Saturday, April 26, 2008

For Those Of You Who Hate Cristiano Ronaldo....

This blogger may or may not have an unhealthy obsession with hating Cristiano Ronaldo, but he undoubtedly has a bit of flair that goes with his hating. He wants everybody to share their hate for Ronaldo or their love at his website. It certainly is worth a punt.

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Friday, April 25, 2008

Friday Backpasses: Can these all be Hirshey related?

NASL Cosmos' championship rings for sale. Hirshey set to deliver beatdown [The Offside Rules]
Henry will only return to England for Arsenal. Hirshey set to deliver "boo-yah" [The Spoiler]

More fun after the jump.

Spain's Defense Ministry has a crappy set of tubes [Independent]
English footballers want Luciano Moggi to shut up [Pink News]
Six refs suspended in Bulgaria [SoccerAmerica Daily]
Viennese voice coach says fans in danger of losing voices at Euros [SoccerAmerica Daily]
South African club owner found guilty of corruption and bribery [Football365 South Africa]
Omaha youth player caught by stray bullet [Comcast Sports]
Okay, can we agree some Old Firm fans are twats? [Celtic Mad]
Olympic group draws done [World Cup Blog]
Soon-to-be Mrs. Rooney in a bikini. Meh [Kickette]
Levante, the Gretna of Spain. Possible player strike would ensure relegation [Soccerway]

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Yeah, Been Slacking A Couple of Weeks

See this?

I still can't get my head around that. Chelsea is just three points back. And they play United this weekend. Not only that, the game is at the Bridge where the Blues haven't lost since, I don't know, since like the Cubs were last in the World Series or people used rotary phones.

It is astounding. Haven't they been dreadful? Hasn't Grant managed to manage them down to the level of their opponent week after eye-bleedingly awful week? But there they are. It's like that night you spent the whole time chatting up the hot chick at the party and then right as she is about to give you her number, an ex pops in to the shindig, and, after a 90 second exchange, whisks her home. Only this is worse because it's Chelsea, and there is no EPL (suck it, Barclay's) equivalent of masturbation to placate the epic failure.

The only consolation is that, even if Chelsea can get the win, they will be so far behind on goal differential, they will need another United slip while they face off against a shockingly quasi-competent Newcastle and still utterly useless Bolton. Even then, handing United a championship is no consolation (not here at UF anyways).

How is this possible? I have no answer. But Avram Grant's good fortune has me toying with the idea of returning to religion. And that can't be good for anyone.

Frankly this season has turned out to be sheer torture. My beloved Gunners might have been the best team in the Prem this season and will have nothing to show for it, not even likely the auto-Champions League qualification. Meanwhile the two teams I hate most are having a go at each other for the title. The only thing I can hope for is that both teams so utterly destroy themselves and each other that they both crash out of the CL next week. Ugh.

Of course Fergie is already complaining about that 'unfair' scheduling. Pussy. Somebody should knee him in the nuts.

Oh, wait...

Here's ten pairs of numbers.

0-4 (I'll call this as Arsenal at Pride Park and Theo with a hatty).

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Toronto FC invades America looking to get their flower back

I don't think that it's any secret that road support in the MLS is virtually non-existent. Let's face it, the USA (and its Buffalo suburb, Toronto) is huge compared to traditional European football powerhouses. The distances, time and cost involved make the trips all but impossible for working fans. Toronto FC fans, then, put on a superhuman performance last month, taking 2300 fans for the 850 mile round trip to Columbus. The possible reason? The two teams are fighting over a flower.

Yes, that's right. Fans from the two clubs voted online to name their mashed up rivalry the Trillium Cup. No, not the Trillian Cup, which is either in homage to Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy or internet chatting, but Trillium, the official wildflower of Ohio and official overall flower of Ontario. Ah look, isn't it pretty?

I guess I shouldn't harp too much. My state's flower doesn't even get a Wiki-link.

So, yeah, the teams fight over a flower. Don't tell Luciano Moggi. He may not be able to stand the inherent gayness of the whole deal. On the other hand, serious UF kudos to traveling TFC fans. While none of us can describe ourselves as hardcore MLS fans, we respect those that are. Hopefully, other teams in the league will start to rival your fanaticism. Especially if Portland ever get the team they deserve.

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American Pro Soccer: A History Lesson

We here at UF have had numerous discussions about the state (and fate) of soccer in America, mostly along the lines of whether or not it will ever evolve into fan-levels on par with the NFL or MLB. John Feinstein, writer at the Washinton Post (BOOOO!), jumps into the discussion with the idea that we need to understand the history of the sport in America if we are to move forward. Join me after the jump for a little bit about the NASL.

Feinstein starts off his discussion by mentioning that he "really want[s] to like soccer again", presumably in an effort to assure us that this won't be yet another ill-informed rant against the strange sport. Then he notes that "there are two ways people look at soccer: Either as the most wondrous sport ever created or the most boring." For the most part, this would appear to be true - all of us here can attest to that fact. We (i.e. those of us at UF) all have friends who cringe at the mere thought of watching a soccer match (yet will sit for 3.5 hours and watch a 1-0 baseball game), and we all have friends who are absolutely rabid footy fans (if you don't, you need new friends).

Feinstein's point is not that we should try to convert the non-believers, it's that we can lure in the casual observer by understanding more about the history of soccer in the US. Forget for a moment that Feinstein's description of the dichotomy in his initial thesis (i.e. rabid fans v. those bored to tears) precludes the very idea of a casual observer, and instead take a trip down memory lane. Feinstein does well to note that many of the North American Soccer League (NASL) teams spent quite a bit of money to bring in aging superstars such Pele, Chinaglia, Beckenbauer, and Cruyff in order to give the league some credibility. Covering the league as a young reporter (no word on whether he ever met Hirshey), he learned quite a bit about the sport of soccer and grew to love it. But somewhere along the way, they broke up.

The NASL really over-extended itself when it expanded from 12 teams to 24 teams in the span of two years, and MLS has worked hard to avoid the same mistakes. But Feinstein argues that "it still hasn't gotten to where the NASL was in its glory days. My sense as an outsider is that most soccer people now take the attitude that if you don't get their sport, it is your loss." Whether or not the first statement is true is somewhat debateable, but the second is almost certainly true. I know very few people who can understand why I will wake up at 7:30am on a Saturday morning (tomorrow) to watch an on-line feed of the Chelsea v. Manchester United match, particularly when I am an Arsenal fan. I also know that I have very little interest in trying to make them understand.

So, is soccer better off in America now than back in the late 1970s/early 1980s? I certainly hope so - we have far greater TV coverage (hey, ESPN even broadcasts MLS games on nights when there are hockey playoffs going on!), including soccer specific channels like FSC, GolTV (thanks for finally adding it, Comcast! Wankers.), and Setanta. We have soccer-specific stadia. We have more people playing the sport than ever before. We have more casual observers (including the random kit-wearing douchebag from Chicago with the Blanco jersey who couldn't even spell Cuauhtemoc, much less pronounce it (OK, that's a little unfair).

I think the reality is somewhat close to what Feinstein has stated, although I think that the picture is a little brighter than he thinks. For the most part, there are two camps of people - the rabid fans and those who think soccer sucks (you ignorant bastards). But I believe that the former group has grown exponentially since the days of the NASL. However, while the state of soccer in America may be bright, this does not necessarily mean that the state of American soccer is the same. People are interested in the international game, such as Euro 2008 and World Cup 2010 (and particularly in the EPL; suck it Barclay's!), and MLS often suffers in comparison. However, if people truly took the time to watch MLS matches, I think they would be pleasantly surprised by what they saw (well, unless they were watching San Jose v. DC United).

Some people think that MLS should strive to more closely emulate the NASL in an effort to draw more interest, but I think that's probably a bad idea. What part, exactly, of a failed league should we be looking to implement? The wonderful kits? The use of Bugs Bunny as a mascot? (and fuck that useless twat - I went to numerous Cosmos games as kid, and that bastard never threw one of his stupid carrots to me)

No, I think that soccer in the US is just fine as it is. Those of us who love the sport: (1) appreciate MLS for what it is; (2) wake up at 5AM to watch World Cup matches in Korea; (3) rabidly follow the EPL (or Ligue 1, La Liga, Bundesliga, Eredivisie, or, God forbid, Serie A); and (4) most likely play it as often as possible. To those of you who don't love the sport, we won't try to force it down your throats. But stop with the "Soc-cer?" jokes, already. You're not funny, asshole.

HT: to John H. for turning me on (eww, gross) to the Feinstein story.

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Thursday, April 24, 2008

Thursday Backpasses: Apparently not all Old Firm fans are twats. Who knew?

Celtic goodie two-shoes links.

Celtic supports Liverpool dead, 18 years on [Celtic-mad]
And another picture from that tribute [LFC Vancouver]
Run-on sentences detailing good times in Lisbon [Celtic-mad]

Other, more recent, fun after the jump.

Scottish scientists have figured out why England are crap at penalties [Scotsman]
Even Reina knows more about penalties than C. Ronaldo []
FIFA tells suspended footballer to give up fight for reinstatement [Soccernet]
Liverpool fans tell Riise they no longer care for him [The Spoiler]
Cardiff can go to Europe if they win FA Cup, to represent England, despite being Welsh [Sky Sports]
Robbie Keane, menace on the road [Soccernet, The Sun]

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This Time He Missed

Diego Maradona, international soccer superstar, is in the press again, which it happens he is most happy to be even if not for the most glamorous of actions. This time Diego was leaving a Buenos Aries courthouse following an arbitration between him and his former manager, Guillermo Coppola (no word whether this is the next Nicholas Coppola). Leaving the building there was a phalanx of reporters following Maradona and a little fracas appears to have broken out.

Live television showed Maradona and his former wife, Claudia Villafane, as they tried to escape through a crowd of journalists. Maradona was heard to shout: "Don't push Claudia."

With camera crews and reporters surrounding him, Maradona was seen throwing a punch that apparently missed. There were no reports of injuries, but Maradona can be heard on video complaining: "They hit me with a camera!"

Ironically, the man known worldwide for punching a soccerball missed his intended target.

Asked for comment, England said, "Why couldn't this little shrimp have missed in '86?"

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Fixing the Champions League

Today we are here to fix the Champions League. And, no, this isn't Abramovich type fixing.

Okay, it might not even be broken, but doing some really bad mental accounting, it seems that the number of lackluster semi-final matches over the past couplathree years is high. Well, there are only a handful of matches, so maybe I should say the percentage is high.

It might just be due to the fact that Liverpool and Chelsea keep running into each other, but both semi-final tilts from the 2005-2006 run also come to mind. The return leg of the Arsenal v. Villareal match might have been the least attractive futbol match ever played at that level. In total six hours of semi-final soccer produced two goals. Even that overstates how exciting the four matches were. And that's with only one Italian team present.

This week's first round matches were no prizes either. A dull affair at Anfield highlighted by a comic own goal with the ref probably lifting the whistle to his mouth. And a Barca v. United match where the Red Devils' offense consisted of Ronaldo hitting the ground anytime a Barca player came near him in the attacking third.

Sorry, these are the supposed to be the best clubs in the world, playing top flight soccer. I don't want to say it needs to be a goalfest lest I look like a fucking hypocrite, but I'd like to see some tactics that are based on something more than, "Well, if we get a 0-0 draw, we get the return leg at home and, when I bully the refs, Ronaldo might get one of those calls."

So, with that in mind, maybe it's time to tinker with the Champions League. And it's a pretty simple tinker. Basically, make it look more like the World Cup.

1) Make the Knock-Out Stages a Single Match: That's right. No home-and-away. One match. Winner goes on. Loser goes home.

The spillover benefit of this is that it does away with the silly away-goals rule.

Every match has it's own character. The pitch, the weather, the refs, all impact that game. Even from one week to the next there can be a change in match-fit players that will impact the offensive (or defensive) make-up of the tilt. Should you really go home because you drew 2-2 at home but only 1-1 on the road? It's kind of stupid. What if the return leg goes to extra time?

It just happened to Getafe against Bayern Munich in the UEFA Cup. More time on the clock gave both teams the chance to score, but because it was at Getafe, Bayern's goals moved them on.

Additionally this will take a few fixtrues off the already overcrowded schedule. I'm sure United would like a couple of fewer miles on their legs as they head into this weekend's match with Chelsea.

But won't someone have a home advantage? No, just make it a neutral site game. Moreover, that might take the refs out of the match a little bit. Was the penalty given to Babel in the semi legit? Was either card given to Mazzerati in the quarters warranted? Nobody but Lingering Bursitis thinks so (okay, maybe the second, but definitely not the first). Were the calls influenced by the Anfield crowd? Probably.

Pity for such huge matches to turn on something so capricious instead of the play on the pitch. This isn't to suggest that the officiating will magically become better, it just might be less susceptible to crowd influence.

Of course single-elimination will never happen because, among other things, it means leaving money on the table. Two matches bring in more gate than one. Okay, fine. Just double the ticket prices. You're telling me these matches won't still sell-out?

2) Seed the Knock-Out stages: Chelsea draws Olympiacos and Fenerbahce. Seriously? Must be nice having a thug Russian billionaire running your club. Just seed the thing. I'm not going to quiblle over criteria. This year's first round: United v. Schalke. Inter v. Olympiacos. Madrid v. Fenerbahce. There will still be upsets.

3) There is no three.

In fact, number two is just me bitching that Chelsea had an easy path quite literally due to "the luck of the draw."

I just want to see teams at this level playing to win, playing attacking football. Right now, that seems to be more of an exception. Yesterday, United had little interest in doing much more than sitting back and absorbing Barca's onslaught. Seriously, the top team in Europe's top league ceded 65% of the possession? Please.

And it's not like they are going to come out firing at home. They know as long as they win at home, they are on to the final, but more importantly they have to guard against the away goal. So they are going to play a tentative first 45. Guarantee it. The only way that match turns exciting is if Barca does score early and United now need 2 goals.

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Follow Up: Slapping ban for Australian keeper shortened

As all of you undoubtedly remember, back in February Australian keeper Danny Vukovic was banned for 15 months for giving a referee an unwanted high five. The ban was quickly reduced to nine months with a further six months on probation. Unfortunately, the ban was still too long for Vukovic, Australia's starting U-23 keeper, to participate in the Beijing Olympics. Amazingly, common sense has prevailed.

Apparently, the Australian FA allows an infinite number of appeals, somewhat like the US legal system, and a further appeal to an independent committee reduced Vukovic's ban further. Of course, they did not specify the length of the ban now, but I would guess that it ends August 7, 2008. Oddly, the change in bannination does not affect his A-League status further, as Vukovic is still not allowed to play in the domestic competition until October.

It's obvious that someone or group has stepped in and said Vukovic must be available for the Olympics. If I had a guess, I would say that such negotiations have been going on for most of the two months since the ban was announced. Anyway, for those that don't remember, or are new to the site, here is the video of the vicious attack.

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The Good, The Bad, The WTF

Nightmare fuel

The time has come. With so many teams choosing dodgy shirts again and again, eventually I would have to make it back to a team for a second time. Ideally, I would have left Celtic alone until I had exhausted other possibilities, but when this shirt showed up on the ebays, I had to plow ahead. Come inside and feast your eyes on the avalanche of wonder that is the Peoples Ford Celtic shirt.

This beauty comes from the 1991-92 season. Oddly, the club decided against bringing it back for a second go round. Looking at the shirt, it's not hard to understand why. I don't know what is most aesthetically annoying--the (at least) four different greens used on the shirt, the fact that the jagged, mountain-skyline-like lines don't match up, or the fact that "peoples ford" really needs an apostrophe. Any way you choose, it's an appalling shirt.

Which brings me to the ebays. Someone does want to buy this shirt, as there is one bid at the minimum $4.99. If you want to do the same, go here. If you want to stay away, I understand. Even a man who is willing to wear this shirt can tell that this thing an eyesore beyond belief. Besides, it's Celtic, and Old Firm fans are twats. It says so right in the tags below.

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Tuesday, April 22, 2008


You know the funniest part of this video?

It's not that Riise scores an own goal—that might not be funny at all if you are a Liverpool fan (although I'm not sure if we have any around here)—it's that within about 4 hours of the end of the match, this video (or some incarnation of it) had already been posted to youtube 35 times, and probably counting.

The second best part of the video?

It was such a spectacular failure that ESPN even teased it on SportsCenter. Yeah, the four-letter has been tossing the beautiful game a bone with the odd goal in the Top 10 plays of the day more and more recently, but to actually tease it, and do so with a non-Latino anchor in the ESPN Deportes update? That's truly uncanny.

But the third and maybe best best part of the goal was after they showed the highlights on SportsCenter. The anchors went to the Closing Number, which was something about John Smoltz being on the cusp of 3000 Ks, then coming out of the bumper ESPN's Robert Flores, who was anchoring the broadcast, made an offhand comment about Riise's blunder, saying: "Feel bad for that, uh, the Chelsea player... the own goal."

I'm positive that's it verbatim because I rewound the Tivo. Could it have been just a simple blunder? Eh, probably not because he tacked on a gratuitous: "The sickest man in Chelsea right now" while the other anchor tried to hide his look of horror and summon the next program to start by sheer force of will.

You know, it might almost be forgivable getting a team wearing red and a team wearing blue mixed if not for the fact that the former, Liverpool, is nicknamed The Reds, while Chelsea is nicknamed the Blues.

Seriously, this is not even par for the course for a SportsCenter anchor. Last round there were blatant mispronunciations of both "Fenerbahce" and "Steven Gerrard," but this is a whole other level of bad.

By the way, in 8 visits to Stamford Bridge under Rafa Benitez, Liverpool has managed to score all of zero goals.

[Update: Well bastards from some combination of ESPN or UEFA don't want you to see the above video. That's okay, the call on this one makes it all the better.]

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Catalan thieves do not wait for you to leave home.

Unlike their Liverpudlian counterparts, Catalan thieves do not wait for their local footballers to leave town to rob houses. Hell, you can even be in another room, and these guys will still take your stuff. Just ask Frank Rijkaard.

Rijkaard's home was burgled on Sunday night, with him and his family in it. Either these were the cattiest of catburglers, or the entire family was stoned out of its collective gourd. Perhaps his house is huge and the rooms were a football pitch apart, I don't know, but shouldn't it at least have a security system? Maybe a pack of dogs on the grounds?

What I do know is this--there is no way I scale a 6-meter wall without breaking something on the way down the other side. Of course, I get winded heading to the mailbox, so maybe I am not the best example. The thieves entered the master bedroom and got jewelry, watches, and a large amount of cash. Who knew that Rijkaard kept his savings under the mattress? Seems like an inside job to me.

What makes the article for me, though, is the appearance of an unnamed source. This source says, "that while the robbers were probably professionals, they would probably not have known how high profile the owner of the house was". Is it just me, or is that probably one too many "probably"s in that sentence? It seems that this unnamed source should probably be brought in for questioning. If and when they do, I am quite sure that the perp will be blonde, male, permed and bemulleted. His motive? Looking to make even past aggressions in Rijkaard's playing career.

It's the only possible answer to such an insolvable crime.

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You Know How I Know You're Gay?

Given all of the tension for our Scousers around here today, UF decided to delve into something that wasn't related to the Champions League clash with Chelski. Instead, we examine a recent story in the BBC News Magazine that asks the question that everyone wants answered: Why are there no openly gay football players? Although one could argue that there are openly gay players, the truth is that no one has come out (see what I did there?) and admitted that they are a homosexual (at least not through their words). The eternal debate regarding gays and sports is always two-pronged (oh, grow up!): (1) how would teammates react?; and (2) is it any of our damn business?

Clearly, there are some individuals who would prefer not to think too much about gay footballers, as it disturbs their delicate sensibilities. Djibril Cisse (why did it have to be a Frenchman?) has stated that he will not kiss any of his teammates during goal celebrations to ensure that no one thinks he is gay. Given Cisse's history, I would think he should be more concerned about his glass legs than his lips, but I digress. The FA addressed this issue last summer during the "More Than Playing Games" Conference in Belgium, but homophobia continues to be an issue.

Statistically, it is more than likely that out of over 4000 footballers, some of them are gay. Alan Smith, former Crystal Palace manager, has noted that he had "players over the years who were single and read books and so others said they must be gay" (who knew John Amaechi played football?).

However, all jokes aside, the experience of the only known openly gay footballer suggests that homophobia is still a very serious issue within the sport. Justin Fashanu, a former player for Nottingham Forest and Manchester City, came out one year after finishing his FA career with West Ham United. After initially being hailed as a gay icon, Fashanu was forced to continue his career with clubs in Toronto, Sweden, and Atlanta. Despite being fully match-fit and possessing adequate talent, Fashanu was never again offered a place with an FA club. After years of being ostracized by former teammates, and disowned by his brother, he was investigated in the United States on charges of sexual assault. Erroneously believing that a warrant had been issued for his arrest, Fashanu hung himself in May of 1998.

This has led to clubs actively instructing players to avoid any actions or situations which would appear to be of a homosexual nature. In fact, PR expert Max Clifford claims that two major EPL clubs (Chelski and ManUre?) have approached him to help players develop a "straight" image (I'm guessing this involves things like: (1) date Abigail Clancy or Gemma Atkinson; and (2) do not kiss other men). Until footballers develop a little more tolerance for alternative lifestyles, it seems that certain players will have to continue to engage in sex parties with five hookers at once in order to assert their heterosexuality and throw everyone off the scent.

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He Doesn't Know What He's Missing

The first leg of Chelsea - Liverpool Champions League semifinal occurs later today. This author is hoping the Scousers continue their CL preeminence over the Blues having defeated Chelsea in the semis two out of three years. If Liverpool do manage to leave Anfield with a significant advantage we can all be assured of two things: (1) a Scouse crime spree and (2) drunkeness. Fortunately, Rafa Benitez would not likely to be involved in either of these if his squad goes to London with a lead because he's not that sort of guy.

"When I finish an important game I go home have a dinner, something simple, nothing special," he revealed. "I don't drink wine and I don't drink beer. I don't like champagne. I tell my wife not to waste money on it because she'd be wasting money on expensive bottles. I'd drink a little bit and she'd drink the rest!"

Rafa, that's not money wasted. (See picture).

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Profligate Russian Oligarch v. Cunty American Capitalists

As has been repeated ad nauseam, Chelsea is meeting Liverpool in a Champions League semi-final for the third time in four years. The previous two times? Let's just say the Oligarch spent the summers at his dacha crying into his borscht and wiping his ass with £100 notes. In 2005 Liverpool defeated Chelsea on a disputed Luis Garcia goal and prevailed in 2007 on penalty kicks.

Since a good portion of our ranks here are Red supporters, today is likely to be full of emotion, not much work being accomplished, and sporadic Chelsea-Liverpool-centric posting. In fact, yesterday's dearth of posting is likely due to the angst of the writers.

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Totti proves he is indeed made of glass

Francesco Totti -your basic good looking, talismanic Roma striker- hurt his knee in Sunday's 1-1 draw with Livorno, which basically handed the Scudetto to massively uninspiring Inter Milan. Its unfortunate as Totti had recovered from whatever ailed him against Man U (sore vag) to score a cracking goal against Catania in the midweek. After surgery on Monday, it was confirmed that he will be out for four months, which rules him out of Euro 2008. But Totti's pain may turn out to be a certain Val Kilmer lookalike's gain (sorry, that was a ugly sentence).

That would be Atonio Cassano, who scored for Sampdoria against Udinense to keep the Genoa club in the hunt for a European place. It was his first goal after the five game suspension he served for going totally batshit crazy on a ref a few months back. UF doesn't want to jinx Cassano again, but can we just humbly propose to Mr. Donadoni that Cassano might deserve a call up. After all, his biggest frenemy on the Azurri squad was probably Totti, due to thier bust up at Roma when Cassano went to Real Madrid. But with Francesco out of the picture, perhaps Antonio can be a team player? He would seem like the ideal striker to throw on late in games if Toni or Del Piero are laboring, and he is certainly much younger than most of the geriatric legs that Italians seem intent on running out there in SwitzerAustria. Free Val! Er...Antonio!

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