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Shouting From The Stands: Are Asean teams ready for Asian Champions League?

Is the presence of more Asean teams in the AFC Champions League group phase this year beneficial to the region?

After the competition was expanded from 32 to 40 teams, more countries were accorded direct slots to the four-team groups, including Asean nations.

Last year, only two clubs from the region gained direct entry – Thailand’s Chiangrai United and Malaysia’s Johor Darul Ta’zim.

But in 2021, the number has tripled to six, with JDT, Thailand’s Pathum United and Port FC, Singapore’s Tampines Rovers, the Philippines’ United City FC and Viettel FC of Vietnam all being allowed in.

Another four Asean teams are still in the playoffs – Myanmar’s Shan United, the Philippines’ Kaya-Iloilo and Thai duo Ratchaburi Mitr Phol and Chiangrai.

This expansion provides a much-sought opportunity for these ‘top clubs’ in the region to play against the best teams from the best leagues in Asia.

Thai clubs are the exception, as teams like Buriram United and Muangthong United have competed in the group phase with regularity in the past.

But for the rest of Asean, this latest move is like hitting the jackpot.

Unlike in the past, when most of the Asean teams are bumped out in the playoffs every year, now they have something extra to fight for.

The direct entry ticket is a good motivator for clubs to try harder to win their domestic league titles. Those who want to rub shoulders with the "best in Asia" are required to earn their places in the main table of Asian football. It is good for the domestic football competition   

It is also a revenue booster for the clubs concerned. Funds from the television and broadcast rights for the live telecasts beamed across the region will be welcomed.

Matches may be played at centralised venues and empty stadiums right now, but when Covid-19 blows over, imagine the clamour for tickets to see the best players in Asia at their own home ground.

And not to forget the increased publicity and raise in sponsorship that will follow a club’s foray into the AFC Champions League group stage.

This will help raise the profile of Asean football throughout the region, and help the clubs at the same time to aim higher instead of being trapped in the second-tier AFC Cup mentality.

But the raising of Asean football’s profile will only work if the representatives produce quality football in the group phase. There is no point in awarding extra places if the Asean teams receive a beating every time they face a team from South Korea, Japan or China.

Nobody wants to watch lopsided matches in the group stage. This will devalue the competition and make the Asean teams a laughing stock.

In order for this new opportunity to work. Asean clubs must first prove that they belong on the same pitch as the “big boys”. And the only way to do it is on the pitch, by playing good football.   

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“韩国杰拉德”—寄诚庸,摆脱伤病盼重新出发

说起韩国球星,大部分球迷都会在第一时间想到孙兴慜。但其实当朴智星离开曼联时,寄诚庸是最被看好成为下一个顶级球星的韩国球员。

寄诚庸的巅峰便是在2012-2018赛季,效力当时处在英超的斯旺西。他以出色的传球脚法坐稳主力位置,加上拥有一脚不错的远射,更是被球迷成为韩国杰拉德。

可惜的是,寄诚庸的职业生涯可说是典型的出道即颠峰,一路高开低走,从原本让球迷充满期待的巨星苗子,到后来不进反退,最终国家队队长的袖标更是被剥夺,让给了成长轨迹完全相反的孙兴慜。

虽然寄诚庸在斯旺西降级后随即被解约,但也获得了纽卡斯尔联的邀约,得以留在英超。然而,寄诚庸的表现持续下滑,在贝尼特兹麾下只能担任轮换的角色。在19/20赛季布鲁斯成为喜鹊新帅后,他更是彻底枯坐冷板凳,半个赛季后便与球队解约走人。

此后,寄诚庸以自由身加盟在为保级而战的马洛卡,但因饱受伤病困扰仅获得一次出场机会,便与球队分手。去年7月,他决定结束11年的旅欧生涯,回到母队首尔,无奈仅出场了5次,便因旧伤复发报销赛季。

无论如何,寄诚庸表示自己现已经彻底摆脱了伤病问题,并希望在新赛季帮助球队重新成为争冠分子。“上赛季我只出场了5次,没能帮助球队改善一路下滑的成绩。但我现在不感到紧张,而是充满信心。我想要重拾我的过去,再次让球迷因为我的球技而认得我。”

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Kubo wants to shine at the Tokyo Olympics

Japanese football wonderkid Takefusa Kubo has pledged to give his best effort to get ready for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics football competition.

The 19-year-old Real Madrid player, who is currently on loan with fellow La Liga club Getafe, is looking forward to donning Japanese colours on home turf if the Games goes on as scheduled in July.

And the Japan international feels it is his duty to the nation to prepare well for the tournament and be 100% ready when it starts, regardless of the uncertainty regarding the event.

With the Covid-19 pandemic showing no signs of subsiding in most parts of the world, including in Japan, there are doubts over staging the mammoth event involving thousands of people from around the world.

The biggest sporting event in the world has already been postponed from its original slot last year, and another postponement looks unlikely.

While the Japanese government and the International Olympic Committee are insisting the Games will go on as scheduled, the response from the Japanese public has been less encouraging. More than 80% of respondents interviewed in various media poll feel it is better for the Games to be called off as it poses a health risk to everybody.

With just six months to go to the start of the Games, the full cast for the 16-team football competition is not ready yet.

Two more teams are needed from the Central America zone qualifiers scheduled for March in Mexico. Even the staging of the qualifiers in Mexico is not certain, as much will depend on the Covid-19 situation at the time.

Kubo, while being enthusiastic over participating in the Olympics’ Under-23 football competition, also commented that if the Games were held right now, he would be reluctant to play because “health is the first priority”.

Just three days after moving to Getafe, Kubo has already made an encouraging debut for his new club against Elche on Jan 11.

It was just the kick-start he needed to start enjoying playing again, and get over the gloomy previous loan move to Villarreal which constricted him to making sporadic substitute appearances.  


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吉兰丹计划引进四国脚三外援,颜兴龙在列?

自诺里萨姆·图基曼在去年9月入主吉兰丹后,球队的债务以及球员欠薪的问题都被一一解决了。如今,诺里萨姆决定继续大抛银弹,大力引援以让这个沉睡的红战士重返辉煌时刻。

吉兰丹正与四名国脚进行谈判,并且有三名外援预计将在本月底之前抵达球队。

据推测,四名国脚当中的一位极有可能是现效力于雪兰莪的颜兴龙。毕竟红巨人刚引进了瑞士中场巴夫,加上新加坡中场萨夫万,现年32岁的颜兴龙即便留队,出场时间也将会大幅减少。此外,他也曾于2014-2016年为吉兰丹效力过3年,因此回归绝对是一个不错的选择。

据诺里萨姆透露,“我们目前还在谈判的阶段,因此四名国脚的身份还不能透露以保障双方的利益。谈判的部分细节已经完成,尤其薪资方面更是在四名球员未做出决定前就定下了。希望一切顺利,但若无法签下这些球员,球队将以阵中的年轻球员建队。”

“三名外援分别来自英格兰、希腊以及西班牙,而我们也很有信心他们能够帮助吉兰丹在马甲取得成功。”

此外,根据印尼媒体的消息,吉兰丹还有意签下印尼国脚后卫阿尔迪·伊德鲁斯。因此,若一切转会谈判顺利,红战士或会在新赛季迎来8个新面孔。

雄心壮志的吉兰丹能否在新赛季踏出复兴的第一步—升上马超还是个未知数,但全新面貌的红战士绝对值得期待。

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Tug-of-war by five foreign teams to sign Ardi

Ardi Idrus may not be an Indonesian national player but he is currently much sought after by foreign teams.

It was revealed that five clubs  - Malaysia’s Kelantan FC, Penang FC and Police FC, Singapore’s Balestier Khalsa and Timor Leste’s Lalenok United are all vying for the leftback’s signature.

The 28-year-old, who has yet to reveal his next move, is the latest Indonesian player to have attracted attention from elsewhere following the uncertainty over Indonesia’s domestic competition.

Ardi, who played for Persib Bandung in the Indonesian Liga 1 since 2018, is currently out of contract after Indonesia’s 2020 season was cancelled last week after 10 months of uncertainty due to the Covid-19 situation.

With no news forthcoming regarding the staging of a new 2021 season, many Indonesian clubs, including Persib, could only watch as their main players are poached or leave in search of football elsewhere.

Ardi burst into the Indonesian domestic scene with the former first division club Perssin Sinjai in 2011. Used sparingly as a defender, he then switched clubs every year in order to find regular football.

It was only when he joined Persib in 2018 that Ardi managed to hold down a starting position, and made more than 60 appearances for the 2014 Indonesian Super League champions.

Besides Ardi, two other Persib players – Beckham Putra and Febri Hariyadi, are also reportedly being courted by other clubs.

Beckham is targeted by  former Persib coach Miljan Radovic, who is now with Montenegro division one club FK Sutjeska Niksic.

Febri’s loan move to Malaysia’s Sabah FC failed to materialise over contractual issues, but it is learnt that the Borneo-based club have not given up their efforts to sign the midfielder.

At the current rate that the talented Indonesian league players are leaving, the quality of the domestic competition, when it resumes in the future, will surely be jeopardised.  

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“不是老表”:韩国偶像意大利公敌,高山低谷安贞焕

还记得他吗?

 

尽管已经退役近10年,2021127日度过45岁生日的安贞焕,依然留在很多球迷、尤其是韩国人和亚洲人的心坎里。在他牛一当天,国际足联也送上了衷心的祝福。

 

当年的安贞焕,是偶像派也是实力派,是少有没有整容但仍然颜值爆灯的韩国花美男,风靡了万千少女。“韩国小贝”的美誉,一点也不以为过。

 

之前有人纠正他的真名其实叫“安贞桓”,但更多人还是愿意叫他“安贞焕”,因为这个名字已经住在球迷的青春回忆内了。

 

安贞焕是韩国国民偶像,但也是意大利全民公敌。这名穷孩子出身的前锋,球员生涯多姿多彩。

 

1976127日,安贞焕在韩国京畿道坡州市出生。他从小就感受不到父爱,家境清贫,连三餐温饱问题都难以解决。安贞焕在求学时期就加入足球校队训练,原因只有一个,就是为了领取免费牛奶和面包。这支校队实则上是某位有钱人家的家长,为自己孩子练球而刻意组织的。

 

这个孩子毕业后,校队也随之解散,安贞焕很幸运地给曾经对阵的教练看中,随即转校。新学校距离家里比较远,安贞焕为了节省车费,经常留在放置器材的仓库中过夜。

 

安贞焕首支效力的球队是釜山大学俱乐部,出场54次进27球,初露峥嵘。2000年,他正式登陆意甲,加盟佩鲁贾俱乐部。2002年,安贞焕因韩日世界杯“黑哨”事件惨遭佩鲁贾清洗,在效力的两个赛季期间共射入5球。随后,安贞焕相继效力于日本J联赛球队清水心跳和横滨水手。

 

200506年,重返欧洲的安贞焕,先后加盟法甲的梅斯和德甲的杜伊斯堡,但两年只是各进了2球。2008年,安贞焕倦鸟知返,穿上了水原三星和釜山偶像的战衣。

 

安贞焕在中国找到了自己的第二春。历经2008年赛季保级之路的大连实德处于调整和重振期,而安贞焕在2009年的到来,如同给球队注入一剂强心剂,马上成为了球队的核心。

 

安贞焕凭藉踏实和敬业的表现赢得了大连人的欢心。在大连实德期间,安贞焕共攻入18球,其中更在2010年以10球成为球队当季的头号射脚。

 

时至今日,意大利人都无法原谅“卑鄙”的韩国人,而他们最憎恨一人,就是安贞焕。

 

眼尖的你应该察现到,虽然近年来韩国足坛涌现出不少青年才俊如孙兴慜、具滋哲、寄诚庸等在欧洲留洋兵,却鲜少韩国球员出现在意甲赛场上。

 

从巴塞罗那知名的拉玛西亚青训营出身、曾喻为“韩国梅西”的李升佑是唯一例外。他曾在201719年效力意甲维罗纳,但不受重用,出场37次不过多为替补,不到两个赛季内只进了2球,目前沦落至比甲俱乐部圣特雷登,表现依然远远不如期望值。

 

安贞焕的成败,都在2002年韩日世界杯。看看当年由荷兰名帅希丁克领军的韩国国家队有谁?除了安贞焕,还有朴智星、李荣杓、李天秀、薛琦铉、洪明甫、柳相铁、李云在……完全就是黄金一代。论实力,放在亚洲也绝对属于历史级别。

 

然而,“卿本佳人,奈何做贼”。在万众瞩目的十六强赛,韩国碰正夺标大热之一意大利。

 

一场看似实力差距不算小的比赛,却出现了截然不同的结局。厄瓜多尔籍主裁判莫雷诺完全“主宰”了比赛,韩国球员多次恶意犯规没有受到判罚,反之越踢越不忿气的“罗马王子”托蒂却两黄变红罚下。最终,拥有布冯、马尔蒂尼、维埃里、皮耶罗等一代名将的“蓝十字军”,就这样被狠狠做掉了。

 

安贞焕呢?他在常规时间双方打成1平进入加时赛后,头球破门打入了世界杯史上最后一个“金球”,助队破天荒挺进八强之林,残酷地结束了可能是世界杯史上最具争议的一场比赛。

 

“太极虎”最终获得了殿军,安贞焕成为了韩国的英雄,却也成为了意大利的公敌。迫于四面八方的压力,佩鲁贾在世界杯结束后,贴钱送人也在所不惜,第一时间与安贞焕解除了合同。

 

当时有传言说,意大利足协规定,意甲在未来15年,无论多出色多优秀,都不允许有任何一个韩国球员出现!

 

安贞焕和韩国随后似乎陷入了意大利人所施予的魔咒,在2006年和2010年世界杯表现一般。安贞焕因年龄渐增,也无法给球队带来更多贡献,在2010年连一分钟出场时间也捞不到。

 

2012131日,安贞焕正式宣布告别绿茵,留下了代表国家队71次进17球和世界杯老四的漂亮成绩单。如今的安贞焕,中年发福明显,颜值荡然无存,但有个幸福的家庭,做着自己喜欢的事,偶尔也陪一陪贵为前韩国小姐的美娇妻李惠媛和一对可爱子女上综艺节目,过着乐消遥的生活。

 

没有起落就不是人生,Happy Belated Birthday,安贞焕!

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被球迷怒喷,马夏尔还有得救吗?

曼联爆冷以1-2负于榜尾的谢菲尔德联后,在场上表现形同梦游的马夏尔顿时成为众矢之的。这位法国前锋不仅在进攻端毫无表现,其近乎不参与球队防守以及懒得跑位的态度,更是让球迷们直接将输球的怒气撒在他身上。

“我再也不想看到马夏尔披上曼联的球衣了,求求你了索帅!”、“为何能够这么懒?太不像话了!”、“这家伙的合同居然有金球奖的附加条款,这简直难以置信!”、“索帅居然选择换下青木也要留着这条懒虫?太不可思议了!”

只要是诸如此类甚至更不堪入目的留言,就都在社媒上获得了大量的点赞。然而,索帅的态度又是什么呢?“我认为全队包括我在内都会被批评,而不仅仅是马夏尔。我们也确实该被批评因为没能拿出好表现。我很了解马夏尔,他在训练中很努力,一直在操练他的终结能力和跑位,对此我是没有任何疑问的。他会发挥得更好的。”

事实上,在这场比赛前就一直有着马夏尔状态稀烂以及态度懒散的声音,只不过曼联近13场联赛103平的不败战绩,以致于赞扬球队的声音一直都压住了批评的声浪。那么问题来了,为何本赛季的马夏尔突然变得这么差劲呢?

其实,这位“亨利的接班人”状态从来就没稳定过。就在上赛季,曼联在英超上半程只取得了775负,而当中出战13场仅取得6个进球的马夏尔,也是被批得一文不值。然而,他在下半程却彻底爆发,出战19场取得114助攻,同时也帮助了被认为前四无望的曼联取得了第三名的成绩。

巧合的是,马夏尔本赛季联赛至今只贡献了24助攻,同样又是上半程低迷。在这样的情况下,也许就如索帅说的马夏尔在接下来会发挥得更好的。毕竟不能排除这位法国前锋复制上赛季的轨迹,在联赛下半程再度发力,帮助曼联维持争冠队列的同时,也再次打脸黑他的键盘侠们。

当然,如果这一情况并未发生也不至于是曼联的末日,毕竟本赛季球队的武器库还多了一个卡瓦尼呢。

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Who will be the kings of Asia in 2021?

The draw for the Asian Champions League 2021 competition group stage has thrown up thrilling battles, including a showdown between the current J-League champions Kawasaki Frontale and China’s richest club Guangzhou FC.

With the Covid-19 pandemic still being an obstacle in most parts of the region, the group stage matches will be played in centralised venues, which have yet to be finalised.

Unlike in previous years, when a top two finish in the group stage would automatically secure a passage into the knockout stage, only the eight best runner-up from the 10 groups will make it to the round of 16 this year.

This is due to the increase of the group stage teams from 32 to 40.

The competition kicks off with the preliminary stage on April 7 with the group stage starting a week later.

Here is the analysis of the teams occupying the five groups in the East Zone:


GROUP F

The cast: Ulsan Hyundai (South Korea), BG Pathum United (Thailand), Viettel FC (Vietnam) and play-off one winner. Playoff one is a match between Beijing Guoan of China and the winner of Australia’s Brisbane Roar against the Philippines’ Kaya-Iloilo.  

ULSAN HYUNDAI: The reigning champions are strong favourites to top the group. The Koreans can expect spirited challenges from an on-form Pathum and either Beijing or Brisbane, but will be too strong for the other group rivals.

Previous record: AFC Champions League winners in 2012 and 2020. Ulsan have failed to get past the group stage in just three out of their eight appearances in the regional competition. In 2017, they finished third in a group that also contained Brisbane, Japan’s Kashima Antlers and Thailand’s Muangthong United.

Head-to-head record: Ulsan have never played Pathum United and Viettel before.

In 2012, they drew with Brisbane 1-1 at home and won 2-1 in Australia in the group stage. In 2017, they defeated the Australian club 6-0 and 3-2 in the group stage.

Ulsan have won all their five previous meetings with Beijing Guoan in the Champions League. The two clubs met twice each in the group stage in 2009 and 2012, and again in the one-off quarter-finals last year, which the South Koreans won 2-0.

Key players: Junior Negrao (Bra), Yoon Bit-garam, Lee Keun-ho, Lee Chung-yon, Kim Kee-hee (all Kor)

Manager: Hong Myung-bo (Kor)

BG PATHUM UNITED: This is the first time that Pathum United have entered the group stage of the competition. The Rabbits are undefeated so far in the Thai League 1 2020/21 season and will be looking to carry on their strong form to the regional competition. Their realistic target is securing second spot in the group behind Ulsan.

Previous record: In their only other appearance in the AFC Champions League in 2015, Pathum defeated Malaysia’s JDT 3-0 in the preliminary round before falling to Beijing Guoan 0-3 in the playoff stage.

Head-to-head record: Pathum have never played any of the other two teams in the group. They have a chance to exact revenge on Beijing for the 2015 thrashing if the Chinese Super League side make it past the playoff stage as expected.

Key players: Surachat Sareepim, Thitiphan Puangchan, Teerasil Dangda (all Tha), Diogo (Bra)

Manager: Dusit Chalermsan (Tha)

VIETTEL FC: The V-League 1 champions are making their debut in the AFC Champions League. Their only other appearance in a regional competition came in 1999, in the old Asian Club Championship tournament. Then, they received a first round bye from Hong Kong’s Happy Valley before being hammered 1-7 on aggregate by South Korea’s Suwon Samsung Bluewings in the following round.

Viettel have made a horrendous start to their title defence in Vietnam, gaining just one point in the opening two games. They are not expected to withstand the might of Ulsan, Pathum and either Beijing or Brisbane. It will be more of an experience-gaining exercise for the Vietnam club.

Previous record: None

Head-to-head meeting: None

Key players: Pedro Paulo (Bra), Bui Tien Dung, Nguyen Hoang Duc, Ho Khac Ngoc (all Vie)

Manager: Nguyen Hai Bien (Vie)

 

GROUP G

The cast: Jiangsu FC (China), Nagoya Grampus (Japan), JDT (Malaysia) and playoff three winner. Playoff three is between Pohang Steelers of South Korea and Thailand’s Ratchaburi Mitr Phol.

JIANGSU FC: The 2020 Chinese Super League winners are making a return to the regional competition after a three-year absence. They will be involved in a close three-way battle with J-league’s Nagoya Grampus and K-League’s Pohang Steelers, who should overcome Ratchaburi in the playoffs.

Their shock march to a maiden CSL triumph should not be taken lightly. Much will depend on whether Jiangsu are able to maintain the same level of performance while juggling commitments in both domestic and regional football.

Previous record: Group stage of the 2013 and 2016 tournaments. Finished top of their group in 2017 ahead of Gamba Osaka, Jeju United and Adelaide United before exiting in the round of 16 after losing 3-5 on aggregate to Shanghai SIPG.

Head-to-head meeting: None

Key players: Eder (Italy), Miranda (Brazil), Ivan Santini (Croatia), Wu Xi (China), Mubarak Wakaso (Ghana).  

Manager: Cosmin Olaroui (Rom)

NAGOYA GRAMPUS: On paper, the J-League club should be a shoo-in to secure a spot to the next phase. However, the emergence of Jiangsu as a strong contender and the possibility of all the matches being played at one of their rivals ground could tip the balance away from them.

Despite not winning any silverware since 2010, Nagoya have remained a strong contender in Japan. They are not fancied as a favourite for the title and will be fighting hard to secure a top two finish in the group.

Previous record: On all their three appearances in the rebranded AFC Champions League, Nagoya made it to the knockout stages. They fell in the round of 16 in both 2011 and 2012, and made it all the way to the semi-final before losing 8-3 on aggregate to Saudi Arabia’s Al-Ittihad in 2009.

Head-to-head meetings: None

Key players: Gabriel Xavier, Mataeus (both Bra), Mu Kanazaki, Manabu Saito, Yoichiro Kakitani (all Jpn)

Manager: Massimo Ficadenti (Ita)  

JOHOR DARUL TA’ZIM: This is the eighth appearance in Asia’s top-tier club competition for the Malaysian champions. But the 2015 AFC Cup champions have never got past the group stage before and are unlikely to do so again this year.

They escaped sanctions from AFC after failing to turn up in Qatar to complete their group fixtures last year, due to failing to get clearance to travel from the Malaysian government during the Covid-19 pandemic. Can play the role of spoilers to trip up the big guns in the group.

Previous record: Have made the group stage of this competition only twice before this year. In 2019, managed to win one, draw one and lost four of their group matches. Last year, managed to upset K-League’s Suwon Samsung Bluewings 2-1 at home but the result was voided after JDT failed to show up in Qatar.

Head-to-head meetings: None

Key players: Jonathan Herrera, Gonzalo Cabrera (both Arg), Nazmi Faiz, Safawi Rasid, Hazwan Bakri (all Mas)

Manager: Benjamin Mora (Mex)    

 

GROUP H

The cast: Jeonbuk Hyundai (South Korea), Gamba Osaka (Japan), Tampines Rovers (Singapore) and Sydney FC (Australia).

JEONBUK HYUNDAI: The reigning K-League champions will start as the group favourites and should progress without much difficulty. After being eliminated at the group stage last year, Jeonbuk will not make the mistake of taking it too easy this time.

Past record: A regular in the regional competition, Jeonbuk have lifted the Champions League title twice in 2006 and 2016. In their 11 appearances in the regional meet, the South Korean club have only failed to qualify for the knockout stages twice – in 2012 and last year, when they finished behind Yokohama Marinos and Shanghai SIPG.

Head-to-head record: Lost 2-3 on aggregate to Gamba Osaka in the 2015 quarter-finals. Beat Sydney FC 1-0 at home and drew 2-2 away in last year’s group stage. Have not played Tampines Rovers yet.

Key players: Lee Dong-gook, Lee Yong, Lee Seung-gi (all Kor), Gustavo (Bra), Stanislav Iljutsenko (Rus).

Manager: Jose Morais (Por)

GAMBA OSAKA: Last year’s J-league runners-up are expected to clinch one of the two spots in the group alongside Jeonbuk. With plenty of experience in this competition, the group phase will be a warm-up for them to prepare for tougher challenges ahead in the knockout phase.

Previous record: Won the Champions League in 2008. Will be looking to erase the memory of finishing bottom of their group in their last appearance in the competition in 2017.

Head-to-head meeting: Beat Jeonbuk Hyundai 3-2 on aggregate in the 2015 quarter-finals. Have yet to play Tampines Rovers and Sydney FC.

Key players: Kim Young-gwon (Kor), Patric (Bra), Genta Miura, Yosuke Ideguchi, Shu Kurata (all Jpn)

Manager: Tsuneyasu Miyamoto (Jpn)

TAMPINES ROVERS: The Singapore S-League runners-up in 2002 gained entry to the Champions League group phase for the first time. However, they are not expected to pose much of a challenge for the other teams in the group.

Previous record: Lost in the playoffs in both their previous appearances, 2-0 to Global FC of the Philippines in 2017 and 3-1 to Indonesia’s Bali United in 2018.

Head-to-head meeting: None

Key players: Jordan Webb (Can), Zehrudin Mehmedovic (Srb), Kyoga Nakamura (Jpn), Baihakki Khaizan, Daniel Bennett (both Sin)

Manager: Kadir Yahaya (Sin)

SYDNEY FC: Sydney FC have been regulars in Asia’s premier club competition since the country became a member of AFC.

Although heavyweights in the A-League, they have just been making up the numbers in Asia. Sydney failed to stamp their mark over the years and have only once made it to the round of 16 despite featuring in the group phase seven times.

Previous record: Have failed to get past the group stage in six appearances. Made it to the round of 16 in 2016 before being eliminated by China’s Shandong Luneng on away goals after a 3-3 aggregate draw.

Head-to-head meeting: Lost to Jeonbuk Hyundai 0-1 away and drew 2-2 at home in last year’s group stage.

Key players: Bobo (Bra), Milos Ninkovic (Srb), Alex Wilkinson (Aus), Kosta Barbarouses (Nzl)

Manager: Steve Corica (Aus)

 

GROUP I

The cast: Kawasaki Frontale (Japan), Guangzhou FC (China), United City FC (Philippines) and play-off four winner. Playoff four is a match between South Korea’s Daegu FC and Thailand’s Chiangrai United.

KAWASAKI FRONTALE: The current J-league champions will start as a strong contender for tthis year’s Champions League title. They should be a shoo-in for a top two finish in the group, and their biggest threat will be their own over-confidence.

With the likes of Guangzhou and possibly Daegu keeping company in Group I, any slip-up by the J-League champions can be fatal.

Previous record: Despite their dominance in domestic football, Kawasaki have never made it past the last eight in the Champions League. Their best achievement is making the quarter-finals in 2007, 2009 and 2017.

Head-to-head meeting: Drew with Guanzhou FC twice (0-0 at home and 1-1 away) during the 2017 Champions League group stage in their only previous meeting.

Key players: Leandro Damiao, Joao Schmidt (both Bra), Shogo Taniguchi, Yu Kobayashi, Tatsuya Hasegawa (all Jpn)

Manager: Toru Oniki (Jpn)

GUANGZHOU FC: Still licking their wounds after losing the Chinese Super League crown to Jiangsu, it will be interesting to see if Guangzhou will place their full focus on the AFC Champions League this year.

China’s richest football club’s clashes against the J-League champions Kawasaki Frontale will be the one of the main highlights of this year’s group stage. Guangzhou should move on to the next stage with the Japanese giants, but need to be wary of Daegu’s threat, if the Koreans get past their playoff hurdle.

Previous record: Two-time winners of the AFC Champions League in 2013 and 2015. Guangzhou have qualified for the regional competition every year since 2012, only failing to get past the group stage in 2016 and last year.

Head-to-head meeting: Drew twice with Kawasaki Frontale (0-0 away and 1-1 at home) during the group stage in 2017.

Key players: Fernando Henrique, Aloisio, Paulinho (all Bra), Zheng Zhi, Elkeson (both Chn)

Manager: Fabio Cannavaro (Ita)

UNITED CITY FC: Formerly known as Ceres, the Philippines champions are regulars in the AFC Cup, but are untested in the Champions League group phase.

Having been drawn against heavyweight teams from Japan, China and possibly South Korea, it will be more of a damage control exercise for United City.

Previous record: Failed to qualify for the group stage in three previous attempts over the last three years. The closest they came was in 2020, when the Filipinos beat Myanmar;s Shan United 3-2 and Thailand’s Port FC 1-0 but fell to Japan’s FC Tokyo 0-2 in the final playoff game.

Head-to-head meeting: None

Key players: Stephan Schrok, Mike Ott (both Phi), Bienvenido Maranon (Spa), Robert Mendy (Sen), Takashi Odawara (Jpn)

Manager: Trevor Morgan (Eng)

 

GROUP J

The cast: Shandong Luneng (China), Port FC (Thailand), Kitchee (Hong Kong) and play-off two winner. Playoff two is between Cerezo Osaka of Japan and the winner of Australia’s Melbourne City against Myanmar’s Shan United.

SHANDONG LUNENG: The 2020 Chinese FA Cup winners seem to have gotten a kind draw, even if J-League team Cerezo Osaka get into the group as expected via the playoffs.

Shandong have regularly featured in the Asian premier club competition but have often struggled to get past the group stage. This year, they should not face much difficulties in securing a top-two group finish.

Previous record: Shandong’s best result is making the quarter-finals in 2005 before bowing out 3-8 on aggregate to Saudi Arabia’s Al-Ittihad.

Head-to-head meeting: Shandong have not played against Port FC, Kitchee, Melbourne City and Shan United previously. They have met Cerezo twice, winning once (2-0) and losing once (0-4) during the competition’s group stage in 2011.

Key players: Marouane Fellaini (Bel), Roger Guiedes, Moises (both Bra), Liu Yang, Hao Junmin (both Chn)

Manager: Li Xiaopeng (Chn)

PORT FC: The Thai FA Cup champions are making their debut in the Champions League group phase and can play the role of spoilers to get a positive result or two.

However, their inexperience of playing with the Asian big boys could count against them, especially in a group featuring the seasoned Shandong and most likely Cerezo.

Previous record: Knocked out by the Philippines’ Ceres (now known as United City) 0-1 in the preliminary playoff round last year.

Head-to-head meeting: None

Key players: Yannick Boli (Civ), Go Seul-ki (Kor), Adisak Kraisom, Bordin Phala, Siwakorn Jakkuprasat (all Tha).

Manager: Sarawut Treephan (Tha)

KITCHEE: Another AFC Cup regular who have been granted a spot in the Champions League group phase this year. Just like Port FC, the Hong Kong champions are not expected to make much headway except to make life difficult for the big boys.

Kitchee will compete with the Thai club to avoid finishing at the bottom of the group.

Previous record: Pulled off a stunning 1-0 win over J-League’s Kashiwa Reysol at home during their lone group phase appearance in 2015. But Kitchee then lost the other five games in a group that also featured Jeonbuk Hyundai and Tianjin Quanjin.

Head-to-head meeting: None

Key players: Wellinngsson, Tomas (both Bra), Park Jun-heong (Kor), Clement Benhaddouche (Fra), Matt Orr (Hkg).

Manager: Chu Chi Kwong (Hkg)

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“小胖讲波”:拍卖金靴奖、转行当小贩,大马传奇卡立究竟怎么了?

卡立·占鲁斯,相信稍微资深的大马球迷都还记得他,这个当年让对手无不闻风丧胆的名字。卡立最为高光的时刻是在2002赛季,以17个进球赢得马甲金靴奖,并帮助霹雳夺得了当季的冠军。

除了霹雳,他也曾效力于雪兰莪、吉兰丹,并在2005赛季帮助前者成为了三冠王。论球技,卡立绝对是超班的,无论速度、盘带、头球、终结能力、杂耍式进球等样样精通。

只不过人无完人,受大批球迷宠爱且意气风发的卡立,人品和纪律问题也导致了他是个极具争议性的人物。面对媒体的采访,卡立曾大胜怒喝:“你知道我是谁吗?!”此外,他也曾在代表大马国家队征战2002世界杯预选赛时,于比赛的前一天夜蒲,而被时任主帅哈里斯扫地出门。

无论如何,突出的能力摆在那儿,即便卡立的某些行为备受争议,也无损他是大马足坛一代传奇的身份。

不幸的是,在2011年宣告退役的卡立,退休生活不仅谈不上优渥,更是可以潦倒不堪来形容。就在去年中旬,他因疫情而失去了体育用品代言人的工作。加上近三年来都未有稳定的工作,面对经济困难的卡立,不得不在社媒上拍卖他在过去所获得的金靴奖、奖牌、球衣及海报等。

虽然有不少键盘侠抨击卡立怎么能够如此不珍惜这些奖项,但其实同样的事情也有发生在国外的球员,而这也是很平常不过的事情。无论如何,卡立对此表示自己这么做并不违法,因生活拮据加上需要帮补患病父母的生计,才出此下策。

对此,鲁小胖认为键盘侠实在没资格批评这事,毕竟最珍惜且最不舍得卖掉这些具有纪念意义的物品,肯定是卡立本人了。正所谓有头发边个想做罗本(癞痢)?

无论如何,卡立通过拍卖这些物品也筹得了上万令吉。目前,他用这笔钱还清了自身的债务,并且创业改行当起了小贩。卡立在接受采访时表示:“我选择主打售卖烟熏肉炖椰奶,是因为我的父亲和家人都来自森美兰。我希望能够做好这个生意,并在未来开设分行。”

事实上,相信同样的问题也会发生在其他退役运动员身上。毕竟他们的专场就是单一的运动,退役后就没有一技之长傍身。此外,即便相当教练也并非每个人都能当上,毕竟名额是相当有限的。

虽然现年43岁的卡立,早已不是当年在球场内外都能呼风唤雨的大腕,但至少转行当小贩也总算能够改善自身的经济状况。卡立目前是在瓜拉冷岳县开设档口,具体地址是Lepak Court, Batu 7, Sijangkang, Kuala Langat。有意支持这位前国脚的波友们,可去试看卡立的厨艺是否像他的球技一样精湛。

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Indonesia don’t want to lose Khuwailid to Qatar

Indonesia want the Qatar-based player Khuwailid Mustafa to help beef up the Garudas for the World Cup 2022 qualifiers.

The 20-year-old Al-Duhial player, who is currently on loan with fellow Qatar League 1 club Qatar SC, was born in Acheh but grew up in the Middle East. He is eligible to represent both Indonesia and Qatar, but has yet to be called up by either country.

Khuwailid signed a five-year contract with Al-Duhial (formerly known as Lekhwiya FC) before being loaned out this season to gain experience.  

Indonesia head coach Shin Tae-yong confirmed that he is monitoring Khuwailid’s progress and will likely include the player in his squad. Tae-yong wants to move swiftly to tie Khuwailid with Indonesia as he does not want to lose the player to Qatar.

The Garudas have learnt their lesson after delays led Andri Syahputra, who was also born in Acheh but later moved with his family to Qatar, to represent the oil-rich sultanate’s Under-19 and Under-20 teams.

The 21-year-old featured for Qatar at the Under-20 World Cup in Poland two years ago.

The Indonesia national team is already out of contention to qualify for the 2022 World Cup Finals in Qatar. They are currently bottom of Group G, which also includes Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand and the United Arab Emirates.

The exact dates and location for the remaining qualifying matches, which has been put on hold due to Covid-19, have not been finalised yet.  

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雪兰莪强阵备战新赛季,剑指冠军?

雪兰莪签下了现年28岁的瑞士中场奥利弗·巴夫。这位新援曾与阿森纳中场扎卡搭档,代表瑞士U17国家队赢下了2009年的U17世界杯。

此外,巴夫在过去曾效力西乙球队皇家萨拉戈萨,以及瑞甲豪强苏黎世草蜢。而这也是他首次效力非欧洲地区的球队。

对于这笔引援,主帅卡斯滕·奈策尔开心的表示:“当我在多年前于德国执教时,我就想要引进他了。如今,我发现他和苏黎世草蜢的合约已经到期,便成功将其签下。”

值得一提的是,雪兰莪也留住了上赛季的马超金靴奥卢瑟贡 。这位尼日利亚前锋在上赛季出战11次便取得了12个进球,效率惊人。

再加上此前引进的蒂姆·霍伊巴,这名曾效力于德甲球队门兴的德国后卫,红巨人的中轴线已经组建完成。从这三个外援的实力而言,雪兰莪未必能直接向卫冕冠军JDT发起挑战,但绝对有能力改写近五个赛季仅进入一次三甲的成绩。

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Can Chinese football recover from its present slump?

In the latest rankings released by the International Federation of Football History and Statistics (IFFHS), the Chinese Super League and its clubs are nowhere near where they want to be.

The CSL are ranked a lowly 43rd globally and only fourth in Asia – behind South Korea’s K-League (20th), Saudi Arabia’s Saudi Professional League (31st) and Japan’s J-League (38th).

In terms of clubs, Beijing Guoan are the sole CSL representative ranked within the top 200 in the world.

They are ranked 119th, and are sixth best in Asia behind K-League’s 2020 Asian Champions League winners Ulsan Hyundai (33rd) and Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors (75th), Al Nassr of Saudi Arabia (82nd), Iran’s Pakhtakor (85th), and another Saudi side Al Hilal (109th).

The IFFHS ranking system and the criteria it is based on has been criticised by many parties. But the latest results regarding China’s football has been generally accepted as a true reflection of the present situation by the Chinese football’s critics.

Despite the vast amount of money poured into the league and an expensive outlay of players and coaches brought in over the past decade, the general consensus is that the quality of the football has not improved much.

The presence of famous football personalities like Oscar, Hulk, Wagner, Fabio Cannavaro, Marcelo Lippi and Rafael Benitez were expected to make the CSL popular globally.

However, the league has failed to garner much following outside of China, and the presence of the superstars has not helped in improving the quality of China’s footballers or the national team.

The main accusation is that these foreign players and coaches are only interested in making money when they come to play in China, and do not show the full commitment and fighting spirit that had made them famous in the first place.

The CSL is also in danger of becoming a retirement home for those who are past their peak, akin to the United States’ Major League Soccer.

It would have been better if the sponsors and investors, and also the football clubs in China, had put the hundreds of millions spent to purchase instant success into productive development programmes.

For a country with over a billion population, it will be beneficial to produce a larger pool of young football talents to choose from.  

The CSL should not be used as a popularity contest among the wealthy club backers, but a long-term project to produce quality local players for sustained success.

With stricter financial controls being implemented for the 2021 season and the implications of Covid-19 hitting hard, the CSL is expected to suffer a steeper drop in the rankings.

Unless the people running the clubs and its wealthy backers start looking at long-term goals, Chinese football will struggle to make a name on the global scene.

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黄喜灿成西汉姆联冲击欧冠的最后一块拼图?

在今日凌晨以3-2战胜水晶宫后,西汉姆联在莫耶斯的领军下豪夺英超6连胜,不知不觉中爬到了第四的位置!

也许是看到了球队有机会在本赛季英超的乱战中突围而出,铁锤帮已经在着手租借莱比锡前锋黄喜灿的事宜。

事实上,球队以2000万欧元将水货阿莱抛售给阿贾克斯后,不仅多了一笔转会预算,也确实需要引进一名前锋。否则的话,一旦安东尼奥受伤,西汉姆联恐怕会步上狼队的后尘,成绩急转直下。

黄喜灿曾在萨尔茨堡时期与哈兰德以及南野拓实刮起了红色旋风,126次出场,便取得45个进球及29个助攻,这显示出他具备了成为顶级球员的潜能。然而,这位韩国前锋在本赛季加盟莱比锡后,并未能直接融入球队。加上一度染上新冠肺炎而错过了足足10场的比赛,黄喜灿在德甲已经过半的情况下仅取得了135分钟的出场时间。

即便如此,西汉姆球迷对于这项转会传闻还是相当振奋的,纷纷涌上推特发表各自的管道。“他的速度很快,会成为我们的孙兴慜的!”、双足能力出色,会是一笔很好的签约!”、“他绝对适合莫耶斯的战术,快点拿下”

除了特点契合球队战术以外,既然目前无法获得出场时间,这个转会若能成行极有可能是三赢的局面。第一,莱比锡不会荒废掉黄喜灿、第二,他能够获得更多的出场时间,第三,西汉姆联获得一个合适的替补前锋,甚至可以改打双前锋战术。

当然了,莫耶斯在赛后豪言“前四并非球队的极限”似乎有点不现实,但黄喜灿绝对会是铁锤帮一笔不错的签约。毕竟租借并不需承担太多的风险,但要是能够加上买断条款则更将是更加完美的。

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图赫尔真的能够帮助切尔西扭转乾坤?

对于兰帕德被解雇的决定,球迷们持着对立的意见,现在就评论对与错还是言之过早了,但可以确定的是,这个决定可是一点都不意外,毕竟阿布可是出了名的没耐性。

眼看兰帕德执教下的蓝军英超场均得分仅有1.67,是阿布时期所有主帅当中最低的,哪怕是俱乐部传奇这个身份也当不了护身符。至于用不好两位来自德国的重磅引援维尔纳和哈弗茨,是理由之一,但绝不是主因。毕竟要是能在弃用他们的情况下保持好成绩,感到压力的是德国双子星才对。

然而,聘请图赫尔是正确的决定吗?其实就切尔西的阵容而言,这个决定是相当合理的。这位前多特蒙德主帅,在执教大黄蜂时期最大的功劳就是栽培了普利西奇和登贝莱。这两位原本默默无名的小将,在图赫尔的手下打出了上佳的表现,而这两人也没忘本的表达过对这位德国主帅的感激之情。

最重要的是,图赫尔将与前者再续前缘,而他的旧部还包括了曾在大巴黎一起共事的蒂亚戈·席尔瓦。另外,也许兰帕德还在为10世界杯对阵德国时的门线冤案耿耿于怀吧,否则的话为何本该担任主力却发挥得不好的都是德国人呢?对,就是维尔纳、哈弗茨和吕迪格。身为同胞,图赫尔将扮演激活他们的角色。

除了俱乐部传奇这个身份,兰帕德在执教经历,以及对球员的熟悉程度,都远远不及图赫尔。就切尔西现在距离欧冠区也就6分的情况下,要在赛季结束时挤进前四也并非不可能的任务。但倘若失败,图赫尔会不会成为最短命的切尔西主帅也说不准……

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Shouting From The Stands: Malaysia lucky to be part of Jo’s football journey

“Just call me Jo” was the standard greeting that is remembered by those who had the privilege to meet or work with Dr. Jozef Venglos in Malaysia.

The man considered a football managerial genius passed away on Tuesday (January 26) at the age of 84.

As a player, the Slovakian’s record was unremarkable. But as a manager, and later a FIFA administrator, he was a trail-blazer who bucked tradition and set trends years before others did it.

Malaysian football is blessed to be associated with such a visionary. He coached Kuala Lumpur for two seasons in 1985 and 1986, and coached the Malaysian national team in 1986-87.

The core players from his team like Zainal Abidin Hassan, Dollah Salleh, Lim Teong Kim and Azizol Abu Hanafiah then went on to win the SEA Games gold medal in 1989.

Even at that time when Europeans were generally addressed as “Sir”, Venglos will insist that others call him as Jo or Jozef.

And when he spoke, others listened raptly. Although he did not possess a booming voice or had a stern demeanour, players and officials said he had a certain aura which made others give full attention whenever he spoke.

“He did not waste words. Every word he said was important. And the way he speaks also makes it sound important. So, everyone listened quietly, even when he was just having a friendly chat,” recounted a former Kuala Lumpur football official.

Venglos is remembered as a person who was humble and sincere to help Malaysian football.

He has criss-crossed the globe several times in a managerial career that began with FC Prague Sydney in Australia in 1966 and ended at JEF United Ichihara in Japan in 2002.

In between, he took in jobs in the former Czechoslovakia, Australia, Portugal, Malaysia, England, Turkey, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Oman and Scotland.

He is best known in England as the first non-British manager to take charge of a top flight team with Aston Villa in 1990-91. Although his presence proved unpopular at the time, it helped pave the way for the influx of non-British managers to England.

In Scotland, he is still remembered by Celtics fans for leading the Bhoys to an emphatic 5-1 win over Rangers in the Glasgow derby in 1998.

He also coached famous clubs like Sporting Lisbon and Fenerbahce during his nomadic career.

Venglos’ biggest success as a manager was in guiding his home country Czechoslovakia to the 1990 World Cup quarter-finals in Italy. He was an assistant coach to Vaclav Jezek when Czechoslovakia won the European Championship in 1976.

After his final managerial role in the J-League, Venglos went on to take positions at the Slovakian Football Federation and on the FIFA and UEFA technical committees.

His contribution to football in different parts of the world has been immense, and Malaysia is fortunate to have been part of Venglos’ “football journey”. 

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