Saturday, May 2, 2009

The Special One Scores A Special Goal

Via 101 Great Goals. Enjoy.


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Live Blog: Real Madrid v. Barcelona


Remember that David Beckham guy? He used to play for MLS side LA Galaxy, which is what ties the above photo into this post, and before that he played for Real Madrid for several seasons. Sir Goldenballs played in a number of el Clasicos as a member of the Galacticos and it happens to be his birthday today! So let's wish him well and move on to the important business at hand.

I'm liveblogging the game! I have liveblogged in a while but I just popped a Vicodin for my bum knee and I slept only 4 hours last night, so this should be interesting.

Today's match has huge title race implications. Barca sits only four points ahead of Real Madrid right now, a Madrid win makes it seriously squeaky bum time for Barcelona as they have Champions League and Copa Del Rey matches still ahead of them. A victory would probably put the title to bed and a draw would at least have it ready for bed.

Both teams are thin at the back as Marquez is out for the season for the Catalans and Pepe is suspended for his temporary insanity against Getafe.

That the Madridistas are even in this position is simply amazing and has taken a great run of form to get there. In Juande Ramos' first match with Madrid they lost 2-0 to Barcelona. This was in December. Since then they have not lost a single league match and taken 52 of 54 possible points. Incredible.

I'm not sure what that says about Ramos or Tottenham--the club he led to the precipice of relegation but have rebounded quite nicely since his departure--but it certainly seems odd.

Later the lineups.

Real Madrid - Casillas, Metzelder, Cannavaro, Heinze, Ramos, Gago, Diarra, Marcelo, Robben, Raul, Higuaín

Barcelona - Valdés, Pique, Puyol, Abidal, Alves, Toure, Iniesta, Xavi, Henry, Eto'o, Messi

I have GolTV now which is great because I get to see so many more soccer matches. It's even greater because all the commericials are in Spanish, which I don't speak, and are just a bit crazy. Oddly enough, the commercials are all in Spanish, except the GolTV commercials, but most of the soccer is done with English commentary. Very odd.

Players entering and the music is not as regal as Champions League music. THey also don't have the kiddie chaperones for this match. Why not? Does somebody have a record we don't know about? My money would be on Puyol.

Tweeeeeeet! Game on.

1:00 - The announcer just told me we are going to rock. Xavi just got a great shot but directly at Casillas.

3:00 - Wow! Robben just blew by Abidal. It was an F1 versus a gokart.

5:00 - Eto'o just offside otherwise he was clear on Casillas.

8:00 - Abidal was lucky to get the call as he was dispossessed by Raul who tried to catch Valdes out of position with a long shot.

10:00 - Great game so far as both sides are attacking, unlike a certain oligarch controlled London club.

12:00 - Opposite defender left the left Madrid defenders out to dry keeping Messi on and then letting him get at Casillas who cleared and was fouled by the little flea.

GOALLLLLLLL!!!!!!!! HIGUAIN!!!

14:00 - What a nice buildup, Ramos blows by Abidal and crosses it to the middle of the box where an unmarked Higuain rose to meet it with a header into the net. Very nice, poor defending. Abidal is having a horror match so far.

15:00 - And we're back on the other end as Henry takes it down the left line drawing in the defense and picks out a streaking Eto'o who just misses connecting in what surely would have been a goal.

Note: Eto'o wasn't really streaking. He still had his clothes on.

17:00 - GOALLL!!! HENRY. 1-1.

Messi fed Henry who controlled brilliantly and slotted home from the left side of the goal easily. Madrid's high line bit them in the ass there.

This is pacy, end-to-end action.

20:00 - Cannavaro fouls Titi just on the left endline outside the box. Xavi lines up over the ball...

GOALL!!!! PUYOL!! 2-1 Barca.

More poor marking.


22:00 - Holy crap! Valdes saved an Alves own goal. Higuain crossed it into the box and Alves was streaking back to cover and nearly knocked it in only luck allowed Valdes to be in the right place.

Abidal booked for elbowing Robben. There is going to be a red in this game and I think Abidal will get it.

24:00 - Casillas stones Messi after the umpteenth time the high Madrid line has hurt the team and allowed Barca a great chance.

Ramos booked for tripping Henry.

I forgot to mention the great bit of footwork Higuain showed prior to the near own goal to keep possession. It was marvelous.

26:00 - Messi has switched sides to help keep Ramos from Serging forward.

Xavi links up nicely with Eto'o on the right who gets a nice look at the goal but Casillas is up to the challenge.

Really? I was thinking I wanted to snip Hudson's vocal chords.

29:00 - Iniesta and Messi link up with deft passing in the box but Casillas comes out to gobble up Messi's shot. Iker has been stupendous.

32:00 - Raul collects it just outside the 18 and turns and fires a nice shot just over the bar. One of his few touches so far after a hattrick last week.

33:00 - Messi nearly beats Casillas with a cheeky chip from the endline, but Iker scrambles and just keeps the ball out. On replay, the chip was even more amazing as he gave it spin with the outside of the foot and almost works. Amazing.

36:00 - GOAL!!! Messi. 3-1.

Xavi stole the ball from Diarra, terrible, terrible play, and fed Messi who just slotted it home.

Madrid's defense is about as bad as Liverpool's against Arsenal.

39:00 - Puyol booked. The ensuing free kick drops right into the box untouched. I don't know how Madrid couldn't put that one in.

Barca's defense is as bad as Madrid's. It's just that Madrid's midfield can't maintain possession right now.

42:00 - Robben throws a temper tantrum after getting whistled for a foul. Barca gives it right back to Robben who does the same in kind.

45:00 - Marcelo booked for stepping on Messi. Free kick center pitch from about 35 yards out.

Alves takes the kick and Casillas with another diving save. The only reason this game isn't 6-3 is Iker Casillas and Barca's defensive luck.

Halftime

I'm exhausted. This match hasn't paused for a moment.

The question is how will Ramos adjust at halftime. Los Blancos are having no time on the ball in the midfield. They need to possess the ball more with quick passes to unlock the backline. It's not like the Barca defense is a complex bank vault...it's more like one of those luggage locks.

Madrid started off the match brilliantly but Barcelona turned up the intensity. A few instances where the pressure defense burns them and Madrid should give themselves a little bit of breathing room. Plus, the need to go back to Robben who was absolutely torching Abidal. Perhaps switching Robben to the left side to rein in Alves would work and Marcelo has good skill to hurt Abidal.

Barcelona for its part may not want to change a thing. Although, I think sitting back to support its defense a bit more might be warranted despite the success it reaped in the first half. But, you never really want to take your foot off the gas.

46:00 - Game on. Did you catch your breath? I haven't.

No lineup changes.

48:00 - The vampire with nifty footwork frees himself for a quality shot from 18 that splays wide right.

49:00 - Xavi on the corner won by Henry, headed clear by Gago.

52:00 - Robben goes to ground too easily and can't get the call on Puyol.

54:00 - Messi with a zig-zag run beats Metzelder but Messi runs out space and flashes it across the goal mouth...it was a difficult angle but Messi has already shown that is no obstacle for him today.

55:00 - Robben had Abidal beat but Valdes came way off his line, outside his box, to stop Robben who subsequently wins a free kick.

GOALLLLLL!!!!! RAMOS!!! 2-3.

Robben with a wonderous free kick delivered straight into the 6 and Ramos was unmarked and headed it in. This game is back on. Barca slowed up to start this half, but I imagine this will change that.

58:00 GOAL!!! HENRY!!!! 4-2 Barca.

Henry kept himself onside after a great ball from Xavi at midfield and then just had to beat Casillas who was charging out.

Van der Vaart Klaas Jan Huntelaar on for Marcelo.

59:00 - Messi misses a simple tap in wide somehow.

60:00 - Henry comes off and Ketia comes on.

65:00 - Robben with excellent control deep on the sideline, but Pique picks his pocket. Robben is now on the left side.

The match has finally taken a breather. So, now it's time for your public service announcement of the day. I just found out there is a class action lawsuit against Bluetooth manufacturers for hearing loss. Unfortunately, it's not one of the class actions that will get you 40 or 50 bucks for free from the settlement. I guess there is not enough money so they are just going to give it to a non-profit. If you don't opt out, you will be bound by the result and if you consequently suffer hearing loss because of a bluetooth headset you won't be able to recover.

69:00 - Van der Vaart warming up.

71:00 - Ketia falls right on top of Diarra.

Ramos off with Van der Vaart off. Interesting.

73:00 - Diarra gets away with a bad tackle in the box. Probably a penno. He should probably get a penalty just for changing his name to Lass.

Van der Vaart booked for a bad tackle on Alves.

75:00 - GOAL! Messi. 5-2 He beats Casillas near post after Messi received a return pass from Xavi that unlocked the defense. Just great, precise passing. Excellent.

79:00 - Robben off, Javi Garcia on. The wheels have come off this match. Madrid's tires were slashed and Barcelona I think just let some air out of their tires to deal with the bumpy terrain.

82:00 - GOAL!!! Pique. 6-2. Casillas made a great save but couldn't corral the ball and Pique picked it up and got the junk goal.

The fans are streaming out of the Bernabeu. No word whether Nives Celsius was seen on the roof.

85:00 - Iniesta and Toure off, Bojan and Busquets on.

This is really quite embarassing for Real Madrid. I'm sure there will be even more rumors that Ronaldo will be coming to the Spanish capital tomorrow and this week.

The La Liga title will undoubtedly return to Catalonia after a two year stay in Madrid after this thumping. Barca need only win one more match to clinch the title.

90:00 - No extra time despite 3 goals and several yellows in the second half. What a thumping. The first half was compelling but Madrid just couldn't contain the midfield and maintain possession. It's a pity there will be no more intrigue with the La Liga title this year. Madrid put up a good fight this season but to no avail.

Ray Hudson seems to think Chelsea are cowards for their choice of play this past week. I think Ray Hudson is an idiot.



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The Bootroom: El Clasico


I thought we were done making fun of the Chelsea kits, but I found this movie poster for the new Tron movie with the new Chelsea kits I had to share.


I was all set to write up a great intro for The Bootroom today but life got in the way. By the time this goes up, I will have driven to and from the airport three times in the last 12 hours. Stupid airlines.

Anyway, TFA blew out his knee last week playing soccer so now I can't play in my Saturday morning pickup games. That at least means I get to spend more time watching futbol on Saturday mornings. Hooray! I'll be sitting on the couch with my gimpy wheel propped up maybe enjoying some prescription drugs and watching the footie. Hop into the comments while you are enjoying the action.

There is a lot of important soccer to be played this weekend, but the biggie is El Clasico in Spain. Real Madrid are only 4 points back of Barcelona in the title race. Barcelona has a second leg CL semifinal against Chelsea mid-week and are nursing a number of injuries and bruises suffered at the hands of the London Blue Brutes. Most notably absent is center back Rafa Marquez.

Elsewhere, Manchester United has to figure out which players to rest for CL play while still fielding a team capable of beating Middlesbrough. So, Scousers you better pray extra hard because that ain't going to be tough.

TV Schedule for this weekend.

EPL

Saturday, May 2, 2009

7:45 ET Middlesbrough v Manchester United
10:00 ET Portsmouth v Arsenal
10:00 ET Stoke City v West Ham United
10:00 ET Tottenham Hotspur v West Bromwich Albion
10:00 ET Wigan Athletic v Bolton Wanderers
10:00 ET Chelsea v Fulham
10:00 ET Manchester City v Blackburn Rovers

Sunday, May 3, 2009

8:30 ET Liverpool v Newcastle United
11:00 ET Sunderland v Everton

Monday, May 4, 2009

15:00 ET Aston Villa v Hull City

Colaship - These are the only two matches that matter. Will Charlton pull another club down with them to League One with a victory, or can Norwich pull a Fulham?

Sunday
8:15 ET Charlton Athletic v Norwich City
8:15 ET Plymouth Argyle v Barnsley

La Liga

Saturday, May 2, 2009

14:00 ET Real Madrid v Barcelona
16:00 ET Numancia v Málaga
16:00 ET Villarreal v Sevilla FC

Sunday, May 3, 2009

11:00 ET Mallorca v Getafe
11:00 ET Racing Santander v Almeria
11:00 ET Sporting Gijon v Athletic Bilbao
11:00 ET Osasuna v Recreativo Huelva
11:00 ET Deportivo La Coruña v Valladolid
13:00 ET Espanyol v Valencia
15:00 ET Real Betis v Atlético Madrid

Bundesliga

Saturday, May 2, 2009

9:30 ET Karlsruhe v Energie Cottbus
9:30 ET Eintracht Frankfurt v Borussia Dortmund
9:30 ET Bayern Munich v Borussia Monchengladbach
9:30 ET Schalke 04 v Bayer Leverkusen
9:30 ET Arminia Bielefeld v VfB Stuttgart
9:30 ET VfL Wolfsburg v TSG Hoffenheim

Sunday, May 3, 2009

11:00 ET FC Cologne v Werder Bremen
11:00 ET Hamburg SV v Hertha Berlin

Serie A

Saturday, May 2, 2009

12:00 ET Bologna v Reggina
14:30 ET Internazionale v Lazio

Sunday, May 3, 2009

9:00 ET Udinese v Atalanta
9:00 ET Palermo v Cagliari
9:00 ET AS Roma v Chievo Verona
9:00 ET Juventus v Lecce
9:00 ET Catania v AC Milan
9:00 ET Siena v Napoli
9:00 ET Fiorentina v Torino
14:30 ET Genoa v Sampdoria

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Friday, May 1, 2009

Friday Backpasses: Seriously, TGIF

Wishful thinking from one Citeh fan [Dirty Tackle]
Writing about MLS in Penthouse. Article SFW. Pics/Ads NSFW [Penthouse]
Update: Stupid Rio Ferdinand's stupid ribs are probably fine. Stupid. [Soccernet]
Israeli club's fans wanted to be like, well, any Italian club [Soccerway]

DCU players reminisce about their first goals, with footage [Behind the Badge]
Is there a problem with FA Cup Final ticket allocation? [Guardian]
Tevez wants out. Wants to return to caveman lawyering [Soccer365]
Police using football crowd to catch sex attacker. With identifiable picture [Cumberland News]
Cesc's defense for going on the pitch after Hull match? Everyone else was doing it [Off the Post]

Finally:
How Sega sold the Saturn in Japan. It's relevant [Dirty Tackle]

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Finally, Something Useful out of Sir Alex Ferguson's Mouth

Check this out: "Arsenal's are the best by far."

Yeah, sir Alex Ferguson said that. He can only be talking about their strikers, right? Er, no.

Midfielders? Supporters? Goals? Beer offerings? Uniforms?

No, even when Fergie is saying nice things about the opposition it's still kind of annoying.

The Scot was talking about the locker rooms at the Emirates (the stadium not the country).

Without any real opposition this weekend (United play 'Boro) and probably a bit bored at the lack of verbal sparring between him and Benitez or Wenger, Sir Alex lashed out at the crappy state of many EPL (Suck it, Barclays) locker rooms.

"With all the money in the Premier League, some grounds should be better," Ferguson told his club magazine, Inside United. "There should be a minimum standard of size of dressing room, especially now you have more players on your bench and an increased staff.
With all the money in the Premier League, Newcastle should be better, but, well, there you are. Anyway Fergie wants minimum standards for each league. Blah blah blah.

He may have a point. He also may have a squad full of prima donnas. Who cares if your office is bigger than the dressing room at Craven Cottage? Maybe your office is too big. In any case save it until after the season and address it in some venue then.

Next week Sir Alex yells at the kids to get off his lawn.

Which is fine as long as by "kids" it's his players and he thinks the "lawn" is the pitch at the Emirates.

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I Hate My Club's New Shirt

Editor's Note: While we realize that this is not breaking news to this site, we thought it would be fun to get Autoglass's response on the new Chelsea shirt. He doesn't disappoint.
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I hate my favorite club's, Chelsea, new shirt. Sure, it’s still that beautiful “Reflex Blue” that CFC switched to several years back. And, sure, when compared to some of the shirts the Blues have worn over the years, it’s an improvement. But the panels? The form fitting look? The stupid crew collar? Yuck. Fundamentally, there are three problems with this shirt. After the jump, we’ll review them...

First, it’s going to make the team look stupid. They’ll look like they are wearing unitards under their shorts. Unitards with man-bra panels.

Second, this technical fabric and design trend is moronic. I guarantee you that no Chelsea player will at any point next season say, “Wow, this shirt keeps my body cool and allows me greater freedom of movement!” Never. It’s a fucking t-shirt. They are already more than forgiving and comfortable enough.

Finally, think of the fans. We’re supposed to go out and buy a shirt that, when stretched over our middle-aged torsos, will make us look like a Blue sausage crossed with the paneled look of Edward Scissorhands? Tens of thousands of these shirts are going to be stretched over the paunches and man-boobs of the Stamford Bridge support? To paraphrase Jerry Seinfeld, who were the marketing wizards that came up with this idea?

In summary, Chelsea have launched a new strip that makes the team look stupid, personifies the excesses of hype in design, and absolutely maximizes the doofus factor among the supporters.

I hate it. And when I go to Wembley for the FA Cup Final (Yes, I am going. And I’m taking my 8 year old son to his first match in Europe…to see Chelsea…in a Cup Final…at Wembley), I will proudly wearing my old Autoglass shirt. It was ugly, but at least it's not stupid.



Your thoughts on that latest trends in stupid shirt design? And will Liverpool AGAIN simply take the same basic Adidas shirt, except in red, such that Liverpool and Chelsea look like two sides of the same club wearing different colors for a training match?

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QT: Kroenke ups Arsenal stake

It's hitting the wires that Stan Kroenke has lifted his stake to 28.3 pct. Perhaps he is still giddy from the Nuggets' first round series win. Hope you all are ready for a long summer of Midwestern Mustache v. Fat Ukrainian Oligarch corporate finance shenanigans. I can't wait.

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Gang of Four: Great Midfield Maestros

Running the midfield can be a difficult proposition. The proliferation of the 4-5-1 has choked some of the spontaneity from deep-lying midfielders, forcing managers to adopt a more strategic "horses for courses" approach (pick 4 or 5 across the middle, each with a specific role), but today in Gang of Four, we're throwing back to a day when the area between the 18-yard-boxes was a virtual playground for those blessed with enough preternatural talent to take advantage.

Before the days of the defensive midfielder, the playmaking maestro was king. We salute four such gods of the midfield who had it all: precision long-range passing, skill enough on the ball to dribble holes in defenses, toughness to ride through the tackle, spontaneity, and goalscoring power.

Gheorghe Hagi (1982-2001)
"You seem to be considered good only if you can run fast, or are physically strong. What about individual skills?"



The unfairly-dubbed "Maradona of the Carpathians" put his stamp on football during USA '94, a lukewarm tournament that cried out for the creativity of the Zen Ponytail, Roberto Baggio, and the kinetic energy of the tiny Romanian. I say unfair because although comparison to Maradona is a dream for most players, little Gheorghe deserved to be recognized on the strength of his own achievements. I dare say in some little nook of Eastern Europe, the next Hagi undoubtedly lurks (had he not already retired, I'd put Greece's Euro '04 wizard Theodoros Zagorakis in the Hagi category).

He was pure soccer talent stuffed into a tiny 5'8" frame, feet capped with size five boots, and capable of beating you with speed or strength. Broad and immune to the then-legal tackle from behind (the best ace up any mediocre defender's sleeve, intimidation via the cheap shot), Hagi's career can be viewed in three phases: 9 years of quiet accomplishment in Romania, a vault to Real Madrid and Barca (with tiny Serie A side Brescia in between), and then late success in Turkey.

Like a great artist, he went through periods of beauty and depression (the latter coming in arguably his biggest exposure to the spotlight: 2 seasons at Real Madrid in the early 90s, and 2 seasons at Barcelona after USA '94), coming up biggest on the big stage.

For all his individual skill with both feet, he was also the consummate team player, continually shepherding his teammates to dizzying heights previously thought unimaginable. Heck, his skill in finagling Romania, by all accounts a limited squad, to the quarter-finals in 1994 says it all.



Ex-French international Luis Fernandez once said that "Hagi is like wine, the older it gets, the better it is," and he was spot-on; after struggling in La Liga with the Big 2, Hagi decamped for Galatasaray, where he won just about everything there was to win. 4 straight Turkish Super League titles, 2 Turkish Cups, the UEFA Cup (running over the favoured Arsenal in the process) before capping his final domestic season with a UEFA Super Cup triumph over former club Real Madrid.


Antonin Panenka (1967-1982)
"My credo and belief has always been to entertain the spectators. First of all, I had to enjoy myself and like the football that I was playing, but I also wanted to give fans who are working all week something that would please them when they came to watch on Sunday, which they would talk about all day in the pubs afterwards."



The mid-70s gave us one of the best tournaments ever in Euro '76, with the excitement provded by the four teams that took part. Holland, West Germany, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia played four glorious games, complete with drama, comebacks, penalties, beautiful goals, and pure attacking football.

Emerging from the dust unscathed were the Czechs, thanks in large part to their insouciant, moustached midfielder who birthed the cheekiest penalty trick the world has ever seen.

Antonin Panenka was, as dubbed by the French press, "a poet", blessed with otherworldly vision and a passing accuracy that has rarely been replicated since. 15 years of toil in the Austrian leagues may have consigned him to the fringes of Greatest Player discussions, but Euro '76 gave him the perfect platform with which to present his resume.



It's that penalty; not only was it a perfectly-executed statement of intent, but it was done in the high-pressure situation of the PK shootout after a blood, sweat and tears final with the West Germans, who reckoned they'd struck a crucial psychic blow with their 89th minute equalizer. And now, with Panenka ready to strike, knowing that his kick would decide the affair, he dragged his feet long enough to watch Sepp Maier commit to diving left before gracefully clipping the ball softly down the middle, leaving Maier a powerless spectator from the floor.

Pele reckoned him to be "a genius or a madman", and few can argue. Equally deadly from the free-kick, Panenka let his passing and shooting do the talking, although for most, it all comes back to that penalty, and the legions of players who've attempted it since.



John Barnes (1981-2000)
"Barnes did what we expected him to do. He made a goal, scored one, and entertained. You remember that." - Kenny Dalglish after Barnes' Anfield debut for Liverpool in 1987



Barnes was a big man. Not orca fat or anything, but considering the svelte, skinny masses that surrounded him on every team for which he played, his skill and grace are even more astounding.

The Jamaican-born Watford and Liverpool midfielder/left winger was a master of his domain, the man so good that as manager, Kenny Dalglish bought him THREE times (once for Liverpool, then for Newcastle, then for Celtic in the twilight of his career). Never one to take too many touches or strides, he conserved his limited energies for when they were needed most. Blessed with an unlikely change of pace for such a giant, "Digger" Barnes was the driving force behind Liverpool's great run in the 80s/90s, winning 2 FA Cups, 2 League Titles (including Liverpool's last in 1989/90), and a few Charity Shields for good measure.

As provider for Peter Beardsley, John Aldridge and Ian Rush, (Barnes was one of the game's best crossers), Liverpool were unstoppable; to put it in context, Barnes managed 22 goals from the left wing in that league winning 89/90 season, while Ian Rush, far and away the more prolific goalscorer, could only manage 18 up front.

He also played the game with a heavy dose of fun and enjoyment, which wasn't exactly easy back in the mid 80s; moving to Liverpool brought the ire of the far right, who showered him with racist taunts at every opportunity. In 1987, a game against Everton at Goodison Park brought out the anger in the home fans, and there exists an iconic shot of him casually backheeling a banana off the pitch. Never one to get caught up in the politics surrounding the game, Barnes used football to silence his most xenophobic critics.

And then there's that goal at the Maracana in 1984, against a backdrop of abuse from the National Front who felt he had no place on the team. It was Maradona's goal in '86 before Maradona got started, a mazy run through the heart of the Brazilian team, untouched en route to goal.

That was the magic of John Barnes. Every time the ball was at his feet, you knew such miracles were possible.




Michel Platini (1972-1987)
"When I was a kid and played with my friends, I always chose to be Platini. I let my friends share the names of my other idols between themselves." - Zinedine Zidane



As batshit insane as the Frenchman is in his role as President of UEFA, we must give the man immense credit for his bewitching beauty during his playing days. At the core of France's "carre magique" of the 80s and the Juventus midfield that dominated Europe, Platini was the ultimate #10 when numbers on shirts still carried that weighty significance.

Platini could do it all with both feet. He was goalscorer, orchestrator, dead-ball specialist and peerless midfield general, reading the game with such clarity and foresight that one could be forgiven for thinking he'd already played the game in the future before zipping back to run through it step-by-step as it happened the first time around.

With a strikerate well above scoring every other game (312 in 580 for clubs AS Nancy, St Etienne, Juventus, and for France), Platini was god's gift to the attacking midfield. Laboring through 3 World Cups, including that 3-3 game with West Germany (he was instrumental throughout; though the Germans won on penalties, he still considers it the best game of his career), as well as a victory in Euro '84, scoring 9 of France's 14 goals in just five matches. That tournament on home soil was a perfect distillation of his brilliance; scoring two "perfect" hat-tricks (header, goal with left foot, goal with right foot) along the way.

Few #10s have shown such dominance since.



Read more on "Gang of Four: Great Midfield Maestros"...

Manchester City Attempts to Keep Spending Money



Fat-bottomed girls Money makes the world go-round, and Manchester City still have loads of it. Owner Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan (brother of the ruler of Abu Dhabi) is worth approximately $1 trillion (yes, that's a "T") and he would like to spend as much of it as possible on his toy. Latest reports have Man City targeting 2 world-class players for a move to the Eastlands in the summer.



Arjen Robben, who moved to Real Madrid from Chelsea just 2 years ago for a £24m fee, has been on the outs at the Bernabeu this season and the club is looking to unload the winger in preparation for a run at Ronaldo (non-fatty edition). In 30 matches in La Liga and the Champions League, Robben has 8 goals and 6 assists - not horrible, considering that he has been injury-prone, but nowhere near a Ronaldo-like output. Real Madrid are willing to part with him for an £18 fee and may even package him with Rafael van der Vaart (Sylvie to the Eastlands!) to make more room for spending in the transfer season.


Man City also coveted Robben's teammate, defender Fabio Cannavaro, who is out of contract in July and has not yet been offered an extension. However, the Italy captain has turned down the advances of the club (as well as those from Bayern) and is awaiting the results of the Real Madrid presidential elections before he makes his decision. Cannavaro, who will be 36 next year, has stated that he wants to focus on preparations for the World Cup (undoubtedly his last) and would prefer not to have to start over with an entirely new club. Despite this, he has also noted that a move to Juventus or Napoli is a possibility, as this would move him closer to the training grounds of the Italian national team.


But is all this just more transfer bullshit? Manchester City have already indicated that Michael Ball and Danny Mills will not be offered new contracts when their current ones expire this summer but there has been no other word on the release or transfer of players. Perhaps they would make the transfer of Jo permanent, as well as sell off either Joe Hart or Kasper Schmeichel (neither of whom are replacing Shay Given any time soon). But Steven Ireland will certainly be rewarded with a better contract, and Man City have indicated that they also intend to pursue John Terry (although they were unsuccesful last year), either Roque Santa Cruz or Nacho Pete, and perhaps Franck Ribery.


John Terry's lack of interest last year would seem to demonstrate that it is perhaps not a financial problem, but an image problem that is the club's biggest hurdle. Currently sitting 9th in the table, Manchester City is 20 points adrift of a Champions League spot and it is difficult to attract talent when all you offer is the possbility (not even a guarantee) of a spot in the Europa Cup. Can Abu Dhabi United give hope to the blue half of Manchester, or are they just throwing good money after bad?


As an aside to these rumours, I should note that as a Frenchmen I loathe all of the members of the Italian national team. Except for Cannavaro - as a former defender myself, I simply love the way he plays the game and I have nothing but the utmost respect him for him as a player. It's really confusing, this forbidden love.

Read more on "Manchester City Attempts to Keep Spending Money"...

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Thursday Backpasses: Was it worth it?

Romanian coach has some interesting ways of dealing with player discipline [Dirty Tackle]
We may soon be talking about the IPL instead of Serie A [The Offside]
MLS ref now suspended for taking Blanco's jersey [SBI]

UEFA Salary Cap? Unlikely, but on the table [The Good Point]
How can a left back be called the Russian Ronaldinho? Anyway, Liverpool want him [Football Pools]
Robbie Fowler too fat for the AFL [ABC (the Australian one)]

Finally:
How far has Becks fallen? He has Mr. T pitying the fool [Click Liverpool]

Read more on "Thursday Backpasses: Was it worth it?"...

Quick Throw: His name is Rio and he's coughing up some blood

Rio Ferdinand will miss up to three weeks with a cracked rib [Daily Mail]

Rio Ferdinand just bruised his rib and should be in the lineup for the CL semi 2nd leg [Guardian Sport]

WHO IS RIGHT? There can be only one highlander.

Read more on "Quick Throw: His name is Rio and he's coughing up some blood"...

**UPDATE** Oink, Oink

Some fun from the Champions League ManU-Arsenal showdown. Now the question is whether this gent is protecting himself from swine flu or protecting everybody else.



I didn't know Luka Modric was a ManU fan.

After the jump, see if you can spot Mr. PFA Giggs in his usual spot in the stands, plus a few other entertaining photos.




Does Andrei Arshavin ever take a non-goofy photo? I think he's skipping here with his Dorothy Hamill hair.



Must have been beans in the cafeteria that day.







Carlito seems to be enjoying that one a bit too much, don't you think?

Per request, the Vidic diving header pic and an Evra nipple biting picture




Read more on "**UPDATE** Oink, Oink"...

This Is Somehow Howard Webb's Fault

Sure this took place in Malawi but this screw up is so monumental, that we're not entirely sure we can be certain it doesn't contain Webb's fingerprints. Plus it involves penalties.

Last week the MTL Wanderers beat ESCOM United 4-2 to win the Bingu Wa Mutharika Cup.

Seems straightforward enough right? Outscore the other team, win the Cup. That's how soccer works.

Oh silly reader. How little you know about Malawian football.

At the end of regulation, the two teams were tied 1-1. But, regulation was only 80 minutes, which, as this match recap points out, is totally copacetic in soccer provided both teams agree to it ahead of time (although said recap never states whether it was indeed agreed to ahead of time).

So the whistle blows and the teams are tied. The two teams go to penalties to settle the matter of the cup.

After four kicks, Escom had converted one and had three saved.

After three kicks, SF MTL had converted two and missed one.

Before MTL Wanderers took their fourth penalty referee Webb Verson Lwanja blew the whistle and handed MTL Wanderers the trophy. Thus marking the first time United was ever screwed by a referee's decision. Zing!

Bet anything Lwanja was also the kid in middle school who said in math class, "When am I ever going to need to use this in real life?" Turns out it's probably integral to his job as, according to this page on World Referee, he's also the head of Malawi's Referee Association

Do some maths. If ESCOM United save the MTL Wanderers remaining two kicks and convert their remaining penalty, we're looking at being level 2-2 after five kicks... unless they also agreed to shorten penalties the way they may (or may not) have agreed to shorten the match (which they didn't).

The linked piece also points out that ESCOM didn't protest the decision at the time, speculating, "possibly because the President of the Republic of Malawi was in attendance." The President is Bingu Wa Mutharika, the guy whose name is on the cup.

So when heads of state for whom a competition is named are around, referees are allowed to rob you of titles because of poor math skills? Man, African laws are confusing.

But the gift of this story doesn't stop giving. Enjoy some meta-irony courtesy of whoever wrote the recap in question.

Had the ref not erroneously stopped the penalty shoot-out, assuming MTL Wanderers missed their 4th untaken penalty, ESCOM United scored their remaining untaken penalty (5th penalty) and MTL Wanderers also missed their 5th untaken penalty, the two teams would have scored 3 out of 5 penalties each and the total score would have been 4-4 (including 1-1 regular time scores) which would have resulted into sudden death penalty shoot-out.
Is there anyone on the continent of Africa who can do simple addition? As was pointed out above, given the events as originally described the two teams would have each converted 2 of the 5 penalty kicks.

Anyway, Lwanja, by his own account, didn't screw up at all. "The ref told the media that he stopped the penalty shoot-out because of impending darkness. The same ref told the media that after ESCOM United had missed three of their four taken penalties he assumed (yes assumed) that they would not score the fifth one and therefore had no choice but to blow the final whistle."

And that's really what a good official ought to do, look at the teams, make a few assumptions, declare a winner, and let everyone get on with their day. Really, what other choice does he have? If you want to go back to the well, another Webb joke pretty much writes itself here.

The impending-darkness defense does make some sense in terms of the shortened game (if it had been shortened to accomodate remaining daylight) but that doesn't excuse just handing one team the win. Plus, this picture of Kamuzu Stadium, where the match was played indicates that the ground has lights, which would make "impending darkness" more or less irrelevant. Maybe Lwanja is from Endor.

Anyway, with the "win", MTL pocketed 10,000,000 MKW (Malawian Kwacha), about $71,000. And Verson Lwanja won the chance to officiate the FA Cup final.

Too bad he'll have to hope it's postponed for six months. That's the ban he was handed yesterday for his colossal mistake.

Read more on "This Is Somehow Howard Webb's Fault"...

The Daily Fail?

Or the greatest headline ever? You decide.

Today's entry comes from The Guardian The Sport Blog in a story about UF favorite and all-time great, Ronaldo. The Original, the Phenomenon or derisively The Fat One. After a devastating injury last year with AC Milan, the three time World Player of the Year has made a stunning comeback with Brazilian side Corinthians, which leads us to the headline.

Cuddly comeback king Ronaldo eating balls again

Photographic evidence of the headline after the jump as I suspect it might change.




The headline makes for a great post, but the great story is really Ronaldo's return. Granted his return is not at the highest level, yet, and the man is still out of shape, but he has scored 8 in 9 games. We may have to start calling him The Feline with all of the lives he has had. I count this as his third. The first coming, then his World Cup winning return after his initial knee injury, and now this. (Don't worry, his latest injury is not serious and will not keep him from this weeks match.)

His most recent comeback is taking place where it all started, Brazil, and appears to be quite successful as his first goal almost incited a riot. His goals have been of the mundane and spectacular variety and you have even seen him outpace a defender. Incredible, I know.

Ronaldo is only 32 and can be a serviceable goal poacher for several more seasons, particularly if he can get his fitness back. Scoring these goals will help because The Feline says
Each goal I score, I lose a kilo.

If that's the case, he might be heroin skinny in just a few months time.

There are rumors that European clubs are sniffing around for a possible return. Count this person as one who hopes to see Ronaldo, the Original, back at the highest levels soon.

Read more on "The Daily Fail?"...

No Thanks Pal. Ronaldo's A Better Dribbler.

No go Diego.

Ex-Hollyoaks actress and publicity hoe junkie, Gemma Atkinson, has revealed that she spurned the advances of Argentinian rat and game thief Diego Maradona. Really? A hot WAG who poses in lads mags like Heat, Maxim and Loaded in nowt but her skivvies turned down the chance to spend the night with a 5ft 4 inch fat, disgusting, greasy, cheating douche-bag? I am stunned. After the jump a quote from Gemma and some pictures of her in aforementioned skivvies. SFW if you don't like your job much or have an office, or just don't care!

"He said I had beautiful eyes and I was like, ‘Wow thanks,' but he’s so short, he’s tiny."-Gemma Atkinson.


Here's what you asked for Diego.

Atkinson, who has previously dated Alan Smith and Christiano Ronaldo met Maradona at a charity match to benefit small junkies who failed to kill themselves. I actually made that last bit up, I don't know what the event was, It doesn't say here and I don't think it really matters.


Here's what you could have had Diego.

And here's what you didn't get Diego.

This startling revelation was revealed to an American journalist. She also revealed that she would be willing to take her clothes of for a future movie role. Look out for Gemma on the top shelf of your nearest bodega soon, in a video attached to a dubiously titled magazine wrapped in plastic.

Read more on "No Thanks Pal. Ronaldo's A Better Dribbler."...

Silvio Berlusconi's trending younger these days



AC Milan has had a lot of success under Berlusconi; in his two tenures (1986-2004 and 2006-), the Rossonieri have done well. Whether the Italian people have prospered with him as prime minister is another matter.

But none of that concerns UF today. We're more interested in how the 18-year-old girls of Italy are doing under his tutelage. Are their needs being met? Are they looked after, loved, cared for?

With one story that broke today, we might well find out. One thing's for certain: his wife isn't very pleased.

(mildly NSFW pic below... just some lingerie)

So Silvio, with his busy schedule of AC board meetings and running the country without conflict of interest, has been a little absent at home, missing his own childrens' birthday parties here and there, but he found time in his hectic life to attend the 18th birthday party for the daughter of a family friend, who also happens to be a lingerie model. Yeah -- and he bought her a gold necklace and gave her a signed picture of himself. A signed fucking picture! Of himself!



The girl, Noemi Letizia (pictured above with necklace and below with no clothes), sees nothing wrong with this:

'It was a lovely surprise to see the man I call Papi (daddy) at my party. I call him Papi but of course he is second to my father. He gave me a lovely necklace as a present.'

On her bedside table was prominently displayed a signed photograph of Berlusconi as well as a book in which he had written a dedication to her saying: 'To my little Noemi, my little graphic artist, your little daddy teacher.'"
Yep, nothing wrong with this relationship whatsoever. Just an attractive young woman who enjoys being semi-naked, and her "little daddy teacher."



But it gets better.

The article also documents Berlusconi's latest scheme to revive his popularity, something so brilliant that it's incredible no-one thought of it sooner (or at least parodied it): picking attractive young women to be politicians! After all, what's better: someone with tons of policy experience, or someone who's lovely to look at?

Send supermodels to Iraq, Mr. Berlusconi. Sure, some of 'em will get beheaded for their sins, but a few just might be able to broker a truce if they flash a little bit of chest. After all, it's part of his plan to put out "youthful young faces" in June's European elections.

He's earmarked (and possibly bum-marked) the following, none of whom have any political experience, and might struggle even to spell the word:

- soap actress Camilla Ferranti, 30
- TV star Eleonora Gaggioli, 29
- ex-Big Brother contestant Angela Sozio, 31
- former Miss Italy candidate Barbera Matera, 28.
(pictures of all of 'em in that article)

That's where his wife, Veronica Lario, chimed in via email:
"Someone wrote that all this is to sustain the enjoyment of the Emperor. I agree with this - what has emerged is shameful trash, all in the name of power. I want it to be made clear that my children and I are victims of this situation and do not agree with it, we have to put up with it and suffer with it."
Veronica and Silvio have had spats in the past, but always managed to kiss and make up.

Personally, I just can't wait to see what pisses her off next time.

Read more on "Silvio Berlusconi's trending younger these days"...

Wolverine Likes His Football



Celebrity Norwich fan and World's sexiest man Hugh Jackman was on Soccer AM last week, when resident idiot 'Tubes' turned up at his press junket for Xmen Wolverine, released this week. After sharing his usual babble, Tubes turned the talk to football.



Jackman declares his love for City.

Oh Hugh, what a wolf, what a man. What a fantastic wolf-man. Hugh's soft spot for the canaries comes from his mother who is apparently from Norwich. However, Hugh needs to work harder on his history. City won the Milk Cup final in 1985 not 84. I forgive you Hugh...Hugh wouldn't!

To help Hugh out, and to cheer me up during such a sucky week for the fine people of Norfolk. Here's a video of that super day at Wembley in 1985.


The memories, I may cry.

-Bigus

Read more on "Wolverine Likes His Football"...

Ligue 1 Weekend Review (Update)



This week saw only 1 contender for the GSTGC award, although there were plenty of cards to go around. Lyon fail to gain points on Marseille in their quest for an 8th straight Ligue 1 title, while Bordeaux do not play until Wednesday. The result of the week goes to FC Lorient, who get 1 point out of their match with in-form Toulouse, which is enough to insure that they avoid the drop.


Friday, April 24th:

Lyon 0-0 Paris Saint-Germain - Despite almost complete dominance from Lyon (61% of the possession, 9 corners to 0 for PSG) the match ended in a draw to further dash their hopes of an 8th straight title. Each club had chances early, with Juninho and Rothen both shooting just wide. In the 30th minute Benzema also sent a shot wide. The 44th minute saw a bit of controversy as Ceara appeared to handle the ball in the box but Lyon were denied a PK. In the 57th minute Hoarau was stopped 1-on-1 by Lyon GK Lloris, while a short while later PSG GK Landreau easily saved efforts from Clerc and Juninho. Benzema had the final chance of the match, but he hit the post.



Sunday, April 26th:

Auxerre 2-1 Caen - Auxerre outshot Caen 11-2 and were rewarded for their efforts with 2 late goals to take the 3 points. In the 7th minute Jelen was stopped by Caen GK Plante, who repeated the feat in the 20th minute. At the other end Lemaitre had his header stopped by Auxerre GK Sorin. The second half began the same as the first, with Jelen stopped by Plante in the 48th minute. The opening goal came in the 62nd minute on a Proment strike from 18 yards. The match looked lost for Auxerre until the 86th minute when Gomis sent a poor backpass to Plante that was stolen by Jelen for an easy finish. Just 3 minutes later Jelen completed his brace when he lobbed Plante after Kitambala had dispossessed the defense.




Le Havre 0-1 Grenoble - Grenoble was outshot 1-7, but they made their only shot on goal count while their GK Wimbee made save after save to preserve the victory. Early shots from Baca, Alla and Noro were all stopped by Grenoble GK Wimbee, while his teammates did not threaten his opposite until a Toure free-kick off the crossbar in the 32nd minute. The goal came in the 41st minute due to some excellent passing from Courtois to Moreira, ending with an easy tap-in for Boya. Immediately after the restart Alassane was stopped by Wimbee, who then made an excellent double-save on Noro in the 58th minute. Le Havre almost equalized in injury time after a Dieuze header beat Wimbee, but the shot was cleared off the line by defender Regragui.


Le Mans 0-1 Monaco - Although Le Mans had 8 corners from which to threaten, they were unable to make any of them count and lost the match in disappointing fashion on a late goal. They threatened early through Gervinho, but Monaco GK Ruffier was up to the task. On the ensuing counter-attack Pino sent his shot just over the crossbar. In the 43rd minute a shot from Le Tallec was punched out by Ruffier and the rebound, sent back in by Corchia, was saved as well. Early in the second half Park was stopped in a 1-on-1 situation by Le Mans GK Pele, but the former would make up for his miss in the 87th minute with his cool finish for the winner. Freddy Adu watch: 3rd straight game on the bench without getting into the match. No surprise here, since this match was so tight.


Nancy 2-0 Nantes - A frustrated, relegation-threatened, Nantes committed 26 fouls and only got off 2 shots on goal in a match that they never looked like winning. Their best chance came in the 1st minute when Mareval had his shot stopped by Nancy GK Gregorini. In the 5th minute Feret sent his shot barely wide, and then he forced a save from Nantes GK Assembe in the 18th minute. Feret would get his goal in the 56th minute on an excellent free-kick, although Nantes should have equalized 2 minutes later when Klasnic sent his shot wide. In the 70th minute Assembe fouled Dia in the box for a PK. Although the GK was not given a card, Luiz stepped up and sent home the PK for a 2-0 lead. Nantes had 2 more late chances, but Heinz sent his shot over the bar and Babovic shot just wide.




Nice 3-1 Saint-Etienne - Saint-Etienne had 62% of the possession but were bossed all over the pitch by an in-form Nice squad. Machado provided early pressure for Saint-Etienne, shooting over the crossbar in the 2nd minute and sending a free-kick just wide in the 3rd minute. Nice responded through a shot from Apam that went wide in the 11th minute and a strike from Remy in the 19th minute that forced a save from Saint-Etienne GK Janot. Nice broke through in the 23rd minute when Remy played ben Saada through on a counter-attack, followed by the latter hitting the post 4 minutes later. Just before the break disaster struck for Saint-Etienne as a Hognon header resulted in an OG from defender Tavlaridis. The final goal for Nice came in the 73rd minute when Ozokwo played a through-ball for Mouloungui on yet another counter-attack. The lone goal for Saint-Etienne came in the 94th minute when Ilan headed home a cross from Landrin.




Sochaux 1-1 Valenciennes - In one of the most well-contested matches of the weekend, Sochaux earned a vital point to move out of the relegation zone. This match was all about goal-keeping, as Valenciennes GK Penneteau was tested early by Erdinq and Dalmat, while Sochaux GK Richert stopped shots from Bangoura and Pujol. Richert, however, would earn a RC in the 53rd minute for taking down Audel outside the area, and was replaced by Gavanon. With a 1-man advantage, Valenciennes used some excellent passing from Audel and Pujol to provide an easy finish for Bangoura in the 62nd minute. Sochaux, however, responded well as they knew they were fighting to stay up in Ligue 1. A 30-yard free-kick was well-saved by Penneteau, and Sverkos was denied as well. The pressure paid off in the 94th minute when Traore was adjudged to have handled the ball in the box and Sverkos sent home the resulting PK for the draw.


Toulouse 1-1 Lorient - Although Ligue 1-leading scorer Gignac had 2 early efforts go just wide, the goals in this match did not come until the very end in a draw that was well-deserved (or undeserved, depending on your point of view) for both clubs. In the 26th minute Gameiro sent a volley over the crossbar, and his teammates capitalized on a poor clearance from Toulouse GK Carrasso just minutes later to send in a shot, only to see it cleared off the line by Toulouse defender Fofana. In the 50th minute Gameiro was denied by the well-worked Carrasso, who repeated the feat 10 minutes later. The goal for Lorient came in the 86th minute after some excellent passing from Abriel, Gameiro and Mansouri, who played it to Ayew for an easy finish (Ayew received a YC for "excessive celebration", disqualifying him from the GSTGC award). Toulouse equalized just 2 minutes later when Lorient GK Cappone slipped while trying to control a backpass and Didot stole the ball for a pass and easy finish from Cetto.




Lille 1-2 Marseille - Marseille got their 6th win a row to take an even bigger lead atop the Ligue 1 table, although they needed 2 second half goals to do so. In the 15th minute Beria appeared to grab Niang, but Marseille were denied their shouts for a PK. A penalty did come in the 40th minute, but it was for Lille as Zubar was adjudged to have committed a handball in the box. Fortunately for L'OM, GK Mandanda saved the PK taken by Bastos. Lille opened the scoring in the 48th minute with Hazard finishing off a pass from Vittek, but Marseille equalized in the 54th minute when Cheyrou volleyed home a cross from Kabore. Just 3 minutes later Marseille took the lead when Niang finished off a pass from Valbuena, and Marseille managed to hang on for the 3 points after defender Civelli cleared a shot from Hazard off the line.





Wednesday, April 29th:

Rennes 2-3 Bordeaux - Rennes got off to a cracking start with the quickest goal of the Ligue 1 season. Bocanegra's cross was headed by Thomert to Sow, who sent a quick pass to Danze for the finish in 18 seconds. Sow almost had a goal of his own in the 10th minute, but he could not control the cross in time. Things looked even worse for Bordeaux in the 26th minute when Planus received a straight RC for a late tackle on Sow (with reports indicating it was a harsh RC decision). Despite being down to 10 men, they maintained their composure and finished the half down only 1 goal. Bordeaux increased the pressure in the second half, with Gouffran sending home a volley in the 62nd minute. Gourcuff added another for Bordeaux in the 70th minute with a well-struck free-kick. Sow finally got his goal in the 89th minute to equalize for Rennes and the points looked like they would be split. However, Gourcuff scored in the 93rd minute with the last kick of the match to secure the 3 points and move further ahead of Lyon in the table.





So, after Matchday 33, the top of the table looks like this: (1) Marseille, with 67 points on a 19-10-4 record and a +27 goal differential; (2) Bordeaux, with 62 points on an 18-8-6 record and a +22 goal differential; (3) Lyon, with 61 points on a 17-10-6 record and a +18 goal differential; and (4) Paris Saint-Germain, with 60 points on an 18-6-9 record and a +13 goal differential.

NOTE: Bordeaux plays Rennes on Wednesday, but obviously they will remain in 2nd place regardless of that result. They can move to within 2 points with a win, or stay only 1 point ahead of Lyon with a loss.

UPDATE: (2) Bordeaux, with 65 points on a 19-8-6 record and a +23 goal differential.

Read more on "Ligue 1 Weekend Review (Update)"...

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Wednesday Backpasses: Survival

I haven't watched the second half, but if it was anything like the first, then 1-0 is just fine. Hope everyone miraculously heals by next week.

Arsenal fans, you have a new favorite gif [No idea where this came from]
Carlos Vela had a Swine Flu scare [Guardian]
We love other site's giveaways [Kickette]
Hey look, FC Dallas Burn cheerleaders. Do your own risk assessment [Football Fashion]

The UK National Gay Cup final is this weekend. I'm really pulling for Hotscots FC [LGF]
Did a top MLS referee give favor to and accept a gift from Cuatoadgmoc Blanco? [SBI]
Italian player banned for coke use. My color: unsurprised [Sportress of Blogitude]
The movement to keep the DC in DC United [Match Fit USA]

Finally:
Quiz time! Name the bobbleheaded footballers [Quizible]

Read more on "Wednesday Backpasses: Survival"...

The Good, The Bad, The WTF

Spare a thought for KV Mechelen. Twenty years ago, the club was the best they would ever be. In 1987-88, in their first ever European competition, Mechelen won the Cup Winner's Cup, defeating Ajax 1-0 in the Final. Later that year, Mechelen trumped PSV in the Super Cup 3-1 over two legs. In 1988-89, Mechelen attempted to defend its CWC title, making it to the Semis before bowing out to Sampdoria 4-2 on aggregate. In 1989-90, at the seeming apex of the team, Mechelen made it to the Quarters of the European Cup (now Champions League), losing to eventual champion AC Milan in extra time after holding the Italian giants scoreless for 180 minutes.

Then, things went south fast. The chairman of the club was forced to sell off players because his business was losing money (beware Oligarch-held UK teams). The team fell all the way to the Belgian Third Division in the early 2000s before ascending to their current bottom-half positioning in the Jupiler League.

None of that heartbreak excuses this week's shirt. While I do not have the vintage on this shirt, I know it is not from the year they won the CWC. That shirt, while not the prettiest, has nothing on the horror that Mechelen heaped on its team in later years.


The first thing that I, as a person whose first ever professional match was at Dens Park, noticed was the badge. Mechelen's badge looks suspiciously like Dundee FC's. While I'm not going to debate which came first, I will say that Dundee had their crest on their shirt by 1988, something that Mechelen, as seen in the link above, did not.

But wait, there's so much more. The most obvious thing to talk about is that color scheme. At first glance, this looks like it could be an elasticated black and yellow striped jersey, with the red being the result of said elastic being stretched out by one especially prodigious beer belly. Sadly that's not the case. As you can see in this picture,


the change in color is almost a Pointillist effect. This would be a nice tribute if some practitioner of that style of painting came from Mechelen, but none did. Instead, it's just the kind of thing that gives you eye strain when you get too close, much like Pointillism itself.

The other thing you really have to wonder about with this shirt is the sponsor. Hmm, Lease Plan. Is that like Naming Rights Stadium? Turns out, it's not. It is some Dutch company that, from their company-written wiki, "consists of a growing international network of companies engaged in fleet and vehicle management services, mainly through"--wait for it--"operational leasing". Glad to clear that up. Maybe sometime over the last 45 years of business, they could have thought up a new name. I mean, it worked for Altria, right?

Anyway, yeah, this shirt is bad, and it will make you look like a fatty if you wear it, no matter how skinny you think you are. Also, I really didn't get a chance to fit it in, but I have to tell you that the club's nickname, in its native Dutch, is De Kakkers. I assume we are all immature enough to get a snigger out of that (but not out of snigger, because then you'd be a bigot).

Read more on "The Good, The Bad, The WTF"...

Champions League: Mind-Numbing Rubbish, Redux

Fergie unveils N'Sync 2.0


Ranty recap of last night ahead!

The Champions League can be an exciting place. Last night, it wasn't, and we must pray for none of that anti-football this afternoon.

Rafa Marquez was felled by an invisible man and will be out 10 weeks, but the really gruesome injury was suffered by us, the hapless television audience (we won't even mention the horrors witnessed by those actually at the Nou Camp). Yes, Guus Hiddink's side hushed the Catalans and backpassed with aplomb en route to a 0-0 result in which they enjoyed just 29% of possession and managed not to get anyone sent off in a game full of clumsy tackling and casual attack.

Some call it brilliant organization, others call it cynical bus-parkery. Po-tay-to, po-tah-to.

Barca, for all their offensive might, were equally to blame for their lazy, insouciant performance, leading me to think they felt like scoring a goal were their reward for simply turning up. The overdone flourishes and passing failed, and now, we hope and pray that tonight, either United or Arsenal, or both, will have the stones to shoot at goal every once in a while.


And for today/tonight:

On Arsenal's side: karma, in the shape of news that United have begun their CL victory parade preparations. The gods do love when they get to rain on a parade. What's not on the Gooner's side is good health, as they're still set to miss several key defensive players, including Gibbs, Silvestre, Clichy, Gallas etc etc etc etc etc.

For United, Fergie is toying with the thought of deploying all his strikers at once. It's a tasty thought for those who enjoy goals, although their sturm und drang could backfire as it did for the bad guy in that Robin Williams movie "Toys". If you recall from your acid-taking, bad 90s movie-watching days, the evil General Zevo had all the best toys and weapons, and yet was outdone by Williams, a blond girl, an unconvincing soldier played by LL Cool J, and his reprogrammed sea slug killing machine.

Let's hope for some similar battles tonight. My only request is this: could Arsenal save the whole "beating United at Old Trafford" thing for their imminent EPL match?

Lineups and such after the jump. Use the comments for griping about Howard Webb.


Man United v. Arsenal
-----
Man United: Van der Sar; Evra, O'Shea, Ferdinand, Vidic; Fletcher, Carrick, Anderson, Ronaldo; Rooney, Tevez.
Subs: Foster, Berbatov, Giggs, Scholes, Park, Rafael, Evans.

Arsenal: Almunia; Sagna, Toure, Sylvestre, Gibbs; Diaby, Song, Fabregas, Nasri; Walcott, Adebayor.
Subs: Fabianski, Eduardo, Denilson, Ramsey, Bendtner, Djourou, Eboue.

Read more on "Champions League: Mind-Numbing Rubbish, Redux"...

How to re-anger a fanbase

DO NOT ADJUST YOUR SCREEN. THIS IS A TEST. THIS IS ONLY A TEST.

Displaying the kind of wisdom one would expect, England's Boring John Terry and Frank Lampard have agreed in principle to play in a testimonial match this summer. Oh, and they'll be playing this testimonial for a West Ham XI at Upton Park.

Common sense never was part of the footballer's skill set, was it?

The testimonial is for Hammers Academy Director Tony Carr, the man who nurtured both EBJT and Franky during their slimmed-down formative years. Lamps was a Hammer until 2001, while Terry trained there but never signed on, opting to join Chelsea at age 14 instead.

And now, presuming that the deep-lying scars of their traitorous London switch are fully healed, they'll both pitch up for the charity game.

Of course, for those of us with memories, just this past weekend the Blues endured a volley of abuse at Upton Park, so much so that Terry piped up to defend Lamps from the torment to which they were both subjected. And these remarks were just 2 days ago!

Don't get me wrong, it's a lovely gesture from the pair to acknowledge the importance of Carr in their footballing development, but it's also incredibly naive to think that playing 90 minutes at 1/2 pace in the Hammers kit will quell all the bad blood and backstabbing they've doled out to West Ham over the years from across London.

We'll now wait and see whether they follow-through with it, or whether they'll snap the hearts of Hammers fans and management for the 1,957,607th time this century.

Read more on "How to re-anger a fanbase"...

UF Quick Throw: Gerets Done at End of Season

Olympique de Marseille gaffer Eric Gerets has announced his decision to leave the club after the end of this season. Although his contract was up in June, there was almost no question that he would be asked to stay on given the excellent run of form the club has had lately. L'OM sit atop the Ligue 1 table, 5 points ahead of Bordeaux (who play their game in hand today).

There is no word on who will replace Gerets (who has been linked with both Bayern Munich and Saudia club Al Hilal Riyad), but my vote goes to Didier Deschamps.

[SI.com - Gerets to leave Marseille]

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Colaship Review/Preview: Squeaky Bum Time.


My mate and Sangoma witch doctor 'Hector Um-bongo' has kindly put a hex on Barnsley. Nice one Hector.

It's been a while since I've done a Colaship review, and it's not because I'm a lazy fecker. I just couldn't bring myself to do so until now. The nightmare season my canaries have endured is nearing it's end and the worst possible scenario is staring at us from above. One game left and survival is not in our hands. There is also a battle at the top for the final automatic promotion place to the promised land, also known as the Premier League.



Lets start with Wolves. Their point last weekend at Barnsley (boooooooooooooooooooo) secured the Colaship title. They have been at the top all season, a brief stutter in form was righted and they finished strong. Good for them. McCarthy has started his summer clear out in preparation for the top-flight, stating his intention to let Jason Shackell, Darren Potter and Darren Ward leave Moilineux. Rumors are also circulating that Wolves will make signing Sammy Hypia from Liverpool a priority.


Wolves: Champions.

The second automatic promotion place is up for grabs. Birmingham's defeat last weekend and Readings 2-0 win at Carrow Road has set up a gem for this Sunday morning. Reading need to win to return to the Premier League but ALSO need Sheffield United to get no more than a point at Palace. Reading have hit form after a shaky spell and their superior goal difference could be the decider. Birmingham are running out of steam and I can see Reading doing the business. A Blades win and anything but a win for Birmingham will see Sheffield back in the big-time. Reading V Birmingham is available in the US on the PC destroying ESPN 360 at 8.15 am.

1 Wolverhampton 45 27 87
2 Birmingham 45 16 80
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3 Sheff Utd 45 25 79
4 Reading 45 33 77
5 Cardiff 45 13 74
6 Burnley 45 8 73
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7 Preston 45 11 71

Cardiff and Burnley have had very good seasons and only Preston can spoil the play-off party.

Preston v QPR
Burnley V Bristol City.
Sheffield Wed V Cardiff.

8.15 Eastern.

Down at the bottom Readings win at Bigus' favorite place on earth, saved Forest and Agyle. Tightly clenched buttocks in Nottingham and Plymouth respectively released to the sounds of jubilant celebration. Well done to them. Miserable Scottish tit Billy Davies has done a good job at Forest while Plymouth fought through an incredibly hard run-in schedule to accumulate 51 points. 50 bringing safety this year.

So here we are it's down to this. Barnsley or Norwich. One of us will be joining Southampton and Charlton in League One. I just can't believe it's come to this for Norwich. A club that beat Manchester United 2-0 in the Premier League just 4 years ago. The mess Glenn Roeder made at the club left Bryan Gunn an un-enviable task. He has bagged 20 points in 17 games. Roeder collected just 26 during his disastrous 28 games this term. The man was like poison. The alarm bells were ringing loudly once he swept through the club firing people left right and center. Even the kit man. The players hated him and the fans more. But I've been here before so lets move on.

To stay in the Colaship and hopefully learn from our mistakes, Norwich need to beat Charlton away on Sunday and need Plymouth to beat Barnsley. Stranger things have happened but I fear Plymouth are on the beach already and the point Barnsley need will be easily obtained.

That said I am now going to try and hex Barnsley. Please join me in a Gregorian style chant...Lose Barnsley, lose Barnsley, lose Barnsley, lose!

Many of our readers have asked me about the saying/song 'On the Ball City'. Well it's the oldest football song is history, dating back to the 1890's and still sung loudly at Carrow Road today. To help create a hopeful mood for the rest of the week and inspire the Gods of good fortune for Sundays big games, here it is...

First a jolly little version played on the 'ol Joanna' from the turn of the last century.



and how it lives today, on Saturday's at mighty Carrow Road.



Full Colaship table here.

Up the City!

-Bigus.

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