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Saturday, January 28, 2012


The semi-final draw of Spain's Copa del Rey has taken shape, with Barcelona having defeated a rather thuggish Real Madrid on Wednesday evening to progress to the semis, where they will face Valencia, who a day later rounded off a comprehensive 7:1 aggregate win against Levante. Your correspondent is a happy man, as, after a 3:0 aggregate win against Real Mallorca, Athletic Bilbao have qualified for the semis, where they have been drawn against..Mirandés. Mirandés? Who they, I hear you ask?

Well, Club Deportivo Mirandés, to give them their full name, play in the Segunda División Group B, and hail from the small town of Miranda de Ebro in Burgos province, which in turn is part of the "autonomous community" (autonomous region, in other words) of Castilla y León. Miranda de Ebro has a population nudging 40000 people, and while the attention of the vast majority of the Spanish and world media was, this week at least, fixed on El Clásico, Mirandés, who play in the third tier of Spanish football, were busying themselves with planning and executing the Tuesday-night downfall of Barça's near-neighbours Español.  

Mirandés have never previously come close to qualifying for the semi-final stages of any major competition before, apart from getting through to the last 16 in the Copa Del Rey in 2004-05, when they lost 3:1 on aggregate over two legs to Real Betis, though they creditably drew 0:0 to their Sevillian opponents.

Mirandés had already moved mountains in beating La Liga sides UD Salamanca and Real Sociedad (on penalties) to get as far as they did back then. The year before, in 2003-04, Mirandés had qualified for the First Round proper of the Copa del Rey for the very first time, and, after disposing of UD Fraga, eventually lost to Real Zaragoza in the Second Round.

Since then, Mirandés lost to Basque side Barakaldo CF in the First Round in 2007-08, and to Barcelona Segunda Division B side UE Sant Andreu the following season, when they were still in the Tercera División (Spain's fourth tier). Mirandés were promoted to the Segunda División B the next season, but failed to progress in the Copa del Rey in 2009-10 and 2010-11, when they actually finished as runners-up in Segunda B, but lost to Guadalajara on away goals in the final round of promotion play-offs. Co-incidentally, 2001 UEFA Cup runners-up Alavés - remember them? - also failed to get through the promotion play-offs last season.

This season, Mirandés, whose home strip consists of red shirts, black shorts and red socks, have been going great guns and currently find themselves top of the tree in the Segunda División B (with Alavés in fourth place, by the way) and having reached the semi-finals of the Copa del Rey via an eventfully scenic route (if that makes any sense to you, dear reader), starting off by overcoming yet another Basque side, SD Amorebieta, 1:0 away in the First Round last August, thanks to a goal by Iván Agustín, then defeating RB Linense, from La Línea de la Concepción on Spain's border with Gibraltar, 3:1 on home turf at Miranda de Ebro's own 6000-capacity Estadio Anduva, at the start of September.

Mid-October saw a Third Round tie at home to SD Logroñés, a club which rose from the ashes of erstwhile La Liga side CD Logroñés, which went bust in 2009. Mirandés bounced home with a 3:1 victory, and this saw them move into the last 32, together with the big boys, with the Third Round due to be played last month.

Outside of Barcelona, Real Madrid and Valencia, Spain's "big boys" don't come much bigger than Villareal, yet strange things were about to happen in the run up to Christmas. Having drawn 1:1 at home, Mirandés were to upset their illustrious opponents by superbly winning 2:0 away four days before Yuletide, thanks to a double-strike from Pablo Infante (known simply as Pablo), making it a very happy Christmas in one corner of Burgos province.

The New Year was to get off to a flying start, too, with Mirandés winning 2:0 at home to another La Liga side, Racing Santander, in the Fourth Round on 3 January, and finishing the job off a week later with a very respectable 1:1 draw.

And then along came Español in the quarter-finals, and the first-leg took place at Español's Cornellà-El Prat stadium seven days after the fourth-round triumph over Racing. Mirandés more than held their own for most of the game, and indeed raced into a two-goal lead with just minutes to go after Alain Arroyo had ensured a 1:0 half-time advantage for the visitors, which was doubled with 12 minutes to go by that man Pablo. A shock result was averted this time round, however, thanks to 3-goal spurt from Español in the last 5 minutes of normal time when Mirandés' defence simply seemed to evaporate in the cool air of a Barcelona winter's evening. Spanish newspaper El Mundo's headline the following day said it all: "85 minutes of glory, five of disaster."

So, in Tuesday evening last, it was all to play for at Mirandés' tiny, compact yet athmospheric Estadio Anduva, which was filled, sardine tin-like, to its 6000 capacity. After a scoreless first-half, Español scored with one of only two shots they had on target throughout the whole game, but Mirandés drew level on the night ten minutes later after a speculative effort from Pablo - who else? - somehow found its way past the Español goalkeeper.

The visitors were still a goal to the good over the two legs, and, as the second-half went into five minutes of injury-time, it was looking increasingly desperate for Mirandés, who needed to score just once to reach the semi-finals on away goals. However, the team with the propensity of upsetting the apple-cart in this season's Copa del Rey were to blow it into smithereens two minutes into injury-time, with defender César Caneda, completely unmarked, heading home a free-kick to send all in attendance, apart from the tiny contingent of Español supporters, into an ecstatic frenzy.

The final-whistle ushered in scenes of unbridled joy and a scenario which those who founded the club back in May 1927 would most probably have never thought possible - Club Deportes Mirandés were through to the semi-finals of the Copa del Rey.

The Spanish press were full of praise for Mirandés' efforts on Wednesday morning. The national daily newspaper Marca said that the team had shown "unwavering faith."

"Mirandés always believed in their chances. That faith and the warmth from the stands were decisive..They who took risks won."

Local newspaper La Voz del Ebro said that the team "has once again demonstrated that it knows no boundaries or barriers..It was hoped that the Segunda B team had the strength, faith and quality to make a new gesture. But they did, and with goals from Pablo [Infante] and [César] Caneda, the team are now in the semi-finals."

The headline in El Mundo, meanwhile, was "Mirandés of the miracles", and their article began with the following (and who could disagree?):

"Football is great. Only in this sport can the little eat the big as Mirandés Español. Rockets sounding in the night over a city depressed, like many, by the economic crisis, but one that has been made happy."

Athletic Bilbao head off to Miranda de Ebro this coming Tuesday for the first-leg of their semi-final, which is, in essence, virtually a local derby, as Bilbao and Miranda de Ebro are only 50 or so miles apart. The second-leg will take place at Athletic's San Mamés stadium, the famed "Catedral." It should be a memorable night, whatever happens. Valencia host Barça at the Mestalla on 1/2/12, with the return taking place at the Camp Nou a week later.

In time, only the team which wins this season's Copa del Rey will be remembered outside Spain, but it makes a nice change to be able to report on a story which doesn't concern the top two or three in Spanish football, and it is refreshing to see a team from the third tier of a leading footballing nation casting the form-book asunder, especially in this day and age when the smaller clubs (and, thus, the lower divisions) being set adrift by those at the top.

Who said giant-killing only happens in the FA Cup? Coverage of the second-leg (in Spanish), culled from YouTube but shown originally live on the Cuatro television station, can be viewed via the link below:

Even if Mirandés do not make it past Athletic and absurdly, improbably, wonderfully, reach the final of the Copa del Rey, they are more than well-placed to reach the Segunda División "proper" for the first time in the club's history. That is, perhaps, a more realistic goal, and one which should be no less lauded if attained. Time will, as always, tell. Good luck to them.

Hail the conquering heroes, all..:








AUTHOR'S NOTE: Information contained in this article was obtained from the newspapers mentioned in same, a little taken from Wikipedia and the above link from YouTube. Information, including details of the first-team squad, was also taken from the CD Mirandés website:

(Apologies, too, for the rather poor standard of translation from the original Spanish-language text; together with an online translator, your correspondent's poor standard of Spanish undid all the hard work of the original scribes..)

Friday, January 20, 2012


This coming weekend sees the start of the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations Finals, which will be jointly hosted by Equatorial Guinea and Gabon, and which will take place between 21/1/12-12/2/12. Sixteen nations will take part; it will be Equatorial Guinea's début appearance in the competition, while Gabon will be competing in the final stages for the fifth time, having previously appeared in 1994, 1996 (when they reached the quarter-finals), 2000 and 2010.

The draw for the final tournament of the 2012 edition took place in Malabo, the capital of Equatorial Guinea, and the details are below, with the hosts in capital letters. Two stadiums in Libreville, the capital of Gabon, will host matches, along with stadia in Malabo and Bata, which lies on the coast of the Equatorial Guinean mainland.

Several African nations are notable by their absence, including Nigeria, Algeria, Cameroon, holders Egypt, who were drawn, and eliminated, together with South Africa (eliminated partly through the incompetence of the SAFA, and partly through the arrogance of their own players; kindly go to a previous article detailing Niger's qualification for the final stages of the tournament:

Please find below the fixture-list for the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations.


EQUATORIAL GUINEA, Libya, Senegal, Zambia

21/1/12 19:30 Equatorial Guinea : Libya (Bata)
21/1/12 22:00 Senegal : Zambia (Bata)
25/1/12 17:00 Libya : Senegal (Bata)
25/1/12 20:00 Equatorial Guinea : Senegal (Bata)
29/1/12 19:00 Equatorial Guinea : Zambia (Malabo)
29/1/12 19:00 Libya : Senegal (Bata)


Côte d'Ivoire, Sudan, Burkina Faso, Angola

22/1/12 17:00 Côte d'Ivoire : Sudan (Malabo)
22/1/12 20:00 Burkina Faso : Angola (Malabo)
26/1/12 17:00 Sudan : Angola (Malabo)
26/1/12 20:00 Côte d'Ivoire : Burkina Faso (Malabo)
30/1/12 19:00 Sudan : Burkina Faso (Bata)
30/1/12 19:00 Côte d'Ivoire : Angola (Malabo)


GABON, Niger, Morocco, Tunisia

23/1/12 17:00 Gabon : Niger (Stade d'Angondjé, Libreville)
23/1/12 20:00 Morocco : Tunisia (Stade d'Angondjé, Libreville)
27/1/12 17:00 Niger : Tunisia (Stade d'Angondjé, Libreville)
27/1/12 20:00 Gabon : Morocco (Stade d'Angondjé, Libreville)
31/1/12 19:00 Gabon : Tunisia (Stade de Franceville, Franceville)
31/1/12 19:00 Niger : Morocco (Stade d'Angondjé, Libreville)


Ghana, Botswana, Mali, Guinea

24/1/12 17:00 Ghana : Botswana (Stade de Franceville, Franceville)
24/1/12 20:00 Mali : Guinea (Stade de Franceville, Franceville)
28/1/12 17:00 Botswana : Guinea (Stade de Franceville, Franceville)
28/1/12 20:00 Ghana : Mali (Stade de Franceville, Franceville)
1/2/12 19:00 Botswana : Mali (Stade d'Angondjé, Libreville)
1/2/12 19:00 Ghana: Guinea (Stade de Franceville, Franceville)


4/2/12 17:00 QF1 Winner Group A : Runner-up Group B (Bata)
4/2/12 20:00 QF2 Winner Group B : Runner-up Group A (Malabo)
5/2/12 17:00 QF3 Winner Group C : Runner-up Group D (Stade d'Angondjé, Libreville)
5/2/12 20:00 QF4 Winner Group D : Runner-up Group C (Stade de Franceville, Franceville)


8/2/12 17:00 SF1 Winner QF1 : Winner QF4 (Bata)
8/2/12 20:00 SF2 Winner QF2 : Winner QF3 (Stade d'Angondjé, Libreville)


11/2/12 20:00 Losers SF1 : Losers SF2 (Malabo)


12/2/12 20:00 Winners SF1: Winners SF2 (Stade d'Angondjé, Libreville)

NOTE: The Africa Cup of Nations can be seen on Eurosport in those areas covered by the network; most of the games are advertised as being live on (British) Eurosport, together with highlights and the occasional game on (British) Eurosport 2. This will also ensure that Australian football fans will enjoy live coverage of the tournament. British television network ITV4 will be showing 4 of the games live, including Côte d'Ivoire : Burkina Faso, plus one game from the quarter-finals, a semi-final and the final itself, with all matches apparently being simulcast on the ITV football website. Highlights from the rest of the matches are due to be shown on the channel. No Irish TV stations are covering the tournament. It is as yet unclear as to whether ESPN wil be broadcasting coverage from the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations. All kick-off times shown above are under local time.

LIST OF STADIA (capacities are approximate):

BATA: Estadio de Bata (35700)
LIBREVILLE: Stade d'Angondjé, Libreville (40000)
LIBREVILLE: Stade de Franceville, Franceville (35000)
MALABO: Nuevo Estadio de Malabo, Malabo (15250)
AUTHOR'S NOTE: The CAF, plus the organising commitees in both Equatorial Guinea and Gabon were approached with a request that permission be granted to publish the above information. No response was forthcoming. Therefore, it was assumed that none of the organisations had objected to the fixture-list being published on this blog.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012


The FA banned Liverpool player Lúis Suárez for eight games and fined him 40000 pounds as a result of a hearing which concluded on 20/12/11, for the use of abusive and insulting words against, and a reference to the colour of, Manchester United's Patrice Evra. Suárez was also ordered to pay the costs of the hearing.
The FA's Independent Regulatory Commission, consisting of Paul Goulding QC, Denis Smith and Brian Jones, was tasked with carrying out the inquiry into the incident, which took place in the 63rd minute of the Premier League match between the two clubs at Anfield on 15/10/12, when Suárez was alleged to have called Evra a "negrito." They sent a letter and document to Liverpool detailing the reasoning behind the decision taken, the document was also placed on the FA website and released to the press on New Year's Eve.

The following excerpt comes from the letter from the FA containing the original charge, which was sent to Suárez and which is also to be seen in full in the Commission's document:

"It is alleged that in or around the 63rd minute of the above fixture you used abusive and/or insulting words and/or behaviour towards an opponent Mr Patrice Evra contrary to Rule E3(1) ("particular one").
"It is further alleged that your breach of Rule E3(1) included a reference to the ethnic origin and/or colour and/or race of Mr Patrice Evra within the meaning of Rule E3(2) ("particular two").
"Please note that the two particulars are free-standing, albeit sequential, and separate decisions will be required in relation to each by the Regulatory Commission. Please also note that, by reference to FA Rule E3(2), should a Regulatory Commission find breach of Rule E3(1) proved, and find that it includes a reference to ethnic origin and/or race then the Commission shall consider the imposition of an increased sanction, as set out at page 119 of the FA Handbook 2011-12."

An opinion was expressed in an earlier article on this blog, and, for those who might not have read it, please find below the link to said blog:

The FA ruling makes interesting reading, and at 115 pages - and over 400 paragraphs - long, it is certainly not light reading in any sense of the word, and seems to be fairly comprehensive. The link for the document is below for those who would like to read it:

The introduction to the FA document gives a short account of what allegedly happened from the viewpoints of both Suárez and Evra, stated that Suárez was guilty of the charges levelled against him and details the punishment meted out to the Uruguyan. The rest of the document goes on to explain the matter in close detail, starting with the process, going on to explain the laws which Suárez were charged with breaking, and continuing on with what are described in the document as being "The Background Facts."
The document also detailed evidence from  two experts called in by the FA, Professor Peter Wade and Dr. James Scorer, both of whom are well-versed in the intricacies of Latin American Spanish and fields which lean towards sociology, anthropology and politics (apologies to both for the rather loose description), the "Main Factual Disputes" (what the FA indentified as theoretical inconsistencies which could occur on both sides of the argument), the charges laid against Suárez, his punishment, a summary and conclusion.

In the document, much is made of the assertion that Suárez's testimony is unreliable, "clearly inconsistent" and "flawed." The document stated that, instead of calling Evra a "negro" once, and in a friendly manner as  Suárez claimed, he was shown to have said the word seven times in two minutes in a style bordering on hostile, between the 63rd and 65th minutes. 

The seeds were apparently sown some five minutes before, in the 58th minute, when Suárez was adjudged to have fouled Evra. According to the FA report, Suárez's team-mate, Dirk Kuyt, was alleged to have said to Evra, "Stand up, you fucking prick." Kuyt, who was called by a witness by the Commission, denied this.
In the 63rd minute, Liverpool won a corner, and there was a confrontation between Suárez and Evra. Kuyt joined them, and proceeded to prod Evra in the chest. Evra then pushed Kuyt in the chest, using both hands.

The corner was taken, but match referee Andre Marriner had stopped play. Evra then said, in Spanish, to Suárez, "concha de tu hermana", which, when literally translated, means "your sister's pussy," though it is colloquially used as a translation for "fucking hell." Evra admitted saying this, though Suárez said that he did not hear the remark.

There then followed a dialogue in Spanish, with Suárez asking Evra what he said. Evra then asked his opponent why he kicked him. This is the point where it all starts to get murky, and two versions of what happened emerged.

Evra, first of all, alleged that Suárez then said, "Because you're black", and Evra then asked Suárez to repeat what he had just said, and then said, "Say it to me again, I'm going to punch you." Suárez then said, according to Evra, "I don't talk to blacks." Evra then told Suárez that he was now going to punch him, to which Suárez's reply was, "Okay, nigger, nigger, nigger." It is important to note that Evra thought that, at the time of the exchange, Suárez was calling him a "nigger", but Evra later accepted that he meant to say "black" or "blackie." Meanwhile, while Suárez was speaking, he pinched Evra in the arm.

Kuyt joined them, and proceeded to prod Evra in the chest. Evra then pushed Kuyt in the chest, using both hands. The referee came over and told both Evra and Suárez to calm down; apparently, at this point, Evra told the official that Suárez had called him "a fucking black."

Suárez's version differed somewhat from that of Evra. When Evra asked him why he fouled him, Suárez told the Frenchman that it was just a "normal foul." Evra replied that he would kick him. Suárez then told him to shut up. When Marriner stopped play, Evra said, "Don't touch me, South American." Suárez then asked, "¿Porqué, negro?" ("Why, negro?")

This, according to Suárez, was the only time he uttered the word "negro" to Evra. With reference to his pinching Evra's arm, he said in his statement to the inquiry that he did it in an attempt to "defuse the situation" while inferring that Evra was "not untouchable by reference to his question about the foul." (He claimed that he did not intend the action to be offensive and that it was "most certainly not racially offensive.") Marriner came over and spoke to both players, and both players walked back to the goalmouth. It was then that Suárez patted Evra on the back of the head, to which Evra reacted by pushing Suarez's arm away. (Suárez claimed that the pat on the back of Evra's head was meant as a concilliatory gesture.) The referee came over again, spoke to the players for a second time and the game continued.

Other players, such as Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea, were nearby, but nobody was able to tell the inquiry that they heard anything. Marriner also told the inquiry that he also did not hear Evra's allegation about Suárez's behaviour. Evra was booked a couple of minutes later after an altercation with Kuyt, which was also touched upon during the hearing.

(Several players made statements to and/or were called as witnesses to the Commission's inquest, including Kuyt and Ryan Giggs.)

An upset Evra, together with Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, reported the incident to Andre Marriner at the end of the match, who, the next day, filled in an Extraordinary Incident Reoprt Form, which was sent to the FA, setting the wheels in motion for the inquiry. After the match, Evra told French television channel Canal Plus that Suárez had used the word "negro" at least "ten times" during the match.

Now, judging by reaction across the media, and that includes what is rapidly becoming a not-so-social-media, opinion on the case against Suárez has broadly been polarised, and there has been much nit-picking and abuse being flung from all sides since the guilty verdict against Suárez was delivered.

Time, then, to delve just a little deeper into some of the findings of the Commission, although some of those reading this may well opine that this article will omit certain bits and pieces from the inquiry and hearing. That is fair enough, but the will to be objective is there.

In the opinion of the Spanish language experts assisting with the case, Professor Wade and Dr. Scorer, the word "negro" is ambiguous in meaning throughout Latin America. It can be used offensively in certain situations, not just as a racial slur, but, to give an example given in the hearing, can also refer to the lower-classes in certain areas of Argentina.

The word "negro" can also be used as a term of affection, a friendly form of address, as a nickname, a neutral form of address or as a word to describe a particular individual.
The two experts also went on to give their opinions on how the word might have been used by Suárez, in both a potentially racist and a non-racist way.

Comments were also made in the document regarding the demeanour of both Evra and Suárez in the "witness-box" during the hearing. The Commission stated that they found Evra to be "an impressive witness", giving his evidence to them in a "calm, composed manner", and that his evidence remained more or less consistent. They also seemed to be impressed with his honesty when he admitted starting the fracas with Suárez by using the words, "Concha de tu hermana", even though, in the words of the Commission document, "it reflected badly on him."

The Commission were rather less impressed with Suárez, though admitted that it was a "stressful time for the player", who "gave evidence in a respectful manner." It also said that Suárez was "not as impressive a witness" as his Manchester United counterpart, saying that "his answers were not always clear" and queried whether this was due to "language difficulties or evasiveness", though it also added that they tried to give him the benefit of the doubt where posible. The members of the Commisson were "more concerned by the substance of his evidence..than by the manner in which he gave it."

It could be argued that Suárez, by owning up to the fact that he said "negro" to Evra, at once admitted guilt but; by the same token, this show of honesty might have led to a more lenient sentence.

The Commission found Dirk Kuyt's statement unreliable, and also commented on the fact that Dalglish and Liverpool Director of Football, Damien Comolli, had given diferent testimonies than Suárez regarding what was discussed after the match, whereas statements from Evra, Ferguson and four fellow United players (including Hernandez and Anderson) were found to be consistent and reliable.
The statements of match referee Andre Mariner and his fourth-official on the day in question, Phil Dows, were also found to be reliable.

The Commission also found it unacceptable that Suárez changed his approach in regard to pinching Evra's arm, which, Suárez said in his original witness statement, was an attempt to defuse the situation. Suárez, under "persistent" questioning at the hearing, said that the pinching was not an attempt to defuse the situation. It was an attempt to show the Frenchman that he wasn't "untouchable" (with regard to the earlier foul).
In summing up, the FA said this:

"The FA confirmed that it has not contended that Mr Suárez acted as he did out of deep-seated racial prejudice, ie because he is a racist. The FA submitted that the likelihood was that Mr Suárez was seeking to provoke Mr Evra, so as to cause him to be sent off, thereby gaining a competitive advantage in the game."
An eight-game suspension, the Commission said, was warranted under Rule E3 (Conduct). The following, was also included in the Commission document:
"Rule E3, with the sub-heading "General Behaviour", provides as follows:
"(1) A Participant shall at all times act in the best interests of the game and shall not act in any manner which is improper or brings the game into disrepute or use any one, or a combination of, violent conduct, serious foul play, threatening, abusive, indecent or insulting words or behaviour.
"(2) In the event of any breach of Rule E3(1) including a reference to any one or more of a person's ethnic origin, colour, race, nationality, faith, gender, sexual orientation or disability (an "aggravating factor"), a Regulatory Commissionshall consider the imposition of an increased sanction, taking into account the following entry points:
"For a first offence, a sanction that is double that which the Regulator Commission would have applied had the aggravating factor not been present.
"For a second offence, a sanction that is treble that which the Regulatory Commission would have applied had the aggravating factor not been present.
"Any further such offence(s) shall give rise to consideration of a permanent suspension.
"These entry points are intended to guide the Regulatory Commission and are not mandatory.
"The Regulatory Commission shall have the discretion to impose a sanction greater or less than the entry point, according to the aggravating or mitigating factors present in each case."
Luis Suárez had never previously been faced with accusations of using racist language, so this was regarded as his first offence. He had been found guilty of Rule E3(1) - using insulting words - and as a result was suspended for two matches. Having been found guilty of using insulting words with referece to Evra's colour, the sentence was thus doubled under Rule E3(2) to a four-match suspension.
Regulation 8.1 of the FA's Disciplinary Regulations was also used by the Commission in fixing Suárez's suspension, and the following excerpt also appeared in the Commission document:
"The Regulatory Commission shall have the power to impose any one or more of the following penalties on the Alleged Offender:
"(a) a reprimand and/or warning as to future conduct;
(b) a fine;
(c) suspension from all or any specified football activity from a date that the Regulatory Commission shall order, permanently or for a stated period or number of matches;
(h) such further or other penalty or order as it considers appropriate."

If Suárez had used insulting language against Evra without referring to his opponent's skin-colour, the Comission contended,a two-match suspension would have been served. Adding the two together would have meant a four-match suspension; the Commission doubled the sentence, explaining themselves via the penultimate paragraph contained within the document, and an excerpt from same, containing said explanation, is found below:
"Had Mr Suárez been sent off for using insulting words (not including reference to a person's colour), he would have received an automatic two-match suspension. The guidance in the FA Rules suggested that our starting-point should be to double that sanction, ie a four-match suspension. However, we were entitled to increase or reduce the penalty further. We took account of various aggravating and mitigating factors. As for the aggravating factors, Mr Suárez used the word "negro" or "negros" seven times, in the course of an
acrimonious argument, and went beyond simply addressing Mr Evra as "negro". Mr Suárez knew or ought to have known that these words were unacceptable, particularly in view of the FA-supported campaigns against all forms of racism in football. The words were targeted directly at Mr Evra, as part of Mr Suarez's attempts to wind him up. As for the mitigating factors, Mr Suarez had a clean record in relations to charges of this type. Mr Evra started the confrontation in the goalmouth, in response to which Mr Suarez used the insulting words. Mr Suárez is likely to suffer personal embarrassment as a result of his behaviour coming to light through this decision. He has in the past supported, and continues to support, a charitable project in South Africa designed to promote multi-racial football. He is likely to have learned a lesson through the experience
of these proceedings, and said that he would not use the word "negro" on a football pitch in England in the future."

Simply put, Lúis Suárez should not have said what he did to Patrice Evra, not even once, regardless of the fact that the Frenchman is not exactly possessed with a Kevlar-like outer shell. It is wrong to bring issues of race, religion, sexual orientation and so on into a football ground in the first place, let alone on to the pitch.

It has been said by a great many people (mostly anonymous types on the internet) that Suárez had been better off denying the charges served upon him instead of admitting that he called Evra a "negro" on one occasion. What good would that have done?

As far as Liverpool's legal challenge and reaction to the charge laid against their player was concerned, it was a shambolic, ill-conceived hash of an affair. A two-page statement was made in support of Suárez when the charges were first made public. Too forcefully, it would appear; it was very strongly-worded, ill thought-out and too quick to have been made public.

T-shirts bearing Suárez's picture on the front and name and number on the back were worn by the Liverpool players in the pre-match warm-up before the game away to Wigan. Such a move was bound to backfire, and it did.

Liverpool would be better served clearing its Public Relations department or changing its PR firm, whichever is more applicable; at the very least, those involved on the PR side should be dangled by the heels off the roof of the Kop and made to beg for forgiveness.

As for Kenny Dalglish, he only did what most managers would have done - he stood by his man, in public, and did so on more than one occasion. In private, it is a good bet that Suárez is in no doubt as to what his manager really thinks of the situation; Liverpool has never really been the sort of club to wash its dirty linen in public. 

The image of Liverpool FC, and that of Lúis Suárez, has been dragged through the mud, partly through the opinions of others, partly through the media and those who anonymously prowl the shadows of the internet, and partly through their own deeds.

Patrice Evra comes away with precious little credit, either, having been shown to instigate the whole incident (and there are one or two other incidents, although eventually dismissed as not really being relevant to the case, were mentioned in the report and also put Evra in a bad light); although his testimony was described as being consistent, and the Commission also stated that they "found that Mr Evra's account is probably what happened." Probably?? Because he was slightly more consistent in his story than was Suárez as he was able to view tapes supplied by "international broadcasters" during the making of his witness statement, unlike the accused?

The FA is also far from blameless; they could have handled certain things better, such as providing Suárez's solicitor (Peter McCormick OBE) with certain "unused material" (tapes and documents), which, according to the the Commission's document, was "material which the FA had gathered or considered in the course of its investigation but on which it did not intend to rely. The purpose of providing it to Mr Suarez was to enable him and his advisers to examine the unused material to see whether, in their view, it was relevant and helpful to Mr Suarez in defending the Charge."

The FA's Independent Regulatory Commission could have left the suspension at four games, but it does seem, to an extent at least, as though they wanted to send a message to FIFA and its president, Sepp Blatter, regarding the handling of racism in the world game, and that they made an example of Suárez. In light of the fact that Suárez had never face such charges before, a four-game ban, for example, plus a heavy fine and perhaps a FA-course on English footbal culture - why not make such a course mandatory for all overseas players going to play in another country? - might have been called for. (For more thoughts on this, please refer to the blog mentioned at the beginning of this article.)

Evra will, as a result of the whole matter, perhaps become more of a target for the boo-boys, and that is to be deplored. Suárez has already become a target of often hypocritical and venomous abuse for the boo-boys, on the terraces and in the not-so-social-media (newspapers included), unfortunately, and will remain a target until he hangs up his boots.

Suárez (and Liverpool) may well appeal the Commission's verdict; in the long run, however, it might be better for him, and for Liverpool, to (in "Deadliest Catch" parlance) "suck it up", serve the suspension, and get back to - all being well - repairing his reputation, both on, and off, the pitch. It might be better, too, if a lot of others who had too much to say, but in the end had nothing to say, took a step back and had a good look at themselves before condemning anybody.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------STOP PRESS/AUTHOR'S NOTE: Less than an hour after the above article was completed and published, it was made public that Liverpool would not be lodging an appeal against the sanctions imposed on Lúis Suárez.

Monday, January 2, 2012


Again, another tournament which was not covered at the time due to certain circumstances, but this competition, which served a double-purpose as the qualifying matches for both the OFC Nations Cup and as the preliminary round of qualifiers for the 2014 World Cup, short as it was, threw up some surprises and also saw a little history being made.

Four countries took part; American Samoa, Cook Islands, Tonga, and the hosts, Samoa, and all games took place between 22/11/11 and 26/11/11 at the JS Blatter Field in the Samoan capital of Apia.

American Samoa were expected by all and sundry, including your correspondent, to find themselves at the end of some heavy defeats after what had happened to them at the Pacific Games in New Caledonia less than three months earlier. Well, happily, that did not turn out to be the case. As a matter of fact, they made some history (not to mention a few friends) during this mini-tournament, starting off with a 2:1 victory against Tonga in the tournament's opening match.

Ramin Ott, who had hit the crossbar with a long-range effort earlier in the first-half, scored American Samoa's first goal in four years right on half-time. Shalom Luani extended the advantage with just over 15 minutes left, and although Unaloto Feao pulled one back during a late, late Tongan surge on Nicky Salapu's goal, the American Samoans held firm to earn their first-ever win against FIFA opposition.

Salapu, virtually the only survivor from his country's record-breaking 31:0 defeat to Australia in 2001, had twice denied the Tongans an equaliser in injury-time, and for him, the win was a particularly sweet moment. He had never played in an American Samoan team which had avoided defeat, and had come perilously close to achieving his first-ever clean sheet as national team custodian.

Salapu's team-mate, Joseph Saelua, also made history that day when he made his full international début. Saelua is reckoned to be the first transgender footballer ever to play in a full-international; he is fa'afafine, a third gender specific to Samoan and Polynesian culture, and he and his team-mates have, in their own small way, struck a blow for genuine all-inclusiveness in football, even though fa'afafine still face considerable prejudice across Polynesia.

Back to the football now, and in the second game of the preliminary tournament, hosts Samoa edged out a spirited Cook Islands side by the odd goal in five in a see-saw struggle of a game. Samoa dominated early on, and scored first through Luki Gosche mid-way through the first half. Before half-time, two more goals had been scored, Campbell Best levelling for the Cooks only to see Gosche put the hosts back in front more or less from the restart. With just five minutes left of the full 90, Best put the Cook Islands back on level terms, but Pati Bell broke their hearts two minutes into injury-time, sealing a rather fortuitous win for Samoa.

The Cook Islands fell behind once again in their next match against American Samoa, with Shalom Luani putting everybody's favourite underdogs a goal up after 25 minutes. Both teams were playing for the win, and Cook Islands received their share of luck when Paavo Mustonen's free-kick was headed into his own net by Tava Luvu just after the hour mark. However, they could not add to their tally and a final score of 1:1 meant virtual elimination from the tournament. For the American Samoans and their Dutch manager Thomas Röngen, however, things were going better than any of them could ever have possibly envisaged. Four points after two games, and a shot at qualification for the final stages of the OFC Nations Cup and the second round of 2014 World Cup qualifiers suddenly became a distinct possiblilty.
A draw between Tonga and Samoa would have been the perfect result for the American Samoans, and a 1:1 draw is what transpired. Just before the break, Shaun Easthorpe put the Samoans ahead from the spot after Desmond Fa'aiuaso was pulled dwn by Tonga's captain Folio Moeaki. Timote Maamaloa hit the post for the Tongans with just over 15 minutes left, while Unaloto Feao missed a sitter soon after. Substitute Lokoua Taufahema equalised with eight minutes left, and the Tongans could have won it right at the end, but Feao squandered a glorious opportunity when faced with a one-on-one with Masi Toetu, who saved Feao's effort relatively comfortably.

So near yet so far, and Tonga, under the tutelage of young Australian Chris Williams, were eliminated, but they avoided the wooden-spoon by defeating the Cook Islands 2:1 on the final day of competition. The rain came down in sheets, the pitch was a quagmire, but both teams went hell-for-leather for the three points. Tonga dominated the early stages, and Malakai Savieti almost got his name on the scoresheet but his goal-bound effort ended up stuck on the muddy goal-line and Cooks 'keeper Tony Jamieson gathered the ball.

His good fortune deserted him when ten minutes later, in the 27th minute, a speculative shot from Timote Maamaloa eluded the 37-year-old in the Cook Islands goal and it was first blood to Tonga. Grover Harmon bundled home a Mustonen free-kick in the 35th minute and the score remained at 1:1 until the 91st minute when Kinitoni Falatau chipped Jamieson for the winner. Tonga had something to shout about at last, and the players chaired Williams on to the pitch at the end of the game.

And so to what amounted to a local derby (in Pacific terms, at least) between Samoa and American Samoa. The hosts needed only a draw to go through, whilst American Samoa had to go for the win. It would have been some achievement for Röngen's team, what with American Samoa having a history of losing all 30 competitive matches played previous to this tournament, scoring just 12 goals and conceded 229. Could the underdogs pull off an upset unrivalled in the history of football in Oceania against the hosts and a team who were favourites to finish top of the group before a ball was kicked?

To their credit, American Samoa tried hard, but their near-neighbours dominated from the off, with American Samoa being restricted to the occasional long-range effort. Shots were raining in on the American Samoan goal, with Silao Malo and Desmond Fa'aiuaso among those being thwarted time after time by Nicky Salapu, and Salapu's team-mate, substitute Diamond Ott, almost put his team in front in the 81st minute when he beat Samoan goalkeeper Masi Toetu in a one-on-one, but not the post. The ball struck the outside of the post and trundled away to safety.
Still, the American Samoans were creating chances by then, and Ott had another one in the last minute of normal time, which Toetu saved well. A draw, which would have put Samoa through and ensured that American Samoa, although eliminated from both the OFC Nations Cup and 2014 World Cup qualifiers at once, would have ended the preliminary round undefeated, was suddenly looking likely.

Alas for the American Samoans and neutrals everywhere, it was not to be. Within seconds of Ott's saved shot, Samoa went straight down the pitch via a defence-splitting ball which found Fa'aiuaso, and his side-step and pass put Malo clear, and he slotted home to break American Samoan hearts and score what was, in all fairness, a more than deserved winner. Still, Röngen's team can content themselves with a job well done, and it augurs well for the future - if they are able to build it, and that will take time, effort and not a little financing.
Samoa, then, qualified for the finals of the 2012 OFC Nations Cup, which will also double up as the second phase of the qualifying round for the 2014 World Cup. The OFC Nations Cup tournament will be held in Fiji this coming June, where the Samoans will find themselves up against New Caledonia, Tahiti and Vanuatu in Group A. Group B consists of Fiji (hosts), eternal favourites New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.


22/11/11 American Samoa 2:1 Tonga
22/11/11 Cook Islands 2:3 Samoa
24/11/11 American Samoa 1:1 Cook Islands
24/11/11 Samoa 1:1 Tonga
26/11/11 Tonga 2:1 Cook Islands
26/11/11 Samoa 1:0 American Samoa

SAMOA 3/2/1/0/5/3/7/+2
TONGA 3/1/1/1/4/4/4/0
AMERICAN SAMOA 3/1/1/1/3/3/4/0
COOK ISLANDS 3/0/2/1/4/6/2/-2

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Thanks go to the OFC and Priscilla Duncan for kindly allowing statistical information to be used. Action from the matches listed above is available to view on the OFC's channel on YouTube.


Better late than never, indeed, as the Women's tournament of the Pacific Games 2011 commenced at the end of August in around the New Caledonian capital, Nouméa. Nine nations took part, and the group results went pretty much as expected, with the real fireworks coming in the knockout stages.

Papua New Guinea surprised New Caledonia by coming top of the heap thanks to a last-gasp win against the hosts in the final, played in Nouméa on 9/9/11; Fiji's women's team won the bronze medal earlier that afternoon, thanks to an early goal in the third-place match against Tonga in Lifou.

As in the Men's section, AFC member Guam sent a team to compete in the tournament; Samoa decided not to send a team to compete in either section.

Please find below the results for the Women's tournament.


27/8/11 Papua New Guinea 1:0 Tahiti (Stade PLGC, Nouméa)
27/8/11 Solomon Islands 0:3 New Caledonia (Stade PLGC, Nouméa)
29/8/11 Papua New Guinea 8:0 American Samoa (Stade PLGC, Nouméa)
29/8/11 Tahiti 0:0 New Caledonia (Stade PLGC, Nouméa)
31/8/11 New Caledonia 7:0 American Samoa (Stade PLGC, Nouméa)
31/8/11 Tahiti 2:0 Solomon Islands (Stade PLGC, Nouméa)
2/9/11   American Samoa 0:4 Solomon Islands (Stade PLGC, Nouméa)
2/9/11   New Caledonia 2:1 Papua New Guinea (Stade PLGC, Nouméa)
5/9/11   American Samoa 0:4 Tahiti (Stade PLGC, Nouméa)
5/9/11   Solomon Islands 0:1 Papua New Guinea (Stade PLGC, Nouméa)


NEW CALEDONIA 4/3/1/0/12/1/10/+11
PAPUA NEW GUINEA 4/3/0/1/11/2/9/+9
TAHITI 4/2/1/1/6/1/7/+5
SOLOMON ISLANDS 4/1/0/3/4/6/3/-2
AMERICAN SAMOA 4/0/0/5/0/23/0/-23


31/8/11 09:00 Cook Islands 1:1 Guam (Stade PLGC, Nouméa)
31/8/11 11:00 Tonga 4:1 Fiji (Stade PLGC, Nouméa)
2/9/11 13:00 Guam 1:2 Fiji (Stade PLGC, Nouméa)
2/9/11 15:00 Tonga 0:1 Cook Islands (Stade PLGC, Nouméa)
5/9/11 13:00 Guam 0:0 Tonga (Stade PLGC, Nouméa)
5/9/11 15:00 Fiji 1:0 Cook Islands (Stade PLGC, Nouméa)


FIJI 3/2/0/1/4/5/6/-1
TONGA 3/1/1/1/4/2/4/+2
COOK ISLANDS 3/1/1/1/2/2/4/0
GUAM 3/0/2/1/2/3/2/-1


7/9/11  New Caledonia 3:2 Tonga (Stade Yoshida, Koné)
7/9/11  Fiji 0:4 Papua New Guinea (Stade Hnasse, Lifou)


9/9/11  Tonga 0:1 Fiji (Stade Hnasse, Lifou)


9/9/11  New Caledonia 1:2 Papua New Guinea (Stade Numa Daly, Nouméa)

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Thanks go to the OFC, and Priscilla Duncan in particular, for allowing the above statistical information to be used.