Sabtu, 29 Januari 2011

The Asian Cup Final: Australia vs. Japan

The 2011 AFC Asian Cup in Qatar comes to an end today with the final between Australia and Japan at the Khalifa Stadium. The final between the three time former champions Japan and first timers Australia marks the end of the three week tournament.

The two sides had different paths to the final. While Australia waltzed past Uzbekistan in a 6-0 semifinal trashing, the Japanese needed a classy performance from goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima in the penalty shootout to get past archrivals South Korea.

But the final will be a new game altogether and it starts at 0-0 with both sides eyeing the title. What Australia has in experience, the young Japanese side make up in enthusiasm; but going into the game both sides lack the big match experience.

Australia are match fit with no injury worries with coach Holger Osieck likely to send out the same starting eleven as against Uzbekistan. That won't be to the liking of Blackburn Rovers star Brett Emerton, but Osieck will go with the line of "never change a winning team".

At the pre-match press conference Osieck was very relaxed and the German looked forward to meet Japanese players like Hasebe and Hosagai who played under him while he was club coach in Japan.

Japan meanwhile paid a heavy price for their semifinal win against South Korea. Young sensation Shinji Kagawa is out of the final breaking his fifth metatarsal bone in his right foot. Kagawa has flown back to Germany and his club Borussia Dortmund isn't amused either as the 21 year old midfielder is likely to be out for the rest of the Bundesliga season.

In Doha meanwhile Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni didn't want to disclose whom he is set to field in place of Kagawa. He only said, "I have made up my mind on who I will play for Kagawa, but I won't announce it just yet. You will see tomorrow."

Australia's passage to the final

The Australians topped the group of death, Group C. They opened with an easy 4-0 against minnows India, where lucky to hold South Korea to a one-all draw before winning their crucial final group game 1-0 against Bahrain. Then they won in the quarterfinal 1-0 in extra-time against defending champions Iraq. This was followed by the 6-0 demolition of Uzbekistan.

How Japan made it to the final

Japan made a slow start into the tournament. They starred at defeat in their opening Group B game against Jordan but were able to get a late equaliser. In their second match they came out 2-1 winners against Syria though some controversial referee decisions went against them. And then they trashed a pathetic Saudi Arabia 5-0 in their final group game. This set-up a quarterfinal clash with hosts Qatar and Japan prevailed 3-2 in an entertaining, but often close contest. In their semifinal game Japan won 3-0 on penalties after the match had ended one-all in regulation time and two-all after extra-time at the Al Gharafa Stadium.

Jumat, 28 Januari 2011

Kagawa breaks foot, out for season

When the news first broke the day after the Japan vs. South Korea semifinal on Wednesday that Japan's rising star Shinji Kagawa could be out for the final, it was the info that he is out against Australia.

As the day went on the information got more and more concrete that he most likely has broken his right foot and that as soon as possible he would be on his way back to Borussia Dortmund to get checked by the club doctors to assess the extent of the injury.

"I'm really worried that I'm facing the worst case. but I'm convinced that the team will win (against Australia)," Kagawa said at Doha International airport on his departure on Wednesday night. He flew back to Germany via Switzerland and was greeted by the German media at Dusseldorf International airport. German colleagues said that Kagawa was in a wheelchair and looked really upset.

Thereafter it was off to the medical check-up and there the scans confirmed that he had broken a metatarsal bone in his right foot, which means at least three months of being out of the game, which also means Kagawa is unlikely to return for his club in the Bundesliga this season.

Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni said at today's pre-match press conference, "It's very disappointing for the team and him (Kagawa) as well, then he contributed a lot to the team on the way to the final and he was getting better and better so it's very disappointing."

One can of wish Kagawa the best!!!

Kamis, 27 Januari 2011

Chopra: I still want to play for India!

English Championship side Cardiff City FC striker Michael Chopra still has ambitions to play for Team India even after not being given a fast track Indian passport to represent the country at the 2011 AFC Asian Cup.

Michael Chopra told Welsh media, "I'm still following my football dream at Cardiff and hope to step up to the international stage by representing India."

So one as Indian football fan one can still hope to see Chops in an India shirt in the future, but the All India Football Federation will need to take a more pro-active approach on the issue and get Chopra an Indian passport as a change of guards is likely in the coming month's in Team India.

Meanwhile Chopra has also been nominated for the British Asian Sports Awards. The 10th annual British Asian Sports Awards are split into eight categories, from junior sports personality for the under-15s to the main sports personality of the year. The handing over ceremony will be held on March 5 at The Grosvenor House Hotel, Park Lane in London.

The BASAs panel of expert judges, who include former England cricketer Mark Ramprakash, Olympic Gold medallist Denise Lewis and the BBC's Football League Show presenter Manish Bhasin shortlisted Chopra from over 100 nominations.

Rabu, 26 Januari 2011

Comparing China & India in football

The 2011 AFC Asian Cup has reached the final stage and the worlds largest countries by population in China and India are long gone. And comparing the two new power engines of the world economy in the game of football would be unfair to both as what China all has in infrastructure, youth development system and coaching is mostly lacking in India.

But the football world hopes that both countries are set to play a bigger role in the beautiful game in the years to come. FIFA president Sepp Blatter recently had said after granting Russia the right to host 2018 FIFA World Cup and the 2022 FIFA World Cup to Qatar, "It's my philosophy to drive forward the expansion of football. The next regions that we need to conquer would be China and India."

That is good news for football in these two countries, but the ground reality is totally different in China and India. Indian national coach Bob Houghton, who also coached China and Uzbekistan in the past, said, "There should be comparisons between China and India as they are growing economic powers, but it is a difficult one in football.”

Comparing the two Houghton said, “When I was in China between 1998 and 2004 you could see this growth especially in football with stadiums and training facilities being built with top division clubs having facilities which are of English Premier League standard. But we lack these in India and have problems to run our I-League with stadiums not available."

If you look at the way the two sides came into the tournament and the results here in Doha, then there is a huge gap between the two nations. China came through the qualifiers second to Syria; while India qualified by winning the 2008 AFC Challenge Cup, a second tier national team competition in Asia.

China who were above their group rivals in rankings coming into the Asian Cup but had a mixed tournament in Group A. They won their opening encounter 2-0 against Kuwait, but lost their crucial second game 0-2 against hosts Qatar while only getting a 2-2 draw in an interesting tie against Uzbekistan to finish third in their group, which meant elimination.

India meanwhile were drawn in the toughest of all groups, in Group C. Little was expected from the Bhangra Boys, who suffered a 0-4 loss to Australia, a 2-5 defeat against Bahrain and lost 1-4 against South Korea. India returned to the Asian stage after 27 long years and showed glimpses of talent in all their three matches, but they have a long way to go to catch up with the best on the continent.

Both sides will now be closely watched, but when these emerging football nations will become power houses of Asian football will have to be seen. Both sides will hope to be back in the 2015 AFC Asian Cup in Australia.

Selasa, 25 Januari 2011

AIFF XI to become Indian Arrows

From the first of February the AIFF XI (Indian Juniors) will be known as the Indian Arrows. This decision was taken by the All India Football Federation in consultation with the members of its Executive Committee.

As per a release from the federation about the name change it says:

The Indian Arrows signify swift, precise and bang on target. The name also signifies that the team believes in a single minded approach of winning when let on to the field with a target of qualifying for the FIFA World Cup, 2018.

The Indian Arrows had joined the I-League set-up this season as a replacement for the now defunct Mahindra United as a developmental squad giving exposure for Indian youngsters, who normally get limited playing time at their respective clubs.

The teams base is New Delhi, are coached by experienced coach Desmond Bulpin and so far have done fine in the I-League by being tenth in the league picking up 10 points from 11 matches - 2 wins, 4 draws, 5 losses. But the team has suffered some heavy defeats against tops sides, which does show they need more exposure.

Van Bommel leaves Munich, signs for AC Milan

In the end everything went really quickly. Dutch international midfielder Mark van Bommel has left FC Bayern Munich and joined Italian Serie A giants AC Milan for the remainder of the 2010/11 season on a free transfer.

Van Bommel, who until his departure was captain of Bayern Munich, was not happy with his situation at Bayern as the club was unwilling to renew his contract which was set to run out in the summer and his relationship with coach Louis van Gaal had also cooled over the last few months. And with Bayern Munichs signing 23 year old Brazilian midfielder Luis Gustavo for 17 Million Euros van Bommel's long-term replacement had already arrived at the club.

With van Bommel looking to continue his international career for the Netherlands until the 2012 European Championships he wants to continue playing for a top European side until then at least. And as Bayern weren't willing to offer this to him, his agent was looking for alternatives and over the weekend the Milan option came and van Bommel grabbed it with a move to VfL Wolfsburg the most talked about option over the last few weeks, but it never materialised.

The defensive midfielder had joined the Bavarians in summer 2006 from FC Barcelona. He played in his four and a half years 123 times in the Bundesliga and scored 11 goals for Bayern Munich with whom he won two Bundesliga and German Cup titles each.

AIFF releases own statement on media reports

The All India Football Federation yesterday also got into the act of denying of having fed the Indian media with wrong reports on statements made by Asian Football Confederation General Secretary Alex Soosay. And even more after the AFC made it clear that it was not happy in what was happening in India and it beig dragged into the whole controversy.

An AIFF statement to the media said:

AIFF has noted with concern reports in certain sections of the media quoting various AIFF officials on the performance of the Head Coach and disharmony amongst the players in the recently concluded AFC Asian Cup 2011 held in Qatar.

Mr. Kushal Das, General Secretary, categorically denies making any derogatory comments about any player or the head coach.
Performance of the Indian team will be reviewed by the Technical committee and the Executive Committee of the AIFF.
He also said that he was personally present in Doha and that players' spirit and unity was very good.
He further added that there was absolutely no suggestion by the AFC on replacing the current Chief National Coach Bob Houghton. The meeting with the AFC in Doha was held to discuss ways to improve the grassroots’ development programme in India for the betterment of the game.

Minggu, 23 Januari 2011

Ruud van Nistelrooy back to Real Madrid?

It could be the surprise transfer of the winter. Will seasoned Dutch star striker Ruud van Nistelrooy return from German side Hamburger SV to Spanish giants Real Madrid? The Spanish side have a striker problem upfront with Argentinian Gonzalo Higuain to remain out for a while and are looking to replace him adequately.

And Real Madrid has been linked a lot of quality strikers across Europe, but it seems that only a year after releasing Ruud van Nistelrooy to join Hamburg they want their striker back. Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho thinks that van Nistelrooy knowing the club would settle in quickly.

Real Madrid TV presenter Andy May had tweeted on his Twitter page andymaytvradio a few days ago: "It's still not official but it looks like RVN is returning to Real Madrid. Keep an eye on for the announcement," said

According to Spanish sports daily Marca Real Madrid have made an offer of 2 Million Euros plus Hungarian striker Adam Szalai to Hamburger SV, but the Germans have turned down the offer saying that they would only discuss an offer from Spain of around 4 Million Euros.

But then yesterday the HSV media officer Joern Wolf had said, "All rubbish. We don't want to release Ruud and we have not been made a formal offer which included another striker."

I-League - Round 11: Air India trash Dempo

The eleventh Round of matches of the I-League 2010/11 were played on January 22/23 across India with the result of the round being Air India's 4-0 trashing of Dempo SC, while the top three clubs in East Bengal Club, Salgaocar SC and Churchill Brothers SC continue their winning run.

Round 11 Match by Match Short Review
22-Jan-2011: East Bengal Club 1-0 (1-0) HAL, Bangalore (in Kolkata)
East Bengal continued their great run in the 4th I-League by scoring another 1-0, this time against Bangalore's HAL. And that will be the worry for coach Trevor Morgan as the red-and-gold once more dominated poceedings but could only score a goal. Still they remain top of the league with now 29 points. The winner today came from Nigerian midfielder Penn Ikechukwu Orji off a nice build-up from Tolgay Ozbey, Naoba Singh and Robin Singh.

22-Jan-2011: Viva Kerala 1-1 (0-0) Chirag United SC (in Kannur)
Viva Kerala held Kolkata side Chirag United SC to a one-all draw in Kannur. The visitors initially were the better of the two sides on display, but they couldn't score. That changed after the break as youngster Mohammed Rafique gave Chirag United the lead in the 49th minute off a Lalkamal Bhowmick pass. but after conceding Viva Kerala went all out to equalise against the Kolkata side and they got the equaliser through striker P.K. Anil Kumar in the 80th minute. It would remain 1-1 until the end.

22-Jan-2011: Mumbai FC 1-0 (1-0) ONGC (in Pune)
The Mumbai derby was played in Pune today which Mumbai FC won by a lone goal against newcomers ONGC. And once more Nigerian Ebi Theophilus Sukore was the match winner for MFC this time in the 36th minute last ONGC keeper Rajat Ghosh Dasdidar.

22-Jan-2011: Pune FC 0-1 (0-0) Churchill Brothers SC (in Pune)
Churchill Brothers SC continued their good run in the I-League with a lone goal away win against Pune FC. Kiwi striker Kayne Vincent won it for the Goans through a 65th minute strike, but once more Pune FC were beaten due to poor finishing which leaves them just above the relegation zone due to a better goal difference.

23-Jan-2011: Air India 4-0 (2-0) Dempo SC (in Pune)
Air India scored their first win in the 4th I-League in Round 11 in style by trashing champions Dempo SC 4-0 in Pune. But it was the Goans who could have taken the lead as they got a penalty but striker Ranty Martins Soleye's shot would be saved by Kunal Sawant and then on the other side Manjit Singh would head the Airmen into the lead. In the 25th minute Air India would double the lead with the help from Dempo's defence as John Charles Dias would put the ball into his own net. Air India took the surprise lead into the break. In the 55th minute captain Kumar Samson Singh would make it 3-0 for Air India before Nigerian Okorogor Nnabuike Praise made it 4-0 before the final whistle.

23-Jan-2011: Mohun Bagan AC 2-0 (1-0) AIFF XI (in Kolkata)
Nigerian Chidi Edeh was the hero of the day for Mohun Bagan in their 2-0 win against the AIFF XI youngsters in Kolkata. The striker scored his first in the 11st minute of the match, but thereafter the AIFF XI did give the green-and-maroon a tough time by putting pressure on their defence. Bagan looked better after the break putting AIFF XI keeper Jagroop Singh to the test with the youngster showing his talent once more. But it was Chidi again who sealed the match with the days second goal in the 81st minute for the local giants.

23-Jan-2011: Salgaocar SC 2-0 (1-0) JCT (in Goa)
Salgaocar remained second in the I-League with a 2-0 win against JCT at the Nehru Stadium, Margao. The Goans went into the attack from the start against a defensive JCT. They got their first goal in the 32nd minute of a header from Japanese recruit Ryuji Sueoka and Francis Fernandes doubled the lead in the 79th minute of a pass from Sueoka. JCT did try to get onto the scoresheet but the Millmen just couldn't score on this day.

Click here for the 4th I-League 2010/11 - League Table & Fixtures .

Doha City Tour

Today was an off day here at the 2011 AFC Asian Cup and the Local Organising Committee organised a Doha city tour for interested media. And sport journalists will tell you that we cover events in different parts of the world, but often we only get to see the airports, hotels and stadiums/sporting venues. So it was a welcome change to get a chance to see some of Doha and what it has to offer.

On a sunny and warm Doha morning around 40 journalists from around the world met early at the tournaments Main Media Centre. Surprisingly the interest wasn't too big, so we were split into three busses to be driven around Doha along with guides. The tour would be around four hours, so we could get an impression of local life and culture.

The first stop was the local Doha camel meat market. Sounds awkward to some, but the camel is not only a transport vehicle but also a source of food in this part of the world. So we all were very curious to see if it was any different from a livestock market elsewhere in the world. On the way we were told that a whole camel would cost anything between 2,000 to 4,000 USD depending on its breed, colour and age. We walked through the market and tons of photos were taken with the animals, who don't know what faith awaits them.

Thereafter it was to the Souq Waqif, the few hundred years' old market in down town Doha. Literally translated it would mean 'the standing market' and it was rebuilt a few years ago to its old charm. The market has its Arabian flair with small alleys and bigger roads going through it and the smell of spices like in a typical bazaar.

Next stop the Museum of Islamic Art. Build by Chinese architect I.M. Pei the museum had opened only two years ago and has the most complete collection of Islamic art. It was really impressive to see artefacts from far west as Spain and east as India, but with limited time we rather rushed through the museum.

The last and final stop on our Doha tour was the Cultural City, where amongst other things the Doha Film Festival is held. It is directly along the coast and it being built as a place for art, film and theatre. But like most of Doha it is under construction and one would have to come and see the finished product and events taking place there.

Jumat, 21 Januari 2011

AFC General Secretary denies "Telegraph" India quotes

A big point of discussion in the Main Media Centre amongst the journalists at the 2011 AFC Asian Cup today were statements from AFC General Secretary Alex Soosay about Team India and their coach Bob Houghton which were published in today's The Telegraph (Kolkata, India).

The article mentioned that Alex Soosay was not at all happy with India's performance at the Asian Cup and that Bob Houghton should be replaced with the AFC recommending the name of French coach Philippe Trousier as his replacement

The AFC reacted to these quotes from AFC General Secretary Mr Alex Soosay on The Telegraph article:

Nobody from The Telegraph made any attempt to contact me or my office to verify the quotes and find out if I had indeed made all those comments, the correspondent has attributed to his sources.

I refute all the conjectures freely drawn upon in the article. AFC never interferes in the internal working, particularly the appointment of technical staff, including coaches, of its Member Associations. In my several private meetings with the AIFF officials, I never sought to advise them on coaching matters.

In fact, I would like to commend the Indian team for the way they played here in Doha. Nobody disputes the fact that the Indian team has a long way to go but they did show what they are capable of here in the AFC Asian Cup.

La Liga side Santander is Indian!

Indian born Bahrain based investor Ahsan Ali Syed has completed the takeover of Spanish Primera Division side Racing Santander. No details of the deal have been released with speculations in the Spanish media saying that the deal could be worth as much as 40 Million Euros.

The official Statement said, "The transaction has been officially approved by both the regional government of Cantabria and the (national government sports council) after an intense due diligence process that analysed and approved Syed's strong financial capabilities to take the club forward."

Last year Ahsan Ali Syed had been one of the Indians interested in buying English Premier League club Blackburn Rovers, but it had not materialised and the Rovers were in the end sold to the VH Group of the Rao family. But Ahsan Ali Syed was still interested in buying an European club, so he was scouting for opportunities and finally it worked out with Santander.

Santander are currently 14th in the Spanish Primera Division with 20 points from 19 matches. What plans Ahsan Ali Syed will have with the club will have to be seen. The sale of Santander follows last years takeover of FC Malaga by a relative of the Al-Thani family. Some third and fourth division clubs have also been taken over by foreign entities.

Doha: Let it Rain...

Those of you who know me know that I am curious about the weather wherever I am. And in this part of the world rain fall is worth a story due to the dry climate.

I now have been for two weeks in Doha for the 2011 AFC Asian Cup and this week so far has been all about rains after late-last week had been about a cold spell. The breeze was quite cool as it was coming out of the desert especially when you sit in the open stadiums during the evening matches. Honestly I didn't think it could be this wet and cool over here.

But the weather changed with overcast skies and then we got our first drizzle on Monday evening. The worst was Wednesday with rains for most of the day and it was a wet affair at the Al Gharafa Stadium during the South Korea vs India match. Whoever could was looking for roof cover in a stadium which is only has roof cover across one-fourth of the ground.

Yesterday the weather improved with the sun coming out again and I at least thought the wet spell was over, but when I looked out today in the morning I got to see an overcast sky and raindrops coming down.

Over the last few days I was told by locals that it rains around four days a year on average, but now we have had rains on four of the last five days. That means in simple statistics that it shouldn't rain anymore in the rest of the year, only 344 days remaining. So it most likely now become a wet year.

The problem is that in this part of the world they are not used to rains and you realise that once it poors. Due to so little rain there are minimal drainage and sewer systems to drain out rain water from the city, so you have streets which are flooded, the sand and water make a terrible mix, while traffic is hampered as it gets slippery on the roads.

Kamis, 20 Januari 2011

My German interviews in Doha

It is quite a bit of work here in Qatar at the 2011 AFC Asian Cup. And by now I am known as the guy who wants to do his interviews in German as I am working for my home network Deutsche Welle radio. So I do pick out coaches, players and important people at the tournament to speak to me in German, which can be used back home in Germany besides also having done interview in Chinese, Farsi and Bengali for our other departments.

Amongst my work I have had the pleasure to interview Australia coach Holger Osieck and Iraq coach Wolfgang Sidka for a feature on German coaches in Asia, while speaking to former Iraq and Oman coach Bernd Stange who is an expert for Australian TV channel Fox Sports ahead of the India vs Bahrain game on the standard of Asian football and Qatar as 2022 FIFA World Cup hosts.

Amongst players I have so far have been able to speak to former Dynamo Dresden and 1FC Kaiserslautern goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer with the Aussie being of German origin; while also speaking to North Korean striker Jong Tae Se, who plays for 2.Bundesliga club VfL Bochum and has learned German in under three months. This in itself is incredible but now he not only understands a lot and can communicate, but also is able to give interviews in Germans which others even after living in Germany for years are not able to do.

I also got to speak to Japan captain Makoto Hasebe of VfL Wolfsburg and Hamburger SV teenager Heung Min Son after scoring his first international goal for South Korea against India. And my hunt for interviews in German continues with Osieck's Australia set to play Iraq coached by Sidka.

Rabu, 19 Januari 2011

India lose to strong South Koreans

India suffered their third defeat in as many matches as South Korea beat the Bhangra Boys 4-1 at a rain soaked Al Gharafa Stadium yesterday, but once more India were not embarrassed by a superior opponent though the South Koreans could have scored many more against a fighting India.

It was another entertaining match involving India, who have been involved in some of the most interesting games of the group stage though we went into the tournament as the big underdogs and surely one has to applaud the Indian fans who came out once more in big numbers with India out of the tournament and the weather being terrible with it raining throughout the game.

India had to make a very early substitution as Renedy Singh, who had an outstanding match against Bahrain, suffered a calf muscle injury and had to be substituted in only the 5th minute. A minute later India once more conceded their first early goal, while yesterday the boys were down two goals by the ninth minute, but both goals looked to be irregular. First young striker Dong Won Ji scored after a player played a handball which was overlooked by the referee and his assistant and then Ja Cheol Koo looked to be offside when he chipped over keeper Subrata Pal. Around the 10 minute mark one had to fear for a heavy defeat, but India recovered as Sunil Chhetri was brought down by Tae Hwi Kwak and India got a penalty. Chhetri himself stepped up and scored sending keeper Sung Ryong Jung the wrong way.

And for the first time the Indian fans got something to cheer about, but South Korea weren't shocked by the India fightback and soon again had control of the game with chances coming in by the minute as it was a lot of work for Subrata Pal and his defence. In the 23rd minute Dong Won Ji would finish of a great piece of attacking football to make it 3-1. India had to sustain a lot of pressure with the Koreans using all kind of combinations with the Indian defence often tested, but no more goals were conceded. 3-1 down at the half was India's best result so far and once more a better second half would follow.

South Korea continued to control proceedings after the break, missing numerous chances but also Subrata Pal along with defenders Surkumar Singh, Gouramangi Singh, Anwar and Syed Rahim Nabi throwing themselves into all balls coming towards the India goal. The Koreans would only add a fourth through Hamburg teenager Heung Min Son in the 81th minute, but only after Baichung Bhutia had come on for India under the cheers of our fans. And it seemed as if Baichung's introduction was giving the Indian players added confidence as in one attack India put 20 passes together.

It ended 4-1 for South Korea, who were a goal short of the Australians to finish second in the group, while India as expected finished bottom of the group without any points and three to 13 goals. It might sound awkward but before the tournament a goal difference of -10 would have been a success and India's over performance received compliments from many present here in Doha.

Bob Houghton and the boys saw the Asian Cup as a big learning process for Indian football, only now the lessons will have to be utilised to talk Indian football forward. And we need to ensure that we will be back in the 2015 Asian Cup in Australia. As the Aussies said, they would love to welcome India Down Under for that tournament.

The next assignment will be the 2012 AFC Challenge Cup qualifiers from March 20 to 31, 2011. India would have to face Turkmenistan, Pakistan plus a qualifier between Chinese Taipei and Laos. The top two from each qualification tournament make it to the 2012 AFC Challenge Cup. Lets hope we get to host the matches to get home advantage.

VIDEO: South Korea vs. India highlights

Here are the highlights of the South Korea vs. India match at the Al Gharafa Stadium in the 2011 AFC Asian Cup:

Senin, 17 Januari 2011

India finish off against South Korea

India end their 2011 AFC Asian Cup campaign tomorrow against the best team of the tournament so far, South Korea. And it will be another tough task for the Bhangra Boys, who aim to end the tournament on a positive note which for would mean a low score defeat.

Bob Houghton is unlikely to change anything in the starting eleven and said at the pre-match press conference, "We're already eliminated but this third game is very important for us."

India returned after 27 years to the Asian Cup and Bob said about it, "It's a very high-profile tournament for us back in India and our performances here will make a big difference as to where football goes in the next 10 years."

And though some are saying that 2-9 goals from two matches is a bad piece of statistic, those who know Indian football are happy due to the performance and effort put in by the boys. Houghton added, "We're walking with our heads held high because although we've lost both games, we've given a good account of ourselves. We've shown the ability to keep going even when we've gone goals down, which is a good sign."

The big question if Baichung Bhutia would be given play time will have to be seen. Baichung is fitter then before, but Bob would only play him as per need and result. So one will have to wait and watch.

Baichung: Asian Cup not my last assignment for India

I had the chance to speak to Baichung Bhutia a few times over the last few days. His first aim here in Qatar was always to be somewhat match fit to play a few minutes in the 2011 AFC Asian Cup. Now India face South Korea in their final group game tomorrow and if the result permits then coach Bob Houghton is set to give Baichung a few minutes of playing time.

It would be a dream come true for Baichung, who has achieved so much for himself and Indian football over the last decade and a half, so many have assumed that these few minutes against South Korea would be his last in India colours.

But Baichung Bhutia himself said earlier today after the practice that he does not intend to end his international career like this, forcing himself somewhat on for a few minutes even though he isn't fully fit though the stage would have been perfect for Bhai's international farewell, but the way isn't fitting as he himself things.

So Baichung is hoping to regain full match fitness in the coming weeks and months to return to India duty before retiring from the national team. If and when Baichung would retire he has kept open, but a likely pre-condition for his continuation with Team India would be that Bob Houghton stays on as a national coach.

And if Baichung stays on then maybe some of the other candidates to retire after the Asian Cup might play on, which could help India in their transitional phase where the older generation moves out and the younger generation takes over. It might not be as abrupt as I would have feared.

Minggu, 16 Januari 2011

I-League - Round 9: ONGC finally win first game

The ninth Round of matches of the I-League 2010/11 were played on January 14/15/16 across India. Despite being held East Bengal remain on top and newcomers ONGC finally won their first ever I-League game.

Round 9 Match by Match Short Review
14-Jan-2011: Churchill Brothers SC 3-0 (3-0) HAL, Bangalore (in Goa)
Churchill Brothers SC returned to winning ways with a 3-0 win against HAL, Bangalore at the Nehru Stadium, Margao. The Goans missed Odafe Onyeka Okolie due to injury, but the other strikers made-up for his absence. After a goalless first session the Churchill Brothers goals came from young striker T. Bineesh Balan (50th), midfielder M.P. Sakeer (58th) and Kiwi striker Kayne Vincent (86th).

14-Jan-2011: Chirag United SC 0-0 East Bengal Club (in Kolkata)
Chirag United SC held their more famed and high flying Kolkata rivals East Bengal Club to a one-all draw at the Saltlake Stadium. East Bengal were forced to play without talismanic Australian striker Tolgay Ozbey due to a card suspension and it did hit the red-and-gold who simply weren't themselves in a close match with Chirag United actually being the better side on the day.

14-Jan-2011: ONGC 1-0 (0-0) Viva Kerala (in Kolhapur)
Newcomers ONGC registered their first-ever win in the I-League a lone goal win against Viva Kerala in Kolhapur. The Oilmen were forced to work hard to earn the win. ONGC were the better of the two sides on display today, but it was only at the fag end of the game that Nigerian N.D. Opara scored the vital goal for the Mumbai side.

15-Jan-2011: Salgaocar SC 1-3 (0-3) Mohun Bagan AC (in Goa)
High flying Salgaocar SC were brought down crashing to earth by Kolkata giants Mohun Bagan AC in a 1-3 home defeat in Goa. The green-and-maroon shocked their opponents by scoring three early goals within the first 18 minutes. Winger Ishfaq Ahmed opened the scoring in the 8th minute before a double strike from striker Chidi Edeh in the 12th and 18th minute put Mohun Bagan in control and it remained this way until the break. After the breather Salgaocar did push to get back into the game, but the Goans could only reduce the deficit in the 88th minute through their Japanese recruit Ryuji Sueoka.

15-Jan-2011: AIFF XI 1-1 (1-0) Mumbai FC (in Gurgaon)
Mumbai FC needed a late equaliser to hold the young guns of the AIFF XI in an I-League match in Gurgaon. The India Juniors took an early 7th minute lead through talented striker Malswamfela and thereafter it was often Mumbai FC who were looking for the equaliser. And the Mumbai side got their goal through Ebi Theophilus Sukore's injury time strike to deny the AIFF XI full three points.

15-Jan-2011: JCT 2-0 (-) Air India (in Ludhiana)
JCT scored a fluent 2-0 win against Air India to move further away from the relegation spots, while Air India are stuck at the bottom of the table. After a barren first session African Omolaja Nurain Kareem gave JCT the lead of a header in the 61st minute and only three minutes later a Jagpreet Singh shot would rebound of the post which Badru Keke Ibrahim would put in.

16-Jan-2011: Dempo SC 2-1 (0-1) Pune FC (in Goa)
Champions Dempo SC needed a second half comeback to turn the match against Pune FC and keep the three points in Goa. The match played in Margao was finally won 2-1 by Dempo's. Pune FC, who haven't been having a good season so far, took the lead in the 14th minute through Mandjou Keita and maintained their lead until late into the match. But two quick goals from Ranty Martins Soleye (80th) and a Roberto Mendes Silva penalty (84th) turned the match in Dempo's favour.

Click here for the 4th I-League 2010/11 - League Table & Fixtures .

Speaking to North Korea star Jong Tae Se

My work here at the 2011 AFC Asian Cup is not centred about Team India, but rather numerous national sides and the first impressions of Qatar after being named 2022 FIFA World Cup hosts for Deutsche Welle radio

Yesterday I was at the Iran vs North Korea for my Farsi language colleagues to get quotes from the Iranians and I had hoped to also get a chance to speak to North Korean star striker Jong Tae Se, who now plays for German 2.Bundesliga club VfL Bochum and the "Rooney of Asia" has made a big impact since joining the club.

Now I was worried if the North Koreans would allow their players to speak, but journalist colleagues have said that the team management of North Korea has learned a lot from the 2010 FIFA World Cup and their senior/star players were now approachable.

So after speaking to Iran captain Nekonam, Jong Tae Se walked towards me and when I asked him if I could speak in German with him he happily obliged especially after I told him that his club Bochum back in Germany had beaten 1860 Munich 3-1. He wanted infos from me on who scored the goals and who played upfront; but I didn't have those infos and couldn't help him.

But in the end Tae Se said, if you want any infos on us or speak to me, let me know. And that is always good to see that players remain down to earth.

Sabtu, 15 Januari 2011

My first impressions of Qatar

I arrived in the Qatari capital Doha on Thursday, January 6, 2011. And my first impressions of the city and the country after a full week are quite mixed. Lets start with something which came as a surprise to me. I had expected Doha to be more developed, further advanced while life seems to be slower then in other cities in the Gulf.

First when you land at the Doha International Airport you realise this city isn't simply a smaller version of Dubai and things aren't as perfect as they are in Dubai. Doha and the whole of Qatar seem to be one major construction site with the city growing in all possible directions even into the sea with the new international airport coming-up on reclaimed land.

When you go to the main Khalifa Stadium and the Aspire Zone you realise what impressive sports complex had been build ahead of the 2006 Asian Games. But traffic is a major issue across Doha with roads on work days often chocked with a mass transport system the need of the hour. In that sense the country desperately needed to get the 2022 FIFA World Cup so its overall infrastructure would get a boast. The envisaged mass transport system with metro and rail services could do wonders.

Though Qatar is working to develop itself as a global centre of business and sports in certain things it remains a different world altogether. Alcohol is not freely available, driving on the streets of Doha is a challenge as many do not follow rules and regulations, and then there are the cars left abandoned road side damaged after accidents. Why? The joke is the locals can buy a brand new car the next morning until they crash that too plus the low price of petrol which stands at 0,15 Euros (10 Rupees) per litre. A reason why most people drive heavy S.U.V.s instead of more eco-friendly vehicles.

But there are positives too. Security isn't an issue here as Qatar is one of the safest countries on the planet. You often do not see police around, but everyone tells you if you have problems or create trouble then the police would be there in 120 seconds. Another positive is the influence of immigrants on the country, then speaking Hindi or Malayalam could help you get around easier.

Then there are also the curiousities. Take e.g. inside one of the countries biggest shopping malls the Villagio Doha there is an ice skating ring where the Qatar Raiders ice hockey team are based. Everyday you see kids training there and on weekends there are matches played.

And then there is the cool weather. No I am not joking, over the last few days the night time temperatures have gone down considerably plus cool winds out of the desert forcing one to wear jackets and sweaters to watch evening matches in the stadium.

Overall it is an interesting experience, but I would still say a lot of work to do for Qatar ahead of the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

India go down fighting against Bahrain

Team India went down fighting against Bahrain in their second Group C match at the 2011 AFC Asian Cup. The team from the Gulf in the end won 5-2 against India at the Al Sadd Stadium. And once more it was a home game for the Bhangra Boys as most of the 11032 spectators were Indians.

After the Australia match where all had said that India gave a good account of themselves especially in their defensive play though we were not present in attack last night it was the other way around. India upfront, especially Sunil Chhetri, gave a good account of themselves with left winger Renedy Singh the pick of the players in midfield; but the defence and Subrata Pal committed some unneeded mistakes which allowed the Bahrainis to walk away winners.

India started off brightly as they weren't as scared going into this game like they were against Australia with Sunil Chhetri having a early header cleared by the Bahraini keeper. Climax Lawrence would bring down Faouzi Aaish and the referee immediately pointed to the spot. Aaish would himself take the penalty and send Subrata Pal the wrong way, but India weren't just beaten yet as only a minute later a Renedy freekick was headed on by Abhishek Yadav to Gouramangi Singh, who headed in for India. And the stadium was going berserk as India had scored their first goal of the tournament.

At this stage India got a little carried away as they tried to go ahead, while Bahrain had to simply wait for Indian mistakes especially their striker Ismaeel Abdulatif who scored a first half hattrick. It was 4-1 at halftime and around me the Indian journos were worried that we could fall apart like we did in a friendly against Kuwait.

But after the break India would once more get on the score sheet in controversial fashion. Renedy Singh would take a brilliant long-ranger which went over the line, but the referee nor linesman gave it as a goal, Abhishek can't push it over but Chhetri is there to head home. Actually Renedy's goal was exactly a case like Frank Lampard's goal against Germany at last years FIFA World Cup.

Once more the crowds were there to support India and push our team forward. Bahrain weakened themselves as goalscorer Faouzi Aaish would get two quick yellow cards to be send off. Now it seemed if India got the 4-3 then anything was possible. India did push, but didn't get that vital third goal as Bahrain would the match through Abdulatif's fourth goal of the night.

After the game Bob Houghton told me that he was proud of his boys especially the way they came back in the second session after going into the break 4-1 down. And we agreed that India got a little too ambitious after getting the one-all equaliser, going for the kill rather then playing a wait and watch game.

Injured captain Baichung Bhutia was a proud man. He was very happy with the performance, but disappointed that India couldn't get a better result on the night.

India are now out of the tournament, but face mighty South Korea in their final group match. Which is another highlight for many players and for some it could be their final international game as retirements are likely to come from the senior players.

VIDEO: Bahrain vs. India highlights

Here are the highlights of the Bahrain vs. India match at the Al Sadd Stadium in the 2011 AFC Asian Cup:

Kamis, 13 Januari 2011

India face tough Bahrain test

Next up for India at the 2011 AFC Asian Cup are Bahrain, who lost their opening game 1-2 against the mighty South Koreans. And it will be another tough task for Bob Houghton's boys.

At the pre-match conference Bob Houghton said that he would make some changes to his playing eleven due to the physical workload on his players. And when I asked him who he plans to replace Bob said he didn't want to disclose the names so much ahead of the game. If I would be asked then it looks likely that Mohammed Rafi would make way upfront for Abhishek Yadav while Renedy Singh would come in for Deepak Mondal on the left with Syed Rahim Nabi dropping to the left back position, if not then Mahesh Gawli could replace Deepak.

Talking about Baichung Bhutia Bob said there was no chance of Baichung playing against Bahrain, if at all then a few minutes against South Korea.

Talking about the importance of the tournament Bob Houghton said, "We hope that the Asian Cup will be a watershed for Indian football. We hope the fact we've got here will make people sit up and realise how great it is to be here in Qatar, in a continental tournament. The fact we're here and people are watching us - apparently the game tomorrow is sold out - shows that, if we can make football good in India, we can get interest from people there."

And once more the topic of Indian football's problems came-up at the press conference with the lack of infrastructure, quality coaching and to some extend the lack of vision mentioned.

Bahrain meanwhile know that India will be a tough nut to crack as they need a win against the South Asians to stay in the tournament after their loss against South Korea. But India's spirited second half performance allowing the Aussies only one goal did worry the Bahraini coach Salman Sharida, who has coached Pakistan in the past and therefore has some knowledge about India.

Lets hope for a good game and a close result which would help Indian football...

Rabu, 12 Januari 2011

Gouramangi: AIFF Player of the Year 2010

First of all my heartiest congratulations to Mangi on being named AIFF Player of the Year for 2010!!!

He has been one of the most consistent performers for India and his club side Churchill Brothers SC over the last few years. And last summer he tried his luck in Australia with the Melbourne Hearts but in the end he didn't make it. The AFC Asian Cup is a real challenge for the defender, but one that he like most team mates is cherishing.

But Mangi's story as a footballer is those of many in India, only that he was one of the few who really made it in an up and down career. Here something about Mangi as I got to kno him over the years...

The first time

I heard the first time about Gouramangi Moirangthem Singh in September 2001 when his name was mentioned to me by the then Indian Youth coach Islam Akhmedov as one of the best prospects amongst the juniors.

Coach Akhmedov, who hails from Uzbekistan, has an eye to spot talent. I remember he toured the North-East for three months in 2001 to scout for talent to play for the Indian Under-16 and U-19 teams.

And he had a personal request for me to try and organise a training camp for the juniors ahead of the Asian Junior finals in Germany. And the way I am, I tried to help and the camp happened.

The first meeting

I along with my friend Chris Punnakkattu Daniel organised the training camp for the India Under-17 national team at the Sports School in Hennef, south of Cologne in August 2002.

A top class facility which is used by Bundesliga clubs and Argentina stayed there during the 2006 FIFA World Cup.

Mangi was one of the 20 boys in the squad which came to Germany. A very nice boy, always spoke with respect to me, but sometimes a little shy.

I have to be honest (Sorry for this Mangi), he wasn't the most talented player in the squad; but someone who was always eager to learn more and develop further as a player.

In this squad Mangi was used as a defensive midfielder, mainly coming of the bench but by 2004 he had matured as a player and he went on to captain the India Under-20 squad.

The difficult times

After graduating from the Tata Football Academy in 2004 Mangi had a difficult time to make a name for himself in the Indian football circuit.

Mangi along with Habibur Rehman Mondal signed for Mohun Bagan AC that spring, but it turned out to be a circus as the players had unknowingly signed for the club. While Habibur was released to play for East Bengal, Mangi had to initially stay with Mohun Bagan before he went on loan to Dempo SC.

The next year he went to Mahindra United before signing for Sporting Clube de Goa in 2006. And it seemed another talent would go to waste with Mangi not getting any real chances to play for his clubs.

Then in the summer of 2006 Bob Houghton arrived in India and Mangi was drafted into the Olympic qualifier squad. Mangi was one of many boys that Bob gave a new lifeline.

He was transferred to Churchill Brothers SC in 2007 and he became a pillar for new coach Karim Bencharifa's young guns. And was a key player in last years I-League winning campaign.

Team India regular

Mangi first was a regular in the Under-23 squad for the 2006 Asian Games before Bob entrusted him to be a central defender in the senior national team.

Mangi became one of the key players in India's winning campaigns in the 2007 Nehru Cup, the 2008 AFC Challenge Cup and the 2009 Nehru Cup.

And as we look at the 2011 AFC Asian Cup, Mangi is now playing a crucial role at the heart of defensive for our side against superior sides like Australia, Bahrain and South Korea. One of our star performers.

Selasa, 11 Januari 2011

India lose 0-4 against Aussies, but not disgraced

Australia comfortably beat India 4-0 in their 2011 AFC Asian Cup Group C opener at the Al Sadd Stadium in Qatar. The favourites never allowed their less-famed rivals to get into the game as the gulf in standards between the two sides was evident from the start.

India had to play without captain Baichung Bhutia, who couldn't take the field as he hasn't recovered from his calf muscle injury; while Bob played last minute replacement Mohammed Rafi upfront for Sushil Kumar Singh due to his two match suspension was taken out of the squad.

Most of the action was centred in the Indian half with goalkeeper Subrata Pal having a good game, which was needed off him as otherwise the defeat could have been heavier. All the players fought as hard as they could as they had to cover a distance on the field which is unusual to them. I-League players normally cover 2,5 to 3,5 kilometres in a match while some Indians yesterday did cover close to 11 kilometres, which is European league level.

The Australians took the lead through a Tim Cahill tap-in, Harry Kewell doubled the score with a beautiful curling long ranger before Brett Holman headed in Australia's third just before halftime. The Socceroos would add a fourth in the second session through a Tim Cahill header before in the end Sunil Chhetri just about missed the chance to score a consolation goal as he went past Lucas Neill, but Lucas recovered to deny Chhetri a shot.

Coach Bob Houghton said after the game, "We played a very good team. It's not by fortune that Australia are the number one team in Asia. They're very good and a team with enormous experience."

Talking about his boys, "They were playing against a team that is emerging at this level so it was a difficult game for us but I thought our boys stuck to their task very well. We kept our shape, we kept our discipline, we kept going and I thought we were a little bit unlucky. I'm pleased with our boys and I think they'll improve from it and learn from it."

Senin, 10 Januari 2011

VIDEO: India vs. Australia highlights

Here are the highlights of the India vs. Australia match at the Al Sadd Stadium in the 2011 AFC Asian Cup:

I-League - Round 8: League split in two

The eighth Round of matches of the I-League 2010/11 were played on January 8/9 across India. The focus is on Team India and the Asian Cup, but still the I-league is going on and East Bengal continue to be top of the league followed by Salgaocar with four other teams behind them, while the rest for the moment are fighting against relegation.

Round 8 Match by Match Short Review
08-Jan-2011: East Bengal Club 1-0 (0-0) Pune FC (in Kolkata)
League leaders East Bengal Club returned to winning ways with a 1-0 win against Pune FC at the Saltlake Stadium. But it was a tough fight for the red-and-gold who were streched by Pune, but in the end Tolgay Ozbey once more scored the winner to get the club their seventh win in eight games.

08-Jan-2011: Mumbai FC 2-0 (0-0) Viva Kerala (in Kolhapur)
Mumbai FC returned to winning ways with a deserving 2-0 win against Viva Kerala in Kolhapur. Their hero of the day was Nigerian Ebi Theophilus Sukore, who scored both of Mumbai FC's goals. After a goalless first session it was Ebi Theophilus Sukore who gave the Mumbai side the lead and he would double it in injury time through a penalty.

08-Jan-2011: Salgaocar SC 4-3 (4-2) Churchill Brothers SC (in Goa)
Salgaocar SC won a thrilling Goan derby 4-3 against rivals Churchill Brothers SC to remain the only side keeping pace with league leaders East Bengal Club. In a fast-paced attacking game of football the men in green-and-whie prevailed over their red rivals who lost star striker Odafe Onyeka Okolie early due to injury. Kiwi striker Kayne Vincent gave Churchill Brothers the lead, but Salgaocar would turn things quickly around with goals from Jaspal Singh Parmar and Luciano Sabrosa before Israil Gurung would equalise for Churchill Brothers. But Salgaocar would go with a 4-2 lead into the break as Japanese Ryuji Sueoka would score two goals. After the break Churchill Brothers would pressure their opponents, but they only would get be able to reduce the deficit through Kayne Vincent.

08-Jan-2011: AIFF XI 1-1 (1-1) Dempo SC (in Mumbai)
Defending champions Dempo SC were held to a one-all draw by the AIFF XI youngsters in Gurgaon. Dempo had problems to adopt to the cool conditions of north India which helped the AIFF XI to take an eighth minute lead through Shilton D'Silva, but the Goans would equalise in the 30th minute through Ranty Martins Soleye, who got them the equaliser off a Joaquim Abranches pass, but the Nigerian striker missed the chance to win the game for his club as his penalty in the 45th minute was blocked after Subodh Kumar hand handled the ball.

09-Jan-2011: Mohun Bagan AC 0-1 (0-0) Chirag United SC (in Kolkata)
Mohun Bagan AC suffered a lone goal defeat in a small Kolkata derby at the Saltlake Stadium against Chirag United SC. Brazilian Josimar da Silva Martins turned from hero to villain and back in only a matter of days in the I-League after scoring the winner. The smaller Kolkata side were the better of the two sides as they controlled most of the game against a defensive Mohun Bagan. And Josimar would score the winner in the 80th minute.

09-Jan-2011: JCT 1-0 (0-0) ONGC (in Ludhiana)
JCT scored a one-nil win against newcomers ONGC to keep the three points in Ludhiana. On a cold and windy afternoon in Punjab the home team took full advantage of the difficult conditions with Nigerian Badru Keke Ibrahim scoring the winner in the 38th minute. Their second win of the I-League campaign took JCT a little away from the relegation zone, while ONGC are now bottom of the league.

09-Jan-2011: Air India 1-1 (0-0) HAL, Bangalore (in Kolhapur)
In a match-up of public sector units Air India were held to a one-all draw by Bangalore's HAL in Kolhapur. After a goalless first session the Airmen from Mumbai upped the pressure on their opponents, but it would be the Bangalore side who would take the lead through their captain Xavier Vijayakumar in the 76th minute. Still Hal wouldn't take home the three points as Air India would equalise through youngster Collin Abranches.

Click here for the 4th I-League 2010/11 - League Table & Fixtures .

Minggu, 09 Januari 2011

India the big unknown for the Socceroos

After yesterday's results where Jordan held Japan to a draw and Syria upset Saudi Arabia the tournament has its first surprises and the Australians will know that only a win would be aceeptable against India.

Australia start off their 2011 AFC Asian Cup campaign against an unknown India later today at the Al Sadd Stadium and the Socceroos will have to prove if they are the number one team in Asia as their ranking says.

Some will ask why are Australia in the Asian Football Confederation? It is surely a justified question and the reason is simply the fact that competition in Oceania wasn't tough enough for Australia and they joined Asian football in 2006.

The Asian Football Confederation president Mohammed bin Hammam had then said, "As well as being a developed football nation, Australia brings a developed economy and this is actually what we want in football. Besides Japan, Korea, China and Saudi Arabia if Australia joins the benefits are huge, this is what we're after."

And it has worked for both Asian and Australian football, but in the 2007 Asian Cup the much-hyped Australians failed and this time they will want to avoid such a situation with India a tricky opening opponent. Coach Holger Osieck said at the pre-match press conference that his team is fit and ready to do go, while they will not underestimate the Indians.

And the players surely respect India for being at the Asian Cup, former Liverpool midfielder Harry Kewell said, "They have qualified for the tournament, so surely they have something in them. I know little about them, but look forward in playing them,"

And Fulham FC goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer would add, "Any team we face in the tournament we have to take seriously. And we take it game by game, so need to get past the Indians first and then see what happens in the coming matches."

But the statistics happen to speak a different language. Post Indian independence the two national sides have only met twice in 1956 with India winning 4-2 at the Melbourne Olympics and then 7-1 in a friendly a few days later. But such a result in India's favour is more then unlikely as the Australians look to start a successful campaign in Qatar.

India back amongst Asia's best

India start their campaign in the 2011 AFC Asian Cup today against the mighty Australians. And the match will mark India's return to the continental stage after 27 long years.

India trained like never before in its history with the squad kept together for over six months, the federation paying the players their salaries and taking them out of the club system with training of two months each in Portugal and Dubai plus international friendlies to prepare them for the Asian Cup.

But with the tournament set to kickoff India continues to face injury problems. The biggest worry remains captain Baichung Bhutia's calf muscle and he is not only the captain of the team, but their talisman and him being out would have been a big blow for India. Now due to the suspension of Sushil Kumar Singh for the first couple of matches it forced Bob Houghton to rethink his plans and include Mohammed Rafi in the squad to have a third striker in the team with Baichung likely only an option against South Korea in match three for 15 to 20 minutes. India is already missing Anthony Pereira, Samir Naik and Arindam Bhattacharya due to injuries and now the surprise information of the suspension of striker Sushil Kumar Singh, who received a red card in last years AFC Challenge Cup against North Korea.

The task on hand is massive for India in facing Australia, Bahrain and South Korea in Group C. All India Football Federation Vice-President and the teams Chef de Mission Subrata Dutta said, "We are sure to put up a good quality performance. And I am sure all the spectators, all the lovers of the game, would appreciate our quality of the game."

India's only footballer playing abroad is striker Sunil Chhetri in the MLS and taking about his fitness Sunil said, "I was off for about one and a half months with an ankle injury, but I am fine now as I've been training for the last two weeks. The whole team is looking good and whoever is playing tomorrow will give his best."

And coming to talk about India's potential star performers a lot of attention is on goalkeeper Subrata Pal and his defence. About his namesake Subrata Dutta said, "Since our opponents are really strong there will be a lot of pressure on our goalkeeper – Subrata Pal, who is our first goalkeeper. And I am sure he is going to put up a very good show and he will come under the limelight. He is really a very good goalkeeper for us."

It is only hours to go for the match and hopefully the players will have had a good nights sleep before the game starts tomorrow at 16.15 local time at the Al Sadd Stadium.

Houghton; Sushil out, Rafi in

We are just over a day away from the India vs Australia match and there was a pre-match press conference at the tournaments Media Centre were an new problem for Team India was discussed.

The media were informed by the AFC in the morning: "Please be informed that India's Sushil Kumar Singh has been suspended for two matches by the AFC Disciplinary Committee for elbowing an opponent during their 2010 AFC Challenge Cup match against DPR Korea.

Sushil Kumar Singh will miss India's first two games in the AFC Asian Cup Qatar 2011™ against Australia and Bahrain."

When I asked Bob at the press conference about this he said that due to Sushil's suspension Mohammed Rafi would be drafted into the squad while Sushil is left out as Bob cannot go into the tournament with only two strikers in Sunil Chhetri and Abhishek Yadav with Baichung only an opportunity for the South Korea match.

More later as I am now off to the India pre-match training session...

Sabtu, 08 Januari 2011

India train, but Baichung injury remains main topic

The Indian national football team trained for the second day at the Al Wakrah Stadium just outside of Doha. And the over-shadowing issue remains will Baichung Bhutia be in the squad or not. And this indecision is likely to continue until that final decision is taken, latest 6 hours before the opening game, which means 10.15 local time on Monday morning here in Doha.

Otherwise Team India looked once more very focused and the boys know that a tough task is ahead of them. At a press conference after the training coach Bob Houghton said that the injury problems have robbed him off alternatives, but this squad of 23 players was the best available to him as he has to chose from a small pool of only 90 players who play in the I-League. And he once more said that too many foreigners play in India. Bob added that he knows there will be different opinions on players selection, but in the end he had to take the call as coach.

Bob has told his boys to give their best and stay focused, but also enjoy the experience in playing against sides who have players whom they normally see on television. But the team shouldn't just give in and put up a fight.

About the issue of Baichung's selection Bob said the team management together with Baichung would take a final decision likely by tomorrow evening, but it could be delayed until Monday morning with Mohammed Rafi on stand-by which he said isn't fair to Rafi but he was prepared for both options as he is training with the team.

Sunil Chhetri also speaking to the media said that the team was looking forward to the challenges ahead of them and he had a good feeling. The team wasn't going into the tournament scared about the results, but rather would give it all against their three opponents.

Chhetri also said that the team would miss Baichung Bhutia if he did not play at all, but added that Sushil Singh had done in training and hopefully would show that in the Asian Cup.

Looking at the training and those wearing the bibs of the first eleven it looks like that Bob will start with the following eleven: Subrata Pal; Irungbam Surkumar Singh, Moirangthem Gouramangi Singh, Anwar, Deepak Kumar Mondal; Steven Benedic Dias, Climax Lawrence, N.P. Pradeep, Syed Rahim Nabi; Sunil Chhetri, Sushil Kumar Singh.

Bayern Munich: Is a goalkeeper switch imminent?

Not only the 2011 AFC Asian Cup is currently being held in Qatar and the ATP Qatar Open, but also German football giants FC Bayern Munich are having their mid-season training in the Gulf state. It has been a difficult second half to the year for coach Louis van Gaal and his players as many returned late to pre-season training after the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

And that has effected Bayern's performances and results in the Bundesliga with especially Dutch international winger Arjen Robben missing after having been a sensation in his first season for the club. Now the team is regrouping in Qatar to try and salvage the Bundesliga season, while making a push in the UEFA Champions League and the German Cup.

And one bit of news out of the Bayern camp here in Doha has surprised many. Coach van Gaal is thinking about a goalkeeper switch between seasoned 36 year old Hans-Joerg Butt and the 22 year old youngster Thomas Kraft. Both keepers have a contract which runs until the end of the season with there being a possibility that Butt could retire then and Kraft is seen as a potential successor if Schalke's Manuel Neuer cannot be bought.

So van Gaal, who is known to give young talent a chance as he has done in Munich with Thomas Mueller, Holger Badstuber and Diego Contento; could now do it with Kraft as well, who has never played Bundesliga and only has two Champions League matches to his name. And van Gaal has started goalkeeping careers by giving young keepers in Edwin van der Sar at Ajax Amsterdam and Victor Valdes in Barcelona a chance.

It looks like van Gaal wants to try out Kraft and see if he has the qualities to be FCB No. 1 or if the club has to buy a new goalkeeper. The example of Michael Rensing failing as Oliver Kahn successor is still fresh in the minds of a number of persons.

Jumat, 07 Januari 2011

India train in Doha, Baichung remains doubtful

India arrived on Thursday morning in Doha from Dubai on a Qatar Airways flight and yesterday morning had their first training session at the Al Wakra Club's Stadium, while their first opponents Australia trained on the outside training pitch.

The weather in Doha isn't much different then in Dubai, so acclimatization shouldn't be an issue for the 'Bhangra Boys'. But with the tournament having now started and being on its way, one can feel the tension and happiness within the team that the first match is only hours away. It is a big stage for India and the players realise that and want to give their best.

The main topic of discussion has been around the in- or exclusion of captain Baichung Bhutia in the 23 player squad. Baichung is surely not fully fit, actually far from it but him not being in the squad would be a big mental blow to the team and could demoralise them with Baichung being a good motivator inside the team. If Baichung does not make it then now Churchill Brothers striker Mohammed Rafi would take his place, while Baichung would be made an official to be allowed to stay with the team.

And this issue has caused a lot of confusion over the day here in Doha with some already reporting that Baichung Bhutia is no longer part of the playing squad and has been made a team official to stay around the team. The issue was simple as no one can be registered as a player and official. If registered as both then the person concerned would be a team official and taken off the players list. This is something which hasn't happened as Baichung's registration as an official has been withdrawn and he is still a player.

But with Baichung's calf muscle injury not going away, he could only be used as a substitute, the injury could reappear and take him out for some more time. So a tough final call would have to be taken on this issue by Sunday evening.

Qatar: Asian Cup as World Cup trial

The 2011 AFC Asian Cup started last night. Qatar lost 0-2 against Uzbekistan, but as a nation they are ready to host though the country is one big construction site and it will get even more over the next decade. The capital Doha is decorated in the tournament colours, draped in flags of participation nations, while at night there are fabulous lighting displays across town highlighting the tournament.

One can feel that the importance of the tournament for the Qataris has grown since being awarded the 2022 FIFA World Cup with the signage of the bidding campaign still visible across the city.

And with now bigger international media attention on the tiny Gulf state, the organisers are doing whatever they can to please their foreign guests. And those guests be it from the football industry or the media are liking what they are seeing.

Italian Nicola Antognetti, who works in the football business and travels for that around the world, told us about his experiences in Doha over the last decade, "It's not changing as much as you would think – not as much as Dubai – but I think they are just taking things a bit more slowly, with more strategy behind. It's a great place."

While Australian journalist Scott Macintyre is back in Doha after 18 months and is seeing massive changes, "The landscape and the skyline are changing almost constantly and I'm sure there will be more positive signs in the build-up to 2022."

First time visitors like myself are often saying they expected Qatar to be more advanced, but it isn't a copy of Dubai which I feel is good. The city has its own charms and has character, which I feel is very important.

The beautiful Khalifa Stadium hosted a great opening ceremony and more then 37,000 spectators turned up but after conceding the first goal the people started going home.

Kamis, 06 Januari 2011

Indicast Podcast: India's Chances at the AFC Asian Cup

Nani managed to get a hold of me right before I left for Qatar to cover the upcoming AFC Asian Cup. In this episode, we talk about India's chances at the Asian Cup and how Indians should keep their expectations from its national football team in check. A miracle can always happen, but don't expect a lot. Just participating in this championship means a lot to the team.

Listen Online (64 kbps) : ~ 14 mins

Here the direct link to the Indicast Podcast page: Sportsbench Podcast

Follow me on my Facebook Fanpage: Arunava Chaudhuri Fanpage

Follow me on Twitter:

Follow me on YouTube:

Rabu, 05 Januari 2011

I'm on my way to Qatar!

The 2011 AFC Asian Cup is set to kickoff in a couple of days and now I am finally on my way from Germany via Dubai to the Qatari capital Doha and tomorrow morning I should be there. I will be working for radio and newspapers plus will also keep you all updated here on my blog and via my Twitter account @Arunfoot.

I really look forward to those two weeks in the Arab desert. Surely I am finally getting out of Germany after having experienced six weeks of snow and frost, but secondly and more importantly it is about the football, its time for Asian football.

I have seen a lot of Indian football live over the years, especially the Indian national team. But not that much of Asian football though I have seen teams like Japan, South Korea, Australia, Saudi Arabia and Iran live in the past. Still for the first time I will get to see the best of Asia, 16 nations from across the continent, from close quarters which will be an experience in itself.

And I feel it does make a difference if you watch a match live at a stadium. There is a lot of off the ball action which you miss on television if you aren't at the ground, also interactions between coaches and players, and then I just love the atmosphere at football grounds. And I am very curious how the atmosphere will be at the matches in Qatar, a great mixture of cultures.

What also makes this trip so special is the fact that I on one side will be following closely my beloved Team India, but on the other side I get a first hand feel of Qatar, the nation which will host the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

Follow me on Facebook: Arunava Chaudhuri Fanpage

Follow me on Twitter:

Follow me on YouTube:

ESPN-Star Sports to show Asian Cup LIVE!

A lot of you have been asking me which TV channel would be broadcasting the matches of the 2011 AFC Asian Cup from Qatar. And now I can let you all know that ESPN-Star Sports will be showing the matches live and exclusive in India, while the pan-Asian sports network will also show the tournament in a number of their other markets.

As a release from ESPN-Star Sports said: "All 32 AFC Asian Cup 2011 matches will be broadcast on television across ESPN and STAR Sports networks, and for the first time fans can watch the high-definition broadcast of the AFC Asian Cup Qatar 2011 on ESPN HD. The event will also be available online live and on-demand on ESPN Player – a revolutionary broadband network, available free to ESPN STAR Sports subscribers, that offers anytime, anywhere access to live world-class sports content. In addition, football fans on the move can catch daily news and goals from the event on mobile ESPN."

So we will finally see India live in action against the best in Asia...

Here the TV listings of the India matches

January 10: INDIA vs. Australia (18.30 IST; Star Sports)

January 14: INDIA vs. Bahrain (21.30 IST; Star Sports)

January 18: INDIA vs. South Korea (18.30 IST; ESPN)

Selasa, 04 Januari 2011

Blackburn Rovers bid for Ronaldinho

When I first heard the rumour that English Premier League club Blackburn Rovers are interested in Brazilian playmaker Ronaldinho I thought about a public relations gimmick from the clubs new Indian owners Venky's, but it now looks to be a serious attempt by the club to sign the former superstar. Still one will have to see if the first attempt in a star signing succeeds or not.

Still the whole episode looks a little weird. When the rumours first surfaced the club denied any truth in the story, but then the owners came out with a statement stating their interest and since then they have mentioned that Ronaldinho has been offered close to 25 Million Euros as salary for a three year contract.

The Venky's through their Brazilian set-up are in touch with the players agent and have made an offer to AC Milan, but Ronaldinho himself is currently in Brazil and has numerous offers there from clubs like Flamengo and Palmeiras plus his former club Gremio Porto Alegre, who were the original front-runners to sign him.

And Ronaldinho isn't the only high profile target. Like numerous other English Premier League clubs Blackburn Rovers are also trying to sign former England captain Davivd Beckham on a short term loan deal, but the question remains if Beckham will return to England to play for a few weeks.

I-League - Round 7: Odafe hits AIFF XI for a six

The seventh Round of matches of the I-League 2010/11 were played on January 3/4 across India. It was the first time in this I-League that East Bengal dropped point, but it was once more a round of Odafe Onyeka Okolie, who scored five goals against the AIFF XI to take his tally to 15 goals from seven matches while he also completed scoring 100 goals in the national league.

Round 7 Match by Match Short Review
03-Jan-2011: Air India 0-0 Pune FC (in Kolhapur)
Winless Air India were held to a dull goalless draw by Pune FC in Kolhapur, which didn't help the cause of any of the two sides. Especially the Airmen were looking for their first win of this I-League, but once more it ended in a draw.

03-Jan-2011: HAL, Bangalore 0-1 (0-1) Salgaocar SC (in Bangalore)
Injury hit HAL suffered their fourth defeat, a 0-1 against Salgaocar SC who themselves returned to winning ways after two defeats. Brazilian defender Luciano Sobrosa scored the winner early on in the 10th minute through a header with the Goans having further chances to score more goals.

03-Jan-2011: Chirag United SC 0-0 JCT (in Kolkata)
The hosts Chirag United SC were held to a goalless draw by JCT at the Saltlake Stadium, Kolkata. And Chirag United's Brazilian striker Josimar da Silva Martins, the hero against Dempo in the last match, was the villain today as he wasted chances galore.

03-Jan-2011: Churchill Brothers SC 6-0 (2-0) AIFF XI (in Goa)
Churchill Brother SC trashed the AIFF XI 6-0 in Goa and it was another Odafe Onyeka Okolie show. The in-form striker scored five of his teams six goals against the India Juniors who once more gave in after having suffered heavy defeats against Salgaocar SC and East Bengal Club. Odafe scored his goals in the 26th, 37th, 72nd, 82nd and 86th minute, while M.P. Sakeer scored the Goans fourth goal in the 78th minute and it could have been even worse if Jagroop Singh hadn't had a good game under the bar. Odafe has now scored a staggering 15 goals in only seven matches and is set to break further records in the I-League.

04-Jan-2011: Dempo SC 2-0 (2-0) ONGC (in Goa)
Defending champions Dempo SC returned to winning ways with a 2-0 win against newcomers ONGC. The Goans took an early eight minute lead through a returning Joaquim Abranches after a build-up by Roberto Mendes Silva and Ranty Martins Soleye. And Roberto Mendes Silva would double the lead in the 37th minute against the Oilmen.

04-Jan-2011: Mumbai FC 1-1 (0-1) East Bengal Club (in Kolhapur)
Mumbai FC held East Bengal Club to a one-all draw in Kolhapur, which meant the Kolkata giants dropped their first points in the 4th I-League. The red-and-gold were the better of the two sides before the break and deservingly their defender Uga Okpara scored the lead in the 18th minute. But after the break Mumbai FC had more from the game and put East Bengal under pressure with striker Ezeh Nna Henry first missing a couple of chances, but then equalised in the 75th minute.

04-Jan-2011: Viva Kerala 2-0 (1-0) Mohun Bagan AC (in Kannur)
Viva Kerala scored an upset win against Mohun Bagan AC to finally win their first game of this I-League at home in Kannur. After missing an early chance Viva Kerala took the lead in the 12th minute through a T. Karma goal, while striker P.K. Anil Kumar would make it 2-0 in the 73rd minute with Nigerian Felix Chimaokwu being the provider on both occasions.

Click here for the 4th I-League 2010/11 - League Table & Fixtures .

Senin, 03 Januari 2011

2011 AFC Asian Cup - A first Preview

Football's 2011 AFC Asian Cup will be played from January 7 to 29 in the Gulf state of Qatar. 16 of Asia's best national football teams will be seen in action. There is special interest around the world after the Asian Cup organisers Qatar were last month surprisingly named as the hosts of the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

The defending champions Iraq had surprised everyone by winning the 2007 Asian Cup finals 1-0 against Saudi Arabia in Jakarta in a tournament co-hosted by four Southeast Asian nations - Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam, who this time will all be missing from the tournament.

The qualification process for the Asian Cup is quite complicated. The top three nations from the last edition - Iraq, Saudi Arabia and South Korea qualified directly along with the hosts Qatar. Further India and North Korea qualified as the 2008 & 2010 champions of the AFC Challenge Cup, Asia's second tier national team competition while 10 further nations through the continental qualifiers.

The opening match will see hosts Qatar take on Uzbekistan, while China and Kuwait are also part of an evenly poised Group A. Group B will see one of the tournament favourites Japan taking on Middle Eastern sides in heavyweight Saudi Arabia plus rising powers in Jordan and Syria.

The biggest unknown is the Indian national team, who return to the Asian stage after 27 long years. And the 142nd world ranked India have been drawn in Group C, the tournaments group of death, along with Asian heavyweights Australia, South Korea and Bahrain. Meanwhile in Group D World Cuppers North Korea will have to prove their worth at Asian level against defending champions Iraq, Iran and the United Arab Emirates.

So who are the title favourites? Former German goalkeeper Lutz Pfannenstiel, who has played across the Asian continent, told me: "I think that there will be no big surprises. Japan and South Korea will be up there but I think quality-wise Australia has overall the best team."

Other experts say a Middle Eastern side could use the home advantage and cause an upset like Iraq did four years ago.

When one talks about the likely star performers then one will have to talk about in-form players like Manchester United star Ji-Sung Park of South Korea, Japan's Shinji Kagawa of Borussia Dortmund and Australian Tim Cahill of Everton FC. But such tournaments have shown that often the pre-tournament stars aren't there towards the end of the tournament and new stars are born.

An interesting Asian Cup is upon us which will further push the cause of Asian football and over the next three weeks the eyes of the football world will be looking at Qatar to see how they host Asia's premier football competition, the first real test for the Qataris.

Bayern Munich train in Qatar

German giants FC Bayern Munich are preparing themselves in Qatar ahead of the Bundesliga restart on January 15. They will be in the Gulf until January 9 after arriving there yesterday afternoon.

The reasons behind a winter camp in the Gulf is quite simple if one knows the weather conditions back home in Germany, snow and frost for the last five/six weeks. It is the first time that Bayern Munich are having their winter camp in Qatar after having had their camps in Dubai over the last few years and to some the timing might come as a surprise as the 2011 AFC Asian Cup will kickoff on Friday, but the Bavarians have kept a very low profile about their camp in Qatar.

Talking about the camp coach Louis van Gaal said, "It's better for the players' musculature if we train in warm conditions, and it also helps their recovery times."

Bayern will be training at the international class Aspire Academy for Sports Excellence. And as part of their camp they will play a friendly game agaist Qatar Stars League side Al Wakrah Sports Club. The match will be played on Saturday, January 8 at the Al Khor Stadium.

But not all players have travelled to Qatar. Toni Kroos, Ivica Olic and Rouven Sattelmaier have stayed back in Munich for an individual sports rehab programme, while Danijel Pranjic was a late drop out and might join his team mates or stay back in Munich depending on how his illness develops. If the medical tests go fine then new signing Luis Gustavo from 1899 Hoffenheim will join his new team mates later today.

But there are others who have left the club. Argentinian international Martin Demichelis has left Munich after seven and a half years to join Spanish La Liga side FC Malaga, while Austrian teenager David Alaba has gone on loan to 1899 Hoffenheim as part of the Luis Gustavo deal.

But coach Louis van Gaal played a prank with the media about a new signing for attack. Van Gaal said, "We might get another player this week, someone who can play in every attacking position. The likelihood of the player’s arrival was '99 percent'." In the end it turned out to be Arjen Robben, who has been out injured since the 2010 World Cup, who directly joined the team from his holiday destination of Dubai.