Category Archives: football

Gwangju Sangmu 1-2 Ulsan Horangi-i


Gwangju Sangmu Phoenix turned in yet another mediocre performance, as they tasted defeat in their final game of the season. But if truth be told, Sunday’s effort was about par for the course on a season that’s seen them win only 3 games from 28, scoring a paltry 17 goals and conceding a 43. Both sides came into the encounter with different reasons for needing the points. Ulsan, twice K-League champions, were looking to maintain the good form that has seen them take a place in the Asian Champions League play-off positions. Gwangju, on the other hand, were chasing a victory that would keep them off bottom position in the table; a feat they managed to “achieve” despite losing, with Daegu’s inept showing at Chunnam Dragons (2-1) meaning they took this season’s wooden spoon.

Gwangju started brightly enough, penning Ulsan back in their own half for the majority of the opening exchanges and their early endeavour was rewarded with the opening goal on only 12 minutes. Cho Yong-Tae rose to meet a cross and knocked it past Korean international goalkeeper Kim Young-Kwang. Gwangju’s coach and supporters will have been disappointed that their team’s impetus was maintained so briefly. Only 7 minutes later, Ulsan were level. Paraguayan striker Jose Maria Ortigoza (a promising attacker, on loan from Club Sol de America in his homeland and who made his international debut earlier this year), latched onto a forward ball, beat the defender and rifled in a shot from a narrow angle. Kim Jee-Hyuk, in the Gwangju goal, got his gloves, but only enough to parry it into his own net. It was a fortuitous goal, but highlighted the lethal form Ortigoza has been in of late. Second top scorer in the K-League for the season with 17 (as many as the entire Gwangju team have mustered), he finished the league season with 7 goals in his final 6 games.

Proceedings were scrappy up until half time, with neither side wanting to seize the initiative, a pattern that continued into the second period. In the 54th minute, though, Ortigoza pounced again for the goal of the game. Played in by a midfielder he received the ball at the edge of the area, held off a couple of Sangmu defenders, before firing low into the bottom corner of the hapless Kim’s goal. At 2-1, it never looked as though Gwangju were going to get back into it. The players looked disinterested and demotivated and Ulsan were happy to knock it around, letting the soldiers chase their shadows. It was a disappointing end to what’s ostensibly the club’s final K-League season.

The newly formed Gwangju FC launched their website last month(http://www.gwangju-fc.com/ – Korean only) and an official foundation ceremony is mooted for December, at which stage they hope to be accepted into the K-League as the 16th member, competing as of 2011. It has been suggested that they will be allowed special dispensation (as Gangwon were a few years back) to select players from this year’s draft to flesh out their squad. They were previously said to be adopting the moniker “Gwangju Rayers” (supposedly because “ray” suggests imagery of light beams – a futuristic image that correlates with the growing city of Gwangju, and of course relates to Gwangju being the City of Light), but this has been put back for review (apparently due to some controversy over a local ray fish delicacy and the propensity of Koreans outside of the province to refer to Jeolla natives in derogatory terms related to the ray fish).

54-year-old Choi Man-Hee has been appointed as head coach and there is optimism that Gwangju will be able to shed the label of “whipping boys”. The prospect of a citizen team frees the coach to select the players he wants, not necessarily soldiers. It also creates the possibility of strengthening yearly and not building again from scratch once the players finish their military service. The potential to recruit international players, such as the hugely impressive Ortigoza, could also result in a welcome boost to attendances at the World Cup Stadium.

 

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World Cup 2010 – A Round Up

After four years of hyperbole and anticipation, the World Cup is almost over. Few months on the calendar command so much effort from the media and our livers. And if you support Korea or an English speaking nation, few reap so little reward. Maybe it’s because I’m Irish (neither North nor South qualified), or maybe it’s because the quality of the football on show has been so piss poor, but the previous sentiment rings particularly true for 2010’s edition. This has been the most tedious World Cup in living memory. Granted, it has improved slightly as it’s gone on, but at the beginning, it was less like pulling teeth, more like having your legs ripped off by a giant, vengeful spider.

From Italia 90, I remember the evergreen Roger Milla (whose passport was reported to have flattered him to the tune of ten years) pickpocketing the Argentine goalkeeper to send the reigning champions reeling in the first game. USA 94 evokes memories of Bebeto’s ‘baby cradle’ goal celebration for the champions elect Brazil (not to mention an abysmal penalty effort from Diana Ross in an opening ceremony, dripping with cheese). From France 98, Zinedine Zidane’s stellar performances, claiming a first title for the hosts whilst simultaneously announcing himself as the greatest player of his generation, stick out in the mind. Four years later, the over-performance of South Korea as well as Roy Keane’s infamous ‘toys from his pram’ routine will take some forgetting. 2006’s edition in Germany produced one of the greatest passing goals of all time, when Esteban Cambiasso put the finishing touches to a glorious lesson in fluidity that began 24 passes previously. Zidane also took the opportunity to remind us that his temper is almost as great as his talent, delivering a charge at Marco Materazzi in the final that wouldn’t have looked out of place on a goat farm (it’s worth noting that since Zidane’s retirement, France have failed to win a single game at an international tournament).

But this year has been bereft of quality and yet to produce any truly memorable moments. It says a lot when the main talking points have been the cacophonic drone of the vuvuzela and the failure of some of the “top” sides to even show up. This is the lowest scoring World Cup to date. There have been less red cards than four years ago and whilst aggression doesn’t always equal entertainment, I would happily trade some of the snore-fests we’ve had to endure for something even slightly resembling passion . Many will argue that France shouldn’t even have been at the finals, after the Hand of Gaul incident that sent the Irish crashing out last November and there’s little doubting Ireland would have put on a better show. As it is, a nation not famed for its temperament bickered their way through the tournament, limping out after finishing bottom of a group they were clear favorites to win. French Squad captain Thierry Henry has since met with Nicolas Sarkozy to find out what just went wrong. I imagine the pair are still huddled together, scratching their heads in a dimly lit corner of the Élysée Palace, trying to get to the bottom of things. Forgive me, but my Schadenfreude must be allowed to come up for breath occasionally.

Schadenfreude... Me

The reigning champions Italy, meanwhile, also faced an inglorious exit. A group containing Paraguay, Slovakia and New Zealand was the easiest on paper and their showing was as much an indictment of Marcello Lippi’s refusal to waver from his triumphant squad of 2006 as it was the Azzuri’s much vaunted, yet universally loathed cattenaccio. A flaccid England side hobbled through to the second round, to be resolutely dispatched by an unfamiliar, flowing German outfit that will meet the impressive Argentines in the Quarter Final. The English media were quick to jump on the back of Fabio Capello: a coach who has won titles in every country he’s worked. In the aftermath of the 4-1 mauling, one clueless pundit was even brazen enough to suggest that not one of the German players would make the England team, which, he opined is “littered with world class players”.

Bullshit.

Whilst Capello did look a trifle clueless tactically (particularly in his replacement of Jermaine Defoe with the lumbering Emile Heskey when the team needed goals) and he fell under the curse of fitting square pegs in round holes that has plagued his predecessors, this “Golden Generation” has underachieved at international level for years. Like the French and the Italians, it’s time for a new approach. Perhaps this dismal showing has provided the kick up the arse required.

Pre-tournament favorites Spain were slow out of the traps, losing to Switzerland and struggling against Chile, but new Barcelona signing David Villa looks to be hitting top gear at just the right time. Worryingly for coach Vicente Del Bosque though, is the form of Fernando Torres. Villa’s strike partner has looked sluggish and off the pace, prompting speculation that he’s carrying an injury. There is more than capable backup on the bench, but the Spaniards’ progression may depend on whether Del Bosque is ruthless enough to sacrifice El Nino.

So, who has impressed? Well the Dutch have cruised through looking more like Germans, and vice versa. The pair will do well to displace the South American duo of Brazil and Argentina, though. 1994’s winning captain Dunga has built a team in his own image: tenacious, efficient and unspectacular. Of course, it is augmented with the flair of Kaka and Robinho, but this is a decidedly un-Brazilian team. The Argentines have (along with the Germans), been the most striking side so far.

Relying, as ever, on tippy-tappy, one touch football, with the genius of Lionel Messi primed to unlock any defence in the competition, they have sailed through to the Quarter Finals. But what makes them infinitely more likeable is the presence of footballing genius and all round mad bastard Diego Maradona at the helm. His last appearance at a World Cup was cut short by his failing a drug test. What odds a triumphant return? Well, having struggled through qualifying and insisting on playing four central defenders at the back, it would seem his tactical nous from the sideline doesn’t compete with his brilliance on the field; but a run to the final is certainly feasible.

Of the less glamorous sides, Paraguay have the joint honor of being responsible for the most boring ninety minutes of my life as they edged the Japanese on penalties in Round 2. I will never get that time back. Uruguay (completing an unprecedented quartet of South American countries in the Quarters), face an athletic Ghanaian side bidding to become the first African nation to reach a World Cup semi final. They may never have a better chance.

SHUT THE FUCK UP

SHUT THE FUCK UP

And as for the Koreans? Well, they performed admirably: a side with few superstars, well-drilled and playing to their strengths. As demonstrated against Argentina in the Group Stage, when up against competent fire power, they have little answer. The adage also rang true against Uruguay in Round 2. Alas, for half a World Cup, I had a team to cheer for, which added a well needed element of spice. Now that they’re gone, I can go back to bitching about vuvuzelas and bemoaning the benign punditry on every channel I stream. And I can’t say I’ll miss the “Fighting Korea” adverts, either.

Here’s raising a well worn glass to the prospect of some decent entertainment. C’mon, it’s not too late.

The Korean Penunsula Takes On The World


World Cup preview piece written for The Impartial Reporter

At some point in the wee hours of November 19th last year, my anger diffused. The nation, nay, the world had been outraged by the ‘Hand of Gaul’ incident that sent Ireland crashing from the World Cup Play Off. Calls for Henry’s head on a plate reverberated around the land. But in a moment of rare clarity, I decided that it wasn’t so bad after all. After all, come the time of the World Cup, I would be settling into my new home 6,000 miles away, in South Korea. And for the first time in history, both North and South sides of the peninsula have qualified. “This,” I thought to myself, “is not bad at all.”

Koreans, like many of their East Asian counterparts, don’t do things in half measures. They’re an emotional, patriotic and jingoistic nation on all fronts. Just as the current political and military showdown with North Korea has understandably awakened a fervent nationalism, the very mention of a World Cup is likely to send a Korean into raptures. There are discerning football fans in South Korea. Some are as devoted as those born on Old Trafford’s doorstep. And so, they when asked on their team’s chances in the tournament, they’ll consider it for a while and offer an intelligent opinion. Spain, Brazil and England are the usual suspects.

But for many, the opportunity to look no further than their own noses is too great. “Han-googo! Han-googo!” (“Korea! Korea!”) You see, baseball is king here. Kia Tigers, my local team, are dominant. My local professional football team is Gwangju Sangmu, the army team. They aren’t very good (eleven soldiers, employing a distasteful long ball approach is little match for the top dogs of Seoul) and so interest in football all year round is minimal. Last month I went to see a K League game in the Guus Hiddink World Cup Stadium, twenty minutes from my apartment. As the name suggests, it was constructed for the 2002 World Cup here and paid host to the Quarter Final between South Korea and Spain, which the home side won on penalties. But the game (a drab 1-0 home victory) was abject at best. The 44,000-seater stadium paid host to fewer than 2,000 and the whole thing had an anti-climactic feel to it and the stadium has the unwanted glow of a white elephant.

Accordingly, most peoples’ views on the beautiful game are a trifle warped. Park Ji Sung is the best player in the world. Bolton Wanderers star Lee Chung Yong isn’t far behind him. Unfortunately for them, it simply isn’t true. A Korean team is highly unlikely to lift the 2010 World Cup; North or South. North Korea is the most mysterious nation to have lined up at this, or any edition of FIFA’s top blue riband showpiece. Reports on their warm-up games have suggest that they will compete with an ultra-defensive mentality, in an attempt to stifle the opposition. By all accounts, they are a better side than expected. They will hope to frustrate, but a quick glance at their draw for the group stages suggests that’s about all they can hope for. Their draw of Portugal, Ivory Coast and Brazil is the toughest of the lot.

South Korea, on the other hand, has a little more cause for optimism. They reached the semi final stage in 2002 (albeit with some dubious and hotly contested referring decisions). They have got players, in the aforementioned Park and Lee, as well as 2002 hero Ahn Jung Hwan (formerly Perugia, Metz and Duisburg) and Park Chu Young (Monaco), with genuine European experience. The draw too has been kinder to them, pitting them against Nigeria, Greece and Argentina; second place is all to play for. A victory in the backyard of bitter rivals Japan in the run up to the tournament only heightened World Cup fever. A couple of wins in the tournament would see things reach boiling point.

But after the tournament, things will more than likely return to normal. Any Western game featuring a Korean will be big news, but most other football will play second fiddle to baseball. The profile of the game here has certainly risen since 2002, but perhaps not to the level the local FA and FIFA would have hoped. Despite this, the government has launched an ambitious bid to host the 2022 event on their own. There’s no doubting that they have the infrastructure in place. 2002’s tournament was spread thinly over eleven cities here, each with brand new stadiums; and that was only as a co-host! With worries over South Africa’s readiness for this year’s Cup and Brazil’s capability to network the vast country for 2014’s, FIFA could do a lot worse than to look once more to the Hermit Kingdom. It boasts the fastest train system in the world and is easily navigable. Perhaps it would finally give the game the final push it needs to become top dog.

For the moment, though, the focus is on the here and now. If, after the miserable failure of Northern and Republic of Ireland, you’re looking for a late horse to back, look no further than the Korean duo. You never know, you might be surprised!

I Don’t Know Why I Love You, But I Do…

I haven’t had a television for a while now. But if I were to buy one, one of the main reasons would be to watch Match of the Day. I, like many, have been known to schedule my Saturday night around the show – which is crazy really, because for many reasons MOTD is truly awful.
Not having much of a yardstick to measure it against, I might not be in a position to properly gauge, but I am still fairly confident MOTD is one of the smuggest, most infuriating and most poorly produced programmes on television just now.

The BBC has always been liberal with the taxpayer’s cash. Handing Steve McClaren a huge wad of cash to offer his views during Euro 2008 on 5 Live was, I know, perceived as a kick in the teeth to many England fans. Here, after all, was the man who had failed to guide his country to the Finals, maddening millions with half-baked observations on those that had actually made it there. Hadn’t he pocketed enough from his failure?

As an Irishman (living in Scotland at the time) I admit chuckling at the irony. It was a glitch on the otherwise commendable record 5 Live has for recruiting expert opinion. MOTD, however, is a different matter entirely. In Mark Lawrenson, Alan Shearer and Alan Hanson, they have possibly the most ill-informed panel ever to have graced our screens, collectively possessing all the insightfulness of a blind goldfish.

I was of the understanding that part of a pundit / commentator / co-commentator / broadcast journalist’s job was to offer expert, authoritative opinion. At the very least, a basic understanding of the rules of the game should be expected. However, I recall on at least one occasion, “Lawro” having to ask John Motson how many substitutions were permitted in a game he was co-commentating on. Whilst he may not have the opportunity to make such slip-ups on MOTD, it gives us an idea of this cretin’s credentials.


Xenophobia is something public bodies are constantly striving to eliminate. Yet on the sofas of MOTD, it is alive and well. Case in point: Kevin Davies earlier this season took Frenchman Gael Clichy out with a near knee high challenge. From whatever angle you look at it, it was a red card: a career threatening challenge.

What was Lawrenson’s reaction? To call the Arsenal player a ‘Jessie’. Davies was eulogised as a ‘hardworking pro’. The tackle was adjudged to have been a ‘good, honest English challenge.’ I am quite confident if the roles had been reversed, the ‘experts’ would have been up in arms over the nerve of Johnny Foreigner. Similarly, when Kevin Nolan almost took somebody’s leg off with a late challenge recently, he was described as ‘not that kind of player.’ Funny how it’s always the players that supposedly ‘aren’t like that’ making exactly those sorts of challenges.

The bias is blatant to the point of embarrassment. Last weekend, Steven Taylor of Newcastle (a player with a nasty, nasty streak but frequently defended as ‘an honest pro’) punched Russian playmaker Andrei Arshavin square in the face. What was the pundits’ reaction? Well, nothing of course. The editing crew at MOTD felt this assault wasn’t worthy of 30 seconds footage. It reeks of base level jingoism, the likes of which are unseen since Jackie Fullerton’s last commentary on a Northern Ireland game.

You would think Alan Shearer would know better, having only recently retired from a career during which he suffered numerous horrific knee injuries. But he’s obviously been given his brief. His insight is pathetic. Is stating the obvious enough to justify his undoubtedly handsome salary? I think not. When Andy Townsend wheeled out his Tactics Truck on ITV’s Champion’s League coverage, I cringed, but at least he was showing some tactical nous.

Alan Hanson has long since become a parody of himself. The rate at which he pedals his clichéd, hyperbolic ‘quotables’ is excruciating.

“Phenomenal.”

“Shocking.”

Nobody’s asking you to adopt a Thom Yorke-esque approach to punditry, Al, but do have a bit of perspective, man. If Hanson was indeed shocked on the regularity he purports, one would expect his hair to be a more brilliant tone of Linekar.

Surely there is not a program on television which gets so many of the basics wrong? Surely, there is nothing else out there in which the individual rudiments – the analysis of football matches, in this case – are all so annoying, hackneyed and prejudiced?

So why the Hell do we all love it so much?

For the rest of the season, I have decided to challenge Bagpuss Lawrenson. His results predictor on BBC Football’s website can’t be too difficult to beat. Can they?

The video below shows a slightly alternative stylee of punditry. Messr Eamonn Dunphy:

http://www.youtube.com/v/-09BAIS-e_s&hl=en&fs=1