Japan, N. Korea qualifier set to be played in Thailand

FIFA has selected Thailand as the neutral country that will host Japan’s upcoming World Cup qualifier against North Korea, the Bangkok Post reported on Saturday.

According to the report, Football Association of Thailand secretary general Worawi Makudi said soccer’s world governing body had faxed the FAT asking whether it would be willing to host the June 8 match and the president of FAT, Vijitr Getkaew gave it the all clear.

FIFA ordered North Korea to play the match in a third country behind closed doors as punishment for crowd trouble that erupted after North Korea lost 2-0 to Iran in Pyongyang. FIFA also cited trouble at North Korea’s match against Bahrain on March 25.

Japan’s Group B clash with the North Koreans was scheduled to be held in Pyongyang but the report said the neutral venue will be held at Rajamangala National Stadium in Bangkok.

North Korea’s punishment came after North Korean fans, incensed by the late sending-off of Nam Song Chol, showered the pitch with rocks, bottles and chairs at the Iran game.

A mob of thousands stopped the Iranian players from leaving the stadium after the match, requiring police to restore order.

On Friday, a North Korean sports newspaper criticized FIFA’s “unjust” decision to order North Korea to play the match behind closed doors in another country and accused it of favoritism toward the Japanese. However, an official appeal against the decision has not been filed.

A day after FIFA handed down the punishment on April 29, Japan Football Association President Saburo Kawabuchi said he hoped the match would be played in Malaysia but not in China, where there has been a recent wave of anti-Japan demonstrations.

Lampard honored

LONDON (Reuters) England midfielder Frank Lampard has been voted Footballer of the Year by English soccer writers after guiding Chelsea to their first championship for 50 years.

Lampard won the award ahead of Chelsea captain John Terry, who was voted Player of the Year by the players’ union two weeks ago, and Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher.

“It’s very prestigious,” Lampard said at the club’s Cobham training ground on Friday. “I’ve always been confident in myself, I’m proud of what I’ve achieved.

“I’ve worked very hard for it, with all the hours I’ve put in. When I think about the days when people did doubt me, I get more pleasure from my football.”

Lampard was rewarded for an outstanding year for both club and country, helping Chelsea to the League Cup trophy, the Premier League title and the Champions League semifinals.

Despite his midfield role behind main strikers Didier Drogba and Eidur Gudjohnsen, the 26-year-old is Chelsea’s top scorer this season with a remarkable 18 goals.

He is only the second England international to win the writers’ award over the past 10 years after Teddy Sheringham in 2001. He is the second Chelsea player to win after Italy’s Gianfranco Zola in 1997.

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