FIFPro slams “dangerous” playing conditions in Club Cup match

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Unsafe: FIFPro criticized the playing conditions in Saturday's Club World Cup quarter-final between Western Sydney Wanderers and Cruz Azul.

FIFPro has slammed what they described as "dangerous" playing conditions in Saturday's Club World Cup quarter-final between Western Sydney Wanderers and Cruz Azul in Rabat.

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The world players' union also demanded an explanation from soccer's governing body FIFA, the competition organisers, as to why the match went ahead on a waterlogged pitch.

"FIFPro calls on FIFA to clarify why the decision was made to continue this match in these conditions and to ensure that effective rules are in place to prevent a repetition of similar events," said FIFPro director Tijs Tummers.

"The FIFA Club World Cup is one of the most prestigious tournaments in the game, as the winning team deserves the title the best club team in the world," he added.

"Such a competition deserves the highest quality playing conditions, more so, the players as workers have a right to a safe work environment.

"Neither was the case, last Saturday. The players were involved in a match that did no justice to their qualities and aspirations. The conditions were simply dangerous. We are lucky that none of the players suffered a serious injury."

Tuesday's semi-final between Real Madrid and Cruz Azul was moved from Rabat to Marrakech because of the poor state of the pitch at the Prince Moulay Abdellah stadium.

"The whole 120 minutes was disgusting," Wanderers goalkeeper Ante Covic said in a TV interview after the game.

"It was absolutely farcical what happened out there and it's unacceptable to me."

South America champions San Lorenzo will face Oceania champions Auckland City in the second semi-final on Wednesday, also in Marrakech.

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Rampant Real Madrid cruise into Club World Cup final

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Real Madrid routed Cruz Azul to move a step closer to their first Club World Cup final triumph.

Real Madrid eased into the final of the Club World Cup after a 4-0 win over Cruz Azul at the Le Grand Stade de Marrakech in Morocco.

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Goals came from Sergio Ramos and Karim Benzema in the first half before Gareth Bale and Isco added to their tally in the second.

Real dominated possession and after Benzema hit the post, Ramos gave Los Blancos a 15th minute lead.

Toni Kroos' cross found Ramos who headed past Corona, who would have been disappointed with his contribution.

Seven minutes before the break Real went two up after Daniel Carvajal did well down the right before playing in Benzema who powered home.

A minute later Azul missed a golden chance to get one back after Ramos brought down Mariano Pavone in the box, but Gerardo Torrado's penalty was well saved by Iker Casillas, who dived to his right to push the ball to safety.

Bale made the game safe just five minutes into the second half after heading home Cristiano Ronaldo's cross.

Pablo Barrera smashed an effort onto the post from just outside the area for Cruz Azul, but Real were cruising and a jinking run from Isco ended with the forward smashing a shot into the corner of the net after 72 minutes.

Real will face the winner of San Lorenzo versus Auckland City FC.

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Gamba's J-League title win most dramatic ever?

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Gamba Osaka claimed the most unlikely of title triumphs when winning the J-League.

Many football stories are dramatic enough to be worth a Hollywood script, but Gamba Osaka adventures in the last three years would probably make the most incredible films of all time. The Japanese J-League is pulsating and unpredictable almost every season, and yet Gamba’s 2014 championship triumph tops everything the Land of the Rising Sun has ever witnessed.

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For those who are not familiar with Japanese football, it must be noted that Gamba are one of the top clubs in the country. Under steady leadership of coach Akira Nishino they finished in the top three eight times out of 10 between 2002 and 2011, playing with a very attack-minded, gung-ho style and scoring more than two goals per game more often than not. They won the title in 2005 and lifted the Asian Champions League in 2008.

Nishino’s contract wasn’t extended ahead of the 2012 season, which was a grave mistake in retrospect. The team was still expected to do well, but struggled to find consistency and a dreadful start meant that they were in trouble despite finding the net at will. The result was bizarre in the extreme – Gamba were relegated with a positive goal difference and the best scoring record in the whole league.

The extraordinary, most likely unprecedented, final stats read – 67 goals for, 65 goals against. Champions Sanfrecce Hiroshima scored 63 goals, Niigata who stayed clear of relegation in 15th place had just 29. Gamba proved to be almost unstoppable up front. In fact, they failed to score only three times in 34 matches, all of them early in the season. They won 5-0 away to top teams like Nagoya and Urawa Red Diamons, and lost only three games out of their last 16 fixtures, but remarkably that still wasn’t enough. Having finished third in 2011, they ended up in 17th place in 2012, second from bottom.

Gamba going down was the biggest sensation the J-League has ever experienced, especially because they had one of the best Japanese stars on their books in captain Yasuhito Endo. The club managed to keep him, and decided to use their unexpected demise to rebuild the team and make a fresh start under former Shimizu legend Kenta Hasegawa. Their immediate promotion in 2013 was never in doubt, and they remained true to their attacking philosophy, scoring 99 goals in 42 games in the second tier.

Expectations were rather low ahead of the new 2014 season, however. The squad wasn’t supposed to be strong enough to fight it out at the top, and the start was desperately poor. Gamba won just twice in their first 11 matches, and lost no less than seven, to find themselves deep in the relegation zone.

To make matters worse, city rivals Cerezo Osaka made a lot of positive headlines, having signed one of the most impressive foreign stars in the league’s history in former Manchester United and Atletico Madrid striker Diego Forlan, Golden Ball winner at the 2010 World Cup. They took nine points from their first four games, and hopes of first ever J-League title skyrocketed as a result.

Diego Forlan's move to Cerezo Osaka gave them hope of a J_league title challenge, but it wasn't to be.

Those aspirations were short-lived, but Urawa Red Diamonds became clear favourites to finish top of the table. The Mitsubishi-sponsored club had the best squad in the country and were unusually consistent for a team with a reputation of being mentally fragile and losing the plot just when it matters most. Come July, Urawa had 29 points from 14 games. Gamba won just 15 points at that stage. If anyone had suggested that Gamba would be champions, they would have most probably been locked up in mental institution.

Then an extraordinary turnaround occurred. Gamba found their game, and started winning on a weekly basis. Burly Brazilian striker Patric was in brilliant form, 34-year-old Endo was imperious in midfield, and the most important contribution came from Takashi Usami. The tricky winger was loaned out to Bayern Munich in 2011, but didn’t really make it in the Bundesliga, and eventually came home to help the team in the second division. Now he was back to his very best, scoring ten goals and providing countless assists to his team-mates.

Between July and October, Gamba won 12 of their 14 games, but Urawa were still going strong themselves, so nobody in Osaka even dared to think of a championship triumph. That was when Cerezo came to their aid. Cacau, the former Germany striker signed from Stuttgart in the summer, scored the winner for the city rivals against Urawa to stop their run, and suddenly the Red Diamonds became their usual selves – the losing team.

Despite their struggles, everything was in Urawa’s hands with three games to go. Ahead of the crunch game versus Gamba at home, they enjoyed a five-point lead, which meant a draw was more than enough. They actually played better, but after 88 minutes Gamba sensationally took the lead, Akhiro Sato finishing a superb counter-attack with a goal reminiscent of the Roberto Baggio strike against Nigeria in 1994. Shu Kurata calmly made it 2-0 in injury time, and the gap was down to two points.

Urawa could still wrap up the title with six points from the last two fixtures, but the pressure was well and truly on them. They had become the laughing stock of Japan again even before the collapse was complete, and a tough away game at Tosu was the last thing they needed. Nevertheless, they looked on their way to a hard-fought 1-0 win with Tosu down to ten men – until the hosts equalized with virtually the last move of the game, scoring from a simple corner four minutes into stoppage time.

At the same time, Gamba won 3-1 against Kobe, with Usami scoring a brace and Patric adding the third. Suddenly, the team that was deep in relegation trouble in the middle of the season, went top on goal difference with just a single game remaining. And it was the easiest game possible.

On the final day, Gamba played hapless Tokushima, easily the worst team in J-League history. They won just 13 points in 33 games, scoring 16 goals and conceding 74. Ahead of the game versus Gamba, they had lost 11 and drawn once in 12 fixtures. It was crystal clear that they couldn’t do anything against the leaders. But they did!

Gamba fans couldn’t believe their eyes. Usami, Patric, Endo and their friends couldn’t find their way past the lousy defence, and the game ended goalless. Thus Urawa could clinch the title with a home win against fierce rivals Nagoya. Leading 1-0 at half-time, and getting amazingly positive news from Tokushima, the Red Diamonds believed that it will be their season after all.

There was a final twist, however. Nagoya equalised on 72 minutes and stole it at the death to win 2-1. With both leaders failing, Kashima Antlers could win the title from behind, but they lost as well, and thus Gamba celebrated wildly after their worst performance of the season.

They were relegated in 2012 scoring 67 goals. Now they were champions in 2014 with just 59 goals to their name. To make it even sweeter, Cerezo were sensationally relegated without a fight, and the heavily criticized Forlan announced that he wants to leave the club. Could the year possibly get any better for Gamba?

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