Stoppage Time – International Football Blog

CAF: South Africa hosts while Zambia defends African Cup of Nations

Posted in African Football, International Football by peterbein on January 17, 2013

Following their home triumph in 1996, can South Africa emerge victorious in 2013?

South Africa hosts its second major international football tournament in a little over two years from Saturday. Having hosted the 2010 FIFA World Cup the “Rainbow Nation” is preparing for the 2013 African Cup of Nations, the 29th edition of the competition, and will hope to restore themselves as a force in African football following a particularly difficult decade.

This will be the second time that South Africa plays host to the tournament. The first time, back in 1996, saw the country return to the international scene following an enforced three decade absence due to the country’s previous position on issues of apartheid. Having returned, however, South Africa emerged victorious and claimed the African title for the first time when defeating Tunisia 2-0 in the final. Apart from the following tournament, when the “Bafana Bafana” ended up losing 2-0 to Egypt in 1998, the South Africans haven’t come close to winning the trophy since. Could home advantage prove to be a lucky omen once again? South Africa feature in Group A alongside Angola, Morocco and tournament debutants Cape Verde.

One team which hopes to put a stop to the hosts’ ambitions is Zambia. The surprise package in 2012, Zambia weren’t even spoken of as a potential champion before the tournament kicked off yet managed to carry off the trophy for the very first time having edged the Côte d’Ivoire 8-7 on penalties following a tense goalless final. The title holders scraped into this year’s tournament as well due to another penalty shoot-out, this time a 9-8 success against Uganda in the 2nd qualifying round after their two-legged clash finished 1-1 on aggregate. With the difficulty of qualifying over with, Zambia will compete in Group C along with two-time winners Nigeria, Burkina Faso and 1962 winners Ethiopia who are competing in their first African Cup of Nations for the first time since 1982.

Zambia surprised everybody by winning the 2012 African Cup of Nations

Amongst the traditional heavyweights of African football, Egypt are once again conspicuous by their absence. The record champions, who have won the title seven times, failed to qualify in 2012 and were once again found wanting in 2013 having gone out at the first qualifying round stage at the hands of Central African Republic. After Egypt, the most successful country in African Cup of Nations history is Ghana with four title wins. However the last of those wins is becoming a distant memory and should The Black Stars win the trophy for the fifth time it will be their first success in this tournament since 1982. Ghana will headline Group B which includes two nations who have yet to win the trophy, namely Mali and Niger, and a country which has won the title twice but under different guises. The Democratic Republic of the Congo, to give the country its present name, were previously victorious in 1968 as Congo-Kinshasa and six years later as Zaïre.

Côte d’Ivoire, who have made more tournament finals appearances (19) than any other nation, haven’t had much luck since winning their one and only title in 1992 having reached and lost two further finals. The Elephants will hope to go one better this time and have been put into Group D along with 2004 champions Tunisia, 1990 winners Algeria and Togo, who have now confirmed Emmanuel Adebayor’s participation in this year’s competition.

The top two teams in each group will progress to the knockout stage. At this point the remaining octet will not only be fighting it out for the African Cup of Nations trophy but also to represent the continent of Africa in the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup in Brazil later this year. Whoever emerges triumphant in South Africa this year will expect to play against world and European champions Spain in their Confederations Cup group, a prize every bit as rewarding as lifting the silverware itself, along with South American champions Uruguay and Oceania champions Tahiti.

Wales: Carmarthen Town claim Premier League Cup

Posted in European Football, UK Football by peterbein on January 12, 2013

Carmarthen Town have won the Welsh Premier League Cup for the second time

The first silverware of the new year in Welsh football was handed out today as Carmarthen Town eventually saw off their Welsh Premier League Cup final opponents The New Saints in an eventful goal-fest at Latham Park, Newtown.

The New Saints, leading the current Welsh Premier League standings by seven points from nearest challengers Prestatyn Town, struck first with Steve Evans giving his side the lead after just seven minutes. Parity was restored just three minutes before half-time when Carmarthen Town, who currently lie in seventh place in the Welsh Premier League table, got back into the game through Craig Hughes. After the break further strikes were traded between both teams in a topsy-turvy fashion. The New Saints regained the lead after Sam Finley’s shot went in off a post on 58 minutes only for Carmarthen Town to turn things around following a brace from sub Corey Thomas, helping his team to a 3-2 lead. However, the game was to take a further twist when TNS’s Michael Wilde equalized with six minutes remaining helping to take the game into extra-time.

In the following thirty minutes of extra-time there were no further goals and, thus, the game required a penalty shoot-out to decide the winner of the trophy. In the ensuing shoot-out it was Carmarthen Town who kept their nerve, prevailing by a 3-1 scoreline. Craig Hanford scored Carmarthen’s fourth penalty to make it 3-1 and then saw victory secured when TNS’s Paul Harrison had his spot kick saved. Carmarthen’s success was only their second such triumph in this competition having previously beaten Rhyl FC to win the 2004-05 edition of the tournament.

Brazil: Fluminense and Santos amongst many to defend state titles

Posted in South America Football by peterbein on January 12, 2013

It’s that time of the year again when local pride is at stake in the numerous state championships which are prevalent in the opening months of the Brazilian football calendar. From Amapá in the far north to Rio Grande do Sul in the south, from Acre in the west to Paraíba in the far east of the country, twenty seven regions of Brazil will be involved in their own local championship, mixing the big boys with the smaller village teams, with each club hoping to win their respective title and qualify for a place in next year’s edition of the national cup, the Copa Brasil.

The Rio State championship, more popularly known as Carioca, will begin next weekend with the first of the two component tournaments which make up the competition. The first of these is the Taça Guanabara (from 19th January – 10th March) which sees sixteen teams split into two groups. Each club will play the eight teams in the opposite group only once, culminating in a straight knockout between the top two of each group comprising of single leg semi-finals and final. Almost as soon as the action in the Taça Guanabara is finished the second half begins with the Taça Rio (16th March – 5th May). Each team will, in this competition, play the other seven teams in its own group once only with the top two in each group going through to a knockout stage just like in the Guanabara. If the same team wins both competitions then they are instantly crowned Carioca champions for the year. If the Guanabara and the Rio competitions see different winners then they will face off in a two-legged final to decide the overall champion of Rio State on May 12th and 19th. In 2012 Fluminense claimed the Guanabara title whilst Botafogo were victorious in the Rio Cup, thus both clubs met in an overall title decider which was won by Fluminense 5-2 on aggregate. “Flu” therefore took the Carioca title for the 31st time, leaving them just one behind old rivals Flamengo, and went on to enjoy national glory in the Campeonato Brasiliero later that year to complete a remarkable double.

WATCH 2012 CARIOCA FINAL, 2ND LEG HIGHLIGHTS HERE:

The other major state championship in Brazil is in São Paulo state, known as the Paulista. The duration of this tournament is the same as the Carioca beginning on January 19th and running until May 19th. The format of this competition is rather more straightforward than its Rio counterpart with a twenty team league, each team playing the rest once only. After 19 rounds of games the top eight go through to the knockout stages with the quarter-final and semi-final rounds played over one leg followed by a two-legged final. In the 2012 competition Santos finished in third place in the regular season table but managed to win their way through each of the knock-out rounds to take their 20th Paulista title, their third consecutive success at state level, by getting the better of Guarani in the final with a 7-2 aggregate victory.

WATCH 2012 PAULISTA FINAL, 2ND LEG HIGHLIGHTS:

There are some other notable state championships outside of the big two but many of these will contain an outstanding rivalry which has been the focus for many a tournament over the years. In the Mineiro championship, played in the state of Minas Gerais, Belo Horizonte giants Atlético Mineiro and Cruzeiro have won 77 of the 95 tournaments that have been played to date and their dominance is expected to continue this year. Atlético sealed their 41st title success last year with a 4-1 aggregate win over América in the final. Similarly, the Gaúcho championship will no doubt see the Porto Alegre rivalry between Grêmio and Internacional light up the campaign. Internacional will be hoping to reclaim the title they’ve won for the last two years, in 2012 courtesy of a 3-2 aggregate over Caxias in the final, but arch-rivals Grêmio are expected to put up a fight this time around. There’s more than just local bragging rights at stake for two clubs who have won all but two Gaúcho championships that have been played since 1954.

The Campeonato Paranaense was won in 2012 by Coritiba FC for the fourth time in five years as they faced off against eternal foes Atlético Paranaense in the final. Coritiba won out the penalty shoot-out which followed the second leg following an aggregate tie of 2-2 to claim the club’s 36th state title. It was back to business as usual in the Campeonato Baiano in 2012 as the big two of EC Vitória and EC Bahia fought out a tense final. Following Bahia de Feira’s shock maiden title win in 2011, the big two took it upon themselves to re-establish the old order in 2012 by reaching the final. Ultimately it was EC Bahia who emerged triumphant as they won the Baiano for the 44th time; the two-legged final against EC Vitória ended in a 3-3 aggregate draw but, due to the rules of the competition, Bahia’s superior record in the regular season won them the championship.

At this time of year we usually mention the Potiguar championship, held in the Rio Grande do Norte region, because of the dominance of ABC FC. The record champions at state level, ABC FC have won their local championship 52 times but they were unable to add to this total last year. América de Natal won their first Potiguar for nine years in 2012 by defeating ABC FC 4-1 in the final to claim their 34th overall win. Both of last year’s Potiguar finalists will sit it out during the first phase of this year’s championship, having a bye until the competition reaches its second phase in March.

WATCH 2012 POTIGUAR FINAL, 2ND LEG HIGHLIGHTS HERE:

Arsenal ticket price row proves English game must learn from Germany

Posted in European Football, UK Football by peterbein on January 9, 2013

The Emirates Stadium, home to Arsenal FC, where fans pay big money to watch games

It has been reported on The Guardian website today that up to 900 away end tickets have been returned by Manchester City to their hosts Arsenal ahead of the forthcoming Premier League clash between the two teams. The reason is suspected to be that, at £62 a ticket, it is simply either too expensive or a case of fans not wanting to pay such an extortionate amount of money out of principle. For fans of the English game this is simply not a surprise anymore; indeed the only surprise is that anybody still puts up with being ripped off.

Since the formation of the English Premier League in the 1992-93 season ticket prices have been rising at an alarming rate. Even in the last year, a survey published by the BBC revealed that the cost of the cheapest adult ticket in the top four divisions had risen by 11.7%. Of course it is Premier League clubs who will be largely responsible for the biggest of price hikes especially as the clubs are finding it more difficult to pay ever increasing wages to top stars, despite the fact that the Premier League is raking in more money than ever before due to increased television revenue. The advent of all-seater stadia was supposed to herald a new era of safety and comfort in English stadiums with the TV money a prime reason to help keep ticket prices as cheap as possible. In recent years, however, it seems that clubs will rip the fans off anyway, a situation which has arguably been a factor in increased calls for the re-introduction of standing areas in English football grounds. Fans simply cannot keep forking out at the current rate for match tickets along with all the usual necessities that going to a football stadium brings such as a match programme, food, drink and transport.

Watching Borussia Dortmund is a prime example of value for money

In recent months many English newspapers and football websites have made comparisons between the situation in England and that in Germany and how fans of Bundesliga clubs get such a bargain. Current German champions Borussia Dortmund, for example, charge as little as €190 for a season ticket which allows a fan to see seventeen home league games, an average of €11 a game. When one takes into account that the possession of a match ticket allows free travel on public transport to the stadium and the fact that one can drink beer whilst watching the match (something that ceased to be the case in England years ago where beer must be drank in designated areas away from the seating) and it is clear that fans in Germany have a much better deal. Even when clubs have tried to raise prices for big games in the Bundesliga fans have always been ready to vote with their feet, a most famous example was when fans of Borussia Dortmund boycotted a derby match against arch rivals Schalke 04 due to their hosts raising the ticket price to €20. Speaking from personal experience, I’ve been to watch many games as a fan of Eintracht Frankfurt, the most amazing deal was going to the Olympiastadion in Berlin to watch Eintracht play against Hertha BSC five years ago. The cost of a ticket? Only €9! And in a stadium which has hosted the FIFA World Cup final too.

Such a ticket price, which would work out at £7.30 at the current exchange rate, would be a dream to any English football fan in the current climate. The worst offenders in the English game tend to be clubs from the south of the country, the worst being Chelsea at £41 for the cheapest ticket, perhaps not surprising given that the cost of living is much higher than elsewhere in the country. Even Manchester United, who are the par excellence example in the commercialisation of the game throughout the Premier League era, still keep their cheapest ticket prices to a reasonable £30. Season ticket prices are an even more obvious example in how fans are having to dig deep in their pockets with Arsenal being the most expensive. There wouldn’t be much change given from £2000 if you were to get a season ticket at the Emirates stadium.

The fact is that Premier League clubs will always be prepared to charge what they want as long as people are prepared to keep paying the money. If fan movements in England had any importance, such as they do in Germany, then perhaps there would be no need for clubs to have to send batches of tickets back in the first place for such big games. After all it is the big games which fans want to see but the clubs should know where to draw the line and, in the name of fairness, stop testing the patience of loyal, hard-core fans whose bank balances suffer terribly in order to subsidize those of their heroes.

Brazil set to defend U-20 title in South America

Posted in International Football, South America Football by peterbein on January 9, 2013

Brazil celebrate winning the 2011 South American U-20 title

The 2013 South American Youth Championship begins today in Argentina in a tournament which will help determine the four nations who will progress to the FIFA Under-20 World Cup later this year.

Eleven times winners Brazil are the defending champions having won the tournament two years ago with a squad which included the likes of Santos superstar Neymar, who finished the 2011 competition as top scorer with nine goals, and Lucas Moura who recently made headlines for signing for Paris Saint Germain for a club record €45m. The champions kick off the defence of their title with a match against Ecuador on Thursday evening in Group B, a group which also contains Peru, 2011 runners-up Uruguay and Venezuela.

Hosts Argentina will begin their tournament with a game against Chile and will hope to make a good start in their quest to improve on their third place finish in 2011. Argentina’s other Group A opponents come in the form of Bolivia, Colombia and Paraguay. There are three places up for grabs in each group before the tournament concludes with a six-team group in which each team plays each other once, the conclusion of this phase will determine the South American youth champions and the three other finalists for the FIFA event which will be held in Turkey in June.

The tournament takes place until February 3rd and will be played in two host cities, Mendoza and San Juan, both of which lie in the west of the country.

FIFA: Messi seals yet another Ballon d’Or

Lionel Messi, seen here with the 2010 award, has won FIFA’s Ballon d’Or for 2012

The 2012 FIFA Ballon d’Or ceremony has been held in Zurich with the undoubted star of the show once again being FC Barcelona and Argentina sensation Lionel Messi. He has picked up FIFA’s top award for individual footballers for the third consecutive year since FIFA’s World Player of the year and France Football’s Ballon d’Or awards merged in 2010, and his fourth overall.

The 25 year old has already achieved more in his career than most players would ever dream of but the personal accolades still keep rolling in for a player whose setting of a new record for scoring the most goals in a calendar year has grabbed lots of headlines despite the relative lack of success for his club side in 2012. Messi, with 41.6% of the vote, beat off challenges from Real Madrid’s Portuguese superstar Cristiano Ronaldo (23.68%) and FC Barcelona team-mate Andres Iniesta (10.91%).

FIFA’s Manager of the Year went to Vicente del Bosque, the UEFA European Championship winning coach of the Spanish national team having secured 34.51% of the vote which put him ahead of Real Madrid’s José Mourinho (20.49%) and former FC Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola (12.91%)

In the women’s game top honours went to Abby Wambach, the American thoroughly deserving the accolade following a year in which her goals helped secure the Olympic gold medal for the USA women’s team in London. She won with a 20.67% share of the vote putting her ahead of five-time former winner Marta (13.5%) and compatriot Alex Morgan (10.87%). Coach of the Year went to Pia Sundhage, the Swede having led the United States Women’s national team to their gold medal, with 28.59% of the vote compared to challengers Norio Sasaki (23.83%) and Bruno Bini (9.02%).

FIFA’s Ferenc Puskas award, which goes to the scorer of the goal adjudged to have been the best, went to Miroslav Stoch for his goal against Gençlerbirliği in a Turkish Super League match (see below). He beat off competition from Colombian superstar Radamel Falcao and Brazilian hot shot Neymar, the winner of last year’s award in this category.

FIFA’s Presidential Award, a sort of lifetime achievement award given to an individual, team or organization that has made an outstanding contribution to the game, was given to German football legend Franz Beckenbauer. “Der Kaiser” won everything there was to win in the game with FC Bayern München and the German national team and has played a vital role as a coach and as a football ambassador since he gave up his playing career in the early 1980s. The Fair Play award went to the Uzbekistan Football Association whose record in terms of fair play on the field has been exemplary throughout the last twelve months.

Finally, the FIFA/FIFPro World XI for 2012 was announced. This team is voted for by users of the FIFA website:

Iker Casillas (Goalkeeper); Dani Alves, Marcelo, Gerard Pique, Sergio Ramos (Defence); Xabi Alonso, Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez (Midfield); Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Radamel Falcao (Attack)

Actions of Boateng and Jarvis to be applauded

Posted in European Football, UK Football by peterbein on January 4, 2013

West Ham player Matt Jarvis features on the cover of a gay magazine to tackle issues regarding homophobia

It is reassuring to know that football, and those within the game, can still play a part in attempting to tackle some of those issues which affect many in society. In the past two days we have seen the actions of two individuals whose respective stances against racism and homophobia grab media attention for all of the right reasons.

Yesterday AC Milan midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng took such exception to racist abuse being aimed at him from the stands that he grabbed the ball just 26 minutes into his team’s friendly match against Pro Patria and kicked it in the direction of those people whose abuse he had suffered. Having made his point directly to those supporters he then walked off the pitch in disgust and his team-mates followed suit in a move which has won many admirers and which, we can only hope, will be repeated in future if such scenes are witnessed at any other football ground.

Today it has been reported in the English press that West Ham United player Matt Jarvis is to feature on the front cover of a gay magazine in order to point out that homophobia has no place in the game of football and that gay footballers shouldn’t be scared to ‘come out’ publicly. This is an issue which seems to remain taboo in football with only Anton Hysen, son of former Liverpool and Sweden defender Glenn Hysen, having publicly declared his sexuality. Although the issue remains sensitive in other sports there has been a slow stream of stars in recent years who have revealed their sexuality including Welsh rugby union player Gareth Thomas, boxer Orlando Cruz and Basketball player John Amaechi.

Although Jarvis himself is not gay he, like many others, believes that homophobia, just like racism, should not be ignored and it is the actions of people such as Jarvis and Boateng which proves that football can do things in a sensitive and sensible fashion and for a game which all too often attracts negative headlines in such cases in this instance it should be applauded.

Asia: Kuwait ready to defend Gulf Cup in Bahrain

Posted in Asian Football by peterbein on January 4, 2013

Kuwait won the Gulf Cup for a record tenth time in 2010

The 2013 Gulf Cup of Nations kicks off this weekend in Bahrain with the tournament hosts getting things under way on Saturday facing off against Oman in the opening match. Defending champions Kuwait, who are hoping to win the tournament for a record extending eleventh time, will get their campaign under way on Sunday against Yemen.

Kuwait’s victory in the 2010 tournament was the first time they had won the trophy for twelve years, a substantial drought given that they had previously been so successful in a competition which began in 1970. Their narrow 1-0 win over Saudi Arabia in 2010 was sealed in extra-time thanks to midfielder Waleed Ali, leaving many Kuwaiti football fans to hope of a return to the days of dominance they enjoyed before 1998. Kuwait won the first four editions of this tournament from 1970-76 and went on to win it another five times in the next 22 years. From 1998, however, Saudi Arabia enjoyed a brief period of success winning back-to-back titles in 2002 and 2003. Qatar enjoyed home success in 2004 before a pair of first-time champions – namely United Arab Emirates and Oman – hoisted the trophy aloft in 2007 and 2009 respectively. Kuwait’s win in 2010 was a huge relief to the nation but it also brings back the pressure of defending the title, something which they will begin to do in Group B along with Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Yemen.

Bahrain are tournament hosts swapping the role with Iraq who are now expected to host the event in 2015. This is the fourth time that Bahrain will host the event, following on from the 1970, 1986 and 1998 tournaments, and on no such occasion have they ended up as champion. Indeed, out of the eight participants featuring in the Gulf Cup, only Bahrain and Yemen have yet to emerge victorious in the history of the competition. The hosts will feature in Group A with Oman, Qatar and United Arab Emirates making up the rest of a potentially tight group.

The group stages will finish on January 12th and will then see the top two of each group meet in the semi-finals three days later. Finals day comes on January 18th with a third/fourth place play-off beginning proceedings in Isa Town before the final match takes place in the Bahrain National Stadium in Riffa.

Japan: Kashiwa secure 2012 Emperor’s Cup

Posted in Asian Football by peterbein on January 1, 2013

In the first major footballing showpiece final of this year, Kashiwa Reysol secured Japanese football’s major domestic knockout competition when defeating Gamba Osaka 1-0 in the 2012 (yes, that is 2012 as opposed to 2013) Emperor’s Cup final in the National Stadium in Tokyo.

Kashiwa Reysol went into the game as favourites, the team having finished the 2012 J-League 1 season in a respectable sixth place. In contrast their opponents Gamba Osaka finished the most recent league campaign in seventeenth place in the 18 team league and were relegated into J-League 2 for next season. Despite this Gamba Osaka gave it their all and were unfortunate to have a goal chalked off for offside early in the game. Kashiwa Reysol, however, would ultimately make Osaka pay as Hirofumi Watanabe’s goal in the 35th minute proved the difference between the two teams.

Kashiwa’s victory was the third time that the club had won Japan’s version of the F.A. Cup, the other two Emperor’s Cup titles coming in the 1970s when Reysol were known as Hitachi Sports Club, whilst today’s success ensures that Kashiwa have won a major trophy for the third season in succession following their 2010 J-League 2 and 2011 J-League 1 successes. Kashiwa Reysol will also take part in the 2013 AFC Champions League as their reward for today’s cup heroics.