Soccer | THE BALD TRUTH

Only fools and Boca up for Toyota Cup

by Alastair Himmer

The circus is back in town for tonight’s World Club Cup (otherwise known as the Intercontinental Cup, Toyota Cup or Mickey Mouse Windshield Trophy) between Germany’s Bayern Munich and Boca Juniors of Argentina.

Boca actually arrived in Japan last Wednesday, which tells us: a) how desperate they are to salvage their season, and b) how little there is to do in Buenos Aires at the weekend.

The Germans, on the other hand, have got the right idea. They arrived yesterday after spending Saturday night in a bierkeller slapping each other’s thighs and telling David Beckham jokes to the accompaniment of local oompagh-oompagh band Daftwerk.

Clearly, Bayern has bigger fish to fry than the Toyota Cup, which amounts to little more than an unwelcome public relations exercise when the club is trying to defend the European Champions League and German Bundesliga titles it won last season.

However, the Toyota Cup is anything but a distraction for a Boca team that won last year’s fixture 2-1 against a disinterested Real Madrid.

Manager Carlos Bianchi, who is set to leave Boca at the end of the season, insists his team is fully focused on the job at hand, despite arriving in Tokyo with just five of the players who started against Real. Well he would, wouldn’t he?

Boca has sold almost half the side that beat Mexico’s Cruz Azul in June to win the Libertadores Cup for the second year running, including striker Martin Palermo, scorer of both goals in Tokyo last year.

Talk about “Only Fools and Horses.” Imagine an Argentine version of Del Boy trying to flog you a 41-year-old Diego Maradona from the back of a van and you have some idea of the shape Boca’s finances are really in.

“Would I lie to you, Chief? He might have a few miles on the clock but Diego’s a diamond geezer. He won’t let you down, honest.”

Bayern’s “ist-uns-wurst” attitude to tonight’s match could swing the result in Boca’s favor, of course.

Unfortunately, the result will mean very little to Japanese reporters, who will be falling over each other to cross-examine Bianchi about his decision not to include Japan striker Naohiro Takahara in his 21-man squad.

Reports that Takahara was last spotted in the back of the same van with Maradona could not be verified, meanwhile.

And while we are on the subject, it is scandalous how quick certain journalists have been to establish a link between Takahara’s move to Boca in the summer and rumors of all-night parties involving drug cocktails and the dismemberment of poultry.

In fact, the boy caught a cold, took a sachet of “Lemsip” and had some Kentucky Fried Chicken before bedtime. End of story.


Former Japan soccer coach Takeshi Okada announced last week that he would step down as manager of Consadole Sapporo at the end of the season because of “stress.”

Something must have gotten lost in the translation — between Planet Earth and whatever galaxy Okada is occupying at the moment. Maybe those zoom lenses of yours are too strong, Takeshi? I mean, how stressful can it be getting paid a fortune to run a mid-table side like Sapporo?

Granted, what happened to Liverpool manager Gerard Houllier has reverberated throughout the soccer world.

But Houllier was burning the midnight oil trying to come up with ways to antagonize the likes of Robbie Fowler and Jari Litmanen. You are hard pushed to pick a starting 11 at Consadole without asking the ball boys to make up the numbers.

“I have been working flat out for four years and I felt that if I stayed at Sapporo it would begin to get to me,” said Okada.

Hogwash!

Okada is plainly as crackers as the Irish SAS, who stormed the third floor of a Dublin department store over the weekend because they heard that was where the bed linen was. (Sorry.)


In all seriousness (no, honest), if Japan international Shinji Ono keeps his nose clean between now and next year’s World Cup, imagine how much the Feyenoord midfielder will be worth this time next year.

Ono, who joined the Dutch club for just $3.75 million in July, scored the winner as Feyenoord beat visiting FC Freiburg 1-0 in the UEFA Cup last Wednesday, ensuring that the 22-year-old’s stock continues to rise in Europe.

Prospective buyers will get little change out of $15 million, provided Ono does the business for cohost Japan at the World Cup.

Speaking of the World Cup and things Dutch, soccer’s world governing body FIFA might want to rethink the rules for qualification with the likes of Holland, Ukraine, the Czech Republic and Yugoslavia missing out next year.

As things stand now, only 14-15 European teams are eligible for the 32-team tournament, which is an unfair reflection of the balance of power in the game.

Sod political correctness. The World Cup should feature the top 32 countries in the world, which, under the current system, it clearly does not.

Why South America gets 4-5 berths, or quite how CONCACAF has convinced FIFA it should get three, is a mystery. Asia gets 2-3 spots next summer IN ADDITION to Japan and South Korea, for heaven’s sake!

What will players such as Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Andrei Shevchenko and Pavel Nedved be thinking as they sit and watch Costa Rica, Ecuador and Saudi Arabia on the telly?

Sort it out, Sepp. Europe shouldn’t be penalized for having the best teams.

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