Sanfrecce Hiroshima v Auckland City - FIFA Club World Cup: Play-Off for Quarter Final

FIFA Club World Cup starts with a golazo


Right under your noses, the FIFA Club World Cup began today in Japan, with Sanfrecce Hiroshima‘s Toshihiro Aoyama making sure the tournament’s start was a good one.

What’s Japanese for golazo?

Sanfrecce went on to beat Auckland City (Oceania’s champions) 1-0 to advance to the quarterfinals … for those that care.

Unfortunately, there aren’t many around that do. I’m certainly not one to trumpet the need to make this tournament more important (<sarcasm>because if there’s one thing the world needs, it’s a few more important tournaments</sarcasm>), but if you ignore your internal pining to find competitive significance in everything from your grocery store line choice to an early hour soccer match in Hiroshima, this event can be a minor spectacle.

Teams who would never otherwise face each other meet with some loose cache to complement minor bragging rights, and every once in a while you get something like last year: Neymar meeting (and his Santos side getting thrashed by) Barcelona.

source: Getty ImagesThis year’s tournament carries slightly more intrigue since Chelsea, UEFA’s representative, isn’t that good. Where Europe’s champion is always considered a strong favorite, the Blues’ vulnerability opens the door for an upset, presumably from CONMEBOL’s representatives, Sao Paulo’s Corinthians (who qualified by winning Copa Libertadores for the first time in the club’s 112-year history).

Those two teams are passed into the semifinals, one round ahead of three teams capable of an upset (though perhaps not two). CONCACAF is represented by Monterrey, returning to the competition for a second straight season. They’re coming off a disappointing Apertura in Mexico. AFC (Asia) sends South Korea’s Ulsan Hyundai, who beat Saudi Arabia’s Al-Ahli to snare a spot, while Egypt’s Al-Alhy completed a remarkable rebound from February tragedy to claim CAF’s (Africa’s) spot.

After today’s opener, the competition takes a small break until Sunday when Sanfrecce faces Al-Alhy and Ulsan takes on Monterrey.

And one of the beautiful parts of this competition: Nobody knows who should win those games!

Statement from suspended UEFA president Michel Platini

Michel Platini, UEFA & FIFA
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Statement from suspended UEFA President Michel Platini:

Early this afternoon, I was informed of the FIFA ethics committee’s decision to impose on me a provisional 90-day suspension with immediate effect. That decision, which I will of course contest in the appropriate manner at the appropriate time, had already been the subject of a deliberate leak, and I gave my opinion on that earlier in the day.

I reject all of the allegations that have been made against me, which are based on mere semblances and are astonishingly vague. Indeed, the wording of those allegations merely states that a breach of the FIFA Code of Ethics “seems to have been committed” and that a decision on the substance of the matter cannot be taken immediately.

Despite the farcical nature of these events, I refuse to believe that this is a political decision taken in haste in order to taint a lifelong devotee of the game or crush my candidacy for the FIFA presidency.

I want everyone to know my state of mind: more than a sense of injustice or a desire for revenge, I am driven by a profound feeling of staunch defiance. I am more determined than ever to defend myself before the relevant judicial bodies.

I want to reiterate in the strongest possible terms that I will devote myself to ensuring that my good faith prevails. I have received numerous messages of support today from UEFA’s member associations and the other confederations encouraging me to continue my work serving football’s interests. Nothing will make me give up on that commitment.

EURO 2016: Ireland shock Germany, Northern Ireland qualify

Shane Long, Ireland
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A recap of Thursday’s action in 2016 European Championship qualifying:

Ireland 1-0 Germany

Southampton striker Shane Long scored the goal that knocked off the defending world champions and pushed Ireland one step closer to next summer’s European Championship in France. Long, who entered the game in the 65th minute, latched onto Darren Randolph‘s ball over the top in the 70th minute, took one touch to settle and fired for the far post, beating Manuel Neuer for the game’s only goal.

With one game still to play, Ireland (18 points) sit third in Group D, level on points with Sunday’s opponent Poland. While the winner of Sunday’s clash could leapfrog Germany (19), they will more likely finish second in the group and qualify automatically. A draw on Sunday could still see both sides qualify automatically through the ranking of third-place finishers (the top third-place finishers from group play earns an automatic berth at EURO 2016).

Northern Ireland 3-1 Greece

Norther Ireland (20 points) topped Greece (3), 3-1 on Thursday to officially book their place at EURO 2016. Steven Davis scored twice and Josh Magennis added the third for Michael O’Neill’s side.

With one game still to play (Sunday, at Finland), Northern Ireland can finish no lower than second. A draw against Finland, or any points dropped by Romania (17) would see Northern Ireland finish top of Group F.

Portugal 1-0 Denmark

Joao Moutinho scored the only goal of the game to secure Portugal’s (18 points from just seven games) place at next summer’s tournament. The defeat sees Denmark remain second in Group I, a point ahead of third-place Albania, who lost to Serbia on Thursday. Having played all eight of their group games, Denmark can go no higher than 12 points, meaning they would fail to qualify if Albania beat Armenia on Sunday. A draw between Albania and Armenia would see Denmark qualify based on tiebreakers.

Elsewhere in EURO 2016 qualifying action

Group D

Scotland 2-2 Poland
Georgia 4-0 Gibraltar

Group F

Hungary 2-1 Faroe Islands
Romania 1-1 Finland

Group I

Albania 0-2 Serbia