Friday, 24 December 2010

Benitez home for Christmas

It comes to something, doesn't it, when you win the World Club Championship one day, and get sacked a few days later!

That's what's happened to Rafa Benitez, now the ex-manager of Inter Milan. The important fact is, though, that Inter Milan are seventh in the Italian League, 13 points adrift of leaders and city rivals, AC Milan. And that is a big fall from 2009-10 when Inter won the Champions League, Italian League and Italian Cup under the management of Jose Mourinho.

What a tough act to follow for Benitez, and he couldn't do it.

The sad fact is that Benitez's star has fallen from the days when he took Valencia close to Champions League success in the early 2000s. yes, he did win the same competition with Liverpool in 2005, the League Cup in the same year, and the FA Cup a year later, but he never got close to winning the Premier League - the competition Reds' supporters are desperate to win - in fact, drifitng further away from the prize.

Quite why there seems to be some feeling on Merseyside to get Benitez back, I am not sure, but that is apparently where is home for Christmas.

A footnote to Sepp Blatter: if a manager can get sacked a few days after winning your precious World Club Championship, what does it tell you about its worth?

Hint: Nothing.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

City miss their chance

Manchester City have paid an awful lot of money to accumulate their current squad, but it is evident from last night's game against Everton that they are well short of winning the Premier League title.

Everton beat City 2-1 at the City of Manchester Stadium, exposing the home defence twice early on, and then defending stoutly, even after they had been reduced to ten men by the sending off of Victor Anichebe after 15 minutes of the scond half.

None of City's high earners could break through the visiting defence, with the home goal coming by virtue of an own goal when the ball deflected off Phil Jagielka into the Everton net after 72 minutes. That might have been the cue for a City onslaught, but, despite having lots of possession and some pressure, and 24 shots, Tim Howard's goal simply wasn't threatened enough.

While all top teams stumble from time to time, Manchester City still haven't joined the big boys. This defeat cost them their chance to head the top league at Christmas for the first time in 81 years, and it's hard to see them getting among the likes of Manchester United and Chelsea when the days of reckoning approach in May.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Clubs that made hay while it snowed

For all those who whinge about the lack of a winter break in English football, well, most of them have got their wish on the last week or two. Many clubs didn't play on Saturday, and won't play again until Boxing Day. Enjoy the break.

However, for those that did play there was a chance to bag some points rather than clutch onto "games in hand". Sunderland's 1-0 win over Bolton took them into sixth place in the Premier League, only four points behind Chelsea - what a boost for the Black Cats.

In the Championship, Leeds United took advantage of many other clubs near the top being unable to play, beat leaders QPR 2-0, and moved into an automatic promotion spot for the first time this season, and had a near 30,000 crowd to boot. Would they have preferred to stay in the warm?

Likewise, near the bottom, Hull City and Sheffield United enjoyed much needed wins, and Ipswich Town did all they could to get their game on - most of the first half being played with the blue lines obscured by the ever-deepening snow - and a rather bizarre 17-minute break only 15 minutes into the second half at the behest of referee Stuart Attwell to clear the lines (that were already showing better than in the first 45 minutes!) ensured that the game was completed and Roy Keane's team bagged three vital points. A 16,728 corwd would not have had it any other way.

Back to winter breaks - it's been said many times before: when would you book it? December? January? February? Our weather's not that predictable.

Play the games when you can. If you get a postponement, put your feet up. Otherwise, get the points.

Friday, 17 December 2010

Chelsea look to end United's unbeaten run

It should be an interesting football weekend. There could well be a rash of postponements given the likely weather, but most of the tops games will probably survive courtesy of their undersoil heating systems.

Undoubtedly the highlight is Manchester United's visit to Chelsea on Sunday - a cracking antidote to snow and Christmas shopping. It might not be Chelsea's last chance (crikey, we're not even half-way through the season!), but they'll certainly be doing they can to prevent United from taking a six-point advatange (plus game in hand) into Christmas. I can see Chelsea ending United's unbeaten run.

Chasers Arsenal take on Stoke City at The Emirates and Manchester City face Everton at home on Monday evening. Tottenham visit Blackpool in an interesting Sunday lunchtime encounter.

At the bottom, no one wants to be last on Christmas day, but it is highly likely to be West Ham United, who would need to beat managerless Blackburn Rovers at Ewood Park and hope that Wolves gain nothing at West Brom on Sunday.

Just above them Wigan play host to Aston Villa, and FUlham travel to Anfield in yet another ESPN-televised Liverpool game (it's a monopoly!).

Let's hope the weather holds. It's too interesting to miss!

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Big Three fail to impress

Manchester United's 1-0 win against Arsenal put them two points clear of the Gunners with a game in hand. Manchester City are third and, incredibly, after the superb start they had, Chelsea are fourth, three points behind United having now played a game more.

It's Chelsea versus Manchester United on Sunday. Is it too early to say that Chelsea must win to stay in the title race? Well, yes it is, but it certainly doesn't hide the fact that this is a big game for the Blues.

Having failed to beat Tottenham last Sunday - courtesy of a failed penalty by Didier Drogba in the last minute - the pressure piles up on Chelsea.

And then on 27 December, Chelsea travel to Arsenal. It really is a season-defining few games.

Despite United's 1-0 win on Sunday and the fact that they are still unbeaten, there linger some doubts that they are the Real McCoy. Yet Arsenal again failed to deliver when it mattered.

It seems to me that the Big Three (sorry - farewell Liverpool) are not as good as they were. Yet they are still in three of the top four positions.

Is the overall quality slipping?

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Blackburn Rovers join the insanity

Blackburn Rovers sacked manager Sam Allardyce yesterday.

They have simply joined the lunatics in the asylum. The new owners of Blackburn Rovers are the Venky's group from India.

Undoubtedly, they are well versed in English football and the Premiership. Or at least, they have seen some of the recent goings-on and think that sacking a manager is an excellent first step.

We neutrals are running out of clubs we hope will get relegated "to teach the owners a lesson"! Big Sam didn't deserve this ignominious treatment. What do the new owners expect from Blackburn? A title? A cup? Pretty football? Get real.

The trouble is that the clubs are selling out to foreign ownership with ridiculous haste and alacrity. They're falling over themselves to get overseas owners in; plus, of course, foreign players, managers, coaches. The only English people left in the game are those who brave the recent freezing weather and pay out their hard-earned, but likely to reduce, money to see the madness unfold before them.

It's become insane, and the lunatics are taking over the asylum.

There's a big fall coming for Premier League football.

Monday, 13 December 2010

Bolton inspired by sending off

I've never quite understood why fans cheer a player of their side who's just been sent off.

It happened yesterday when Bolton's Mark Davies was sent off for a second yellow card, having elbowed Blackburn's Phil Jones in a heading challenge. Davies was cheered and applauded as he (eventually) left the field, despite having just left his team one man short and with an uphill battle for the rest of the game.

The fact that Bolton did go on to win the game is not relevant. If it was a good idea to play one man short, every team would start with only ten!

Having cheered their own dismissed man from the field, the Bolton fans then booed victim Phil Jones's every touch. Incredible.

Amazingly, Bolton did seem to be inspired by the sending off! They took the lead, and then, when Blackburn equalised, they re-took the lead within 10 seconds of the re-start, and hung on ro win 2-1. Bolton now find themselves in the dizzyingly high position of sixth, only six points behind the leaders!

Friday, 10 December 2010

Pardew signs as Newcastle manager till mid-2016. Ha ha.

So Alan Pardew has been named as the new Newcastle United boss. Well, good luck to him!

Apparently he has received phone and text messages from fellow managers telling that he is "mad" to take the job. Pardew said it was daunting, but a challenge he couldn't turn down, and that Newcastle United is one of the top five clubs in the country.

Pardew has signed a five-and-a-half year contract, taking him to mid-2016. You have to laugh. Newcastle have had seven managers in the last five-and-a-half years!

I was talking to some mates last night. They have no feeling one way or the other for Newcastle, Chris Hughton or Alan Pardew, but the general feeling was that they hope Newcastle get relegated as a reward for impatient stupidity.

Newcastle managers since 2004:
Graeme Souness 2004-06
Glenn Roeder 2006-07
Sam Allardyce 2007-08
Kevin Keegan 2008
Joe Kinnear 2008-09
Alan Shearer 2009
Chris Hughton 2009-2010

Thursday, 9 December 2010

All four English teams qualify in Champions League

All four English clubs made it through the group stages of the Champions League.

Manchester United's draw on Tuesday with Valencia wasn't not particularly relevant, except that it ensured that they won the group. It was a shame that the concession of a goal spoilt their blemish-free goals against column for the previous five games, but Sir Alex Ferguson won't worry too much about that.

Chelsea had already qualified prior to last night's 1-0 defeat at Marseille, but Chelsea's problems are longer term than worrying about an otherwise 'dead rubber' - the Blues want to get back to winning ways in any competition in any way.

Tottenham Hotspur are Chelsea' next league opponents on Sunday, and they won their Champions League group by drawing 3-3 at FC Twente on Tuesday - the first new team to win a CL group. Going forward, boss Harry Redknapp's concern might be that Spurs conceded 11 goals in the six group games - with much tougher opponents likely to be waiting.

Arsenal made it through by beating Partizan Belgrade 3-1 at the Emirates last night. The Gunners' startling start to the campaign (three straight wins) was threatened by derailment with the two defeats that followed, but they secured second place behind Shakhtar Donetsk with the win.

The draw will be interesting on 17 December.

Manchester United could get Inter Milan, Lyon, Copenhagen, Roma, Marseille, AC Milan.
Chelsea could get Inter Milan, Lyon, Valencia, Copenhagen, Roma, AC Milan.
Tottenham could get Lyon, Valencia, Copenhagen, Roma, Marseille, AC Milan.
Arsenal could get Shalke 04, Barceloan, Bayern Munich, Real Madrid.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Newcastle sack Hughton to look for more experience

The greed, impatience and yes, stupidity, of Premier League chairmen/owners was highlighted again yesterday when Chris Hughton was sacked as manager of Newcastle United.

This is the Newcastle whom he rescued from the doldrums of the Championship and took back to the Premier League last season, and the Newcastle who now sit in 12th place in the top league, above the likes of Everton and Aston Villa. What precisely do the owners expect?

The same thing previously happened to Billy Davies of Derby County and Phil Brown of Hull City. Did it help their clubs? Both were taken to the Premier League by those managers. Both are now in the Championship. You judge.

There were rumblings at Newcastle a few weeks ago, so it was not really a question of whether Hughton would be sacked, but when.

The club is apparently looking for some one with "more managerial experience". It's a good job all clubs don't take that view. I wonder what managers will be looking at this particular poisoned chalice. Any experienced manager now out of work must have been sacked a few times.

That must be what Newcastle are looking for. I hope they get what they deserve.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Big clubs beat the weather

So, after the World Cup bidding fiasco, it was back to the parochial limits of the Premier and Football Leagues. Except that they're not so parochial, with such wide foreign influences, and we weren't quite back as much of the Football League programme was called off because of the adverse weather.

Congratulations to all those clubs who did get their games on - all the Premier League games except at Blackpool, and seven of the 12 Championship games, together with games at Swindon Town, Northampton Town and Oxford United (not too far apart geographically, which tells a tale). Given that the higher in the league a club is, the more likely the game was to be on, it does seem that money can even beat the weather!

Chelsea's stumbling continued as Everton fought back to equalise with a late goal, and even pressed for a winner. Arsenal took advantage with a 2-1 home win against Fulham - getting over some of their recent poor home form. Manchester City have not yet been particularly convincing, but their 1-0 win over Bolton Wanderers puts them only three points behind the leaders, after Chelsea have surrendered their early season advantage.

The Championship is tight, except that unbeaten QPR are four points clear, despite not playing at the weekend. Second-placed Cardiff City secured a late-late draw against bottom club Preston, whose draw must have felt like a defeat, after being denied so late. Swansea City saw off the challenge of Ipswich Town, but were greatly helped by referee Andy D'Urso's refusal to award them what appeared to be a clear penalty at 1-2; and Swansea broke away and scored a third straight away (a magnificent effort by Craig Beattie). Ipswich boss (who does have previous with Mr D'Urso) refused to blame the referee.

From Norwich City in fourth to Sheffield United in 20th, there are only 11 points separating the teams, so there is still all to play for in a division notorious for late runs both up and down the table!

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Friday, 3 December 2010

World Cup bidding process is a sham

So FIFA gave the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar.

Let's ignore Russia for the moment.

Qatar? Never qualified for the World Cup; 113th in FIFA's own ranking; population 1.7 million; average temperature in July: up to 46 degrees C.

This is crazy! What has Qatar got to do with football? They might as well hold the Ashes in Finland.

Back to Russia: Qualified for 9 World Cups as either Soviet Union or Russia; 13th in the rankings; population 141 million.

Neither the Russian bid nor the Qatari bid was considered the best, yet they both won. Both of them were considered riskier than most of the other bids, yet they won.

The World Cup hosting bidding process is a sham (and I don't necessarily mean corrupt). It is obvious that minds were made up months or years ago. It is obvious that FIFA want to push the boundaries of football beyond their paymasters (Western Europe) to reach the four corners of their flat world.

OK, that's fine, but don't pretend otherwise. Don't pretend that there is any merit in the bidding process. Just say: if you've got loads of money (from oil would be handy) to build big stadiums and you've not held the World Cup before, then send us your bid; but if you're a tired old footballing nation, don't bother.

Let's have some honesty and transparency, FIFA.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

World Cup hosts? Vote for England and Australia

And so we close in on the FIFA votes for the hosts for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.

After all the controversy, allegations and, no doubt, nods and winks, the votes will take place tomorrow.

There are four bids in the running for the 2018 World Cup, one of which, of course, is England. By the time 2018 comes round it will be 52 years since England hosted the World Cup. For the game's mother-country, this is, in my opinion, far too long. Other bids are Spain AND Portugal and Belgium AND Holland. Personally, I don't go for joint bids, and how is it that Spain - who hosted the tournament in 1982 - could host it alone then, but can't now? The final bid is from Russia, which one can only imagine would not be nearly as welcoming as England.

Obviously, being English, I am biased, but I fervently hope the World Cup "comes home" in 2018, and that all the reports in The Times and Panorama do not influence the final votes.

Sadly, I think it will prove to be a forlorn hope.

As for 2022, there are five bids: Australia, South Korea, Qatar, USA, Japan.

What South Korea and Japan are doing bidding for this World Cup, I can't understand, as they jointly held it so recently in 2002. That would be ridiculously soon, and the USA hosted it in1994. To my mind, you can't invite a country who has never qualified for the World Cup final stages (Qatar) to host the tournament, so my vote would go to the Aussies. We know they'd host a superb tournament.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Barcelona smash Real Madrid for five in awesome display

Watching Barcelona tear apart Real Madrid last night was awesome. The final score was 5-0, and Madrid can be grateful that Barcelona played some "Harlem-globetrotter" style possession football at times to show off their ability without threatening the Madrid goal for long periods.

To put this victory into perspective, Madrid were unbeaten this season, yet Barcelona made them look as though they were a whole division lower.

Xavi, Iniesta, Messi - incredible. But the whole team contributed to a sparkling display.

At times it was a fiery affair, and it wasn't always Madrid who were to blame, despite their heavy loss. Barcelona showed that they can stand up for themselves, but also be unnecessarily petty at times. On one occasion, manager Pep Guardiola was holding the ball after it had gone out of play for a Madrid throw. Over came Cristiano Ronaldo to take the throw, but Guardiola petulantly wouldn't give him back. As Ronaldo came closer Guardiola dropped the ball out of reach. Ronaldo, rightly angry, pushed the Barcelona boss in the chest, only for the latter to hold his face! Old player habits die hard, I suppose. It was a pathetic episode caused by the Barcelona manager, who should be bigger and better than that. Inevitably, of course, all hell broke loose and Ronaldo got the blame by the home players.

Nevertheless, the main story is that Barcelona looked amazing, unplayable and must be favourites to win everything they put their mind to.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Real Madrid face charges for time-wasting dismissals

Sadly, people in professional football are always trying to stretch the rules to the limit.

So it was on Tuesday night when Real Madrid seemingly contrived to get two players sent off so that they would avoid suspensions in the knock-out stages of the Champions League.

Both Xabi Alonso and Sergio Ramos were booked for a second time and therefore sent off in the latter stages of Madrid's 4-0 win at Ajax. The misdemeanour in each case was a piece of outrageous time-wasting that rightly resulted in a booking - exactly what each player wanted. They will now be suspended for the meaningless match against Auxerre, and their slate will be clean for the first game of the knock-out competition.

UEFA, though, appear to have seen through this ruse, and have charged Real Madrid with improper conduct of manager Jose Mourinho and four players (Alonso, Ramos, goalkeeper Iker Casillas and substitute Jerzey Dudek). The latter two appeared to be part of the conspiracy, passing messages to the two players who were already on a booking each.

Well, good for UEFA. It will be interesting to see what punishment they mete out. Perhaps suspensions for two games in the knock-out stages?

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Referees in Scotland are right to strike after integrity is questioned

It's always worrying when the integrity of The Beautiful Game is questioned, and such is the case now with the resultant strike by referees in Scotland.

Referees at the top level in Scotland are to strike this weekend after their integrity was questioned following the admission of lying by referee Dougie McDonald following a recent Celtic v Dundee United game.

It seems that Mr McDonald gave a penalty to Celtic, consulted his assistant and then changed his decision to 'no penlaty'. He said that he had changed his decision after being alerted to his mistake by the assistant, but then later said that in fact he had changed his mind upon realising his own error.

The lie seems very small to me, yet Celtic chairman John Reid said: "If the SFA had any sense of their own integrity, they should look at it again. His position is completely untenable. The SFA's position on this issue is also untenable."

I don't see that. It appears to me that the referee made a mistaken decision, changed his mind and sought to justify it by saying his assistant had helped him, but then admitted that it was HIS decision to overturn the penalty award. That IS integrity.

Celtic won the bad-tempered game on 17 October 2-1 with an injury-time winner.

Referees have a difficult enough job with all the cheating that goes on by players (in all leagues), and to question their integrity is, at best, unhelpful.

I sympathise with the strike.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Title contenders: is the balance of power shifting?

Chelsea lost - again.
Arsenal lost at home - again.
Manchester United gained ground on Chelsea with a 2-0 win against Wigan Athletic, but were unconvincing, and have drawn half their league games this season.

Manchester City, Bolton Wanderers and Tottenham Hotspur in places 4th to 7th, all won.

Is the balance of power beginning to change?

The fact is that the top three remain as Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal. The chasers have yet to break in among them. Even Liverpool, who had a terrible start, are only three points behind Tottenham, who boss Harry Redknapp claims are in title contention. Fulham boss and ex-City boss Mark Hughes saw his team whipped 4-1 by the Mancunian Blues and declared them to be contenders.

The problem is that, despite the reduced consistency of the regular challengers, the chasing pack are even more inconsistent. Unless they can improve that, then the big three (as they are now) will gradually pull away and be the three in the tussle for the title come the business end of the season.

Chelsea astound. They have now lost three games in of the last four, scoring only one goal in the four games, have sacked Ray Wilkins as coach, and seem to have a thin squad after injuries have struck. One apparent piece of good news on Saturday was the return of Alex, but they lost all the same.

Has Roman Abramovich interfered once too often?

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Dismal England's problems are deep-rooted

England's showing in the 2-1 defeat against France last night was truly poor.

Comparisons were made beforehand about both countries' dismal efforts in the World Cup in the summer, but whereas England have maintained a position of sixth in the world, France fell to 21st. On last night's evidence, these positions will soon be reversed.

France showed good control, passing and movement and kept the ball for long periods. England's control was sloppy, the passing wayward, there was little movement, and possession amounted to two or three passes at most.

France have bounced back since the World Cup; England patently have not. The reason is that France had good players before, during and after the World Cup - but were poorly managed and rebellious. England did not and do not have very good players (despite a good showing in World Cup qualification), and it doesn't really matter how England are managed, nothing changes.

Fabio Capello may make mistakes, but the underlying problem is not really his fault. When the FA appointed him they thought that a 'big name' with a 'track record' was what was needed. It was deluded thinking. At this level, a good manager can turn a good team into a great team, but a good manager cannot turn average players into good players, or even into a good team.

As I have said many times before, the problems are much more deep-rooted than this. With so few English players playing at the top level (e.g. the English Premier League) it is little wonder that we cannot produce a top-class eleven to compete with the best in the world.

We were told and we hoped that after the 4-1 thrashing by Germany in the World Cup that 'something would have to change now'. It didn't.

The misery is with us for many years to come.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

The number of Championship players in the England squad will grow

The count today is TWO.

That is the number of Championship players in the 22-man England squad for the friendly against France this evening.

I'll try and remember to check it for every England game.

The number went up from one originally in the squad (Jay Bothroyd of Cardiff City) to two (Scott Loach of Watford) when Joe Hart had to pull out, having been in injured in Tuesday's training session.

I believe the number of Championship players in the England squad will slowly grow over the coming months and years as the number of foreigners in our Premier League teams continues to grow unabated, with uncaring foreign managers and owners and people in charge of the Premier League who don't care what the England team achieves.

It was forecast all the way back in 2000 by Kevin Keegan when he resigned after losing to Germany in the last match at the old Wembley.

Nobody took any notice then. And they still don't.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Terry out for months

It seems that John Terry may be sidelined for months with a nerve problem, according to a BBC report.

This will come as a blow to Carlo Ancelotti after his team was so badly exposed right through its heart in the 3-0 loss to Sunderland on Sunday. Cut apart time and again by Danny Welbeck and Asamoah Gyan, centre backs Branislaw Ivanovic and Paulo Ferreira - both usually full-backs for the Blues - would undoubtedly be happy to move back to their regular slots, but with Terry out for so long, probably Ivanovic will be asked to partner Alex for the rest of the season.

The news about Terry follows up last week's disappointment that Frank Lampard will take longer to return than expected.

The injuries have taken some attention away from the sacking of Ray Wilkins as coach last week, and may be some of this disruption was, at least in part, responsible forn the poor showing on Sunday against the Mackems, who, however, should draw great strength from such a vibrant display.

Now placed sixth, Sunderland, with the lack of consistency of would-be contenders like Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur, might secretly begin to have thoughts of European qualification. More displays like Sunday's would certainly reinforce that view.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Wilkins devastated by dismissal

The removal of Ray Wilkins from Chelsea's coachign staff yesterday was as surprising as it was sudden. The club announced that it was not renewing Wilkins' contract, and that he was leaving immediately.

Despite instant talk of a coach coming in from overseas, it seems an internal appointment is now the most likely scenario. Assistant first team coach Paul Clement is thought to be a serious contender.

Wilkins re-joined Chelsea's coaching staff in 2008, under manager Luiz Filipe Scolari, but, despite Wilkins' advantageous command of Italian at the English club, it seems Italian boss Carlo Ancelotti thought him surplus to requirements.

Paul Clement joined Chelsea in 1994 on a part-time basis to coach the Under-15s, and since then has become a well-respected member of the Blues' coaching staff.

The decision to sack Wilkins has apparently devastated him and the players were said to be "surprised and shocked, with a lot of sadness around the place".
Wilkins has been left devastated by his surprise dismissal, while the players are "surprised and shocked, with a lot of sadness around the place" according to a club source.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

City fail to match United's ambition

Manchester United may still be unbeaten after 12 league games, but drawing half of those games means that there are four points behind leaders Chelsea, who, although not in their best form, secured another three points at home to Fulham last night.

Manchester United do not quite look the real deal. They couldn't get the goal to win the game at Manchester City last night, though they did look threatening for much of the latter stages.

Manchester City, however, look way short of being true contenders for the title. They have already lost three games and are seven points behind Chelsea. Last night they offered little threat to United, and the playing of so many defensive-minded midfield players tells us either of their fear of their city rivals, or their lack of ambition.

Either way, the millions spent by Roberto Mancini have not created a team to challenge the true title apsirants at Chelsea, United and Arsenal. Surely a bit of attacking gusto for Manchester City could start to win games - though they might lose a few too - but the present style suggests a team that hopes to sneak into the top four rather than aim for the top spot.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

FIFA reputation damaged without doubt

A FIFA member has admitted that the recent allegations of vote-rigging have damaged FIFA and the World Cup.

"I'm sure there's damage for Fifa and for the World Cup," Fifa executive member Junji Ogura told BBC Sport. Too right it is.

Two executive committee members, Nigerian Amos Adamu and Tahitian Reynald Temarii have been provisionally suspended from the committee, and face corrpution charges. Both deny any wrongdoing, despite being accused of asking for money from a USA World Cup consortium in a Sunday Times expose.

Because the Sunday Times is an English newspaper, it is thought that the English no longer has enough backing to win the vote for the 2018 World Cup. Yet, it's not the bidders who tried to expose any wrongdoing.

I don't know what's worse: the possibility of FIFA vote rigging, or the fact that exposure could damage the English bid.

This is my forecast:
  • The two committee members will not receive any sanction and will be returend to their positions on the committee.
  • England will lose the vote for the 2018 World Cup.
  • Other newspapers will expose further allegations of corruption within FIFA.
  • FIFA's reputation will sink further.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Spirit of the FA Cup lives on

As an erstwhile supporter of Woking (I still live in Woking and watch out for the results, but don't go any more), I was delighted to see them rekindling memories of previous FA Cup glories with a 0-0 draw earned at runaway League One leaders Brighton on Saturday. It should be noted that many non-league clubs have already had to battle through four preliminary rounds before reach the first round proper, so this was Woking's fifth tie. The reply at Kingfield on Tuesday week should be a rousing affair.

And I salute the other non-league victories and draws from the first round:
  • FC United of Manchester of the Evo-Stick Premier'slower reaches won 3-2 at League One Rochdale, and will play Brighton or Woking in the second round.
  • Cambridge United earned a creditable 0-0 draw at home to League One Huddersfield Town.
  • Blue Square Bet South (same as Woking) Dartford drew 1-1 with League Two Port Vale.
  • Fleetwood Town (BSB Premier) drew 1-1 with Walsall.
  • Dover of the BSB South won 2-0 in a local derby (where no love was lost) at Gillingham.
  • Vauxhall of the BSB North drew 0-0 away at Hartlepool United.
  • Tamworth of the BSB Premier kocked out Crewe of League Two 2-1.
These were magnificent achievements, and show that the spirit of the FA Cup - at least in the early rounds - is still alive.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Gerrard makes mockery of De Sanctis claims

Steven Gerrard's arrival on the pitch for the second half of the game against Napoli at Anfield sparked Liverpool into life in the Europa Cup last night.

His second-half hat-trick turned a one-nil deficit into a 3-1 win, putting Liverpool into a strong qualification position with two group games to go.

There was a ridiculous moment just after Gerrard scored his first goal. Chasing down a poor back pass by Andrea Dossena, he just beat Napoli goalkeeper Morgan De Sanctis to the ball and forced the it into the net. De Sanctis quite clearly challenged for the ball with his feet rather than his hands, but then made a farcical claim to the assistant referee (fourth or fifth official!) that Gerrard had taken the ball from his hands! To add to the thespianic quality of the appeal he limped across to make the protest.

Such false claims are not needed.

It was pleasing to see Gerrard beat him twice more.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Sunday Times trap may have scuppered 2018 World Cup bid

It looks as though the Sunday Times investigation into FIFA voting for World Cup hosting may have scuppered the England bid for the 2018 World Cup.

The bid has reportedly been “significantly harmed” according to a key member of the English campaign team, which goes against a FIFA executive committee member saying there would be no backlash against the bid.

The vote takes place on 2 December, with FIFA officials unhappy about the Sunday Times probe into voting practices.

A member of the bid team told the BBC: “The question is: can we recover from this? FIFA members feel they are being persecuted by the British media. It isn't dead and the next two or three weeks will be delicate but England's bid has been damaged and it's going to take a lot of hard work to repair that damage."

Two FIFA executive committee members (from Nigeria and Tahiti) were exposed in a Sunday Times trap and the ethics committee of FIFA is meeting on 15-17 November to decide on any further action.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter said last week: “One can ask whether such an action is appropriate, trying to set traps for people. It is a deeply rooted problem [with the English media]. Who is benefiting from this situation and who is being harmed? We are asking ourselves why did it happen and why did it happen specifically by English journalists? We are looking at that."

It looks like an own goal by the Sunday Times to me.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Bale - simply magnificent

Gareth Bale - marvellous!

Following up his remarkable hat-trick against Inter Milan in the match in Milan two weeks ago in which Milan beat Tottenham Hotspur 4-3, Bale gave another fantastic performance against the same opposition at White Hart lane last night.

Although not scoring this time, Bale provided two tap-ins for strikers Peter Crouch and Roman Pavlyuchenko, each one following a magnificent run down the left showing top speed and pinpoint accuracy with the crosses, to take Spurs to a 3-1 win.

It is a pity that Aaron Lennon, on Tottenham's right and blessed with similar speed, cannot produce it in  similar situations and deliver equally stunning crosses.

Bale's performance helped see Spurs through to a victory which goes a long way to giving them a qualification place for the knock-out stages of the Champions League.

There is also little doubt that Bale will give England problems when they meet Wales in home and away legs of the Euro 2012 qualifiers coming up next year. He must be relishing the thought!

Monday, 1 November 2010

Nani goal was morally wrong

That Nani goal can't be right, can it?

If you didn't see it, I'll try and describe what happened.

Nani was running towards the Spurs goal just on the angle of the six-yard box. In a challenge by a defender, he went down. No penalty was given, but somewhat petulantly, he reached out and rolled the ball towards himself with his hand. Nani then got up, claiming that he was fouled. Spurs keeper Gomes retrieved the ball, defenders moved upfield, and Gomes threw the ball forward with backspin about ten yards ahead of the place where the handball took place, as if to take a free-kick. But the free-kick for handball had never been given.

As Gomes retreated to take the kick (by the way, waving his hands as if asking his defenders to be available for a short one - they weren't interested), Nani realised that the whistle had never gone. Looking round, wondering, he mentally shrugged and poked the ball goalwards and into the net.

Referee Mark Clattenberg gave the goal, but then did go and talk to the assistant referee, who obviously said that there had been a handball. But Mr Clattenberg had played an advantage. It was up to Spurs (Gomes) to play the ball out without stoppage. That he failed to do so was, according Mr Clattenberg, his own fault. The goal was allowed to stand.

By the letter of the law, I guess the referee was right. But morally, the outcome was wrong. Nani handled the ball. A free-kick should have been given. After Nani had stabbed the ball into the net, Mr Clattenberg should have retrospectively given the free-kick for handball. Nani could hardly have complained – he blatantly handballed it (on purpose actually, so he might have been booked!).

None of this probably affected the result. Manchester United were already 1-0 up and won 2-0.

But this was morally wrong.

Friday, 29 October 2010

Top four in Saturday action

This can't have happened for a long time: the top four in the Premier League are all playing on a Saturday - although, admittedly third-placed Manchester United do kick-off at 5.30.

Leaders Chelsea visit Blackbrun Rovers, whose style has been criticised this season (indeed, in previous seasons too). Chelsea, however, are rarely put out of their stride by rugged opposition, having been shown to be the tallest and heaviest squad in the League. Once again, it's hard to see anything but a win for the Londoners.

In second place are Arsenal who host West Ham United. The Hammers have shown signs of picking up recently, but still prop up the table. Arsenal, also, have shown a recent improvement, so given the 18 places between the teams, it seems that an Arsenal victory is the most likely result.

As mentioned, Manchester United kick-off at 5.30, with Spurs as the visitors. United have drawn five of their nine league games so far this season, and are certainly not at their best. They look uncomfortable. The Rooney nonsense won't have helped, but he won't be playing. Spurs are inconsistent, but one can see them raising their game and giving United more frustrations in a draw.

Fourth-placed Manchester City are not yet the real deal, depsite big spending. They visit another of the robust teams in Wolverhampton Wanderers, who only have West Ham below them in the table. This is the kind of game that City must win if they have any aspirations for the title, and I think they will triumph on Saturday.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Notts County management: a poisoned chalice?

Paul Ince has been installed as the latest manager at Notts County.

But is the job something of a poisoned chalice?

Ince is the sixth manager at the club in just over a year, following Ian McParland, Hans Backe, Dave Kevan, Steve Cotterill and Craig Short, who was sacked on Sunday after less than five months at the League One club.

Having achieved promotion last season, County sit 16th in League One. It seems like a reasonable position in a higher division, but maybe not.

County chairman Ray Trew said: "Paul has a wealth of experience as a player and a solid track record as a manager in the Football League, making him the obvious choice for me when we began our search for a new manager."

He added: "When we met Paul it quickly became clear that he was the ideal candidate, he'd done his homework, had some big ideas and was ready to get stuck in straightaway."

Ince has previously managed Macclesfield Town, Blackburn Rovers and MK Dons.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

World Cup winner Nobby Stiles sells his medal

I have just read that Nobby Stiles has sold his World Cup medal for £160,000.

It is unbelievably poignant that one of the heroes of 1966 has had to sell his winners' medal to give himself some financial stability in his later years. When we know of the wages paid to some of today's would-be superstars, it is actually rather galling.

Yes, I know that times have changed and the onset of the Premier League and wall-to-wall TV coverage has taken the finances of the game (especially with regard to players' wages) to unprecedented levels, but it makes me wonder how the serial failures of the England team of the last ten years can hold their heads up in the light of Nobby's sale.

Hardly any of today's England team (who drew 0-0 at home with Montenegro earlier this month) will be earning less in one week than Nobby just got for achieving a once in a lifetime (indeed, maybe a once ever for England) World Cup win.

Nobby Stiles is worth so much more than all of them.

Monday, 25 October 2010

A plea for honesty

Sorry, but Phil Neville. Great professional, blah, blah, blah, all that stuff.


On Saturday, playing for Everton against Tottenham, there was one incident where he brought down a Spurs player and a free-kick was given. "No, no," says Neville, with the customary footballer's finger-wagging denial, "no, no, no."

But, quite clearly on the TV replay: "yes, yes, yes, yes, yes."

The trouble is that footballers of this ilk (and that's pretty much all of them) have no truck with honesty. Why waste their time with that when they're always trying to get an advantage, however tiny, over their opponents? And the poor referee has to sort it out.

It was all so sadly familiar with Neville. Remember Euro 2000 in France? England had led Romania 2-1, but it was 2-2 with only a couple of minutes left. As Romania pushed forward, in stepped Neville to bring down Moldovan in the penalty area. As Neville pointed at the ball (his meaning obvious - that he got the ball, not the man), the referee - quite rightly, as replays showed - gave the spot kick, duly scored by Romania to send England home early.

Let's have a bit of honesty.

Friday, 22 October 2010


Oh my word!

Just as football was once again being dragged through the mud, Wayne Rooney (at the centre of it all) signed a new 5-year contract with Manchester United!

Wayne Rooney has made a shock U-turn and agreed a new five-year contract at Manchester United just days after announcing his intention to leave.

Less than 48 hours after Rooney voiced concerns over the club's squad strength and said that he would not signing a new deal, the 24-year-old has made a U-turn to re-sign.

Rooney stated: "I said on Wednesday the manager's a genius and it's his belief and support that convinced me to stay."

United boss Sir Alex Ferguson said: "I'm delighted Wayne's agreed to stay."

Rooney added: "I'm delighted to sign another deal at United. I've spoken to the manager and the owners and they've convinced me this where I belong.

"I am signing a new deal in the absolute belief that the management, coaching staff, board and owners are t
totally committed to making sure United maintains its proud winning history - which is the reason I joined the club in the first place.

"I am sure the fans over the last week have felt let down by what they have read and seen. But my position was from concern over the future. The fans have been brilliant with me since I arrived and it's up to me through my performances to win them over again."

The game never ceases to amaze!

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Goal-line technology on its way

Well, it's about time!

The International Football Association Board (IFAB) met yesterday and announced that it will re-open discussions concerning the adoption of goal-line technology.


Meeting in Newport, Wales, for its Annual Business Meeting, the Board set a November deadline for companies to initially present their technologies to FIFA.

The statement by the Board said: "The technology would apply solely to the goal-line and only to determine whether a goal has been scored or not. The system must be accurate; the indication of whether a goal has been scored must be immediate and automatically confirmed within one second; the indication of whether a goal has been scored will only be communicated to the match officials."

Following the November deadline, technologies will be tested and at another meeting in Newport next March, the next step will decided.
Also, the confirmation or not of a goal will only be communicated to the match officials, with no public display of the result.

There will be no turning back now - the line has been crossed! At last!

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Surely Rooney is not part of a Glaziers conspiracy?

It would be impossible not to write about the Wayne Rooney story.

He has indicated that he wants to leave Manchester United - apparently he originally did so back in August, but it's only just come out into the open.

What's going on here? Why would he want to leave Manchester United?

Although United like to style themselves as the biggest club in the world (and not just United, many Brits in general think the same), there is at least an argument that both Real Madrid and Barcelona, to name but two, are bigger. So it IS possible that Rooney wants to go to a bigger club (as named).

It is possible that he wants to improve himself as a player by going abroad. I'm not convinced by this - he seems to have a very high opinion of his own ability already, as do many others (again, usually Brits). Rooney may have touched the realms of 'world class' in the past, but he certainly is not in that bracket now, after his dismal World Cup, and lack-lustre start to the season. I think some time abroad would help his game, but I'm not sure that HE thinks that.

Has he fallen out with Fergie? This is highly possible, as many players have done so in the past: Jaap Stam and David Beckham are big names that fall into that category. However, Ferguson's reaction at yesterday's press conference makes me think that is not the case this time.

Does Rooney want more money? It's ridiculous. How can players tell the difference between £200,000 a week and £300,000 a week. A million every five weeks, or every three and a bit. However, this may indeed be the case. If so, is looking across Manchester to Eastlands and the riches at City. That would be one hell of a story...

...maybe only bettered by: Is there a conspiracy theory here? Are Rooney and Ferguson going along with a huge charade on behalf of the Glazier owners of debt-ridden United, the purpose of which is to sell Rooney, net £50 million and ease the debt figures? "Oh, we didn't want to sell him; he wanted away," they would say.

Now that would be the biggest story of all!

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Injured England players return for their clubs

With reference to my post on Friday wondering how many of the England players who cried out of last week's match against Montenegro, the answer is: THEY ALL PLAYED.

John Terry of Chelsea and Phil Jagielka of Everton played the full 90 minutes respectively against Aston Villa (0-0) and Liverpool (2-0), and Darren Bent played the whole game in a dour (as predicted) 0-0 draw for Sunderland at Blackburn Rovers. Finally, Aaron Lennon played most of the second half in Tottenham's 2-1 win at Fulham.

Now, I'm not saying there's any dishonesty or feigning of injury; just citing the facts. You can draw your own conclusions.

Meanwhile, Wayne Rooney, who did play the whole game for England in the 0-0 draw, did not play the full game for Manchester United in their 2-2 draw at home to West Brom, and it now appears that he wants to leave Manchester United. Speculation on the whys and wherefores of his reasoning will fill many column inches for days and weeks to come!

Monday, 18 October 2010

Latest defeat hurts Liverpool more than most

And so Liverpool were on the end of another defeat on Sunday. This one would hurt more than most as it was against their city rivals Everton.

The 2-0 defeat for the Reds exposed their lack of confidence and the vulnerability of their defence. They now sit second from bottom in the Premier league table, only goal difference keeping them above West Ham United.

After eight games, it may be too early to start talking about relegation (after all, Everton were one place above Liverpool before game, and the win took them up six places to 11th), but when you're in the relegation zone, it's unavoidable.

One thing Liverpool should definitely avoid is thinking they're "too good to go down" or they're "too big a club to go down". Football doesn't work on sentiment.

Liverpool now have new owners, but the hopes that may go with that were dashed yesterday by the goals from Tim Cahill and Mikel Arteta. It is time for the players, and manager Roy Hodgson, to stand up and be counted. No more blaming the American owners (they've got another one anyway), and no more blaming the debt. These things have little relevance to what happens on the pitch, but now any excuses are gone.

I have little doubt that Liverpool will turn things round. There is nothing wrong here that a deflected shot to earn a lucky 1-0 win will not cure. Having said that, the next two games against Blackburn Rovers at home, and Bolton Wanderers away, are just the sort of games that clubs in a relegation scrap must take points from.

Friday, 15 October 2010

Will the injured English return to Premier League action?

It's back to Premier League action this weekend after the international break.

It will be interesting to see how many of the injured English players make recoveries to enable them to play for their clubs.

John Terry (Chelsea), Phil Jagielka (Everton), Aaron Lennon (Tottenham), Darren Bent (Sunderland) are examples.

League leaders Chelsea travel to Aston Villa for a Saturday 5.30 kick-off. Often a testing ground for the Blues, I full expect them to carry on their imperious form and take three points from Villa Park.

Everton take on Liverpool on Sunday at lunchtime, and rarely could the pair have both been placed so low - Everton are 17th, Liverpool 18th. A defeat for either, while not catastrophic, would be another downward step on a treacherous path.

Tottenham travel across London to visit draw specialists Fulham. Spurs haven't really built on last season's fourth place, and could do with a win at The Cottage. However, a draw remians the likeliest result.

Darren Bent's Sunderland play at Blackburn Rovers in the Monday night match. A dour draw looks entirely possible!

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Italy and Serbia face sanctions for violence in Genoa

The abandonment of the Italy v Serbia game in Genoa on Tuesday as a result of violent scenes involving Serbia fans is a disturbing occurrence. The violence, I mean, not the abandonment itself.

After the kick-off had been delayed due to flares being thrown by Serbian supporters towards Italian fans, the game was called to a halt after only six minutes by Scottish referee Craig Thomson as the flare-throwing continued, one landing near Italian goalkeeper Emiliano Viviano.

Uefa has launched an investigation into the problems.

Although it appears that Serbian fans perpetrated the violence sanctions could be given to both Serbia and Italy, as the home team, who se federation has responsibility for organising the game. It has long been a mystery to me how fans get flares into stadiums, as they have done in Italy for many years.

Serbian Football Association chief Tomislav Karadzic said the violence had “brought embarrassment and shame on our country.” He added: “the state must react.”

Italian Football Federation security chief Roberto Massucci said that Serbia should have prevented troublemakers from travelling. “They should have been stopped by the Serbian officials,” he said.

Let us hope this is not the start of a violent trend.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Clueless England remain in the World Cup doldrums

The England football team cannot escape the doldrums of the summer's World Cup. Last night's showing against 40th-ranked nation Montenegro was another sorry display.

The 0-0 draw leaves England with seven points from two games; Montenegro have ten from three. England face trips to Bulgaria as well as Montenegro and the tricky double-header against Wales, who are bound to raise their game against their local rivals, in addition, of course, to having a new manager and a potentially revitalised squad come March (Wales v England in Cardiff).

Scoring the England team out of ten:
Hart (9); G.Johnson (6), R.Ferdinand (7), J.Lescott (6), A.Cole (7); A.Johnson (6), S.Gerrard (6), G.Barry (4), A.Young (6); W.Rooney (5), P.Crouch (5). Subs: K.Davies (3), S.Wright-Phillips (4)

The trouble is we have no one creative, no one with imagination. We have no one who can carry the ball forward through the middle with menace, to turn the opposition defence and give them problems. Adam Johnson did so on the right flank, and Cole and Young tried to do so on the left, but there is no threat down the middle. Gerrard was too deep, Barry was very poor and Rooney (still way below his best) came so deep as to present no problem for the Montenegran back line.

It was dismal.

And then for Capello to bring on Kevin Davies and Shaun Wright-Phillips gives real concern for his football judgement. Wright-Phillips has continually shown that he is not up to it at this level; control all over the place, passing never the right weight, woeful shooting. Every time the ball goes near Davies the result is a free kick (usually against him); he can't score; and he's 33.

What is going on?

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Ferdinand back as England need a win

England face the surprise package of Group G in this evening's Euro 2012 qualifier at Wembley.

Rio Ferdinand is back as England skipper, despite managing to play in only two games since boss Fabio Capello named him as his captain. This will be Ferdinand's first competitive England game for a year.

Meanwhile, injuries continue to dog the England team, with Darren Bent joining John Terry on the unavailable list. Phil Jagielka and Aaron Lennon also dropped out of the squad a few days earlier. Stewart Dowing of Aston Villa and Gary cahill of Bolton Wanderers have been called in as replacements.

Wayne Rooney has been pronounced fit, and Capello will be hoping for a return to top form for the out-of-sorts striker, although Rooney did get one of his two goals this season in England' last game in Switzerland.

Meanwhile, Montenegro have beaten Bulgaria, Wales and Switzerland, all by one goal to nil, to take nine points from their first three games and head the group. England are second with maximum points from only two games.

Anything other than an England win will suddenly make qualification look extremely tricky.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Home nations fail to trouble the scorers

All three home nations in action on Friday night in the Euro 2012 qualifiers failed to score.

Scotland lost 1-0 in the Czech Republic, and now sit second in the group. Already qualification looks difficult with Spain in command, and the Czechs looking a threat.

Northern Ireland got a creditable 0-0 draw against Italy and remain unbeaten after two games. The Italians - in a state of change, with several youngsters now in the team - have made a good start, with seven points from their first three games.

In England's group Wales followed up their 1-0 loss to Montenegro with another 1-0 defeat, this time at home to Bulgaria (their first points). The surprise package in the group, however, seeems to be Montenegro, who have now won their first three games, all by the scoreline of 1-0, and are now, with nine points, three points clear of England.

Tuesday's game at Wembley has suddenly gained a whole lot of significance.

Friday, 8 October 2010

Liverpool face a nine point penalty

Things might get a whole lot worse for Liverpool.

Already in the bottom three of the Premier League with only six points from seven games, it now comes to light that they might get nine points deducted.

This could happen if parent company Kop Holdings goes into administration, and that might happen if a sale to the owners of the Boston Red Sox is not completed by 15 October - only a week away.

A final act of defiance by current owners Hicks and Gilette could make this happen. If they block the £300m takeover of Liverpool by New England Sports Ventures (NESV), their holding company could be put into administration by the Royal Bank of Scotland as a result of their £280m debts.

A nine point deduction would almost certainly follow. There is a precedent in the Football League, where Southampton were docked ten points when their holding company went into administration.

If Liverpool lose nine points, they really will be in trouble.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Lack of strikers exposed for Capello

The dearth of fit England strikers has been exposed by Fabio Capello's latest England squad for the game against Montenegro next Tuesday.

The four forwards selected are: Darren Bent (Sunderland), Peter Crouch (Tottenham Hotspur), Kevin Davies (Bolton Wanderers), Wayne Rooney (Manchester United).

The inclusion of Bolton's Kevin Davies has raised a few eyebrows. Davies, now 33, whose career has spanned Chesterfield, Southampton, Blackburn Rovers, Millwall (on loan) and Bolton Wanderers, had scored 98 goals in 515 appearances before this season.

Injuries to Jermain Defoe, Bobby Zamora and Gabriel Agbonlahor have helped Davies, but Capello has overlooked Andy Carroll of Newcastle, and the door seems firmly closed to Michael Owen (160 goals in 342 English league appearances).

As for Capello's attempt to coax Emile Heskey out of international reitrement - I am lost for words.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Furniture retail software

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Developed especially for home furnishings retailers with turnover between $1m and $60m, Eclicktic™ can boost retaliers’ profits by smoothing their business processes. The package can run on a local server or as a web-based solution.

Myriad Software has been in furniture retail software for over 20 years and provides product training by experienced Myriad staff and excellent support – enhancing the software regularly.

Friday, 1 October 2010

Sheffield Wednesday get another winding-up order

Sheffield Wednesday have been served with another winding-up order by HM Revenue & Customs over £600,000 in unpaid tax owed. It is third such order in as many months for the League One club.

With the new order due to be served on 17 November, chairman Howard Wilkinson says the club is looking at a loan from a potential investor to see them through, and chief executive Nick Parker said an overseas oilfield company had offered the £600,000.

Wilkinson said he was confident the Owls would come through this latest winding-up order, but didn't want it to go to the last minute.

Wednesday were relgatede from the Campionship last season and, although they started the season well, have slipped to 16th in League One.

The club estimates that the drop has already cost them a fifth of last season's income.

Thursday, 30 September 2010

English clubs in European clean sweep

It was a clean sweep for the English clubs in the Champions League this week. All four of them won their games.

Perhaps the most impressive result was Manchester United's 1-0 win at Spanish league leaders Valencia. It wipes out the memory of the 0-0 home draw with Rangers, and puts United at the top of group C, with Rangers in second after their 1-0 win over Bursaspor last night.

Arsenal also had a good away win, 3-1 at Partizan Belgrade, and after their 6-0 thrashing of Braga in the opening game, they are in a good position with 6 points, although Shakhtar Donetsk also have 6 points, having beaten Partizan 1-0 and braga 3-0. Arsenal and Shakhatr meet next.

Chelsea were not a their best on Tuesday night against Marseille, but still won 2-0 and were never really troubled. They are top of group F, but Spartak Moscow also have 6 points and the pair are looking good to qualify. All this for Chelsea without the suspended Didier Drogba. They're going to be a real threat for the trophy this time round.

Finally, Champions League newcomers Tottenham Hotspur put Twente Enschede to the sword last night, winning 4-1, following on from their 2-2 draw at Werder Bremen in the first match. There now come two tough matches against Rafa Benitez's Inter Milan who beat Bremen 4-0 last night, having only draw 2-2 with Twente in their first game.

There are some interesting games ahead.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Rooney misses Valencia match

Wayne Rooney will miss Manchester United's important Champions league game in Valencia on Wednesday. He has stayed at home, unable to play due to an ankle injury. Rooney came off the field during United's game at Bolton on Sunday, and immediately had ice applied to his ankle.

Rooney has been out of sorts since going to South Africa with England for the World Cup in June. This season he has managed just two goals: one from the penalty spot for United, and one for England against Switzerland.

Ex-England boss Kevin Keegan said after Sunday's game: "His performance at Bolton tells me his confidence is shot." United only managed a 2-2 draw, failing to take full advantage of leaders' Chelsea's 1-0 loss at Manchester City the day before.

At times Rooney, 24, appears to be trying "too hard", but simple aspects of his game like control and short passing have often let him down in recent games.

Sir Alex Ferguson will want to solve the Rooney problem so that United don't slip out of reach of Chelsea before too long.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Liverpool join Everton in League Cup graveyard

The Carling Cup proved to be the graveyard of some of the biggest names in the Premier League over the last couple of days.

Topping the shock list has to be Liverpool who could only draw 2-2 at home with League Two side Northampton Town, before The Cobblers - placed 17th in their division - knocked out their hosts 4-2 on penalties. The sight of a drenched Liverpool boss Roy Hodgson was evocative of the dreadful result.

This followed the demise of Liverpool's local rivals Everton, similarly on penalties (4-3), at the hands of League One's Brentford - currently placed 19th.

Even Chelsea, the mighty champions of the country - thrashing everyone in their path to date - fell at their first League Cup hurdle, losing 4-3 at home to Newcastle United. From 3-1 down and with only ten men, the Blues battled back to level, only for Shola Ameobi to head the winner as time ran out.

Lesser shocks were Bolton Wanderers losing at Burnley and Manchester City losing at West Brom, but the League Cup once again showed its propensity for promoting lower clubs through its rounds. Weakened teams may be an excuse, but on one could tell me that Liverpool and Everton wanted to lose to their humble opponents.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Is the Carling Cup a route to success for Wenger?

As I hear that Arsene Wenger will retire from his position as Arsenal boss in 2014, I note that he played a strong team in the Carling Cup last night.

Notoriously using the League Cup to blood his younger players in recent seasons - often with great success, including a runners-up spot in 2007 - it seems that the Gunners' boss may have had a change of heart this season.

In a twist of the status quo, it was Tottenham Hostpur who fielded an inexperienced side in last night's third round tie. With Harry Redknapp having bigger fish to fry in this season's Champions League than they ever before, he decided to rest his top players ahead of the weekend's game at West Ham and next week's European game against Twente.

So it was that the Gunners triumphed in the north London cup derby, 4-1 winners after extra time.

May Wenger has decided that the Carling Cup represents Arsenal's best chance of getting their first trophy since being Premier League Champions in 2005.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Chelsea yet to get the credit they deserve

Chelsea rampaged past Blackpool on Sunday afternoon, the game's result in no doubt as early as 1 minute 13 seconds when the Blues opened the scoring.

The champions have now scored 21 goals and have conceded only one in their first five games. They are already four points clear of Arsenal and Manchester United in second and third and seven clear of Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur in fourth and fifth.

Critics claims that Chelsea have 'only' played West Brom (6-0), Wigan (6-0), Stoke City (2-0), West Ham (3-1) and Blackpool (4-0), but these results are undoubtedly impressive.

There is no doubt that stiffer tests will come and Saturday's lunchtime visit to Manchester City will be the first. However, big-spenders City have hardly impressed to date and, in reality, it's hard to see anything other than another Chelsea win.

Last week's statistics that Chelsea are the tallest and heaviest team in the Premier League surely confirms that they are the most powerful squad. Just look at Didier Drogba, Michael Essien and John Terry as examples of what other teams have to battle against.

Yet somehow, even with the staggering string of league results, following on from last season's 17 goals in the last three games (all wins), it seems that the media darlings are still Manchester United, Arsenal and (believe it or not) Liverpool.

Perhaps some crushing wins by Chelsea against those teams will start to bring them the credit they deserve.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Tennis Live Online

From time to time I come across a website I like the look and this one's for tennis fans.

It's Tennis Live Online.

They provide you with news, fixtures and results for all events of tennis palyer worldwide.
Go there now to find out all the latest news about Rafael Nadal's victory in the US Open.

Manchester United and Tottenham begin their Champions League campaigns

Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur take to centre stage for England in the Champions League this evening.

Old Champions League stagers Manchester United take on Scottish champions Rangers in a game that some years ago might have been (and, indeed, was) dubbed 'The Battle of Britain'. Not so much now. United are such strong favourites that the title is barely worth the effort. Yet fans of the Scots will travel south to Manchester with hope - as they always do - and Walter Smith will be out to conjure an upset.

It is highly likely that United striker Wayne Rooney will return to the team after being omitted from Saturday's team against his old club Everton at Goodison Park for fear of a fan backlash after revelations about his private life. Rio Ferdinand - unavailable since being injured in an England training session in June - may also be in contention. Bursaspor (Turkey) and Valencia (Spain) complete the group.

Meanwhile, Champions League virgins Tottenham travel to Germany to face Werder Bremen who finised third in the Bundesliga last season. Fourth-placed Tottenham - who have not actually won the English league since 1961 - may surpsingly be able to call on Luka Modric, despite fears of a broken leg from Saturday's draw at West Brom. England players Jermain Defoe and Michael Dawson are definitely out. It will be a chance for Harry Redknapp (many people's tip for the next England manager's job) to begin to pit his wits against Europe's finest. Twente Enschede (Holland) and Inter Milan make up the group.

Monday, 26 July 2010

Whose League is it anyway?

I'm afraid I can't help but view the approach of the new season with a certain coldness and cynicism.

This has undoubtedly been caused, at least in part, by the dismal showing by England at the World Cup, but is also partly as a result of the obscene wages being offered to less-than-great footballers, and the pathetic attempts by the media to whip a transfer storm that atcually doesn't exist.

It's all embarrassingly overhyped.

The thought of watching all these overpaid, over-here Prima Donnas trot out onto our pristine fields on 14 August does not fill me with excitement. At least with the overwhelming foreign influence many of the England failures will be able to hide - many won't even get picked - as doubtlessly there will be a record number of non-English starting in the Premier League in less than two weeks.

Increasingly, one feels it is no longer our League, but belongs to someone else.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Hodgson can take Liverpool back into the top four

Roy Hodgson's appointment as manager of Liverpool has brought the red Merseysiders firmly back into the news. Yesterday's signing of Chelsea's Joe Cole has made sue they will stay in the headlines for another day or two at least.

Still smarting from last season's seventh-placed finish which only gave them entry inthe Europa League, Liverpool are keen to make a return to the top four and even be challenging for top spot.

They would have to make up 23 points on last season to reach Chelsea's title-winning total, which is probably too tall an order. Nevertheless, it is a good sign that Liverpool are able to sign the likes of the ex-West Ham England international, despite not being able to offer him Champions League football.

Hodgson's ambitions will depend to a large extent on the form and fitness of Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard, both of whom had disappointing World Cups, with Torres perhaps performing worse than Gerrard who was one of the few England players to rise above utter mediocrity.

I can't see Liverpool ending their twenty-year wait for a League title, but a return to the top four is well within their compass. With Harry Redknapp taking Tottenham Hotspur to fourth last year, it would be nice to see another English manager take his team into the mix.

Friday, 16 July 2010

Heskey goes but nothing will change

Emile Heskey announced his retirement from international football yesterday. That's a bit of a shame for him as it was the only place he got a game - Aston Villa don't pick him! On the same day Thierry Henri announced his retirement from French international football. I wondered who will be more fondly remembered by their compatriots.

The sad thing for poor Emile is that over the last few years England have not been able to find anyone else who is definitely and comprehensively superior. Fabio Capello obviously thought a big target man would bring out the best in Wayne Rooney (it didn't), and equally obviously felt that Peter Crouch was not that man. It's a shame Crouch got so little playing time at the Wolrd Cup as his scoring record does stack up, and a goal against either United States or Algeria might have brought a very different outcome to England's campaign.

However, it would have only disguised the harsh truth - that England are not good enough, the system and structure of the game in England is not suited to producing a competitive international team at the top level, and that something needs to be done urgently. Nevertheless, nothing will be done because the FA have confirmed Capello will carry on and they (wrongly) think that having a big name manager is the cure for all the rotten ills of the English game.

None of this is Emile Heskey's fault.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Dutch complaints are way off target

For Dutch coach Bert van Marwijk to try and blame English World Cup final referee Howard Webb for his side's defeat is, frankly, pathetic. It is human nature to try and blame someone else, but he must know that his Dutch side were a distant second best to winners Spain. Instead of blaing the referee, some introspection is required, I feel.

The thirteen yellow cards and one red dished out by Webb were perhaps less than should have been - and that's the only real criticism that should be allowed.

The Dutch tactics of going hard and trying to stop the Spanish playing, coupled with some over-reactions (as usual) by both sides, ruined the chances of the final redeeming what has mostly been a turgid World Cup final tournament on the field of play.

Although the Spanish rarely reached their top form, and were sadly short of goals (only eight in seven games), at least they tried to play good football throughout. Let's hope their passing (now successful in the World Cup as well as the European championships) catches on. We've had enough of the destructuive tactics employed by so many for too many years.

One final point on dirty play. Mark van Bommel must have been the dirtiest player at the World Cup. Lucky not have been sent off in the final, he should also have been sent off in the two previous games (v. Brazil and Uruguay), yet somehow survived with only one booking (and that, not for a foul!). At 33, we've probably seen the last of him. Thank goodness.

Friday, 9 July 2010

FIFA's refereeing changes are long overdue

Let’s hope FIFA mean what they say when they announced yesterday that this would be the last World Cup with the current refereeing system. It needs a change, and not just for scandalously erroneous decisions like Frank Lampard’s non-goal for England in the second round against Germany.

That failed decision, though, was the thrust of the comments made by FIFA general secretary Jerome Valcke, who said: “We're talking about a goal not seen by the referee which is why we are talking about new technology.” He suggested that two extra goal-line referees (as trialled by the Europa Cup last season, and to be used in the Champions League this season) could be used in future World Cups.

“Let's see if this system will help or whether giving the referee an additional four eyes will give him the comfort and make duty easier to perform,” added Valcke. “I would say that it is the final World Cup with the current refereeing system.”

“The game is so fast, the ball is flying so quickly, we have to help them and we have to do something and that's why I say it is the last World Cup under the current system,” Valcke said.

Opponents to goal-line technology have pointed to concerns over universality - that all levels of the game will not be able to use the same rules and methods of refereeing.

As someone who has been involved in football at the lowest level, let me tell them that most park games have reluctant “linesmen” from each side – sometimes substitutes. The thought of trying to raise an extra linesman per side to man the goal lines is difficult to conceive. So the game is different at different levels already.

The fact is that park football bears little relation to games at the World Cup. How can multi-million pound games be subject to the same errors that a park referee might get pilloried for? Surely the point at the highest level should be to get the correct decision.

IFAB is the body that makes the game’s rules. It consists of representatives of the English, Scottish, Northern Irish and Welsh FAs as well as four representatives from FIFA. Due to hold a meeting on 21 July, it is certain these issues will be discussed, but decisions may not be reached until future meetings.

Changes are long overdue.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Germany look set for future success

So we bid Germany farewell from the 2010 World Cup. As the tournament's highest scorers with 13 goals (although 12 of them were bagged in three of their six games), they will be missed.

Although they came into this competition not rated by many of their own compatriots, and certainly not by most of the blinkered British punditry, they will - I guarantee - be among the favourites for the 2012 European Championships and the 2014 World Cup. If they can keep this young team together they could easily emulate the German World Cup winners of 1954, 1974 and 1990, and European winners of 1972 1980 and 1996.

Amazing isn't it, the success Germany has had over the years?

Not really, because their league and national set-up is structured to bring success to the national team. When things went wrong in 2000 they went back to the drawing board and saw how to fix them. Now they have another good set of players, who might dominate the international scene for many years.

Will the same happen in England after the latest debacle? No, if past evidence is anything to go by. England have consistently failed since 1973 yet nothing has been done.

It will be interesting to see what happens when England play Hungary on 11 August. Will Wembley be full? Will Capello dispose of some of the serial failures? Will the crowd welcome the newcomers with cheers? Or greet the "tainted generation" with boos? I can't imagine there will be a "forgive and forget" feeling.

Yet three days later the Premier League starts, and England will be forgotten then.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

It has to Holland ... doesn't it?

It seems so obvious that Holland will beat Uruguay in today's World Cup semi-final that you have to worry for them - the Dutch, that is. Boss Bert van Marwijk says his players must keep their feet on the ground and not get complacent.

The Dutch are favourites to go through, but Uruguay have proven to be very resilient, and beat Ghana on penalties in the quarter-final, despite conceding a possible match-deciding penalty in the last minute of normal time.

"Uruguay are a team of fighters," said Van Marwijk. "They battle and survive - it will be a very dangerous match. We must not underestimate them otherwise things will go wrong for us."

The Dutch have won all fice of their games to date: Denmark (2-0), Japan (1-0), Cameroon (2-1), Slovakia (2-1), Brazil (2-1).

Uruguay have won three and drawn two: France (0-0), South Africa (3-0), Mexico (1-0), South Korea (2-1), Ghana (1-1).

Both have had what might appear to be a relativelyeasy route to this stage - with the notable exception of Brazil, of course. But you can only beat what is put in front of you.

Logic tells us it has to be Holland, but since when did logic count for anything in football?

Monday, 5 July 2010

Don't write off the Germans!

It is fascinating that what was a South American dominated World Cup at the quarter final stage (they had four representatives) has suddenly become a European dominated World Cup in the semis (three out of the four teams). Could this be the World Cup where the Europeans finally win the tournament outside of their own continent?

Only Uruguay stand in their way. The Uruguayans did little to court popularity by nocking out the only African team (Ghana) left in the competition last Friday, especially as centre-forward Luis Suarez saved a certain goal in the last minute with his hand, and Gyan missed the Ghanaian penalty.

Although twice-winners (1930, 1950) Uruguay have shown admirable resistance throughout the last three weeks, conceding only two goals in five games, their route to the semi-finals has probably been the easiest of the four, and they will face a stern test against the Dutch on Tuesday night. Holland came into their best form to beat Brazil on Friday, and look firm favourites to reach their first final since 1978.

The other semi-final between Germany and Spain looks a mouth-watering affair. Germany have finally silenced their critics and shaken off their "average team" tag. This is a good team, as amply demonstrated by tearing Argentina apart on Saturday afternoon. Four-nil following the 4-1 demolition of England has given them 13 goals in their five games. Spain, by contrast, have yet to hit form and sneaked past Paraguay. The Spanish have managed only six goals and David Villa has five of them. Yet if they hit their best form and Fernandos Torres sparkes into life, it could be a Spain v Holland final which would give us the first new winner of the Cup since France won it in 1998.

Only a fool would write off Germany, however.

Friday, 2 July 2010

Dearth of goals as Total Football and Samba-style go missing

This World Cup has so far served up 123 goals in 56 matches at an average of 2.2 goals per game. This is a far cry from the incredible average of 5.385 goals per game served up in Switzerland in 1954. Ah, innocent days, when goal scoring really was the prime aim of the game.

Interestingly, the World Cup with the lowest average goals per game to date is Italy in 1990, with only 2.12, so this World Cup may not be the lowest. Other recent World Cups have hardly been "goal-fests" either with 2006 giving us 2.3 and 2002 serving up 2.52.

Although 2010 will end up being one of the lowest scoring World Cups, one can't deny it's been interesting. The odd results (Spain 0, Switzerland 1; Germany 0, Serbia 1 to name a couple), the failure of big European teams (France and Italy just beating England to that prize), the indisputable evidence that video technology is long overdue (England's "goal that never was" and Argentina's "goal that never should have been").

But the entertainment in many games has been sadly lacking. Games such as England v Algeria, Portugal v Brazil, Portugal v Ivory Coast, Japan v Cameroon (oh, the list is too long) have been dire. I didn;t see Parauguay v NewZealand or Switzerland v Honduras, but one can only imagine how bad these must have been.

The trouble is, as I said in an earlier piece, that FIFA do nothing to support attacking play. It would be nice to see a feast of attacking football for the rets of this World Cup. But as Dutch boss Bert Van Marwijk says ahead of today's Brazil v Holland quarter-final, the days of the Dutch Total Football and Brazil's traditional "samba" style are over.

"It was a long time ago, Total Football - if you play like that now it's very hard to win the Cup," said Van Marwijk.

FIFA need to address that.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Some ways to change football for the better

A friend of mine, frustrated and angry at England's demise from the World Cup on Sunday, sent me an email about what he thought was wrong with football, and some solutions to fix these wrongs. This is a summary of what he said:

"These are some of the changes I would like to see in football or I'm in danger of switching off completely.

1. Kicking the ball out of play any time anyone goes down. No one has ever been killed in football in over a century of playing (it's health and safety gone mad as usual). Get on with it, you pathetic babies. Someone gets hit in the head with a ball - so what? It hurts; we've all had it, of course it hurts. Maybe stop for head clashes, but that's it. GET ON WITH IT.

2. Goal line technology and one decision challenge per half per team made by each coach.

3. Stop trying to take contact out of football Mr Blatter. It's a man's game, or was. The minutest of contact is now a foul and it results in constant whistle.

4. Turn intelligent lower league players into well paid professional referees instead of becoming plumbers etc. They understand the game and would be far better than many of the referees we have now. ITS COMMON SENSE.

5. Any diving cheating as decided by a panel after all games should result in a 10 match ban and £x,000 fine. It will stop overnight and the panel can be disbanded and brought back if it starts again.

6. Any arguing with a referee should be an immediate red card and £25,000 fine and 10 match ban. End of. Again, it will stop overnight.

7. Cut the Premier League down to 16 teams and make all cups one game with penalties no draws, no two legged matches. Luck of the draw, get on with it. It's killing our international team with too many games.

That's what I'd like to see for starters. Any others?"

Wednesday, 30 June 2010

World Cup pauses for breath

We can at last pause for breath at the South Africa World Cup 2010 as, for the first time in 19 days there are no games today. The first group round is concluded and so is the first knockout round. The quarter finals begin after a two-day break on Friday.

Who's looking good?

We have eight teams left, and my pre-tournament favourites, Argentina and Brazil, are both still there, and a final between the two South American countries is still distinctly possible. Of the Europeans Spain dispatched a disappointingly negative Portugal (who only managed to score in one of four games at this World Cup) yesterday, and they look to be getting stronger. Germany, we (in England at least) know all about and they are such strong tournament competitors that one could easily see them going all the way. Holland have yet to play anybody really good, but now they face Brazil, who will probably be too good for them.

So in the quarters we have:
Holland v Brazil - I say Brazil.
Uruguay v Ghana - Uruguay
Germany v Argentina - Argentina
Paraguay v Spain - Spain

That would give us these semi-finals:
Brazil v Uruguay
Argentina v Spain

The South Americans have so far out-performed the Europeans at this World Cup, and I expect them to continue to do so.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Blatter apologises to England for goal that wasn't given

Breaking news is that Fifa president Sepp Blatter says that the debate on goal-line technology will be reopened when the International FA Board meets in July.

He has apologised to the Football Association over Frank Lampard's disallowed goal in England's World Cup defeat by Germany. The ball clearly crossed the line in the 4-1 loss when the score was 2-1. England might have been outplayed, but an equalising goal could have changed the whole pattern of the game.
It seems obvious to me that 21st Century technology should be used to ensure we get the right decisions in football. Technology is used in rugby, cricket, tennis, ice hockey, motor racing... Why should football remain in the 19th Century?
Fears of hold-ups in play can be allayed because two potential solutions ("Smart Ball" and "Hawkeye") can relay the information to the referee in less than a second. "Goal" or "Play-on" in an instant. and no arguments.
No, the use of technology cannot be repeated down to all levels of the game (one of FIFA's concerns), but they should not kid themselves that a park game is as important as a World Cup game. This is not something to start at the bottom. Start at the top with decisions on ball over the line for goals and see where it develops from there.
A final point of irony. Assistant referees are all too keen to raie their flags for a throw-in when the ball so much as touches the touchline (it should really be completely over it), but they seem reluctant to give a goal unless the ball actually hits the net!

Monday, 28 June 2010

The Premier League stands in the way of a good England side

I've been listening to a radio phone-in on BBC FiveLive this morning. From 9am the only topic has been "What's wrong with England?" This after the dismal failure of the England team who lost 4-1 to Germany in the World Cup second round yesterday.

The mood of people phoning was bleak and angry, with solutions ranging from changing the game at grass roots level to sacking the manager.

Personally, although manager Fabio Capello make some mistakes (see below), I think the problme is more deep-rooted than at managerial level. The FA thought the solution upon sacking Englishman Steve McClaren was to bring in a 'show us your medals' soaraway successful foreign manager in the form of Capello. It was patently not the right answer, and papered over the cracks of a failed system.

Capello's main errors were these:
  • Took injured players to the tournament.
  • Took out-of-form players not even in their club team.
  • Failed to change the system when it was evident that playing Gerrard on the left and Rooney with a strike partner was failing.
  • Repeatedly played or brought on the worst two players in the squad: Emile Heskey and Shaun Wright-Phillips. Neither should even have been in the squad.
However, the main problem is that the players are not good enough. There is not a large enough pool of good players for Capello to pick from. Let us banish, once and for all, this myth that any of the English players are World Class. None would make it into a Best of the World squad of 23 players.

The reason that there are not enough good English players is that there are not enough English players playing in the Premier league.

Dave Whelan, chairman of Wigan Athletic, was on the programme and said that the Premier League should run the England team. Oh My God! He then went on to say that the England team should have an England manager, and England coach. "England, England, England," he said.

The Premier League is not run by English people. In the main the clubs are OWNED by non-English, the teams are MANAGED by non-English, and the teams have mostly non-English PLAYERS. Indeed, there has even been moves to PLAY THE GAMES on foreign soil! Yet Dave Whelan says the Premier League should run the England team!

The result would be no friendlies, no gatherings, top players not released for some England games. In other words a step so far backwards it would be out of sight.

The real answer is move the other way and insist on English ownership, English managers and Englsih players.

But it won't happen. Because the Premier League (which does already hold most of the power) won't let it. Already it's too late because the owners have no interest in the England team.

Get used it to it - the England national team will be a third-rate team for decades to come.

Friday, 25 June 2010

Italy hit rock bottom

There have been some poor Italian teams in the World Cup before, but the team in South Africa 2010 took the biscuit.
In 1966 Italy lost to North Korea 1-0 in the group and went home early as a result.

In 1982 Italy won the World Cup, didn't win a single game in their group - drawing all three - but managed to hit form and dump Brazil out of the cup before going on to beat West Germany 3-1 in the final.

In 1994 they lost to Brazil in the final on penalties, but were hugely unimpressive in the group, qualifying only in third place at the expense of Norway on goals scored, with all four teams finishing with four points.

In 2002, Italy once again scraped out of the group with one win, one draw and one defeat, but then lost on a golden goal to South Korea.

This time they couldn't squeeze out of a truly poor group and finished bottom, behind Paraguay (who look reasonable, to be fair), Slovakia and New Zealand. Never at any stage in the past two weeks have Italy looked anything like a team who might threaten to come good. Some navel gazing is bound to follow.

It's a World Cup of immense interest, without hitting any particular heights of excellent football or a high goal count (an average of 2.16 goals per game in 44 games to date). France and Italy have fallen, and Spain today will probably have to beat Chile to progress. Meanwhile South American teams are making hay...

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Poor refereeing backed by ineffective FIFA

Not all referees are as god as Pierluigi Collina of Italy who was renowned as one of the best referees of his generation. However, while much of the refereeing at the 2010 South Africa World Cup has been reasonable, some of it has been quite poor.
It may be a FIFA directive, but the overreaction of referees to supposed 'use of the elbow' has become almost epidemic. The sending-off, for example, of Brazil's Kaka last Sunday was ridiculous. All he tried to do was prevent himself from getting hurt by an onrushing Ivory Coast player, who then crashed to the floor in death throes with something apparently akin to a smashed skull - when in reality his head wasn't touched at all.

The real culpable player was the Ivorian, not Kaka, yet Kaka is banned for one game and the Ivorian goes unpunished.

The failure of referees to inists on supposedly less critical rules followed leads to players questioning the 'bigger' decisions. Hardly any referees has insisted on throw-ins and free-kicks being taken from the right place, yet the rules are quite clear that a re-start should take place where the infringement took place. In this World Cup tht has been the point at which trowers can start their walk forward to where they run to take the throw, or where the free-kick taker chucks the ball forward forom where he'll take the free-kick.

Howard Webb's failure to book the player from the wall (Spanish, I think) who nearly beat the free-kick taker to the ball (thus being way less than 10 yards from the free-kick) was shameful.

Thus getting away with minor rule breaches, the players move on.

There has been far too much 'simulation' of injury in the World Cup, yet the guilty go unpunished. As for holding in the penalty box by defenders when there are free-kicks of corners, it is, frankly, laughable.

Rather like the players who go unpunished, FIFA need to get a grip.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

4-5-1 is the route to success for England

And so we come to England's final group game in the South Africa World Cup 2010. Will it be their final game of the tournament? They really need to win; a draw probably won't be good enough.

The two performances so far have been poor, then dreadful. A vast improvement is needed against a Slovenian team who top the group, only need a draw, and are bound to play defensively. This is bad news for England who are very poor at breaking down packed defences. Good performances always come against sides who come out to play - even if the results still don't always match!

What is the reason for the terrible form so far in the competition? Against Algeria no player could really hold his head up high and say he had played well. Is there unrest in the camp? Are player egos getting in the way of team harmony? Has Capello 'lost the dressing room'? Is the formation wrong?

I think the formation is wrong, and so is the continued use of two of the poorest players in the squad - Heskey and Wright-Phillips - together with the lack of use of Joe Cole. I believe a 4-5-1 formation would bring the best out of Rooney, Gerrard and Lampard (the latter of whom has performed abysmally so far).

A team of James; Johnson, Terry, Upson, A.Cole; Lennon, Lampard, Barry, Gerrard, J.Cole; Rooney might have a chance of prising open Slovenia's defence. If Capello is stubborn and persists with 4-4-2 then I think we can wave South Africa goodbye.

A 4-5-1 might just give us a win, and, incredibly, might just open the door to a semi-final - so long as we avoid Germany en route.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

FIFA is to blame for the lack of goals

We have now had 14 games in this World Cup. There have been 23 goals, giving us a paltry average of 1.64 goals per game. Twenty-eight of the 32 teams have now played, and 11 of them have failed to score a goal.

So far, it is without doubt the most boring World Cup ever. Where are the goals? Where is the excitement?

Why is this and what could FIFA do about it in future?

I guess there are several reasons why there are not many goals.

It could be the much talked about ball which, rather than causing problems for goalkeepers, is actually proving more of a problem to outfield players, many of whom are overhitting the ball in a number of situations. In future, FIFA should introduce the ball 12 months befor the World Cup and give every nation the opportunity to use it. And they should stop getting lighter balls. What is the purpose of that? They are just less controllable.

It could be that there is a fear of losing the first game. If that is the case, then we should the games open up in the second phase of group matches, due to start this evening with South Africa v Uruguay. If it does turn out to be true, then maybe FIFA should make it four points for a win, or maybe four points for a win in the first game. Radical! But something drastic needs to be done improve the entertainment and desire to win.

I think one of the main reasons - and it's FIFA's fault - is that the playing field is uneven. No, not literally - the fields are all excellent. What I mean is that the referees and assistants are biased towards defenders. They probably don't even realise they are, but they are. Take this scenario. It's a corner, and two pairs of players are grappling. In one pair the defender is obviously fouling the attacker; in the other the attacker is obviously fouling the defender. The referee can't give both free-kicks. What does he do? He will ALWAYS give the kick to the defender against the attacker.

Another scenario: a slight push on a defender by an attacker and the defender throws himself to the floor; result: a free-kick to the defence. OR, a slight push on the attacker by the defender in the box and the attacker throws himself to the floor; result: nothing given, except a possible booking for 'simulation' to the attacker.

Why are officials biased to defenders? It's because a free-kick to a defender has no consequence. If a 'controversial' free-kick or penalty is given to the attacking team, a goal (heaven forbid) might result and be 'blamed' on the referee for years to come. This thinking is wrong.

Pundits like to say 'if you give a penalty for that, you'd have to give six or seven per game.' Yes? Is that bad? A 3-3 draw instead of 0-0! Or, even better, less fouling and 2-2 from open play!

In future FIFA should tell referees to apply the laws of the game in equal measure for attackers and defenders.

Let's bring goals back into the game.