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Luqman has no worries over losing Kortrijk’s No.9 shirt

Malaysian wonderkid Luqman Hakim Shamsudin has played down the issue of losing the No.9 jersey at KV Kortrijk.

The 18-year-old had been handed the coveted No.9 shirt when he joined the Belgian First Division club last year.

However, in Kortrijk’s latest league match against Charleroi on Sunday, it was the 33-year-old French forward Teddy Chevalier who wore No.9 on the field.

Chevalier was initially given the No.34 jersey when he rejoined Kortrijk last month.

The “demotion” caused a stir among Luqman’s fanbase in Malaysia, with many questioning the teenager’s future with the Belgian club.

However, Luqman has since come out to explain that it was his own decision, and not the club’s, to hand the No.9 jersey to Chevalier.

The Malaysian player said that Chevalier previously wore the No.9 for Kotrijk in 2017-2019 before leaving the club. The French forward, considered a legend at the Belgian club after scoring 53 goals in 176 appearances in two previous stints, rejoined Kortrijk from Ligue 2 team Valenciennes during the January transfer window.

“The club did not ask me to give up the number. I gave it willingly to Teddy as it was his lucky number when he was at Kortrijk before this. There was no point for me to hold on to it as at present, I’m not getting much action,” said Luqman.  

For the record, Luqman has only made a single senior team appearance for Kortrijk since joining them in July 2020, coming on as a substitute during a league match against Anderlecht last October.

Luqman, who is the sole Malaysian footballer currently playing for a top division European club, is expected to use the number 99 at the Belgian top flight club.

It was the second time within a week that Luqman’s future with Kortrijk has come into question. On Sunday, the club parted ways with manager Yves Vanderharghe, who had given Luqman his senior team debut.    

It remains to be seen if the youngster can work his way back into the Kortrijk team, which is now helmed by Slovenian Luka Elsner.


(Photo: KV Kortrijk Facebook)

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Inter, Liverpool get into 'bullish' CNY mood

Inter Milan and Liverpool are already feeling the Chinese New Year mood.

As is their custom for the past five years, Inter Milan launched a special edition home jersey to commemorate the Lunar New Year.

The iconic Inter blue and black stripes jersey features a redesigned club crest with the representation of an ox, in relation to the coming Year of the Ox. The jersey will also have the players’ names on the back written in Chinese characters.

The special edition jersey will be worn by Inter during their Serie A match against Lazio on February 15, which is incidentally their first game in the new Chinese calendar.

The Italian club also chose their 23-year-old Argentine player Lautaro Martinez, to feature in a special promo video for the Chinese New Year. Martinez, whose nickname is “The Bull”, is born on the year of the Ox.

In the video, Martinez is seen dreaming about receiving a red card from a referee. When he wakes up, he does receive a red card which turns out to be an “angpow” (red packet) which symbolises good luck and wealth in the Chinese culture.

Inter, which started the Chinese New Year special promotion tradition since coming under the Chinese-based Suning Group ownership, are not the only top club to celebrate the occasion this year.

The reigning English Premier League champions Liverpool have also launched a special Chinese New year 2021 shirt. The black-coloured shirt with red sleeves and black cuffs features a red club crest on the left breast and a gold Nike logo on top of a multi-coloured Chinese Knots symbol which represents good luck during the New Year celebrations.  


(Photo: Inter Milan Facebook page)
 


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Can Selangor do justice to Supermokh’s jersey?

The new Selangor FC jersey unveiled yesterday has divided opinions already.

The retro design for the 2021 season’s home kit is inspired by the popular 1986 Selangor jersey worn during the 6-1 Malaysia Cup final victory over Johor.

It was also the last match played by the Malaysia and Selangor legend Dato' Mokhtar Dahari before hanging up his boots. Mokhtar, who made 375 appearances and scored 153 goals for Selangor, died five years after retiring due to a motor neuron disease.

An outline image of Mokhtar has been included just below the collar in the new Selangor jersey, which features the yellow, green and red colours of the 1986 design. It also retains the placement of the Selangor crest on the right and kitmaker’s emblem on the left, which are opposite sides from the recent trend.

The retro jersey is going to be utilised for the 2021 season home games to celebrate the club’s 85th anniversary.

While the response from the public has been largely positive following the launch yesterday, a section of Selangor supporters want the current team to live up to the legacy of the jersey worn by Mokhtar and his teammates.

The group Ultrasel reminded the club that it is not enough to wear the outfit of a champion team, but to do justice to the outfit by achieving glory on the field.

They do not want the 1986 jersey, which holds a special place in the hearts of the Selangor fans, to be reduced as a marketing or publicity tool to increase sales of jerseys.

Ultrasel feels carrying Mokhtar’s image on their jerseys places more responsibility on the players and team management to ensure Selangor’s trophy-laden legacy continues.

The Red Giants, considered Malaysia’s most successful football team, have not won the top flight title since 2010. The last of their record 33 victories in the Malaysia Cup was achieved in 2015.

With the players carrying Mokhtar’s image on their backs, will it finally spur Selangor to end their trophy drought this year?


(Photo: Selangor FC Facebook page)

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Asian players' moves in Europe's January transfer window

The January transfer window officially closed on Monday night in Europe. There were plenty of movements, including of Asian players. The following are the Asians who moved over the past one month to seek a new challenge.


Takumi Minamino (Japan)

Liverpool (English Premier League) to Southampton (English Premier League) on loan  

After failing to earn a regular starting spot with the Reds since his arrival during last year’s January window, the Japanese international seeks more playing time with the Saints. The move will do wonders to Minamino’s confidence as he will see plenty of football with Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side. The loan deal until the end of the season is seen as a win-win situation for all parties as Liverpool would want the 26-year-old to rediscover the form which made his such an exciting player to watch while with Red Bull Salzburg.


Masaya Okugawa (Japan)

Red Bull Salzburg (Austrian Bundesliga) to Arminia Bielefeld (German Bundesliga) on loan

Since his arrival in Salzburg in 2015 as a 19-year-old from Japan, Okugawa has gone out on four loan stints, with the latest to the German Bundesliga strugglers Arminia Bielefeld. He was given an opportunity to feature for Austria last season, but found his appearances limited to substitute appearances and in Cup competitions. He did manage to score a goal in the 2-6 Champions League defeat to Bayern Munich last season. Arminia have an option to buy the Japanese midfielder at the end of the season, but much will depend if the German club succeed in remaining in the top flight.


Ji Dong-won (South Korea)

Mainz 05 (German Bundesliga) to Eintracht Braunschweig (German 2.Bundesliga) on loan

In his 10th season in Europe, the South Korea national player takes a step down to the second division football in Germany. The 29-year-old striker, who has previously played for Sunderland and FC Augsburg, has been loaned out by the top flight’s Mainz 05 to Eintracht Braunschweig. Dong-won only made 10 appearances for Mainz after joining them for the 2019/20 season, and has yet to score a goal. In the current campaign, he has yet to make a single appearance on the pitch for the Bundesliga side.


Naomichi Ueda (Japan)

Cercle Brugge (Belgian First Division) to Nimes Olympique (France Lique 1) on loan

Ueda has had a stop-start career with Brugge since joining them for the 2018-19 season. The defender has often found himself playing in a stretch of three or four matches before being benched for months after that. The irregular playing opportunities in Belgium affected his chances of getting regular call-ups to the Japan national team, for whom he has only played 13 times since 2017. The 26-year-old is expecting a fresh start in France, with a Nimes team that is currently bottom of the Ligue 1 standings and seeking to shore up a defence that has leaked 44 goals in 21 matches.


Takefusa Kubo (Japan)

Villarreal (Spanish La Liga, loan) to Getafe (Spanish La Liga, loan)

The Japanese wonderkid, whose parent club is Real Madrid, has ended a nightmarish time on loan with Villarreal with a loan switch to fellow La Liga side Getafe. The 19-year-old, who has been predicted to be a future key player for his parent club Real Madrid, was frustrated at being restricted to sporadic substitute appearances with Villarreal. A loan switch to Getafe, which resulted in an instant appearance in the La Liga just three days after signing, is expected to provide Kubo with the first team game time that he desperately craves for.


Iman Salimi (Iran)

Tractor SC (Persian Gulf Pro League) to SKF Sered (Slovak Super Liga)

The 24-year-old Iranian defender Salimi makes his first foray to Europe by joining Slovakian top flight team SKF Sered. His performances at the heart of the Tractor team during the club’s victorious march in the Hazfi Cup knockout competition last season caught the eye of the Slovakian club. He will be the only Asian player in the Sered squad, who are currently occupy seventh spot in the 12-team league.


Daiki Hashioka (Japan)

Urawa Red Diamonds (Japan J-League 1) to Sint-Truidence VV (Belgian First Division)

Hashioka is the latest Japanese player to join Belgian outfit Sint-Truidence, owned by the Japanese e-commerce company DMM.com. The 21-year-old defensive midfielder, who has made 74 appearances for the Urawa first team despite his young age, needs to prove his worth first before becoming a regular starter with the Belgians. Hashioka would not feel homesick as he will have compatriots Daniel Schmidt, Ko Matsubara, Keito Nakamura, Tatsuya Ito and Yuma Suzuki for company at his new club.  


Mitsuiko Sato (Japan)

Shonan Bellmore (Japan J-League 1) to Rubin Kazan (Russian Premier League) on loan

Rubin Kazan have landed a coup by signing the highly-rated 21-year-old midfielder Saito. The Japan captain at the Under-20 World Cup in Poland last year has quietly amassed more than 80 appearances for Shonan in the J-League since making his debut in 2016. He is currently a member of the Japan Under-23 team for the Tokyo Olympics. Russia is not a regular destination for a young Asian player, and it will be interesting to follow Saito’s progress there.


Kosuke Nakamura (Japan)

Kashiwa Reysol (Japan J-League 1) to Portimonense SC (Portugal Primeira Liga)

Nakamura, who was one of the goalkeepers in the Japan squad for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, finally leaves his boyhood club Kashiwa Reysol after nine years. The 25-year-old has been signed on as the understudy for Portimonense’s current No.1 Ricardo Ferreira who is a former Portugal Under-21 goalkeeper. Nakamura is the third Asian player in the Portuguese top flight club’s first team roster, with Japanese defender Koki Anzai and Iran striker Jafar Salmani already on board.


Toichi Suzuki (Japan)

Shonan Bellmare (Japan J-League 1) to Lausanne Sport (Swiss Super League)

The 20-year-old Suzuki has the impressive record of having representing Japan internationally in six different age categories. The left-sided player established himself as a regular with Shonan last year, and it is unclear if he can get playing time with the Swiss club’s first team immediately.


Hidemasa Morita (Japan)

Kawasaki Frontale (Japan J-League 1) to CD Sammta Clara (Portugal Primeira Liga)

The 25-year-old Morita heads to Portugal after helping Kawasaki Frontale emerge J-League 1 champions last year. The midfielder has already gone straight into the first team, making two appearances and netting a goal for his new club. Morita was on target during his Primeira Liga debut, scoring a final minute goal in the 2-1 win over Rio Ave on January 26. He was again in action during the 2-0 win over Belenenses yesterday.  


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Thai FA Cup third round preview: Port FC vs Buriram United

Without doubt, the Port FC vs Buriram United clash is the mouthwatering tie among the Thai FA Cup 2020/21 third round matches tomorrow. The round of 16 match will be played at Port’s PAT Stadium in Bangkok at 7pm Malaysian time.


Trophy contenders

With the runaway League 1 leaders Pathum United already knocked out in the previous round, the contest in the knockout competition has been thrown open. Both the defending champions Port and Buriram are among a handful of teams that have been labelled favourites to land the Cup.

Buriram, who seemed invincible in Thailand just a few years ago, badly need a major trophy to regain their place among the top echelon. Their last major win was becoming League 1 champions in 2018. With fourth-placed Buriram currently trailing Pathum by 18 points in the league, the FA Cup, which they last won in 2015, seems the best route to silverware.

With a spot in the 2022 Asian Champions League group phase on offer for the FA Cup champions, this competition offers Buriram with their best route back into the continental competition.  

For Port, retaining the trophy will cement their status as a top club in Thailand. Although the Thai League 1’s second-placed team have not given up on chasing down Pathum, Port will also stay focused in the Cup. Being the Cup holders and the highest placed team remaining in the knockout competition will motivate the Bangkok-based club to field their strongest side against Buriram.


Sailing in high spirits

Port could not have asked for a better preparation for their FA Cup showdown than the hard earned 2-1 league win over Chiangrai United on Sunday. The victory over the reigning league champs away from home is a fantastic morale booster ahead of Wednesday’s cup clash.

More importantly, the win in their first match back from the one-month break shows Port have not lost any momentum during the break. They have now won 11 of their last 12 matches in all competitions.


Fresh for battle

Unlike their opponents, who faced a gruelling encounter up north in Chiangrai on Sunday and have only 72 hours to recover, Buriram arrive in Bangkok fully refreshed. It will be their first game in over a month, following a 2-0 victory over Chonburi on December 26.

Buriram must capitalise on their fresh legs to run their opponents to the ground, and use the wonderful opportunity to knock out a highly-rated team out of the competition.


Injuries and suspension:

Port FC will not have their defender Elias Dolah, who is still out injured while winger Pakorn Premak returns to action after serving out a one-match suspension during Sunday’s league tie against Chiangrai.

For Buriram, forward Suphanat Mueanta continues to be sidelined by a long-term injury. They could hand a debut to veteran rightback Piyaphon Phanichkul, who arrived from Chiangrai United in January, in tomorrow’s Cup tie.  


Head to head record:

Port FC have not beaten Buriram in any of their previous eight meetings over the last five years. Buriram have won five of those matches, while their other three ended in draws.

Their most recent clash in the current league season back in March 2020 ended in a 1-1 draw. In the 2019 season, Buriram won both their league encounters by an identical 3-1 scorelines. The last time the teams met in the FA Cup was back in 2015, when Buriram thrashed Port 5-1.


Key players to watch:

Port FC: Yannick Boli (Ivory Coast)

The forward, who only arrived a couple of weeks ago from Ratchaburi Mitr Phol, was only given a 20-minute debut against Chiangrai on Sunday. But his arrival on the pitch sparked Port’s best period of the game, and he delivered the decisive pass which allowed Nurul Sriyankem to score the winning goal in the second half injury time.

If unleashed from the start, the 33-year-old former Le Havre player is capable of creating havoc in the Buriram defence.

Buriram United: Samuel Rosa Goncalves (Brazil)

Like Boli, Samuel has also not been given the full opportunity to show what he is really capable of. The ex-Fluminense player only arrived from Hatta in the UAE League just a week before the Thai domestic competition was suspended due to Covid-19.

Just three days after signing with Buriram, the Brazilian striker made his only appearance as a substitute against Chonburi on Decemmber 26, and promptly scored a goal in the 2-0 win. It will be interesting to note how he will fare against the Port’s tight defence tomorrow.     


Prediction:

It will be a heavyweight clash between two teams stacked with experienced local and foreign players. However, Port are the team currently on form, and will have a slight advantage against a Buriram team still finding their feet this season.

Port should be able to rely on their high confidence following the important league win over Chiangrai to register another hard-fought victory.

Score prediction: Port FC to win 2-1


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Luqman faces uncertainty after Kortrijk managerial change

Malaysian youngster Luqman Hakim faces an uncertain future in the KV Kortrijk team following the sacking of the Belgium First Division A team’s manager Yves Vanderharghe.

Vanderharghe has been known to be an admirer of the 18-year-old, who has struggled for game time with the senior team since his arrival in Belgium last year.

The 18-year-old Luqman has only been given one chance to feature in the senior team’s match, against Anderlecht back in August. A hamstring injury on the following day of the match kept him on the sidelines since then, and he has not been able to win his place in the team again.  

Now, Luqman will now need to get into his new manager Luka Elsner’s good books. The Slovanian was immediately announced as Vanderharghe’s successor following the latter’s dismissal.

With Kortrijk having their backs to the wall and sliding dangerously down the table, it is unlikely that the new manager will hand an instant opportunity for the inexperienced Luqman to enter the field.

On the other hand, the arrival of a new manager allows all the players in the squad to begin with a clean slate. Everyone will be out to impress the new boss and attempt to shine, and Luqman will need to be at his best to gain a chance to play again this season.

The club wielded the axe following the 3-1 defeat to Charleroi on Sunday. It was the fifth straight winless game for Kortrijk, a period in which they only gained one point.

They are occupying 15th spot in the 18-team standings, and are just eight points away from the relegation zone.

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Cuteness overload! Milan fans go gaga over Hasegawa

The AC Milan women’s team’s latest signing Yui Hasegawa is more than just a pretty face.

Fans have gone into a frenzy ever since the Serie A club posted a video of her in an AC Milan jersey and juggling a ball while saying “Forza Milan” on TikTok shortly after joining them.

The video gathered nearly 300,000 views in just two days and elicited plenty of positive comments from the public.

Among the comments were: “She looks like a cute female celebrity wearing a football jersey. It’s too cute!”, “Now I find out that the Milan jersey actually look great!”, “This girl is so cute, I hope you do your best!” and “Is she really a football player? She’s so cuteeee!”

But Hasegawa has not been signed on by the Rossonneri because of her cuteness alone.

The 24-year-old Japanese international midfielder arrives in Italy after helping Nippon TV Tokyo Verdy Beleza claim five straight Nadeshiko League Division 1 titles since 2015 in Japan.

She was also part of the Japan Under-17 team that won the 2014 Women’s Under-17 World Cup.

Since making her debut for the Japanese national women’s team in 2017, Hasegawa has gone on to earn 42 caps for her country, and has scored eight goals for them. She also featured in the 2019 Women’s World Cup in France.

At Milan, the Japanese player has been handed the No.4 jersey, and the highly-rated player is expected to go straight into the starting eleven.

Since being formed in 2018, the AC Milan women’s team went on to finish third in both the 2018/19 and 2019/20 Italian league, just missing out on qualifying to the UEFA Women's Champions League on both occasions.

Currently, the team are trailing league leaders Juventus by just three points. With the addition of Hasegawa, they will fancy their chances of finally getting into the Champions League at the third attempt.

Hasegawa is not the first Japanese to join AC Milan. That accolade belongs to the Japanese football legend Keisuke Honda, who played for the men’s team from 2014 to 2017.

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Ronaldo’s highest jump goal record broken by Uganda player

One of Cristiano Ronaldo’s records has been broken by an unlikely player – Motherwell’s Bevis Mugabi.

The 25-year-old Ugandan striker leapt 8ft 6in (262cm) off the ground to score the winning goal during his team’s 2-1 Scottish Premier League victory over Ross County.

His vertical leap is a record for a goal-scoring jump.

The previous holder of the record is none other than superstar Ronaldo, who jumped 8ft 5in (256cm) to plant a header into the net during Juventus’ 2-1 win over Sampdoria during a Serie A match in December 2019.

Delighted to have broken Ronaldo’s record, Mugabi joked: "He's a very competitive guy so I might need to drop him a message and say, 'bro you need to up your game.'

"It's also nice to get compared to one of the greatest of all-time and being able to jump as high as him is mad. It's a nice thing to have but I was more happy with the result than the goal."

Incredibly, the now 34 years old Ronaldo was 33 at the time he made the incredible leap to score.

It is very doubtful if anyone else could have achieved the feat at the age where outfield players are normally slowing down or winding down their careers.

But players like Ronaldo and the 39-year-old AC Milan striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic continue to defy the law of aging and physics by continuing to impress at the highest level of football.

Although they may have lost some quickness in their pace, they have lost none of their hunger to succeed and still be able to incite fear in their opponents.

Players like Ronaldo, Ibrahimovic and the 43-year-old Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon have remained competitive by staying healthy and literally going the extra mile in training and keeping themselves in top physical condition.    

They are perfect role models for other footballers around the globe on how to remain at the top of the game, despite their advancing age.

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Son of 'Chinese Beckham' goes viral after joining Ado Den Haag

Young Chinese footballer Li Sirong has gone viral on the social media after signing a professional contract with Dutch Eredivisie side Ado Den Haag.

The 17-year-old, who initially only had several thousand followers on the Weibo platform, saw the number spike up to more than 200,000 followers in the space of the two days.

None of this got to do with the player’s football skills. Instead, it is his good looks which has led to the sudden fame.  

Sirong’s father is none other than ex-footballer Li Ming, who was known as the “Chinese Beckham” during his playing. Now the general manager of Chinese Super League club Beijing Guoan, the senior Li did not possess the ex-England and Manchester United star’s bending freekick or crossing skills, but just the good looks which was enough to gain popularity.

It can be argued that the son is following in the same footsteps, and that Ado Den Haag’s move was just a publicity stunt to generate more interest and money for the Chinese-funded club.

However, Sirong has been attached with the Dutch outfit for the past six years, rising through their academy and junior teams. He has worked his way to become the Den Haag Under-17 team’s regular rightback. It could actually mean that he earned the professional contract through his own hard work and performance, and not his good looks.  

With the social media buzzing regarding how Sirong obtained his new contract, Li Ming has chipped in by teasing that at present, Sirong’s capabilities are nowhere near the senior team and he is only qualified to clean up the dressing room.  

The teenager’s exploit in Holland is certainly good news for Chinese football, which does not have much to show in Europe except for Wu Lei, who features for La Liga side Espanyol.

Playing in the Eredivisie may still be a long way to go for Sirong but at least his signing could help restore interest in Chinese football.

Fans are turning their attention away from the Chinese domestic competition due to the recent implementation of salary caps, which caused big-name stars in the country like Hulk and El Shaarawy to walk away from China.

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出奇制胜?图赫尔启用新奇训练方式

图赫尔接替兰帕德成为切尔西主帅后,首秀出师不利对阵狼队仅收获了一分,球迷们不禁纷纷感叹还是老样子。

无论如何,这位德国主帅积极求变,在切尔西对阵伯恩利前夕的训练当中加入了一些新奇的元素。首先,他让球员们以迷你足球进行训练,而这个举动的意义是为了让他们对皮球有着更精细的掌控。

此外,为了提升前锋们的射门精度,在换回普通足球的同时,也把龙门换成了缩小版的。另一方面,门将门迪和凯帕则是需要在切赫的干扰下完成守门。他们需要被这位切尔西传奇门将用防护盾“追击”的情况下,完成空中摘球,而这种训练方式只有在更注重身体对抗的美式足球才会有的。

值得一提的是,这已不是图赫尔首次用另类的方式进行训练了。他在执教多特蒙德时期,就曾让球员们在膝盖负重的情况下训练,甚至后卫则被要求两手握着网球的情况下进行防守,以免他们以拉扯球衣的方式防守。

至于这种独特的训练方式效果如何,图赫尔能否出奇制胜,则有待切尔西对阵伯恩利时进行验证了。

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Spurs now have both of South Korea’s captains

Not contented with having the South Korea men’s team captain on board, Tottenham Hotspur have now gone and roped in the women’s captain as well.

The Asian best male player Son Heung-min is now joined by the Korean women’s team captain Cho So-hyun at the Premier League club.

So-hyun was signed on loan from West Ham United during Saturday’s transfer window deadline day on Saturday. Spurs have the option to make the move permanent at the end of the loan deal when the current season ends.

The midfielder will feature in the England Women’s Super League for Spurs, who are currently seventh in the standings. The 32-year-old So-hyun joined the Hammers in the 2019-20 season, and has made 33 appearances for them.

The move will definitely win plaudits among Spurs’ Asian fan base, especially in South Korea.

Of more importance to the Spurs women team is that So-hyun will bring plenty of experience to their midfield.

As South Korea’s most capped women's player, with 127 caps and 20 goals for her national side, So-hyun is expected to walk straight into Spurs coach Rehanne Skinner’s first team.

Her move across London to Spurs will be a big loss for the Hammers, as So-hyun has been an inspirational figure in the West Ham outfit’s engine room.

So-hyun’s arrival is the second high-profile loan deal over the past week for Tottenham. The London club also brought in Manchester United and England defender Abbie McManus to beef up their squad.

The South Korean is not the only player from the Asia Pacific in the Spurs women’s squad. They also have international defenders Alanna Kennedy of Australia and New Zealand’s Ria Percival.

Prior to arriving in England, So-hyun had featured for the Norwegian top division outfit Avaldsnes IL. She has also had played for Suwon and Hyundai Red Steel Angels in the Korean women’s league and INAC Kobe Leonessa in Japan.

After losing So-hyun, West Ham acted quickly to bring in Dagny Brynjarsdottir from Icelandic side Selfoss as replacement.   

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Chiangrai United vs Port FC: Thai League 1 action returns

Defending champions Chiangrai United host high-riding Port FC as the Thai League 1 2020/21 season resumes following a month-long break because of the Covid-19 pandemic. This first round match was originally scheduled for early December, but had to be postponed as Chiangrai had to travel to Qatar to play in the AFC Champions League.

The match will be played at Singha Stadium on Sunday at 7.30pm Malaysian time.


Mind the gap

The current Thai League 1 champions Chiangrai get an early chance to cut the gap to the top before the other teams get into action. With half a season to go, the northerners are on 26 points, a massive 18 points behind unbeaten leaders BG Pathum United, albeit with two matches in hand.

Chiang Rai also trail the second-placed Port FC by eight points, having played a match less than their opponents. A win on Sunday will take the fifth-placed Chiang Rai up to third in the standings, and more importantly, put pressure on Port FC.

Chiangrai need to show the same form which helped them defeat Muangthong United 2-1 in their final League 1 match before the season was halted at the end of December.


Don’t lose sight of the Rabbit

For Port FC, keeping sight of leaders Pathum is proving to be difficult. They currently trail the leaders by 10 points, with a game in hand. The Bangkok-based team have 34 points from 15 games, while Pathum have 44 having played 16 times.

The Port Lions need to make full use of that extra match in hand by winning at the Singha Stadium to prevent Pathum from going over the mountain.

The one-month break would have provided Port with the opportunity to regroup, as their last match before the shutdown was an embarrassing 3-6 defeat to Samut Prakhan City.


Crucial top four battle

Only four points separate third-placed Ratchaburi Mitr Phol (29 points) and Samut Prakhan (25) in sixth. A win on Sunday will allow Chiangrai to overtake Ratchaburi and pile more pressure on Port FC, who are currently comfortable in second position.

Sunday’s game is crucial for Port to avoid being sucked into a battle with the teams directly below them. They need to maintain their focus on the title hunt, and prevent the champions from breathing down their neck.

A draw will do neither team any good, but it will be more harmful for Chiangrai than Port, who will remain second regardless of Sunday’s outcome.  


Injuries and suspension

There are no injuries or suspension for Chiangrai, but they will enter this game without two important players who left the club at the turn of the year. South Korean midfielder Lee Young-rae decided to return to his home country to play for Daegu FC, while veteran rightback Piyaphon Phanichkul has joined Buriram United when his contract expired at the end of the year. In their place, the club have brought in Cho Ji-hoon from Gangwon FC and ex-Thai international Wasan Homsan from Suphanburi FC.

Port FC also do not have any players sidelined by injuries or suspensions. Their only significant change in the squad is the exit of Heberty Fernandes, who joined Bangkok United after his loan period expired. To replace the Brazilian winger, the club have signed Ivory Coast’s Yannick Boli from Ratchaburi.


Head to head record

In their previous 14 meetings, Port FC have won five times, while Chiangrai triumphed three times and the other five matches ending in a draw.

But of more significance is that Chiangrai have not lost in the last three encounters between the two sides.

In the 2019 season, the first round game ended in a 0-0 draw before Chiangrai went to Bangkok to post an impressive 4-1 victory.  


Players to watch

Chiangrai United

Sivakorn Tiatrakul (Thailand): The Thailand national team midfielder is known for keeping a cool head in every situation. Has been with the club since 2017, and played an instrumental part in their title run in 2019. His versality in playing in different positions across the field makes him a valuable asset.

Port FC

Sergio Suarez (Spain): In his fourth season with Port FC, the veteran Spanish striker continues to deliver the goods. At the age of 34, he is Port’s top scorer for the season with 10 goals, and will be counted upon to continue his fine run as Port’s fairytale season continues.


Prediction

If based solely on league position, second-placed Port FC would be the favourites to win this tie. However, they have looked wobbly prior to the league being halted last month.

In contrast, Chiangrai seem to have been re-energised following their AFC Champions League experience in Qatar.

Much could have changed during the one-month breather. However, if based on current form and Chiangrai starting as hosts, although the match will be played without spectators, the champions should edge this encounter.

Chiangrai to win this game 3-1

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里瓦尔多:“巴萨不卖梅西是错误的!”

梅西欲离队加盟曼城的消息,在上赛季可说是闹得沸沸扬扬。然而,巴萨高层并没有遵从这位巨星的意愿,宁愿冒着梅西在赛季结束后免费走人的风险,也坚持不放人。

对于这件事,巴萨传奇里瓦尔多也看不下去了,他在接受采访时抨击了俱乐部高层的这个决定。

“高层犯了一个错,那就是没有趁梅西还与球队有合约在身时将其卖掉。他们可以效仿皇马卖C罗那样,要知道皇马收到了大约1亿欧元的转会费。

“要看着这样一位如此出色的球员免费离开巴萨是非常痛苦的,尤其是俱乐部正面临财政危机的情况下。对我而言,梅西的离开已经是不可避免的了。”

无论如何,里瓦尔多认为巴萨的前景还是乐观的。“当库蒂尼奥离队后,巴萨可以重用登贝莱和格列兹曼,他们可以保障球队的未来。其实库蒂尼奥在英格兰时踢得很好,只不过在西班牙的发展并不顺遂。”

“我也希望看到普吉能够获得更多的出场机会,他已经展示了自己的能力还有特点。他让我回想起了年轻的哈维,那时我还是巴萨的一员。”

巴萨高层的决定实在是令人难以理解的。除了不将梅西兑现,并做个顺水人情遵从队内功臣的意愿外,更糟糕的决定其实是将苏亚雷斯送给了竞争对手马竞。

清洗老将也并非不能理解,但宁愿补齐剩余一年合同的薪水,也要将他送给直接的争冠对手马竞就是窒息般的操作了。再看苏神本赛季联赛15场贡献122助攻的超狂数据,成为了床单军团占据联赛榜首的最大功臣,相信巴萨高层的脸早都被打肿了。

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Asian leagues get ready for the new season

The uncertainties caused by the coronavirus has affected football in the region. But despite the setbacks, many countries have begun preparations to start their domestic football seasons.  

Vietnam are the only Southeast Asian nation to have already started their league, while Thailand will resume their halted 2020/21 season on Sunday.

After a difficult 2020, it is hoped there will be minimal disruptions to this year's various competitions.

Let’s take a look at the Asean and major Asian leagues ahead of the new campaign.


SINGAPORE

The S-League action is set to resume on February 20, but the identity of the teams contesting the Community Shield may change.

The reigning S-League champions Albirex Niigata were supposed to face Tampines Rovers in the curtain raiser. But the delay in the arrival of the invitational team’s 12 players from Japan will result in their 14-day mandatory quarantine in Singapore being completed just a week ahead of the Community Shield.   

The same happened last year when 2019 champions Brunei DPMM FC couldn’t turn up due to Covid-19 travel restrictions. If Albirex are unable to be ready on time, their place for the Community Shield will be taken over by the third-placed Lion City Sailors.


PHILIPPINES

The Copa Paulino Alcantara cup competition, which was cancelled in 2020 because of the pandemic, will now kickstart the season in April.

The 2021 Philippines Football League will start after the completion of the cup competition in June. Last year, the league was held in a one-round format inside a bubble with just six teams competing. If the Covid-19 situation improves before June, more teams from all over the country are expected to take part.


THAILAND

After two stops because of the worsening pandemic situation, the 2020-21 Thai League season resumes on Sunday. If there are no further interruptions, it is expected to conclude in April, a full 14 months after starting early last year.

With the 2020 season yet to end, BG Pathum United, Port FC, Chiangrai United and Ratchaburi Mitr Phol FC were selected as Thailand’s representatives for the 2021 AFC Champions League after finishing in the top four positions at the season’s halfway mark.


MALAYSIA

The 2021 Malaysian Football League campaign kicks off with the Charity Shield between Johor Darul Ta’zim and Kedah on March 6. The season start was pushed back yet again due to the current lockdown in the country. The Charity Shield clash will also double up as a Malaysia Super League match.

The league is scheduled to end in August. It will be followed by the Malaysia Cup, which will end on Nov 27. Just like last year, the knockout FA Cup competition for 2021 has been cancelled.


VIETNAM

Vietnam were the first country in the region to get their 2021 season going three weeks ago when Vietnam Cup holders Hanoi FC defeated the league champs Viettel FC 1-0 to lift the Vietnamese Super Cup.

The 2021 V-League season began the following week on January 15. The V-League 1 has been divided into two stages – with first half contested in a round-robin format. The top six teams at the halfway stage will then enter a championship playoff to decide the top positions, while the bottom eight will contest to avoid the single relegation spot. The Vietnamese top flight is expected to end on September 19.


INDONESIA

Since the matches were halted in March last year, the Indonesian Football Association waited for more than 10 months before finally deciding to call off the 2020 season last week.

The Indonesian Liga are only the second top division in Southeast Asia to be scrapped completely after Brunei Darussalam.

The cast for the 2021 season remains the same as last year. With no news forthcoming regarding the start date of the 2021 campaign, there is an exodus of local and foreign players moving to other countries in search of football.


MYANMAR

The Myanmar National League new season has been confirmed for an April start. The number of clubs in the Myanmarese top flight has been reduced from 12 to 10 after Magwe FC and Southern Myanmar were disbanded.

The first half of the season will be held centrally in Yangon while there is a possibility of the second half returning to a home-and-away basis format depending on the Covid-19 situation. The league is expected to end in October.


CAMBODIA

Football in Cambodia will return with the Hun Sen Cup preliminary round on February 16. The competition will be expanded to 21 teams this season, compared to 17 the last term. The 2021 C-League is scheduled to start on March 6 and end on October 17, with 13 clubs taking part.

The Hun Sen Cup will resume with its national round on July 7, with the final scheduled for September 9. Boeung Ket are the defending champions of the C-League while Visakha FC are the cup holders.


JAPAN

The 2021 J-League season will start on February 26 and end on December 4. However, four teams will be relegated from the Japanese top division at the end of this season, instead of the usual two, after no teams were relegated last season because of the Covid-19 situation.

Tokushima Vortis and Avispa Fukuoka will be moving up from the J2 League, making it 20 teams instead of the usual 18 for this year’s competition.


CHINA

From new team names to budget curbing measures to reduce spending, it will be a season of changes when the Chinese Super League returns in 2021.

The Chinese Football Association ordered all CSL clubs to drop corporate references from their names, which means teams like Guangzhou Evergrande and Shanghai SIPG FC will play under new monikers.

The CFA also capped foreign player salaries to three million euros a year - a move which will dent the ability of the Chinese top flight clubs to attract big-name stars like before.


SOUTH KOREA

The K-League will return to action on February 27 as champions Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors gun for a record fifth successive league title this year.

The 2020 K-League season saw a shortened 27 rounds of matches, instead of the traditional 38, due to the pandemic disruptions. The league format for 2021 has yet to be confirmed.


AUSTRALIA

In a bid to shift the competition from summer to winter, the A-League’s 2020/21 season began on December 28 and is set to conclude by June 30. Sydney FC steamrolled the competition in the pandemic-interrupted 2020, winning the regular season as well as the Grand Final.

New Zealand-based Wellington Phoenix will be playing their home matches in Australia during the new season due to the travel restrictions. Macarthur FC, representing South Western Sydney, debuted as the league’s 12th team.


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Phone call leads to Ryan’s dream Arsenal move

All it took was a simple telephone call which led to Matt Ryan joining his boyhood idols Arsenal.

And he has to thank his ex-Australia teammate Tim Cahill for making the move happen.

The Australian No.1 goalkeeper’s decision to phone Cahill resulted in his loan move to the Premier League giants during the January transfer window.

The 28-year-old Ryan had fallen out of favour at Brighton and Hove Albion, and was frustrated at not seeing action with Graham Potter’s side.

His plea to Cahill over the phone resulted in the latter contacting his ex-Everton teammate and close pal Mikel Arteta. With the Gunners needing an experienced cover for the German Bernd Leno, Ryan found himself at the Emirates in a very short time.

“It’s funny, from my experience in the game, just how a conversation can change the dynamic or circumstance of something,” said Ryan.

It had always been a dream for Ryan to play for Arsenal, a club he has followed from his younger days.

He is the first Australian player to join one of the Premier League’s traditional “big four” club since fellow goalkeepers Brad Jones at Liverpool and Mark Schwarzer at Chelsea almost six years ago.

The last Australian player to see action with Arsenal was John Kosmina back in 1978.

With Leno fit and clearly performing well at the moment, Ryan will need to bide his time for his Arsenal debut. With the club also out of the FA Cup after last weekend’s defeat to Southampton, his best chance for action would probably be when the Europa League resumes next month.

But Ryan is not in a hurry, and is willing to wait for his chance to replace Leno between the posts.

Before joining Brighton, the Australian No.1 who featured in the 2014 and 2018 World Cups, had played for Club Brugge and Genk in Belgium and spent three seasons with Valencia, where he was mostly warming the bench.

Ryan’s presence with Arsenal will surely thrill the hordes of Australians back home. There are only two Australians in the Premier League right now, with the other player – teenager Caleb Watts of Southampton, making his league debut against Arsenal on Wednesday night.

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