Total Pageviews

Tuesday, May 31, 2011


Sepp Blatter must have thought that all his Christmasses, birthdays and school trips came at once on Sunday, with Mohammed Bin Hammam's withdrawal from the FIFA presidential election (which was to have been held on Wednesday) in the early hours of yesterday morning and Bin Hammam and Jack Walker being suspended by FIFA's Ethics Committee after facing bribery charges at an emergency meeting in Nyon yesterday afternoon. Blatter, meanwhile, was cleared after facing the same charges.

The BBC reported on its website that: "Mohamed Bin Hammam, president of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) - pulled out having been suspended by Fifa's own ethics committee over allegations that financial incentives were offered to Caribbean Football Union members." Bin Hammam pulled out before his suspension, so the report is, in fact, incorrect.

It was alleged by Chuck Blazer, Walker's underling at CONCACAF, that Bin Hammam and Walker had been handing out money to delegates at the Caribbean Football Union conference, some three weeks ago, to the tune of some 24,000 pounds (US$40,000) per person, and handed over files to FIFA detailing what went on. Not only that, but Blatter supposedly knew what was going on, and decided to remain diplomatically silent.

No matter, Blatter was exonerated, while Bin Hammam and Walker have both been sin-binned, Walker for a period of six months. Bin Hammam has thus far been restrained in his reaction, while Walker promised something akin to "a tsunami" in response to his suspension, and he blew up a storm yesterday afternoon courtesy of his brandishing a private e-mail he received from FIFA secretary-general Jérome Valcke.

The following excerpt was quoted from said e-mail on the BBC website:

"For MBH (Mohammad Bin Hammam) I never understood why he was running. If really he thought he had a chance or just being an extreme way to express how much he does not like anymore JSB (Sepp Blatter). Or he thought you can buy Fifa as they bought the WC (World Cup)."

Now, there are, of course, a couple of clear-cut ways of looking at the above excerpt, and they are self-explanatory, but I will explain my opinion for those towards the back. Valcke states that it may well be a personal thing between Bin Hammam and Blatter, or that Bin Hammam thought that he had a chance to unseat the present occupier of the highest chair in world football. Or, and this is something infinitely more serious than football's equivalent of a scrap behind the bike-shed, the e-mail contains the insinuation that Qatar effectively "bought" (i.e., bribed) their way to their bid to host the 2022 World Cup being accepted.

It is not the first time that the allegation that Qatar "bought" 2022 World Cup has surfaced, and according to some in the British (read "English") media, raises questions about the bidding process for the 2018 World Cup, which was awarded to Russia.

FIFA said at the time of their decision on the bids for the two World Cups that their aim was to take the World Cup to countries which had never hosted the competition before, though many eyebrows were raised at Russia and Qater being awarded the 2018 and 2022 World Cups respectively.

Since the award of the World Cups to the nations mentioned above, the English tabloid media have really been kicking up a fuss, and it seems as though many bloggers, twitterers and respondents have been doing the same. However, this subject will shortly be addressed in a future blog. The fact is, that the FA have not endeared themselves to FIFA down the years for being a little insular in their attitudes toward the organisation, and their intention to abstain from voting in a FIFA presidential election that will not now happen following Bin Hammam's withdrawal will not have helped their cause.

Now, having digressed from the subject somewhat, it is time to return to same. Valcke confirmed that the e-mailwas genuine, but also claimed that the e-mail was a joke, "a lighter way of expression by nature". Well, the last laugh will certainly not be on him, and it might well not be on Walker either, for that matter.

Valcke's statement raised the ire of those in charge of the Qatari World Cup bid, who quickly released a statement "categorically denying any wrongdoing", and, emphasising the point that they did not share Valcke's sense of humour, added that they "are urgently seeking clarification from Fifa about the statement from their general secretary."

Blatter, meanwhile, was feeling a little less jolly himself yesterday when he made a statement on the current situation, and he wasn't afraid to show it. He stated that the four ExCo members named in Lord Triesman's report to the House Of Commons on 10/5/11 had been cleared of any wrongdoing in relation to Lord Triesman's allegations of bribery and favours being sought in the run-up to the final decision being made in the World Cup 2018 bidding contest. One of the four was named was none other than Jack Walker..

He also informed those present that no evidence had been received fom the Sunday Times "or any announced whstle-blower."

During the following question-and-answer session, he decided to trot out the old "Crisis? What is a Crisis?" one-liner to a question posed by a Saudi journalist who claimed that FIFA were in crisis. A clearly irritated Blatter went on to say that "[FIFA] are not in a crisis..we are in some difficulties." Too right.

He also added that any problems should, and will, be solved within FIFA, and also had this to say: "If governments try to interfere in FIFA, then something is wrong..We will solve problems, if there are any problems, in the [FIFA] Congress." Well, there may or may not be a crisis in FIFA, but there is a growing crisis of confidence among football-lovers everywhere, it seems, judging by the reaction of many of them in fora the world over.

Towards the end of proceedings, he appealed for better communications and relations between FIFA and all sections of the media. Well, judging by what went on at yesterday's press-conference, any hope of that happening didn't last long. At times, Blatter's face reminded me of that of the former Romanian dictator Nicolai Ceaucescu when, just before Christmas 1989, he addressed the crowd in Timisoara and he realised that they didn't come to praise him, but to bury him.

But, don't take my word for it; to watch what was a wonderfully chaotic affair (all 28-odd minutes of it), please view the following link to RTÉ's Extra Video service on their website:

In between all the hoo-ha, Blatter had good news for Bosnians, Indonesians and the inhaitants of Brunei Darusalaam..and for the football-loving football public in Japan. The football authorities in Bosnia-Herzegovina were informed that their suspension from FIFA was lifted, effective of 3/6/11 (they were suspended from FIFA for failing to change their system of rotating their presidency between the three ethnic groups in the country), allowing the Bosnian national side to participate in the next round of Euro 2012 qualifiers.

Brunei Darusalaam's FA changes (including the name of the national federation) were also accepted by FIFA. Indonesia, menanwhile, were also permitted to play on until 30/6/11, allowing the local federation there more time to get its own house in order.

Blatter also informed the assembled throng of journalists that the Japanese FA have also been informed that this year's World Club Championship, scheduled to be held in the country in December, will definitely go ahead after representations were made to FIFA by, among others, the JFA, the Japanese government and the Japanese Health Minister.

Today, it emerged that the FA and their Scottish counterparts have announced that they will be abstaining in tomorrow's FIFA presidential election vote, while, in a move that raised one or two eyebrows, Jack Walker appealed for all CONCACAF countries to vote for Blatter in the vote, where Blatter will stand unopposed, and not to stage any kind of protest. This raises (not begs) the question: What is the man they call "Teflon Jack" up to now?

Blatter needs to gain at least 75% of the vote to be elected, but, given the fact that it is now a one-horse race, his achieving that target would be about as big a shock as Kim Jong-Il coming top of a snap general election in North Korea.

Blatter and co might not worry too much about what sections of the world media and football's global fan-base have to say, but the news that some of FIFA's main sponsors  - Coca-Cola, Emirates Airlines, Adidas and Visa - have, throughout the day, released statements indicating their displeasure at current events at FIFA House may well prove to be far more disquietening.

As Blatter, Walker and a great many other people who walk, and have walked, the corridors of world football know, money doesn't talk - it jumps up and down in front of you while screaming in your face. The possibility that FIFA may lose what could amount to billions of dollars in sponsorship in the future may prove to be more un-nerving than anything else. The allegations made against Blatter, Walker, Bin Hammam, and others such as Ricardo Teixeira and Nicolas Leoz, are still just that - allegations - though now that the aforementioned gentlemen (and a large cast of others) are all running around looking for someone to bushwhack, the allegations may become facts before too long. Certainly, allegations are beginning to seep from every pore in the body football.

But what of the Football Association and the SFA deciding to abstain from rubber-stamping Blatter remaining at the top of the football tree for another four years? The FA have lost a fair bit of credibility in footballing circles with their attitude, before, during and after the bidding process. Many dummies, rattles and assorted toys were being thrown out of prams, and not just at the FA, but also among the English media. (There is an element of hypocrisy in all of this, as the British/English tabloid media is not above indulging in corrupt/illegal practices from time to time, and, every so often, allegations of corruptions occasionally crop up in the English game.)

The proposed abstentions will come too late to prevent Blatter's re-election, but if the two associations can drum up enough support in the wee small hours and tomorrow morning, it might send a message to those at the top in FIFA that dissatisfaction with the organisation is growing. It would not be inconceivable for countries such as Australia, Spain, Portugal, Holland, Belgium and maybe even the USA (all failed bidders for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups) to contemplate abstaining. However, as stated a couple of paragraphs back, this will not cause too many sleepless nights for FIFA's bosses, certainly far less than the prospect of the organisation losing some of its top sponsors.

The word "maybe" was used in relation to the USA; don't forget, Chuck Blazer pointed the finger at Walker, Bin Hammam and two subordinates working at CONCACAF, accusing them of splashing the cash at the Caribbean Football Union congress mentioned earlier. What's in it for Chuck? Assuming the allegations are proven, Walker may finally be forced to resign from his post as CONCACAF president, leaving it vacant. In that case, the vice-president of CONCACAF would assume the position. And, who is currently CONCACAF's vice-president? Why, a certain Chuck Blazer..

Conspiracy theories abound, and have been mentioned in plenty elsewhere. This story of bribery and corruption wil run and run, and more allegations will be made. These are interesting times indeed for FIFA and Sepp Blatter. He had a very lucky day on Sunday, and he will undoubtedly have a very lucky day tomorrow. The question is, though: How many more lucky days will he have?

Sunday, May 29, 2011


The Qatari candidate for this week's FIFA presidential election has withdrawn his cancidacy hours before before he is due to face football's governing body's Ethics Committee hearing into bribery allegations.

Mohammad Bin Hammam, who is the president of the Asian Football Confederation, was due to stand against the current FIFA president, Sepp Blatter, in the organisation's election at FIFA's next Congress, due to be held in the Swiss city of Zurich this coming Wednesday.

The following quote has been culled from the website of British newspaper The Guardian, which in turn was quoted from a statement which appeared on Bin Hammam's own website:

"It saddens me that standing up for the causes that I believed in has come at a great price – the degradation of FIFA's reputation. This is not what I had in mind for FIFA and this is unacceptable," Bin Hammam said in a statement.

"I cannot allow the game that I love to be dragged more and more in the mud because of competition between two individuals.

"The game itself and the people who love it around the world must come first.

"It is for this reason that I announce my withdrawal from the presidential election."

The above statement, to put it bluntly, sounds like a cop-out and/or the result of a behind-the-scenes agreement between Blatter and Bin Hammam. What now for Bin Hammam? Will the general public ever find out the real reason why the Qatari has withdrawn from the FIFA presidential election?

In any case, there will be, one suspects, a huge sigh of relief emanating from FIFA House, which is situated in the small Swiss town of Nyon, and above all from Blatter himself. However, Blatter and FIFA should not become complacent, as pressure will continue to grow for greater transparency in the organisation and an end to the alleged corruption at the highest levels of world football.

Blatter's response to these latest developments will be eagerly awaited; interesting times certainly lie ahead for FIFA and its leader, who decided against attending last evening's European Cup/Champions League final between Barcelona and Manchester United in order to prepare for this afternoon's FIFA's Ethics Committee hearing, where he will be appearing, along with Trinidad and Tobago's Jack Warner (also known as "Teflon Jack"), to answer the same allegations of bribery as Bin Hammam.

Whatever happens tomorrow (and your correspondent predicts a whitewash), this story will not go away in a hurry.


So said the late, great, Sir Kenneth Wolstenholme back in 1970 just after Brazil's Carlos Alberto had scored the fourth and decisive goal in that year's World Cup Final against Italy. If he were alive today, he could have used the same sentence to describe Barcelona's performance against Manchester United in the European Cup/Champions League final at Wembley last evening.

Barcelona ran out 3:1 winners. It could have been 6, maybe 7. Yet Manchester United made the early running, only for Barcelona to take over the whole show for the remainder of the first half-an-hour or so until they finally scored with their second clear-cut chance of the first-half after Xavi's incisive pass found Pedro, who found himself clear in the United penalty-area and side-footed past a wrong-footed Edwin van der Sar, making his last appearance in the United goal. Pedro had narrowly missed the target a few minutes earlier, shinning the ball wide after a cross from the right.

That galvanised United, and Wayne Rooney delivered a world-class finish in the 34th minute after a fine pinball-style move originating from a badly-taken Barca throw-in, to cancel out Pedro's opener, scored some 7 minutes earlier.

Pedro was also involved in the move that, by rights, should have left Barcelona with a 3:1 advantage going into the break when he was part of a one-two with Messi that ended up with the Argentinian international just missing Pedro's pass into the six-yard box with only van der Sar to beat. Barcelona also should have had a penalty in the first-half, when the ball hit Patrice Evra's arm.

Barcelona went for the jugular straight from the restart, and were rewarded with a David Villa strike finding the back of the United net in the 54th minute. Just for a change, this was no "perfect goal" scored after a move involving the whole Barca side, a couple of ball-boys and the team physio. The goal came after Barcelona capitalised on a United defensive error; the ball was then played in to Lionel Messi, who had been mesmeric up until then, and he struck a low shot past van der Sar, which the 'keeper might have saved.

Meanwhile, some of the United players were getting rather obstreporous, with Valencia finally picking up a yellow card in the game on his seventh attempt. Wayne Rooney was indulging in a standard of arm-waving last seen on Ben Anderson's "Holidays in the Axis of Evil" series when he and the crew were in Pyongyang and they happened across a North Korean traffic policewoman.

United should have had a penalty when David Villa dragged his hand back and handled the ball.Ryan Giggs came on and started trying to outdo Rooney in the "give us a wave stakes". (Maybe he was just giving Imogen Thomas a wave. Let's face it, he idn't do much else during the time he was on the pitch.) Fergie was sitting fidgeting in his seat as his world started crashing in around him. Perhasps a double-dose of Juicy Fruit might have helped calm him down somewhat..

In between times, Barcelona had found the back of United's net for the third time, in the 79th minute, this time through David Villa, and it was almost a carbon-copy of Rooney's equaliser past Victor Valdes in the Barcelona goal, though this time it was Villa this time who delivered a right-footed shot which curled past the goalkeeper.

If Sir Kenneth were still with us and on commentating duty, he would doubtless have uttered another one of his famous one-liners, another one emanating from the 1970 World Cup Final between Brazil and Italy: "They're taking it in turns to give an exhibition." So good were Barcelona.

After a rash of substitutions right at the end, so ended the lesson with the impressive Hungarian referee finally putting the Sons of Satan out of misery with the final whistle at the end of three minutes of injury-time.

Lionel Messi was crowned Man of the Match, and rightly so, having scored a fine goal, and that in addition to tormenting the United defence from start to finish. With the more accurate passing, harder work-rate and a ratio of 17 goal attempts to 3, Barca were more than worthy winners.

Éric Abidal, recently back from a lay-off caused by the discovery and removal of a mailgnant tunour on his liver, was given the captain's armband shortly before the final whistle, and was the man who lifted the European Cup for Barcelona for the fourth time in their history.

A class move by a class team, which put the seal on a performance sublime enough to deserve the next four editions of the European Cup/Champions League all on its own, one to leave the average viewer mesmerised and hungry for more of the same. Who would bet aginst Barca retaining the title next year?


The draw for the NatWest Island Games 2011 Men's competition was made recently; the fixtures were also organised at the same time.

Fifteen islands will be represented in the tournament; Groups A-C will be comprising of 4 teams, Group C will comprise of 3.

There will an admission charge for entry to all football games in this year's competition of £3 for adults and £2 for OAPs. Season-tickets are also available, costing £20 and guaranteeing unlimited entry to all football matches in both the men's and women's competitions, including the respective finals.

FIXTURE-LIST (Times shown in BST)


B 14:00 Alderney : Gibraltar - Newport FC (St. George's Park, St. George's Way, Newport)

C 14:00 Gotland : Isle of Man - Cowes Sports FC (Westwood Park, Cowes)
A 15:00 Rhodes : Greenland - Brading Town FC (Vicarage Lane, Brading)
A 19:00 Jersey : Menorca - Cowes Sports FC (Westwood Park, Cowes)
C 19:00 Guernsey : Falkland Islands - Brading Town FC (Vicarage Lane, Brading)
D 19:00 Aland : Saaremaa - East Cowes Vics FC (Beatrice Avenue, East Cowes)

B 19:30 Isle of Wight : Ynys Môn - Newport FC (St. George's Park, St. George's Way, Newport)


D 14:00 Western Isles : Aland - Newport FC (St. George's Park, St. George's Way, Newport)
C 18:30 Isle of Man : Falkland Islands - Rookley FC (Highwood Lane Rec. Grd., Highwood Lane, Rookley)
A 19:00 Greenland : Menorca - East Cowes Vics FC (Beatrice Avenue, East Cowes)
B 19:00 Alderney : Isle of Wight - Cowes Sports FC (Westwood Park, Cowes)
B 19:00 Gibraltar : Ynys Môn - Brading Town FC (Vicarage Lane, Brading)

C 19:00 Gotland : Guernsey - West Wight FC (Camp Road, Freshwater)

A 19:30 Jersey : Rhodes - Newport FC (St. George's Park, St. George's Way, Newport)


D 11:30 Saaremaa : Western Isles - IOW Community Club (Milne Mem. Ground, Park Road, Cowes)
C 14:00 Guernsey : Isle of Man - East Cowes Vics FC (Beatrice Avenue, East Cowes)
C 14:30 Falkland Islands : Gotland - Oakfield FC (Slade Road, Ryde)

B 18:30 Alderney : Ynys Môn - Shanklin FC (County Ground, Green Lane, Shanklin)
A 19:00 Greenland : Jersey - West Wight FC (Camp Road, Freshwater)
A 19:00 Menorca : Rhodes - Newport FC (St. George's Park, St. George's Way, Newport)
B 19:00 Gibraltar : Isle Of Wight - East Cowes Vics FC (Beatrice Avenue, East Cowes)





Winners of Group A : Winners of Group B 14:30 - Cowes Sports FC (Westwod Park, Cowes)
Winners of Group C : Winners of Group D 15:00 - Brading Town FC (Vicarage Lane, Brading)

Play-off matches

13th/14th 18:30 - Shanklin FC (County Ground, Green Lane, Shanklin) 

11th/12th 14:00 - Shanklin FC (County Ground, Green Lane, Shanklin) 

9th/10th 19:00 - West Wight FC (Camp Road, Freshwater)
7th/8th 11:30 - IOW Community Club (Milne Mem. Ground, Park Road, Cowes)

5th/6th 19:00 - Brading Town FC (Vicarage Lane, Brading)



Third-place play-off 

Losers A/B : Losers C/D 10:30 - Brading Town FC (Vicarage Lane, Brading)


Winners A/B : Winners C/D 15:00 - Newport FC (St. George's Park, St. George's Way, Newport)

For more information on the football tournament, and also on the NatWest Island Games 2011 in general, please visit their website:

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Thanks to Kay Batty (IGA) and Andrea Sheridan (NatWest Island Games 2011 OC) for the above info, though tacit, rather than explicit, permission to publish was granted.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


The draw for the NatWest Island Games 2011 Women's competition was made recently; the fixtures were also organised at the same time.

There will an admission charge for entry to all football games in this year's competition of £3 for adults and £2 for OAPs. Season-tickets are also available, costing £20 and guaranteeing unlimited entry to all football matches in both the men's and women's competitions, including the respective finals.

FIXTURE-LIST (Times shown in BST)


A 14:00 Aland : Jersey - Shanklin FC (County Ground, Green Lane, Shanklin)
C 14:00 Gotland : Saaremaa - Oakfield FC (Slade Road, Ryde)
A 14:00 Hitra : Isle of Wight - East Cowes Vics FC (Beatrice Avenue, East Cowes)
B 18:30 Isle of Man : Gibraltar - Shanklin FC (County Ground, Green Lane, Shanklin)                         


A 11:30 Jersey : Hitra - Oakfield FC (Slade Road, Ryde)
C 14:00 Saaremaa : Western Isles - Shanklin FC (County Ground, Green Lane, Shanklin)
A 15:00 Isle of Wight : Aland - Brading Town FC (Vicarage Lane, Brading)
B 16:00 Isle Of Man : Greenland - Oakfield FC (Slade Road, Ryde)


A 14:00 Isle of Wight : Jersey - Cowes Sports FC (Westwood Park, Cowes)
A 18:00 Aland : Hitra - IOW Community Club (Milne Mem. Grd, Park Road, Cowes)
B 19:00 Greenland : Gibraltar - Cowes Sports FC (Westwood Park, Cowes)
C 19:00 Gotland : Western Isles - Brading Town FC (Vicarage Lane, Brading)





Winners Gp A : Best runners-up 12:00 East Cowes Vics FC (Beatrice Avenue, East Cowes)
Winners Gp B : Winners Gp C 12:00 Newport FC (St. George's Park, St. George's Way, Newport)

5th : 6th 19:00 Cowes Sports FC (Westwood Park, Cowes)
7th : 8th 14:30 Oakfield FC (Slade Road, Ryde)
9th : 10th 18:00 IOW Community Club (Milne Mem. Grd, Park Road, Cowes)


Third-place play-off  

10:00 East Cowes Vics FC (Beatrice Avenue, East Cowes)


12:00 Cowes Sports FC (Westwood Park, Cowes)

For more information on the football tournament, and also on the NatWest Island Games 2011 in general, please visit their website:

AUTHOR'S NOTE:  Sincere thanks to Kay Batty (IGA) and Andrea Sheridan (NatWest Island Games 2011 OC) for the above info, though tacit, rather than explicit, permission to publish was granted.

Monday, May 16, 2011


The draw for the 2011 NatWest Island Games Men's football tournament, to be held in the Isle of Wight between Sunday 26/6/11 and Friday 1/7/11, has been made. The draw, which originally took place on 5/5/11, was thrown into doubt after concerns were raised about the format of the competition and the ability to complete the competition within the dates above, while ensuring that all of the competing teams will get to play a reasonable number of games.

The following quote formed the main body of a press-release from the IGA, published on 9/5/11, confirming that the original draw was validated after an Extraordinary Meeting of the Football Technical Committee:

"Following a full assessment of all the circumstances there was full agreement that to adhere to the Bye-laws relating to the structure to be followed where the tournament involves 10 or 15 teams – as is the case this year with both the Women's and Men's tournaments – could place an unreasonable physical burden on the players of the successful teams because of the pressures of the number of games to be played within the six day games schedule. The representatives were very aware however, that there is a real need to ensure that all teams do get a reasonable number of matches.

"It was therefore agreed, within the provisions of the Bye-laws, not only to endorse the original draw but also to follow the established practice of play off matches for teams failing to reach the semi final stages. By this means the meeting felt that all teams will play a reasonable number of games whilst the tournament will remain within established Island Games procedures."

The draw for both the Men's and Women's tournaments is as follows (competing islands are listed in alphabetical order):


Group A: Greenland, Jersey, Menorca and Rhodes

Group B: Alderney, Gibraltar, Isle of Wight and Ynys Môn

Group C: Falkland Islands, Gotland, Guernsey and Isle of Man

Group D: Aland, Saaremaa and Western Isles


Group A: Aland, Hitra, Isle of Wight, Jersey

Group B: Gibraltar, Greenland, Isle of Man

Group C: Gotland, Saaremaa, Western Isles

The group games will be followed by a series of consolation play-offs and the semi-finals, all of which will be held on 30/6/11 , with the 3rd/4th-place play off and the Final to be played on 1/7/11.

It is to be hoped that permission will be granted by the IGA, the Isle of Wight FA and the NatWest Island Games 2011 to publish the full fixture-list for both the Men's and Women's competitions on this blog before the end of this incoming week.

To find out more about the NatWest Island Games 2011, please visit their website:

ADDENDUM: To view the fixture-list for the men's tournament, please visit the link below:

To view the fixture-list for the women's tournament, please visit the link below:


AUTHOR'S NOTE: Many and sincere thanks are due to Amanda Sheridan from the OC for the NatWest Island Games 2011 and also for the Isle of Wight FA for granting permission to publish details of the draw. Again, as soon as the full fixture-lists for both tournaments are received officially and permission is granted to publish same on this blog, they will be made available to view.

Friday, May 6, 2011


The semi-finals for the European Cup ("Champions" League, call it what you will) have concluded, with Barcelona due to take on Manchester United at Wembley on 28/5/11. Now, Fergie's Sons of Satan demolished Schalke 04 4:1 yesterday evening - it could have been more, much as it pains me to say so - and 6:1 on aggregate; they will take on Barcelona in the final, after Barca's 1:1 at home in the Camp Nou against Real Madrid.

There will doubtless be pantheons of punters eulogising over the Red Filth getting to Wembley - yours truly will not be one of them. Also, I will not be casting an eye over their semi-final clash with Schalke, but instead over Barca-Real - El Clasico, a clash which Barcelona won 3:1 on aggregate, and deservedly so. The first leg, played last Wednesday at the Estadio Bernabeu in Madrid, came a week after Real defeated Barcelona 1:0 in the final of the Copa del Rey in Valencia, but scarce fitted the description of a game of football, apart from the fact the Barca won 2:0, courtesy of a double from Lionel Messi.

In a game in which there were more cards given out than at a Hallmark promotion, Real's Pepe was sent off following a crude, nay, primitive, challenge, while Real manager Jose Mourinho was sent to the stands after protesting Pepe's red card and "complementing" the referee, via the fourth official, on his player's expulsion.

Mourinho's Merengues held the psychological cards before the first-leg, having won the Copa del Rey in Valencia the week before. They were soon ripped up apart after Messi's double and, in addition to Pepe's red card,  yellow cards were also given to Real players Sergio Ramos, Arbeloa and Emanuel Adebayor. Barcelona also played their part in the shenanigans, with reserve 'keeper José Pinto getting red-carded after an altercation at the entrance to, and in, the tunnel at half-time, and Daniel and Javier Mascherano also entering the referee Wolfgang Sterk's note-book.

Lionel Messi, almost inevitably, was the difference between the two teams, scoring both Barca goals in the last 15 minutes, the first after some fine work by Ibrahim Afellay, while the second was all Messi's doing, picking the ball up some 40 yards from Real's goal, leading the defence a merry dance before slotting the ball past Iker Casillas.

After the game, the war of words, which began after the teams' first meeting out of the four clashes over the past few weeks, continued, with rattles and dummies flying out of prams all over the place. Real's players and, in particular, manager Moaninho went on the attack more in the media than on the pitch, screaming and screaming until they were almost sick. UEFA, referee Sterk and Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola all got the Mourinho treatment. The self-styled 'Special One' said: "It's clear that against Barcelona you have no chance".

His diatribe got steadily more ridiculous, and, to quote the BBC website, is reported to have said: '"I don't know if it's the publicity of Unicef [the club's shirt sponsor], I don't know if it's because they are very nice, but they've got this power."  
"I don't know if it's the friendship of [Spanish football federation president Angel Maria] Villar at UEFA, where he is vice-president,"'  Mourinho went on. Villar is also Barcelona's vice-president.

Meanwhile, Real striker Emmanuel Adebayor, who, as everyone knows, is not one to provoke the opposition or their supporters, said this (again, according to the BBC website):

"Everyone talks about Barcelona and their fair play but I think they are very far away from fair play. Whenever you make contact when going for a one-on-one or 50-50 ball they are on the floor crying, putting their hand up near their face. Their manager, fans and the players on the bench are always crying. Barcelona is a fantastic club, has fantastic players, but they have to stop that."

UEFA decided to charge both teams with various offences, and both teams laid charges against each other at the door of European football's rulers, both of which were rejected. UEFA will rule on their charges tomorrow, which deal with the sendings-off and Mourinho's behaviour at the Bernabeu.
Back to Mourinho again, and his former protegé Guardiola was the next target of his wrath. "I hope that one day [Guardiola] will win a clean Champions League, with no incidents behind it," he said, referring back to Chelsea's clash with Barca in the Champions' League in 2009, when the referee turned down four penalty appeals for the Blues during the Stamford Bridge leg of the tie. Ooh, the insinuation!

Even before the first leg, Mourinho had accused Guardiola of being a one-man group of coaches which criticised referees for making correct decisions. Obviously, Mourinho had confused Guardiola with Sir Alex Ferguson..

Fast-forward to the second leg on Tuesday past, and the day before, Real published a video on their website which "showed" Barca player Sergio Busquets calling his Real counterpart Marcelo a "monkey" during the first leg. Real coach Aitor Katanka, acting as Mourinho's substitute in the press-room, claimed that his club had been severely punished, and that there were Barcelona "players who didn't respect the principles of fair play or who made racist insults" who would be playing in the second leg. These allegations are disturbing and must be acted upon. If proven false, however, more hot water could be cascading in the direction of the Bernabeu.

The game itself ended in a 1:1 draw, with Shakira's current shake (and main reason why she, along with her music, is no longer welcome at the Estadio Bernabeu) Pedro putting Barcelona ahead, coolly slotting home after receiving a pass from Andres Iniesta which could have sliced through what was left of Prince William and Kate Middleton's wedding-cake, never mind the Merengues' defence. Real Madrid equalised through Marcelo, who rifled home the rebound from Angel di Maria's effort which hit the left-hand post of Valdes' goal.

It was a much more entertaining game than the first leg, which, in all fairness, says very little. If Higuain's effort, disallowed after Cristiano was adjudged to have fouled Mascherano in the build-up, had stood, it would surely have made things more interesting. A draw was probably a little more than what Real Madrid deserved, but with Barcelona, as always, trying to score the perfect goal involving everybody from Valdes to the ball-boys, that is how it ended.

The other notable event of the night was Éric Abidal's injury-time return to the Barca team after the successful removal of a malignant tumor from his liver. (Good to see him back, and fingers crossed for a bright future for him, both on and off the pitch.)

It wasn't quite as bad-tempered as the first game, though Real's Ricardo Carlvalho probably deserved three red cards for his standard of fouling. Apart from his failure to send Carvalho off, Belgian man in the middle Frank de Bleekere had an impressive game in charge and kept things calm. Real did win the yellow-card count, though, 5:1.

Cristiano Ronaldo's funky chicken impression, performed every time he failed to receive the ball from a team-mate, and Mascherano's roll, howl, wave and roll routine in the second-half were the moments of humour the game badly needed.

After the game, Real began trampling the sour grapes once again, with 'keeper Iker Casillas claiming that they were "tricked by the officials." It is unclear whether his missus, TV reporter Sara Carbonero, obtained first refusal on his post-match musings, and there is no evidence to suggest that the referee, Frank de Bleekere, or his assistants belong to the Magician's Guild of Belgium.

Aitor Karanka, meanwhile, weighed in again, this time with a dig at de Bleekere's performance. "Mourinho [who was, so it goes, watching the game with his feet up on the bed in his hotel-room] was right. He said that it would be impossible for us to go through. Tonight proved that it was impossible and 100 million people saw it - there is nothing more to add." (Karanka is correct. If your team don't score and the opposition does, then it is impossible for your team to go through.)

Xabi Alonso was next to get up on the soap-box, saying: "Many bad decisions were made against us and we are not happy about that. We think we did a good job but we feel decisions really went against us." (Quite a number of decisions also went Real's way as well, it has to be said.)

However, the best was to be saved until last, when Cristiano Ronaldo took the stand, letting rip on the Real Madrid website. Here is a selection of absolute crackers from Portugal's finest footballing funster:

"Whoever knows anything about football knows that Barcelona get preferential treatment. We knew something would happen. We knew that if we scored a goal that everything would be done to keep us from going through.
This isn't good for football. We should just stay home and allow Barcelona to play alone if things don't change."

"Next year they might as well give the cup directly to Barcelona." (Michel Platini might just do that himself at Wembley in three weeks' time..)

"Barcelona have a lot of power off the pitch. We would have drawn 0-0 without the Alves incident and tonight's draw would have seen us through. There are no differences between the teams as was seen thoughout the four matches."

"We won the Copa del Rey by playing fairly. I don't feel that Barcelona were better than us, but rather that they have a lot of help from the referees." (Did the Barcelona bus break down and de Bleekere & Co give them a hand to push-start it again?)

"The name of the match is Mission Impossible IV. Once again it was the referee that didn't allow us to dictate the outcome. We knew we could beat Barca, but the referee didn't let us."

Ronaldo's final quote will surely be remembered for years to come for the masterful use of irony.

"[Mascherano] didn't used to fall to the ground in England, but he's picked up the bad habit of doing it here like everyone else."

If that had come from anyone else other than the hot favourite for the 10-Metre Springboard event at the London Olympics.. The next-door neighbour laughed so much at this that he spat his false teeth out and they hit the dog.

Former Real president, Ramón Calderón, criticised Mourinho and his charges for their attitude both on and off the pitch.

"Big clubs should not blame the referee for their mistakes or their defeats," he told BBC Radio 5 Live.

"We invested £400m in the last two years to be a very important and strong team so if you lose you cannot blame injuries, bad luck, referees or nothing. If you lose you have to congratulate the rival and that is all."

"What he [Mourinho] did in terms of talking about Uefa and referees is not acceptable at all."

Calderón is correct; there is a fine line between expressing an opinion and indulging in pure vitriol and childish tantrums. Real Madrid have been doing too much of the latter over the past few weeks, and while they have busied themselves with losing their heads, Barcelona have reached the Champions League final, which will take place at Wembley Stadium on 28/5/11.

Manchester United, and Sir Alex "The Great Satan" Ferguson, their gum-chewing Scottish version of Jose Moaninho, together with sidekick Mike "Uncle Fester" Phelan, await. More of the same, in other words: good versus evil, skilled players against sulkers, perfectionists against protagonists.

All joshing aside, the final may well turn out to be just the same as the Barca-Real semi-final, with Barcelona playing beautiful football until the final third and then trying in vain to score the perfect goal, and Manchester United counter-attacking, and then putting on the presssure for the last ten minutes or so. It will be a very interesting game of football, and it may well go to penalties.

Almost as an aside, and just to finish, many Dutch journalists and members of the nation's general public have all been muttering the same mantra this week: "Wouldn't it be great if Edwin van der Sar could end his career by winning the Premier League and the Champions League?"

Erm, no. Absolutely not.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011


Brentford fans need not worry, the above headline doesn't refer to a post-season bust-up somewhere in the vicinity of Griffin Park, but to the second leg of Brazil's Goiás state championship (the Goianão) semi-final between Vila Nova and Goiás which took place on Sunday. The first leg ended in a 1:0 win for Goiás the previous Sunday.

This time round at the Serra Dourada stadium, which is shared by by both clubs, the final score was 2:2 which saw Goiás going through to the state final. But that, as the saying goes, is only part of the story.

Goiás opened the scoring, in what was to become a very lively encounter in more ways than one, through Felipe Morim. Just on the half-hour mark, the game was stopped due to a swarm of bees gathering just under the angle of post and crossbar on the outside of Goiás keper Pedro Henrique's goal, which caused the game to be held up for some 20 minutes. The local fire-brigade finally came to the rescue, armed to the teeth with some diesel fuel and a fire-extinguisher, both of which were used liberally to drive away the little yellow-and-black invaders.

No more bees on the frame of the goal, no more goals for the remainder of the first-half either. With 52 minutes gone, though, a header by Henri brought Vila Nova level on the night. Five minutes later, the Colorado went in front after Roni just about squeezed his penalty past a prostrate and flailing Pedro Henrique.

However, the locals' joy didn't last long, as with 13 minutes left, Carlos Alberto headed home after timing his run through a non-existent Vila Nova defence to perfection to put Goiás through to the Goianão final.

Sadly, things turned sour at the final whistle, when a melée broke out after a celebrating Goiás player was subtly kicked (tapped) in the back by an opposing player as he knelt on the ground. It all rather quickly turned into a mix of handbags and tag. Order was restored to the pitch after 15 minutes or so, but by then, of course, the fisticuffs and more had spread to the crowd. Seats were thrown on to the pitch, and the local police responded with tear-gas.

Tragically, at the end of it all, a 19-year-old Goiás fan lay dead, while dozens more fans and police were injured. Several people were arrested before and after the match. (Sadly, hooliganism is all too common in Brazilian football, and the yearly fatality count constantly shows numbers in the tens.) A very unsavoury end to what had been, by all accounts, a rather entertaining encounter.

Postings, not to mention reports, of the bees (and the local constabulary) in action are to be found on You Tube and on the best news websites; heck, there are even videos of the game itself to be viewed. Try these for size; if nothing else, they wil be good for your Portuguese:

The bees:

The balls (and more):  

The brawls: