Monday, 30 November 2009

Chelsea looked equipped to take all four

Watching Chelsea sweep aside Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium yesterday afternoon, it is increasingly difficult to see beyond the Blues for the Premier League title.

Unbeaten since their 17 October defeat at Villa Park, Chelsea have strung together an impressive sequence of results: Atletico Madrid, 4-0 (Champions League); Blackburn Rovers, 5-0; Bolton Wanderers, 4-0 (Carling Cup); Bolton Wanderers, 4-0; Atletico Madrid, 2-2 (Champions League); Manchester United, 1-0; Wolverhampton Wanderers, 4-0; Porto, 1-0 (Champions League); Arsenal, 3-0.

They are now 5 points ahead of Manchester United, 10 clear of Tottenham Hotspur in third, and a further point clear of the Gunners, who do have a game in hand.

Look at those results again. In only one game of the nine did they concede, and they have let in only eight goals in 14 league games so far.

Arsenal's attacking prowess (having averaged three goals a game until yesterday) was completely negated by Chelsea's stubborn defence, with John Obi Mikel and Michael Essien protecting the back four so sturdily.

Now with 36 goals in 14 games under their belt, it would unfair to level a charge of boredom against the Blues. They are scoring freely, while the back door is firmly bolted. Carlo Ancelotti has marshalled his troops superbly.

Coming this week are an away tie at Blackburn in the Carling Cup and a visit to Eastlands to see the draw specialists Manchester City (I'm sure Chelsea will end that sequence!).

January may see Chelsea's African contingent off to compete in the African Nations' Cup, but with the transfer ban suspended, this won't present a problem. Indeed, they already have the strongest squad anyway.

Come February, I'm sure Chelsea will still be competing on all four fronts, and it is not beyond them to see it through for a quadruple by May.

Friday, 27 November 2009

English football rankings since the War

Following Bolton chairman Phil Gartside's apparent attempt to revitalise the idea of a closed Premier League (i.e. little or no relegation) which would have two divisions of 18, I set to work looking at who should be included.

Why should it just be the clubs in the Premier League now? I've looked at all the league positions since the war, and gave a point for every position higher in the league; so bottom of division 4 (or equivalent, i.e. today's League Two) would get one point, all the way to Premier League champions who get 92 points.

Let Mr Gartside understand that heritage counts for a lot. It's not all about today. His club, Bolton would be allowed into Division 2 of the Premier League by these ratings.

I continue by looking at the best clubs since the war (1945-6 to 2008-9). Here are the top 50, with their current league position in brackets):

1 Manchester United 5530 (2)
2 Arsenal 5472 (3)
3 Liverpool 5410 (7)
4 Tottenham Hotspur 5224 (4)
5 Everton 5172 (14)
6 Chelsea 5062 (1)
7 Aston Villa 4948 (5)
8 Newcastle United 4876 (21)
9 Manchester City 4856 (6)
10 Leeds United 4728 (45)
11 West Ham United 4718 (17)
12 West Bromwich Albion 4576 (22)
13 Wolverhampton Wand. 4564 (19)
14 Nottingham Forest 4509 (29)
15 Sunderland 4466 (8)
16 Leicester City 4456 (23)
17 Middlesbrough 4408 (31)
18 Southampton 4366 (65)
19 Derby County 4323 (39)
20 Blackburn Rovers 4304 (12)
21 Birmingham City 4302 (13)
22 Sheffield Wednesday 4296 (37)
23 Stoke City 4211 (9)
24 Sheffield United 4208 (34)
25 Ipswich Town 4190 (43)
26 Bolton Wanderers 4130 (18)
27 Charlton Athletic 4088 (46)
28 Coventry City 4049 (38)
29 Portsmouth 3900 (20)
30 Burnley 3826 (11)
31 Norwich City 3795 (48)
32 QPR 3697 (26)
33 Fulham 3691 (10)
34 Luton Town 3529 (99)
35 Blackpool 3412 (27)
36 Preston North End 3411 (32)
37 Huddersfield Town 3283 (49)
38 Crystal Palace 3262 (33)
39 Cardiff City 3138 (25)
40 Bristol City 3029 (30)
41 Watford 2937 (28)
42 Millwall 2877 (54)
43 Barnsley 2847 (35)
44 Plymouth Argyle 2782 (42)
45 Hull City 2739 (15)
46 Brighton & HA 2622 (64)
47 Rotherham United 2599 (71)
48 Oldham Athletic 2581 (60)
49 Notts County 2566 (75)
50 Bristol Rovers 2565 (52)

Thursday, 26 November 2009

The game's integrity is fundamental

It's probably the thing you want above all else. You want to believe that it's all real; that it's totally honest and not open to corruption.

If you cannot trust the integrity of football, then waht's the point?

So the match-fixing story under investigation in Germany comes as a horror to all football fans.

Yesterday UEFA named nine countries under investigations: Austria, Belgium, Bosnia, Croatia, Germany, Hungary, Slovenia, Switzerland and Turkey. The cases involve more than 200 matches, and UEFA is also investigating Champions League and Europa League matches from the start of this season.

UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino said: "We want all our associations, all 53, to be at the same level when it comes to fighting this cancer we need to eradicate." He added that UEFA was investigating activities of three referees and one of its own officials.

UEFA promised strong action against anyone - player, referee, club - implicated. Infantino said: "He will be out of football - this is very clear."

Let us hope any culprits are found and dealt with severely.

We must have trust in the integrity of the game.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Portsmouth sack manager Paul Hart

Paul Hart was sacked last night as manager of struggling Premier League club Portsmouth.

The club has had a poor start to the season with only seven points from the first 13 games. The last two games have been defeats (0-1 at Stoke, 1-3 at Blackburn) after their best win of the season on 31 October, a 4-0 home win over Wigan Athletic.

The decision to relieve him of his duties had been, said the club: "made reluctantly based on results that leave Pompey at the bottom of the league".

Fifty-six year-old Hart was offered a role as technical director responsible for young players, but he turned it down. Chief executive Peter Storrie acknowledged that Hart had had to work through troubled times at the club, but said: "The board feels that the team should have accrued more points to date and that we need a new man in charge to ensure Premier League survival."

Attention now, of course, turns to who might take over as manager.

Ex-Chelsea boss Avram Grant is at the club, but has yet to receive his work permit. He says he does not want the job.

Ex Peterborough United boss Darren Ferguson is favourite with the bookies.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

How will the FIFA EGM handle Henry?

Sepp Blatter has called an Emergency General Meeting of FIFA's executive committee for next Wednesday (2 December). It will be held in South Africa and precedes the World Cup final tournament draw on Friday 4 December.

Although they may discuss Henry's handball there is no chance of a replay. They have stated this already, and the replay route is fraught with danger. It is also unlikely that they will bring in video replays, though it may get discussed. The most likely outcome of any discussion of Henry's misdemeanour will be the introduction of two more assistant referees behind the goal line, as are being used in UEFA's Europa Cup this season.

It is also likely that FIFA will try to take the heat out of the situation by denying that the meeting is solely about the incident in the France v Republic of Ireland game. They will also be discussing the match fixing investigation revealed in Germany last week, but above all they're likely to say it's a meeting about seedings for the World Cup. We shall see.

Let's hope they can avoid controversy in the World Cup seedings, but the most outrageous seeding will be host South Africa (currently 85th in the World, and 31st of the 32 qualifiers) who will be in the top pot of seeds.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Tottenham run riot with nine

Eight second half goals produced an amazing score line at White Hart lane yesterday with Tottenham blasting Wigan Athletic 9-1. Jermain Defoe became only the third Premier League player to score five goals in a game with a hat-trick in seven minutes, and two more to follow.

Defoe joins Andy Cole (Man United 9, Ipswich Town 0 in 1995) and Alan Shearer (Newcastle United 8, Sheffield Wednesday 0 in 1999) on the five-goal mark, and it is only the second time that a team has scored nine since the inception of the Premier League in 1992.

An agonising second half for Wigan and boss Roberto Martinez must have seemed interminable as goals flew in on 51 mins, then 54,58,64,69, then a lull before three late goals (87, 88, 90) turned the score line from a thrashing into a total embarrassment. Peter Crouch, Aaron Lennon, an own goal and Niko Kranjcar added to Defoe's quintuple.

Defoe complimented Lennon for his assists, saying: "Azza made the difference. He's so direct. When you've got someone with that pace in the team, he's so direct, it's just easy for everyone.

"He gets the ball, you just leave him in a one-on-one and get in the box. Two fantastic crosses, which I made sure my movement was right for, and I got on the end of them and scored."

Wigan's goal - which made it 3-1 - was courtesy of a handball by Paul Sharmer, causing the Spurs fans to sing "Are you Henry in disguise?", but they weren't that bothered as Spurs' fourth goal was scored a minute later.

The question now for Tottenham is whether they can build on this result. Now in fourth, they travel to fifth-placed Aston Villa next Saturday. They're sure to present a sterner test.

Friday, 20 November 2009

World Cup 2010 qualifiers

And so the final six qualifiers for the 2010 World Cup were decided on Wednesday, and they were not without controversy.

Republic of Ireland were denied by the hand of Henry, a 1-1 draw putting France unjustly through. Irish calls for a replay will be ignored by FIFA - and they should be, otherwise, where would it end? It doesn't stop it being a dismal failure by the officials to spot a double handball AND an offside.

Slovenia knocked out Russia on the away goals rule, winning 1-0 at home, but their late goal in the 2-1 defeat in Russia last Saturday proved crucial.

Portugal beat Bosnia Herzegovina 1-0 to win 2-0 on aggregate.

Greece had an excellent 1-0 in Ukraine after the first leg goalless draw.

In a fiery, bad-tempered African encounter Algeria beat Egypt 1-0 to qualify.

And finally Uruguay drew 1-1 at home with Costa Rica to win 3-2 on aggregate.

So, the 32 qualifiers (with there current FIFA ranking in brackets) are:

Brazil (1)
Spain (2)
Holland (3)
Italy (4)
Germany (5)
Argentina (6)
England (7)
France (9)
Portugal (10)
United States (11)
Switzerland (13)
Cameroon (14)
Greece (16)
Chile (17)
Mexico (18)
Ivory Coast (19)
Serbia (20)
Paraguay (21)
Australia (24)
Uruguay (25)
Denmark (27)
Algeria (29)
Nigeria (32)
Slovakia (33)
Honduras (35)
Ghana (38)
Japan (40)
South Korea (48)
Slovenia (49)
New Zealand (83)
South Africa (85)
North Korea (91)

High rankers to miss out were Croatia (8), Russia (12) and Czech Republic (15).

Onward to the draw on 4 December.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Irish cheated out of place in World Cup finals

Cheating. There's no other word for it. Thierry Henry handled the ball not once, but twice, before crossing for William Gallas to head home the goal that put France through to the World Cup finals and knocked out the Republic of Ireland.

Henry said: "I will be honest: it was a handball, but I'm not the referee."

Not only should the goal have been ruled out for the handballs, but there was also a missed offside call from the free-kick that led to the goal. Although he missed the ball, Sebastien Squillaci went to jump for the ball with two Irish players, and he was in an offside position when the kick was taken.

The Swedish referee Martin Hansson and his assistant both missed all three offences.

It was very sad for the Irish, but it is interesting that they refused to blame Henri.

Kevin Doyle said: "You do not blame the player if he can get away with it, it is nearly a natural reaction."

Manager Giovanni Trapattoni said: "The referee should have asked Henry, I'm sure he would have admitted there was a handball."

Richard Dunne said: "Henry admitted afterwards he handled it, but it doesn't make me feel any better. We were cheated."

With the game already in extra time, a 1-0 win for the Irish would have taken the game into a penatly shoot-out.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Last World Cup qualifiers decided tonight

It will all be wrapped up by tonight. The final six of the 32 teams for the World Cup next year in South Africa will be decided, one way or another, in the final qualifying matches.

In Europe there are four second leg matches to play.

Portugal travel to Bosnia-Herzegovina with a precarious 1-0 lead.
Republic of Ireland travel to France with a 1-0 deficit.
Slovenia host Russia, who won the first leg 2-1.
Ukraine play host to Greece, after a goalless first match.

Nothing is yet decided, and what price at least one penalty shoot-out?

In the Americas, Uruguay will play Costa Rica in Montevideo, already 1-0 up from the first leg. That will be the last game to be decided as it kicks off 11pm, UK time.

But perhaps the most intense and interesting battle will come in the neutral setting of Omdurman, Sudan, where Algeria meet Egypt for a place in the biggest tournament of them all. These two finished level on points and goals for and against, and they each beat the other 2-0. Inseparable, but apparently they hate each other!

Shame that you can only catch one of these games, Slovenia v Russia, on TV, and that's on the pay channel ESPN.

Next stop: the draw for the final tournament groups on 4 December.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

English football: club records in the last twenty years

Following Bolton chairman Phil Gartside's apparent attempt to revitalise the idea of a closed Premier League (i.e. little or no relegation) which would have two divisions of 18, I set to work looking at who should be included.

I'm glad to see the Premier League clubs rejected the idea of including Celtic and Rangers, but why should it just be the clubs in the Premier League now? I've looked at all the league positions since the war, and gave a point for every position higher in the league; so bottom of division 4 (or equivalent, i.e. today's League Two) would get one point, all the way to Premier League champions who get 92 points.

I continue by looking at the best clubs over the last twenty years (1989-90 to 2008-9). Here are the top 36 (last ten year position in brackets):

1 Manchester United 1813 (1)
2 Arsenal 1789 (2)
3 Liverpool 1781 (4)
4 Chelsea 1738 (3)
5 Aston Villa 1689 (6)
6 Tottenham Hotspur 1666 (5)
7 Everton 1638 (7)
8 Newcastle United 1605 (8)
9 Blackburn Rovers 1579 (10)
10 West Ham United 1560 (12)
11 Leeds United 1528 (now League One) (21)
12 Manchester City 1511 (13)
13 Middlesbrough 1503 (9)
14 Southampton 1495 (now League One) (19)
15 Sunderland 1406 (15)
16 Coventry City 1394 (33)
17 Charlton Athletic 1388 (now League One) (16)
18 Derby County 1385 (25)
19 Sheffield United 1374 (24)
20 Ipswich Town 1371 (currently 41st) (22)
21 Bolton Wanderers 1369 (11)
22 Crystal Palace 1365 (31)
23 Sheffield Wednesday 1356 (36)
24 Leicester City 1355 (26)
25 Norwich City 1344 (now League One) (32)
26 Nottingham Forest 1328 (-)
27 Wolverhampton Wand. 1301 (23)
28 Portsmouth 1296 (18)
29 MK Dons (Wimbledon) 1285 (now League One) (-)
30 QPR 1281 (-)
31 Birmingham City 1266 (17)
32 West Bromwich Albion 1230 (20)
33 Watford 1183 (27)
34 Barnsley 1104 (-)
35 Stoke City 1098 (35)
36 Reading 1090 (28)

Others who were in the ten-year top 36:
37 Fulham (14)
43 Preston North End (30)
45 Burnley (34)
47 Wigan Athletic (29)

Monday, 16 November 2009

Latest World Cup qualifiers

We now have 26 nations through to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
Three more countries were added to the list over the weekend.

New Zealand beat Bahrain 1-0 over two legs with the win coming in Wellington in front of a record football crowd for the country.

Nigeria won an exciting game over Kenya, 3-2, in Nairobi to confirm their place in the finals. Ex-Newcastle striker Obafemi Martins got the winner.

Cameroon beat Morocco 2-0 to clinch their place in South Africa.

In European play-off first legs Russia beat Slovenia 2-1, France beat Republic of Ireland 1-0, Portugal beat Bosnia-Herzegovina  1-0 and Greece drew nil-nil with Ukraine. Second legs are on Wednesday.

In the South America-Concacaf play-off Uruguay won 1-0 in Costa Rica to take a huge step towards the finals.

The final place is between Algeria and Egypt who finished completely level in their qualification group. A play-off will take place between them on Wednesday 18 November 2009 in Sudan

The other 23 qualifiers are:

Ivory Coast
United States
South Africa
South Korea
North Korea

Friday, 13 November 2009

Sir Alex gets two game ban, but union boss says it's not enough

The FA decided yesterday that no one is above the law, including the most successful manager in the history of the game.

Sir Alex Ferguson was handed a touchline ban for two games and fined £20,000 for "grossly improper" remarks about the fitness of referee Alan Wiley in October.

Peter Griffiths, QC, who chaired the regulatory commission, said: "Each member of the commission recognised Sir Alex Ferguson's achievements and stature within the game. Having said that, it was made clear to Sir Alex that, with such stature, comes increased responsibilities.

"The commission considered his admitted remarks, in the context in which they were made, were not just improper but were grossly improper and wholly inappropriate."

Alan Leighton, national secretary of the Prospect union, which represents referees, did not appear to be satisfied with the punishment. "From our point of view it is disappointing. The Football Association had a chance to make a point and they flunked it. To question the fitness of a referee is to question his ability to do the job and his integrity. We don't think this is sending the right message out to other managers.

"This is not a personal vendetta against Sir Alex, but he has a particular stature within the game and, if he is seen to be getting off lightly, other mamagers may think what he said was not beyond the pale."

There is a further two-game ban suspended until the end of the 2010-11 season.

For me, the punishment seems about right. I think it does send the message to managers that they need to be as much part of the Respect campaign as eveeryon else, whatever their standing in the game.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

English football: club records in the last ten years

Last week I gave a big thumbs down to Bolton chairman Phil Gartside's apparent attempt to revitalise the idea of a closed Premier League (i.e. little or no relegation) which would have two divisions of 18, and would include Celtic and Rangers.

I set to work looking at who should be included. Why should it just be the clubs in the Premier League now? I've looked at all the league positions since the war, and gave a point for every position higher in the league; so bottom of division 4 (or equivalent, i.e. today's League Two) would get one point, all the way to Premier League champions who get 92 points.

We'll start today with the best clubs over the last ten years (1999-00 to 2008-9). Here are the top 36:

1 Manchester United 913
2 Arsenal 905
3 Chelsea 898
4 Liverpool 895
5 Tottenham Hotspur 837
6 Aston Villa 837
7 Everton 832
8 Newcastle United 832
9 Middlesbrough 802
10 Blackburn Rovers 793
11 Bolton Wanderers 790
12 West Ham United 789
13 Manchester City 788
14 Fulham 779
15 Sunderland 763
16 Charlton Athletic 749 (now League One)
17 Birmingham City 739
18 Portsmouth 717
19 Southampton 710 (now League One)
20 West Bromwich Albion 699
21 Leeds United 684 (now League One)
22 Ipswich Town 683 (currently 41st)
23 Wolverhampton Wand. 674
24 Sheffield United 660
25 Derby County 656
26 Leicester City 655
27 Watford 638
28 Reading 632 (currently 40th)
29 Wigan Athletic 632
30 Preston North End 629
31 Crystal Palace 628
32 Norwich City 625 (now League One)
33 Coventry City 612
34 Burnley 592
35 Stoke City 583
36 Sheffield Wednesday 547

No sign of Hull City (they're 53rd on the last ten years) who would "get lucky" by being in the Premier League. Clubs with a good record even in the last ten years, but not currently in the top 36 positions, would miss out - most notably Charlton Athletic, Southampton and Leeds United.

For a deeper record of football heritage I'll be looking further back in similar articles in the future.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Staggering: Ferguson pushed from Posh

I talked about the injustice of the possibility of sacking Phil Brown on this blog a couple of weeks back ( He has survived for now (although I just get the feeling the club is waiting for the "right" (wrong) result so that they can say goodbye).

Well, blow me, if Peterborough United haven't fallen foul of the same stupidity!

Boss Darren Ferguson has "left by mutual consent".

"Following a series of meetings with the manager, Peterborough have decided to part company by mutual consent," read a club statement.

"The football club would like to thank Darren for his magnificent service during his time at London Road and wish him and his family all the best for the future."

"The Posh" are bottom of the Championship, but there are only 16 (of 46) games gone. What on earth does the Peterborough board expect?

This is a club that was in League Two when Ferguson took over. He took them up in 2007-8 and straight through League One last season. Now, 16 games into the following season, he's out!

His "crime" is achieving too much too soon.

The real crime is at board level.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Liverpool benefit from lack of technology

It was never a penalty! We could all see that from the television replay.

Yes, Liverpool got lucky in their 2-2 draw at home to Birmingham City last night. It was a draw they deserved for their battering of the Blues, but the latter will believe they deserved the three points for some stout defending and the fact that it really was a penalty that should never have been given.

The problem is that from the referee's (Peter Walton) viewpoint it looked like a penalty. Liverpool's David Ngog was on the left-hand side of the penalty area heading towards to goal line and about to put in a probable dangerous cross when Lee Carsley came in with a sliding tackle. Down went Ngog. Penalty. The TV cameras - from on high - showed the truth, but the referee couldn't see that.

The arguments about the use of technology will rise again, and there is no doubt that a TV review would have reached the right verdict (no penalty) for that one. For long-term use, the jury is still out on the use of technology and the debate will rage on.

One thing's for sure. Video evidence should be retrospectively used to give David Ngog a yellow card for diving - with perhaps a score of 9.5 written clearly on it!

See the BBC's 606 debate for a Liverpool fan's view.

Monday, 9 November 2009

FA Cup minnows have their day

When we've just seen (or at least heard about) the real David (Haye) beat a real giant (Nikolai Valuev) in the boxing ring, it is difficult to talk about footballing Davids beating Goliaths in the FA Cup first round. The real Goliaths (of the Premier League) have not yet even joined the competition.

Yet there were one or two interesting slayings of the proverbial giants in the first round over the weekend.

Perhaps most notable was the victory of Northwich Victoria at home to Charlton Athletic (1-0) on Sunday, live on TV, and goal scorer Wayne Riley will forever live in the Vics' folklore after scoring the winner after 81 minutes. Charlton Athletic, second in League One, will be - as they say - left to concentrate on the league.

Another eye-catcher was the win of Kettering Town at Hartlepool (1-0), not least becase Kettering then drew Leeds United at home in the second round, and Leeds are definitely the pick of the draw at this stage. They'll be nervous, as they will recall their 1-0 defeat at Histon at the same stage last season.

Bath City (Blue Square South) had an excellent 2-0 win at Grimsby Town, their reward being a home time against fellow non-leaguers, either Forest Green or Mansfield Town who drew 1-1.

Blue Square Premier run-away leaders Oxford United also joined the party with a 1-0 at home to League One Yeovil Town in front of a 6,144 crowd, and they'll be confident of joining the third round draw after Barrow were picked out of the hat for their second round tie.

Another fantastic away win was achieved by Staines Town (half-way down the Blue Square South) at Shrewsbury Town (seventh in League One), and Staines's reward for their 1-0 win is a home tie against Millwall or AFC Wimbledon (playing tonight).

York City - another famous old League name - conjured up past glories with a 3-2 home win over Crewe and will visit fellow Blue Square Premier contenders Cambridge United in the second round.

The spirit of the Cup lives on!

Friday, 6 November 2009

'Closed' Premier League must never be allowed

I read in today's Daily Telegraph that Phil Gartside, chairman of Bolton Wanderers, is looking to revive proposals for a 'closed' Premier League, consisting of 36 clubs of two divisions, with only one club being relegated to the Football League each season.

The proposal would also include Celtic and Rangers from the Scottish Premier League.

It is incredible that this should be considered at this time. How on earth could these clubs in the top flight support this: Fulham, Wigan Athletic, Stoke City, Hull City, Burnley, plus Reading - all of whom have spent much of the past 10-15 years in the lower reaches of the Football League? Without promotion through the ranks they would never have made it to the top flight. There are clubs with much greater heritage, bigger grounds, better support and a fuller trophy cabinet than these and Bolton Wanderers and these facts cannot be ignored.

Of course, this sort of protective exculsivity is just what you would expect from greedy, frightened, short-termism chairman who can't see beyond the far goalposts.

As for bringing in two clubs from another country - no, no and no again. If Scotland feels compromised by the possibility of a Great Britain team in the Olympics having consequences foe their home association and national team, how does it think Uefa or Fifa would react to two of its clubs competing in another country's league?

The answer is no; it should not be discussed and never raised again.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Top European clubs face Champions League exit

Some of the most successful European clubs in European Cup and Champions League history face an exit at the group stage of the competition this season, including holders Barcelona.

Liverpool's failure to hold on to a 1-0 lead, succumbing to a late Lyon equaliser last night, has put them in peril of group exit. Indeed, it is highly unlikely that they will recover their position and they face the ignominy of joining the Europa League at its knock-out stage instead.

In Group F, it is actually possible that both Barcelona and Inter Milan could fail to qualify. The group is so tight that anything could happen. Barcelona, having lost at home to Rubin Kazan a couple of weeks ago, could only draw 0-0 with the same team in Russia, so will finish below them should the teams end up with the same number of points. Inter Milan leapt from last to first with their 2-1 late turn-around at Dynamo Kiev, but have only two more points (6) than Kiev in fourth. Rubin and Barcelona have 5 each.

In group A, it is Bayern Munich who are in real danger after they lost 2-0 at home to Bordeaux - who qualified as a result. Now, as well as hoping Juventus get nothing at Bordeaux in three weeks, Bayern will have to win their trip to Italy too. They are as unlikely as Liverpool to succeed.

Finally, in group C, both AC Milan and Real Madrid face tricky ties against Marseille to avoid being dumped out of the competition, especially Real, who visit Marseille on 8 December.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Oldham v Leeds live on the FA website - for free!

I noted from the fixtures in Sunday's paper that the Oldham Athletic v. Leeds United FA Cup first round tie is due to kick-off at 5.15pm on Saturday 7 November.

It also said "Live on the FA website".

As a Leeds United fan based in the south of England, I found that interesting, but following the Ukraine v. England game being shown live on the internet last month, I wondered with sinking heart how much it would cost to watch.

My research today on the FA website found this banner:

But I could find nothing more - no information on how to access it or how to pay etc.

Next port of call was the Leeds United website, where they are selling tickets for the game, but letting fans know that they must buy tickets before the game.

At the bottom of the ticket advice page was this line: "The game will be available to watch live on the internet free of charge at"

I'm looking forward to it already!

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Beckham back at Milan to boost World Cup bid

David Beckham gave a boost to his chances of going to the World Cup with England next June by convincing AC Milan to take him on loan again this winter.

The LA Galaxy midfielder will once again take the black and red striped shirt of the Rossoneri in Serie A, where he shone last season, but this season he will be in Italy for six months - twice as long as last time round.

It will give him a much better chance of reaching his fourth World Cup and matching, or even eclipsing, Peter Shilton's England record of 125 caps. Playing in the MLS in the United States this summer, Beckham has only made 11 appearances for Galaxy, who still have a chance of silverware this month.

Beckham said: "I need to give myself the best chance possible to make the World Cup squad, and playing for Milan on loan will help me to do that."

Milan vice-president, Adriano Galliani, said: "We are very happy to see David again with the Rossoneri jersey, after the splendid experiences of last season. We are certain that this time in Europe will help the player take part in the next World Cup and to conitnue beyond his career with the Galaxy."

Monday, 2 November 2009

Time to enforce the rules

The petty cheating carried out by footballers is becoming increasingly irritating.

It's the gaining of yards at free-kicks, throw-ins, corner-kicks.

The continuing practice of corner takers to place the ball beyond the quadrant by the corner flag led to the rule-makers caving in and now the ball only has to "overhang" the quadrant. So now, not content with overhanging, many corner takers place the ball six inches beyond the quadrant. Always pushing beyond the rules.

Most free-kicks, but esepcially those taken deep in their own half by goalkeepers, are regularly taken 10-15 yards ahead of where the offence took place.

In yesterday's Birmingham v Manchester City game on TV, the home team's Liam Ridgewell took throw-ins down the left-hand side. On each occasion he ignored the ball that had gone out, took a ball from a ball-boy ten yards further up the pitch, ignored the position where the ball went out and then gained a further five yards in the walk to actually throwing the ball. On only one occasion did referee Mike Dean send him back (about half-way).

There will be those that argue, "Does it matter? It's only a few yards" for all these complaints. I would counter: "If a few yards don't matter, then take it from the right place!"

How long before it's introduced into the rules that free-kicks and throw-ins only need to be "within 20 yards" of the stoppage in play? Why stop there?

Already penalty takers like to place the ball in front of the spot so the ball's only "overhanging the spot". Hell!Why not give them a yard, "what does it matter?" With keepers leaving their line invariably, soon the taker will meet the keeper on the six-yard line!

Rule-makers and rule enforcers (referees) need to get a grip of this now.

It's time to stop the cheating.