Sunday, November 29, 2009

Liverpool triumph relieves pressure on Benitez

LIVERPOOL (AFP) - Liverpool bounced back from their premature Champions League exit to beat neighbours Everton 2-0 on Sunday, a result which relieved some of the pressure that has been building on manager Rafa Benitez.

Javier Mascherano's long range 12th minute effort, which took a heavy deflection off defender Joseph Yobo, set Liverpool on their way before Dirk Kuyt sealed victory 11 minutes from time.

It was enough to put a smile back on the face of Benitez, who has come under pressure since the five-times European champions were eliminated from the group stages of the Champions League in midweek.

The win lifted Liverpool into the top five while problems continue to mount for Everton, who were the better side for long periods.

Having won just once in 11 games, David Moyes's strugglers are three points above the relegation zone.

Benitez had demanded an aggressive, high-tempo start from his players and he got one as his side took control inside the opening quarter-of-an-hour - thanks to a huge slice of fortune.

Liverpool have found themselves out of luck on the injury front this term while they were undone at Sunderland last month by a beachball, Darren Bent's effort deceiving keeper Jose Reina after hitting an inflatable object as Benitez's side lost 1-0 on Wearside.

But this time Liverpool profited from a stroke of good fortune in the 12th minute as Mascherano, one goal in his previous 71 Premier League outings for the club, attempted to find the target from 25-yards.

The south American is not renowned for his accuracy from distance and his shot was drifting well wide before taking a heavy deflection off Yobo and finding the net with Tim Howard rooted to his line.

Mascherano celebrated as though he had scored the winning goal for Argentina in the World Cup final yet the Premier League's dubious goals panel is almost certain to award to as an own goal.

It was just the start Everton, their confidence fragile following a run of one win in 10 outings, did not want.

History was against Moyes, who had tasted success just twice over Benitez on the Premier League stage in five years.

Yet despite missing key players Phil Jagielka, Phil Neville and Mikel Arteta due to long-term injuries, and Louis Saha, scorer of 10 goals this season, unable to start because he is not fully fit, Everton refused to feel sorry for themselves.

They went on to carve out a string of chances without managing to hurt Liverpool before half time.

Diniyar Bilyaletdinov, playing in his first Merseyside derby, spurned the best chance, the Russian screwing a shot horribly wide from the edge of the six-yard area after the Liverpool defence fell asleep.

Jo, spearheading the attack on his own in place of Saha, twice had the ball in the back of the net but both efforts were ruled out for offside.

Liverpool, again missing the razor sharp reactions of Fernando Torres in attack, seemed content to soak up spells of Everton pressure in an error-strewn match which summed up why both teams are not firing on all cylinders.

Yet it required a superbly saved by Howard to ensure Liverpool did not double their lead in the closing moments of the half.

Johnson was once again as impressive going forward as he was in defence, and it was the England full-back's pinpoint cross into the area which allowed Emiliano Insua to power a header towards goal which Howard did well to claw away.

The second half saw Everton continue to press, the impressive Steven Pienaar coming close to embarrassing Jose Reina with a long range effort which the Liverpool keeper failed to hold in the driving rain.

But Reina quickly redeemed himself with a double save to deny Tim Cahill and Marouane Fellaini 20 minutes from time.

Having kept out Cahill's close range header, the Spanish international quickly picked himself up to block Fellaini's effort from point-blank range.

But Liverpool sealed victory in the 79th minute through Kuyt, the Holland international scoring from close range after Howard had pushed an effort by substitute Albert Riera into his path.

Watford first up for FA Cup holders Chelsea

LONDON (AFP) - Holders Chelsea set out on the first steps towards a defence of their FA Cup crown with a home tie against Championship side Watford, finalists in 1984, in the third round draw made on Sunday.

West Ham will host London rivals Arsenal, who last lifted the trophy in 2005 and have not picked up any silverware since, in one of three all Premier League fixtures.

The other two top-flight affairs see Aston Villa host Blackburn and Hull travel to Wigan.

Everton, the side Chelsea beat under then interim coach Guus Hiddink in last season's final, welcome League One side Carlisle to Goodison Park.

The Toffees' Merseyside rivals, seven-time winners Liverpool, were drawn against second-tier Reading.

Non-league Kettering could be set for a dream trip to Old Trafford to face 11 time winners Manchester United should they manage to negotiate their second round replay with Leeds.

Either Oxford or Barrow will definitely get the chance to claim a Premier League scalp, with the winner of their replay set for a trip to Sunderland's Stadium of Light, while York, from the semi-professional ranks of the Blue Square Premier league (the fifth division) travel to Stoke.

Another non-league side, Staines Town, who forced a replay with 2004 finalists Millwall at Wheatsheaf Park, have the incentive of a home tie with Derby.

The 2008 winners Portsmouth have been drawn at home against Coventry.

Of the remaining Premier League clubs Manchester City will return to Middlesbrough's Riverside Stadium, Tottenham host Peterborough, Bolton are at home to Lincoln, Fulham face Swindon, Wolves will meet either Tranmere or Aldershot and Birmingham are away to Nottingham Forest.

Blatter breaks silence to reveal Henry support

PARIS (AFP) - FIFA president Sepp Blatter has revealed that he telephoned France captain Thierry Henry to offer him support over his controversial handball in the World Cup play-off win over Ireland.

"I called Thierry, because he tried to get in touch with me," Blatter said, as reported in Sunday's edition of the L'Equipe sport newspaper.

"He was honest by admitting that he did use his hand, but it wasn't his responsibility to tell the referee.

"When I was a centre forward in my junior team, I definitely gained an advantage by pulling a defender's jersey in order to score a goal. And I didn't go and see the referee to tell him about it."

The FIFA chief had previously refused to comment on the incident, prompting criticism from Football Association of Ireland (FAI) chief executive John Delaney.

Blatter added: "In the specific case of the Henry handball, the referee (Martin Hansson) should have taken the time to reflect rather than immediately awarding the goal."

France's play-off with Ireland was poised at 1-1 on aggregate in the second leg in Paris when Henry controlled the ball with his hand before teeing up William Gallas for the decisive goal, sparking furious protests from the Irish players that were taken up by the Irish government.

Henry's international colleague Karim Benzema also spoke out in defence of his under-fire team-mate.

"I don't think he's a cheat. We mustn't forget everything that he's done for the France team," Benzema said on the TF1 football programme Telefoot broadcast on Sunday morning.

Asked if he realised that Henry had handled the ball in the build-up to Gallas's goal, the Real Madrid striker replied: "No, I didn't know."

"You know, you don't know (how you would react in that situation), it happens quickly," he added.

Henry and Benzema will be on opposing sides in the first 'El Clasico' of the Spanish season on Sunday evening, when Benzema travels to face Barcelona with Real Madrid.

PSG blow as Coupet ruled out for three months

PARIS (AFP) - Paris Saint Germain goalkeeper Gregory Coupet will be out of action for at least three months after undergoing surgery late Saturday on his broken left ankle, the French first division club said Sunday.

The 36-year-old picked up the injury during Saturday's 1-0 win over tabletoppers Auxerre and club doctor Eric Rolland noted that Coupet was lucky not to have done worse damage to his leg.

Coupet's leg buckled underneath him after he caught his studs in the turf while making an 82nd-minute clearance.

The goalie arrived this summer for two seasons and is expected to be replaced by Armenian-Cameroonian Edel who stepped in on Saturday.

The injury is another blow for the former Lyon stalwart and France intern

Bordeaux back on top of French pile

PARIS (AFP) - Bordeaux marched two points clear of the chasing pack in the French league on Sunday with a 3-0 win at modest Nancy to end a sticky run of two straight domestic losses.

Although Laurent Blanc's Girondins have dominated their Champions League group at the expense of Juventus and Bayern Munich they had slipped up in their last league outings at Lille and against Valenciennes to leave the field clear to Auxerre.

But Auxerre's 1-0 loss Saturday at Paris Saint Germain gave the southwesterners the chance to move back to the summit and they did not let the chance slip, with Brazilian pair Fernando and Wendel and Gouffran all hitting the target at the Stade Marcel Picot.

Blanc was well satisfied after his side took their points tally to 28 from 14 games with Auxerre on 26, surprise package Lorient on 25 and Lyon - in action in the late match at home to Rennes on 25.

"I think my players realised their performances in the past four matches were not those of a side seeking to place in the top three but rather the bottom three," said the former France defender.

"We realised this could not continue, rediscovered our motivation, and our mobility to put our rivals under pressure. We produced a lot of dangerous situations, created a lot and were solid at the back.

"We have realised we must now put the Champions League to bed until February-March and concentrate on the important thing, which is being able to play in it next season."

Coming off a midweek win over Juventus and already through to the knockout phase in Europe, Bordeaux were further cheered by Lorient dropping two points in a 2-2 draw with winless tailenders Grenoble.

Bordeaux had not scored a win over Nancy since the latter's return to the top flight two seasons ago but after losing three of their last four encounters against the northerners they turned the tables and left their hosts hovering dangerously close to the drop zone.

Even more satisfying for Blanc would have been a win achieved at cruise control in the absence of French international playmaker Yoann Gourcuff, still getting over a groin strain.

Blanc, a disciple of rotation most weeks, thus kept faith with the side which proved too strong for Juve.

"That's the only thing we hadn't tried," said Blanc in allusion to picking the same side for consecutive matches.

"So we did!"

Gouffran set up Fernando to bag the opener on 24 minutes and on the hour Wendel slalomed through the home defensive lines to make it 2-0.

Gouffran sealed the issue with a shot on the turn 15 minutes from the whistle.

Also Sunday, Le Mans and St Etienne parted 1-1 to leave Les Verts just outside the drop zone with a five-point cushion over their opponents.

On Saturday, an injury-time goal by Brazilian striker Eduardo earned Lens a 1-0 victory at home to Marseille on Saturday that prevented Didier Deschamps' inconsistent side from moving to within a point of top spot.

Auxerre's loss at PSG following Jeremy Clement's fine second-half header - but the win was marred after the Parisians' goalkeeper Gregory Coupet sustained a serious leg injury whiuch could keep him out for most of the rest of the season.

Former Lyon keeper Coupet's left leg buckled underneath him after he caught his studs in the turf while making an 82nd-minute clearance and the former France international was stretchered off.

Coach Antoine Kombouare said he was unlikely to play again this season.

"It's definitely a fracture of the left leg," Kombouare said.

"He went straight to hospital and we'll know more about how serious it is on Sunday. He'll be unavailable for a long time and it will be very complicated (to get him back before the end of the season)."

The end of Auxerre's seven-game winning streak irked coach Jean Fernandez.

"We're disappointed that our run has come to an end," said Fernandez. "We weren't up to speed in the first half and Paris put us under a lot of pressure in the second."

Barca edge past Real in 'El Clasico'

Zlatan Ibrahimovic's superb second-half volley was enough to give Barcelona a 1-0 victory over fierce rivals Real Madrid in the Primera Division's first 'El Clasico' of the season at the Nou Camp and move the Catalans back to the top of the table.

Ibrahimovic replaced Thierry Henry early in the second half and fired Barca in front less than five minutes later as he volleyed home Dani Alves' cross.

Barcelona were reduced to 10 men with almost half an hour left, when Sergio Busquets was sent off for a second bookable offence.

But Madrid, who had earlier missed a fantastic chance to take the lead when the unmarked Cristiano Ronaldo - in his first ever 'Clasico' - shot straight at Victor Valdes with only the Barca keeper to beat, failed to take advantage and themselves had Lassana Diarra dismissed late on.

Ronaldo went off with 25 minutes left and Barca should have made things easier with two minutes to go, when Lionel Messi found himself alone with only Iker Casillas to beat, but the Argentina winger shot straight at the Madrid keeper, who deflected the ball over with his feet.

Barca looked the more fluid of the two sides early on, but Madrid proved to be just as dangerous on the break.

Marcelo and Xavi both blasted over the bar in the opening 10 minutes as both sides began brightly.

Casillas had to be alert to gather Thierry Henry's cross after a trademark Messi run and the Madrid keeper also intercepted well moments later as Iniesta tried to set up Xavi.

Barca were edging it on possession and play, but Madrid had the best chance of the half after 19 minutes.

It fell to Ronaldo and the former Manchester United forward should have scored after he was brilliantly set up by Kaka, but his shot was too close to Valdes and the Barca keeper made a smart save.

Marcelo then got into a great position eight minutes later, but Carles Puyol intercepted the Brazilian's shot with a perfectly-timed block.

At the other, Casillas did well to cut out Iniesta's low cross as half-time approached and the Spain keeper also pushed Henry's cross-shot over the bar moments later.

With the score still goalless, the rather ineffective Henry was replaced by Ibrahimovic six minutes into the second half.

And the Sweden striker was quickly involved in the build-up as Xavi found a great position in the box, but the Spain midfielder hesitated and saw his effort deflected wide for a corner.

From the resulting centre, Madrid raced forward and Gonzalo Higuain looked certain to score after turning Eric Abidal in the area, but Puyol once again appeared from nowhere with another majestic block.

Madrid were certainly having their chances, but Manuel Pellegrini's side soon found themselves behind when Ibrahimovic smashed home Alves' looping cross with a thumping left-footed volley at the far post which gave Casillas no chance.

Barca's joy turned somewhat sour six minutes later, though, when Busquets - who had already been booked - was shown the red card for a cynical handball.

Ronaldo then headed just over the bar from Marcelo's cross as Madrid immediately threatened to draw level.

But the Portugal winger, perhaps feeling the effects of his recent injury, departed straight after that.

His replacement, Karim Benzema, was quickly involved.

The France striker saw one effort blocked by the impressive Puyol and then flashed another wide moments later as Madrid looked for a way back into the game.

Raul also came on as Pellegrini rolled the dice once more in an attempt to make the most of his side's numerical advantage.

But Barca still looked dangerous on the break and Abidal drilled an angled drive just wide of Casillas' far post with 14 minutes left.

And Guardiola's side should have made sure of the points with two minutes left, but Messi shot straight at Casillas from point-blank range.

Diarra was then dismissed a minute later for scything down Xavi as frustration got to Madrid, who are now two points behind leaders Barca.

Early bird Bowyer deepens Wolves woe

WOLVERHAMPTON, England (AFP) - Alex McLeish paid tribute to veteran Premier League midfielder Lee Bowyer for his match-winning role in an important victory over local rivals Wolves that keeps Birmingham City on course for top flight survival.

Bowyer, a free signing from West Ham in the summer after he spent the second half of last season helping City win promotion from the Championship, claimed the game's only goal with a superb finish after just three minutes.

McLeish paid tribute to the role played by the club's former owner David Sullivan in the signing and clearly feels that after the 32-year-old's career appeared to be in terminal decline due to injuries and controversies on and off the field, Bowyer still has an important role to play in keeping his club in the top division.

"Bowyer's goal was amazing," said McLeish. "There were a few people who criticised signing him last season.

"A lot of people were suggesting that his legs had gone. But he is answering that. He has five goals already and he is like the Bowyer of old. He has matured and he controls himself much better these days. His goals are a bonus.

"(Former owner) David Sullivan was always obsessed with midfield players scoring goals. Whenever I mentioned anyone to him he would always ask about the number of goals they score. Bowyer gets goals. We thought he would be good for us in the Championship, but he is getting back to his days when he was at Leeds.

"Five goals is an unbelievable return at this stage. But I never had any doubt about him like others did. I did my due diligence and knew that he is the right type. The biggest concern about players when they get older is do they still have the legs and he still has the legs.

"David Sullivan trusted me and we got it right. To get him on a free transfer was a great bit of business."

Bowyer's goal means that Birmingham have won three of their last five games, a run which also includes draws against Manchester City and Liverpool, and the victory, against a dishevelled Wolves side, was far easier than the scoreline suggested.

"It was not painless for me watching, it even looked painless for the players out there," claimed McLeish. "But I thought it was a terrific performance. It was a fantastic performance from all the players. We were awesome from start to finish. We passed it well. We showed great composure and our defending was magnificent.

Wolves manager Mick McCarthy, meanwhile, has now seen his team play eight Premier League games without a victory but, after four-goal defeats by Chelsea and Arsenal in successive games, this was a far more worrying result for the former Ireland manager.

"It is a hugely disappointing experience. It was certainly not the way I was intending it," he said. "I never expected us to play as poorly as that in the first half. We did not compete like we normally do.

"Today is worrying. I am not worried about losing to Arsenal and Chelsea. That was expected. But we were playing Birmingham at home and we were expecting to win and we did not.

"Birmingham deserved their win. They were better than us. We did not start the game very well and it was hard after that. It was about character after that and it was hard.

"I can't lay the defeat at the door of losing to Chelsea. Getting beaten by Chelsea is not the issue. We are at home against Birmingham and we needed a performance and we did not get one.

"Losing 1-0 at home to Birmingham is always hard to take and bound to give me some discomfort - whether we have been brilliant or not."

Wolves now face a home game with fellow strugglers Bolton on Saturday that could define both clubs' seasons.

Reina "one of the best in the world" says Benitez

LIVERPOOL, England (AFP) - Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez labelled Jose Reina "one of the best keepers in the world" after the Spain international inspired his side to victory in the Merseyside derby.

With Liverpool leading 1-0, Reina produced a stunning stop to claw away Tim Cahill's header before denying Marouane Fellaini with the follow up.

It was a key moment in the game, Kuyt going on to double his side's lead soon afterwards, as Liverpool bounced back from their premature exit from the Champions League.

"We have seen that he is a top class keeper," said Benitez, after his side climbed into fifth spot in the table.

"When we signed him we knew that we were getting a very good keeper. For me he is one of the best in the world."

Dirk Kuyt also praised Reina as Liverpool recorded their first clean sheet victory away from home in the Premier League since last season.

"He is one of the best in the world," said the Holland international. "He really helped us out today."

When Liverpool beat Manchester United last month, Liverpool followed it up with a double defeat in London. After crashing out of the Carling Cup at Arsenal, Benitez's side then lost at Fulham.

Benitez is now urging his players to learn from that and use their latest victory as a springboard to kick on.

"It's always important win games in a row," added Benitez.

"We have some days to go before we go to Blackburn so we will prepare like we always do.

"This was a really important win for us because this was always going to be a difficult game.

"We are higher in the table now, everyone is happier and we'll see if we can go on from here."

Everton manager David Moyes thought his side deserved more from the game.

Diniyar Bilyaletdinov spurned a glorious chance to make it 1-1 in the first half before Reina's heroics in the second half.

Everton are just three points above the relegation zone after their third straight Premier League defeat.

"My players worked extremely hard and deserved more than they got," said Moyes, whose side visit Greece to face AEK Athens in the Europa League on Wednesday.

"Liverpool had one chance in the first half and in the main we kept them quiet."

Liverpool triumph relieves pressure on Benitez

LIVERPOOL (AFP) - Liverpool bounced back from their premature Champions League exit to beat neighbours Everton 2-0 on Sunday, a result which relieved some of the pressure that has been building on manager Rafa Benitez.

Javier Mascherano's long range 12th minute effort, which took a heavy deflection off defender Joseph Yobo, set Liverpool on their way before Dirk Kuyt sealed victory 11 minutes from time.

It was enough to put a smile back on the face of Benitez, who has come under pressure since the five-times European champions were eliminated from the group stages of the Champions League in midweek.

The win lifted Liverpool into the top five while problems continue to mount for Everton, who were the better side for long periods.

Having won just once in 11 games, David Moyes's strugglers are three points above the relegation zone.

Benitez had demanded an aggressive, high-tempo start from his players and he got one as his side took control inside the opening quarter-of-an-hour - thanks to a huge slice of fortune.

Liverpool have found themselves out of luck on the injury front this term while they were undone at Sunderland last month by a beachball, Darren Bent's effort deceiving keeper Jose Reina after hitting an inflatable object as Benitez's side lost 1-0 on Wearside.

But this time Liverpool profited from a stroke of good fortune in the 12th minute as Mascherano, one goal in his previous 71 Premier League outings for the club, attempted to find the target from 25-yards.

The south American is not renowned for his accuracy from distance and his shot was drifting well wide before taking a heavy deflection off Yobo and finding the net with Tim Howard rooted to his line.

Mascherano celebrated as though he had scored the winning goal for Argentina in the World Cup final yet the Premier League's dubious goals panel is almost certain to award to as an own goal.

It was just the start Everton, their confidence fragile following a run of one win in 10 outings, did not want.

History was against Moyes, who had tasted success just twice over Benitez on the Premier League stage in five years.

Yet despite missing key players Phil Jagielka, Phil Neville and Mikel Arteta due to long-term injuries, and Louis Saha, scorer of 10 goals this season, unable to start because he is not fully fit, Everton refused to feel sorry for themselves.

They went on to carve out a string of chances without managing to hurt Liverpool before half time.

Diniyar Bilyaletdinov, playing in his first Merseyside derby, spurned the best chance, the Russian screwing a shot horribly wide from the edge of the six-yard area after the Liverpool defence fell asleep.

Jo, spearheading the attack on his own in place of Saha, twice had the ball in the back of the net but both efforts were ruled out for offside.

Liverpool, again missing the razor sharp reactions of Fernando Torres in attack, seemed content to soak up spells of Everton pressure in an error-strewn match which summed up why both teams are not firing on all cylinders.

Yet it required a superbly saved by Howard to ensure Liverpool did not double their lead in the closing moments of the half.

Johnson was once again as impressive going forward as he was in defence, and it was the England full-back's pinpoint cross into the area which allowed Emiliano Insua to power a header towards goal which Howard did well to claw away.

The second half saw Everton continue to press, the impressive Steven Pienaar coming close to embarrassing Jose Reina with a long range effort which the Liverpool keeper failed to hold in the driving rain.

But Reina quickly redeemed himself with a double save to deny Tim Cahill and Marouane Fellaini 20 minutes from time.

Having kept out Cahill's close range header, the Spanish international quickly picked himself up to block Fellaini's effort from point-blank range.

But Liverpool sealed victory in the 79th minute through Kuyt, the Holland international scoring from close range after Howard had pushed an effort by substitute Albert Riera into his path.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Blackburn home run grinds to a halt

BLACKBURN, England (AFP) - A typically gritty display from Stoke denied Blackburn a fifth straight home win as an uninspiring encounter ended goalless.

With Blackburn boss Sam Allardyce absent following minor heart surgery, his players failed to deliver the kind of tonic he would have desired. Stoke enjoyed the better of the chances although it was the home side who went closest to scoring with Steven Nzonzi striking the woodwork.

Australian midfielder Brett Emerton and French duo Gael Givet and Nzonzi returned to the Blackburn line-up after missing the midweek defeat at Fulham.

Stoke made two changes to the side that beat Portsmouth on their last outing, with Liam Lawrence and Mamady Sidibe replacing Rory Delap and James Beattie.

Blackburn started confidently, with on-loan Chelsea striker Franco Di Santo testing Thomas Sorensen early on with a shot the Danish goalkeeper did well to save.

But Stoke should have claimed the lead midway through the opening period after Ricardo Fuller sent Dean Whitehead clear.

The striker's shot was under-powered and Paul Robinson was able to turn it away relatively comfortably.

Blackburn suffered a blow in the 32nd minute when David Dunn, who has scored six goals for Blackburn this season, had to go off, prompting a tactical reshuffle which saw Jason Roberts come on as a second striker alongside Di Santo.

Stoke were happy to play on the counter-attack and that approach generated a great chance to take the lead six minutes before the break, when Robinson pulled off a fine save to deny Lawrence at close range as the midfielder attempted to finish off Sidibe's inviting cross from the right.

Eight minutes into the second half, Andy Wilkinson struck the side netting after getting past Givet.

That seemed to provoke a reaction from the home side and Sorensen had to be alert to keep out an overhead kick from Rovers captain Ryan Nelsen before Nzonzi beat the goalkeeper with a drive that came back off the post.

Chris Samba had the chance to snatch all three points in injury time but the Blackburn centreback headed substitute Morten Gamst Pedersen's cross wide.

Mertesacker late show sends Werder top

BERLIN (AFP) - A last-gasp equaliser from Germany international Per Mertesacker just preserved Werder Bremen's leadership of the Bundesliga in securing a 2-2 home draw Saturday against reigning champions Wolfsburg.

Bosnian sharpshooter Edin Dzeko had opened the scoring three minutes before the break to end a five-game personal barren run in front of goal for Wolsfburg, who began the game five points adrift of their rivals just outside the top five.

Portuguese star Hugo Almeida levelled on the hour but Dzeko's second five minutes from time looked to have settled it for the visitors until Mertesacker struck in injury time with a header from a corner to presevre their 20-match unbeaten sequence.

Bayer Leverkusen will still go to the summit if they avoid defeat Sunday against Stuttgart as they and Werder both have 27 points.

But so tight is the situation at the top that Schalke, with 25 points, could muscle in if they beat Borussia Moenchengladbach later Saturday.

On Sunday, struggling Bayern Munich, currently just eighth in the table after only five wins in 13 league games, travel to midtable Hanover badly needing a win which would take them towards the top five - though they will have to achievce it without injured pair Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben.

Hamburg stayed fourth but only just a point ahead of Hoffenheim after a disappointing 1-1 home draw with Mainz.

Already missing star man Ze Roberto, Hamburg then also saw Dutchman Eljiro Elia pick up an injury.

Hoffenheim were unable to take advantage of Hamburg as they fell 2-1 at home to Dortmund.

At the other end of the table Hertha Berlin look a solid bet for the drop after a 3-1 home loss to Eintracht Frankfurt brought their 11th defeat of the campaign to leave the capital club seven points from safety.

Late Valero penalty frustrates Valencia

MADRID (AFP) - Valencia failed to put pressure on Barcelona and Real Madrid at the summit of the Spanish first division falling victim to a late penalty equaliser in a 1-1 home draw with Real Mallorca on Saturday.

Spanish international striker David Villa went into double figures for the season scoring for the third successive game on 48 minutes but Borja Valero equalised five minutes from time with a penalty to prevent a fifth successive win for Valencia.

If they had won Valencia would have been a point behind Real, who face Barcelona in 'El Clasico' at Camp Nou on Sunday, but Bruno Grau's unnecessary foul gave away the penalty and Valencia stay fourth level on points with Sevilla.

Another blow for Valencia was an injury to key Spanish international midfielder David Silva, who hobbled off in the 27th minute with a problem in his right knee.

It was a good late point for Mallorca, who stay sixth despite not managing to win a single away match this season.

Later on Saturday, Sevilla have the chance to move level on points with Real if they can secure three points at home to bottom side Malaga.

Malaga have not won in their last ten league matches but hold the Indian sign over Sevilla, who have not beaten them at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan since 2005/2006.

Real lead champions Barca by a single point at the summit but lost both Clasicos last season including a 6-2 mauling at home as Barca marched to the title.

"Those players who are ambitious must always believe they are favorites to win," said Real's Cristiano Ronaldo. "We have great respect for our opponent but we shouldn't be afraid of them."

Ronaldo is back from injury after two months out to boost Real while Barca sweat on Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Lionel Messi, who both have thigh strains and missed the 2-0 Champions League win over Inter Milan on Tuesday.

"We will see how they (Messi and Ibrahimovic) are on Sunday. I will talk with the doctors and make a decision," revealed Barca coach Pep Guardiola. "It is not a coincidence that Real Madrid are leaders but we can beat them with or without Messi."

In other matches, goalkeeper Diego Lopez was left a frustrated figure with his two penalty saves still not enough to help 10-man Villarreal end their away blues as they lost 1-0 at Sporting Gijon on Saturday.

Substitute Mate Bilic struck the winning goal on 75 minutes after Spanish international Lopez had parried Alberto Rivera's initial spot-kick and Lopez saved another penalty from Bilic on 88 minutes, but it was to no avail.

Villarreal have yet to win on their travels this season and lie in mid-table far away from their goal of Champions League football while Sporting are a respectable seventh.

"We are disappointed but we have to forget this quickly because we have a very important game against Levski Sofia (in the Europa League on Thursday) and have to go into it in the best frame of mind possible," explained Villarreal coach Ernesto Valverde.

Wigan recover pride

WIGAN, England (AFP) - Wigan bounced back from their 9-1 hammering by Tottenham with a 1-0 win over former manager Steve Bruce's Sunderland.

A 75th-minute strike by Colombian striker Hugo Rodallega was enough to secure the points against opponents who had beaten Arsenal on their last outing but were distinctly lacklustre here.

Bruce's men rarely looked like scoring and it fell to Rodallega, a player signed by Bruce during his time in Lancashire, to settle the contest after Jason Scotland had seen a first-half effort strike the woodwork.

The winner owed much to some poor defending by Paulo da Silva, who slithered to the turf as Rodallega went past him before beating Marton Fulop with a left-footed shot from an acute angle.

The Colombian should have made the points safe eight minutes later but fired straight at Fulop when he had only the Sunderland goalkeeper to beat.

Wigan held out, however, to record their first clean sheet since September 12 and there was no disputing that Roberto Martinez's side deserved the points.

Rodallega, who diverted a Charles N'Zogbia's cross into the side-netting, and Paul Scharner, who tested Fulop with a low drive, both had early chances as Wigan started in spirited fashion.

And the home side were unlucky not to go ahead when N'Zogbia dispossessed da Silva on the right of the penalty area and crossed for Scotland to hit a first-time shot which beat Fulop but rebounded back off the post.

Fulop then produced a fine finger-tip save to keep the game goalless after defender Chris Turner had deflected Rodallega's inswinging free-kick towards his own goal.

Sunderland were brighter immediately after the interval with Andy Reid going close with a shot tht dipped just over and Bent heading wide from a good position at the back post.

But Wigan reasserted themselves and Titus Bramble should have put them ahead from a cross by substitute Jordi Gomez, the centreback heading straight at Fulop.

Rodallega forced Fulop into another save and fired wide from N'Zogbia's lay-off before the Colombian finally claimed the winner the Wigan fans craved.

Rooney ruins Grant´s big day

PORTSMOUTH, England (AFP) - Wayne Rooney's first Manchester United hat-trick in three years inspired the champions to a 4-1 win over Portsmouth and reduced Chelsea's lead at the top of the Premier League to two points.

Rooney, whose last treble in a red shirt was during a 4-0 win at Bolton in October 2006, converted two penalties either side of a fine finish from a Ryan Giggs pass as United ensured Avram Grant's first match in charge of Pompey ended in defeat.

Giggs, in yet another masterful display a day shy of his 36th birthday, completed the punishment with a late free-kick for his 100th Premier League goal.

Ferguson made eight changes from the side which suffered a shock midweek Champions League defeat to Besiktas, among which, was the forced inclusion of Tomasz Kuszczak for his first Premier League start of the season as Edwin Van der Sar was unable to travel.

An early Rooney foray down the left-hand side caught Younes Kaboul off-balance but the French defender did enough to put him off his stride as he progressed toward the by-line.

United continued to stretch the home defence and a corner by Giggs was rolled into Paul Scholes on the edge of the penalty area but the midfielder's first-time drive was placed a yard over Asmir Begovic?s crossbar.

Moments later, Portsmouth nearly stole the lead as Jamie O?Hara and Boateng combined to feed Aruna Dindane but the Ivorian's scrambled effort was kept away by the outstretched frame of Kuszczak.

Portsmouth continued to flourish and a long ball floated forward on 15 minutes was controlled by O'Hara before the on-loan Tottenham midfielder forced Kuszczak into an acrobatic save.

With both sides pressing forward in an entertaining opening it was United who grabbed the lead. Rooney played a one-two with Antonio Valencia and as the United striker moved away from goal found his heel clipped by Michael Brown.

There was a degree of protest from the Portsmouth players on the legitimacy of Mike Dean's decision but Rooney converted the penalty high above Asmir Begovic's right-hand.

If there was some debate about United's penalty, the whole of Fratton Park stood in bemusement as the home side were awarded their own spot-kick eight minutes later, assistant Simon Beck having apparently caught Nemanja Vidic tugging Frederic Piquionne?s shirt as he challenged Kuszczak.

The decision looked harsh but Kevin-Prince Boateng, who missed from 12 yards last week against Stoke, drove the penalty under Kuszczak?s right arm and the contest was all square.

Portsmouth could even have found themselves in-front going in at half-time, Dindane having connected with Boateng's cross only to place his header wide.

Such wastefulness tends not to go unpunished by United and just two minutes into the second half Valencia's measured pass found Giggs in behind Marc Wilson. The Welsh winger in turn picked out Rooney, who converted from eight yards out.

The three points were secured six minutes later as Giggs and Piquionne battled on the by-line. The Frenchman looked in control but allowed Giggs to steal the ball and then compounded his initial error by tripping the United player.

Rooney made sure driving low to Begovic's left and soon the Premier League champions were threatening a rout. Valencia?s pace took him through a gaping hole in the Portsmouth defence and the Ecuadorian was inches wide with his shot.

Begovic was then forced to dive low to his near post to keep out a Giggs drive but the veteran was not to be denied and there was little Pompey's Bosnian goalkeeper could do about the 20-yard free-kick he swung into the corner with three minutes left.

OM consider appealing ban

Ligue 1 giants Olympique Marseille are considering an after being hit with a one-match stadium ban by the Ligue de Football Professionnel Disciplinary Commission.

The LFP has handed down the ban after reviewing Marseille's game with Monaco on October 4, when fans used flares and threw missiles.

The commission cited previous offences by Marseille fans when choosing to impose a ban rather than another fine.

But that brought an angry response from OM director Antoine Veyrat.

"We are disappointed and bitter," he said.

"We're now waiting for notification of the exact nature of the sanction.

"Of course, the club will use all legal means at our disposal to show what action we have taken and our good faith in this affair."

Marseille could also be facing further action with the behaviour of their fans in the match against Paris Saint Germaine last weekend also now under review.

Painful memories drive Real on for Barca showdown

MADRID (AFP) - Real Madrid have the formidable attacking threat of Cristiano Ronaldo back in their armory at the perfect time as they travel to Camp Nou on Sunday for the eagerly-anticipated 'El Clasico' against champions Barcelona.

Real hold a one-point lead over Barcelona at the top but need no reminder of the quality of their opponents after losing the last Clasico 6-2 at the Santiago Bernabeu back in May when Lionel Messi tore them to shreds.

Messi is a doubt for this game with a thigh strain picked up last Saturday and did not play in Tuesday's 2-0 Champions League win over Inter Milan although he was on the substitutes' bench along with Zlatan Ibrahimovic who also has a thigh problem.

Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola says he is optimistic over Messi but must decide whether to risk the star from the start or leave him on the bench while his opposite number Manuel Pellegrini has a similar dilemma over Ronaldo who played for the first time in two months with a 20-minute outing in the 1-0 Champions League win over FC Zurich.

Ronaldo had missed ten games with ankle trouble but declared himself fit for his first Clasico against the team who left him in tears at the end of last season by beating his then Manchester United side in the Champions League final.

"I want to play in El Clasico if I feel good, although that is the responsibility of the coach," said Ronaldo. "I didn't score (against Zurich) but I hope to do so in the next game (against Barcelona). It doesn't bother me if it's 1-0, 2-0 or 2-1, the important thing is to win."

Real lost both games against their foes last season falling 12 points behind Barcelona after the first Clasico in mid-December before the disastrous 6-2 loss which all but wrapped up the title for Barca.

"If I had lost 6-2 in the last match against a big rival I would be going out for revenge but Madrid aren't like that," said Barcelona defender Dani Alves. "I think they will come full of respect. They know it is difficult to play here even more so having lost that way last time."

Real have not thrilled their fans too much this season but have amassed 28 points out of a possible 33 to make their best start in 17 years.

"Of course they are the leaders why wouldn't they be after spending 270 million euros?" said Guardiola.

Money has bought Real the talent of Brazilian Kaka, Spain playmaker Xabi Alonso and Ronaldo who will all be ready for their first Clasico experience, while Barcelona have a host of homegrown players such as Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique who have grown up with Real as the enemy.

While the Clasico takes centre stage in Spain this weekend the teams below the top two concentrate on trying to prove they are genuine title alternatives.

Valencia are one such team, lying four points behind leaders Real, and host Real Mallorca on Saturday targeting a fifth straight league win.

"For us the best thing in the Clasico would be a draw so both teams drop two points," said Valencia forward David Villa. "It does not make sense for us to talk about being title contenders in November."

Villa has scored nine goals already this season to top the goal-scoring charts and could have been playing in the Real-Barcelona game had Valencia not stood so firm in the summer when both teams wanted his services.

Sevilla lie three points behind Real in third and should get the three points at home to bottom side Malaga on Saturday and then see which of the top two, if not both, drops points.

"If we want to be competing for the league we can't slip up at home," said defender Manuel Lolo. "At least one of the big two (Barcelona and Real) will drop points and we need to make it count."

Atletico began the season with hopes of a title charge but have had their worst since 1954 with seven points from the first 11 matches leaving them third from bottom.

New coach Quique Sanchez Flores seeks his first league win in charge at home to Espanyol on Sunday to try and ease fears the club could suffer a shock relegation like in 2000.

Ben Arfa not going anywhere

Olympique Marseille's sporting director Jose Anigo insists that playmaker Hatem Ben Arfa still has a future at the club, following his falling out with L'OM manager Didier Deschamps at the Stade Velodrome.

And that's not all as 22-year-old has been involved in a number of training ground bust-ups since his move from Lyon last year.

But Anigo revealed that despite ongoing speculation regarding a move away, the Frenchman could continue at the club beyond the end of the season.

"He got a big slap with our talk after the incident with coach Deschamps," he told radio station RMC.

"Now he is working better during training sessions. He is far from leaving yet.

"But on the other hand, he has to show development."

L'OM officials had a meeting with Ben Arfa on Monday to discuss the player's future and many still expect the left-sided player to move in January.

But Ben Arfa's agent Michel Ouazine said that no decision had been made.

"We agreed to meet again in January and take stock," he told L'Equipe.

"We talked a lot about Hatem the football player, but also about the man. He needs emotional stability to blossom.

"We are on the same wavelength with sport director Jose Anigo."

Resurgent Milan keen on Sicilian conquest

Serie A giants Associazione Calcio Milan FC travel to Sicily in search of a consecutive fourth league success when they take on a struggling Catania side at the Stadio Angelo Massimino.

The Rossoneri, who had a bad start to the season, lie third in the standings and will look to break into the top two, thereby increasing pressure on city-rivals and leaders Internazionale Milano FC.

However, Leonardo's expansive attacking style could be affected by the absence of the suspended Andrea Pirlo, but the coach is confident that others can fill in.

"We go to Catania with Pirlo disqualified, but our idea of the game will always remain the same," he said.

"Even those who do not play often are able to understand our system."

While Pirlo serves a one-game ban, Alessandro Nesta returns.

Gennaro Gattuso, subject of transfer speculation in the past week, should not be too much of a distraction as he takes his place among the injured players in the stands, joined there by Massimo Oddo, Oguchi Onyewu and Marek Jankulovski.

Ignazio Abate could come in at right back, while Mathieu Flamini is fit again.

The 1-1 draw with Marseille in midweek means that Milan have eased the pressure on themselves considerably, with their Champions League fate in their own hands as they take on FC Zurich next week.

Marco Borriello came up with the goal, adding to the run of impressive form that has seen him bag three in seven league games.

Catania are without a win in their last five games, but spirits were boosted by the creditable 1-1 draw in the derby at Palermo last time out.

"The draw against Palermo was a very good result," said defender Matias Silvestre.

"If we continue on this road, sooner or later the results will come. Now we have Milan, a great team, but we're looking for revenge."

Silvestre's defensive colleague Giuseppe Bellusci warned the game may not be pretty.

"Considering how we played in Palermo, one point isn't much," he said. "Starting from the match against Milan, for us it becomes important to earn points rather than playing well."

It is no mystery as to why the premium is put on points. Catania sit 19th in the table, three points from safety having won only once all season.

A match against Milan is just the latest installment of a tough early fixture list, which has already seen them travel to Inter and Fiorentina as well as taking on Roma, Udinese and Lazio, among others.

However, such factors do not ease the pressure on coach Gianluca Atzori, who needs to pick up some points and fast.

His cause will not be helped by the absence of Gennaro Delvecchio, Pablo Barrientos, Fabio Sciacca and Giovanni Marchese.

Ferguson: Noise is the barrier and not pitch ban

Sir Alex Ferguson has claimed the Fratton Park band will prove more of an interference than the start of his two-match touchline ban.

However, the FA has confirmed he would not be barred from communicating with his staff from the Portsmouth directors' box. The purpose of the ban is merely to prevent Ferguson from coming into contact with the match officials during the course of the game.

It's the first of two matches in which Ferguson will have to sit in the stands after he was punished for criticising referee Alan Wiley's fitness earlier this season, and he admits the famous Pompey Chimes have the potential to make the outspoken Manchester United boss unheard - a rare feat indeed this season.

Ferguson insists he has few concerns about the impact his punishment will have on his team.

"All the lines of communication are in place but the problem you have got is that Fratton Park is such a noisy place,'' Ferguson said.

“It’s one of these old stadiums – it's a bit rickety. The directors' box is towards the home end where all the noise comes from. It is a good racket for sure. It is a terrific football stadium.''

United may find themselves languishing five points behind Chelsea in the Premier League title race, but Sir Alex Ferguson can take solace in the fact that a win against Portsmouth on Saturday would make his side the first in English football history to record 2,000 league wins since 1892.

Ferguson has also reportedly given his backing to Pompey’s new manager Avram Grant, believing him to be the man to save the club from relegation. Talking about Grant's new role in trying to re-establish Portsmouth as some kind of Premier League force, Ferguson said:

"Portsmouth have some very good players. I have looked at their videos and they may be in a false position. But being bottom of the league does create a reaction from owners and management of a club.”

"If you are third or fourth bottom you think everything will be okay. But when you see your team going bottom it creates a dread about where they are going to be next season.''

Film With Rare Khmer Rouge Interviews Opens

A documentary film that uses rare interviews with Khmer Rouge leaders and foot soldiers to demonstrate the regime’s chain of command is screening in Amsterdam this week.

The 94-minute “Enemies of the People” includes testimony from the regime’s ideologue, Nuon Chea, who was silent on his role within the Khmer Rouge for 30 years and is now in detention awaiting an atrocity crimes trial at the UN-backed tribunal.

“For the first time, you can see the chain of command that went up and down the Communist Party of Kampuchea, the Khmer Rouge party,” one of the film’s producers, Rob Limkin, told VOA Khmer by phone.

Thai PM cancels trip to Thaksin stronghold on security fears

Thailand's prime minister announced Thursday that he had cancelled a visit to a northern stronghold of his rival, ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra, owing to security concerns.

Abhisit Vejjajiva was set to travel to the northern city of Chiang Mai for a commerce meeting on Sunday, but decided against the trip after receiving death threats, despite initially downplaying the security risk.

The cancellation highlights the political instability faced by Thailand, which has been wracked by rival street protests for months.

Cambodia asks America to cancel debts



The Cambodian Finance Minister, Mr. Keat Chhon, has again asked the U.S government, through its ambassador to Cambodia, to cancel $300 million debts from the 1970s, reports Reaksmei Kampuchea.

The request was made during a meeting between Minister Keat Chhon and Ambassador Carol Rodley (pictured) on Monday 23rd November to discuss about co-operation between the two countries. In the discussion, Ambassador Rodley had requested for an expansion of the American-funded International School of Phnom Penh which is overcrowded. According to sources, the U.S government had provided three tax experts to help the Cambodian government with tax reforms. The first batch of experts had completed their term and, according to the same sources, the second batch of experts will be sent to replaced them soon.

During the discussion, Ambassador Rodley said she would pass on the request of a debt cancellation to the U.S government for considerations and promised to work with the U.S government for a debt relief for Cambodia.

Man who helped Davik turning to heart charity full-time

Peter Chhun, right, and Sin Chhon and her daughter Davik Teng, 9, check out the menu at McDonalds in Long Beach in February 2008. Davik was aided to get life-saving heart surgery by the nonprofit founded by Chhun, Hearts Without Borders (Jeff Gritchen/Press-Telegram)


LONG BEACH - On Dec. 4, Peter Chhun will end a career and begin a life's purpose. He leaves a profession to pursue a passion.

An Emmy Award-winning producer and editor for NBC Network News, Chhun is also the founder of nonprofit Hearts Without Boundaries, which brings destitute children with heart problems from Cambodia to the U.S. for life-saving surgery.

Beginning Friday, the 60-year-old Cambodian refugee, who worked as an NBC cameraman during the country's civil war and escaped before the Khmer Rouge's final conquest, will be able to devote himself full time to his nonprofit's mission of "saving one heart at a time."

Neighbours uneasy with cheaper dong

Vietnam's decision to devalue its currency by 5% this week is likely to have a major impact on neighbouring countries, an expert on the country said.

"It is very attractive destination for investments and now it has just made itself more attractive," noted Wittaya Supatanakul, a retired general manager of Bangkok Bank's Vietnam office and now adviser to the Board of Investment's CLMV (Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam) projects.

Vietnam, one of the main competitors of Thailand, on Wednesday announced that it was devaluing its currency and raising interest rates.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Wanna's Palm Tree Essay

If you haven't read it yet, go read Wanna's short essay on palm trees in Khmer culture which touches on history, symbols, politics, cuisine, conservation, and Wanna's delightful personal memories of palm trees in his home country.

He also includes an excellent set of web references on the topic - which I'm going to save as this could be developed into a mini lesson integrating science and cambodia for Harry or Sara sometime soon.

For long, the Khmer has adopted the thought that "where there're palm trees, where the Khmer territory is."

Can you imagine if Robert Frost grew up in Cambodia? Maybe that famous poem about fences would have started with something like "Palm trees make good neighbors."

The photo above is from my first trip to Cambodia in 2000. We had arrived at Pochentong Airport (now a more modernized Phnom Penh Airport) and drove to the orphange (very near to the airport) to get Harry. I was snapping photos from the car window and was amazed at the palm trees.

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How do Cambodians celebrate their birthdays?



When I was in Cambodia, I was told that most Cambodians don't celebrate their birthdays ... particularly those in rural areas. However, I purchased the above card from a street vendor for Sara's birthday and was told that cards were mostly for foreigners.

I stumbled across Khem Vansinin's blog entry about her birthday party. So, I want to ask again - how do, if at all, Cambodians in Cambodia celebrate their birthdays?

How do you say the word birthday in Cambodia? What customs or songs are sung? Do you have parties?

In the US, we get a cake with candles that we blow out. We might have a party and get presents.

I want to know because it's my birthday today!

Birthday

Phatry's Lucky Week For Meeting Khmer Legends



Phatry Derek Pan has had an incredible week! He met, interviewed, and posted about his experience meeting two Khmer legends, Master Kung Nai and Mr. Vann Nath.

Kung Nai is a master musician of the long-necked guitar, known as the chapey dong veng. I first learned about him from Arn Chourn Pond's project, Cambodian Living Arts, and then the POV Documentary The Flute Player. You can hear a recording of Kung Nai here. Phatry heard him perform at pre-CD release party at the restaurant, Romdeng. (Romdeng is run by the NGO, Street Friends, and provides restaurant training for youth)

Mr. Vann Nath is the famous painter of S-21, the KR's torture machine, a high school turned prison. For one full year in Tuol Sleng, he painted KR propaganda and of Pol Pot. For his talent, his life was spared. For being alive, he witnessed humanity's cruelest moments of execution.

Sandglass and Sovanna Phum in Providence, RI



Last night we attended a performance of Sandglass and Sovanna Phum (Here too)- the culmination of these two artists working together from different cultures, puppetry traditions, and language. What they produced was gorgeous, brilliant, and exceptional. It was a fusion of khmer/American artistry like I haven't seen.

We took Mongkol - and after a quick dinner at Whole Foods, we had a fabulous evening. My camera really sucks at taking indoor photos (probably something stupid about the settings I'm not doing) or maybe it is me. Mongkol, the expert photographer he is, has some beautiful ones here. I used them to create the slide show above.

Mongkol did a great write up here. He points out our meeting with a blog reader who recognized us!

However, that’s not all. While we were waiting for the Q&A session with the artists, we noticed one white guy approaching us from the distance. Surprising us from behind, he said, “Hello Mongkol and Beth! How are you? Mongkol, how are things going with your study?” At first I thought he was Beth’s friend, but yet how did he know my name? Hmmm.. A big question, huh? Only later did I find out that his name was Decker and he was one of our regular blog readers. Decker is from the UK and currently resides in Providence. He loves Cambodia and viewing Cambodia-related blogs is one of his ways to get in touch with Cambodia. Well, what a coincidence! Nice to meet you, Decker! :D I hope to see you again sometimes. :p

I took a lot of video clips and I'm editing them and will post later.

About Friends of Khmer Culture



FRIENDS OF KHMER CULTURE, Inc
. was established to support Khmer arts and cultural organizations. Our mission is to work with Cambodian institutions to develop projects that are self-sustaining and therefore provide a bridge to future artistic and intellectual independence.

The Khmer civilization that produced the magnificent sculpture and architecture of Cambodia flourished for more than a thousand years. Expressing the spiritual ideals of Buddhism and Hinduism as well as local genius, it was inspired and cherished by a continuous line of Khmer monarchs and their people. Today, after decades of devastating civil unrest, Cambodia is at peace, but its financial and human resources are still too limited to support and safeguard the centuries-old Khmer artistic traditions and monuments without help.

With your support, Friends of Khmer Culture will try to help sustain this remarkable heritage that resonates with universal as well as national significance.
Mission Statement
Friends of Khmer Culture supports all forms of Khmer cultural expression. We work with Cambodian and international scholars, artists, and institutions to preserve past achievements and encourage new vitality in art, literature, scholarship, and the performing arts. These fields are central to our mission to help rebuild civil society and enhance awareness and appreciation of Khmer culture both within and beyond Cambodia.
History
Friends of Khmer Culture (FOKCI) was incorporated in New York as a not-for-profit corporation in 2000. FOKCI is a Section 501(c)(3) public charity and donations are tax deductible. It has a Board of Directors that meets at least four times a year, and an international Advisory Council.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

FIFA call crisis talks after qualifiers, betting scandal

FIFA president Sepp Blatter, seen here in May 2009, has called an extraordinary general meeting for December 2 following the Thierry Henry handball incident and an ongoing investigation into match-fixing in Europe.
PARIS (AFP) - FIFA president Sepp

PARIS (AFP) - FIFA president Sepp Blatter has called an extraordinary general meeting for December 2 following the Thierry Henry handball incident and an ongoing investigation into match-fixing in Europe.

A FIFA statement released by world football's ruling body said Monday: "Due to recent events in the world of football, namely incidents at the play-offs for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa, match control (refereeing) and irregularities in the football betting market, the FIFA President has called an extraordinary meeting of the Executive Committee.

"The extraordinary meeting of the Executive Committee will take place in Cape Town on 2 December 2009, starting at 15.00."

The Henry handball incident left football's reputation - at least as regards the standards of refereeing - in tatters after it effectively cheated the Republic of Ireland out of a possible place at the World Cup.

France beat the Republic of Ireland 2-1 on aggregate over two legs of a qualifying playoff last Wednesday however Henry's blatant double handball, which led to their equaliser on the night, proved decisive for France.

Since then the use of video technology at football matches, which FIFA is fundamentally against, is an issue which appears to be gaining support throughout the game.

FIFA last week however ruled they would not bow to the Republic's formal request for a replay of the second leg.

The cash-rich world of European football meanwhile is reportedly harbouring an organised criminal gang that has made millions of euros by betting in Asian markets on the outcomes of matches they helped to decide.

On Thursday, police raided addresses across Europe, smashing what they believe is a 200-strong band that has bribed players, referees and coaches in nine countries.

The German Football Federation (DFB) and the German Football League (DFL) announced on Monday the creation of a task force to probe the betting scandal, which has rocked European football.

European football's governing body UEFA called a crisis meeting at their base in Nyon, Switzerland, for this Wednesday and the DFB and DFL will join forces to probe 32 German games out of some 200 which are under suspicion.

Around 200 games played this season in Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, Croatia, Slovenia, Turkey, Hungary, Bosnia-Hercegovina and Austria are now under suspicion.

None of the 200 suspected matches were in top flight European leagues like England's Premier League, Italy's Serie A, Spain's La Liga or Germany's Bundesliga.

In Italy on Monday police said they had arrested nine people whom they suspect of illegal betting in Italian football.

Amongst those arrested was the president of third division team Potenza, Giuseppe Postiglione and Pro Vastese sports director Luca Evangelista.

They are accused of being involved in organised crime and of sporting fraud relating to a number of bets placed on matches in the second and third divisions from 2007 to 2009.

One match under investigation is the Serie B encounter between Ravenna and Lecce on April 26, 2008, won 3-1 by the away side, on which Postiglione allegedly placed a bet that won him 86,000 euros.

Giovanni Colangelo, the public prosecutor in Potenza, claimed match-fixing had been taking place.

The 2006 'Calciopoli' match-fixing scandal involved high-profile Serie A teams and resulted in Juventus being relegated to Serie B and stripped of their last two league titles.

AC Milan, Lazio, Fiorentina and Reggina were also punished for their roles in the match-fixing.

Friday, November 20, 2009

FIFA opens disciplinary action against Egypt

ZURICH (AFP) - FIFA has opened disciplinary proceedings against Egypt following the violence before their World Cup qualifier with Algeria in Cairo last week, world football's governing body said.

"According to the official reports received by FIFA, on 12 November, there were incidents affecting the Algerian team on its way from the airport to the hotel," a statement posted on FIFA's website said.

"Consequently, disciplinary proceedings have been opened against the Egyptian Football Association. The FIFA Disciplinary Committee will decide on the case," it added.

FIFA officials had already acknowledged that three Algerian players and the goalkeeping coach suffered injuries that "weren't superficial" when their coach was attacked.

Egypt later won that match, leading to a tie in their group and a play-off in Sudan on Wednesday that Algeria won 1-0 to secure a berth in the World Cup finals.

The incidents and subsequent row over the play-off have triggered a diplomatic spat between the two countries.

Egypt also announced it was suspending its membership of the Union of North African Football Federations, complaining that Algerian fans had thrown stones at its fans in Sudan.

The Egyptian Football Federation wrote to its counterparts in Algeria, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia charging that its fans had come under sustained assault during the make-or-break qualification play-off on Wednesday, the state MENA news agency reported.

Ferguson and Wenger back calls for video ref help

MANCHESTER (AFP) - Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger joined forces Friday to call for video technology to be used in football to avoid controversies like the one that has marred France's qualification for the World Cup.

The issue over whether football should embrace the technology available was re-ignited on Wednesday night when France's Thierry Henry used his hand to control the ball before crossing for William Gallas to score the goal that ended Ireland's chances of going to South Africa.

Ferguson supports change but the Scot fears that all discussion on the issue is futile because world football's governing body, FIFA, are simply not interested in revolutionising the role of the referee.

He said: "The stance is that they prefer human decision-making rather than technology decision-making and until they change their mind there is nothing you can do about it - you have to convince them, nobody else.

"It is not a matter of asking every player and manager in the world their opinion because they will all share the same one, as I do myself, that technology can play a part and can help referees in a situation like the other night."

Gallas?s goal sent France to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa with a 2-1 aggregate victory while Ireland have been left counting the cost of some extreme misfortune.

Ferguson added: "My thoughts were with (Ireland coach) Giovanni Trapattoni. He prepared a team that put in an absolutely magnificent performance. You couldn't ask for better from a coach but it was taken away from him.

"It happens and it's denied a couple of our players the great experience of playing in the World Cup finals and you'll never get a better experience than that."

Ferguson's call for the introduction of technological support for match officials was backed by Arsenal boss Wenger, who argued that mistakes like the Henry one could no longer be accepted given the stakes involved.

"Football accepts that a billion people see it, one guy doesn't see it and it is the one who prevails. It cannot work," Wenger said.

"We cannot accept that an obvious decision is wrong because we do not want to give ourselves all the needed help we can have in the modern game.

"Being at the game, I saw the referee giving a goal knowing that something was wrong and that is really sad. He didn't see it, I can understand, the linesman didn't see it, but they couldn't get any help.

"In the end, he gave a goal, already knowing that it wasn't a goal. We cannot accept that in our sport and you have to do something about it."

Wenger said the referee should be able to consult video footage in such cases.

"We cannot sort out all the cases but we have to sort out as many cases as we can."

Wenger also admitted to feeling a little 'embarrassed' by the nature of France's qualification.

"For the sense of justice it is quite embarrassing to see," he said. "I think even France is embarrassed. We didn't play well at all and we won the game and won the qualification with a goal that was not a goal."

Smith rules out second stint with Scotland

GLASGOW (AFP) - Walter Smith, the Rangers boss who had been regarded as one of the favourites to become Scotland's next manager, on Friday ruled himself out of a return to the helm of the national squad.

Smith was in charge of Scotland between 2004 and 2007 and was credited with engineering a turnaround in the fortunes of a squad that had fallen to its lowest ever point in the world rankings under his predecessor Berti Vogts.

Smith left during the Euro 2008 qualifying campaign to return to Rangers on a three-year contract which is due to expire in January.

That has created uncertainty over his future but speculation that he might be tempted by a return to international football was quashed on Friday.

"When I left Scotland, we were in the middle of a qualifying campaign," he said. "After making the decision to leave Scotland at that time, I don't feel it would be right to go back and that is the situation.

"The matter is now closed as far as I am concerned."

Smith was at pains to point out that he had not been approached by the Scottish Football Association about the vacancy created by the sacking of George Burley earlier this week.

"What I am doing is responding to press speculation in a bid to end it as I don't think it is fair on anyone," he added.

"The fact is, I left the Scotland job of my own volition. Sometimes when you get the sack, it is actually easier to go back. But when you make your own decision to leave then it isn't that easy."

Smith's statement leaves Dundee United manager Craig Levein as the clear favourite to replace Burley, who was dismissed after 22 months in charge in which Scotland won just three of their 14 matches and failed to reach the World Cup qualifying play-offs.

Thierry Henry says replay ´fairest solution´

LONDON (AFP) - France captain Thierry Henry said on Friday that "the fairest solution" to the row surrounding his handball in the World Cup playoff against Ireland would be to replay the match.

He renewed his admission that he had controlled the ball with his hand, but insisted it was "instinctive" in the heat of the action.

"Of course the fairest solution would be to replay the game but it is not in my control," Henry said, in a statement sent to Sky Sports News in Britain and other media.

"Naturally I feel embarrassed at the way that we won and feel extremely sorry for the Irish who definitely deserve to be in South Africa," said the Barcelona and former Arsenal striker.

He released the statement after football's world governing body FIFA officially turned down a request for a replay lodged by the Irish football authorities.

Video replays showed Henry used his hand to stop the ball going out of play in extra-time of Wednesday's playoff in Paris, before he passed to William Gallas to head the goal which gave France a 2-1 win over the two legs.

Henry continued: "There is little more I can do apart from admit that the ball had contact with my hand leading up to our equalising goal and I feel very sorry for the Irish."

He admitted immediately after the game that he had handled the ball, and reiterated that admission on Friday -- but insisted he had acted out of instinct.

"I have said at the time and I will say again that yes I handled the ball," he said.

"I am not a cheat and never have been. It was an instinctive reaction to a ball that was coming extremely fast in a crowded penalty area.

"As a footballer you do not have the luxury of the television to slow the pace of the ball down 100 times to be able to make a conscious decision.

"People are viewing a slow motion version of what happened and not what I or any other footballer faces in the game.

"If people look at it in full speed you will see that it was an instinctive reaction.

"It is impossible to be anything other than that. I have never denied that the ball was controlled with my hand. I told the Irish players, the referee and the media this after the game."

Swedish referee Martin Hansson failed to spot the incident, and awarded the goal which sent the 1998 World Cup winners into the draw for the 32-nation finals next year.

The Football Association of Ireland called Thursday for the match to be replayed, calling the decision to award the decisive goal a "blatantly incorrect decision by the referee" which had "damaged the integrity of the sport."

But FIFA said in its reply Friday: "The result of the match cannot be changed and the match cannot be replayed."

Europe rocked by fresh match-fixing scandal

BOCHUM, Germany (AFP) - Around 200 football matches in nine European countries including at least three Champions League games are implicated in a new match-fixing scandal, German prosecutors said on Friday.

UEFA expert Peter Limacher told a press conference in Germany that the revelations represented "clearly" the worst ever match-fixing scandal in European football, as the governing body vowed tough sanctions for those involved.

The suspect matches took place in Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, Croatia, Slovenia, Turkey, Hungary, Bosnia-Hercegovina and Austria, netting criminals several million euros (dollars) in betting profits, prosecutors believe.

They include 12 matches this season from the Europa League, formerly known as the UEFA Cup, one qualifying game for the under-21 European championship and four from the German second division.

European football's governing body said it had actively been involved in the probe and monitoring the suspicious betting patterns.

"UEFA will be demanding the harshest of sanctions before the competent courts for any individuals, clubs or officials who are implicated in this malpractice, be it under state or sports jurisdiction," UEFA General Secretary Gianni Infantino said in a statement.

UEFA said it would give details of the matches later, but the 15 at European level involved early qualifying round games, while the rest were under the jurisdictions of national football associations.

Police carried out around 50 raids on Thursday in Germany, Britain, Switzerland and Austria, arresting 15 people in Germany and two in Switzerland. More than one million euros in cash and property were seized.

A network of some 200 people is suspected of influencing matches and placing bets on them with bookmakers in Europe and Asia. Prosecutors have reason to believe that players, coaches, referees and officials were offered bribes.

Two of those arrested in Thursday included two Croatian brothers living in Berlin, Ante and Milan Sapina, who were at the centre of a match-fixing scandal that rocked Germany in 2004, newspapers said.

Harald Stenger, a spokesman for the German Football Federation (DFB), said on Thursday: "As far as the DFB knows, no German matches are affected."

But prosecutors are scrutinising 32 matches in Germany, including two in the second division, three in the third, 23 games in regional leagues and two under-19 clashes.

German daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported that one of the games being investigates was a friendly between German side SSV Ulm against Fenerbahce Istanbul in July.

The Turkish side won 5-0, and investigators suspect that "certain currently unidentified SSV Ulm players" received more than 10,000 euros (14,900 dollars) each to throw the game, the paper said.

Ulm's manager Markus Loesch told Bild. "Looking at how the game panned out, I can't see how it (throwing the game) could have happened," Loesch said.

The team's goalkeeper Holger Betz agreed: "At the beginning we had two good chances. After the first goal, it was all over. We could have lost by an even greater margin."

Reports also said that the ring was believed to have placed enormous bets with Asian bookmakers, where limits on the sums that punters can gamble as as much as 30,000 euros (45,000 dollars), much higher than in Europe.

The 2004 German scandal saw referee Robert Hoyzer sentenced to two years and five months behind bars after admitting receiving almost 70,000 euros (104,000 dollars) and a plasma television from a Croatian mafia ring to throw games.

The matches concerned were mainly in the German second and third division, but a German Cup match between first division SV Hamburg and third division Paderborn and a first division match in Turkey were also affected.

Hoyzer was released after serving half of his sentence. Ante Sapina was jailed for two years and 11 months, while his brother Milan escaped with a suspended sentence.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Donovan named MLS MVP

SEATTLE, Washington (AFP) - Los Angeles Galaxy and USA forward Landon Donovan was named the 2009 Major League Soccer's Most Valuable Player on Thursday.

Donovan, the United States' all-time leading scorer, helped the Galaxy reach Sunday's MLS Cup final, the club's first appearance in the championship match since 2005.

Despite all the accolades he has earned, this is the first time Donovan has garnered the MLS MVP.

Donovan scored 12 goals during the regular season, helping the Galaxy rally for the best record in the Western Conference.

During the playoffs, Donovan scored twice in the Galaxy's first-round series victory over Los Angeles rivals Chivas USA, and scored a penalty in extra time against Houston in their 2-0 conference final victory last Friday.

Bordeaux, Lyon look to restore French pride

PARIS (AFP) - League leaders Bordeaux and closest rivals Lyon will hope to restore French football's battered reputation on Saturday, as league action returns to focus minds away from World Cup controversy.

Three days after Thierry Henry's handball helped steer France past Ireland and into the World Cup finals, champions Bordeaux, who signed off before the international break with a 2-0 defeat at Lille, host a Valenciennes side who are the most prolific team in the division.

Philippe Montanier's men have not lost since a 3-2 defeat at Nice on October 3 and have scored a league-high 23 goals in their 12 games to date.

"The France team will need a rest," said a jocular Montanier, in reference to the mid-week exertions of Bordeaux's French international midfielders Yoann Gourcuff and Alou Diarra.

"It's understandable: Gourcuff and Diarra will need a rest on Saturday."

Bordeaux coach Laurent Blanc, whose side travel to Turin to face Juventus in the Champions League on Tuesday, conceded that both players needed rest.

"Yoann Gourcuff came off with an adductor muscle problem," he said.

"We will see what it is. For Alou, playing 120 minutes in those conditions is psychologically very difficult."

Lyon, a point behind Bordeaux in second place, travel to Grenoble, who picked up their first point of the season in a 0-0 draw at Monaco last time out but are still 11 points adrift of safety at the foot of the table.

Third-placed Auxerre are the league's in-form team and will look to extend their winning streak to seven matches when they welcome fourth-placed Monaco to the Stade l'Abbe-Deschamps in Saturday's evening game.

Montpellier, promoted from Ligue 2 last season and riding high in sixth place, visit Lille on Sunday, while 10-time champions Saint-Etienne will hope to put further daylight between themselves and the relegation zone when they host fifth-placed Lorient.

The top flight's biggest match was taking place on Friday when Marseille and Paris Saint-Germain were meeting in a re-arranged league fixture at the Stade Velodrome.

The original match was postponed at short notice on October 25 after an outbreak of swine flu at the Parisian club and Marseille midfielder Benoit Cheyrou says the ensuing wait has served only to motivate his side.

"It was a strange feeling to be told on the day of the game that it had been called off," he said.

"But that's just the way it was and we didn't get to have our say in the matter. It just means we'll be even more motivated for Friday."

Marseille's last league outing saw them snatch an incredible 5-5 draw at Lyon after coming back from 4-2 and then 5-4 down, and victory over PSG would take them to within three points of Bordeaux.

"It's always a special game and we're ready to do everything to take the three points," said Cheyrou.

"It's the first game of a big run for us as we'll be playing every three days until Christmas."

PSG are without suspended skipper Claude Makelele for the trip to the south coast, but swine flu victims Mamadou Sakho, Ludovic Giuly, Jeremy Clement and Loris Arnaud have all returned to full fitness.

Antoine Kombouare's side are currently 13th in the table after a stuttering start to the season but victory on Friday night would move them level on 19 points with eighth-placed Marseille.

"We're going to go there in the right frame of mind to play well," said Sakho. "We know there are a lot of things that go on around a match like this, but we just have to concentrate on what happens on the pitch."

Fixtures

Friday (2000GMT)

Marseille v Paris Saint-Germain

Saturday (1800GMT unless otherwise stated)

Bordeaux v Valenciennes, Grenoble v Lyon, Lens v Nancy, Rennes v Le Mans, Auxerre v Monaco (2000GMT)

Sunday (1600GMT unless otherwise stated)

Nice v Toulouse, Saint-Etienne v Lorient, Montpellier v Lille (2000GMT)

Australia boost football World Cup bid team: report

SYDNEY (AFP) - Australia has recruited successful German consultant Andreas Abold to orchestrate its bid for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup, reports said on Friday.

Abold, who leads a Munich-based events management team, was behind the successful World Cup bids from Germany (2006) and South Africa (2010) and will now help plot Australia's bid, reports said.

"We will host the World Cup," Abold told the Daily Telegraph.

"We are working with Football Federation Australia (FFA) on all the upcoming milestones, such as the FIFA inspection visit which we expect to be in your winter - and definitely the final presentation," he said.

"At the very last moment you have to address your key messages to the 24 decision makers (on the FIFA Executive), and no one knows what will happen, which continents will be eliminated as it unfolds and which are still in contention."

Abold said the message to be hammered home was that Australia was a safe pair of hands with a can-do mentality making for a tournament FIFA, the sport's governing body, could be certain would be a success.

"I know there is a certain perception of Australia as a 'no worries' country and this is what we want to communicate to FIFA, who after all will be handing over their most valuable asset, the World Cup," he said.

"Our strategy is to say that in Australia you have a safe pair of hands -- we know exactly how to deliver and that you can rely on our guarantees."

Abold said Australia's home within Asian football gave it a serious selling point.

Australia's bid was given a glowing endorsement this week by FIFA executive committee member Jack Warner, who said the country has an "excellent chance" of hosting the 2018 or 2022 World Cup.

Australia is up against a joint bid from Spain and Portugal, with England, Japan, China, the United States and Russia also seeking the 2018 tournament, while Belgium and the Netherlands are mulling a joint bid.

FFA chairman Frank Lowy has said previously that Australia's prime objective was 2018, with 2022 a possible second prize.

FIFA's executive committee will make a decision in December 2010 on which country will host the 2018 tournament.

South Africa will host the next World Cup in 2010, followed by Brazil in 2014.

African superstars await Nations Cup fate

LUANDA (AFP) - African superstars Didier Drogba, Samuel Eto'o and Michael Essien will discover Friday who they face at the 2010 African Nations Cup in Angola.

A draw ceremony in the capital of the oil-rich south-west Africa state divides the 16 qualifiers into four groups from which the winners and runners-up advance to the quarter-finals.

Chelsea striker Drogba is the main source of Ivory Coast goals, Eto'o of Inter Milan serves a similar role with Cameroon and Essien, also from English Premiership table-toppers Chelsea, drives the Ghana midfield.

And with the top 10 football nations on the continent among those securing places, the stage is set for an intriguing January 10-31 tournament as Egypt seek a record third consecutive title.

Cameroon, Ghana, Ivory Coast and Nigeria, all qualifiers for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, are former African champions and potential winners of the first Nations Cup to be staged by a Portuguese-speaking country.

Even Angola, lowest ranked of the contenders at 21, dare not be dismissed given the record of hosts in a tournament first staged 52 years ago in Sudan and won by Egypt.

Egypt (2006) and Tunisia (2004) lifted the title on home soil, Nigeria (2000) came second, Ghana (2008) third and, significantly, apparent whipping boys Mali (2002) and Burkina Faso (1998) fourth.

Apart from the benefit of home support in one of the few African countries where basketball rivals football for popularity, Angola are automatically among the top seeds as hosts which generally delivers a kinder draw.

There is also the Manuel Jose factor. The charismatic 63-year-old Portuguese steered Cairo club Al-Ahly to four African Champions League titles and is hoping his formula works equally well at national-team level.

No Nations Cup line-up would be complete without a fairytale participant and this time it is Malawi, back for a second appearance 25 years after last competing.

After failing with a succession of foreign coaches, the 'Flames' turned to former national star Kinnah Phiri and a come-from-behind home draw against Ivory Coast secured an ultimately decisive point.

Another country back on centre stage after a long absence is Mozambique, a well-drilled team under Dutch coach Mart Nooij who defeated Tunisia and held Ivory Coast and Nigeria in Maputo.

The full Cup line-up includes Angola, Algeria, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Egypt, Gabon, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Nigeria, Togo, Tunisia and Zambia.

Notable absentees are former champions Democratic Republic of Congo, Morocco and South Africa and Senegal with only the North African 'Atlas Lions' even managing to make the final qualifying round.

Angola have built stadiums in Luanda, Benguela, Cabinda and Lubango for the 32-fixture tournament with the opening match and final to be played at the 50,000-seater in the capital.

Henry handball row fuels calls for video, extra officials

LONDON (AFP) - Thierry Henry's handball that helped France reach the World Cup finals triggered fresh calls for referees to be given more help to get decisions right, either from video technology or extra officials.

FIFA has so resisted pressure to allow officials to review tough-to-call incidents on video as happens in both codes of rugby, tennis and cricket.

Opponents of such moves argue that video evidence is often inconclusive and that the process of watching would interrupt the flow of the game.

But this season has seen the experimental introduction of two extra officials for matches in the Europa League. Stationed on goallines, the officials are intended to act as a 'human camera' helping referees spot fouls, diving and other misdemeanours in the penalty area.

The experiment has had mixed reviews from players and officials so far, but Alex McLeish, the former Scotland manager now in charge at Birmingham, believes the system would have ensured that Henry's handball would have been spotted on Wednesday evening.

"The extra official would have seen that given that the referee's assistant on the far side didn't really have a view of it and the referee was unsighted," McLeish argued.

Steve Bruce, the Sunderland manager, said Henry's use of his hand to control the ball before crossing for William Gallas to score in extra-time would go down as one of the most controversial incidents in football history.

"Surely it is time now for technology to come into it," Bruce said. "I can sympathise with the referee - even the television didn't pick it up until the replay - but it was obvious from the reaction of the Irish something untoward had happened.

"It took 15 seconds on the TV to establish it was blatant handball - and he didn't handball it once, but twice.

"It might be human error but we can change that with the technology we have got. That has got to be the way forward."

That view was backed by Gordon Taylor, the chief executive of England's Professional Footballers' Association.

"For a sport that is so high profile, with so much money and so much prestige at stake, video technology has to be used.

"You can bring in as many assistant referees behind the goals as you like but, until there is technology, there will continue to be debatable decisions.

"Rugby, tennis, cricket and American sports have all embraced technology and it can actually add to the excitement of a match. I think not to use it is burying one's head in sand."