Saturday, May 3, 2008

Guy Ritchie actually makes a good flick

This is way better than Swept Away. 

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UF Weekend Hat Trick

Now is the time we pat ourselves on the back. It's the weekend, and we use that time to watch football and drink, not work. Take a look at our top three stories of the week, and pal around in the comments. See you on Monday (Tuesday if the hangovers are especially bad).

The LA Galaxy are a shoddily run football squad. How bad are they? Let Precious Roy fill you in.

The NY Kid helps out unearths an email exchange of a soul tortured by Liverpool's failure in the Champions League.

It's only four posts down, but you need to make sure to see it. This is what happens when we post about other EPL (suck it, Barclay's) squads instead of Liverpool and Arsenal. We get told to fuck off.

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Friday Backpasses: A theme in the first three posts

LA Galaxy try to set up date with Iranian National team. [Soccernet]
LA Galaxy to tour Australia in the summer []
Oops. LA Galaxy not going to Australia. Things get a little mixed up down under [Brisbane Times]
Falkirk boss hit with six match ban. Strachan points and laughs [The Sports Network]
DC United sign shirt sponsorship deal. Fahrfrumluzing? [Baltimore Business Journal]
Blast from the past [DeadOn]
C. Ronaldo's girl. Not that hot. Possibly a beard [This is Extra Time]

Enjoy your weekend.

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Friday, May 2, 2008

A Chelsea fan opines.

Being the foolish bastard gracious sport that I am, I reached out to a long-time Chelsea supporter in the hopes of gaining some insight into their recent courageous run of form, because I cannot figure it out for the life of me.

Paul kindly obliged with some thoughts on it all, although he was busy packing his mittens for Moscow at the time.

Join me after the jump for some CFC praise, won't you?

I am 47. I have suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune as a Chelsea fan since I was 7. Those many years of bad karma were rewarded that fateful day, when my favorite pillager of Russia’s natural resources, turned my Blues into his personal ego toy and began playing Fantasy Football with my beloved denizens of The Bridge.

Great names. Brilliant talents. A cornucopia of the finest midfielders in the world – Roman did indeed collect the whole set. And the maraschino cherry placed atop this magnificent dessert was my favorite manager to stalk the sidelines – The Special One; no further introduction is needed.

Under Jose’s exquisite touch, Chelsea marched through the EPL like turds through the proverbial goose. We did not lose at home. We did not lose to Arsenal. We violated Spurs with epic regularity. We turned the 1-0 lead into an art-form worthy of most Italian national sides. Boring, boring, trophy laden Chelsea.

There was, however, one proverbial fly in the ointment of Jose’s genius – the dreaded combination of Rafa Benitez, Liverfourth (credit to fellow blogger, Autoglass for this particular nickname) and the Champions League. For some ineffable reason, Chelsea would stub its toe against this rock and go crashing out of the tourney that Roman valued more than any other. The fly became a wasp, then a gull and finally the vulture that ate Mr. Fantastic’s job and tore my beating heart from its chest.

My new manager - a dour jowly bloated gelatinous douche of a man - Avram Grant. A man instantly disliked by 90% of the people who he would encounter and then, over time, utterly loathed by the 10% who had previously withheld judgment. A puppet of his Roman master, who we instantly dubbed Skeletor.

The wheel had turned – karma’s rent was due and the bank account was bare. Chelsea was done like dinner.

Somehow through the injuries to Lamps and Terry, through the displacement of the African Nations Cup and the collapse of Drogba’s form, through the complete rearrangement of Cech’s skull and face and through the wildly un-special gag at Wembley in the Milk Cup, Chelsea won a lot more than it lost. We played dull football. We lacked punch and passion, and we would throw in the occasional howler (Wigan and Barnsley come to mind), but still we plodded on.

Today, my Blues find themselves in a virtual deadlock with a struggling Man U at the top of the EPL, and, most amazingly in our first CL final after defeating the nemesis, the red beast of Liverfourth. How?

Skeletor gets some credit. His absolute banality and joylessness meant he was never a distraction (his urine-chugging bride was only good for a quick chuckle). His complete lack of animus and analysis meant he didn’t infuriate his dressing room and his decision to banish both Sheva and SWP to the footballing equivalent of the Outer Hebrides has served his team well. He installed Essien at right back, Makalele in the holding role, and shifted us to a 4-3-3 that gave us width and an ability to create danger. And he was blessed with good fortune in both Turkey and Anfield with beautifully finished own goals.

But in the main, he inherited a team filled with fortitude, and a relative lack of ego (I say relative because both Ballack and Drogba are on the same squad). They play team football, enjoy a heavy work-rate and are simply more talented than any other team who they play. This time it was Rafa who proved to be the distraction by inspiring Drogba and denigrating the referee before the match.

And thus, me and mine in Kingdom Blue are left with the ironic dichotomy of a team playing at the height of its powers for the Lord of Darkness.

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Trashcan Sinatra and the Rat Pack

As LB mentioned earlier this week, Citeh have been shit since I gave them the five star treatment in January. So shit, in fact, that Sven Goran Eriksson was fired this week by his despotic boss, despite the fact that he had Man City challenging for European places until March, and brought in a serious infusion of talent to the side. Neither Man City's players nor its celebrity fans are taking this very well. At least Sven will have more time to appear on Setanta with the Special One.

The Guardian reports that there was a near mutiny in the City dressing room, lead by influential defensive stalwart Richard Dunne:

The idea put forward by City's players involved embarrassing Thaksin in his native country by refusing to take part in a game against a Thailand Premier All-Stars team on May 17, as well as a match in Hong Kong against a South China Invitational XI five days later. The players, who are due to leave on May 14 and perform a series of promotional duties such as opening a new club shop, asked Eriksson what he thought about them putting together a letter in which they would refuse to travel without him in charge. Though grateful, Eriksson was against the idea, believing it compromised the players' own positions and would do no good anyway.

Since then it has emerged that, farcically, Eriksson might still be in charge of the tour anyway, for no other reason than Thaksin does not believe he will have a new manager in place, his first choice, Luiz Felipe Scolari, being contracted to the Portuguese football federation until the end of the European Championship.

The players, meanwhile, are still staunchly behind Eriksson but have accepted that they should not do anything that breaches their own contracts. Nonetheless, it is likely they will be far more reluctant to satisfy Thaksin's requirements than they have been in the past, most recently when Joe Hart and Darius Vassell were asked to record a video message saying how much they were looking forward to visiting Thailand. The clips were shown at a press conference to promote the event in Bangkok on Wednesday.

It is also clear that whoever replaces Eriksson will have his work cut out winning over a group of players who are so united behind the current manager and that it is quite conceivable Dunne will have left the club. The Republic of Ireland international has only a year left on his contract and, though he has strong emotional ties with City, he is said to be closer than any other player to Eriksson and disillusioned about the direction in which the club are going.

I'm very proud of the players, willing to make a political statement on a trip that should be about whoring, whoring, and more whoring. But even though Sven has talked them out of a mutiny, it appears that all is not right in the blue half of Manchester. And I'm happy to report that my beloved Arsenal may benefit. The Times notes:

Arsenal are hoping to capitalise on the unfolding chaos at Manchester City by preparing a summer bid for Michael Johnson, the England Under-21 midfield player. Arsène Wenger, the Arsenal manager, is becoming concerned that Mathieu Flamini, who has partnered Cesc Fàbregas in central midfield for most of this season, has had his head turned by interest from abroad and will not be signing a new contract at the Emirates Stadium.

Yes! Signing Michael Johnson will completely make up for losing Flamini and Hleb to big spending Italian clubs. When I originally heard this rumor, Micah Richard's name was also bandied about as a possible target for Arsene. But now it appears he may be headed across town instead. Plus Arsene would never, you know, make it rain for an English youngster. Even though the backline was a huge problem this year. Arsenal are also in the race to sign Gareth Barry, but apparently we don't have the financial firepower to compete with Man United and Liverpool. You know times are tight when you can't outspend a club up to its ears in debt run by a good ole' boy from Dallas.

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Man U's French players surrender their money to SAF; FA to investigate

I apologize right off the bat to the ny kid. I'm not sorry enough to change the headline, but I do feel a little bad.

Darren Fletcher recently had an interview published in the Brit Lad's mag The Zoo. In said article, Fletcher, a Scot, makes laugh on his French Manchester United teammates by revelling in his home nation's double over France in Euro 2008 qualifying. Then, Fletcher let loose the following gem

He [Sir Alex Ferguson] was happy when Scotland beat France. He won a bit of money because he was making bets with all the French lads - Patrice Evra, Louis Saha and Mikael Silvestre.

They were looking at him like he was a bit crazy, so they took any bet.

But he had the last laugh 'cos we managed to beat them twice!

Someone at the FA saw the quote, and now there is an investigation a-brewing.

It seems the FA frowns upon players and managers betting on their own matches. Even the ones that the FA itself does not sanction. That said, there is a slight speedbump on the way to throwing United out of the league for rampant disregard of the rules. None of United's French players set foot on the pitch in either of the Scotland matches. Silvestre was never selected to the squad, and Evra and Saha never made it off of the sub's bench.

I understand the rule, and especially the need for it. Football has enough problems without having someone pull a Pete Rose and bet on their own matches. But this investigation, should it come off, is pretty ridiculous. It would seem that this is a friendly-type bet, maybe a few quid (whatever a few quid is to these guys) based on the outcome of a match that they have a vested interest in. This is the rough equivalent of two mayors making a bet based on the outcome of the Super Bowl. Unless this is a series of bets for hundreds of thousands of pounds each, let it go. Because really, what's a tenner between friends?

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Thursday, May 1, 2008

Thursday Backpasses: Two English squads to Russia, One Russian squad to England

Heh. We're "fanciable". Better than being fancy-lads [This is Extra Time]
Man City owner tells fans to stop defacing Thai flags before he has to prove he is a Thai fighter (Sorry) [The Nation (Thailand)]
Further Ronaldo fallout. Get your mind out of the gutter [Xinhuanet]
Slideshow Alert! Top 20 paid footballers [Forbes]
50,000 Englishmen set to descend on Moscow. If they get the visas worked out that is [Guardian]
Everton fan wants to know what it will take for his club to get better. Snark away in the comments [Football Fancast]
The Fan's Attic photoshops for Robert Weintraub (Not soccer, but necessary anyway)[The Fan's Attic]

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I Hinted I Wouldn't Do This

Really, a Toronto FC match is only so entertaining (although, this being the first time I've watched them, I am impressed with their crowd).

But it's the visitor in Juan Pablo Angel who got me thinking...

Yes, Juan Pablo Angel and Henry Rollins were not only separated at birth, they were then separated by a couple of decades.

Maybe this will be a recurring feature after all...

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Tales of the Lovelorn: What's a Red to Do?

True love is achieved most often among men between that man and his favo[u]rite club. While the Gunners among us are heartbroken at the way our season has turned out, we console ourselves with 2 facts: (1) no one thought we would be any good this year; and (2) we are still a relatively young team. However, the Scousers among us have become quite despondent about their situation. Being mischevious and cruel, I snuck into "someone's" e-mail and found the following letter:

Dear Abby*,

Very recently I experienced extreme pain at the hands of my loved ones. I've never felt this low. I was beaten and abused for 120 minutes straight, unable to move, paralyzed with fear. They teased me with relief and happiness, only to snatch it away and leave me heart-broken.

The focal point of my loved ones, whom I shall call "Rafa", has an unusual sensibility. One moment he is a genius. The next? An abject disappointment. His moods and personalities are so inconsistent that I am often left confused and dissatisfied with the relationship. I mean, what about my needs? What about my happiness?

They give me pleasure one saturday, and misery the next.

Last night, it came to a head. I am a broken man. Tell me, what should I do? Do I continue to see these people, knowing full well that they never fill my heart with pride as much as I want them to?

What am I to do?


Down-and-out Scouser in Manhattan

This plaintive wailing of an e-mail was met with the following response:

Dear "Down-and-out",

At some point you must decide how long you are willing to stay in an abusive relationship - to be beaten and paralyzed with fear for over 2 hours is an incredibly agonizing experience, and it sounds like this is not the first time this behavior has occurred. The fact that "Rafa" teased you with happiness only to take it away reveals an especially cruel streak, and says quite a bit about your loved ones. If he insists on treating you poorly by toying with your emotions, you must stand up for yourself. Let him know that you find his behavior unacceptable, and that you expect it to change if he wants to keep your support.

Dealing with someone who leaves you dissatisfied and questioning your own happiness, who makes you miserable on occasion, can result in self-desctructive behavior on your part. Do you often find yourself at a bar early on Saturdays, drinking as a way of dealing with "Rafa"? Do you continue to profess your love while "Rafa" turns his attention to others? You said yourself that feel as if "Rafa" will never let your heart fill with pride as much as you want it to - are you willing to live the rest of your life being disappointed? These are all questions that only you can answer.

I would like you to know that your e-mail moved me so deeply, that I feel compelled to sign off with my real name so that you may contact me personally if you wish to speak further. And please remember that the color red is an angry color, and may contribute to the passion (both good and bad) in your relationship. Perhaps you should find someone who looks good in blue?

D. Moyes

*Not Abby Clancy, apparently.

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From Backpass to Post: The LA Galaxy Are Morons

Okay, what the fuck is going on with the Galaxy? Really, Alexi Lalas can talk about being the marquee franchise all he wants but: A) That's in a tenth rate league and B) As a GM he has won exactly two things: nothing and dick.

Then there's the coach, former two-time World Player of the Year Ruud Gullit, letting this little bit fly in the English press, as he told the Sunday Times:

“I’m sure that when people think of LA Galaxy, the picture that comes to mind is not of our staff making phone calls to friends on Friday to see if they can play in a reserve game on Sunday, but, strange as it may seem, this is the reality,” reveals Gullit, sitting in the sun near the VIP area of an empty stadium. “Two weeks ago we had a game at home [against San Jose] and I had two of my office staff from the commercial department playing, two people whose job is to sit in the office all day doing their work."

Gullit goes on to explain the reality of the situation in that there are 26 players on the roster. Five were injured and there is a rule in MLS that prevents reserve team players from playing more than 120 minutes in 48 hours.

Then he adds of the reserves, which are usually scheduled for the day after the first team games, "If they have played the day before in the first team for 90 minutes you can do the maths."

"Maths." Awesome.

But there is more. So much more Gullity goodness.

“In the first reserve game of the season at Colorado I had a few players who could play for only 70 minutes and another who only could play for half an hour. So what did we do? We started with 10 men because we had to. You can say that it’s only a reserve game, but you can’t operate like this because the reserve game is important... If I have a reserve game and come up two men short, what happens? We have to call people from their job, maybe a carpenter, and they just come to play with our reserve team. If we play in Toronto, we have to call people in Toronto because no one will travel on their own all that way.

"Of course, we laugh about it a little bit, but in the end it’s not a laughing matter and it’s not good... this is an example of the things I am trying to adapt to. I’m not trying to change it yet, I’m trying to adapt to it, but in the end I’ll say, ‘You need to do things in a certain way because otherwise it’s not serious’. Really, it’s ridiculous.”

Those are the bits—or edited portions of them—that have made the rounds in the L.A. Times and The Spoiler where we first were made hip to it. But there is also this little bit of tid from the story (originally reported in the L.A. Times) that is equally as priceless:

Last weekend [Gullit] was compelled to introduce in the second half against Houston Dynamo a player, Joe Franchino, whom he had watched only on videotape.

"Yes, Galaxy fans, the same Joe Franchino . . . who, along with former [New England] Revolution teammate Gary Flood, was tossed out of a recent Boston Red Sox-New York Yankees game at Fenway Park after fans complained of their obnoxious behaviour,” Grahame Jones reported last week in the LA Times.

“He is also the same Joe Franchino slugged by then teammate [and current Fulham striker] Clint Dempsey at training camp a few years back. He is also the same Joe Franchino who played only 57 minutes of soccer last season because of injuries. So the questions here are: just who made this trade? Did Galaxy coach Ruud Gullit know anything about it? . . . '

It appears that Gullit is not totally in the loop on the transaction front. Last week he was asked about the acquisition of defenders Scott Bolkan and Vardan Adzemian and their subsequent loan to the Portland Timbers. Gullit looked blank. He had never heard of either player.

This is beyond ridiculous, particularly for an organization trying to brand itself as the Gold Standard of MLS. Right? People hip to the designated player rules and the MLS salary cap are aware that the Galaxy's paying off of Landycakes and Beckham has left little money to round out the squad (never mind that somehow they have a third designated player in Carlos Ruiz—each team is allowed a max of two and you have to trade for a second designated player slot to accomplish that, which apparently the Galaxy haven't done), but did anyone think it was this bad?

I'd like to be sympathetic to Lalas, but I can't. And is his fault for talking a big game. That and the league seems to make it up as they go to accommodate the Galaxy (and other players and teams at times).

But isn't this the same organization that had half of Santa Monica come tryout for an open slot on the team (publicity stunt) and play with Becks? You really can't find a couplathree people from that pool that are passable footballers that are willing to be fill-ins on the reserves if necessary?

As little as Americans generally care about soccer, I don't think you could even measure how little they care about MLS reserve squad soccer. Whatever the unit of that caring is, it's magnitude is probably in angstroms, but it's indicative of a fairly unprofessional organization, or just a very, very under-qualified general manager.

Really, can any failed rocker get a front office job with AEG? Because I was in a pretty cool band in college.

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Euro 2008 Team Profiles: Greece

Here at UF we decided to get a jump on things a little earlier than most and preview the upcoming Euro 2008 competition. Although we each had favorite teams that we wanted to cover, there were some teams left over. Greece is one of those teams. There is nothing wrong with "The Pirate Ship" (seriously, that's their nickname), but they are a little bland. Besides, do you know how much time I spent making sure I spelled all these names correctly?

Greece enters Euro 2008 as the defending champion, after having defeated Portugal 2-1 (in Portugal!) in the Euro 2004 championship match. This is not necessarily good news, as no country has ever successfully defended the European Championship title. Greece started out well during qualifying for Euro 2008, winning their first 3 games, and their success continued throughout their remaining games, resulting in the team finishing with 31 points (the most of any team in qualifying).

They have been placed in Group D for the Euro 2008 finals with Sweden (game on 6/10), Russia (6/14), and Spain (6/18). Although a somewhat formidable draw, coach Otto Rehhagel (the national team's longest-serving coach) is confident in his team:

GK: Kostas Chalkias; Antonis Nikopolidis

DEF: Paraskevas Antzas; Traianos Dellas; Giannis Goumas; Michalis Kapsis; Sotirios Kyrgiakos; Christos Patsatzoglou; Giourkas Seitaridis; Nikos Spyropoulos; Vassilis Torosidis; Loukas Vyntra

MID: Angelos Basinas; Stelios Giannakopoulos; Giorgos Karagounis; Kostas Katsouranis; Alexis Tziolis; Ioannis Amanatidis

ST: Angelos Charisteas; Theofanis Gekas; Nikos Liberopoulos; Vangelis Mantzios; Dimitrios Salpigidis; Georgios Samaras

In general, captain Angelos Basinas (MID) is considered to be Greece's most important player, but the breakout star of Euro 2008 may be Sotirios Kyrgiakos (DEF). Hungry for national team play after missing Euro 2004 due to injuries, Kyrgiakos scored 3 goals in 12 qualifying matches.

Now, the important questions:

(1) Could England (wot, wot? They're not in Euro 2008?) beat this team? Yes, England could beat this team, and rather easily. The last three times that Greece and England have faced off in international competition have resulted in England 2 - Greece 2 and England 2 - Greece 0 (in 2001 qualifying matches for the 2002 World Cup), and England 4 - Greece 0 (international friendly). Don't be confused by the fact that Greece has a FIFA ranking of 8th, while England has a ranking of 11.

(2) Can Greece win Euro 2008? Well, theoretically, they could, but they won't. Ladbrokes currently has them as 25-1 underdogs to win.

(3) What is their pre-made excuse for not winning Euro 2008? Can't you people read - I mentioned up top that no one has ever successfully defended the European Championship football title. Surely Greece can't be expected to do what has never been done before!

(4) What is the biggest question mark surrounding their team? The question here is really one of talent. The overwhelming majority of the Greece national team players ply their trade in the Greek leagues, with only 1 in the EPL (suck it, Barclay's!) at Bolton, 2 in Portugal, and 4 in the German Bundeliga. Can a team comprised almost exclusively of players with minimal international football exposure compete on the grand European stage?

(5) Who is their worst player? I literally have no idea, since I have never heard of 99.62% of these guys.

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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Wednesday Backpasses: You knew Abramovich's team would get to Moscow, right?

Beckham hanging out with anthropomorphic beings, just not his wife this time [The Beautiful Game]
LA Galaxy cannot pay enough players to have a full reserve squad [The Spoiler]
FIFA welcomes back Albania to the fold. Still keeping their eye on Spain (we think)[International Herald Tribune]
English hooligan, banned from every ground in the country, sets his sights on other goals [Northampton Chronicle]
Are Nike and adidas evil for focusing their soccer marketing at soccer fans? One person says they are [Trilldo Bloginz]

That's all.

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Champions League Semi-Final Live Blog: I Don't Have Time For This Shit...

But I'm doing it anyway.... Fucking Bissinger has me wound up. So I'm going to be completely unprofessional and do something that would totally piss him off. I'm going to write about a sporting event I'm not even attending.

Chelsea v. Liverpool at the Bridge.

I think I'm ambivalent here, I hate Chelsea (although I pulled for them to beat United as I wanted the last couple of matches to matter) but I'm still upset that Liverpool and not Arsenal are playing today. So follow along after the jump as I update live.

Shoddy journalism at its best.

Teams coming on the field. John Terry shakes hand in the tunnel with a kid in a Liverpool kit.

My friend Deepika loves the Champions League anthem. I find it contrived. Handshakes and Gerrard and Terry exchange pieces of fabric with tassels.

There's the coin flip. Is there anything more meaningless in sports that the flip for a soccer match?

Grant already looks clueless.

And we're off.

No clock on the broadcast yet, so don't know if I can give minutes.

There we are. Clock is up. Chelsea is playing Route 1 football for the first minute.

2nd minute: Goal kick from Reina. Lots of back and forth in the midfield. Both teams are cautiously generous and sloppy.

Please God, let these teams NOT play eye-bleedingly awful football. Slippery pitch isn't going to help matters.

4th minute: Don't think Liverpool has even gotten to the edge of the box with the ball yet.

6th minute: Long shot from Drogba. Maybe hoping for a skip off the wet pitch. Save by Reina. Essien follows with a blast high.

Liverpool know they do need a score, don't they? Free kick for the Reds. Hand ball. Well outside the box. Kuyt falls on no contact. Good clearance by Chelsea.

9th minute; Nice run up by Chelsea spoiled when Benayoun decked Cole. Counter by Liverpool. Torres in. And a nice save by Cech.

Corner Liverpool. Cleared.

A little more attacking from both sides. Shot from Ballack but Joe Cole can't find the other end of it. Ballack wants offsides. No dice. The ref hates Germans.

12th minute: More long ball by Chelsea. Hey it worked against Arsenal. Drogba makes a run, spoiled by Skrtl. Throw in for Chelsea, followed by a throw in for Chelsea followed by some boring possession as they cross back and forth. Oooh... a burst through the center from Drogba.

Reina clears.

Skrtl down on the sidelines. No word on why or what.

And he's back on. Another free kick for Liverpool. Cech is screaming like Howard. Riise kicks it right into the wall.

Oh god, I can only imagine what's going on inside Riise's head. I probably wouldn't understand it anyway as I don't speak Danish (Riise is from Denmark, isn't he? Shit I should know... some flavour of Scandinavian).

17th minute: Chealse get a free kick in the midfield. Quick restart.

So far it's a lot of exchanged possession in the midfield with the odd long ball that ends up in the keeper's hands. At least they are attacking long balls.

Pirates are pounding the Mets by the way. Hey... I've got the ticker. I'll keep yo...

Holy shit, Droga missed an easy one.

In on Reina and he pushes it wide of the far post. He buries that 9 out of 10. Maybe if he didn't hate his teammates so much one of them might have run on to the end of it.

20th minute: Skrtl still limping. Someone is warming for Liverpool.

And yes I know there is at least one vowel in Skrtl's name I'm just not sure where it goes.

Ballack wide for Kalou. Crosses to the box. Ballack can't find the header. Then Essien from range again. Reina saves it. Was going wide anyway.

Hyypia coming on.

Chelsea having the better go of it. Liverpool is countering they are just getting caught up in midfield.

24th minute: Better build from Liverpool here. Throw in deep in Chelsea territory. Reversing field.

Joe Cole takes Hyypia down. Welcomes him to the match.

25th minute: Liverpool very deliberate here. Get a nice cross... Cleared.

Drogba tears down the left side. Crosses to Ballack. He can't get on the end of it... Long blast from Ballack. Easy save for Reina.

Then Torres responds. Almost end-to-end here. Nice cross. Also cleared by Carvalho. Corner.

Into the box. Carragher lofted it over the bar. He also fouled Ballack.

28th minute: Wow almost a half hour into the match before Drogba complains to the ref. That's gotta be some kind of record.

Liverpool getting a llittle more possession now. Still, not threatening. Even their good corners... there's nobody in the box to find the other end.

Cashley Cole tries to find Mikel but gives it away. Liverpool tries to give it right back and we're playing more Route 1 footie.

I guess chicks dig the long ball.

31st minute: Nothing exciting. Droga complains about something.

Decent run through the middle by Chelsea results in a giveaway. That they get right back.

Kalou... DROGBA!

Kalou put in a nice shot that looked like it was cleared. Drogba ran on to the deflection late and BURIED it on the near post.

Nothing Reina could do. He was even at the near side, but that was a blast.

33rd minute: Doesn't change much as Liverpool still need a goal.

Liverpool trying to regain composure and just maintain possession.

Rafa does look a little nervous though. Uncharacteristic of him.

Gerrard just had it taken from his feet. In fact he and Torres have been pretty invisible. More pressure from Chelsea. Corner? No, deep throw in.

Drogba looks a little like Messi did yesterday. He is totally taking the game into his hands (feet). Too bad Messi failed.

38th minutes: Kalou offsides.

Ooof... JUST offside.

Liverpool look like they aer starting to push forward a little more. Gerrard down. Or slow to get up.

Late challenge from Drogba. Caught Gerrard's ankle. Should have been a card.

40th minute: Ball played back to Reina who kicks it out of bounds. Don't think Chelsea is going to get caught on that like Arsenal did.

Xabi Alonso yellow card. Brought down Kalou on a dead run.

Oooh... are Ballack and Drogba going to argue over the kick?

Ballack! Oh no... just off the stick behind the goal.

Shot was wide but not by much. Well taken but still 1-0.

44th minute: Sorry, phone rang. Nothing happened though.

Liverpool playing with a little more speed but they are sloppy in the midfield.

Paging Steven Gerrard. Dude... your team needs you.

Starting to look really misty. From one angle.... looking across the pitch it looks like it's raining. Looking down the pitch from midfield less so.

Mascherano runs through the midfield then gives it away. Par for the course... Torres had a chance then stupidly played it back and gave up possession.


Guess what? I'm engaged. Oh wait... they don't run PennyTalk commercials on ESPN do they?

Hard to deny that Chelsea have earned the lead. Liverpool hasn't really threatened and have had problems getting the ball out of the midfield. Chelsea haven't been spectacular, but they took the game to Liverpool early and created enough chances.

On the goal... it looked like Reina had parried it away. Drogba had to make a run from deep but the ball kind of rolled out there without anyone going to clear or collect.

Oh God... On the replay A) Kalou was offside on the shot that lead to the goal. And B) It was Riise who couldn't get in front of Drogba's shot to deflect. Ouch.

Torres hasn't done dick. Have I said that yet? He had one shot that Cech made a good save to come out and shut down.

Fuck this Nike commercial is awesome.

I hate commercials but that thing makes me want to lace it up and play for the Dutch national team.

I'm not Dutch either.

Also: What happened to Shaka Hislop in the studio halftime show?

Well, it's pretty obvious what Liverpool have to do. Specifically: score. Twice if they'd like to avoid extra time and possible PKs. Gonna need a spark from someplace or a slip up (literally) resulting from the wet pitch.

One thing to give thanks for in ESPN's coverage of the CL... No Julie Foudy. Wonder if Jesus could provide the same courtesy for the rest of humanity. Oh, and now we are being a mean-spirited blog.

Okay... second half about to tee up. At least it was not a dreadful first half that made me want to gouge my own eyes out. For that Chelsea and Liverpool are to be congratulated. It's a collective step forward.

Kick. Okay, now it is really raining. That could make it interesting. Let's see how Grant plays it.

Well Drogba is clearly looking to score again. He works through the midfield before surrendering possession. Essien plays it back to Cech.

Didn't see if either team made any chances at half.

Free kick to Liverpool. From well out.

Oooh... So close. Kuyt almost re-directs one to the back post.

Then Torres off the corner. Denied by Drogba.

Both dangerous chances with the ball sitting there for a bit long to be comfortable if you are a Chelsea fan. Liverpool putting pressure on. Again, the wet pitch...

50th minutes. Essie fouled but Chelsea had the advantage. Probably worked against them that the ref didn't let them play it. Free kick goes clear across the box. That was crap. Lampard. Figures.

52nd minute: Throw in for Liverpool in Chelsea's half the pitch. Ball is played back. And back again... then back to Reina. Wimpy.

53rd: Nice play from Chelsea gives Lampard a shot from the top of the box but it's right into Reina's hands.

Judging by the scores on the ticker, my fantasy baseball team is not having a good afternoon. Better than Liverpool's so far though.

55th minute: No hurry from Liverpool. Nice job by Riise to save the ball and feed it to Torres, but nothing comes from it.

Chelsea seemed to have eased off the gas a bit. They've got possession in the midfield, then a feed for Kalou goes long. Liverpool builds back through the midfield.

57th minute: The winning pitcher for the Twins today is named "Blackburn." Probably not relevant even if this is a soccer match.

This is seriously a deja vu to the first 10 minutes of the match. Really, not ready for summer reruns yet guys.

Pitch looks like it's gone from being slick to being waterlogged. Ball doesn't skip anymore. It really dies on anything over a touch.

60th minute: Good run from Masch... kicks it right to Cech. Nobody from Liverpool seemed to want to run with him so it was a bit of wasted effort.

Crouch and Babel are warming up. I'd go with Crouch. That might be because I want to fuck his girlfirend. And I have no idea what Babel's WAG looks like.

DO SOMETHING TORRES! Do something resembling anything.

Chelsea has started to settle back. They are clearly looking to defend the lead now.

63rd: Shot Cole. Deflected ever so slightly by Hyypia it looked like but still right into Reina's hands.


Benayound pokes it through to Torres who gets a quick finish past Cech to the lower right corner.

So it's 1-1 and now Grant might have to manage this. Advantage Liverpool.

That goal really came out of nothing. It will go on the scoresheet to Torres, but it was all Benayoun's work. He made that happen by taking it right at the central defense. Nice work from the Jew.

Can I say that, or will it piss off Costas?

67th minute: Chelsea robbed of a corner. Bad call.

So here's the problem for Chelsea, once they decided to sit back they lost what little rhythm they had. And now it's Liverpool playing with more confidence.

Again Benayoun back to Torres. Back to goal. He delays... delays... Oh that was dangerous but cleared.

Essien with a lon blast that skips. But Reina covers it.

Gerrard pushes one over the bar. Not ever close. Looks like Kalou is off and Malouda is coming on. Again, Grants lack of desire to play Anelka with Drogba boggles the mind.

How shitty of a year would this have been for Liverpool without Torres? They wouldn't be here and they would be fighting in the Prem just for the chance to get back here. Guy was a bargain at £30M (or was it 30M Euro?)

72nd minute: Drogba shot from long deflected... or maybe it was a pass. Either way, harmless.

Too much pace from Malouda... wasted run by Drogba.

Ballack has totally disappeared from the game.

75th minute: Throw in Chelsea. Given away. Then given back. Cashley Cole looking for a penalty as he falls down in the box. Or was that Malouda?

Possession and pressure here from Chelsea.

Wonderful run by Essien, but he kicks it into the side netting... Too bad as Drogba was waiting in the box. Seriously, he kind of fucked that up trying to be a hero himself.

Pennant on for Benayoun. Sorry if the updates are getting weird. My connection has been bitchy the last 5 minutes.

Oooh... dangerous back play. Torres almost collects it as Cech was coming out. Ball cleared to a corner, which is knocked out by Makalele.

Exact same thing happens. Don't thin Makalele was giving him 10 yards. And Ballack is limping.

Correction: Ballack is limping badly.

Hey, Aaron Harang held on to give me a Quality Start, even if he did take the loss. Nice.

81th minute: Hey, this has been a decent game and decently played given the conditions.

Oooh... Late charge by Kuyt taking out Cech right as he collected a cross from Pennant. Could have been worse, or rather looked worse than it was.

83rd minute: Chelsea builds it from the back. Essien plays it to Drogba... nothing.

Drogba not getting much help up top. Neither team wants to concede anything, but both are doing just enough to pressure the other teams. Sloppy play with Liverpool having just slightly the better of it.

Five minutes from time.

Some back and forth in the midfield. Corner to Chelsea. Poor play by Masch. He just kicked it straight out the end line.

Reina fouled.... Eh. Not sure about that call.. GK instead of a PK though.

Ballack whistled when Mascherano pretty much just fell. Weak call.

Pennant crosses. Handled. No. Chelsea can't clear. Almost bounces to Torres. Another weak header to clear. Chelsea having problems with a simple clearance... There it is.

89th minute: No indication of extra yet. Liverpool throw in.

Whistle for Chelsea. Kick from Cashley Cole... He's being whistled back almost to the midline to kick.

Service into about 9 red shirts.

2 minutes stoppage time.

Carvalho through the middle. To Cole... Offside Malouda.

One minute left... GK Reina. Pennant. Ball kicked by Cole off Pennant and out of play.

Last few seconds click off the clock and there's the whistle. Three hours of futbol and nothing has been decided.

Hey, this is fun stuff. Even if I don't have a positive rooting interest. Grant has Anelka. Benitez has Crouch. Be interesting to see who makes a move first.

Woot! Extra pay for extra time... Oh wait. By the way, has the blog world imploded at Deadspin today?

Shit... my connection totally dropped there. Sorry. And I lost a few dick jokes at the break. Okay, Anelka on, Joe Cole off. And we' just kicked the 1st OT.

92nd minute: Babel is warming again.

Liverpool... Ooooh. Riise almost redeeming himself.

Good possession by Liverpool gave JA the ball deep in Chelsea territory and he made a superb cross that nobody could find a head to put to. So close.

And now Hyypia with a clean header off a corner. He misses it wide.

Liverpool with 2 really good chances already. Drogba appealing for a foul. How novel.

Chelsea, they don't look like they want to win it.

And as I say that Drogba gets in.

Essien 2-1.

Did they wave it off?

Wow... WOW! Great play off a corner. Perfect strike by Essien and they wave it off as they said Drogba was interferring with Reina.


Shit, my phone rang again.

Not Ballack but FAT FRANK?

He scores. Just inside the right post.

Holy shit the last three minutes were nuts. A great defensive play by Carragher. A corner with a disallowed goal. A PK from a foul by Hyypia I beleive and Lampard converts the PK.

Torres comes off.

Ah, cruel irony. The PK giveth and the PK taketh away.

And Babel goes down as he tries to recreate the foul against Arsenal. No luck this time.

Oh, and a free header from Xabi Alonso off the corner, but he hits it RIGHT INTO CECH'S ARMS! It is pretty nuts right now. Didn't see who came on for Torres but it wasn't Crouch.

Gerrard. Crosses right to Cech. Nice build up but they come up empty.

I am an idiot. I say I didn't catch who came on for Torres and I'm talking abot Babel's dive. Duh. Babel on for Torres.

103rd minute: Still more than 15 to play and I imagine there have already been more than a dozen heart attacks in North London in extra time alone. It was happening pretty quick there for a while. Sorry if I missed detail on the action.

This is why the away goals rule is stupid. Extra time. If Liverpool score, do they deserve it when they played 33% more time on the opponent's pitch? Doesn't seem right to me.

105th minute: Throw in for Chelsea . Edge of tyhe box.

That's it Anelka to Drogba 3-1.

Chelsea are likely thru to Moscow.

Five red shirts in the box. One blue shirt. And as Anelka went around the outside the five couldn't mark the one. Poor, poor defending by Liverpool. Really shoddy.

So it's the sub in Anelka who salts it away (probably). But just a reminder of the UEFA Cup match with Munich. They scored two late in the second over time to win against Getafe I think it was. So not impossible.

Okay, they finally showed the replay of the Hyypia penalty. I have a hard time being objective about penalties and Liverpool these days. I've seen worse not called, but I have seen less called. It was a foul though. Ref had no choice.

Two corners. Hyypia goes down on the second trying to draw a penalty. Wasn't totally clean, but Hyypia certainly didn't fight gravity much.

There is some talk and chest bumping but the ref clears it up.

109th minute: Jesus... this almost makes up for all of the shite matches between these two over the last couple of years. Bummer for the Scousers, but certainly exciting stuff. And Liverpool aren't going down without a fight.

Goal kick Chelsea. TV shot of Torres. Man I feel bad for that guy. If there is anyone you want on the pitch if you are Liverpool, it's him. Benitez doens't need people second guessing him.

111th minute: Foul on Mascherano. Free kick? More Dorgba and Ballack arguing? Nope. Drogba takes it. And he hits the wall.. Results in a corner.

Short corner. And the two teams keep giving it back to one another in the corner. Cleared by Liverpool who are countering.

Pretty solid defending by Chelsea. Terry heads it out. Liverpool feeds it back into the box and it's punched out by Cech.

114th minute: Clock is as much the opponent as are the Blues.

Jesus, Rafa... at least get Crouch out there so you have someone tall if you get a corner. Chelsea keeping possession. God, they are going to fellate Fat Frank on the broadcast. Ugh...

116th minute: GK for Liverpool. They work the midfield. Cleared. Then get it back. Can't string together passes or any threats over the top.

Babel from halfway to Edinburgh... Holy Shit! 3-2. Not done yet. Just swerves at the last minute and deflects off Cech's hands.

Did I not mention Bayern Munich and Getafe? Wow.

Shevchenko on for Lampard. Larmpard has never walked so slowly in his life. 119th minute.

Whistle for what? Offsides?

Liverpool still trying. Gerrard. Is that a corner? No. GK. 1 minute stoppage. Looks bleak.

Shevy wastes a chance to waste time. That's it.

Chelsea v. United. And we can all safely pray for the meteor.

Good stuff today. Yet, I'm strangely detached as I don't really like a single Chelsea player. But Congrats. They were the better side today. But damn if Liverpool didn't make them earn every bit of it.

Thanks for playing along today folks. I'm totally fucked on things I need to get done today. But it was worth. Tough to beat Champions League Semi-Final football when teams are attacking and goals are going in in extra time.

Read more on "Champions League Semi-Final Live Blog: I Don't Have Time For This Shit..."...

The Good, The Bad, The WTF

You know the drill by now. I search high and low, for at least five minutes, to bring you some of the most disgusting and best-forgotten shirts of yesteryear. Sometimes I provide eBay linkage to current auctions. All the time, except when I actually like the shirt, I do my best to turn my disgust and outrage into a couple of paragraphs of witticisms, and usually I fail miserably.

Now, without further ado, I present to you the Ajax away shirt from the 1989-90 season.

Just to switch it up a little, so the format doesn't get too stale, I'm leaving the shirt for the bottom today. Scroll down now, if you like, and come on back when you are done. I'll wait.
*taps foot*
*looks at watch*
*whistles tunelessly*
So, what did you think? Would your opinion of the shirt be altered any if I told you it's currently set to sell on the ebays for around $80? "How can that be?", you ask. I'll tell you, friendo. It's fucking geometry, man.

Seriously, look at those triangles. And those other things by the triangles. What are those, rhombuses? (rhombussi?) I tell you what, if I had this shirt, I would be able to answer that question.

This shirt is multi-functional. Besides being a football shirt and a teaching aid, there is also a secret origami pattern hidden in there. I have it on good authority that if you fold the shirt just right, you get a map showing the location of secret Calvinist texts that would blow your mind.

If there is one thing to nitpick on this shirt, it lies not in the lower two-thirds, but on the upper blue field. You have all kinds of crazy stuff going on here. Why did Umbro feel the need to class the shirt up with pinstripes? It would be like Deion Sanders wearing a yellow zoot suit for TV, but wearing a demure set of cufflinks to offset the rest of the horror. My point--if you are going to go for the crazy, don't puss out, just go crazy.

One final point and one question for the reader. Those with good memories and longish readership of the column will undoubtedly have noticed that this Ajax jersey is built on the same template as this Scotland jersey. This really annoys me. I can understand if shirts look alike when the design is basic, but really, there was no reason to use this pattern twice. Secondly, has anyone ever bid on the shirts we highlight here? I know this one is priced pretty high, but some of the others have been reasonable. Anyone?

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The Match After the Match: Chelsea v. Manchester United

This has already been covered by many outlets. So, no need wring our hands over the details. Just the facts please. After the Chelsea 2-1 victory over ManU on Saturday, some of the ManU players were doing the customary warm down after the match at Stamford Bridge. During the exercise, some words were exchanged--some allegedly racist by the Chelsea staff--and then there was a physical confrontation wherein the punches were thrown. Peep the pick up top and here's a nice slideshow.

But, there is video footage now out there for all you voyeurs. Check it after the jump.

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Blind Item Guessing Game

Further interactivity at UF! Today we have a quickie poll based on an article from Scotland on Sunday. It seems that someone is searching for a genetic mutation found in top athletes, including Cristiano Ronaldo. The club, however, is keeping its name out of the press. It's up to you, dear reader, to cut through the fluff and help us figure out just who the mystery club is.

After the jump, baseless speculation on possible involved clubs.

Rangers or Celtic-These make sense because, well, who goes to Scotland for science? Unless your club is already in Scotland, why would you contract there? The biggest question is, which club is dirtier?
Chelsea-Abromovich's billions have to be spent on something, don't they? Why not attempt to corner the market on the best players so you don't have to pay for under-performing Shevas again.
Manchester United-Ronaldo plays there now. Therefore they named the search after their best current player.
Sporting CP-Ronaldo came from there. Obviously, they would like him back, so why not create another one?
Real Madrid-Never have to pay for aging Galacticos again if you can just farm-raise your superstars.
Bayern Munich-A year after splashing the cash and reaping the rewards, they may have decided that they really like winning comfortably and want to continue to do so forever. Added bonus in their favor--played in Aberdeen this winter for UEFA Cup.
Internazionale, AC Milan or Juventus-Well, if this were corruption, this would be a three team poll. Is gene-tampering the corruption of the 21st century? If it is, you can guess the top Italian clubs will be all over it.
Other-Know something we don't? Add it in.

Enough pontificating, let's get to the voting.

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The Big Fat Failed Sven Goran Eriksson Experiment

A-ha! Maybe this was the problem!

Thaksin Shinawatra has been called many things in the past. An evil despot. A persistent human rights violator. A bad leader. A jerk from Thailand. And now, thanks to the soundbite generator that is Noel Gallagher, he's been called "a bit of a nutcase."

He's all of these things, and probably many, many more as well. Why? Because he just called time on Sven Goran Eriksson's reign, a man who spent more time welcoming and waving farewell to players than he did managing the club. It's an odd move, but obviously quite a desperate one for Shinawatra, a guy who's seen the instant gratification era blossoming in the EPL but has yet to experience its warm, loving touch.

Around Christmas time, you'd be right in thinking that Man City had a UEFA Cup spot lovingly reserved, what with their blistering start to the season. Heck, they were so good that one of our very own UF brethren gushed about them openly, almost too openly for some.

That very post signaled the beginning of the end, as the UF curse [fact: 300% more deadly than the Madden Curse] took hold and they've been limping ever since: 21 points from their last 18 games. Fuck... that's worse than Spurs.

So.... where did it all go wrong? Are we all missing the bigger calamity here?

At first reaction, I thought maybe Sven had gotten a little too close to Mrs. Shinawatra, what with his fondness of keeping mistresses while he's busy managing football teams.

But really, it comes down to the cold hard reality that a lot of Sven's signings simply weren't that good. While he has managed to dramatically turn the club around, from a relegation battle to a Top 10 finish, that still doesn't fly in the cloud cuckoo culture of immediacy that has flooded the league. What have you done for me lately? Finished 9th and spent a shitload of my cash. End of story for Sven, in that scenario.

Shinawatra gave him enough rope to hang himself with, and he promptly did with a slew of signings and turning Maine Road into a giant revolving door made out of money:

Rolando Bianchi -- Absolute toss, but with flowing brown locks. Buggered off to Italy as soon as the window opened.

Geovanni -- Ugh. If you're looking for a striker to score just 3 goals in 23 games, buy cheap. Pick up Craig Bellamy and save yourself the trouble of scrambling to secure work visas.

Elano -- disappeared when they needed him most during the Winter, but he was instrumental in stuffing their crosstown rivals, so he gets a pass.

Gelson Fernandes -- works hard for the money, so hard for it honey. He's Swiss though, which makes me nervous. That fact has to count against him.

Martin Petrov -- beastly for long stretches of the campaign, as in beastly good. A solid winger, indeed. Reasonably-priced and also full of talent, like a matinee screening of a Scorsese film.

Javier Garrido -- I have no idea who this is. Moving on.

Vedran Corluka -- yeah, he's done well for himself. Solid defender whose lack of flair makes him perfect for the EPL.

Valeri Bojinov -- oh come on, now they're just making up names. Seems like another phantom Eastern European who doesn't exist, much like Chelsea's January transfer signing Branislav Ivanovic. Seriously though, where did Ivanovic go? He hasn't played a single first team game yet, and he's their most expensive defensive signing ever!

Felipe Caicedo -- A streaky Ecuadorian. Looks good in spells, but can't hold a spot in the team.

Benjani -- He proved himself at Pompey, and now, more of the same. Will prove reliable for seasons to come, and was an absolute fucking steal considering how much Portsmouth shelled out for Defoe around the same time.

So yes, as you can see, a fuckload of signings. He managed to clean out some of the dead wood, like Joey Barton, and bring in player that he thought would work with his scheming. Problem was, as he even admitted at one point, is that he signed some players after only having watched video of them playing, and that's just flat-out stupid. Then again, the only rationalization I can come up with for Lampard winning so many caps under Sven is that Eriksson was not paying close attention to the EPL, and simply just caught blurry, static camera footage of his playing style.

I can feel sorry for Sven on some levels, but not on the others. Ultimately, as members of the global workforce, we'll all slaves to our bosses and their whimsy. Sven is no different.Thaksin gave him money and artistic license, and he converted that into little more than a bloated squad and home defeats to Fulhamerica.

Also, at the end of the day, expectation far outweighed the grim reality of it all. For those big clubs outside the big 4, the desire to finally get in the treehouse is greater than ever and this constant push gives agents something to get excited about. The mid-tier teams talk excitedly and at great length about Ronaldinho and Kaka and whoever the latest 15-million pound wunderkind is, but the fact remains: those superstars aren't going to Maine Road unless they're walking into a club that doesn't need much help and salvation in locking down a Champions League spot.

Sven succumbed to this same pipedream. Tons of money spent, little to show for it. An army of scouts wandering the streets of Riga and Tallinn looking for the 5 million-rated Latvian Ronaldo. Exorbitant offers to the world's best, only to watch them get shared between Inter, AC Milan and Barcelona yet again. And so, the Tottis and the Cristianos of the world stand pat, and the working-class stadiums of the south and north-east are left to fend with the great unpronounceables.

Thaksin is a absolute fool if he thinks a sudden sea change from the manager will do much better. You give Sven one year of your 5-year plan, and we're already on to establishing a mandate for the incoming boss, whoever it may be [the "smart" money's on Scolari... hahaha].

Is there a manager that would subject themselves to what Eriksson's been through? He achieved what Shinawatra wanted for Year 1, and he still got the boot. Now it seems like anything less than Top 5 gets you shit-canned, and there's no manager that could guarantee that for Man City. Not to mention, there'd be yet another squad overhaul to get rid of Sven's tinkering and bring in fresh faces that the new gaffer's familiar with.

It's an absolute mess at Maine Road for the time being, and Noel Gallagher is right. Shinawatra's a nutcase. RIP Sven Goran Eriksson, the one-year wonder for the Blues.

For his next job, I'd recommend Wal-Mart. They might not give you health insurance, but they'll still treat you marginally better than Thaksin Shinawatra.

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Tuesday backpasses: Put them in the bin

Short list today, Nothing after the jump. Fucking United.

Thierry Henry probably should have kept his mouth shut before the game [The Sun]
David Bentley spoke through his boots to Arsene Wenger [The Spoiler]
Spurs apparently have money to spend. First Modric, now Villa [Daily Mail]
Maybe Spurs have that money to spend because they are being sold [News of the World]
Torres promises to score two. We'll know in 17 hours if it worked [The Sun]

That's all. If you love (half of) us, then pray for a Liverpool win tomorrow.

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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Forgotten Ronaldo does something that we'll never forget

Pictured: Ronaldo, diligently checking from afar for evidence of man parts where lady parts should be

Sometimes you have to dig deep to editorialize the story hiding within something rather mundane, and sometimes, well, let's just say the story writes itself.

This was one of those occasions where you sit back and let the quotes do the heavy lifting for you, because, as we all know, you simply can't do any better.

And so I bring you this well-circulated gem, from soccernet and a million other places:

"Police are investigating claims by AC Milan striker Ronaldo that a transvestite prostitute sought to extort money from him following an altercation at a Rio de Janeiro motel."
Yes, sweet lord. Thanks for bestowing upon us this mighty gift.

Ronaldo, the tubby striker of various World Cups and the proud owner of the most gap-toothed smile in footballing history, was doing a little rehabilitation back home at a Rio nightclub when he decided to take home three ladies of the night to help him with his strengthening exercises. Nothing too untoward there; we've known of Man United players taking two or three ladies home, and the less we mention about the Sunderland gangbang, the better.

However, they were not ladies of the night. They were men of the night, and they were also interested in some of Ronaldo's empanada monies in order to keep quiet. To his overweight credit, he held firm, and the quartet took a nice walk down to the local police station to sort matters out.

"Two of them accepted pay-offs of 1,000 reais (US 600), but Ronaldo has claimed that the third, named as Andreia Albertini, demanded 50,000 reais (US 30,000) and threatened to post a video on the internet if he was not paid."
It can't get much more embarrassing, but at least he has a good explanation, right?
" 'He just wanted to have fun and meet some other people outside his usual environment,' [Police inspector Carlos Augusto] Nogueira said. 'There is no crime at all.'

He added: 'He (Ronaldo) is quite shocked. He said he just wanted to have some fun and for the press not to be informed about this. Ronaldo told me he is suffering some psychological problems as a result of his injury.' "

Which makes me wonder... what was Eddie Murphy's excuse? I don't remember seeing him wearing a knee brace.

That being said, this story does bring to attention the dangerous new scourge that is soon to descend upon professional footballers and athletes around the globe: extortionist transvestite sex workers. I predict that by 2010, the lardy insanity of Sepp "Jabba" Blatter will have to go on record with plans on how to eradicate it. We think Malaysian match-fixing is the bottom of the barrel? Surely, this proves otherwise.

Just remember for the future, dear Ronaldo: if you're hungry but they have meat in the trousers, do not dine.

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Euro 2008 Team Profiles: Italy - More Confusing Than A Woman Right Now

You'd think that winning your qualifying group for the European Championships would bode well for your chances heading in, especially when that group contained one team coming off an appearance in the World Cup final (France), another team that made it to the knock out stage (Ukraine), and a pesky-as-shit Scottish side that fought until its last minute of play to try to steal a spot this summer.

Oh, and you also happen to currently hold the title of World Champions.

That ought to make you one of the favorites, either that or the fact that you are one of the favorites in seemingly every international tournament ever because you are Italy.

None of that, however, means much in terms of performance on the pitch and gauging by current form of some of the Azzurri's key players, it'd be hard to consider them a lock for anything. Hell, having drawn France (again) and the Netherlands, Italy might struggle getting out of Group C.

But the two players who arguably had the most to do with Italy taking home the last World Cup, eh, they donta looka sogood.

Fabio Cannavaro has had a pretty sub-par campaign at Real Madrid and Andrea Pirlo has been equally as unspectacular at Milan this season.

And is Roberto Donadoni going to leave Del Piero off the squad again? After being in Ranieri's dog house earlier this season at Juve, Del Piero has turned it around and had a bit of a renaissance, but what that means for this summer is anyone's guess.

So maybe Italy has some question marks.

But they do still have maybe the world's best keeper in Gigi Buffon. Actually there is no maybe about it, as Buffon tops the IFFHS' list of best goal keepers of the last 20 years (he shares the ranking with Peter Schmeichel). And they have a scoring machine in Luca Toni who, to this point, has 35 goals across all competitions in his first Bundesliga campaign. Plus his WAG is fucking hot (even if she's NSFW).

The Italians have their bulldog in the midfield in Gattuso, and in the 4-3-3 (than can be a 4-5-1) employed by Donadoni, Camoranesi (who better have learned the words to the national anthem by this point), will have to work pretty hard going box-to-box and falling back if and when Italy grab leads. So he could be the maybe the most important guy on the pitch. Still, they don't need to be spectacular in the midfield, just technically solid and they can probably find a way to disrupt the Dutch and the Romanians. France will be trickier.

So who knows? Italy were massive fucking failures in 2004, having entered as favorites only to not get out of their group after draws with Denmark and Sweden. But when they had lower expectations in Germany in 2006 they, you know, won.

They are going to need a result in their opener against the Dutch. And you can probably pencil in a W against Romania. Even then, 4 points probably won't be enough and it will come down to the match against France.

Seems sort of inevitable.

Breakout player: I can't even be sure either of these guys will make the squad, but one of the forwards from Udinese, either Di Natale or Quagliarella will be the difference between Italy advancing or not (I'd err on the side of the former who has 5 goals in 17 national team appearances).

Biggest question mark: Again, Pirlo and Cannavaro. Lean more on the latter as age (he'll be just shy of 35 by tournament's end) might be catching up to him.

Worst player: Materazzi is the card magnet, but I'm less a fan of Ambrosini, too many wasted touches in midfield. I'd also personally feed De Rossi a bowl of dicks for his cheap shot on Brian McBride in the '06 Cup.

Who's the coach (and is he as racist as Aragonés?): Roberto Donadoni. Lippi took a "sabbatical" after the World Cup by not renewing his contract and Donadoni stepped in to immediately begin sucking. He started 0-2-1 with loses to Croatia and France and a home draw to Lithuania. He did manage to right the ship and win the group, but there is still some unease in the Italian press over his selection. Of course the Italian press would have unease over Jesus selecting Lazarus to raise from the dead (certainly there's someone more deserving, no?). Personally, I don't think anyone who played in the MLS will skipper a Euro champion in my lifetime. I also don't think I put enough thought into that statement to back it up.

Could England beat this team? Nope. Not even with their Italian manager, but maybe after a couple of questionable cards on Materazzi.

Can this team win it all? And what is their ready made excuse if they don't? Would anyone be that surprised if Italy pulled it together and found a way to emerge from their group and then engineer a couple of results to get to the final? No, they would not. Their excuse if they don't? See the question about the coach.

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Nobody does it lamer. Amirite?

Landycakes, preparing to suck

It has become fashionable, to a point, in US soccer circles to bash Landon Donovan. So much so that some bloggers feel the need to take up Donovan's cause and tell those haters, Chris Crocker style, to Leave Landon alone! Yeah, that's not what I am looking to do here. Instead, I am going to take a look at a recent blog post that whines that we Americans don't appreciate what a treasure we have in him. Join me as we take a paragraph by paragraph look at the inanity of being a Landon Donovan apologist.

Last month's friendly in Krakow against Poland, was exactly that: a friendly which should not be considered some sort of great conquering victory of the US National Team. Sure you’d rather win than lose these sorts of matches, but realistically I still saw some of the same issues that have worried me about the United States since the end World Cup 2006 in this performance.
For those that do not recall the match that well, last month the US defeated Poland 3-0 on the strength of a pretty disastrous performance by Artur Boruc in the Polish net. I saw plenty of worrying things too. The central defense, though responsible for the first two goals, consistently fails at shutting down attacks, leaving the keeper exposed. Perhaps this writer and I are on the same wavelength.

One thing I was overly pleased with was the outstanding play of Landon Donovan. For all the criticisms of Donovan from some quarters of the American soccer community, he continues to be hands down the best player the United States has produced in this particular generation. Those who criticize him and make up silly nicknames do not understand soccer in this country and the types of quality Donovan brings to the field.
Never mind. There were exactly two things I was pleased about with Landon in this game. One, the match was on European soil, and he still played. Two, his free kicks did not fail at the first hurdle. Usually in Europe, Landon hides behind his opponents so he cannot be delivered the ball, which he would invariably give away if he got it. And his free kicks over the last two years either hit the wall or go twenty yards over target. In Krakow, neither of these happened and it led to two goals. Newsflash--that's what is supposed to happen with an attacking midfielder who takes the free kicks. Don't laud him for doing his job. As for whether or not he is the best player in this generation, quite simply, no. Of course, it depends on how you define the generation. Keller and Friedel are both much better, but they are old. I'd still stake my team on Howard before Donovan, because at least I know the Tourette's guy knows how to play in Europe. Field player-wise, I concede that Donovan is the most dangerous within 5 years either way, but I do note that he has shown a disturbing pattern of being bullied out of games against European competition. I believe that there are a few young guys coming through the US ranks who will make Landon a Eric Wynalda like memory on the US team--a good player for the time, but one who could not hold a candle to the players now. Oh, and apparently I am an idiot and do not understand the game.

Donovan’s set piece taking in the Poland match was reminiscent of his early days on the national team. Even better was to watch Donovan’s breakaway. While he didn’t finish the goal off, my point to so many critics of Donovan and of MLS in general has been consistent: Landon Donovan is more fit and has greater pace than almost any player on the planet. While many of these same fans are obsessed with speed and feel MLS is somehow inferior to leagues in Europe simply because it is slower paced (by that logic the Mexican league which is hands down better than MLS would be in an even lower tier because it is even slower than MLS) and by extension Donovan is inferior to any player in Europe need to watch the Poland match. Having been returned to midfield along side Clint Dempsey, the two played well off one another and linked together well with a rather inept striker tandem.
Ooh, that's a long 'graph. Once again, please do not laud Donovan for missing the wall with his free kicks, it's what he is supposed to do. As for the breakaway, he didn't fucking finish it, end of story. You can talk about his pace, his nose for the game, whatever; but you have to note that, when five yards clear of the last defender and only the keeper to beat, he bottled the ball well wide of the mark. At the very least he has to force a save. Don't let the other team off the hook because you missed. Then there's an aside about the MLS being faster than Mexico's league, then he talks about the inept forward tandem and how Landon and Dempsey saved them. Yes, the Johnson-Ching attack is horrible. Let us never have to say those names togather again with respect to the US National Team.

On his day nobody does it better than Donovan. The loudmouth critics can climb under a rock for now, as Landon Donovan has once again fired a statement across the bow as to his quality and pedigree. Thank goodness the US National Team, deficient in so many other areas has his services whenever needed. Donovan has also matured from a young hot head to a grown veteran leader whose skill level and quality is unmatched in the modern history of soccer in the U.S.
When is his day exactly? Does he get one every couple of years or so? I remember the one he had in 2002 against Mexico, that was awesome. When will we get another of those in competition that counts? Yes, Landon can be good to great, he just prefers to do so against teams that can charitably be called "lesser". That's what I have always had against Donovan. For a man with all of the talent in the world for the sport I love, he decided long ago it was not worth it to challenge himself. He would prefer to let his enormous talent stagnate so he could live at the beach with his underworked actress wife rather than try to make it in Europe. That is an opportunity I and others would kill for, and he just said, "Nope. I'm homesick." and sulked off home. He could have had unmatched quality, but instead will be eclipsed before he stops losing hair.

Those who don't like Donovan make up clever nicknames and attack him for his lifestyle choices. The Poland game and the first month of the MLS season should give these critics pause. I will go a step further: Without Donovan it is highly likely the US would not have improved its status in world football and in CONCACAF since hosting the 1994 World Cup. It is also conceivable to see the US miss the world cup if Donovan were to be injured or as some critics suggest, dropped from the national team.
Uh, you already used that nicknames bit-it's up in the second 'graph. And yes, I do attack him for lifestyle choices, see above. It's an American thing to do, dammit. See someone who could make more for themselves and feel disgusted when they decide to settle. Horatio Alger would agree. As for the MLS--see argument above about lesser teams. Landon is a sub-World Class player in the prime of his career playing in a league that does not match his quality. I would hope that he is doing well.

Holy shit, what the fuck? The US would not have gotten any better if Landon had not been born? You have got to be kidding me. You want to speak about generations, let's talk generations. Let's talk about all of the kids playing from the time they can figure out which goal to run towards. That did not happen two generations ago. And what a disservice to all of the other players on the NT. Do you really think that Oguchi Onyewu, even with his current form woes, is a lesser player than Alexi Lalas? That Clint Dempsey is no Joe-Max Moore? Please, get some perspective. And that goes for the World Cup qualis as well. Landon could amputate his head tomorrow and the US would still qualify without problem. Just because you have a Landon Donovan wallbanger you pray to does not make him a god. He's not going to get dropped, either. All we, the US fan base, ask is that Landon Donovan do his job for the team. Create chances, finish them when appropriate, don't hit the wall with free kicks, and actually show for a pass when in Europe. Then, maybe, we may stop talking shit about Kartik's man-crush.

Oh, and stay off Cribs, too. It's just embarrassing when your girl leads you around the house like that.

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Keep Your Politics Out Of My Sport

Sport is generally a sojourn away from the tedium of life. A milieu relatively free from politics, race and religious issues, and all those other "adult"-type things. When those issues do arise in sport, the ripples of the pond seem like tidal waves.

Or, at least it does to me. Which is why Malaysian Muslim groups calling for the exclusion of Chelsea manager Avram Grant and defender Tal Ben Haim on the club's summer tour is so shocking to me.

Malaysia has no ties with Israel and normally bars Israelis from entering the country, but the home minister decided at the weekend to allow the pair to enter the country, on the grounds they were taking part in a sporting
event, free of politics.

A group of 21 Muslim and non-government groups now want the government to
reverse its decision and has sent a petition to the minister.

"If the Israeli footballers are allowed entry, the government would be seen as being insensitive to the feelings of the Palestinian victims of Israeli ethnic cleansing and atrocities, and the majority of the Malaysians who sympathise with them and support their struggle for justice and peace," the petition says.

So, the question is whether the Muslim-Israeli relations are better than the Israeli-Israeli relations between Grant and Ben Haim, who said he would not have signed with Chelsea if he knew Grant was going to be the manager. Just think, if Chelsea had known this it could have prevented the wasteful signing of Ben Haim.

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Monday, April 28, 2008

Monday Backpasses: Crazy in Malaysia

A match-fixing scandal in Malaysia, again [Daily Telegraph]
Which may threaten an international tournament there [Soccernet]
Which will hurt teams using the tourney for Olympic prep [Football 365 South Africa]

Even more Malaysian zaniness tomorrow. In the meantime, hit the jump for more awesome links.

English PFA team of the season [Sky Sports]
And how The Spoiler would update it [The Spoiler]
Top 10 flop buys of the EPL season [The Sun]
One guy knows a lot about gay football movies. [Guardian blogs]
Artur Boruc is such a good Catholic he doesn't even know which one to put on his incendiary shirt [BBC]
More violence in Colombia [Soccerway]
Coleen McLoughlin felt up in Miami. Rooney SMASH! [This is Extra Time]

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East Stirlingshire does the impossible

In rather surprising news, perennial Scotland bottom squad East Stirlingshire failed to live down to its billing this season. That's right. The team that finished at the bottom of the Scotland ladder for five seasons running managed to secure a vital win on the last day and finish 41st in the 42-team four-tier league system.

To do so, East Stirling put together a pretty good stretch run--three wins, two draws and a loss in the last six games. The team that ended up finishing last, Forfar Athletic, did much worse, with only three draws in their last six matches. The end result is that East Stirling finished one point better than Forfar, and boy are they excited.

What has been left unsaid in the few articles trumpeting East Stirling's stunning 9th place finish is what it means to the club. Depending on the SFL's mood, one of two things were going to happen at the end of the season if East Stirling finished last again. Sometime in the last year, the Scottish Football League passed a new rule that put possible sanctions on teams who finished at the foot of the ladder too many times in five year period. Luckily for East Stirling, Rule 1:21 was not made retroactive when enacted.

In its most basic form, Rule 1:21 provides for two possible penalties. The first is that the club can be changed into a non-voting member of the SFL. The team would still be allowed in the league, but not allowed to take part in any discussions or votes about revenue, sponsorships etc. The second possible outcome is that the club may be voted out of the league entirely. Trust me when I say that the Third Division crowds of 500 would look pretty good to a team in the East of Scotland league.

So, Forfar Athletic, you lot are now on the proverbial clock. Get off the foot of the table next season, or you'll start hearing the whispers about being replaced by Clachnacuddin FC (or, more likely, Cove Rangers). Unless, of course, Gretna go out of existence first.

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Sunday, April 27, 2008

And Ashley Cole Looks Like That Dude From Fine Young Cannibals

So watching the end of the Villa v. Everton match on Sunday—and that was some Arsenal-esque defending in the clutch by Everton—when Marlon Harewood came on for Aston Villa.

All I can think of is, "Man, he is a deadringer for somebody..."

I'm pretty sure the teams swap goals again before I finally have my Archimedes moment and realize, "Hey, he's totally Frank Thomas' doppelgänger."

Then I think I'm being all clever and figure I've hit on a regular feature—some kind of 'separated at birth' gimmick—for UF. So I'm actually searching for a pic of Harewood when I come across this.

Then I found it links back to this.

Admiral Akbar? Really? And I don't even know who that other plastic dinosaur dude is.

No way, Harewood looks just like Frank Thomas. (or Frank Thomas). I mean they are even both big, physically menacing guys.

Anyway, there are dozens of them already up at Football365. Most of them suck total ass, but Ricardo Carvalho does look like Adam Ant in that pic. Roy Keane... eh, a little less so.

But, shit, just like every good idea, somebody has probably already had it.

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