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A sensational European debut for Morita

Asian players going to a European club for the first time will normally take some time to settle down.

But not Japanese midfielder Hidemasa Morita.

In his debut for Primeira Liga outfit CD Santa Clara, the 25-year-old scored the 89th minute winning goal in the 2-1 win over Rio Ave on Monday (January 25).

And he also earned the man-of-the-match award for his overall performance in just his first 90 minutes of action in Europe.

Just two weeks after signing on for Santa Clara, Morita was thrust straight into the starting line-up by his manager Daniel Ramos.

And Morita, fresh from helping Kawasaki Frontale bag the J-League 1 crown last year, did not show any signs of nervousness by fitting in straight away.

Brazilian Carlos had put Santa ahead in the 24th minute but Rio Ave’s Japanese player Ryotaro Meshino equalised just two minutes later. The game seemed headed for a draw until Morita struck a minute before regulation time ended.

Besides scoring the winning goal, Morita also made two clearances, two interceptions and won three tackles against Rio Ave to cap a fine evening.

Scoring a goal in his very first match in the Primeira Liga was astonishing for Morita, as in his previous 108 appearances for Kawasaki in all competitions from 2018 till 2020, he has only scored a grand total of two goals!

The midfielder, who was named in the J-League’s Best XI for 2020, only started his senior football career at the age of 23 with Kawasaki.

Before that, he played for his Ryutsu Keizai University team in a regional competition in Japan.

In his first season with Kawasaki, Morita established himself as a regular and helped the club win the League 1 title.

He also received a first call-up to the Japanese national club the same year.

Just three years after his senior debut, he is now a goalscorer in one of Europe’s toughest leagues.

After such a fine debut, more can be expected from Morita for both Santa Clara and the Japan national team.

Santa Clara are currently eighth in the 18-team Primeira Liga standings on 18 points. They finished ninth in the Portuguese top flight last season.

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Daniel back in football after ‘recharging battery’

Footballers normally come out of retirement to play again because they love the game or to help out a beloved club in trouble.

In Daniel Ting’s case, he is returning to football following a two-year break after “recharging his batteries”. He has just signed up with the newly promoted Malaysian Super League team Kuala Lumpur United after “disappearing” from the football scene for the last two years.

The 28-year-old Daniel left football totally after playing for PKNS in the 2018 MSL season. He spent two years in Australia “doing other things and getting a new direction and outlook in life”.

Now, he is ready to resume his football career and claims to be better both physically and mentally, and is able to judge things from a better perspective.

The player who can operate both as a centreback or a defensive midfielder has opted to join Bojan Hodak’s City Boys for the 2021 season.

Daniel is delighted to join up again with his PKNS ex-teammate Safee Sali. The ex-Malaysian international Safee, who played for Petaling Jaya City last year, also returned to Kuala Lumpur for the coming season.

Kuala Lumpur bounced back to the top flight after a third-placed finish in the second-tier Premier League last year. Besides Safee, they also possess two other Malaysian “legends” – Indra Putra Mahayuddin and Shukor Adan.

Daniel, whose father is a Malaysian from Sarawak and mother a British citizen from Manchester, started his football career with English League One (third division) club Crewe Alexandra in 2011.

After failing to make an appearance with Crewe’s senior team, he left the following year to play for a host of lower-league clubs in England, including Market Drayton Town and Droyldsden who featured in England’s Northern Premier League.

Looking to boost his playing career, Daniel moved to Malaysia to join Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) II in 2016 and also played for Negeri Sembilan and PKNS before walking away from football in 2018.

Daniel didn’t publicly disclose the real reasons of why he quit but said that at the time, he knew that he would be returning to football in the future.

Other players, especially youngsters in this region, can learn from him that sometimes it is better to take a break or walk away rather than be crushed under pressure or live miserably when things don’t go well.

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Mana makes explosive start for Aston Villa

The Asian men players like Son Heung-min are not the only ones making waves in European football right now.

Japan’s female star player Mana Iwabuchi made an immediate impact  during her Women’s Super League debut with Aston Villa. After coming on as a 58th minute sub with Villa trailing 0-1, she scored once and created another during the 2-2 draw with Reading on January 23.

The 27-year-old midfielder, who has made 72 appearances for the Japanese national team and a World Cup winner, just joined the Birmingham-based club last month.

And as the sole Asian female player in England, Iwabuchi certainly made a stunning debut to prove she belongs in the new-look top flight women’s league that is gaining prominence.

The 1.56 metres tall Iwabuchi, who is dubbed the “female Japanese Messi” due to her short stature and abundance of talent on the pitch, is no stranger to European football.

She played for Hoffenheim in Germany for two years from 2012 before moving to the German giants Bayern Munich in 2014. Three years later, she decided to head back to Japan and featured for INAC Kobe Leonessa.

With her move to Villa, Iwabuchi became just the fourth Japanese female player to feature in England’s first division. Yukari Kinga and Shinobu Ono both had stints with Arsenal in 2014, while Yuki Nagasato spent the 2013 season at Chelsea.

The 2012 London Olympics silver medalist also holds the joint eighth-highest scorer record for the Japanese national team with 29 goals.

After her explosive start, Villa will be banking on Iwabuchi to be their saviour. After a difficult start to the season, Villa are currently 11th, just one spot off the bottom of the table. They have won just two and drawn one of their ten matches so far.

Their next match is against second-placed Chelsea on January 28.

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Asnawi embraces Korean football with Ansan move

Asnawi Mangkualam is the latest Indonesian youngster to venture out in search of higher quality and more competitive football.

The 21-year-old Indonesian national Under-23 player has signed on a one-year contract with the Korean League 2 club Ansan Greeners FC.

Asnawi, who previously played for PSM Makassar in the Indonesian Liga 1, grasped the opportunity when he learnt of Ansan’s interest in him.

With the date for the Indonesian domestic football to resume still to be decided and local-based players being inactive since March last year, now seemed to be a good time for the defender to move to South Korea.

Ansan recruited Asnawi based on the recommendation of the current Indonesia national team head coach Shin Tae-yong. The ex-South Korean international’s son Jae-won, who is contracted with K-League 1 side Seoul FC, spent the entire last season with Ansan as a loan player.

Tae-yong believes Asnawi has the capability to go far in the game, and a stint playing in the much tougher Korean domestic football will benefit the player and the Indonesian national side.

Asnawi burst into the senior football scene as a 17-year-old with Persiba Balikpapan in 2016. Playing as a defensive midfielder, he scored two goals in just eight appearances in his debut season.

This caught the attention of Makassar, who signed him on in 2017. As his career progressed, he switched to play as either a rightback or centreback.

At the age of 18, he was one of the youngest members of the Indonesian Under-23 team which finished third at the 2017 SEA Games football competition in Kuala Lumpur.

Although Asnawi only signed with the Korean club, who are known as the Green Wolves, on January 19, the interest regarding his impending move had snowballed much earlier.

In the space of less than a week after rumours regarding Asnawi’s signing started, the number of followers on Ansan Greeners Instagram page had more than tripled from 5,000 to 16,000 followers.

Almost all the new Ansan Greeners followers were Indonesians who were excited about Asnawi’s new adventure in the K-League.

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在祖国三年的磨练后,再次旅欧的岩渕真奈并没有引起太大的反响,直到这一精彩绝伦的表现,让人意识到这还是当初的女梅西!至于为何会有这个称号呢? 1.55米的身高在女足而言也是相对偏矮,但岩渕真奈通过灵活的身躯,出色的脚下技术创出了一片天,加上打的位置是前锋,自然让人联想到梅球王。

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是的,科比不在了,但他超出球场的曼巴精神(Mamba Mentality)永续于世上。












































8. “我会不惜一切代价赢得比赛,无论是坐在板凳上挥舞着毛巾,把一杯水交给队友,或投出致胜一球。”














12. “我最后一次被吓倒是在6岁时上空手道班。我当时是橙带,教练命令我和一个年纪与身型都比我大的黑带比赛。我吓坏了,他踢了我的屁股,但后来我意识到,他踢我屁股并没有我想像中那么糟糕,所以没有什么好怕。就在那时,我意识到,如果你的心态正确,恐惧并不存在。”






14. “一旦你知道失败的感觉,就会决心追逐成功。”


15. “当我们说这无法实现,这不能做到时,那么我们就会自我改变。我的大脑,它不能处理失败。如果我不得不坐在那里面对自己,告诉自己‘你是一个失败者’……这种感觉几乎比死亡更加糟糕。”



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Juventus dream turns into a nightmare for Kwang-song

World politics, and things beyond his control, have crushed the dreams of a young Asian footballer who was on the right path to stardom.

North Korean striker Han Kwang-song has gone from being coveted by Juventus to a player nobody wants to sign.

When he was just 19, Kwang-song’s talents had caught the attention of Italian club Cagliari, who took him on in 2017. He became the first North Korean to score a goal in Serie A with Cagliari.

After two successful loan spells with Perugia in Serie B, making 36 appearances and scoring 12 goals, the Serie A champions Juventus took notice of his special talents and signed him on loan in 2019. He made 20 appearances and scored a goal for the Juve Under-23 team in Serie C.

Then, it was thought that it was only a matter of time before the North Korean player’s path to the Juventus senior team would open up.

Juventus bought the player outright in 2020 but cruel fate forced them to almost immediately ditch him. Newly imposed United Nations’ sanctions against North Korea left Juventus with no choice but to sell Kwang-song to willing buyers Al-Duhail of Qatar for 5 million Euro.

He went on to play for Al-Duhail 10 times, including appearing in the Asian Champions League, and scored three times for the club. But his new adventure in the Middle East was also cut short after outside pressure forced Al-Duhail to stop playing him rather than face the accusation of helping to fund North Korea’s nuclear missile programme.

With no other football club willing to risk taking him onboard, Kwang-song has been left with only one option to further his football career – return home.

In the space of less than two years, a bright future in Europe with the most successful football team in Italy has turned into a nightmare for the unfortunate Kwang-song.

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Myanmar champs Shan buy Success from rivals

Shan United are leaving no stones unturned in their quest for a third straight Myanmar National League title.

Not contented with just being the best team on the land, Shan have continued to strengthen to ensure they possess the best attacking options in the league.

The Myanmar League 2020 top scorer Raphael Success of Nigeria and the national team forward Than Paing are the latest attacking players to sign with the champions. They will join the national Under-23 striker Soe Lwin Lwin, who was signed earlier this month and another national team striker Zin Min Tun in the Shan squad.

Shan are obsessed with buying attacking players for the yet-to-begin 2021 season stems to prevent a repeat from last year, when their highest scorer was leftback Nanda Kyaw with eight goals. Min Tun, with seven strikes, was their highest scorer among the attacking players in the team.

The team management swooped on the Ayeryawady United forward Success, who turned in 16 goals to bag the top scorer’s award last year. The 22-year-old had also netted 10 goals for Ayeryawady the previous season.

The 24-year-old Than Paing, who is a mainstay with the Myanmar national team, joins from Yangon United after scoring six goals from them last season. A native of the Shan state in eastern Myanmar, where Shan United are based, Than Paing is excited about his “homecoming”.

With the four established attacking players in the squad, Shan will be even tougher to beat in the coming season. The main challenge to their hattrick quest is expected to come from last season’s second-placed finisher Hantharwady United, Ayeryawady and Yangon.

But both Ayeryawady and Yangon will face tougher challenges to keep up with Shan after losing their key attackers to the champions.

Although capturing a third straight league crown is their priority, Shan have also added more depth in their attack with an eye on the Asian Champions League competition.

In their two previous appearances at Asia’s premier club competition, they were knocked out in the first preliminary round. Filipino club Ceres (now known as United City FC), beat them on both occasions in 2018 and last year.

They face a tougher challenge this year, being drawn against Australia’s Melbourne City in the first preliminary round. The competition is expected to begin in March. 

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Kagawa taking a step down by playing in Greece?

News of Shinji Kagawa joining Greece first division side PAOK has not been well-received by all sections of the Japanese fans.

The 31-year-old attacking midfielder, who was once considered Japan’s best player in his prime, has signed a deal with the Greek club after being released by Real Zaragoza. The Spanish second division club had terminated the Japanese player’s contract after facing financial difficulties due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Playing in Greece will be a far cry from the time Kagawa became a household name with Borussia Dortmund in Germany and Manchester United in England.

It was reported in the Japanese media that Kagawa had been approached by his former club Cerezo Osaka to return to the J-League. But the player stated: “I still have something to do in Europe.”

He signed a one-and-a-half year’s contract with PAOK, which would keep him in Greece until the end of 2021/22 season.

This has not gone down well with his Japanese fans, who consider his latest move to be a step down in his glittering career. They feel it would have been better for Kagawa, who has a strong following in Japan, to return and play in the J-League with Cerezo.

Greece will be the fifth European country where Kagawa will play in after Germany, England, Turkey and Spain. He played for Turkish giants Besiktas on loan during his second spell with Dortmund.

Kagawa, who has won both the Bundesliga and Premier League titles, featured for Japan at the 2014 and 2018 World Cup Finals as the Blue Samurais’ No.10.

At PAOK, Kagawa will play under former Real Madrid player Pablo Garcia, who had managed the Uruguay national team between 1997 and 2007. The 2018-19 Greek champions, who finished second last season, are currently fourth in the Greek top flight.

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Triple joy as Yoshida scores first goal in Italy

There was a triple cause for celebration for Japan captain Maya Yoshida.

Just days after having his contract with Serie A club Sampdoria extended, the 32-year-old defender scored his first goal for the club during the 2-0 victory over Parma on Sunday (January 24).

And to cap off a fantastic week, Yoshida played an important role in the backline during the win to secure Sampdoria’s first clean sheet in 15 matches.

Playing at Parma’s Ennio Tardini Stadium, Yoshida became the first Asian player to score a goal for Sampdoria when he struck a stray ball into the net in the 25th minute. Winger Keita Balde doubled La Samp’s lead just before halftime.

"I'd like to get two more goals by the end of the season," said Yoshida after breaking his duck in Italy.

The goal and cleansheet were Yoshida’s way of instantly repaying Sampdoria’s trust in him when they extended his contract by a year until the end of 2021/22 season. The Japanese player had joined the Serie A club on loan from Premier League outfit Southampton in January 2020. The loan move was turned into a one-year contract before the start of the current season.

The goal against Parma was special because Yoshida rarely gets on the scoresheet. Prior to opening his account for Sampdoria, he has only found the net 16 times in a total of 279 appearances for Nagoya Grampus in Japan (5 goals), VVV Venlo in Holland (5) and Southampton (6) over 13 seasons.   

Despite getting a precious victory and a rare cleansheet, Sampdoria coach Claudio Ranieri was far from happy with his team’s overall performance.

The veteran Italian coach was particularly unhappy with his players for allowing Parma too much time on the ball and to create scoring chances.

“We allowed them to take too many shots in the first half. If we play like this in the next game (against champions Juventus), we will be in trouble,” said Ranieri.

“Juventus are coming up, we know they are in an excellent period of form and have incredible players, so we could well lose, but we have to try and play our game.”

The win allowed Sampdoria to move up to 10th in the Serie A standings on 26 points, well clear of the relegation zone but also not within touching distance of the leading pack led by AC Milan (43 points).

Juventus, whom Sampdoria play next at home on January 31, are currently fourth on 36 points.

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