As closing days of the Premier League go, today’s was incredibly flat.
There was no to-ing and fro-ing, no nail-biting tension nor edge-of-the-seat excitement. The three teams involved in relegation struggle, the tedious battle for the title having been decided already, ended up losing, leaving the league table unchanged from last week.
Middlesbrough and Newcastle had run out of steam and ideas long before today’s ‘do or die’ showdowns, which in the event never caught fire. The potential relegation of the Toon and their icon Alan Shearer was a good lead story, but the black and white stripes did not keep to the script and turned in a turgid performance with an own goal and no shots on target in the second half.
Hull had a lucky escape in the end, following a real Situs Judi Qq Jekyll and Hyde campaign. Their amazing start, when they won at Arsenal and sat in the Champions League places, became a distant memory as the Tigers went into freefall and missed the drop by a point.
Their curious coach Phil Brown, sporting designer gear and a year-round tan, lives to fight another day. His jaw-dropping half-time roasting of his players on the pitch at Man City in December was probably the most memorable moment of an otherwise fairly uneventful PL season.
There were some stellar performers – Nicolas Anelka, Andriy Arshavin, Cristiano Ronaldo, player of the season Ryan Giggs and in a coaching cameo, Guus Hiddink, while the mini-league at the top became a big three rather than big four, as Arsenal slipped off the pace and finished 11 points behind third-placed Chelsea.
Wenger’s empire looked cracked, his masterplan misguided, and for the first time in ages, rumors resurfaced about the length of Arsene’s reign at Ashburton Grove. Three high profile ex-players, Tony Adams, Paul Ince and Roy Keane, lost their jobs as managers, adding to the suspicion that the best players don’t make the best coaches.
It was cheering to see Liverpool rise again and keep Mr. Abramovich frustrated (go on Roman, head back to Russia with your winnings), but the wider fact remains that no club outside the top four has a cat in hell’s chance of breaking into the Champions League, rendering the 18-club competition for the title a de facto farce.
A week ago the UK government finally started talking to the PL about redistribution, but the politicians still show no willingness to take on the international cash cow while England is bidding for the World Cup.
With a year and a half until the 2018 hosts are decided, a spat between the government and the football authorities is the last thing England can expect.
Fresh Looking Korean Squad Ready To Face UAE
It is an interesting and, one can almost say, exciting squad. It is customary to bash the national team coach of South Korea after he announces every important roster but ahead of the 2010 World Cup qualifier in the United Arab Emirates on June 6, Huh Jung-moo looks to have done a good job.
Of course, naming the roster is only the first step towards completing the main job of taking the Taeguk Warriors to Al Maktoum Stadium in Dubai and getting the three points that will put the 2002 semi-finalists on the brink of a place in South Africa in 12 months’ time.
In his 18 months as coach, Huh has demonstrated repeatedly that he is happy to give young players a chance if they are playing well in the K-League and he has done that once again. Three new faces have been called in the 25-man squad, some of which will gather in the National Football Center in Paju on May 28 before jetting off to the Gulf two days later where they will be joined by European-based stars such as Park Ji-sung, Cho Won-hee and Lee Young-pyo.
These are important times for South Korean football. Much attention this week will be on the appearance of Park in the UEFA Champions League final against Barcelona for Manchester United. But for the long-term good of soccer in Korea, a 2010 World Cup spot is absolutely vital.
Medhi Mahdavikia, a veteran star of Iran, Korea’s rivals in Group Two, told reporters recently about Iran’s quest to reach South Africa. He could have been talking about Korea.
“The presence in the World Cup is the dream of all our players and Iranian football fans. This could be extremely beneficial for our football. I believe that fate of our football in the next four years will depend on our qualification to World Cup,” said the man known as ‘Kia’.
With baseball in the ascendancy in the Land of the Morning Calm, not appearing at the biggest sporting event in the world would be a blow for the domestic scene in Korea. Media attention is massive, fans are born and stars are made.
One could be young Yoo Byung-soo. The Incheon United striker started his professional career just this season but a series of good performances in the k-league. At 21 years of age, he has caught the eye of coach Huh and will be on the plane to Dubai, and if things go well, South Africa.
“I received the news by phone. It still doesn’t seem real and I can’t stop smiling,” Yoo told local media upon hearing the news.
“I saw the reports in the media talking about the chance of my selection but there are so many good players that I honestly didn’t have big hopes of being chosen.If I am given the opportunity, I will do my best to help the national team.
“I want to play alongside players like Park Ji-sung, Lee Young-pyo and Cho Won-hee. Just thinking about training with these players makes me nervous.”
There are many examples in history of youngsters coming into the team at crucial moments and making an immediate impact. Park Chu-young is the most recent. The 23 year-old, now with AS Monaco in Europe, scored a vital goal in his first game back in 2005. It came in the last minute of a 2006 World Cup qualifier in Uzbekistan.
That gave Korea a 1-1 tie and meant that a win in the following game in Kuwait would seal a spot in Germany. Park scored the first as Kuwait was duly dispatched.
Few would complain if Yoo, or even Park, did something similar.
Three points in Dubai would leave South Korea needing just a point to be certain of a seventh successive place on the global stage.
South Korea squad:
Goalkeepers: Lee Woon-jae (Suwon Samsung Bluewings), Kim Young-kwang (Ulsan Hyundai Horang-i), Jung Sung-ryong (Seongnam lhwa Chunma);
Defenders: Cho Yong-hyung (Jeju United), Lee Jung-su (Kyoto Purple Sanga), Kim Hyung-il (Pohang Steelers), Kim Keun-hwan (Yokohama F Marinos), Lee Kang-jin (Busan I’Park), Kim Chang-soo (Busan I’Park), Kim Dong-jin (Zenit St Petersburg), Oh Beom-seok (Samara Kriliya Sovetov), Lee Young-pyo (Borussia Dortmund);
Midfielders: Cho Won-hee (Wigan Athletic), Kim Jung-woo (Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma), Ki Sung-yeung (FC Seoul), Lee Chung-yong (FC Seoul), Kim Chi-woo (FC Seoul), Park Ji-sung (Manchester United), Choi Tae-uk (Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors), Bae Ki-jong (Suwon Samsung Bluewings);
Forwards: Lee Keun-ho (Jubilo Iwata), Park Chu-young (AS Monaco), Shin Young-rok (Bursaspor), Yoo Byung-su (Incheon United), Yang Dong-hyeon (Busan I’Park)