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

Europa League, LIVE: Arsenal, Everton in action

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Crunch time is arriving in the UEFA Europa League group stage.

[ LIVE: Follow Europa League games ]

Two Premier League teams are in action on Thursday as Everton host Lyon at Goodison Park and Arsenal face a tough trip to Red Star Belgrade.

Everton have yet to win in the Europa League, while the Gunners are sitting top of their group with two wins from two.

Below is a look at the full schedule for Thursday’s games, while you can click on the link above to stay updated on all the action across Europe with the likes of AC Milan, Athletic Bilbao and Lazio all in action.

Thursday’s Europa League schedule

11:00 a.m. ET: Astana vs. Maccabi Tel-Aviv
1 p.m. ET: BATE vs. Cologne
1 p.m. ET: Hapoel Beer Sheva vs. Steaua
1 p.m. ET: Konyaspor vs. Red Bull Salzburg
1 p.m. ET: Lugano vs. Viktoria
1 p.m. ET: Marseille  vs. Guimaraes
1 p.m. ET: Nice vs. Lazio
1 p.m. ET: Ostersunds FK vs. Athletic Bilbao
1 p.m. ET: Red Star Belgrade vs. Arsenal
1 p.m. ET: Vardar vs. Real Sociedad
1 p.m. ET: Zenit vs. Rosenborg
1 p.m. ET: Zorya vs. Hertha Berlin
1 p.m. ET: Zulte-Waregem vs. Vitesse
3:05 p.m. ET: AC Milan vs. AEK Athens
3:05 p.m. ET: Atalanta vs. Apollon Limassol
3:05 p.m. ET: Austria Vienna vs. Rijeka
3:05 p.m. ET: Dynamo Kyiv vs. Young Boys
3:05 p.m. ET: Everton vs. Lyon
3:05 p.m. ET: Fastav Zlin vs. Copenhagen
3:05 p.m. ET: SC Braga vs. Ludogorets
3:05 p.m. ET: Sheriff vs. Lokomotiv Moscow
3:05 p.m. ET: Skenderbeu vs. Partizan
3:05 p.m. ET: TSG Hoffenheim vs. Istanbul Basaksehir
3:05 p.m. ET: vs. Villarreal Slavia Prague

Premier League releases new schedule for December games

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Start planning for the festive period.

[ LIVE: Stream every Premier League game

The Premier League have announced their updated game schedule for the month of December, with several games moved to set up marathon windows of action across the festive period.

PL action galore and eggnog. Sign me up.

Premier League Executive Chairman Richard Scudamore revealed that the festive fixtures were particularly challenging to schedule this season was particularly

“We appreciate this is the peak time for supporters attending and watching the Premier League. With matches scheduled on Christmas weekend for the first time in 11 years, the process of selecting games for live broadcast has been a more complex one than usual and I would like to thank our broadcast partners and clubs for their co-operation and flexibility,” Scudamore said. “We can now announce we have a fantastic selection of 24 live televised matches for supporters to enjoy in December whether in the stadiums or at home.”

Some of the highlights include three games on December 23, a Manchester derby on Dec. 10 and

Below is a look at the new dates/times for games which have been moved.


Saturday 2 December
7:30 a.m ET: Chelsea v Newcastle
12:30 p.m. ET: Arsenal v Man Utd

Sunday 3 December
8:30 a.m. ET: AFC Bournemouth v Southampton
11 a.m. ET: Man City v West Ham

Saturday 9 December
7:30 a.m. ET: West Ham v Chelsea
12:30 p.m. ET: Newcastle v Leicester

Sunday 10 December
7 a.m ET: Southampton v Arsenal
9:15 a.m. ET: Liverpool v Everton
11:30 a.m. ET: Man Utd v Man City

Tuesday 12 December
3 p.m. ET: Huddersfield Town v Chelsea

Wednesday 13 December
2:45 p.m. ET: Swansea City v Man City
3 p.m. ET: Man Utd v AFC Bournemouth
Both further to Manchester derby moving to 10 December
3 p.m. ET: West Ham v Arsenal

Saturday 16 December
7:30 Leicester City v Crystal Palace
Subject to change dependent on EFL Cup 5th round participation
12:30 p.m. ET: Man City v Spurs

Sunday 17 December
9:15 a.m. ET: West Brom v Man Utd
Subject to change dependent on Everton and/or Swansea reaching EFL Cup 5th round
11:30 a.m. ET: AFC Bournemouth v Liverpool

Monday 18 December
3 p.m. ET: Everton v Swansea
Subject to change dependent on Everton and/or Swansea reaching EFL Cup 5th round

Friday 22 December
2:45 p.m. ET: Arsenal v Liverpool

Saturday 23 December
7:30 a.m. ET: Everton v Chelsea
12:30 p.m. ET: Burnley v Spurs
2:45 p.m. ET: Leicester City v Man Utd

Tuesday 26 December
7:30 a.m. ET: Spurs v Southampton
12:30 p.m. ET: Liverpool v Swansea

Wednesday 27 December
2:45 p.m. ET: Newcastle United v Man City

Thursday 28 December
3 p.m. ET: Crystal Palace v Arsenal
Because of their selection on 28 December, neither Arsenal nor Crystal Palace will play on 30 December.

Northern Ireland manager O’Neill banned for DUI

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EDINBURGH, Scotland (AP) Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill has pleaded guilty to drunk driving and been banned from the road for 16 months.

O’Neill was caught by police on the outskirts of Edinburgh at about 1 a.m. on Sept. 10 and was found to be around three times the legal drink-drive limit.

O’Neill appeared on Thursday at Edinburgh Sheriff Court where he received the driving ban and fine of 1,300 pounds ($1,700).

O’Neill’s solicitor, James Mulgrew, told the court “this was simply a bad error of judgment.”

Northern Ireland is still in contention for its first World Cup trip since 1986. The team plays Switzerland in a two-leg playoff next month to qualify for the World Cup in Russia next year.

More AP World Cup coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/WorldCup

Newcastle takeover bid moves closer

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Newcastle United fans are getting very, very excited.

PCP Capital Partners, led by Amanda Staveley, have signed a confidentiality agreement with the club’s owners after Mike Ashley put the club up for sale earlier this week

Ashley is said to value Newcastle at over $520 million, while Staveley is said to believe the club is worth close to $395 million, so there is plenty of negotiating still to happen but things are heading in the right direction.

In a statement on Monday Ashley said he would allow any potential buyer to pay the overall transaction fee in installments, while he also wants a buy to be completed by the end of December.

Who is Staveley?

She was seen at a Newcastle vs. Liverpool game at St James’ Park earlier this month as speculation was rife that a new owner was being lined up to buy Newcastle. That is indeed the case and Staveley, 44, is now able to look over the finances of the club exclusively.

Staveley oversaw the purchase of Manchester City by Abu Dhabi United and also lined up a deal for Liverpool to be bought by Dubai International Captial which fell through in the past.

Her close links to the Middle East has seen her become one of the most prominent British businesswomen in recent years and she currently manages over $34 billion of wealth globally. Staveley and her investors are said to be interested in buying several Premier League clubs.

Ashley’s lawyer, Andrew Henderson, released a statement on Thursday stating several other parties have inquired about buying the club since the announcement came that they were up for sale.

“Since Monday, a number of additional parties have come forward which we believe to be credible. We are also continuing to engage with a number of parties with whom we had entered into negotiations prior to Monday’s announcement.”

Things are moving very quickly for Newcastle’s fans as they thought they’d never get rid of much-maligned owner Ashley who is a lifelong fan of the club and bought them in 2007.

After two relegations from the Premier League (followed by instant returns to the PL on both occasions) Ashley has been accused of failing to spend money on the playing squad and realize Newcastle’s full potential as they challenged for the Premier League title on numerous occasions during the 1990s.

With Rafael Benitez getting the most of his squad and the Magpies sitting in the top 10 of the PL as things stand, the future is looking bright for Newcastle with plenty of investment expected if this sale does go through to Staveley or those she is closely connected with.