Japanese PM applauds World Cup squad

Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan hailed Japan’s World Cup squad on Wednesday after a nail-biting defeat to Paraguay ended the Blue Samurai’s unexpectedly strong performance in South Africa.

“They showed the world the real strength of Japanese football by working as a team,” Kan said in a statement. “I applaud them for their brave battles.”

In a gruelling match, Asia’s last representatives in South Africa fought bravely but failed to dominate Paraguay, eventually losing a penalty shoot-out 5-3 after the match ended 0-0 after extra-time.

It was the first time the Japanese had advanced to the knockout phase since the 2002 World Cup, which Japan co-hosted with South Korea.

The team’s strong showing came as a surprise to many at home, where expectations were low for the national squad, which in recent years has performed poorly on the international stage.

Wed 30 June, 2010
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´Secret millions´ grease Australia W.Cup bid

Australian football officials agreed secret, multi-million dollar lobbyist fees and gifted jewellery and free travel in a bid to win hosting rights for an upcoming World Cup, a report said Wednesday.

An exclusive report by Fairfax newspapers cited private Football Federation Australia files that it said detailed 11.37 million dollars (9.68 million US) in payments to two consultants — a quarter of the total bid budget.

It also listed gifts of pearl necklaces for the wives of FIFA executive committee members, who will decide in December which countries will host the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.

The FFA also handed out pearl cufflinks, offered a free trip to Australia to a committee member for his birthday, and paid for a football team linked to FIFA vice president Jack Warner to visit Cyprus last year, the report said.

It added that the huge payments to the consultants, who have boasted of close ties to Warner, FIFA president Sepp Blatter and the influential Franz Beckenbauer, were seen in a separate file not intended for government scrutiny.

Sports Minister Kate Ellis promised to investigate the allegations.

“Obviously the way the FFA spends government money is subject to the usual reporting and scrutiny requirements,” she said through a spokeswoman.

“Any evidence to the contrary will be thoroughly investigated by the government, as would any alleged breach of the funding agreement.”

Australia has firmed as a leading contender to host the 2022 World Cup after pulling out of the running for 2018. It initially filed a bid to host either edition.

The documents, dated mid-2009, also suggest the government was not given details of plans to give 6.5 million Australian dollars in grants to football bodies in Africa, Asia and Oceania, the report said.

The FFA strongly defended its conduct of the bid, stressing it was “common practice” to hand “symbolic gifts” to visiting delegations.

“The FFA is completely transparent in its dealings with government and has provided all information regarding the bidding process requested by government,” chief executive Ben Buckley told Fairfax.

The report added that one of the consultants had been implicated in a scheme to allegedly offer financial inducements to FIFA members to back Germany’s hosting of the 2006 World Cup.

The other was allegedly linked to a securities fraud in Hungary, it said.

Wed 30 June, 2010
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Japan media praise new Blue heroes

Japan woke up with a World Cup hangover Wednesday after the nation’s history-making football team crashed out on penalties to Paraguay, but won the consolation of media acclaim.

“Surprised the world; endured a gruelling 120 minutes,” the Asahi Shimbun headlined, praising a fighting Blue Samurai team who eventually lost 5-3 on penalties after 30 minutes of scoreless extra-time against Paraguay.

Substitute Oscar Cardozo scored the decisive spot-kick at the Loftus Versfeld stadium after Japan’s Yuichi Komano had smashed his penalty against the crossbar.

The shoot-out was needed after 120 minutes of football ended 0-0, with both sides feeling the tension as they bid to reach the quarter-finals for the first time.

But the top-selling Yomiuri Shimbun declared that “bravery will be remembered”, daring readers to dream “for four years’ time” when the 2014 World Cup is staged in Brazil.

Television networks aired telephone interviews with Japanese players’ proud mothers, emotional grandparents and former high-school coaches who watched the game in South Africa or at home in Japan.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan hailed the side’s performance in reaching the World Cup’s knockout stage for the first time on foreign soil.

“They showed the world the real strength of Japanese football by working as a team,” Kan said in a statement. “I applaud them for their brave battles.”

Japan made history in South Africa in claiming their first World Cup victories abroad against Group E rivals Cameroon and Denmark while losing to the Netherlands.

Having lost all three group games on their 1998 World Cup debut in France, Japan reached the last-16 when co-hosting the tournament with South Korea four years later.

This time around, the Blue Samurai’s strong showing surprised many at home and defied the low expectations of fans more familiar with Japan’s previously timid performances.

“Japan has finally begun its battle on the world stage,” the Yomiuri said.

“This experience surely will become the flesh and blood of Japanese football. It was a precious 120 minutes,” chimed the Asahi Shimbun.

The performance prompted a fickle public to heap praise on head coach Takeshi Okada, who has gone from much-maligned zero to hero over the course of four football matches.

Micro-blogging sites such as Twitter heaved with laudatory posts, and apologies for previous invective.

Okada guided Japan to a winless World Cup debut in 1998 in his first job as national coach. French disciplinarian Philippe Troussier coached them to the second round in 2002 on home soil.

Japan then made an early exit in Germany four years ago under Brazilian legend Zico when they were crushed by Brazil and Australia and drew with Croatia.

Wed 30 June, 2010
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English clubs in the hunt for Friedrich

(GSM) – Everton and Sunderland are keeping track of Germany defender Arne Friedrich.

The 31-year-old centre half will be in for a move after the relegation of his club Hertha BSC.

Wolfsburg have had a €1,25m offer rejected but it’s believed €2,5m would be enough.

“There have been offers from England, and I am totally open to the idea of moving to the Premier League,” said Friedrich.

Wed 30 June, 2010
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We won’t miss Mourinho – Napoli boss

(GSM) – Walter Mazzari has taken another shot at Jose Mourinho. “He will not be missed in the Serie A,” said the Napoli coach.

The two managers were engaged in a series of barbed comments this season and the tension remains, even now Mourinho has left Internazionale to join Real Madrid.

“Mourinho will not be missed in Serie A,” smiled Mazzarri on RAI Sport.

“He is going to lead an important club now. To be honest, I just could not understand his attitude in Italy.

“Of course he won a great deal with Inter, but he has also always had excellent squads at his disposal.”

Napoli only just failed to qualify for the Champions League, but did booked a spot in the Europa League and are working on the transfer market.

“The Napoli fans must relax and stay calm, as the club knows which players to sign.

“President Aurelio De Laurentiis is a guarantee for Napoli and we will make the necessary moves in the right areas without spending too much money.”

Wed 30 June, 2010
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Barcelona keen to hold Krkic

(GSM) – Barcelona are not willing to sell Bojan Krkic.

Despite David Villa’s arrival from Valencia, Barca are determined to keep Krkic at the Camp Nou.

El Mundo Deportivo reports Arsenal, Real Mallorca and Valencia have all asked for the 19-year-old striker since the turn of the year and have all been turned down by the Catalan side.

Getafe are also after Krkic, but Barca boss Josep Guardiola refuses to let him go.

Wed 30 June, 2010
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World Cup quarter-final predictions

The little genius is bound to score soon

As I have not made any predictions in the World Cup so far, other than England to comfortably beat Germany, I thought I should take a look at the quarter-finals and see if I can do any better than I normally do in the Premier League.

The games are going to be fascinating and whilst there are favourites in each one, not one of them is in any way a foregone conclusion.

Uruguay v Ghana
Before the tournament I didn’t really expect Uruguay to get this far. After their first game, a dismal 0-0 draw with France, I certainly didn’t. Then they played Bafana Bafana in front of a partisan and incredibly noisy crowd and took them apart. They looked like quarter-finalists.

A win over a decent Mexico side followed and then victory over a battling and talented South Korea team took them to this point. They defend well and have conceded only one goal in their four games and in Forlan and Suarez, they have a potent strike-force.

Ghana are Africa’s last chance. They have been great so far and in their 1-0 win over Serbia they played with a refreshing exuberance that promised great things. They were less impressive in a 1-1 draw with Australia and then returned to good form, only going down 1-0 to Germany.

In the round of sixteen they faced a decent USA side who were strong favourites to win the game. Ghana produced a stunning performance of pace, power, desire and discipline and an extra-time goal saw them through to this stage.

Good as they are, I think this could be a game too far for the Black Stars.

SoccerNews prediction: 2-0

Argentina v Germany
Nobody knew what to expect from Argentina. It was obvious to everyone that player for player they were as good as anyone else in the tournament, but with the eccentric Diego Maradona in charge, anything could have happened.

As it has turned out, they have played with excitement and freedom. They have an attitude that says ‘if you score one, we’ll score two.’ They do not look too strong at the back, but that hasn’t mattered because they have spent nearly all the tournament going forward.

Wins against Nigeria, South Korea, Greece and Mexico have seen them score ten times and concede just twice. Lionel Messi has been brilliant but he hasn’t found the net yet. He will, make no mistake about that.

Germany are being regarded as an inexperienced side who are not as good as usual German teams. Half of the side played in the Euro 2008 final defeat to Spain and the other half played in the winning under twenty-one team that season. They are not too inexperienced and they are as good as always.

A great 4-0 win over Australia announced their arrival but they stuttered a little with defeat to Serbia and a one goal win over Ghana. They followed that with the efficient annihilation of England and they will fancy their chances.

I think Argentina will be too quick for the German defence.

SoccerNews prediction: 2-0

Brazil v Holland
I am a little fed-up with hearing that Brazil are an efficient team and less flamboyant than they normally are. They are supposedly a compact and slightly boring team in the mould of their manager Dunga.

Rubbish! Robinho, Kaka, Fabiano, Alves, Maicon, Bastos. Efficient and boring?

I agree that they are compact and having a strong central defensive partnership with two holding midfielders in front of them makes them very difficult to beat, but when they go forward they are a joy to watch.

They have beaten North Korea and Ivory Coast before drawing a non-event of a game against Portugal. In the round of sixteen they disposed of a good Chile side without breaking sweat.

Holland are promising much and they have some great individual players in Sneijder, Robben and Van Persie. They haven’t quite gelled as a unit yet and will obviously have to if they are going to seriously challenge Brazil.

They have beaten Denmark, Japan, Cameroon and Slovakia without ever really looking good enough to win the tournament.

If Holland can get it together it will close, but this Brazil team have got the lot.

SoccerNews prediction: 2-1

Paraguay v Spain
If I’m honest the game between Paraguay and Japan was a little bit less exciting than watching paint dry. On the positive side, they defend very well and they are very well organised. Also, they take pretty good penalties.

They beat Slovakia and drew with New Zealand and Italy before the game against Japan. In all truth, I have to say they are probably the weakest of the quarter-finalists. Having said that, they will take some breaking down.

The bad news for Spain is that if David Villa doesn’t score it is difficult to see where the goals are coming from. The good news is that he looks like scoring every time he gets the ball.

Their victory over Portugal was a victory for passing and movement, a victory for positive play and a victory for football.

After their shock defeat to Switzerland they have recovered with wins over Honduras, Chile and Portugal. They remain the best bet to win the tournament outside of South America.

SoccerNews prediction: 0-2

Wed 30 June, 2010
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Torres tepid, Ronaldo bows out with whimper

Cristiano Ronaldo’s wait to really make his mark at a major tournament will continue after Portugal were eliminated by neighbours Spain in the World Cup round of 16 after a 1-0 defeat on Tuesday.

The 94 million-euro man arrived in South Africa vowing to confirm his status as one of the game’s most enduring talents by stamping his authority on the tournament that has witnessed the coronation of football’s true greats.

Sporadically decisive in the group phase, when he scored just once in a 7-0 thashing of North Korea, Ronaldo was unable to exert any kind of influence as the 2006 semi-finalists succumbed to Spain’s fabled passing carousel.

He was not the only headline act to drift out of the match, though, with Spain striker Fernando Torres substituted in the 58th minute after a similarly poor showing.

“The substitution was made because Torres had done a lot of running and we needed fresh legs,” said Spain coach Vicente Del Bosque.

“Llorente had a very good final half-hour. It wasn’t a change of tactics. Llorente gave us vitality.”

Having played from the left against North Korea and as a lone central forward in the 0-0 draw with Portugal, Ronaldo began Tuesday’s game on the right.

His first involvement saw him horribly mis-control a kick-out from Portugal goalkeeper Eduardo and his first dribble down the flank ended with a foul by Carles Puyol that went unpunished, much to the Real Madrid star’s displeasure.

The skipper registered Portugal’s first shot on target with a typically ambitious long-range free-kick and his next dead-ball effort, from all of 37 metres, drew an unorthodox volleyball-style save from his club-mate Iker Casillas.

The number seven in the white shirt cut a subdued figure in the second half as Spain tightened their grip on the match and was left even more isolated when coach Carlos Queiroz withdrew strapping target man Hugo Almeida in the 58th minute.

The game finished without Ronaldo once getting the fans out of their seats and at 25, he may only get one more chance to bend a World Cup to his will.

“We marked Ronaldo well and neutralised his threat,” said Del Bosque of a player who refused to talk to reporters as he left the stadium.

Torres, who was a doubt prior to the tournament after being forced to undergo ankle surgery at the end of last season, is still to score in South Africa.

The Liverpool forward looked short of sharpness against Portugal, regularly running down blind alleys and failing to trouble opposition goalkeeper Eduardo.

He wore a disappointed look as he traipsed off the field midway through the second half but, unlike Ronaldo, he may yet have his say at this tournament.

Wed 30 June, 2010
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Queiroz admits Spain were better

Portugal coach Carlos Queiroz admitted Tuesday that arch-rivals Spain were the better team and deserved to stay in the World Cup, but said his players did themselves proud.

The European champions won a tight round of 16 contest 1-0, leaving Portugal facing another four years before getting another crack at winning the World Cup for the first time in their history.

“Spain won with merit,” said Queiroz. “But I would also like to underscore the fact that Portugal played with a great degree of dignity and ambition and I believe the fans have justifiable reason to be proud of the way the team has played.”

Portugal indeed played a clever game, defending well before launching counter-attacks. But ultimately the statistics speak for themselves, with Spain plundering 19 shots to Portugal’s nine.

Spain also had far more possession, something Queiroz admitted was the difference between the two sides.

“It was an extremely difficult game but Spain moved the ball very well and had more possession and any team that does that can control the game better,” he said.

“We did have opportunities to score but unfortuantely we were not able to do so, hence allowing Spain to win 1-0.

“We could have scored at certain critical moments, but Spain’s victory is justified.”

Portugal leave the tournament having conceeded just one goal, but it was costly one with David Villa doing the damage.

Queiroz said they would learn from the experience.

“We wanted to do well and when we compete at this level, if we manage to obtain second or third, it is not satisfactory,” he said.

“We always have as our main goal to win. We also want to have an honourable performance to dignify Portuguese football.

“I wanted us to be able to leave the field with our heads held high, and I think we accomplished this.”

Wed 30 June, 2010
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We won´t underestimate Paraguay, says Del Bosque

Spain coach Vicente Del Bosque insists his team will not be underestimating Paraguay after beating Portugal 1-0 to set up a quarter-final clash with the South Americans.

The European champions had a second-half David Villa strike to thank for their victory on Tuesday and Del Bosque was happy with what he saw.

“The match was extremely intense,” he said. “It was quite even in the first half, but we always controlled the game and in the second half we were better than them.

“We had greater depth but it was difficult game and our rivals were extremely solid.”

Villa pounced in the 63rd minute, chipping a rebound over goalkeeper Eduardo after his first shot was saved, to keep his team on track for their first ever World Cup title.

If they beat Paraguay on Saturday then Argentina or Germany await them in the semi-finals, although Del Bosque is only looking ahead one match at a time.

“We shall not underestimate Paraguay and prepare for them with great respect,” he said of a team who won a dramatic penalty shoot-out 5-3 against Japan after their last 16 in Pretoria finished scoreless.

“They have very good defenders but also attackers. We must be fully focused to win that match.

“We know how difficult it is to be victorious, we can’t take anything for granted. We must be hugely respectful of our next opponents.”

Barcelona’s Villa, who now has four goals in South Africa, refused to see Spain as clear favourites against the Paraguayans, who are in their first ever World Cup quarter-final.

“I am very happy tonight, although there are two favourites for the quarters. However, I am confident we can come through,” he said.

Spain midfielder Xabi Alonso warned his teammates not to get carried away by their progress into the last eight.

“It’s still a long way from the semi-finals. We know we must not get ahead of ourselves and that we have to concentrate on our next match against Paraguay.”

But Alonso said he was happy with the way his side prodded away at the stubborn Portugal defence until Villa provided the crucial second-half breakthrough.

“It was important to get past this stage against such a good side like Portugal. We showed great patience and didn’t panic. The goal came and we dominated the rest of the match.”

Wed 30 June, 2010
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