Asian World Cup Qualifying: Japan has almost clinched a spot in Brazil

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If you need some king of clear, unambiguous sign that Asian soccer continues to improve, consider the World Cup qualifying campaigns of South Korea, Australia, and North Korea — three qualifiers for 2010’s World Cup:

  • South Korea’s doing well enough in the tournament’s fourth and final round (2-1-1 through four matches), though it’s a slow start for a team that went 4-0-4 during 2010’s final qualifying round.
  • Australia, while second in Group B, has only won one of their four final round matches, scoring only four goals in as many games.
  • Meanwhile, North Korea didn’t even make the final, 10-team round.

Japan, on the other hand (the region’s other qualifier for South Africa), appears to be getting stronger. After today’s 2-1 win in Oman, the Japanese have 13 points from a possible 15. Holding an eight-point lead with three games left in their tournament, Japan’s almost assured a fifth trip to the World Cup.

The win was more meaningful than it looked. Oman may never be a household name, but in World Cup qualifying, they’ve been tough. Their record is now 2-2-1, their only losses coming at the sword of the Blue Samurai (despite playing in a group with Australia and Iraq).

Coming into today’s game, Paul Le Guen’s side had five points in their last three games. Though most of his players play domestically, they have two noted talents making their money beyond the Omani league: Wigan Athletic goalkeeper Ali Al-Habsi and Al-Ahli (Saudi Arabia) striker Amad Al-Hosni. Particularly at home — 4860 miles from Tokyo — they can be formidable.

Australia learned that lesson earlier in qualifying. In June, the Socceroos showed up in Muscat expected to win only to be shutout by Al-Habsi. The Aussies won a point, Mark Schwarzer keeping his own clean sheet, but with Oman coming off a lopsided 3-0 loss in Japan, the result provided a huge confidence boost.

On Wednesday, Oman was just as resilient. The match looked destined to end in a 1-1 draw, Oman having pulled back an early Japan lead while Al-Habsi had kept the Japanese at arms’ length. Then, just before full time, Shinji Okazaki converted on a set piece to give the confederation champions their win.

The difference between Japan and Australia’s results in Muscat exemplifies Japan’s climb. While the Japanese have improved since we saw them in South Africa, Australia has regressed. The rest of the qualifying group (Iraq, Oman, Jordan) started in too big a whole to compete with the Samurai Blue.

Whether Japan’s advantage applies to the rest of Asia — specifically, South Korea — remains to be seen. With the Koreans in Group A and the next Asian Cup not scheduled until 2015, it may be a while before we see the Japanese meat the region’s other power.

Other results – AFC qualifying

Iraq 1-0 Jordan – Iraq got their first win of the tournament, another “home” game staged in Doha. Against Group B’s most generous defense, Iraq needed 85 minutes before 19-year-old Hammadi Ahmad scored from just outside the penalty area, giving Zico’s team their first win of the tournament.

Qatar 1-0 Lebanon – Against a Lebanon side making their first appearance at this stage of the tournament, Qatar got what amounted to a must-win. Naturalized Uruguayan Sebastián Soria scored in the 75th minute to pull Qatar out of last place, vaulting them within one point of group-leading … Uzbekistan?

Iran 0-1 Uzbekistan – A huge win for Uzbekis, and not because it pushed them into first place. With South Korea holding a match in hand, that status will likely change, but after a devastating home loss to Iran that opened final round qualifying, Uzbekistan got revenge. A late goal from veteran Ulugbek Bakayev was only the second goal Carlos Quieroz’s side has given up in five games.

Standings

Group A Pld W D L GF GA GD Pts
Uzbekistan 5 2 2 1 5 4 +1 8
South Korea 4 2 1 1 9 4 +5 7
Iran 5 2 1 2 2 2 0 7
Qatar 5 2 1 2 3 5 −2 7
Lebanon 5 1 1 3 2 6 −4 4
Group Bt Pld W D L GF GA GD Pts
Japan 5 4 1 0 13 2 +11 13
Australia 4 1 2 1 4 4 0 5
Iraq 5 1 2 2 4 5 −1 5
Oman 5 1 2 2 4 7 −3 5
Jordan 5 1 1 3 4 11 −7 4

Diego Costa moves out of his London home

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The clearest indication yet has arrived that Chelsea striker doesn’t intend to return to England.

According to multiple reports in the UK Costa, 28, has sent in a removal firm to clear up his remaining belongings at his home in Surrey on the outskirts of London and has also had all amenities cut off at his base in England.

His friends say he no longer has a home in London, as Costa had been living in the $10 million home previously occupied by Fernando Torres.

The Brazilian-born Spanish international striker is currently back in Brazil at his family home, refusing to return to Chelsea until they sell him to his former club Atletico Madrid.

This all came after Costa was told by Chelsea boss Antonio Conte, reportedly via a text message, that he was no longer needed at Chelsea and could leave this summer. Chelsea say that Costa has known since January that he would be sold this summer, but his lawyer has threatened legal action against Conte and Chelsea for their handling of the situation.

With Atletico unable to register any new players until January 2018 due to a current transfer ban from FIFA, Costa’s situation is complex.

What isn’t complex is his stance that he will stay in Brazil and isn’t bothered about being fined by Chelsea who insist he should return to their Cobham training base and train with their reserve team.

Five Premier League new boys set to become stars

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There have been plenty of ins and outs this summer across the Premier League, so we forgive you if you aren’t exactly on top of which new names are set for a breakout 2017-18.

Luckily, that’s where we come in.

After the opening two weekends of the season there are plenty of #hottakes out there but below is a look at five newbies who have already shown they’re set for a fine spell in the PL after arriving in the league this summer.

This is a ranking of players who have never played in the PL before this season.


Aaron Mooy (Huddersfield) – A stunning strike for Huddersfield against Newcastle to win the Terriers the game in their Premier League opener at the John Smith’s Stadium. The Australian international is comfortable on the ball and able to link midfield with attack and he has an impressive engine. He did play for Huddersfield last season on loan from Man City, albeit in the Championship, but he has never played in the PL before. Mooy is one of those players who will be picked up by PL Fantasy team managers readily over the next few weeks. Expect him to be Huddersfield’s main man when it comes to goals and assists.

Richarlison (Watford) – Watford look to have unearthed a gem from Fluminese in Brazil. The talented 20-year-old forward became the first Brazilian to score for the Hornets and bamboozled Bournemouth’s defense time and time again at the weekend. At $14.3 million he could be one of the bargains of the season with his pace and trickery complementing the power of Andre Gray perfectly.

Jese (Stoke City) – On loan from Paris Saint-Germain, the Spanish forward delivered the game-winner against Arsenal on his debut. Stoke’s fans have a new hero. Jese, 24, has landed at Real Madrid, PSG and Las Palmas in a nomadic career but he appears to possess the pace and cutting edge to finish chances. Exactly what Stoke needed.

Tiemoue Bakayoko (Chelsea) – Okay, it wasn’t his most polished display in midfield but after being out in preseason with injury, Bakayoko stepped in admirably and played a full 90 minutes in Chelsea’s 2-1 win against Tottenham. A gritty player who put himself about, the former Monaco man gave a good account of himself. Imagine how much of a beast the 23-year-old will be alongside N'Golo Kante when he is fully fit.

Danilo (Man City) – He only played for 25 minutes against Everton but he showed plenty of attacking promise (forcing Jordan Pickford into a fine stop down low) from right back as well as defensive solidity. He did the same in his PL debut at left back at Brighton in Week 1. Danilo won’t steal the headlines but he will soon become of Pep Guardiola‘s most important defensive players due to his impressive versatility. The experience of the Brazilian international will be key in holding City’s leaky defense together.

Best stats from Week 2 in the Premier League

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Looking back at Week 2 of the Premier League, there were plenty of intriguing stats.

[ MORE: PL Playback – Week 2 ] 

Milestones were reached and possession records were broken among many other notable moments.

Below, via Opta, you will find some stats to impress your mates at the bar ahead of the third round of games in the PL.


  • Wayne Rooney scored his 200th Premier League goal in this match – the only player with more in the competition is Alan Shearer (260).
  • Arsenal posted their highest ever possession figure in a Premier League game (77.3%), since 2003-04 (the first season Opta have this data from). Stoke City posted their lowest ever possession figure in a Premier League game (22.7%).
  • Indeed, only five teams have won a Premier League game with a lower share of possession than Stoke against Arsenal, since 2003-04.
  • Geoff Cameron became just the sixth American to play in 150 or more Premier League games.
  • Manchester United have scored 4+ goals in their opening two league games of a season for the first time in 110 years (1907/08).
  • There were just 3 minutes and 41 seconds between Manchester United’s final three goals of the game against Swansea.
  • Watford boss Marco Silva enjoyed his first-ever away win in the Premier League in his 10th game on the road in the competition (W1 D2 L7).
  • West Brom have won their first two games of a top-flight season for the first time since 1978/79.
  • Liverpool have kept five clean sheets in their last six Premier League games, as many as in the previous 21.
  • Manolo Gabbiadini’s goal ended a run of nine hours and 15 minutes without a Premier League goal at St. Mary’s for Southampton.
  • Javier Hernandez scored his first Premier League goals since April 2014 vs Newcastle (1232 days ago) – all 39 of his goals in the English top-flight have come inside the box.
  • Tottenham have lost seven of their last nine matches at Wembley (W1 D1) and lost each of their last four games against Chelsea there.
  • Harry Kane has now had 34 shots and played 12 games in the month of August without scoring in the Premier League.
  • Excluding the debut season of the Premier League in 1992/93, Huddersfield are the first team to win their opening two games in the competition.
  • 23 of Huddersfield’s last 27 wins in league competition have been achieved by a one-goal margin.

 

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Vardy to Chelsea; Kovacic to Liverpool

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With his good mate Danny Drinkwater edging closer to a move to Chelsea, this Jamie Vardy to Chelsea talk makes sense.

The 30-year-old striker has looked sharp in the opening weeks of the new Premier League season as he scored twice in the defeat to Arsenal on opening night.

A report in The Telegraph claims Vardy is one of three players Chelsea want with Drinkwater and Virgil Van Dijk the others.

Vardy will surely look around and see Drinkwater on his way out, N'Golo Kante thriving at Chelsea and Riyad Mahrez pushing for a move to AS Roma and wonder “what about me?” He has every right to do that and with Chelsea eager to add another striker given the ongoing Diego Costa situation, would Vardy be a good fit at Stamford Bridge?

He would certainly give Antonio Conte something completely different in his attack with Alvaro Morata and Michy Batshuayi two bruising frontman who prefer the ball to their feet, and with the pace of Eden Hazard, Pedro and Willian on the break, Vardy could be vital away from home. Vardy proved he is more than a one season wonder as he battled back from a slow start to last season with 16 goals in 48 appearances in all competitions.

The England international only signed a new long-term deal at Leicester last summer but if Chelsea manage to offload Costa before the end of the window and offer the Foxes a huge amount for Vardy, could they turn it down and would Vardy turn this move down? He shunned Arsenal last summer but Chelsea may be a different proposition with UEFA Champions League action a huge pull.

Vardy’s value is somewhat difficult to judge given his age, his streaky nature and how important he is to how Leicester are set up. If the Foxes sell Vardy then their entire season would be in jeopardy.


Liverpool are said to be targeting Real Madrid’s Mateo Kovacic with Spanish outlet Diario Gol claiming a deal has already been verbally agreed.

The Croatian midfielder is not seen as a replacement for Philippe Coutinho as it seems increasingly likely the Brazilian playmaker will remain at Anfield after the latest bid from Barcelona (thought to be a whopping $145 million) was turned down.

Kovacic, 23, is a silky central midfielder who has found minutes hard to come by at Real with Toni Kroos, Casemiro and Luka Modric in his way.

Real signed him from Inter Milan in 2015 for $32.5 million and it is likely they’ll want to at least recoup that fee for the talented Croatian. With Emre Can stalling on a new deal at Liverpool, plus inconsistent displays from Jordan Henderson and Georginio Wijnaldum, Klopp has also talked about using James Milner in central midfield.