Thursday, November 27, 2008

China November 2008

Yin & yang

Beijing is fairly cold , especially when the wind blows.

But sightseeing is OK in the bright sunshine.
There were some foreigners but it is mainly Chinese that are wandering around Tianamen Square and the Forbidden City. Among the impressive buildings are some pictures and text about the last emperor which made this observer wonder how the locals perceived that part of their history.

Food is everywhere and very good value though perhaps dumplings for breakfast might not suit everyone. It's interesting that a survey mentioned in Peking Daily said that the Chinese eat around 20% more than Westerners but are about 20% slimmer.

From Beijing I took the fast train to Ji'nan.

It's necessary to buy your ticket in advance, a process that can take a while.

But the train is fearsomely efficient.

In Ji'nan amongst the hectic streets there is a harmony to be had in the gardens and springs (its known as the 'city of springs')

The main city square is where the locals do their exercises and the roller skaters are out practising. Memorable and very amusing is seeing the very young kids, all decked out in their helmets, knee guards etc being chased by the older instructor as they try to circle the skating area whilst falling over and bumping into each other.

Kites are flown and people wander around in the bright sunny weather.
A scene that evokes the enjoyment of simpler pleasures.
And the families, usually just the one child, stroll around the springs area or the lake. One group want a photo with this correspondent.

The very young children don't have nappies - just a gap in their clothes.

In a day or so looking around Ji'nan I do not see one other European except in the hotels.

A smile and a nod is recommended and sometimes a halting conversation as a local endeavours to try out their English.

A draw enough.

Shandong Luneng 0 Guangzhou Pharmaceutical 0

The final games of the Chinese Super League season were played on a Sunday afternoon. Here in Ji'nan Shandong, leaders by two points, in the end just needed a draw to clinch their second title.

The game was close to a sell out , of around 40,000, with large queues outside sometime before kick off and plenty sitting in the aisles around me.

As would be expected the home side took the initiative though they only really upped the pace in the second half. Most of the time Guangzhou slowed the game down, played on the break, and wasted time at every opportunity. But they had the best chances - all missed badly.

Shandong did play some good football but lacked any cutting edge near goal. Though it didn't matter in this encounter they will surely struggle against teams with decent strikers.

The crowd celebrated as the players enjoyed their success by parading around the pitch.

So maybe a lot more shirts and scarves will be sold as few fans, bar a smallish groups of 'ultras', wore any colours.

more pics at

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Empoli v Grosseto November 2008


Empoli 1 Grosseto 1

Equal near the top of Serie B these two teams stayed closed in this game.

Their goalscorers, Vannucchi for Empoli, and Sansovini for Grosseto both looked dangerous.

Around 5000 watched including a good contingent from Grosseto - filling most of two segments behind one goal.

It was cold but dry near the river Arno.

On a weekend when Italian football produced a possible new strategy (?) with Catania players dropping their shorts at a free kick to put off the Torino goalie.
This match included a moment when an Empoli player reversed the award of a throw-in after indicating that he was the last person to touch the ball before it went out.

My route took me back via Firenza before getting a Milan bound train and then a flight back to Berlin.

In the centre of Florence, not seen since Italia 90, those architectural masterpieces and the Uffizi gallery would inspire this visitor's heart and soul.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Germany November 2008

Good Stuff.

Union Berlin 2 Sandhausen 2

Union played this 3rd Liga game at the Jahn Sportpark whilst their regular home is being updated.
Around 6000 turned out and produced a decent atmosphere amongst which were a small group of away fans.

The stadium has a Turkish feel with the prominent red/yellow/green seats, not surprising since Turkiyemspor normally play there.

After taking a while to get going Union finally developed some pressure and Younga-Mouhani nodded in from a corner.

The second half proved very watchable as Sandhausen equalised through Pinto and went ahead after sub. Ozturk (appropriately) found space to score.

It took a goal area scramble for centre back Stuff to poke home the leveller.

Obasi has the last word.

Hoffenheim 3 Wolfsburg 2

Another team playing at a temporary home. Up and coming Hoffenheim won this one at the home of Waldorf Mannheim as they await their new stadium being completed.

As has been the case the game was a sell out with many in the surrounding area (eg Heidelberg) keen to see Bundesliga matches.

Hoffenheim despite their critics do have a attacking team though forwards Ba and Obasi weren't so prominent as when they played at the 2nd level.

Top League scorer Ibisevic scored early on, helped by a deflection.

But Wolfsburg came back and another leading scorer Brazilian Grafite produced a trick and found space to score for 1-1.

A slightly dubious free kick awarded to the home team allowed Carlos Eduardo to show off his left foot skills for 2-1. Dzecko bundled in the second equaliser, still before the break.

Just one goal in the second half, Obasi beating the offside line to score neatly.

Hoffenheim finished strongly and denied any Wolfsburg 3rd equaliser.

This was an enjoyable watch.

Big beats small.

Ingolstadt 0 Nuremberg 3

The small Ingolstadt arena was ausferkauft (10,500) as the big city visitors brought plenty of fans.

Fortunately it stayed dry (but cold) as there is not much cover at the ground. What there is was mainly for the VIPs in the main stand and behind the goal.

Most fans shared the side an open terrace with Nuremberg bringing plenty of their ultras.

Somehow the game never really caught fire as Lemos missed a great chance when blasting over an empty goal for Ingolstadt.
That proved costly as the away side, with better possession, eventually led after Boakye did well down the right and his cross was deflected in for an own-goal.
Despite Ingolstadt trying to play their football der Club scored two late goals to seal a convincing win in the end.

For this visitor it was a convenient short walk to the station and a regional train back to Augsburg.

Terry the Redeemer

Germany 1 England 2

Back in Berlin sightseeing was just about manageable in the cold damp weather.
This time it included the Brandenburg Gate, the Holocaust memorial, Checkpoint Charlie and the well presented and thoughtful Jewish museum.

Myself and some friends ate at an Italian restaurant where a good reception was evident especially whilst we have a well respected Italian as our coach.

In the game England carried on their progress with impressive performances from non-regulars especially Agbonlahor and an improved Wright Phillips (who hit the post)

John Terry redeemed himself by scoring the winning header. He had been responsible for the German equaliser after delaying to allow Helmes to score.

Upson had put England ahead after the goalie had failed to deal with a cross.

Generally Germany were moderate and got whistles from the home fans.

In contrast it was encouraging that England, with their various replacements, had played well and are continuing the evident progress under Capello.

further pics at

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Greece November 2008

Che sera sera.

Panserraikos 1 OFI Heraklion 2

The bus takes around 1 hour twenty minutes to get to Serres from Thessaloniki.
And Serres has a nice central area with plenty of bars and restaurants where you can enjoy the ambience.

The stadium is a convenient couple of mintues walk from the bus terminal. So its an easy trip for a late afternoon game.

Its a smallish, compact ground with open , red seats and a main covered main stand. OFI brought a group of around 40 fans - some apparently from Thessaloniki.

The home fans , the Che Guevara group, had their flags and as is the style divided into two groups to chant their songs.

After an even, tight, first half Panserraikos took an early lead in the more entertaining second half after Bangoura benefited from the goalie's hesitation. But OFI came back to score two quick goals from the left foot of Popovic.

The home fans were naturally frustrated as Panserraikos failed to create too much and bottom team OFI had a very good away win.

I stolled back to get the 7pm bus to Thessaloniki and indulged in a couple of ouzos.

Next day in Thessaloniki , whilst Athens was gearing up for Panathinaikos v Olympiakos, I saw two Sunday games :-

Kalamaria edges Kallithea.

Apollon Kalamarias 2 Kallithea 1

In the Greek Beta Ethnki (2nd level) played in Apollon's ground in Kalamaria - a 15 minute bus ride from the centre of Thessaloniki.

The ground has seen better days - especially the crumbling terracing opposite the main stand.

The main stand itself was were all the fans watched, around 500, including a smallish but enthusiastic group of 'Rossoneri' local fans.

They saw Apollon generally control things taking a two goal lead and holding Kallithea to few chances and a late consolation.

Its a shortish bus ride and a 15 minute walk to the large Kaftanzoglu Stadium.

First win.

Iraklis 1 Levadiakos 0

Back to the Super League to see Iraklis win their first game of the season.

It was sealed by an early Kone goal as a corner somehow reached him at the far post.

Levadiakos struggled to get much change from a solid home defence . They had a man sent off near the end as Iralkis held out with too much trouble.
In a 27,000 capacity stadium under 3,000 turned out on a fairly cold evening.

Back in the centre of Thessaloniki the bars and restaurants turned on the external heaters as the weather got colder and the well wrapped up locals strolled along the promenade.

more pictures at