Tuesday, July 31, 2007

A Park fit for a Prince

"Tree hugging" seems to be a national, if not global obsession at the moment. Glance a look at the front page of 'The Independent' newspaper in the mornings and you'll be reminded about the end of the world awaiting us all.

Every other word nowadays is 'recycle', which is all well and good but you can't really apply eco-friendliness to absolutely everything, such as the world of football, can you? Can you? Well, apparently you can, and to prove it an 'eco-friendly' stadium has been built in the obvious of place... Dartford, Kent.


Yes, Dartford Football Club opened their new stadium over six months ago and the reaction has been astounding. The non-league club left there previous stadium behind in 1992 and have been ground-sharing with other local clubs until November 2006. That's when the new Princes Park Stadium hosted its first match.

Due to Dartford FC being a non-league club with relatively small attendances - the stadium has a capacity for 4,100 supporters - it was possible to build the stadium using sustainable materials. The wonderfully eye-catching curved roof is made with timber beams and has a turf roof. Good luck to the groundsman riding his lawnmower when cutting that.

The attention to detail for what the stadium needs to be self-sustaining is quiet amazing. The first thing that springs to mind is the pitch and to keep the grass lush and green the architect added two lakes nearby to store rainwater for watering the grass. The rain water is collected from various local resources, including the stadium and clubhouse roofs and piped to the lakes. The lakes will only be used to water the grass in periods of drought however, meaning the newly-created lakes will be a home for wildlife.
It also has solar panels on the roof to provide hot water, the roof and floodlights are below the level of the surrounding terrain in order to reduce noise and floodlight pollution for local community, and the car park is usable all week for people wanting to hop onto the fast track bus service to the nearby Bluewater shopping centre.

Not only is the stadium amazing in terms of its 'greenness', it's also a rather impressive piece of architecture, and when you think that this has all happened at a non-league club with an average match attendance of just over 1,000 it makes the achievement that little bit more special and remarkable.

For further information, visit: http://www.dartford.gov.uk/princespark and http://www.dartfordfc.co.uk/

Monday, July 30, 2007

Asian Cup 2007 - Iraq crowned Champions

It's official - the new champions of Asia are Iraq. The Final of the Asian Cup 2007 took place yesterday in Jakarta and it was a day for the underdogs who, until now, have never won the tournament.

Saudi Arabia were undoubtedly the favourites to win the competition but they rarely threatened the Iraqi goal. At the other end of the pitch, however, Iraq played to win as though their very existence depended on it. Qusay Munir volleyed wide from the edge of the penalty area after six minutes, then Younis Mahmoud saw his overhead kick fly wide from just outside the six-yard box two minutes later.

Shortly after that, the game became scrappy as Australian referee Mark Shield booked five players. Any chances that threatened to bring about a goal at either end were being snuffed out by the opposing defences, even into the second half. All the while, Iraq grew stronger and more threatening but it wasn't until the 71st minute that they finally made the breakthrough they'd been searching for.

Iraq won a corner which was taken by Hawar Mohammed but when Saudi goalkeeper Yasser Al-Musalim came out to catch the high ball, he misjudged its flight. As it sailed over his head, the ball fell to Mahmoud who headed it goalwards and into the net. Mahmoud could even have made it 2-0 six minutes later when he was put clean through with only the keeper to beat, but Al-Musalim was quickly off his line to deny him.

The match ended with Saudi Arabia as ineffective as they had been throughout leaving Iraq to raise the trophy to the delight of their fans at home and abroad. Heaven knows they haven't had much to cheer about of late, but this win will bring much happiness to all of them.

Congratulations, then, to Iraq - winners of a great Asian Cup competition. May they enjoy their four years at the top of the tree ahead of the next Asian Cup in Qatar in 2011.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

SuperLiga: The story so far...

Guest writer Chris (B Squad) introduces a new competition kicking-off Stateside...

The inaugural SuperLiga will see four Mexican sides face off against four MLS sides. There is pot of a million or so for the winner. This, along with television rights, has been enough to persuade some of the top Mexican sides to participate.

All matches will be played in the US, but in the south where crowds are typically pro-Mexico. The top two teams from each group will meet in a knockout phase. Hopefully in the coming years, we will see matches played in Mexico. I'm anxious to see how quickly an MLS side wilts in front of 100,000+ in the Azteca. I have a feeling some details will be tweaked in the future, such as adding more CONCACAF teams, moving the dates back during Mexico's season, and playing matches abroad. Until then, we have these eight teams in what looks to be a very exciting North American Champions League.

Dallas 1-1 Chivas (Gaudelajara)
This match was an excellent way to cut the ribbon on this tournament. After a very tense first half, Dallas struck first on well orchestrated goal. Juan Toja cut through Chivas' midfield and found Carlos Ruiz in space, who ,in turn, played an incredible through ball to Arturo Alvarez. Alvarez then struck a stunning ball that managed to be inches above the keeper's fingers and inches below the crossbar. Minutes later, Chivas would capitalized on Dallas' inability to clear the ball. Jose Olvera smashed home the equalizer from 25 yards, as the Dallas defenders petitioned for a hand ball. And what is sure become a running theme in this tournament, Drew Moor was sent off for pushing Hector Reynoso, who had elbowed Moor in the face.

The goals from FC Dallas v Chivas, courtesy of those withdrawn people at Telemundo...

LA Galaxy 2-1 Pachuca
In what I would consider the most surprising scoreline of the match day, LA defeated defending Mexican and CONCACAF champions Pachuca. Pachuca were by far the stronger side in this match, and thoroughly dominated the first half, but came away empty.

LA managed to weather the onslaught and in opening minutes of the second half, they took full advantage of their first real opportunity. An excellent cross from Landon Donovan found Alan Gordon on the far side. Gordon calmly slid the ball past the keeper to the far post.

Pachuca struck back with very nice play from Damian Alvarez, as he squared the ball to Rafael Marquez-Lugo who tapped in from three yards out. LA would score a late winner as Cobi Jones shot was deflected past the keeper by Donovan's right boot.

DC United 1-1 Morelia
The district opened the scoring early with a well taken goal by Christian Gomez. They spent the balance of the game trying desperately to hold onto that one goal lead. In the spirit of retaliation red cards, Luis Angel Landin was sent off after taking a vicious kick to the thigh and then pushing Bobby Boswell. Despite playing with 10, Morelia managed an equalizer in the form of a Diego Martinez goal from the edge of the box.

Houston 1-0 Club America
On paper, this looked to be the best of the opening games. On the pitch, however, it was possibly the most boring. Nate Jaqua scored a fine goal from close range. That about summed up the majority of action. I honestly expected more from America.

Saturday 27 July

Dallas v Pachuca
Dallas, behind Juan Toja (quickly becoming my favorite MLS player) and Carlos Ruiz, looked to be the class of the first match day. Taking points from this game will be a big step toward qualifying for the semifinals. After a disappointing loss to LA, Pachuca will be desperate for any points as they hope to move on.

LA v Chivas (Guadelajara)
LA put themselves in a very good position securing three points. A point from this match will almost certainly see them through to the semi-finals. The same can be said for Chivas, as they will be looking to take all three points.

Sunday 29 July

DC United v Club America
Both DC and America, each disappointing in their first match, will need to take the full three points in order to bolster their hopes.

Houston v Morelia
Houston can wrap up this group with a win. Morelia will need the three points if they hope to keep pace.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

GB or not GB?

Whether you knew it or not, yesterday was a notable date in the sporting calendar. Why? Because exactly five years on from July 27th 2007, the 2012 Olympic Games will begin in London.

Those of us living in London are by now aware of the plans which are well underway to build or upgrade the venues for each event, to say nothing of encouraging ordinary people to take up a sport which, five years down the line, they might even represent Great Britain in.

One event which should be of interest to the British is the Men's Soccer tournament. The trouble is that Great Britain haven't had a team of its own taking part since 1960. This is because the constituent parts of Great Britain, i.e. England, Scotland, Wales along with Northern Ireland, are all represented individually within FIFA. If they played together as a combined Great Britain team in the Olympics, FIFA would suggest they do so for all competitions.

This is something the four British nations would be reluctant to do. As things currently stand, they each have a guaranteed position as Vice President of the FIFA Management Committee and make up half of the International Football Association Board - the body that annually reviews the laws of the game.

The thing is, Great Britain, as hosts of the 2012 Olympics, would be expected to field a team in as many of the events it would be staging - including the Soccer tournament. What's the solution then?

Well some say there should be a tournament before the Olympics begin where the winning team from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland should represent Great Britain as a unit in the Games. It seems not entirely satisfactory, but with the approval of all four parties, it might just work.

Certainly Scotland have pulled out of any plan that would see a Great Britain team made up of players from all four countries, so something needs to be done. If you have any ideas, send them to us at ivecomeupwithasolution@spaotp.com and we'll feed them back to you before forwarding them on to FIFA and the IOC. Possibly.

Meantime, it's good fun to think about which players would feature in a 'perfect' Great Britain team. So many great players and so much talent - it could easily be a side that would give the Brazils and Italys a run for their money in this day and age.

Overlooking the real-world technicalities for putting together an Olympic football team (i.e. all except three of the players must be under the age of 23), let's consider who would be in your Great Britain line-up if you had the chance to pick it.

We've put together a list* of all the squad players from the last three international matches played by England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and what you must do is pick those that you'd have in your Great Britain XI. To make the exercise a little more interesting, we impose one rule: that you must represent each of the four countries with at least two players.

Download the list and have a go. Once you've picked your team, leave us a comment detailing who's in it with perhaps a brief description of why you've picked them. (Oh and before any of you say so, Ryan Giggs isn't included on account of the fact that he's now retired from international football. Sorry about that...)

Well don't just sit there - what are you waiting for?!? :-)

* In Adobe PDF format. To download the Adobe PDF Reader, click here.

Friday, July 27, 2007

The Friday List of Little or No Consequence #22

The Gold standard
10 Most Recent Olympic Men's Soccer Tournament Winners

1. Hungary (Mexico City, 1968)
2. Poland (Munich, 1972)
3. East Germany (Montreal, 1976)
4. Czechoslovakia (Moscow, 1980)
5. France (Los Angeles, 1984)
6. Soviet Union (Seoul, 1988)
7. Spain (Barcelona, 1992)
8. Nigeria (Atlanta, 1996)
9. Cameroon (Sydney, 2000)
10. Argentina (Athens, 2004)

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Asian Cup 2007 - Semi Final Review

Before we look at what happened in the Asian Cup 2007 semi-finals, let's fill you in on the outcome of the two remaining quarter-finals at the time of our previous report.

Iran v Korea Republic
A quarter-final between Iran and the Korean Republic is something that's come to be expected in the Asian Cup of late. Iran won this encounter 4-3 in China three years ago, but Korea were the victors by two goals to one in Lebanon in 2000 following a 6-2 win for Iran in the UAE four years before that.

This time around, a lively and exciting encounter took place at a largely-empty Bukit Jalil Stadium in Kuala Lumpur. Both teams created chances in the first half which were largely denied by the on-form goalkeepers at either end. The second half had a more reserved feel and when the 90 minutes ended goalless, the half an hour of extra time followed a similar line too.

Neither team seemed prepared to gamble on finding a winning goal and so the second of three quarter-finals had to be decided on a penalty shoot-out. Though substitute goalkeeper Vahid Taleblou managed to save Korea's third penalty, Lee Woon-Jae stopped two for the opposing side, giving the Korean Republic a path through to the semi-finals 5-4 where they would play Iraq. More of which later...

Saudi Arabia v Uzbekistan
One of the most interesting pairings came in the last of the quarter-finals between the Saudis and Uzbekistan, and the former couldn't have wished for a better start. Yasser Al-Qahtani put Saudi Arabia 1-0 up after just three minutes when Uzbek 'keeper Ignatiy Nesterov could only parry a shot from Abdulrahman Al-Qahtani.

A couple of minutes later, Uzbekistan nearly equalised through Server Djeparov but his shot hit the post - an occurrance which would happen a further four times for his side during the match. Uzbekistan launched wave after wave of attack, dovetailing the Saudis who were giving as good as they got. Despite all the end-to-end action, the score remained 1-0 at the end of the first half.

The second half panned out in much the same way, but as time marched on Uzbekistan opened up more and more in their search for an equaliser. Somewhat predictably in the 75th minute, Ahmed Al-Mousa took advantage of the gaps that were appearing to make it 2-0 to Saudi Arabia.

Game over... or so they thought because with just nine minutes remaining, Uzbekistan finally found the net (albeit scrappily and from close range) when Pavel Solomin made it 2-1 to give the Saudis a nerve-wracking end to the game. Alexander Geynrikh hit the post two minutes later to really send the pulses racing, but it was not to be for Uzbekistan. Saudi Arabia had made it through to the semi-finals to play Japan in a replay of the 2000 Final which Japan won 1-0. Could they get their revenge this time?

Semi Finals
July 25th was crunch time for the four teams who were eyeing a place in the Final of the Asian Cup 2007. Iraq had never played in the Asian Cup Final, but to get there they would have to beat a South Korea team who had won the competition in its first two outings and appeared in the semi-finals in 1988 and 2000. Elsewhere, Japan would face Saudi Arabia. Betweem them they had won each of the last six Asian Cups, but only one would stand a chance of lifting the trophy this year...

Iraq v Korea Republic
A deluge of rain in Kuala Lumpur made for plenty of football of the far-from-pretty variety in the first semi final. Any attempts on goal that arrived were evenly shared between both sides but neither could put the ball in the net prior to half time. After the break, the Koreans nearly went ahead when Sabri had to clear the ball off the Iraqi goal line following a free-kick by Yeom Ki-Hun but after that the attacks from both sides proved just as impotent as those in the first half.

Through extra time, both teams offered more in the way of high and wide shooting which meant a penalty shoot-out was needed to settle the match. After six successful shots went in, Sabri saved a weak effort by Yeom Ki-Hun to give Iraq the advantage. Ahmed Mnajed then put Iraq 4-3 in front before Kim Jung-Woo’s final penalty for the Koreans hit the right post. It meant Iraq were through to their first ever Asian Cup Final while for the Korean Republic, their search for a first win since 1960 would go on.

Iraq face South Korea in a penalty shoot-out

Japan v Saudi Arabia
It was difficult to know who'd run out the winners of this match as both teams battled it out in a great contest. Saudi Arabia seemed to start the slowest of the two but when a free kick fell to Yasser Al-Qahtani in the 35th minute, Kawaguchi was helpless to stop the resulting shot in the Japanese goal. 1-0 to Saudi Arabia.

Their celebrations had barely subsided when two minutes later Yuji Nakazawa headed home an Endo corner to level the scores at 1-1. Shortly after, Nakamura almost scored from a free kick when Yasser Al-Musalim made a hash of collecting the ball, but the game remained level going into half time.

Malek Maaz made sure the second half got off to a bang as he headed in Ahmed Al-Bahari's precise cross after just two minutes, but Japan again came back quickly. With 53 minutes on the clock, Yuki Abe unleashed an excellent bicycle kick to level the scores at 2-2 but his time as hero was all too brief. Just four minutes later, Malek Maaz skipped past a dozing Abe and unleashed a fierce drive beyond Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi in the Japanese goal to put the Saudis back in front, 3-2.

Japan struggled to find another equaliser but substitute Naotake Hanyu came closest as his thunderous long-range effort crashed off the cross bar in the 75th minute. In the end, Japan's determination and competitive spirit went unrewarded as the game finished with victory for the Saudis who revenged defeats to the Japanese in the 1992 and 2000 finals.

Japan face Saudi Arabia in the second semi-final

So that's it - the Final in Jakarta on Sunday will be between Iraq and Saudi Arabia with the first course coming the day before in the form of a third/fourth place game between Japan and South Korea. Both matches are mouth-watering prospects and rest assured they'll be covered here at SPAOTP.com next week.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Shirts for 2007/08: Derby County (home)

Think of the Premier League and Adidas, and what do you get? Liverpool? Chelsea? Maybe, but now you can add another name to that list - Derby County.

Yes, you heard correctly - Derby County, returning to the Premier League this season for the first time since 2002, and what better way to celebrate than with a sparkly new shirt...

Now for all its simplicity, I can see this one being a little controversial. Why? Well firstly there's that Adidas badge which appears to be high up on the shoulder like the Le Coq Sportif badge is on the new Manchester City shirt. Personally, I'm not too offended by it, but I know some of you are.

Then there's the 'Adidasness' of it... or rather, the lack of 'Adidasness'. Look at any Adidas shirt being worn by any team around the world these days and the chances are it has lots of curly paraphenalia all over it (see Liverpool's away shirt for details). This one doesn't, but then that could be because it looks like it might have been selected from the Adidas budget-range catalogue.

Having said that, it's a nice, uncomplicated design (if a little unexciting) which, when worn with the accompanying black shorts, should look at least a little fetching.

If you're thinking of purchasing one for yourself (and go on, admit it - you are, aren't you?) go to the Derby County website where they're waiting to give you one for £40 (as it were).

While you're contemplating that, why not tell us what think of the new Derby home shirt by leaving us a comment or two? If you're not feeling too verbose, how about logging your opinion in our online vote below? It's all very simple, and if you do run into difficulties, feel free to ask a grown-up for some help...


The final results were as follows:

Excellent: 39 (44%)
Good: 25 (28%)
OK: 10 (11%)
Poor: 12 (13%)
Terrible: 3 (3%)


Saturday, July 21, 2007

Asian Cup - The story so far...

While the gaze of many a football fan was fixed on the Copa America, the 2007 Asian Cup quietly got underway in not one host country but four - Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam. Where UEFA feels it would be impractical for more than two host countries to stage a large tournament, the AFC obviously has no such qualms.

This is the fourteenth Asian Cup to take place since its inauguration back in 1956 when Hong Kong were given the honour of beginning the four-yearly cycle. At the time, only twelve countries were affiliated to the AFC but seven took part in that first competition which was won by the Korean Republic. Four years later, the Korean Republic hosted the tournament themselves and promptly won it again.

Having been runners-up in the first two tournaments, Israel finally prevailed in 1964, but the Asian Cup was hereafter to feature a series of dominant periods for some of the region's heavyweights.

Iran won the next three tournaments from 1968 to 1976 and after Kuwait brought that run to an end in 1980, Saudi Arabia took over as the team to beat, winning in 1984, 1988 and 1996. Japan stopped a potential four-in-a-row sequence by snatching the trophy in 1992 on home soil and picked up where they left off by winning it again in 2000 and 2004.

All of which brings us up to the present day and since the last tournament in China, the Asian Cup has really meant business. Japan are still ruling the roost, new teams like Uzbekistan and Australia are trying to upset the equilibrium while long-dormant big-wigs like Iran and the Korean Republic continue in their fight to be Asia's number 1 again.

So how has the 2007 tournament started so far? Let's find out...

First Round

Group A (Australia / Iraq / Oman / Thailand)
All eyes were on Australia who had jumped ship to be a part of the AFC after years of affiliation with the ceania Football Confederation. Things didn't start well for them though - only an injury time equaliser from Tim Cahill was good enough to earn them a 1-1 draw with Oman. Come the second match, things got even worse when a strong Iraq side turned over the Socceroos 3-1.

By this stage, Australia were bottom of the group with no points while co-hosts Thailand had picked up four, as had Iraq. Going into the last round of matches, Australia knew that to finish second in the group and qualify for the quarter finals they'd have to beat Thailand (playing in front of a home crowd) by four clear goals, preferably without conceding any. Oh, and hope that Iraq would beat Oman in the other game going on at the same time.

To their credit, they did exactly that. Aussie coach Graham Arnold made four changes to the side that lost to Iraq, including the demotion of Harry Kewell to the bench. It paid off as Mark Viduka scored two after Michael Beauchamp got the opener in the 21st minute and Harry Kewell came on to score a 90th minute clincher.

That 4-0 win meant heartbreak for Thailand as they finished third in the group on goal difference behind Australia in second and Iraq, a point ahead of them at the top. Oman's goalless draw with Iraq in front of a crowd of just 500 was not enough to keep them off the foot of the group table.

Highlights of Thailand v Australia

Group B (Japan / Qatar / United Arab Emirates / Vietnam)
Hot favourites to win this group were Japan although at 36 their current FIFA ranking is just six places better than the UAE. As it was, Japan didn't disappoint despite dropping two points against Qatar in their first game after Sebastian Quintana equalised from a free kick two minutes from the end.

That minor blip out of the way, Japan breezed past the UAE with a 3-1 win before going on to sweep aside Vietnam 4-1. Luckily for the co-hosts, their hard work had already been done thanks to a 2-0 opening victory against the United Arab Emirates and a 1-1 draw against Qatar. All they had to hope for was that the UAE would beat Qatar in their last game, and they duly did.

So after all that, Japan finished top of Group B with five points and going through to the next round were Vietnam on four. The United Arab Emirates, despite that win in their last game, went home with just three points and Qatar's two draws left them bottom on two.

Group C (China / Iran / Malaysia / Uzbekistan)
Out of all the four co-hosts, Malaysia sadly did the worst although they did have a tough group to qualify from. Recent World Cup competitors China and Iran were formidable opponents as well as the former Soviet state of Uzbekistan, and the scorelines were to prove less than flattering.

After an initial 5-1 thrashing at the hands of the Chinese, Malaysia stumbled onto a 5-0 thrashing against Uzbekistan before suffering a smaller deficit in a 2-0 defeat to Iran. The Iranians needed a high-scoring win to make certain of a place in the next round as China also had four points going into the last game with Uzbekistan on three. In the end, it was inconsequential as the Uzbeks pull off a big shock by beating China 3-0. It meant China were out of the competition having accumulated four points - two less than Uzbekistan and three less than Iran who topped the group.

Uzbekistan pull off a shock win against China

Group D (Bahrain / Indonesia / Korea Republic / Saudi Arabia)
Group D was another with two favourites to make it through to the quarter finals and once again it was they that played true to form.

The two teams in question, Korea Republic and Saudi Arabia, met in the second game of the group in Jakarta which proved eventful not so much because of the action which lead to the 1-1 scoreline, but more for the floodlight failure which occurred five minutes from time that lasted for nearly half an hour.

Having picked up a point each, it was then just a matter of beating their weaker opponents in the remaining games. Korea, however, almost slipped up as in their next game Bahrain were the victors by two goals to one and it was only a narrow 1-0 win over Indonesia that saw them through. Saudi Arabia were altogether more competent in their games, Beating Indonesia 2-1 (admittedly thanks to a last minute winner from Al-Harthi) and Bahrain 4-0.

So Saudi Arabia finished top of the group with seven points from a possible nine and Korea Republic were second with only four. Despite attendances of 87,000 in two of their games, Indonesia missed out on a quarter final place by just one point, as did Bahrain who finished fourth.

Quarter Finals
And so to the quarter finals which began today. The first match took place in Bangkok and in it Iraq beat the only remaining co-host, Vietnam, 2-0. It means Iraq reach the Asian Cup semi-finals for the first time since 1976, and on Wednesday they'll be playing the winner of tomorrow's game between Iran and the Korean Republic.

Today's other quarter final was between Japan and Australia in Hanoi. Australia counted themselves lucky to even be there after a somewhat disastrous first round, but they dug deep to frustrate the Japanese.

John Aloisi had given Australia the lead after 70 minutes but Japan came straight back two minutes later with an equaliser from Naohiro Takahara. Vince Grella was then sent off shortly after for elbowing Takahara when both jumped up for a header, but despite the numerical advantage, Japan couldn't find a winning goal - even in thirty minutes of extra time.

The game went to a penalty shoot-out and the writing was on the wall for the Australians right from the start when Premier League players Lucas Neill and Harry Kewell missed the first two for the Socceroos. Japan found themselves 3-1 up and apparently coasting when Takahara smashed Japan's fourth over the bar, allowing Australia to pull one back.

At 3-2, Yuji Nakazawa had the unenviable job of taking Japan's last penalty which had to go in for them to win the match, and so it did. Japan therefore remain on course to win their third successive Asian Cup, but before that, they must play the winner of tomorrow's second quarter-final - the last of the four - between Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan on Wednesday.

Friday, July 20, 2007

The Friday List of Little or No Consequence #21

Grounds for comparison
11 Grounds Where Matches Were Played During The 1948 Olympic Soccer Tournament in London

1. Selhurst Park, Crystal Palace
2. Cricklefield Stadium, Ilford (now home to Isthmian League side Ilford FC)
3. Craven Cottage, Fulham
4. White Hart Lane, Tottenham
5. Goldstone Ground, Brighton
6. Griffin Park, Brentford
7. Green Pond Road Stadium, Walthamstow (now known as Walthamstow Stadium, one of the best known greyhound tracks in Britain)
8. Arsenal Stadium, Highbury
9. Fratton Park, Portsmouth
10. Champion Hill, Dulwich (now home to Isthmian League sides Dulwich Hamlet and Fisher Athletic)
11. Empire Stadium, Wembley

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Adios Venezuela: Copa America 2007 Final Review

Copa America 2007 is finally over. The Final gave us one last surprise (if surprise it be) as Brazil convincingly beat Argentina 3-0 to win the trophy for the eighth time.

Despite now winning three of the previous four tournaments, Brazil didn't enter the Final as favourites on this occasion. Some muted performances early on, including a defeat at the hands of Mexico, meant that the smart money went on Argentina.

The Albicelestes began their campaign with the sort of confident, skilful football that caught the eye at the start of the 2006 World Cup. They were the only team to win all three of their first round games in the 2007 Copa America and having qualified for the Final they could claim sixteen goals scored and only three conceded.

With players like Riquelme, Tevez, Crespo and Mascherano all on top form, Argentina looked set to win the trophy for the first time since 1993. Sadly the similarities with their 2006 World Cup campaign remained evident right to the end as their strong start ended all too soon.

Julio Baptista gave Brazil the best of starts after just four minutes when he collected Elano's long ball down the right and smashed in a fine shot past Argentinean goalkeeper Roberto Abbondanzieri.

Argentina almost equalised straight after that when Riquelme saw a left-foot strike come back off the near post but a few minutes later Doni in the Brazilian goal had to palm away a curling Riquelme shot to deny the Boca Juniors front man again.

But the game finally swung fully in Brazil's favour five minutes before half time when Ayala stretched out a leg to block a cross from Alves on the right wing and ended up poking the ball past the stranded Abbondanzieri into his own net.

The second half saw a depleted-looking Argentina lacking a little conviction in their attacking play and what did amount to any serious challenges on goal were easily dealt with by the Brazilian defence.

As Argentina opened up more and more in search of a first goal, so Brazil reverted more and more to counter-attacking play and this proved effective when Vagner Love slipped a ball through to Alves on the right side of the penalty area to make it 3-0.

And so it was that Brazil triumphed once again, proving that a slow start is not necessarily a bad thing - so long as you can build on it throughout the rest of the competition. As the old Dorothy Fields song goes, 'it's not where you start, it's where you finish' and as any fan of the Spanish national team at the World Cup will testify, success is nothing unless you can make it happen in the Final.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Copa America 2007: Semi Final Review

Written by Chris (B Squad)

As a prelude to the upcoming Copa America final, I thought I would recap the semi finals. Both matches were incredibly entertaining and well worth the price of admission. It is a bit disappointing to have a Brazil/Argentina final, only in the sense that it seemed predestined. The final is sure to be class in every way. It is just unfortunate that industry has lost out to imagination.

Brazil 2-2 Uruguay (Brazil win 5-4 on penalties)
This match was fabulous. Uruguay worked so hard, but you got the feeling it would never be enough to get over the hump. Brazil, in this game as in all the others of this competition, played lackadaisical with the occasional sprinkle of magic. Each time Brazil scored it seemed to be the end for Uruguay, but to their credit they never gave in.

Forlan was at the top of his game. The first goal was very well taken and the flick on to Abreu for the second was genius. I've never particularly liked Uruguay, but when the ball tumbled over the keeper, I jumped from my couch. It may have been a little schadenfreude, but it was mostly just the culmination of a truly exciting match. And I know Brazil should have had a few penalties calls and should never have been in the position to go to penalties. They may have had some good karma on their side because of it.

As for the shootout, Uruguay had every chance to send Brazil home and failed. Forlan delivered what could be one the worst spot kicks I have ever seen. From hero to goat seems to be his lot in life. And after so many shots off the post, Uruguay stood with one kick for victory, and it hit the post.

Now I don't agree with the way Brazil won, and I wish FIFA would address this (and I'm a Liverpool fan), but as I said, Brazil had some karma in the bank. Maybe the blackout in the middle of the match was foreshadowing for Uruguay. I do have to say that Uruguay have been incredibly poor sports about losing. Both in this competition and in the U-20 World Cup, Uruguay start fights after the final whistle. Overall, though, a very respectable tournament for them. And there is yet another final for the Brazilians.

Argentina 3-0 Mexico
This scoreline is deceiving. The match was much closer than 3-0 and Mexico was unlucky to fall in the way that they did. But football is all about finishing, and that's what separated these two sides. Mexico would have been up 2-0 in the first half but for a few inches and some white posts.

Riquelme was transcendent, despite being hacked down constantly. The free kick that resulted in the opening goal was nothing short of incredible, good finish from Heinze as well. Again in the second half, Mexico had opportunities and went begging.

Then their was the Messi wondergoal, which, for me, was the goal of the cup. He will soon be pressing to be the best player on the planet, if he isn't already. Riquelme put the icing on the cake with a very Zidanesque penalty on a soft foul call at the edge of the box. Nonetheless, considering how he has played, you'd have to say he deserved it.

(Side note: While writing this, I'm watching the '93 Copa Final, which Argentina won over Mexico thanks to a Batistuta brace. It's funny how you remember these players as great, but it's not until you see the replays years later that you appreciate how truly skilled they were.)

So on to the Final, which is destined to be filled with skill, trickery, and bit of histrionics. Brazil has the class to win, but you would have to favor Argentina. Riquelme, Tevez, Messi, and the high-scoring Mascherano (who knew), will just be too much for the Brazilians to contain.

Friday, July 13, 2007

The Friday List of Little or No Consequence #20

Twenty 20 Visions
20 Players That Wore The Number 20 Shirt at the World Cup Finals

1. David Trezeguet (France, 1998 / 2002 / 2006)
2. Deco (Portugal, 2006)
3. Brian McBride (USA, 1998 / 2002 / 2006)
4. Oliver Bierhoff (Germany, 1998 / 2002)
5. Bebeto (Brazil, 1998)
6. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (Norway, 1998)
7. Michael Owen (England, 1998)
8. Paul Caligiuri (USA, 1990 / 1994)
9. Ronaldo (Brazil, 1994)
10. Davor Suker (Yugoslavia, 1990)
11. Paolo Rossi (Italy, 1982 / 1986)
12. Zbigniew Boniek (Poland, 1982 / 1986)
13. Peter Beardsley (England, 1986)
14. Paul Sturrock (Scotland, 1986)
15. Jorge Valdano (Argentina, 1982)
16. Careca (Brazil, 1982)
17. Alberto Tarantini (Argentina, 1978)
18. Roberto Boninsegna (Italy, 1970)
19. Tostao (Brazil, 1966)
20. Bobby Charlton (England, 1958)

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Shirts for 2007/08: Liverpool (away / 2nd)

It's time we took a look at the shirt Liverpool will be wearing on their travels next season and if you're a fan of Liverpool's yellow away kits, you're out of luck. Adidas have decided to bring back white again in the following form:

In case you're wondering, it'll be worn with black shorts (also adorned with that rather peculiar red trim), but this is the important bit you may or may not be wearing in 2007/08.

It's available to buy right now from the Liverpool website and if you're an adult you can expect to part company with £39.99 of your hard-earned.

Not a bad effort, one might think - especially given the fluctuating quality of Adidas in recent years. Now it's over to you, though: is it a winner or a ringer? Leave us a comment or vote in our online poll below...


The final results were as follows:

Excellent: 30 (32%)
Good: 22 (23%)
OK: 22 (23%)
Poor: 13 (14%)
Terrible: 7 (7%)


And before we go, an update on how the votes are going in our other 'New Shirt' polls (see menu on right).

The Man City home shirt has been the most popular in terms of the overall number of votes cast - a whopping 177 - however it's the most unpopular in terms of the way you voted. Just 34% of you thought it was 'Excellent' or 'Good' while 47% said it was either 'Poor' or 'Terrible'.

Contrast that with the Tottenham home shirt which is the one most of you like so far. 70% say it's 'Excellent' or 'Good' whereas only 18% said it was 'Poor' or 'Terrible'.

As far as positive feedback is concerned, the Fulham home shirt is currently second with a 67% positive vote and Arsenal's new away shirt is third with 63%. At the other end of the scale, Reading's new grey away shirt is already second worst for negative feedback with 35% and West Ham and Birmingham's home shirts are next with 28%.

Speaking of West Ham, the online vote for their new home shirt has had the quickest and most prolific response so far, slightly edging out the Man City home shirt. Sadly, no-one's been much bothered to vote on the new Wigan and Birmingham home shirts. They can't be that bad, surely?

And finally, if you haven't already done so, please cast your vote on the greatest England home shirt of all time. It's a much tougher choice but see which one you think's best and make your voice heard.

Thanks to everyone for the hundreds of votes cast and the dozens of comments registered so far. You've made this feature a great success! :-)

Hitting the Intertoto Jackpot

When I was young, I could always predict what my Dad would be doing at 5 o'clock on a Saturday afternoon. He'd be fishing around in a cupboard somewhere, trying to find his Pools coupon under the misconception that he was about to become rich beyond his wildest dreams.

In the days before the Lotto elbowed its way into the public's affections, the Football Pools were just about the only way you could spend £1 and win £1,000,000 but as with all forms of gambling, there was a catch. To win the money, you had to correctly predict eight to ten drawn matches out of a possible 50-or-so. Not as easy as you might think, as my Dad would have told you.

Yet the lure of winning even a share of a fortune, let alone a whole one, was something that tempted many thousands of people all over Britain into playing the game. Every Saturday afternoon, a large proportion of the public would pore over their coupons showing the English and Scottish league football matches as the classified results were read out on television. Hopes would build, dreams would fill the air, yet by 5.10 pm most of those coupons had been screwed up and thrown in the bin.

When the football season in Britain ended every summer, an air of anticlimax would descend for several weeks, reinforced palpably by the sight of the Pools coupons which appeared in the shops. Gone were the familiar names - Liverpool, Crystal Palace, Shrewsbury, Rangers, Partick Thistle et al - and in their place a set of Australian doppelgangers appeared. Who could possibly predict the result of a bunch of matches involving teams with names like Wollongong and Joondalup?

Luckily for the Europeans on the continent, there were no such problems thanks to a competition Britain was blissfully ignorant of. Its name: The Intertoto Cup.

The Intertoto Cup was created specifically to extend the Pools season in central Europe when league games came to an end in the summer. Its creators were Ernst Thommen and Austrian Karl Rappan, a Swiss and Austrian partnership who initially harboured ambitions to create a European League. Having failed to make that materialise, they turned their attention to creating a competition that Pools companies could use to maximise their income.

In 1961, they put the idea to UEFA who politely showed them the door, refusing to give their name to the venture. Not downhearted, Thommen launched the tournament without them. It was initially called The International Football Cup and took the form of various group games leading to a knock-out phase. The first winners were Ajax who beat Feyenoord 4-2 in the Final but in the years that followed the competition was dominated by teams from Czechoslovakia, Poland and East and West Germany.

1967 saw a change to the format of the competition as the knock-out round was scrapped altogether. This meant there were no overall winners and consequently no trophy was awarded - something amounting to a farce for what was essentially a 'Cup' competition. As a result, interest tailed off and the competition was discontinued, but that wasn't the end of the road for the Intertoto.

In 1995, UEFA decided (belatedly) to take an interest by bringing it back to life - this time as a means to getting some of Europe's lesser clubs into the UEFA Cup. Using a similar format to the original, the two semi-finalists won a qualifying place but because there was no outright winner, no trophy could be awarded either.

No matter. The prize itself was enough to attract many teams to take part and in the first few years of its reintroduction, French teams snapped up the UEFA Cup births with great aplomb. Bordeaux, inspired by the likes of Zinedine Zidane, Bixente Lizarazu and Christophe Dugarry were in fact so committed to the cause that they went all the way to the UEFA Cup Final in that first season.

UEFA introduced a third qualifying place in 1996 and by the end of the 1997 competition, six out of the eight UEFA Cup qualifying places had gone to French teams. Their grip on the event started to loosen slightly as the 21st century approached but the Intertoto Cup was polarising opinion greatly at this time. Some teams were opposed to playing football in June and July - a time normally set aside to allow players to rest - while others, such as Juventus and Valencia, were desperate for the chance to maintain the revenue gained by playing in a European competition.

In 2006, UEFA made their most recent change to the structure of the competition. Only one team was now allowed to take part from each country (unless exceptional circumstances prevailed) but eleven places were now up for grabs in the second qualifying round of the UEFA Cup. Out of those that made it that far, only Newcastle United managed to reach the Second Round proper, so by way of a reward UEFA gave them something which had previously being merely a figure of speech - The Intertoto Cup.

And so to 2007 where the competition is already gaining much attention, albeit for the wrong reasons. A recent second round match between Lithuanian club Vėtra and Legia Warsaw of Poland was abandoned due to serious crowd trouble which began during the half time interval. Legia's travelling fans had seen their team go 2-0 down prompting a pitch battle where stones and metal bars were used to attack police and cause damage to the stadium.

UEFA have since banned Legia Warsaw from the competition allowing Vėtra to progress to the Third Round where they will face Blackburn Rovers. It's here that some of the more recognisable names from European football enter the fray too. Atletico Madrid, Sampdoria, Hamburg and Lens will all be starting out on the long road to glory towards the end of this month, but for spectators all over the continent a different sort of ambition will be there to achieve - the one which involves putting a series of X's on a coupon and winning vast sums of money.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Caption Competition #2

Time now for our second Caption Competition which, contrary to popular belief isn't actually a competition at all as it's just an excuse to think of as many funny lines to accompany a picture as possible.

And with that small matter cleared up, here's today's photograph:

This is the Vietnam team taking part in a recent training session, but what could it mean to someone who didn't know any better? Leave us a comment with your caption or headline and you could win a prize! ('Could' being the operative word, given the fact that we don't intent to award one...)

Monday, July 09, 2007

Copa America 2007 Update

2007 is obviously the year for continental tournaments as no sooner were the United States crowned champions of North and Central America than we followed them into the South American Championships in Venezuela. Yes, the Copa America is back in town again.

Since June 26th, the ten nations of CONMEBOL along with guest participants Mexico and the USA have been battling it out in three groups of four to earn a place in the quarter finals. Here's how things panned out in Round 1, along with news from the recent quarter final matches:

Group A
Hosts Venezuela were the main attraction of Group A and the home fans weren't disappointed as all four teams pretty much cancelled each other out to their advantage.

Peru started the strongest with a surprising 3-0 win over Uruguay while Venezuela twice allowed Bolivia to draw level in a match that finished 2-2.

Four days later and it was all change - Peru lost 2-0 to a rampant Venezuela with Uruguay picking up their first win in a narrow 1-0 victory over Bolivia.

Come July 3rd, it was all to play for - Venezuela had four points, Uruguay and Peru had three and Bolivia had one. Any team could finish in the top two automatic qualifying places in the group, let alone third which could be good enough in the long term.

In the end, the final two games brought about two draws. Bolivia let two leads slip against Peru as Venezuela had done against them before and the hosts themselves tied 0-0 against Uruguay. To the delight of the majority of the fans, Venezuela finished top of the group with five points, Peru qualifying for the quarter finals in second on four, but would Uruguay's four points in third be good enough? One thing was for certain - we wouldn't be seeing more of a battling Bolivian team who ended the tournament bottom of Group A with two draws and a defeat from their three games.

Group B
This group was surely cut and dried right from the start - Brazil and Mexico to qualify, right? After the first round of games, no-one seemed quite so sure as Brazil faltered to a 2-0 defeat to the Mexicans which only highlighted the somewhat experimental look to Dunga's Copa America squad.

Chile, meanwhile, came back from behind twice to win 3-2 against Ecudaor, thanks largely to two Humberto Suazo goals. It was the Chileans that Brazil faced next with something of a face-saving exercise to be done, and so it was, thanks to the efforts of one man - Robinho. His hat-trick, which included a penalty in the 36th minute, flattened Chile and opened up the group in one fell swoop.

The Mexican steamroller had earlier had the same effect on Ecuador as Nery Castillo scored his second of the tournament in a 2-1 victory. Mexico were through to the quarter finals, but would Brazil or Chile claim the second spot?

As luck would have it, the chance for Brazil to complete their re-emergence in the competition would take place against an Ecuador side who almost certainly couldn't qualify. Yet again, however, Brazil would struggle and it was only because of another Robinho penalty in the 56th minute that they managed to seal the extra win they needed.

Chile's task was all the more difficult as their last match saw them go head to head with a Mexican side that looked like they meant business. The only thing going in Chile's favour was the fact that Mexico didn't need to win their last game, and so the ensuing damage limitation exercise predictably ended in stalemate - 0-0.

Brazil and Mexico did claim the top two places in the group after all, but with Brazil finishing second there were a few raised eyebrows. Not everyone was convinced about their strength in depth, but with Robinho in their side, all was surely not lost.

As for Chile, their four points would almost certainly be good enough to claim one of the two 'best third place' spots, but having failed to beat Brazil or Mexico, their chances of finding glory would presumably be slim in the knock-out stages.

Group C
An interesting and competitive group got underway on June 28th with a glut of goals. Salvador Cabañas scored twice and Bayern Munich's Roque Santa Cruz picked up a hat-trick as Paraguay trounced Colombia 5-0, while in the other game in Maracaibo, Argentina beat the United States 4-1.

Eddie Johnson's penalty opened the scoring for the USA in the ninth minute but Hernan Crespo soon equalised before adding a second on the hour mark. Pablo Aimar and Carlos Tévez added two more to seal the victory and reinforce Argentina's label as favourites to win the tournament.

Things were to go from bad to worse for the Gold Cup winners in their next game against Paraguay. Salvador Cabañas was on target again to score the last of three goals in injury time giving Paraguay a 3-1 win which all but handed his team a place in the quarter-finals and possibly send the Americans home.

The Americans clung to the light of hope which came from the second game on July 2nd where Argentina picked up a second win, 4-2, against Colombia. Though Edixon Perea had put the Colombians in front early on, Hernan Crespo equalised in the 20th minute to become Argentina's all-time leading goalscorer ahead of Diego Maradona. Juan Riquelme added two more before half time and though Jaime Castrillón pulled one back for Colombia, Real Zaragoza's Diego Milito put the game out of their reach with a goal in the first minute of injury time.

The penultimate game of Group C would give the United States or Colombia a chance to finish third in the group and possibly earn a place in the quarter finals. American coach Bob Bradley shuffled the pack and put Brad Guzan in goal, leaving only one player with World Cup experience in the starting eleven.

So it was that Colombia took advantage of their inexperienced opponents in the first half, taking the lead on 16 minutes through a Jaime Castrillón goal. The Colombians even had a penalty in the 37th minute when Guzan tripped Hugo Rodallega, but the USA goalkeeper saved to keep his side in the match.

The United States came out stronger in the second half but Colombia were closer to scoring with their chances. The Americans had one last opportunity to get something from the match when Colombia's goalkeeper Robinson Zapata was sent off for time-wasting having already received a yellow card, but his replacement Rodallega helped keep the score at 1-0 and the USA were out of the competition.

Sadly for Colombia, this win wasn't good enough to give them a place in the quarter finals as Uruguay (Group A) and Chile (Group B) had scored more points. This high-scoring group therefore ended with Argentina on top - the only team in the tournament to win all three of their opening games - and Paraguay in second.

Quarter Finals
The second phase began on July 7th in strangely familiar circumstances. Such was the way the competition had been planned that Venezuela played Uruguay for a second time, as did Chile and Brazil.

The hosts took to the field first with Uruguay in San Cristóbal knowing that a repeat of their Group A 0-0 draw would see both teams go to extra time and maybe penalties. In the end, nothing could have been less likely as Uruguayan coach Oscar Tabarez gambled on some attacking gameplay which reaped its reward.

Diego Forlán opened the scoring in the 38th minute forcing Venezuela to look for an equaliser which they got just before half time through a Juan Arango free kick. Pablo Garcia restored Uruguay's lead on 65 minutes, when he drilled home a shot from the edge of the box and this was followed up with two more goals late on from Cristian Rodríguez and, again, Diego Forlán.

So Uruguay were through and were left to begin the patient wait to see who would win the second quarter final between Chile and Brazil. The Chileans were reported to be suffering from indiscipline at their team hotel and this seemed to explain the self-destruction they underwent during their match against the Brazilians.

Defender Juan headed in from a corner in the 16th minute to instigate a barrage of attacks on the Chilean goal. Júlio Baptista added a second seven minutes later before Robinho added two more to take his personal tally for the tournament to six. Josué scored his first for Brazil on 68 minutes and after Chile pulled a consolation goal back through Humberto Suazo, Vágner Love finished the 6-1 route with five minutes remaining.

Brazil were through to the semi finals to face Uruguay in emphatic fashion, but even then the goals didn't stop flying in. The third quarter final saw Mexico dominate their opponents Paraguay thanks to some skilful football and two goals from Nery Castillo.

Paraguay were reeling after just five minutes when goalkeeper Aldo Bobadilla was sent off for bringing down Castillo following a poor back-pass. In between the converted penalty that followed and Castillo's second in the 39th minute, Gerardo Torrado smashed home what was to be Mexico's third in the 27th minute, leaving the second half a virtual non-event.

Paraguay had nothing to offer except the occasional attack which inevitably exposed their numerical disadvantage but they kept the score at 3-0 until the last eleven minutes when Fernando Arce, Cuauhtémoc Blanco and Omar Bravo took the score to 6-0.

With Hugo Sánchez's team through to the semis, all that remained was to see whether Argentina would carry on from where they left off against Peru in the last quarter final. Alfio Basile had opted to start the game with Diego Milito up front, but the move backfired as the Peruvian defence prevented him from finding the net.

After a goalless first half, the Argentinian coach played his trump card by replacing Milito with Carlos Tévez. It opened up the whole game for his side and the effects were felt almost instantly. Tevez linked up with Juan Riquelme to help him score Argentina's first before Tevez himself hit the crossbar with a header five minutes later.

Riquelme himself turned provider in the 61st minute, playing a delightful through-ball to Barcelona's Lionel Messi who made it 2-0. In the 74th minute, Tevez set up Messi to shoot again, and though his shot was saved, Javier Mascherano was on hand to put the ball in the back of the net to make it 3-0.

With five minutes of the game left, Tevez's superb performance was complete when he allowed Riquelme to calmly slot the ball past Peru 'keeper Leao Butron for his second and Argentina's fourth. Peru, by their own admission, had been well beaten by a superior side who made full use of the playing talent they had to hand as well as the tactical knowledge of their coach.

So with Argentina set to face Mexico in one semi final on Wednesday and Brazil up against their old rivals Uruguay in the other tomorrow, the 2007 Copa America looks set for a finish every bit as exciting and eventful as the twenty-two games we've seen so far.

Will Argentina complete their free-scoring campaign with victory in the Final or have Brazil timed their gradually improving performances to perfection? Perhaps Uruguay or Mexico will overcome their much-fancied opponents? Whatever you think, let us know by leaving us a comment - we're waiting to hear your thoughts!

Friday, July 06, 2007

SPAOTP.com Fantasy League 2007/08

As you may have by now worked out, we here at Some People Are On The Pitch never take Football too seriously, so when the chance comes along to have a bit of fun, we welcome it with open arms.

To prove our point, it gives us great pleasure to invite you to the very first official SPAOTP Fantasy League competition!

If you'd like to take part, here's what to do. First, visit the FA Premier League's Fantasy League site and register yourself as a competitor. Once that's done, you need to create a team, give it a name and pick some players for it.

The premise, of course, is that the players you pick will receive points if they score goals in an FA Premier League match or stop goals from being conceded. They can even get bonus points if their overall performance is particularly noteworthy.

The thing is, each player you pick for your squad has a pre-determined hypothetical value in millions of Pounds Sterling. Your job will be to select a set of players who are good enough to earn lots of points while still being valued at £100 million or less in total. Oh, and you can't have more than three players from any one Premier League club either.

It’s a tricky business, managing a team of burgeoning talent and reputation to be better than all the others in the league while keeping one eye on your budgetary constraints, but that is the challenge you must face. In your favour at least will be the fact that you're allowed one free transfer every week, so you can at least replace one individual who isn't pulling his weight. You can make more transfers each week if you so desire, but that'll knock four points off your total score for each extra one you make.

It's a game of tactics, luck, skill and above all fun, so why not join us for a season of Fantasy Football frivolity? The FA Premier League's site is now open for 2007/08 with all the latest up-to-date player information and team line-ups, so once you've got your team selected, all you need to do is affiliate yourself with our SPAOTP.com 'Private League'. To do that, click on the 'Manage Leagues' link and choose the option to 'Join a Private League'. When prompted, enter our special entry code: 5204-2417.

When you've done that, you'll be all set for a season of emotional highs and lows as you strive to become our first SPAOTP Fantasy League champion! Full information about how to play the game is available on the Rules page of the FA Premier League Fantasy League website (http://fantasy.premierleague.com/) and remember, once you've picked your team, you can make as many changes to the player line-up as you like before the season starts without losing any points.

Good luck to all those of you who decide to enter, and may the best man or woman win!

The Friday List of Little or No Consequence #19

Steady Teddy
9 Stopping-Off Points In The Career of Teddy Sheringham

1. Millwall
(Signed on as apprentice in January 1984, aged 17. Appearances: 244, Goals: 111.)

2. Aldershot
(On loan, February 1985, aged 18. Appearances: 5, Goals: 0.)

3. Nottingham Forest
(Bought for £2 million in July 1991, aged 25. Appearances: 62, Goals: 23.)

4. Tottenham Hotspur
(Bought for £2.1 million in August 1992, aged 26. Appearances: 194, Goals: 99.)

5. Manchester United
(Bought for £3.5 million in June 1997, aged 31. Appearances: 104, Goals: 47.)

6. Tottenham Hotspur
(Free transfer, May 2001, aged 35. Appearances: 76, Goals: 26.)

7. Portsmouth
(Free transfer, June 2003, aged 37. Appearances: 30, Goals: 10.)

8. West Ham United
(Free transfer, July 2004, aged 38. Appearances: 49, Goals: 30.)

9. Colchester United
(Free transfer, July 2007, aged 41.)

Overall career statistics:
Total transfer value: £7.6 million; Appearances: 624; Goals: 346.

(Oh, and he played 51 times for England, scoring 11 goals too...)

Thursday, July 05, 2007

European League Round-Up (Part 3)

We're back once again exploring all four footballing corners of Europe, asking various countries the simple question "How did it go last season?" If we get the answer back "We haven't finished yet", we follow up with the secondary question "How's it going this season?"

Here's a round-up of our findings...


Champions of Romania 2007 are Dinamo Bucharest who finished six points ahead of previous title holders Steaua Bucharest. Both teams won 14 out of their 17 home games, but Steaua were less convincing away from home so they enter next season's Champions League in the second qualifying round while Dinamo join the action a round later.

Rapid Bucharest won the Romanian Cup for a second successive year after a 1-0 win in the Final against Politehnica Timişoara. The win, along with a fourth place finish in the league, gains them entry to the UEFA Cup next season along with CFR Cluj who finished third.

Oţelul Galaţi and Gloria Bistriţa (finishing fifth and sixth respectively) earned their place in the Intertoto Cup and will be in action this Saturday when the Second Round of the competition takes place. Both teams travel away for the first leg of their ties - Gloria taking on a tough Maccabi Haifa side while Oţelul go to Bosnia & Herzegovina to play Slavija.

At the other end of the achievement scale are Ceahlăul Piatra Neamţ, Argeş, Naţional and Jiul Petroşani who all finished in the bottom four of Liga I and are duly relegated. Taking their place will be Delta Tulcea and Gloria Buzău - Liga II winners and runners-up respectively.

Top goalscorer in the Romanian top flight this season was Claudiu Niculescu of Dinamo Bucharest with 18 goals. He finished two goals ahead of Ionel Ganea of Rapid Steaua Bucharest on 16.


Things kicked off in the land of the Volvo back in April as far as the 2007 season's concerned, and leading the way so far are Kalmar, level on points with last season's champions Elfsborg but two goals ahead on goal difference. Elfsborg, however, have a game in hand on the leaders.

The chasing pack aren't far away and are lead by Halmstads in third on 21 points, followed by Djurgardens on 20, Malmo on 19 and Hammarby on 18 points. Bringing up the rear are Brommapojkarna with nine points from a possible 36.

Kalmar's next opponents are Hammarby at home next Wednesday while Elfsborg have an easier tie away to 10th-place AIK on Monday. Malmo travel to Djurgardens in a battle of 5th versus 4th on Saturday while Halmstads travel to struggling Orebro the following day.

Last year's Swedish Cup winners Helsingborgs were knocked out of the 2007 edition last week when they suffered a shock 2-1 home defeat to 2nd-tier Landskrona in Round 4. That leaves the smart money to go on Kalmar or Halmstads as the biggest teams remaining when the last eight do battle next month.

Finally, at the top of the goalscoring tree back in the Allsvenskan is Marcus Berg of Gothenburg on eight goals, closely followed by Anders Svensson of Elfsborg and Kalmar's Brazilian César Sántin, both of whom have six goals.


You've gotta love Switzerland. They're a harmless little country whose top football division contains just ten teams - none of whom have made an impact recently on the international stage - and they call it the 'Super League'. How's that for ambition!

And who was the superest of all that's super in the Super League this season? Why that's Zurich of course, edging out Basel by a single point. Sion were third, a full fourteen points further behind on 60 with Young Boys taking fourth on 59.

Zurich's prize is a place in the second qualifying round of the Champions League 2007/08 while Basel and Sion have the consolation of playing in next season's UEFA Cup. Young Boys take their place in the first qualifying round of the same competition.

At the bottom, Schaffhausen were relegated with 25 points, one less than Aarau who entered a play-off with Bellinzona who finished second in the Challenge League behind champions Neuchatel Xamax. After a two-legged match, Aarau kept their place in the Super League thanks to a 5-2 aggregate victory.

Top goalscorer this season was Mladen Petrić with 19 for Swiss Cup winners Basel, three ahead of St. Gallen's Argentinian star Francisco Aguirre who in turn was two goals ahead of Brazilian Rafael of Zurich.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

The Premier League - 'County-style'...

So many things spring to mind when thinking of a traditional Summer's day in England. A village green, lush and neatly clipped - the perfect playing surface for a game of Cricket between local men attired in their whites... nearby trestle tables bedecked with plates of neatly cut sandwiches prepared by the local womenfolk... the delicate chirrup of a song thrush perched proudly in an Oak tree beyond the boundary, and the deafening rumble of thunder as torrential rain drenches everything in sight for a fifth consecutive day. Bloody English weather.

Yet for all that, Cricket is still as popular a sport as ever, relying solely on the fact that over a long weekend, very little actually happens - the perfect spectator sport as there's not much to distract you from sitting around drinking lager interminably.

It's rather curious how Cricket has retained it's league structure over such a long time. From its origins well over a hundred years ago, teams were formed that represented the counties of England and Wales. These were the old historic counties - none of your Greater Londons or Greater Manchesters here, oh no. The best players from each county would be called up to represent the area where they were born, so if your place of birth was Southampton and could be relied upon to regularly smash the ball for six, chances are you'd end up playing for Hampshire. Fast bowler from the Huddersfield area? Have a place in the Yorkshire team. So it would go on...

What transpired then was a two-tier system where the better teams were awarded first-class status while the smaller and weaker teams formed what is now known as the Minor Counties setup. The big teams played for the glory of winning the County Championship while the Minor Counties played for the glory of one day being in the County Championship.

It's funny though, really - Cricket never quite turned into a game between towns and cities like Football did. Can you imagine Football in England being based around county teams rather than towns and cities?!? No? Don't worry - we have.

If you've been wondering why there's been little in the way of substantial writing on this site over the last week or two, it's because we've been busy beavering away trying to make real a world where the Premier League's star talent play for their county of birth, not for the team with the biggest wallet.

Our initial idea was to take the results from last season's Premier League and calculate a final table to see who the top county would have been. This proved hugely problematic.

Instead we thought we'd see which county teams would be the most exciting, the most likely to prevail over their opponents and the most likely to get a team together at all.

So let's start off at the top. Which county do we think is likely to top a regional Premier League? Answer: Lancashire. Using the old historic counties of England and Wales, Lancashire would almost certainly have the biggest list of star talent to call upon, covering as it does cities such as Liverpool, Manchester, Blackburn, Bolton and Wigan. A Lancashire team would boast a defence containing Phil and Gary Neville, Jamie Carragher and Wes Brown, a midfield featuring Steven Gerrard, Paul Scholes, Kevin Nolan and Joey Barton, and up front, how about Wayne Rooney and James Beattie as a strike partnership? Should any substitutions be required, Lancashire could make use of Stephen Clemence, Alan Stubbs, Leighton Baines, Leon Osman and Nicky Butt.

Quite a range of top names to choose from there, but who would be Lancashire's biggest rivals in a league such as this? We think Essex.

(Now at this point, we need to mention that because London wasn't one of the original historic counties of England, we've had to use artistic licence to give certain players a county to play for. If they were born in north-east London, we made them a member of the Essex team. South-east London would assimilate to Kent, north London would be Middlesex and so on. Just so you know.)

And so back to the Essex team. Once again, they'd have a fine selection of players to choose from. In defence you'd see John Terry standing alongside Sol Campbell, Ashley Cole and Paul Konchesky, In midfield, expect to see Frank Lampard, Jimmy Bullard, Joe Cole and Lee Bowyer and up front there's the useful partnership of Jermaine Defoe and Bobby Zamora. They'd also have subs to spare - to wit Linvoy Primus, Nicky Shorey, Ledley King and Mark Noble.

One thing you may have noticed is that we haven't mentioned any goalkeepers so far. That's because there simply aren't that many English-born top flight 'keepers around, and when you do find one he's probably part what would be a very small team indeed. Liverpool's Scott Carson was born in Whitehaven, which means he'd be the only player of note in a Cumberland team. Wigan's Chris Kirkland would be a member of the Leicstershire team, but apart from Emile Heskey, they'd be about the only players you'd have ever heard of.

Somewhat perversely, some counties would have more than one goalkeeper to choose from. The Yorkshire team have Tottenham's Paul Robinson and Man. City's Nicky Weaver in their ranks, while the minor county of Hertfordshire could be caught in the dilemma of whether to pick Portsmouth's David James or Bolton's Ian Walker. Some would say neither, but no matter...

Apart from Lancashire and Essex, most other counties would struggle to even find eleven decent players to put together in a side - perhaps an indication of just how many foreign players currently ply their trade in today's Premier League. Some counties can find seven or eight like that great cricketing behemoth, Yorkshire. Apart from their two goalkeepers, they'd also have Kevin Davies, Alan Smith, James Milner and Aaron Lennon in their ranks.

In the Midlands, Warwickshire would have a slightly weak team featuring Everton's Joleon Lescott, Man. City's Darius Vassell and Gabriel Agbonlahor of Aston Villa. Kent's team would be strongly as their 'virtual squad' would contain Glen Johnson, Shaun Wright-Phillips and Kieran Richardson (all born in Greenwich) along with Aston Villa's Liam Ridgewell, Anton Ferdinand of West Ham and Tottenham's Wayne Routledge.

One curiosity which comes from looking down the team lists is that the Surrey team seems to be dominated by West Ham players. Carlton Cole and Nigel Reo-Coker were born in Croydon, goalkeeper Robert Green was born in Chertsey and Scott Parker was born in Lambeth.

But what of the Premier League's big name stars - which county would you expect them to play for? Tottenham's new signing, Darren Bent, was formerly associated with another London club, Charlton, yet he'd be the only top name in a Cambridgeshire team. Michael Owen and Peter Crouch both have strong links with Liverpool, but they wouldn't be in the Lancashire team - they'd be representatives of Cheshire. Craig Bellamy and Ryan Giggs are both Welsh, so you'd expect them to represent a historic county of Wales and you'd be right - they'd be in the Glamorgan side.

Some Welsh-born players, though, can consider themselves unlucky to have been born in a county where not even a Minor Counties side plays. Robbie Savage would play for a Denbighshire team if it ever were to exist and West Ham's defensive duo James Collins and Danny Gabbidon would represent Monmouthshire. As for veteran Gary Speed, has anyone ever heard of Flintshire? No, neither have we...

On reflection then, it's perhaps just as well that the Premier League doesn't force players to represent their counties of birth. From what we can see, there'd be some interesting combinations of players and some definite regional strongholds here and there, but perhaps the strength in depth from team to team would be found wanting. And let's not forget we're talking about a top division in England where no foreign players would be involved. Now that IS a bizarre concept...

(BONUS DOWNLOAD! If you're feeling particularly nosey, you can see the full list of top-name players and the counties they'd play for by clicking here. Enjoy...)


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