It’s been a pretty intense few days in the preliminary round of Oceania’s Under-17 Football Championship and there has been no shortage of goals in what’s been a very open tournament. Emerging victorious are the Cook Islands whose 2-1 win over host nation Samoa in the last round of matches played today in the Samoan capital city of Apia has won them through to the next stage.
Twenty eight goals were scored in the six games to have been played since Tuesday, an average of just over four and a half a game, and all of them have added to a fascinating competition in which drama was in no short supply. Cook Islands got their tournament off to the best possible start on Tuesday when defeating Tonga 7-1 with six different players getting on the score sheet, Maro Bonsu-Maro being the only player to score two goals. In the derby match, Samoa and American Samoa shared the spoils with a 2-2 draw to leave the Cook Islanders topping the table after matchday one. Things suddenly changed on matchday two when the Cook Islands were overtaken at the top by American Samoa. The latter defeated the former 3-0 with Sinisi Tua bagging a brace. Samoa got the better of Tonga, winning by the odd goal in five with Paulo Scanlan’s hat-trick proving crucial in Samoa’s 3-2 win.
Going into today’s final round of matches three teams – Samoa, American Samoa and Cook Islands – all had the chance to claim the trophy. Tonga, up until now the whipping boys of the group, were in no position to gift their opponents American Samoa the title. American Samoa seemed to be coasting their way to victory when going 2-0 ahead after 48 minutes thanks to goals from Paia Ipiniu and Sinisa Tua but the Tongans were to end up shocking their opponents by turning the match around with three goals in the last nineteen minutes. Uasi Talanoa, Hemaloto Polovili and Taniela Vaka’uta, whose goal came deep into stoppage time, claimed Tonga’s first win of the tournament and opened the door for Samoa and Cook Islands to claim the title in the other match.
In another topsy-turvy encounter it was Samoa who took the lead after 23 minutes thanks to Sue Pelesa, an advantage they would see through to half-time. Fifteen minutes into the second half saw the Cook Islands restore parity, Takuina Tararo heading home the equalizer, but they had to wait until four minutes from full-time before they were to score the crucial goal which would eventually clinch the championship. Step forward Dwayne Tiputoa whose late charge saw him slot the ball home and break the hearts of Samoa, for whom a draw would’ve been enough to give them the title following American Samoa’s surprise defeat.
Cook Islands topped the table with six points from three games, both American Samoa and Samoa have four points with the former holding on to second place on goal difference whilst Tonga prop up the rest with three points. The Cook Islands can now prepare for the tournament proper of the OFC under-17 Championship where they face off against seven other nations including the likes of New Zealand, Solomon Islands and hosts Vanuatu from April 17th-27th. The winner of that can then look forward to representing Oceania on the world stage when the FIFA Under-17 World Cup takes place in the United Arab Emirates between October 17th-November 8th.
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.
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)
FIFA’s annual awards ceremony took place in Zurich last night and there weren’t too many surprises as to who would come top of the main awards of the evening.
It was obvious to all of the world and his dog that Lionel Messi would come to win the Player of the Year award in 2011 following yet another truly successful twelve months with his club FC Barcelona. The Ballon D’or award will adorn his mantelpiece for the third year in a row but it could easily have gone to any of his club colleagues Xavi or Andres Iniesta due to their consistency, as well as Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo who was conspicuous by his absence at last night’s ceremony. However Messi topped the poll once more due to his amazing ability to stand out in one of football’s greatest ever club sides. His recent performances in this season’s El Clasico against Real Madrid and FIFA Club World Cup final against Santos FC have put to bed the recent question as to who is the best player in the world with Messi getting the better of Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar respectively in those games.
A repeat of the historic sextuple triumph of 2009 was almost replicated but for the head of Cristiano Ronaldo in the 2010-11 Cope del Rey final which deprived Barcelona of one trophy last year. Nonetheless the 2010-11 league title was won with an astonishing total of 96 points, four ahead of Madrid, and the UEFA Champions League win was the club’s third in five years. Wins in both the Spanish and European Super Cups at the start of the 2011-12 season took Barcelona’s haul of trophies to four for the calendar year before December’s triumph in the FIFA Club World Cup, which culminated in a 4-0 pasting for South American champions Santos FC in the final, meant that five out of six had been achieved and cemented the club’s recent dominance in world football. On a similar theme the Manager of the Year award went to Pep Guardiola who, three years after taking the job at the Camp Nou, shows that he is still as hungry for success as ever and has raised the bar of how football should and can be played. Upon receiving the award Guardiola said that he would like to share the award with his two challengers for the prize, namely Jose Mourinho and Sir Alex Ferguson.
Sir Alex Ferguson would admit himself that what is happening at FC Barcelona at the moment means that they should grasp the limelight but, outside of Catalonia, Ferguson is still going strong at Old Trafford and showing no signs of slowing down. His continuing exploits at the top of the English and European game saw him recognized by FIFA last night with a special Lifetime Achievement Award. Last year saw Sir Alex win his twelfth Premier League title with Manchester United, which was the club’s 19th English league title overall and saw them overtake Liverpool FC’s total of 18 which had been an English record for over three decades. Although the 2010-11 season wasn’t the most dominant title win during his reign, Sir Alex has at least set the ball rolling for another potential era of sustained success and his charges currently lie second in the English Premier League table three points behind arch rivals Manchester City who they knocked out of the FA Cup last weekend. In a year in which Ferguson was recognized by all and sundry in the football world for the remarkable contribution he has made to football during his 25 years at Old Trafford his peers at the club invoked the most perfect of tributes by renaming the North Stand in his honour and has now been similarly held in high esteem by world football’s governing body.
Sir Alex’s club Manchester United saw two of their players reach the FIFPro World XI in the shape of Nemanja Vidic and Wayne Rooney. The latter was denied the Ferenc Puskas prize for the goal of the year with the prize going to Santos FC and Brazil wunderkind Neymar (see goal below). Neymar didn’t get into the World XI this time but surely his time will come whilst this year nine out of the eleven players came from either FC Barcelona or Real Madrid. Finally the FIFA Fair Play award went to the country of Japan which having started off the year in tragic circumstances following two natural disasters in the form of an earthquake and subsequent flooding, the country paraded itself on the world stage in the eyes of football fans everywhere with the men’s team winning the 2011 AFC Asian Cup whilst the women’s team became 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup champions from which Homare Sawa stood out to win the FIFA Women’s Player of the Year award.
FIFPro WORLD XI 2011
Iker Casillas (Real Madrid) – Daniel Alves, Gerard Pique (both FC Barcelona), Nemaja Vidic (Manchester United), Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid) – Andres Iniesta, Xavi, Lionel Messi (all FC Barcelona), Xabi Alonso (Real Madrid) – Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid), Wayne Rooney (Manchester United)
NEYMAR’S GOAL OF THE YEAR 2011
FIFA Vice-President Jack Warner, whom allegations of corruption were made, has resigned from his post at football’s world governing body. Any chance that this move could be seen as a positive development within the upper echelons of the game have been completely overridden by the words expressed by FIFA itself in the aftermath of his resignation.
An official FIFA statement issued just moments after his resignation became public made clear that “as a consequence of Mr Warner’s resignation, all ethics committee procedures against him have been closed and the presumption of innocence is maintained”. Those last six words have already done more than anything to undermine FIFA President Sepp Blatter’s promise to make football more transparent and accountable and will be seen by many to be a cop out solution which shames FIFA further.
Thanks to this resignation there will seemingly be no further investigation into allegations that Warner paid bribes to various Caribbean football associations and asked for favours from candidate countries hoping to host the 2018 and 2022 FIFA World Cup tournaments. The fact that these allegations can now just suddenly disappear and be swept under the carpet is yet another sign of this organisation’s arrogance and contempt for the very people for whom, it was said, they would do all they could to restore the credibility of the game – the fans.
Nobody wishes to presume that anybody is guilty before proven otherwise but the big question remains; why it is still not possible to retrospectively look at all of the evidence in relation to all of the allegations and make all of the facts known to the public? Or, in other words, what have FIFA and all of the parties involved got to hide if they are to live up to this mantra of transparency and openness?
The mind well and truly boggles………..
Football has been suffering from an image problem of late. The ongoing row about corruption within the higher ranks of world football’s governing body FIFA has been the main focus of drama in recent weeks. Sadly events on the pitch have started bringing the game under question after a number of incidents where allegations of match-fixing have come to light. This is a serious blight on the sport and one which should be punishable with the harshest penalties if any one or more party is found guilty of such an act.
The most recent allegations, reported on the BBC Sport website today, involve a number of players in South Korea who have been accused of taking money to influence the outcome of results in certain K-League matches. Eight of the accused players play at Daejeon Citizen who are alleged to have lost a game in suspicious circumstances in April against the Pohang Steelers with one of the latter team’s players also accused of placing a bet on his team to win 3-0 (which they did). Another game between Gwangju FC and Busan I’Park is also under question as the Korean authorities have decided to get to grips with the allegations that have been made.
But this is far from an isolated incident to have cropped up recently. In Italy, which as a nation is no stranger to corruption in football, there are allegations regarding the latest claims of match-fixing which came out last week. There are some fifteen matches under question (with more than double that number potentially under suspicion) with the majority of the games involved coming in the Lega Pro, Italy’s lower divisions. The most startling news in relation to this story was that such a high-profile figure such as Giuseppe Signori, the former Lazio and Italy star, was arrested in connection with the allegations and it seems that just when Italian football recovers from one scandal, another one comes along to drag its name into the mud once more.
Also last week came allegations of further betting irregularities in the international friendly match between Nigeria and Argentina which finished 4-1 to the former. The incident in question came at the very end of the game in which five minutes of stoppage time were added on at the end of a meaningless friendly but in which a further three minutes were played beyond that given. During that time a questionable penalty decision allowed Argentina to score a goal from the penalty spot and it was revealed after the game that some irregular betting patterns in the dying moments of the game had aroused the suspicions of the authorities.
Of course these are allegations and one hopes that the authorities at FIFA, who recently announced that they would join forces with Interpol to try and eradicate match-fixing from football, can really make an example of those who, in the future, are found guilty of such a crime by issuing lifetime bans or heavy financial penalties. With FIFA’s name currently under the spotlight at the moment then its partnership with Interpol can be one small step towards reassuring real football fans that the game is to be clean and above suspicion in the future.
Just when FIFA President Sepp Blatter had the chance to reassure any sceptics that he is the right man to lead world football’s governing body for a fourth straight term along comes a bizarre performance from him in a specially arranged press conference at FIFA House in Zurich this evening.
With allegations of corruption and civil war breaking out within the upper echelons of what Blatter himself calls “the FIFA family”, today’s press conference was supposed to show the world that the president elect was on message and would reassure football fans and the waiting press that he was the man for the job. However once the press conference got under way he put a brave face on the current problems affecting FIFA by stating that the sport and the organisation was “not in a crisis” but only suffering some “difficulties” whilst insisting that any problems would be solved “inside our family”. This was too much to bear for some reporters who shouted him down at the end of what will go down as one of Blatter’s more brazen performances, continually answering most of the journalists’ questions with answers one could only describe as being like a default setting.
Before the press conference began news had come through that the two suspended FIFA members at the heart of corruption allegations, Mohamed Bin Hammam and Jack Warner, would appeal their suspensions. Later on there was more news involving FIFA general secretary Jerome Valcke who will now have to answer questions regarding an email he had sent to Warner regarding the legality of Qatar’s successful 2022 FIFA World Cup hosting bid and which could be used as a stick with which to implicate Blatter in further investigations. The irony about Blatter’s press conference today was that the more he talked about transparency the more he dodged questions about any of the central figures involved in the case.
In the current climate this is a very sad indictment on what FIFA has become and against what FIFA wishes to stand for, Respect and Fair Play.
The ongoing story regarding allegations of corruption at the very heart of world football’s governing body FIFA seems to have taken the game to an all-time low. Surely the only way for these allegations to be addressed is for an independent body to look at the crux of the matter and investigate every figure who is alleged to have been involved. With more questions than answers in a case which won’t go away the last thing that FIFA and its president Sepp Blatter should do is to bury their heads in the sand.
Even by the standards of the FIFA scandal there have been some very interesting developments in the last 24 hours. Mohamed Bin Hammam, head of the Asian Football Confederation and FIFA presidential candidate, announced on his personal website that he was officially withdrawing his candidacy, thus giving the current holder of the post Sepp Blatter free reign to win a fourth straight term of office unopposed. This, he explained, would allow him the opportunity to clear his name and he explained that he felt saddened at the state of events because he “cannot allow the name [i.e. FIFA] that I loved to be dragged more and more in the mud because of competition between two individuals.”
Then on Sunday afternoon came the news that both Bin Hammam and Jack Warner, the Vice-President of FIFA who is also at the centre of the allegation claims made by CONCACAF general secretary Chuck Blazer, have been suspended by the FIFA’s ethics committee who, despite protestations from Bin Hammam and Warner, also stated that “no investigation against Blatter is warranted”. Despite this it is arguably the case that the presidential election, which is to take place this coming Wednesday at FIFA’s 61st Annual Congress in Zurich, ought to be postponed in order to allow further examination of all claims made against each and every figure who has had allegations made against them. Even if it was to be concluded that very little, or indeed no, corruption ever took place the perception of FIFA amongst football fans around the world is the lowest that its ever been with high profile bureaucrats often accused of selling the game’s soul in exchange for huge financial incentives. A shake-up of FIFA from top to bottom and a review of its leadership structure is the very minimum that the organisation needs in order to restore public confidence at the game’s top body.
It is with great sadness that I should have to post a blog today that focuses on off the field tragedy rather than looking forward to on the field matters building up to the African Cup of Nations that begins in Angola tomorrow. However it has been announced that the Togolese national team has decided to withdraw from the tournament after their team bus came under attack from people, whose motives are unknown, brandishing machine guns with which they killed the bus driver and injured two of the squad, Serge Akakpo and Kodjovi Obilale.
Unfortunately it is increasingly the case that people who think that sports stars are immune from the sort of danger that ordinary citizens face in everyday life are incorrect. Other sports have suffered tragedy, most recently cricket has had to face up to a similar horror when the Sri Lanka team bus was attacked when about to play in a Test Match against Pakistan in Lahore in March 2009. Several cricket players, including captain Mahela Jayawardene, were injured whilst six policemen and a civilian were killed. In both these tragic cases it happened despite the presence of heavy security and it seems that people who intend to injure, harm or kill others will do so no matter what it takes.
Despite the decision taken by Togo to withdraw from the tournament it has been announced this afternoon by the African Football Confederation (CAF) that the competition will go ahead as planned from tomorrow. FIFA president Sepp Blatter has asked the head of the CAF, Issa Hayatou, for a full report into the incident, no doubt hoping to learn lessons with the FIFA World Cup due to take place in South Africa later this year. Issues surrounding crime and safety have already been brought up in relation to the World Cup as thousands of fans from over thirty countries will travel this summer to a country whose troubles with law and order have been well documented in the last few years and this attack will certainly worry the powers that be as they seek to re-assure fans, officals and players that their safety is paramount.
There will be many people who will say that the only way to ensure that the terrorists don’t win is to go ahead with everything as normal. Of course there is some sympathy for that argument but one must consider that should anything equally, if not more, tragic should occur during this tournament then serious questions will need to be asked and fully accounted for. One can fully understand why the Togo national team has no desire to participate in this tournament despite the prestige that such a competition can give to their nation. Team captain Emmanuel Adebayor convened a meeting with his players after the incident and made a statement later on stating that “most of the players want to go back to their family. No-one can sleep after what they have seen today. They have seen one of their team-mates have a bullet in his body, who is crying, who is losing consciousness and everything….I don’t think they [the players] will be ready to give their life.”
That final point is the most poignant. To many people football, to use that oft-quoted remark from Bill Shankly, is a matter of life or death. Sadly it became, yesterday, a matter of life AND death and it is with this is mind that everybody in the world of football and elsewhere should send their sympathies and condolence to the Togo national team and pray that nothing else happens to compound this truth even further during the next few weeks in Angola.Thilan Samaraweera and
Tharanga Paranavitana were hospitalisedThilan Samaraweera and
Tharanga Paranavitana were hospitalised
It was a case of third time lucky for FC Barcelona as they sealed their maiden triumph in the FIFA Club World Cup in Abu Dhabi, UAE. Their opponents, Copa Libertadores champions Estudiantes de La Plata, were so close to winning the trophy themselves after leading the contest for so long. However the Catalans rounded off the final leg of an unprecedented “grand slam” of trophies by scoring late in reglaur time and rounding off the game in extra-time.
The first half of the game started with no real flow due to the number of fouls being committed on both sides. The first thirty minutes saw few real chances and it resembled the proverbial game of chess. However the deadlock was broken on 37 minutes as Mauro Boselli headed in a Juan Manual Diaz cross from the left to give “los Pincharatas” a 1-0 lead and they saw this lead through to half-time.
In the second half Estudiantes seemed determined to hold on to their lead allowing the European champions as much time and possession as they wished, with the Argentines hoping to break on the counter attack. For so long the rugged Estudiantes defence kept wave after wave of “Barça” attacks out of reach and their defensive tactics appeared to be paying off. However the breakthrough for Barcelona came very late. In the 88th minute Pedro managed to loop a header over goalkeeper Albil into the top right hand corner and the hoardes of Barcelona fans in the stadium were ecstatic.
Barcelona started the extra-time period in much the same fashion as they’d ended the regulation period. Ibrahimovic and Toure had shots blocked in the first period of fifteen minutes. It wasn’t until five minutes into the second half of extra-time until Lionel Messi was able to pop up with the game’s decisive moment. Dani Alves’ right sided cross was chested home by the Argentine superstar from close range and the Catalans could sense that their day had finally come after two previous disappointments in Club World Cup finals.
The excitement wasn’t quite over as an urgent Estudiantes side finally found some forward momentum to try and take the game into penalties. A free kick was won in the last minute of extra-time and Estudiantes had everybody in the penalty area including goalkeeper Albil. However Juan Sebastian Veron’s free-kick was headed just wide by defender Leandro Desabato and the last chance for Veron Jr. to emulate his father’s achievement of 1968 (see “FIFA Club World Cup – Preview” blog) was over. The final whistle was blown and Barcelona’s fans were rejoicing the completion of an unprecedented sextet of trophies: Spanish League, Spanish Cup, Spanish Super Cup, Champions League, European Super Cup and Club World Cup. In a little under eighteen months Barça coach Pep Guardiola, already much decorated as a player, had won everything there was to win as a coach. Already in his fledgling managerial career he will go down as one of the legends of the game for this remarkable achievement.
In the other two matches played to close the tournament Asian champions Pohang Steelers clinched third place beating North/Central American champions Atlante CF 4-3 on penalties after the game had finished 1-1 after 90 minutes (no extra-time in this contest). The South Koreans’ success means that the Asian representatives have finished third in the last three tournaments (Urawa Red Diamonds and Gamba Osaka also finished third in 2007 and 2008 resepectively). In the fifth/sixth place play-off, played on Wednesday December 16th, Oceania’s Auckland City continued their dream tournament by beating African champions TP Mazembe 3-2 securing the win with a last minute winner from Riki van Steeden. This ensured the best ever performance by an Oceanian team in the tournament’s history.