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.