A wonder goal scored by league leaders Al Ain in the United Arab Emirates has gone viral and it is easy to see why.
Currently top of the UAE Pro-League by a huge nine point margin, Al Ain are the record champions in the oil rich nation with ten league championships to their name. Al Ain, based in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, have only lost one game so far this season and that defeat came on the opening day of the season against Al Ahli. Since then Al Ain have won twelve out of their next thirteen games in the league and are still competing in both domestic cup competitions, namely the Emirates Cup (group stages) and the President’s Cup (their quarter-final tie against Bani Yas is on February 10th).
The most recent league match saw the runaway league leaders stroll to a 4-0 win over 10th place Ajman FC. Just the one goal separated the two teams at the half-time break, Jires Kembo-Ekoko breaking the deadlock in the 10th minute, but the second half saw Al Ain break clear with further strikes from Alex Brosque and Omar Abdulrahman before substitute Yousef Ahmad completed the rout in fine style. He got on the end of a flowing move which involved the whole team and contained no fewer than 19 passes and helped widen the gap at the top of the table between Al Ain (37 points) and nearest challengers Al Jazira and Bani Yas, both of whom have 28 points.
Tournament hosts Russia emerged victorious for the second year in a row in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) Cup today following a 4-2 win over arch-rivals Ukraine in St Petersburg.
The form guide going into the final suggested that Ukraine were the favourites over Russia. The Ukrainians finished top of Group C ahead of Lithuania, Moldova and Turkmenistan with a 100% record before fate decided that they would meet two of their group opponents in the knockout rounds; Moldova were thrashed 5-0 in the quarter-finals before Ukraine won by the odd goal in three in their semi-final against Lithuania. Russia, on the other hand, won one and drew the other two games in Group B but still managed to top the group ahead of Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan who they also beat in the quarter-finals before they won their semi-final match against Belarus by two goals to one.
The final, played before a 10,000 crowd at St Petersburg’s Sports and Concert Complex, turned out to be a goal fest. Russia took the lead after just five minutes through Nikita Bocharov only for Vladyslav Kalitvintsev to equalize just ten minutes later. The Russians would end the first half holding a 2-1 advantage following Andrei Panyukov’s 38th minute strike but Ukraine levelled matters for a second time after the break when Vitali Ivanko made it 2-2 just after the hour mark. Panyukov bagged his second goal of the game in the 75th minute to re-establish Russia’s lead for a third time, one which they would fail to relinquish. The deal was sealed in stoppage time when Emin Makhmudov scored from the penalty spot and gave the host nation title glory for the second year in a row.
Having begun as a pre-season tournament for champion club sides from the former Soviet republics, the CIS Cup decided to change in 2012 in order to incorporate national youth teams. This was as a result of the waning interest shown to the competition by various club sides that preferred either to spend pre-season training in warmer climes or to participate in much more financially lucrative pre-season competition elsewhere. Nevertheless the competition has gained a renewed sense of purpose under its current guise and today’s final between two talented teams of youngsters shows that this competition might just have a vibrant future yet.
United Arab Emirates won this year’s Gulf Cup of Nations on Friday night. They needed extra-time before eventually seeing off tough opposition in the form of Iraq with Ismail Al Hammadi’s winner in the 107th minute proving the difference between the two sides.
Both nations had emerged top of their respective groups in the league stages, both of whom registering a 100% record with three wins from three, but were made to fight it out in the semi-finals with the UAE knocking out Kuwait with a goal in the 89th minute whilst Iraq needed a penalty shoot-out in order to dispose of tournament hosts Bahrain after they had been involved in a 1-1 draw.
In Friday’s final United Arab Emirates took the lead after 27 minutes thanks to Omar Abdulrahman but, with the match petering out into the closing stages, Iraq found an equalizer in the 80th minute with Younis Mahmoud getting himself on the score sheet. Cue extra-time and a winning strike from Al Hammadi two minutes into the second period gave the UAE their second Gulf Cup of Nations title, just six years after their maiden triumph.
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)
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.
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.
Saudi Arabian football will be well represented in the quarter-finals of the AFC Champions League. Following this week’s Round of 16 matches three sides from Saudi Arabia made it through to the last eight with another five teams, all hailing from different nations, to join them in the business end of the tournament.
Al Ahli, who finished second in their domestic championship this season, will join compatriots Al Ittihad and Al Hilal with all three teams encountering different levels of difficulty in order to qualify. Al Ahli had to go through the tension and drama of a penalty shoot-out following a 3-3 after extra-time against UAE outfit Al Jazira. Al Hilal made much easier work of another side from the United Arab Emirates, namely Baniyas SC, thrashing them to the tune of seven goals to one with Korean Byung-Soo Yoo getting on the score sheet four times. Al Ittihad also made light work of Iranian giants Persepolis, eliminating the Tehran based club 3-0.
In the all-Iranian clash Sepahan FC, who won their domestic championship this season, will hope to add continental honours to the trophy cabinet after defeating Esteghlal 2-0 thanks to goals from Bruno Correa and Mohsen Bengar. South Korean side Ulsan Hyundai won through a difficult encounter by the odd goal in five in a 3-2 win over Japanese champions Kashiwa Reysol. South Korea’s representation was halved, however, following the elimination of 2010 Asian champions Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma who lost out to a Hayrulla Karimov penalty in a 1-0 defeat at the hands of Uzbekistan champions Bunyodkor FC.
China and Australia also enjoy representation in the last eight following triumphs for Ghangzhou Evergrande and Adelaide United respectively. Ghangzhou, now under the management of former FIFA World Cup winner Marcello Lippi, were thankful to Brazilian striker Cleo who was the lone marksman on target in a 1-0 win over FC Tokyo. Australian side Adelaide also went through against Japanese opposition, defeating Nagoya Grampus Eight by the same score line thanks to a Jonathan McKain goal three minutes before the half-time break.
The draw for the remainder of the tournament will be made on Friday, June 14th in Kuala Lumpur.
In the AFC Cup each of the eight quarter-finalists hails from a different nation as the competition proves to be geographically diverse. The biggest winners in the Round of 16 stage were Iraqi side Arbil SC who defeated Neftchi Farg’ona of Uzbekistan by four goals to nil. Kelantan got the better of compatriots Terengganu as the all-Malaysian clash finished in a 3-2 win for the former. Arema FC, who hail from Indonesia, also went through at the expense of Hong Kong champions Kitchee SC with a 2-0 win. There were also wins for Al Kuwait, Al Ettifaq (Saudi Arabia), Al Wehdat (Jordan), Al Shorta (Syria) and Chonburi FC (Thailand).
Asian football’s two major continental tournaments have reached the knockout stages following the conclusion of the group stages this week.
The AFC Champions League is usually dominated by South Korean clubs but only two of this year’s four representatives have made it through the group stage. The two successful clubs are Ulsan Hyundai and Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma, both of whom topped their groups with unbeaten records, whilst the unfortunate clubs to depart the tournament are last season’s losing finalists Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors and Pohang Steelers. The latter two clubs, who have been crowned Asian champions four times between them, could only finish third in their respective groups and are eliminated.
The most successful countries in this year’s group stages are Japan, Iran and Saudi Arabia who all have three clubs remaining in the last sixteen. Gamba Osaka, the last Japanese team to win the Asian Champions League, was the only J-League club to fail to progress this time with Nagoya Grampus Eight, FC Tokyo and Kashiwa Reysol going on to represent Japan in the latter stages. Al-Ittihad and Sepahan FC, the last Asian champions from the nations of Saudi Arabia and Iran respectively, have made it through to the last sixteen with both clubs finishing top of their groups. Al Hilal and Al Ahli also progress as Saudi Arabian representatives while Iran can count on two of Asian football’s biggest names, Esteghlal and Persepolis, to provide tough competition in the latter stages. The United Arab Emirates will feature two clubs in the latter rounds. Al Jazira finished top of Group A with an unbeaten record whilst Baniyas Sports Club finished second in Group B behind Al Ittihad and well above Nasaf Qarshi, the club from Uzbekistan who gained a place in this year’s AFC Champions League having won the secondary AFC Cup in 2011.
Nasaf’s compatriots Bunyodkor are the only club from their nation still involved in the last sixteen with the ambitious Tashkent based side hoping that the major investment pumped into the club over the last five years will soon pay off. Australian side Adelaide United, who finished above Bunyodkor in Group E, are the only side from Down Under to make it through while Central Coast Mariners and two-time defending A-League champions Brisbane Roar, were easily swept aside by stronger opponents. The only country left remaining with one representative in the top competition is China who will rely on Ghangzhou Evergrande to fly the flag. The club has announced today (see previous report) that former FIFA World Cup winning coach Marcello Lippi has joined on a two-and-a-half year deal and expectations are high that Ghangzhou could become the first Chinese club to become Asian champions for a quarter of a century.
AFC CHAMPIONS LEAGUE ROUND OF 16 DRAW
Adelaide United (Australia) v Nagoya Grampus Eight (Japan)
Al Hilal (Saudi Arabia) v Baniyas SC (UAE)
Al Ittihad (Saudi Arabia) v Persepolis (Iran)
Al Jazira (UAE) v Al Ahli (Saudi Arabia)
Ghangzhou Evergrande (China) v FC Tokyo (Japan)
Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma (South Korea) v Bunyodkor FC (Uzbekistan)
Sepahan (Iran) v Esteghlal (Iran)
Ulsan Hyundai (South Korea) v Kashiwa Reysol (Japan)
The AFC Cup, Asian football’s equivalent of the Europa League or Copa Sudamericana, will see three Kuwaiti teams progress to the last sixteen. Two of those three, Al Qadsia and Al Kuwait, will meet each other in the Round of 16 whilst Kazma Sports Club face the only remaining Jordanian side Al Wehdat SC. Another tie which features two teams from the same country is the all-Malaysian affair between Kelantan and Terengganu. Iraq is the final nation to be represented by two clubs in the latter stages, namely Arbil SC and Al Zawra’a SC, while another seven nations will be represented by lone representatives in a competition showing great diversity, as is shown in the draw (below):
AFC CUP ROUND OF 16 DRAW
Al Qadsia (Kuwait) v Al Kuwait (Kuwait)
Al Ettifaq (Saudi Arabia) v Al Suwaiq (Oman)
Al Wehdat (Jordan) v Kazma Sports Club (Kuwait)
Al Shorta (Syria) v Home United (Singapore)
Arbil SC (Iraq) v Neftchi Farg’ona (Uzbekistan)
Chonburi (Thailand) v Al Zawra’a (Iraq)
Kitchee SC (Hong Kong) v Arema FC (Indonesia)
Kelantan (Malaysia) v Terengganu (Malaysia)
Chinese club Ghangzhou Evergrande have made a statement of intent for the year ahead by appointing former FIFA World Cup winning coach Marcello Lippi to take charge of the team.
Lippi takes over a club who are in fine health having won their maiden Chinese Super League last season and leading ten games into the current campaign with 22 out of 30 points (seven wins, one draw, two defeats), one more than nearest challengers Ghangzhou R&F. Evergrande are also in the Round of 16 in the AFC Champions League where they face off against FC Tokyo. For Lippi, and Evergrande owner Xu Jiayin, the aim is for the club to consistently compete at home and abroad with the intention of becoming a major force in Asian football.
Lippi has spoken of his intention “to bring the Italian football concepts to China” and he will have a difficult act to follow given that his predecessor, South Korean coach Lee Jang-Soo, was the man who brought the long-awaited title to Evergrande. However the club has decided that big moves need to be taken if they are to maintain their place at the top of Chinese football and stay one step ahead of Shanghai Shenhua who are also battling to become China’s first super club.
Marcello Lippi’s first match in charge comes this Sunday against bottom of the table Qingdao Jonoon and the pressure will be on the Italian to keep up the club’s early season momentum. However, having won all of the game’s biggest prizes at club and international level, expectation is something that the 64 year old should be able to cope with.
First of all I should start this piece by wishing everybody a happy new year! I’ve been enjoying myself over the Christmas holiday and have neglected the blog over the last few days so I need to rectify this, starting off with a piece regarding the new Emperor’s Cup winners in Japan.
FC Tokyo have done an unlikely league and cup double in Japan following their 4-2 triumph over Kyoto Sanga in last Sunday’s Emperor’s Cup final. FC Tokyo had already clinched the J-League second division, topping the table with an eight point advantage over nearest challengers Sagan Tosu, and then went on to win the first ever Emperor’s Cup final to be played by two teams outside of the top flight.
FC Tokyo were the obvious favourites going into the cup final but Kyoto Sanga struck first on 13 minutes thanks to Hiroki Nakayama only for the capital city club to equalize just three minutes later through Yasuyuki Konno. Tokyo then exerted their dominance on the game and went into the half-time break with a 3-1 lead courtesy of further strikes from Masato Morishige and Lucas Severino. Tokyo sealed the victory with Lucas again on the score sheet midway through the second half only for Kyoto, who finished in a respectable seventh position in the second division this term, to pull a goal back through Yuya Kubo.
The victory proved extra sweet for FC Tokyo as it was their maiden triumph in Japan’s premier knockout cup competition, having won the secondary tournament J-League Cup twice in 2004 and 2009. Not only that but FC Tokyo will get a chance to prove themselves on Asian football’s biggest stage next season as they will feature in the 2012 AFC Champions League in Group F alongside Ulsan Hyundai (South Korea), Brisbane Roar (Australia) and Beijing Guoan (China).