert Earnshaw (Nottingham Forest), Ched Evans (Manchester City), Sam Vokes (Wolves).

Russia readies for Azerbaijan and Liechtenstein

Sitting in second place of Group 4 in World Cup qualifying, Russia returns to play this Saturday against Azerbaijan and the following Wednesday against Liechtenstein. While Russia is heavily favoured in both matches they will need to be careful, particularly against Azerbaijan.

In speaking to Sports Express, Andrei Arshavin noted:

"I always want to score and Saturday is no exception. But moreover I want to win and it does not matter who is going to score in this case."

Guus Hiddink has returned from Chelsea, serving double duties managing the English Premier League side and has selected a squad with CSKA Moskva and Zenit Saint Petersburg leading with six players each:

Igor Akinfeev (CSKA Moskva),Vyacheslav Malafeev(Zenit St. Petersburg), Vladimir Gabulov (Dynamo Moskva)

Sergei Ignashevich (CSKA Moskva),Vasili Berezutski(CSKA Moskva),Aleksei Berezutski (CSKA Moskva), Yuri Zhirkov (CSKA Moskva), Denis Kolodin (Dynamo Moskva),Renat Yanbayev (Lokomotiv Moskva), Aleksandr Anyukov( Zenit Saint Petersburg)

Konstantin Zyryanov(Zenit Saint Petersburg),Igor Denisov (Zenit Saint Petersburg),Igor Semshov (Zenit St. Petersburg), Diniyar Bilyaletdinov (Lokomotiv Moskva),Dmitri Torbinski (Lokomotiv Moskva)Ivan Saenko (Spartak Moskva),Alan Dzagoev (CSKA Moskva),Sergey Semak (Rubin Kazan),

Dmitriy Sychev(Lokomotiv Moskva),Pavel Pogrebnyak (Zenit St. Petersburg),Andrei Arshavin (Arsenal), Roman Pavlyuchenko (Tottenham Hotspur)

Вратари: Игорь Акинфеев (ЦСКА), Владимир Габулов ("Динамо"), Вячеслав Малафеев ("Зенит")

Защитники: Александр Анюков ("Зенит"), Алексей Березуцкий, Василий Березуцкий, Сергей Игнашевич (все – ЦСКА), Денис Колодин ("Динамо"), Ренат Янбаев ("Локомотив").

Полузащитники: Динияр Билялетдинов, Дмитрий Торбинский (оба – "Локомотив"), Игорь Денисов, Константин Зырянов, Игорь Семшов (все – "Зенит"), Юрий Жирков, Алан Дзагоев (оба - ЦСКА), Иван Саенко ("Спартак" М), Сергей Семак ("Рубин")

Нападающие: Андрей Аршавин ("Арсенал"), Роман Павлюченко ("Тоттенхэм"), Павел Погребняк ("Зенит"), Дмитрий Сычёв ("Локомотив")

Os Dragões on international duty

Following the opening leg defeat of Estrela da Amadora in the semi-finals of Taça de Portugal, Os Dragões got back to work today looking ahead to their Champions League clash against Manchester United.

Freddy Guarín, Mariano González and Milan Stepanov all were in the training room going through a rehabilitation program for various injuries.

With the international break eight members of Os Dragões are heading for duty to proudly represent their homeland. Bruno Alves, Raul Meireles and Rolando join Carlos Queiroz' Selecções for their match against Sweden on March 28, whilst Ventura will feature in the U21 Portugal side in the XIII Torneio Internacional da Madeira. Lucho González and Lisandro López joins the Albicelestes for their matches against Venezuela and Bolivia. Cristian Rodríguez is a part of Uruguay's efforts against Paraguay and Chile. Cristian Săpunaru joins Victor Piţurcă's Tricolorii as they face Serbia and Austria.

Bad week continues for CSKA Moskva losing 1-0 to Tom’ Tomsk

After being cast out of the UEFA Cup from Ukraine rivals Shakhtar Donetsk, it was expected that CSKA Moskva would unleash a torrent of aggression against Tom’ Tomsk on Monday. However to the shock of all the Army-Men, who most consider as the favourite to win the Russian crown this year, fell 1-0 to Tomsk.

For the match Zico placed seventeen year-old Georgi Shchennikov in his starting eleven and the youngster fit in well with the back-line trio of Russian capped defenders Sergei Ignashevich, Aleksei Berezutskiy and Vasili Berezutskiy. However it was the Siberian side that pulled off the shocker and Macedonian international Goran Maznov scored in the first minute of the match.

The Army Men can storming back with Yuri Zhirkov the creator of a number of chances but in a rare off-day, he couldn't beat the keeper eight minutes into the new half with Vágner Love completely off target with a glorious chance twenty minutes later. Zico called upon Miloš Krasić and Tomáš Necid later but neither could make the mark and in a shocking conclusion Tom Tomsk returned to Siberia from the capital with three points.

Photo Source:PFC CSKA Moskva

J-League week 3

Only in the third week of the J-League season, the action has already picked up with a series of close fought matches and surprising upsets.

Defending champions Kashima Antlers 鹿島アントラーズ beat Sanfrecce Hiroshima サンフレッチェ広島 2-1 with a last minute goal by Blue Samurai Shinzo Koroki 興梠 慎三. Oswaldo de Oliveira's men opened the scoring quarter of the hour as Masashi Motoyama 本山 雅志 found the back of the net however the visitors squared the match sixteen minutes into the new half as Bulgarian international Ilian Stoyanov converted from the spot. Looking to be headed for a draw Shinzo Koroki scored from the spot in added time.

Albirex Niigata アルビレックス新潟 maintained its first place status with a scoreless draw to Ōita Trinita 大分トリニータ. Niigata 新潟市 came close to winning the match as Marcio Richardes free-kick in the opening half stung the post but otherwise both sides played tough defending and limited chances.

Niigata manager Jun Suzuki noted his pleasure with the draw following the match:

"I think a point away to Oita is as good as it gets. Both teams had chances from set pieces and the wings in the first half but I thought we controlled more of the game in the second half and defended well when they countered."

JEF United Ichihara-Chiba ジェフユナイテッド千葉 stubbornly denied Kawasaki Frontale 川崎フロンターレ a victory in route to a 1-1 draw. Tatsuya Yazawa 谷澤 達也 scored only a minute into the match as he latched onto the a deflected Koki Yonekura 米倉 恒貴 and sent it into the net. Shimpei Takeda side swarmed Chiba's end with Kazuhiro Murakami 村上 和弘 and Juninho both hitting the bar but at the fifty-eighth minute Juninho found the back of the net as he struck from the edge of the area.

Hisashi Kato's Kyoto Purple Sanga 京都サンガF.C. defeated Gamba Osaka ガンバ大阪 2-1. Korean international Lee Jung-Soo headed-in Diego's corner just before the break gave Kyoto 京都 the 1-0 lead. Diego doubled the margin ten minutes into the half from the spot on a very debatable penalty judgement. Gamba showed little fight coming back in what was definitely an "off-match" however they drew within one with fourteen minutes left as Shinichi Terada 寺田 紳 opportunistically sent a rebound in. Energized by the goal Gamba poured forward and came close to leveling with Yasuhito Endō 遠藤 保仁 header but could not find the much needed goal.

Following the match Kyoto manager Hisashi Kato expressed his pleasure with the victory:

"I am honestly delighted to take three points off Gamba Osaka, the Asian champions and top of the table team. Our own way of playing is emerging little by little."

Omiya Ardija 大宮アルディージャ and Vissel Kobe ヴィッセル神戸 left it late to score in route to a 1-1 draw. Veteran Takayuki Yoshida 吉田 孝行found the mark for Kobe on the hour before Naoki Ishihara 石原 直樹 opened his scoring account for Omiya as he dove to head-in a corner.

Urawa Red Diamonds 浦和レッズ disappointing start continued with a 1-1 draw to Jubilo Iwata ジュビロ磐田, who were run off the pitch in their opening two matches. Red Diamond manager Volker Finke went in the match with an aggressive stance but it was Iwata that took the lead thirty three minutes in with Gilsinho's goal. Urawa was able to level with Edmilson's goal with twenty-two minutes left but it was Iwata that nearly stole the match as Gilsinho sent a shot off the post late.

FC Tokyo FC東京 defeated Montedio Yamagata モンテディオ山形 1-0 with Japan international Naotake Hanyu 羽生 直剛 scoring the lone goal four minutes before the hour from Cabore's provision.

In the highest scoring match of the weekend Yokohama F Marinos 横浜F・マリノス and Kashiwa Reysol 柏レイソル fought to a 3-3 draw. After Yokohama Kenta Kano 狩野 健太 and long-term Japan international Yuji Nakazawa 中澤 佑二 opened the scoring within the first twenty minutes, Reysol's Kóta Sugiyama 杉山 浩太 brought one back two minutes before the break. However Kazuma Watanabe 渡邉 千真 restored the two goal margin quickly thereafter. After the break França scored six minutes past the hour before Popo leveled the match with four minutes remaining

Nagoya Grampus 名古屋グランパス defeated Shimizu S-Pulse 清水エスパルス 3-1. Dragan Stojković's side took the lead just before the half-hour when play-maker Yoshizumi Ogawa 小川 佳純 provided Davi's to close out and doing the same with thirteen minute left for Keiji Yoshimura 吉村 圭司 goal. S-Pa got back into the match four minutes later as Japan international Shinji Okazaki 岡崎 慎司 headed the ball in. However Davi added his second of the night and fourth of the young season as he scored from the spot in added time.

J-League week 3
Albirex Niigata アルビレックス新潟 3 2 1 0 6 2 7
Nagoya Grampus 名古屋グランパス 3 2 1 0 6 3 7
Gamba Osaka ガンバ大阪 3 2 0 1 8 3 6
Kashima Antlers 鹿島アントラーズ 3 2 0 1 5 3 6
Kyoto Purple Sanga 京都サンガF.C. 3 2 0 1 3 2 6
Omiya Ardija 大宮アルディージャ 3 1 2 0 4 3 5
Montedio Yamagata モンテディオ山形 3 1 1 1 6 3 4
Urawa Red Diamonds 浦和レッズ 3 1 1 1 4 4 4
Ōita Trinita 大分トリニータ 3 1 1 1 3 3 4
Vissel Kobe ヴィッセル神戸 3 1 1 1 3 3 4
Sanfrecce Hiroshima サンフレッチェ広島 3 1 0 2 7 7 3
Kashiwa Reysol 柏レイソル 3 0 3 0 5 5 3
FC Tokyo FC東京 3 1 0 2 3 7 3
Kawasaki Frontale 川崎フロンターレ 3 0 2 1 3 4 2
Yokohama F Marinos 横浜F・マリノス 3 0 2 1 5 7 2
Shimizu S-Pulse 清水エスパルス 3 0 2 1 1 3 2
JEF United Ichihara-Chiba ジェフユナイテッド千葉 3 0 2 1 2 5 2
Jubilo Iwata ジュビロ磐田 3 0 1 2 4 11 1