Archive for December, 2010

A match to remember

On December 25th 1915 one of the most memorable football matches ever took place in northern France near the village of Laventie.

There are no photographs of the match, no superstars played and the match lasted about thirty minutes.

What was even more incredible was that there were about 50 players on each side and no one kept the score.

This match of course took place on the Western Front during the First World War and the players were the German and British soldiers.

Hostilities stopped for a short time during a Christmas truce, the soldiers came out of their trenches, someone produced a ball – and they played football.

The next day they started shooting at each other but on that Christmas Day, almost 100 years ago, football took over from fighting.

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Players support winter World Cup in 2022

After the comments by Sepp Blatter, Michel Platini and Franz Beckenbauer that the 2022 FIFA World Cup should be played in January instead of June/July, strong support has come from FIFPro, the world footballers’ union which also believes the 2022 World Cup in Qatar should be held in the winter instead of summer.

Summer temperatures hit 50 degrees centigrade in the Gulf and FIFPro has said it is pleased FIFA is open to changing the tournament’s timing to address the issue of heat.

Sepp Blatter, the FIFA President, backed a possible switch to January 2022 and in a statement, FIFPro said it “does not foresee any insurmountable problems in this regard”.

In the vote by the FIFA Executive Committee on 2nd December 2010, Qatar beat Australia, Japan, South Korea and the United States to host the World Cup, which is traditionally held in June and July.

Tijs Tummers, the secretary of FIFPro’s Technical Committee, however, questioned the decision to award Qatar the tournament based on it still being held in the summer.

“It is not sensible in a country with an average temperature of 41C in June and July, a midday temperature of 50C and, above all, extremely high humidity,” Tummers said.

“Tourists are advised not to travel to Qatar in the summer months and inhabitants leave the country en masse during this period.

“The summer months in Qatar also do not provide suitable conditions for a festival of football such as the World Cup should be, including for the supporters.”

When Qatar was announced as host, German World Cup-winning captain and coach Franz Beckenbauer voiced concerns about the health risk the heat could pose for players.

However Tummers insisted that by switching the dates the weather concerns could be countered, while players might be in better condition than if the tournament was held in its traditional slot at the end of a gruelling European season.

“Space will have to be made for the tournament, even though many countries already have a winter break,” the secretary of FIFPro’s Technical Committee added.

“In Europe, competitive matches will have to be played in August and the second half of May and the first half of June.”

“And it might, perhaps, turn out that the players will be fitter at the start of a winter World Cup than was the case last summer at the World Cup in South Africa.”

That is the players’ perspective but the top professional clubs in Europe and South America will hardly support a change which will deprive them of income for almost two months.

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FIFA moves the goal posts – again

There were strong complaints after FIFA named the successful host countries for the 2018 and 2022 FIFA World Cups.

The FIFA President explained that it was part of FIFA’s strategy to widen the location of the World Cup to new countries, away from the traditional centres.

This is a very understandable and valid point but unfortunately this information was not given at the start of the bidding process and resulted in millions of dollars being spent by countries which seemed to have had no chance of winning from the very start.

England spent around $23 million while Australia spent around $40 million. The other bidding countries would spend comparable sums.

In the European contest for 2018, Russia could be the only possible winner since the other five countries Spain, Portugal, Netherlands, Belgium and England lay in Western Europe where the World Cup has always been held.

What was wrong was that in the interests of ‘transparency’, a favourite FIFA word, this should have been stated when the bidding process was announced.

The bidding for 2022 was even more complex. Four member associations of the Asian Football Confederation – Australia, Japan, South Korea and Qatar – were competing with the United States to be the host nation.

Three of these bidders have already held a World Cup which left only Australia and Qatar.

Qatar won 14 – 8 on the fourth round of voting and Australia was eliminated in the first round, gaining only one vote.

The selection of Qatar was always going to be controversial. It is a small country which is presently ranked 114th in the FIFA World Rankings, just ahead of Suriname.

It does fit in to FIFA’s philosophy of bringing the World Cup to new areas and 2022 will bring the tournament to the Middle East.

It has some experience of hosting major events such as the Asian Games, a large scale regional version of the Olympic Games, in 2006 and the AFC Asian Cup which begins there on 7th January 2011.

Where the goal posts will be possibly changed here is the suggestion which is now coming from FIFA that the World Cup in 2022 should take place in January and February when the weather is more suitable for football.

The climatic problem was highlighted by FIFA’s own Study Group, but this major consideration was not seen as a problem since the Qatar FA said they would construct air-conditioned stadia.

There would however have been a problem with thousands of supporters visiting Qatar in June and July when the temperature reaches over 40 degrees.

FIFA has fired an opening salvo by raising the possibility of a World Cup in the middle of the European and South American seasons.

The reaction from Europe especially has been predictably hostile.

12 years from now will professional football in Europe close down for six to eight weeks while we prepare to watch the start of the 2022 FIFA World Cup?

I think not.

A power struggle seems inevitable.

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An 80 year journey

The 2010 FIFA World Final in South Africa was a major global event, watched by an estimated television audience of 700 million viewers all over the world.

How different this was from the first World Cup Final held in Montevideo, Uruguay eighty years earlier in 1930.

Just 13 teams took part and seven were from South America. England was not a member of FIFA and boycotted the tournament, leaving France, Belgium, Romania and Yugoslavia as the only European entrants. Mexico amd USA also took part.

All the FIFA World Cup matches were played in just one city, Montevideo. This is also unique in FIFA World Cup history. The 13 teams played in just three stadia.

The 1930 FIFA World Cup venues were “Estadio Centenario”, which had ten matches, “Estadio Pocitos, Penarol’s ground, which had two, and the Stadium “Parque Central”, Nacional Montevideo’s ground, which had six. The final took place at “Centenario” in the heart of Montevideo. It was the first really big stadium in South America with a total capacity of 80,000 spectators. Designed by the architect Juan Scasso, it was built in only six months. The massive building cost 1.5 million Uruguayan gold pieces.

At least the referee of the final between Uruguay and Argentina was a European, the Belgian John Langenus. A very tall man who officiated in knickerbockers and tie, he was also a journalist for a number of European newspapers.

 Langenus, who later became chief of staff of the Governor of the Province of Antwerp, was a worried man. There had been riots in the group match between Uruguay and Peru and this was too much for Langenus. He insisted on bodyguards behind both goals. He demanded: “No Argentine revolvers at Centenario!.”

At the stadium, supporters were searched for weapons. The gates were opened at eight o’clock, six hours before kick-off, and at noon the ground was full. The official attendance 93,000.

Police allegedly confiscated 1,600 guns as the fans entered the stadium.

But Langenus also had another problem at the kick-off.  The Argentines as well as the hosts had brought their own footballs – and they only wanted to play with their ball.

The Jabulani, the official match ball of the 2010 FIFA World Cup seems a million miles away!

Langenus decided that lots would be drawn and finally the match kicked off. A ball from each team would be used in one half. The final score was 4-2 to Uruguay.

Jules Rimet, the father of the World Cup, bowed to the hosts after the final. “I have never before experienced such examples of emotional passion and enthusiasm as triggered by this victory.

When the Uruguay flag was hoisted as the FIFA World Cup Champions, players looked up to the flag with tears running down their cheeks. The entire population of the country celebrated the triumph.”

No sponsorship, little television coverage, no superstars, how different from the situation today – but Uruguay will always be remembered as the winners of the first FIFA World Cup.

The FIFA World Cup has come a long way in the last eighty years.

Both the emotion will always be there!

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Crowd trouble – any place any time!

I recently returned from a visit to Maldives with a group of young AFC Project Future Referees. They spent six days in the capital Male and refereed a number of matches, mostly in the Maldives Third Division. The matches were well organised and the referees benefitted greatly from the experience of refereeing in another football environment.

The woman referee in the group, Casey Riebelt of Australia, actually made history by becoming the first woman ever to referee a football match in Maldives – and a very good job she did as well.

Two of the referees also refereed the semi final and the final of the President’s Cup, the top knock out competition in Maldives.

The impression you get of Maldives from the tourist brochures is one of small islands, white beaches and palm trees and you are not disappointed. It is a lovely country and the people are very friendly.

But football is football – all over the world.

The semi final of the President’s Cup was played in the National Stadium in Male, between New Radiant Sports Club and VB Sports Club.

The referee was from Japan, the assistants were from Hong Kong and Uzbekistan and the fourth official was from Australia. They did a good job and although the match was very competitive there was nothing too controversial. Eventually VB Sports Club outplayed their opponents to go 4-0 ahead with just six minutes remaining.

Then it started.

The supporters of New Radiant Sports Club reacted to a foul on their goalkeeper and started to throw lumps of concrete terracing at the assistant referee. He was struck on the back and on the leg and had to be replaced by the fourth official who received the same treatment.

What we later learned was that the supporters of the two teams supported different political parties and this was the cause of the violence.

After a forty minute delay the remaining six minutes were completed with both assistants running the same line – away from the concrete throwing fans.

Special situations need special solutions!

When you hear of football violence, Maldives is one of the last countries you would imagine it happening – but it did.

Who says football and politics don’t mix?

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England must reassess its position

The fallout from the unsuccessful English bid to host the 2018 FIFA World Cup continues.

Various reasons are given – the critical stance of the English media, the crises which saw the departure of FA Chairman Lord David Triesman and the failure of some FIFA Executive Committee members to honour supposed promises to vote for England – and others reasons as well.

England is a big player in the world of football. It won the World Cup in 1966 and the English Premier League is the most commercially successful league in the world. Its matches are shown all over the world and in continents such as Asia there is almost blanket wall to wall coverage of the matches.

Commercial success however does not guarantee influence at the top table in FIFA.

England must realise that the next chairman of the Football Association must not only have credibility in England but also be able to move effortlessly through the corridors of power in UEFA and FIFA.

Lord Triesman was not such a person. He was a strong figure nationally with impeccable political credentials but he was unknown internationally.

Neither would have been Roger Burden who withdrew his application to become Chairman of the FA, having been the Acting Chairman, after his experience at the voting in Zurich. He is widely respected in the FA but lacks the international recognition which is required if England is to develop and consolidate influence in international football.

The blunt fact is that administrators who have given a lifetime of service to the game and who have risen to chair and serve on FA committees, are not usually suitable representatives of the FA at the top level.

That is why men like David Dein, Richard Scudamore and Rick Parry must be the front men in a new English approach to the international football bodies.

England must reassess its situation. It must support and promote its top people who are recognised and respected by other countries to fill positions at UEFA and FIFA.

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The fallout from the FIFA decision to award the 2018 World Cup to Russia continues.

The FA delegation has called foul over the fact that promised votes by FIFA Executive Committee members did not materialise.

Welcome to the world of football politics!

Promised votes did not emerge, no matter the lobbying of the UK Prime Minister, the future King or David Beckham.

England had the best technical bid, without a doubt. It has the stadia in place as well as the infrastructure.

The bid, however, did not fit into the FIFA concept of extending the hosting of the World Cup to regions not previously involved.

Questions have to be asked, however, on whether FIFA should have made public the criteria it would use in deciding the hosts for 2018 and 2022.

Australia reportedly spent $43 million on its bid while England spent £15 million. Australia gained one vote for 2022 while England gained two votes for 2018.

This is a massive waste of resources which could have been used in many other ways of football development.

The criteria should have been set out from the beginning to avoid excessive expectations and to avoid excessive expenditure.

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The success of Qatar in winning the right to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup has come at an interesting time for the oil and gas rich state.

In the voting for the 2022 competition, Qatar had stayed consistently ahead of its rivals and eventually beat The United States by 14 votes to 8 in the fourth round.

In the voting it defeated three previous host nations – USA, South Korea and Japan – as well as Australia, the host of the 2000 Olympic Games.

The selection of Qatar follows the FIFA policy of taking the World Cup to new parts of the world and this will be the first World Cup to be held in the Middle East.

In 2006 it successfully hosted the Asian Games, a major multi-sports event in the Asian sporting diary and took the gold medal in the football competition by defeating Iraq in the final.

On 7th January 2011 the match between Qatar and Uzbekistan in the Khalifa Stadium will kick off the AFC Asian Cup in Qatar bringing together the top 16 nations in Asia in three weeks of competition. This is the biggest tournament for national teams in Asia and Qatar has created five first class venues for the event.

The Final takes place in the Khalifa Stadium on 29th January 2011.

The biggest problem in 2022 will be the heat in June and July and cooling systems will be installed in all the stadia used in the Qatar 2022 World Cup but this will not be a problem in January.

Every four years the AFC Asian Cup is the major tournament for national teams in Asia. Qatar will be a highly organised host.

Next month, January 2011, the AFC Asian Cup will be the priority then it will be all eyes on the challenge of 2022.

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Russia fits FIFA’s bill

There is bitter and understandable disappointment among the unsuccessful bidders for the 2018  FIFA World Cup.

The success of the Russian bid surprised its opponents. Spain/ Portugal were convinced they would win in the weeks leading up to the vote while England believed it had made up considerable ground in the last days of lobbying. Although Belgium/ Netherlands were seen by many as the weakest of the four European bids it did have some influential FIFA figures at its head.

On reflection, however, the result was not a surprise considering the way the selection of host nations has been going in recent years.

The UEFA European Football Championship was co-hosted in 2000 by Netherlands and Belgium while in 2004 the host was Portugal. In 2008 the co-hosts were Austria and Switzerland and in 2012 the competition will again have co-hosts in Poland and Ukraine.

With the obvious exception of Netherlands, none of the other hosts or co-hosts from 2000 to 2012 is recognised as being in the top group of European football nations.

UEFA has attempted to widen the scope of its tournament and FIFA took the same approach when it awarded the 2010 FIFA World Cup to South Africa. This was a high risk selection, especially from a security aspect, but the competition was highly successful – apart from the quality of much of the football.

FIFA, and especially the FIFA President, Sepp Blatter, had stated that the tournament must go to Africa and he delivered.

The selection of Russia, therefore, fits in to this strategy by taking the World Cup to eastern Europe while all previous European tournaments have taken place in the west – England, Italy, Spain, Germany and France.

Again it must be seen as a bold and imaginative selection and one which is not without problems and risks. Most of the stadia have still to be constructed and there are major weaknesses in the transport infrastructure which will be necessary to move fans across the vast distances between the Russian venues.

The Russian Government is strongly on board, however, and with the rich revenues from oil and gas available, it is fully expected it will ensure everything is in place for 2018.

Another bold move by FIFA and one which will almost certainly succeed.

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There is no doubt that the most eagerly anticipated match this week was El Clasico, the match between Barcelona and Real Madrid at the Nou Camp in Barcelona.

The match fully lived up to expectations – and some more.

Barca won 5-0 and put on a display which had coaches all over the world drooling at the technical quality of their play and their players.

Eight of the Barca team were members of the Spanish World Cup winning squad but, even more significantly, nine of the team were the products of the Barca Youth Academy.

Superstars like Puyol, Valdes, Xavi, Iniesta and Messi have had their skills developed over a number of years in the Barca Youth System.

The development of home grown talent – although Messi is not exactly home grown – is the way forward for many clubs all over the world.

The Ajax Academy has produced outstanding players over the year and the interesting thing is that the role of the Head Youth Coach is not tied to the success or failure of the first team. His appointment is a long term appointment because development takes time and his job is to oversee the young players over perhaps an eight or ten year period.

Speaking of development, I have just returned from Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia where I was in charge of the referee development programme of the Asian Football Confederation called Project Future.

In short, young referees under the age of 25 are selected firstly at the AFC Festivals of Football and after a further selection course the best become part of AFC Project Future.

They then attend a further four courses over a two year period with top AFC instructors in different parts of Asia – India, Uzbekistan, Maldives or Japan.

The aim is to produce a new generation of AFC Elite Referees and the results are beginning to show. Of the referees who finished in 2009, six, between the ages of 25 and 27 have been appointed FIFA Referees for 2011 and a further two have become FIFA assistant Referees. Some others, already refereeing in the top divisions in their own country will become FIFA Referees when they reach the minimum age of 25.

Development takes time, whether it be the development of a player or a referee but it is an essential part of football.

The results can be spectacular, as witnessed by the Barca team against Real Madrid and hopefully by the performance of some of the AFC Project Future referees in the FIFA World Cups of 2018 and 2022.

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