Friday, December 09, 2011

Dominic Raynor: Off The Ball

Off The Ball never rests in its mission to scratch around the underbelly of professional football to find the most bizarre, humorous and inexplicable stories.

This week, Jan Aage Fjortoft is electrocuted on national TV, Adriano sits out Corinthians' title-winning match with party-induced diarrhoea, Dimitar Berbatov loses the Bulgarian player of the year award to a third division striker and the world laughs at an 'embarrassed' Manchester United.

England: Premier League Weekend Previews & Predictions

It was midweek misery for both Manchester clubs in the Champions League but the bread and butter of the Premier League returns on Saturday. United are renowned for vicious responses after rare calamitous results so beware Wolves, who visit Old Trafford on the back of an impressive victory over Sunderland. Martin O'Neill was in the stands for that game, and he will take charge of his new side for the first time when Blackburn visit the Stadium of Light on Sunday. In-form Tottenham go to Stoke, while Arsenal and Liverpool both have home fixtures they will want to take maximum points from.

Italy: Serie A Weekend Previews

The games are coming thick and fast on the peninsula, as the weekend sees Udinese looking to brush aside Chievo to move top, while Serse Cosmi makes his Lecce debut against Lazio.


Paolo Bandini: Hellish Roma and heavenly Juventus renew compelling Serie A rivalry

Spain: El Clásico Previews + Quiniela

Who: Real Madrid vs. Barcelona
When: Saturday, December 10, 4pm EST
Where: Estadio Santiago Bernabéu
U.S. TV: ESPN Deportes & GolTV

Sid Lowe: Clash likely to be decisive in this year's title race
Guillem Balague: Barca's Real Problem

Key Battles

Grant Wahl: Gold Cup match-fixing allegations highlight serious global problem

Held in 13 U.S. cities last summer, the CONCACAF Gold Cup drew a record attendance of 601,702, including 93,420 at the Rose Bowl for Mexico's 4-2 victory over the U.S. in the final. But the region's most important soccer tournament attracted something else too: Allegations of match-fixing. "There has been information that some matches in the Gold Cup were manipulated," FIFA head of security Chris Eaton confirmed to "We worked with CONCACAF at the time, and CONCACAF have been very interested in following up any information that can be revealed in the future on that."

US to play Olympic qualifying rounds in Nashville

CONCACAF released the tournament schedule Thursday. Winners of the two semifinals, which will be played in Kansas City, Kan., get the North and Central American and Caribbean berths in the London Games.

The Big Interview: Ali al-Habsi

The man from Oman cites an unusual playing inspiration and his devout Muslim faith as factors in his Premier League success.

Ali al-Habsi of Wigan Athletic is a goalkeeper with a difference.

Manchester United's Champions League exit betrays unspoken troubles

Financial restrictions imposed by the Glazers are hindering United, even if Sir Alex Ferguson refuses to acknowledge it.

Kenny Dalglish uses DVD to show 'truth' about sinned-against Liverpool

Two years ago it was Rafa Benítez with his folded sheet of paper containing various "facts" about perceived Liverpool grievances. On Thursday in the same room Kenny Dalglish went one better, with a DVD display illustrating why Liverpool were more sinned against than sinning at Fulham on Monday, a match that earned the club a double dose of disciplinary trouble from the Football Association, with Luis Suárez accused of making an offensive gesture to home supporters and Liverpool charged with failure to control their players following the dismissal of Jay Spearing. "If anyone wants to see the truth it's on the screen," the Liverpool manager said.

Uli Hesse in Germany

Those of you who watched Manchester United's shock exit from the Champions League two days ago will remember the moment the Red Devils almost scored an equaliser. Or rather, had an equaliser scored for them. On the hour, Basel's defender Markus Steinhöfer somehow contrived to volley a Nani cross against the underside of the crossbar from just a few yards out. Luckily for him, the ball rebounded into play, otherwise it would have been one of the more stunning - and crucial - own goals in recent memory. Then again, had the ball hit the back of the net it wouldn't have come as too much of a surprise, given that Steinhöfer is German. (He was born 35 miles south of Nuremberg and played for Bayern reserves.) Because just last weekend, there was an astonishing glut of own goals in the top two German divisions.

Vidic Out For the Season

Vidic ruptured his cruciate ligament during Wednesday's 2-1 Champions League defeat to Basel, a result that saw the Red Devils knocked out of the competition at the group stage for the first time in six years.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Steve Davis: U.S. hopefuls get one last chance in January to impress Klinsmann

January camps for the United States national team fall into two categories: About half are met with only middling interest, and only that much because little else is happening domestically at that time of year. The others actually tell us something, usually because they arrive closer to the pressure points of a World Cup or World Cup qualifying. Jurgen Klinsmann's coming January camp is definitely among the latter, more intriguing variety. Klinsmann and his staff now have in hand the list of players to be invited; U.S. Soccer will unveil the list as early as next week.

Football's Greatest World Cup Teams

2. Netherlands 1974

The Rest

Jamie Jackson: Were Arsenal wrong to leave out Wright from their statue salute?

Ian Wright broke Arsenal's scoring record but he will not be alongside Herbert Chapman, Tony Adams and Thierry Henry.

UEFA Champions League: Wednesday's Review, Reports, Analyses & Fallout

Marco Streller's early strike set Basel on their way to a shock place in the knockout round of the Champions League on a night where both Manchester clubs crashed out. Alexander Frei's strike six minutes from time effectively sealed United's fate and, although Phil Jones scored late on, the 2-1 win was enough for Basel to qualify as runners-up in Group C. Roberto Mancini's Manchester City pulled off a fine 2-0 win over group winners Bayern Munich in Group A, but Napoli's win by the same score at Villarreal rendered City's result irrelevant. In a remarkable turnaround in Group D, Lyon joined group winners Real Madrid in the knockout stages after Bafetimbi Gomis scored four goals in a 7-1 win over Dinamo Zagreb in Croatia. There were more dramatic scenes in Group B where CSKA Moscow snatched a 2-1 win away to group winners Inter Milan, leapfrogging Trabzonspor and Lille to claim second place.

Rooney wins appeal against ban

Wayne Rooney's ban has been reduced to two games on appeal, with the third game suspended for four years. UEFA's Disciplinary and Control Body handed Rooney a three-match ban after his petulant kick at Montenegro's Miodrag Dzudovic in England's final Euro 2012 qualifier in October. England had appealed against the severity of the ban.

With no more competitive games for England before next summer's finals in Ukraine and Poland, Rooney would have missed the group stage of the tournament. Now he will miss the opening games against France and Sweden and will be available for the final group game against Ukraine in Donetsk.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Interview with Brentford’s Marcel Eger: record shopping, politics and FC St Pauli

German footballers have little obvious incentive to move to England. With such a strong domestic set up at home, those that leave are generally heading for the financial riches of the Premier League.

Eger had spent the past seven seasons with FC St Pauli and had become a popular player with their famous fans.

Given the cult status of St Pauli in European football, I was intrigued to find out how that translated to the players – who are essentially transient representatives of the club – and what tempted Eger to abandon life in his homeland for the third tier in England.

Milan agree loan terms with Carlos Tevez but City want to sell

Manchester City's desire to sever their ties with Carlos Tevez will see Milan make an opening offer to take him on loan for the rest of the season before paying €20m (£17.2m) to sign him next summer.

Milan are aware that City want a permanent transfer in the January window, but the Italian club are hoping to negotiate a compromise for a player who has been on strike since 8 November.

UEFA Champions League: Wednesday's Previews

Manchester United and Manchester City will learn their UEFA Champions League fates on Wednesday evening. In Group C, United travel to Basel knowing defeat would send them crashing out at this stage for the first time since 2005. However, victory could yet see Sir Alex Ferguson's men finish top of the pile, but that would need Benfica to slip up against pointless Galati. City's task in Group A is even more daunting as they stand on the brink of going into the Europa League. Bayern Munich, who have already won the group, travel to the Etihad Stadium to face City and have already confirmed that a number of key players will not feature. But even if City do manage to beat the German giants, they will also be looking to the group's whipping boys Villarreal to record an unlikely victory or draw with Napoli at El Madrigal to prevent the Italians from beating them to second spot.


Manchester City vs. Bayern Munich

Basel vs. Manchester United

Amy Lawrence: City next big test as André Villas-Boas seeks to stamp mark at Chelsea

Having reached the Champions League knockout phase, the young Chelsea manager now faces critical challenges at home.

Gorgeous Goal From Carlos Vela

Adam Digby: The View From Italy

As a penalty that could have saved a point is blazed over the crossbar, the anthem 'Pazza Inter' ('Crazy Inter') rings out from the raucous Curva Nord as the Giuseppe Meazza's most dedicated fans continue to back their side. But the Italian giants' latest defeat leaves them just three points off the Serie A relegation places, on their second coach of the season after Claudio Ranieri replaced Gian Piero Gasperini and having already used an incredible 29 players so far this term. The words to that club song, which goes on to ask the team not to let them suffer, are once again becoming ever more apt.

Arsenal to unveil statues of Thierry Henry, Tony Adams, and Herbert Chapman for 125th Anniversary

The trio of club icons have been selected as deserving of special commemoration and will be unveiled on Friday, the day before Arsenal play Everton, when the club plan to celebrate their 125th birthday.

UEFA Champions League: Tuesday's Round-Up, Reports & Group Results

Chelsea have progressed to the next round of the Champions League as Group E winners after their 3-0 victory over Valencia at Stamford Bridge. Bayer Leverkusen went into the evening's games as group leaders but threw away top spot after they could only draw 1-1 with Genk. Marseille came from two goals down to beat Borussia Dortmund 3-2 in dramatic fashion in Germany. Goals from Jakub Blaszczykowski and Mats Hummels had put the hosts in control, but Loic Remy pulled a goal back just before the break and Andre Ayew levelled on 85 minutes. Two minutes later, Mathieu Valbuena produced a magical goal to send Marseille through in second and condemn Olympiakos to the Europa League. In Group G, Zenit St Petersburg will join Cypriot surprise package Apoel Nicosia in the knockout rounds after they drew 0-0 with FC Porto in Portugal.

Chelsea 3 - 0 Valencia

Olympiakos 3 - 1 Arsenal

How It Stands:

Group E
Winners: Chelsea
Runners-up: Leverkusen
To Europa League: Valencia

Group F
Winners: Arsenal
Runners-up: Marseille
To Europa League: Olympiacos

Group G
Winners: APOEL Nicosia
Runners-up: Zenit St. Petersburg
To Europa League: Porto

Group H
Winners: Barcelona
Runners-up: AC Milan
To Europa League: Plzeň

Uli Hesse in Germany

Two personnel decisions made headlines in Germany even before a single ball had been kicked on matchday fifteen. Last Wednesday, Bayer Leverkusen announced they had agreed terms with VfB Stuttgart and would sign Bernd Leno, the goalkeeper they had loaned four months earlier, for a transfer sum that could reportedly come to €8 million, depending on various factors. The announcement capped off one of the most amazing success stories of recent months, perhaps of the season so far. In fact, it's a Cinderella tale involving almost a handful of main characters that could be a textbook example for how quickly things change in football these days.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

An Accidental Gay Romance In FIFA 12

Striker Andy Carroll makes his way down the pitch, tries to score a goal and ends up (accidentally?) scoring with Arsenal's keeper.

Looks like Fabianski...

Sid Lowe in Spain

Racing are a club adrift, who do not know who owns them, with no president and an owner who is absent.

Racing Santander: a club in debt, in administration and in big trouble.

Americans Abroad: Jozy Altidore and goalkeepers Brad Friedel and Brad Guzan make noise overseas

The AZ striker had an impressive goal but his team suffered a big loss, while Friedel and Guzan keep clean sheets.

UEFA Champions League: Tuesday's Previews & Analyses

Chelsea will be desperate to join Arsenal in qualifying for the last 16 on the biggest night of Andre Villas-Boas' short reign at Stamford Bridge. They are level on points with Valencia going into the match, knowing that a victory would be enough to go through. Arsenal, who had to negotiate a two-legged play-off against Udinese just to make the group phase, have already been confirmed as Group F winners ahead of their meeting with Olympiakos. In Group G, Porto and Zenit St Petersburg will battle it out for the final qualification spot. Cypriot side APOEL Nicosia have been the surprise package and are already certain to have Champions League football in the New Year, although they would love to clinch top spot by beating a Shakhtar Donetsk team that has fared surprisingly poorly. There is nothing left to be resolved in Group H in terms of qualification for the next phase, with reigning champions Barcelona already assured of finishing first ahead of their home fixture against BATE Borisov. AC Milan are also through already in second place, but Viktoria Plzen will still be determined to see off the Italians and protect their two-point lead over BATE to clinch a Europa League spot.

Jeremy Wilson: How Emmanuel Frimpong became Arsenal's cult hero

It takes a special set of circumstances for a player to be approaching cult status at their football club by the age of 19. That is especially so when the teenager in question was sent off on the first of only two Premier League starts. Yet through a combination of his obvious on-field commitment, flamboyant personality and the sheer power of Twitter, Emmanuel Frimpong’s popularity and standing among fans is snowballing. Take this tweet during a summer at Arsenal that became dominated by the departures of key first-team players, including Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri. “Arsenal FC is pumping through my veins,” wrote Frimpong. “I will never leave Arsenal even if I get released. I will beg on both knees to stay. They’re going to have to escort me [out].”

Raphael Honigstein in Germany

Arjen Robben may be the most egocentric player in Germany, but the Dutch winger is back to his best and driving the league leaders' challenge at home and in Europe.

Paolo Bandini in Italy

Troubled Roma manager stays true to his vision despite discord on the pitch, in the dressing room and in the stands.

Martin Rogers: Blue-collar Dempsey works way into record books

Clint Dempsey has more money than he knows what to do with, a wife who has modeled swimwear and now a place in the record books.

Dempsey’s game-winning goal Monday not only sent Fulham past Liverpool, but also represented a milestone for the midfielder. The goal was Dempsey’s 37th in the English Premier League, which put him ahead of Brian McBride as the highest-scoring American of all-time in the toughest division on the planet. In soccer terms, he may be his nation’s greatest export ever.

Bethany Dempsey...

England: Monday Night Football Reports, Analyses & Premier League Table

Fulham 1 - 0 Liverpool

2011-12 Table
Manchester City14122038481335
Manchester United14103133311318
Newcastle United147522619154
Stoke City14536181423-9
Aston Villa14374161618-2
Norwich City14446162026-6
Queens Park Rangers14446161525-10
West Brom14437151321-8
Wigan Athletic FC1423991228-16

Phil Ball in Spain

I must have been about seven years old. The playground behaviour was very hierarchical, and only the 'big kids' played football at break time. At my age, you didn't dare join in, and neither were you asked. The bigger kids seemed to organise everything, decide who would play, and who were the big shots. The best players seemed to enjoy a certain status, and the games seemed to generate a lot of emotion, given that they were only quick playground matches. You took all this in subliminally. You just weren't a part of it. The whole playground was used as a football pitch, and you just hung out and played marbles on the margins.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Manchester City to meet Manchester United in third round of the FA Cup

While one of the Manchester rivals face elimination, the draw was kind for the Premier League's other leading clubs and, in a lucrative sense, equally so for some of their opponents from outside the top division. Chelsea will host financially troubled Portsmouth while non-league Tamworth will go to Everton and Cheltenham have a trip to Tottenham. Liverpool will play Southend or Oldham and Arsenal also have home advantage against Leeds United.

European Review

Some knockout blows were landed by Europe’s heavyweights this weekend, including Spain’s top two, who both prepared for next week’s top-of-the-table clash by making light work of their respective opponents, and the Premier League’s high-fliers, who chalked up a hatful of goals while securing three valuable points. In Germany, Bayern Munich took advantage of the draw between Borussia Dortmund and Borussia Monchengladbach to move back to the top of the league. In France, meanwhile, Montpellier won to maintain their lead in Ligue 1, and Juventus did likewise in Serie A.

Alan Hansen: No matter what happens this week, Premier League's dominance of Champions League is over

The Premier League dominance of the Champions League is over, regardless of the outcome of this week’s European fixtures.

England: Premier League Weekend Review, Reports, Analyses & Teams of the Week

The top of the Premier League table has a familiar look about it following weekend wins for Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal. But Tottenham continue to defy the odds with Harry Redknapp's side sitting third with a chance of winning the title for the first time since 1961 after beating Bolton. At the top of the table City and United saw off challenges from Norwich and Aston Villa, respectively, while Chelsea claimed a 3-0 win over Newcastle in controversial circumstances. Blackburn's victory over Swansea saw them climb off the foot of the table, while Wigan are back at the bottom after a home drubbing at the hands of Arsenal. Wolves boosted their hopes of avoiding the drop with a crucial win over Sunderland, while Sunday's other game saw Stoke secure a rare three-point haul at Everton. The points were shared at Loftus Road as West Brom claimed a 1-1 draw at QPR.

From the Architect

SSN's Staff Architect Cuban Ken has some interesting offerings...

Pretty handsome stadium our Polish friends have concocted. Modern but still recalls the brutalist architecture so popular in the old Eastern Block. Kinda wonder if that display/audio tower suspended from the ceiling is going to present problems on the field---between it and the cables there are a few shots in the video where it looks like it could interfere with play, though to be fair, in other shots it looks like its well clear of the pitch.

More on the return of Speer: Qatari Emir says "I love my Germans"!

So the Germans finally secure their oil buddies, 70 years too late, foresooth...

Speaking of (in case anyone cares) here's more on Son of Nazi Architect and the carbon neutral hype for the Qatari stadiums---yep that trope is still alive. Gotta wonder when that sheize will go silent---the writer of this article touches on issues that up until now have been addressed with soothing bromides that (very) superficially address some very real problems. (ie. Problem: Its really, really hot in Qatar. Won't that endanger players and spectators? Solution: We'll cool the stadiums mit solar panels, jah? Sehr gut!)

God bless, hope they work it out---sounds like something really admirable and if they pull it off they'll have demonstrated some remarkable construction technology and logistics (likely possible but at enormous, enormous cost). But I wouldn't be surprised at all if the "carbon neutral" stuff is quietly deep sixed in the coming years...

Socrates Brasileiro Sampaio de Souza Vieira de Oliveira is Dead

To most Brazilians he was known fondly as "Doutor" (The Doctor), a reference to his medical degree. Well-read and highly politicised, Socrates Brasileiro Sampaio de Souza Vieira de Oliveira was unlike many footballers.

BBC Brasil reporters Bruno Garcez and Rodrigo Durao Coelho recall an evening spent in his company.

Socrates looked like a Greek God but he drank like a fish

Henry Winter: The King of Cool

The Fifth Official

Few of us like Monday but The Fifth Official does, for it brings with it a chance for him to point the finger and laugh. Here he pulls out the pretty, the puzzling and the downright pig-ugly from a week brimming with potential victims.