Thursday, 4 June 2015

All Fall Down

Soon to be former FIFA president Sepp Blatter is allegedly 'being investigated' by US officials as part of their inquiry into wholesale corruption and rotten doings at the heart of the world football body, US media suggests. The news came just hours after Blatter, to the surprise - but, delight - of millions, announced that he will be stepping down from his role. At some stage. US prosecutors launched an extremely criminal inquiry in FIFA last week, with seven officials arrested in Switzerland, part of a group of fourteen people indicted. Two days after the arrests, the the disgust of millions, Blatter was re-elected president of FIFA thanks to the rank and odious greed of many national associations, mainly in Africa and Asia. However, he said on Tuesday of this week that it appeared the mandate he had been given 'does not seem to be supported by everyone in the world.' Not that this is a new thing, of course, and it's never stopped him from being president in the past. Blatter said: 'FIFA needs profound restructuring.' He said hat he would continue in post until an extraordinary congress is called to elect a new president. No dates have been set, but it is expected to take place sometime between December 2015 and March 2016. 'I am the president now, the president of everybody,' Blatter said after winning a fifth term as FIFA's head last Friday. What would have sounded like parody coming from the mouth of anyone else served instead as an accurate reflection of his own vainglorious self-image. The dark storm of allegations which led to Blatter's dramatic resignation on Tuesday are only the most recent of the venal affairs to dog sport at the highest level. The allegations of bribery in Salt Lake City's successful campaign to host the 2002 Winter Olympics saw ten senior International Olympic Committee figures resign. But that was one event, at one moment in time. Football is the dominant global game. For more than a decade, its highest custodians stand accused of endemic and methodical corruption. The shock lies not in the charges themselves but in the fact that Blatter, master of perpetual evasion, not just a Teflon Don but a man so slippery even his own shadow struggles to cling on, has finally been brought down by them. Blatter has so far carefully avoided handing over a smoking gun. As mea culpas go, 'my mandate does not appear to be supported by everybody' is Sepp's equivalent of a wardrobe malfunction, an empty phrase that only hints at the naked scandal beneath. 'Crisis? What is a crisis?' he famously asked before being voted in unopposed four years ago. This last week alone serves as a neat summary: seven FIFA officials arrested in Switzerland at the request of the US authorities investigating corruption of more than one hundred million quid; reports claiming FIFA general secretary Jerome Valcke was responsible for an alleged ten million payment of bribes over South Africa's bid to host the 2010 World Cup, Interpol put six men linked to FIFA on its 'most wanted' list, issuing international alerts for two former FIFA officials - including the odious Jack Warner - and four executives on charges including racketeering and corruption and a separate criminal investigation by Swiss authorities into how the 2018 and 2022 World Cups were allocated. And there are scandals within the scandals. If the decision to award Qatar the 2022 World Cup was not contentious enough in itself, in December last year FIFA chose not to release its own investigation into corruption. The report's author, American Michael Garcia, immediately resigned. Blatter said last week that he wanted to stay on at FIFA to 'lift the shadow' cast by those arrests, which would be like asking disgraced Olympic sprinter Ben Johnson to lead the 1989 Dubin Inquiry, the Canadian government investigation into drug abuse which followed his positive test at the 1988 Seoul Games. US officials quoted in the New York Times said THAT they hoped to 'gain the co-operation' of 'some of the FIFA figures now under indictment' on charges of racketeering and money laundering to try to build a case against Blatter. Earlier the FBI, Internal Revenue Service and the US Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, who is involved in the US prosecutions, all said that they would 'not comment' on the Blatter resignation. In its prosecution, the US justice department said fourteen individuals were under investigation worldwide for allegedly accepting bribes and kickbacks estimated at more than a hundred million quid over a twenty four-year period. Two vice-presidents were among the seven FIFA officials arrested in Zurich. They all await US extradition proceedings. Brazilian footballing legend Pele told the BBC that the developments surrounding FIFA and Blatter 'surprised everyone. My position is like a player. I want to see football put people together, stop the war,' he said. 'FIFA needs honest people.' The arrests overshadowed the vote for a new president, which Blatter won, defeating his sole challenger, Prince Ali bin Al Hussein of Jordan. Prince Ali withdrew despite forcing a second round, having lost the first by one hundred and thirty three votes to seventy three. Blatter, who has been FIFA president since 1998, said he would urge FIFA's executive committee to organise an extraordinary congress for the election of my successor at the earliest opportunity. This will need to be done in line with FIFA's statutes and we must allow enough time for the best candidates to present themselves and to campaign.' Further allegations of corruption emerged on Tuesday shortly before Blatter's resignation was announced, with claims that FIFA general secretary Jerome Valcke was linked to an alleged ten million dollars payment of bribes to the odious Jack Warner over South Africa's bid to host the 2010 World Cup. Both Valcke and Warner deny any wrongdoing. Well, they would, wouldn't they? A separate criminal investigation by Swiss authorities into how the 2018 and 2022 World Cups were allocated is also under way. The FIFA president has previously survived repeated accusations of corruption against his organisation. So for him to go, just days after winning an election with a heavy majority, there would appear to be something significant happening behind the scenes. Th FA's Greg Dyke - a long-term Bltter critic - said in an interview with BBC 5Live: 'I don't believe a word of this. If he believes that why not step down last week when we asked him to? He was cock-a-hoop when he won and terribly arrogant. Clearly there is a smoking gun of some sort. This is nothing to do with Blatter being honourable. He hasn't been honourable for years.”' FIFA sponsors, including Visa, Coca-Cola and McDonald's, have welcomed Blatter's decision to resign. However, both Visa and Coca-Cola repeated warnings that they expected 'a swift overhaul' at FIFA. And, McDonald's said that it hoped this would be the first step towards 'gaining back trust from fans worldwide.' By hell, you really know someone has screwed up when McDonald's becomes a moral compass. The rising pressure from the US investigation into corruption looks the most likely source for Blatter's departure and hours after his resignation, reports emerged in US media that the FBI had begun investigating him directly. Speaking on stage, the seventy nine-year-old looked diminished, a far cry from his usual strutting, bombastic self. As he resigned, Blatter suggested he wanted to reform the sport before he handed over the reins to his successor.

Former top FIFA official Chuck Blazer has admitted that he and others on the executive committee agreed to accept bribes in connection with the choice of South Africa as 2010 World Cup hosts. The American said he also facilitated bribes over the 1998 event. The admissions come in a newly released transcript from a 2013 US hearing in which he pleaded extremely guilty to ten charges. In another development, former FIFA Vice-President the odious Jack Warner, who is among those charged, said on Wednesday that he had documents linking FIFA officials to the 2010 election in Trinidad and Tobago. 'I will no longer keep secrets for them who actively seek to destroy the country,' he said in a paid political broadcast on Wednesday evening. And so, the whole rotten house of cards starts to collapse and all of the greed monsters turn on each other to save their own skins. Or, something. Warner, who denies charges against him, said that he feared for his life, but would reveal everything he knows about the alleged corruption. Warner resigned from all football activity in 2011 amid bribery allegations and later stepped down as Trinidad and Tobago's security minister amid a fraud inquiry. A key figure in the deepening scandal, he said that he had given his lawyers documents outlining the links between FIFA, its funding, himself and the 2010 election in Trinidad and Tobago. He said the transactions also included Blatter. The details of Blazer's guilty pleas came as prosecutors unsealed the transcript of the 2013 hearing in the Eastern New York District Court. The admissions are part of a sentencing deal with prosecutors. Blazer was the second highest official in FIFA's North and Central American and Caribbean region from 1990 to 2011 and also served on FIFA's executive committee between 1997 and 2013. To date, he is the highest placed FIFA official to Copper's Nark on his former mates. In the transcript, prosecutors refer to FIFA 'and its membership or constituent organisation' as 'a Rico enterprise' - a Racketeering Influenced Corrupt Organisation. Blazer says: 'Beginning in or around 2004 and continuing through 2011, I and others on the FIFA executive committee agreed to accept bribes in conjunction with the selection of South Africa as the host nation for the 2010 World Cup.' Earlier on Wednesday, South Africa denied paying a ten million dollar bribe to secure the hosting of the 2010 event. Blazer said that one of his co-conspirators received a bribe in Morocco for its bid to host the 1998 tournament, which was eventually awarded to France. He and others also accepted bribes in connection with broadcast and other rights to the CONCACAF Gold Cup tournament in 1996, 1998, 2000, 2002 and 2003, he added. Other admissions among the ten charges in the forty-page dossier include US tax evasion. Federal agents investigating the tax evasion had detained Blazer and he agreed to co-operate in the US investigations. He is said to have agreed to record his colleagues using a microphone hidden in a keychain. In addition to the US case, Swiss authorities have launched a criminal investigation into how the 2018 and 2022 World Cups were allocated. Qatar has claimed there is no way it will be stripped of the right to host the 2022 World Cup despite the corruption probe.Foreign minister Khaled al Attiyah dismissed what he called 'a bashing campaign' as 'anti-Arab prejudice' and said that Qatar was 'confident' it could prove there had been 'no wrongdoing' in its selection.
Ryan Taylor has said that he was told he was being released by Newcastle in a phone call from John Carver, who then asked the player to pass the phone to his team-mate Jonas Gutierrez so that the Magpies temporary boss could tell him he was being released as well. Yer actual Keith Telly Topping's beloved (though unsellable) United secured their Premier League status on the final day of the season. 'John Carver rang me and told me the club weren't going to offer me a new deal,' Taylor told Sky Sports News. 'Then he asked me to pass the phone to Jonas, which was unbelievable.' Taylor spent six years at St James' Park, while midfielder Gutierrez had been at the club since 2008. Gutierrez, who has fought testicular cancer, scored in the 2-0 win over West Ham which guaranteed Newcastle's Premier league status. Taylor said that he had 'some sympathy' for Carver. 'I spoke to him and he seemed upset about telling two good pros, who have been there a long time, that it's come to an end,' said the defender. 'I can't really blame John because he's under instructions on what to do.' Taylor and Gutierrez are currently in Belfast at a coaching course. Following confirmation of his release, Gutierrez took to social media and posted the following message: 'Thanks to all football fans and Newcastle fans for supporting me and trust in me. This is a way to demonstrate I always hear you. You are very important to me, football wouldn't be the same without you. All my effort and affection is for you.' He also posted a photo montage on Facebook before signing off with the following barbed comment: 'Two things I learn from my illness, how you can support a player (Newcastle fans) and how you leave a player alone (Newcastle owner).'

Glasgow Rangers say that they will 'co-operate fully' with the investigation into the 'disgraceful scenes' following the Scottish Premiership play-off final. A violent on-field clash between Rangers defender Bilel Mohsni and Motherwell's Lee Erwin sparked a mass brawl at Fir Parkwith kids getting sparked an aal sorts. Police and the football authorities are reviewing the incident and the match delegate is due to deliver his damning report this week. Mohsni responded to a push by Erwin by aiming a kick and punch at the striker after last Sunday's clash which then descended into chaos and mindless violence. The second leg saw Motherwell preserve their Premiership status courtesy of a 6-1 aggregate victory. Mohsni also tussled with Motherwell's unused substitute Fraser Kerr. All three players were shown red cards by referee Craig Thomson after the match. 'Bilel Mohsni's behaviour was completely unacceptable and had his contract not now expired, the club would have started disciplinary proceedings,' Rangers said in a statement. 'The club will also assist with any investigation into the behaviour of Motherwell supporters and we would like to thank the Rangers fans who were excellent in showing admirable restraint despite severe provocation.' Assistant chief constable Bernard Higgins said: 'Police Scotland will conduct a full review of the circumstances and liaise with the appropriate partners, and decide how best to take the matter forward over the coming days.' Rangers' manager, Stuart McCall, claimed that he did not see the incident, but acknowledged such behaviour was 'unacceptable.' Speaking after his side's 3-0 loss at Fir Park, he said: 'If he has thrown a punch that's disgraceful. But it's safe to say he won't be at the club next season. He's out of contract.' Oh, so that's all right, then. Not our problem now, pal. Motherwell boss Ian Baraclough said that the scenes detracted from 'a great day' for the Lanarkshire club. 'There's been an outpouring of emotions, shall we say, and it's gone too far,' he told BBC Scotland. 'Scottish football doesn't need it. There were two teams battling it out over one hundred and eighty minutes, they gave it absolutely everything. For one or two individuals to ruin it, tarnish it, is a shame.' Erwin appeared to shove Mohsni after the defender refused his offer of a handshake and describe his opponent's reaction as 'embarrassing' in a television interview, given with blood on his face. Motherwell fans spilled onto the pitch while the fight was going on and had to be ushered away by police and stewards as they goaded Rangers supporters. Former Scottish FA chief executive Gordon Smith believes it should be for the football authorities, not the Police, to deal with the matter. 'I think it was thuggery,' Smith told BBC Scotland. 'It's happened in a football match and the football authorities have to deal with it. I don't think the police should be involved.'

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Bend It Like FIFA (Slight Return)

The FIFA presidential election will take place this Friday as planned despite the arrest of seven FIFA officials on charges they received more than one hundred and fifty million dollars in bribes. Among those arrested was FIFA vice-president Jeffrey Webb. Prosecutors said they had discovered a dozen schemes, including one awarding the 2010 World Cup to South Africa. A separate criminal investigation into how the 2018 and 2022 World Cups were allocated has also begun. Swiss police said they would question ten FIFA executive committee members who participated in the votes which selected Russia and Qatar in December 2010. But, FIFA has already ruled out a re-vote, insisting Russia and Qatar will remain the respective hosts regardless of how much - alleged - dirty money was - allegedly - paid. Sepp Blatter faces Prince Ali bin al-Hussein in Friday's election as he seeks a fifth term as FIFA president. because, obviously, he's done such a bang-up job in running a piss-up in a brewary during his first four terms. Prince Ali described Wednesday's developments as 'a sad day for football' but declined to comment further. Swiss police made a series of dawn raids at the Baur au Lac hotel in Zurich, where FIFA officials are staying ahead of Friday's presidential election. The seven FIFA officials were arrested after the US Department of Justice issued a forty seven-count indictment charging fourteen defendants with racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering conspiracies in a twenty four-year scheme. The FBI also raided the headquarters of the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football in Miami Beach. 'The indictment alleges corruption that is rampant, systemic and deep-rooted,' said New York Attorney General Loretta Lynch. 'It spans at least two generations of soccer officials who, as alleged, have abused their positions of trust to acquire millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks.' Nine current or former Fifa officials, including Webb and former FIFA vice-president the odious Jack Warner have been charged with corruption. Four individual and two corporate defendants, including former Concacaf general secretary Chuck Blazer and Warner's sons Daryan and Daryll have already pleaded guilty to the charges against them. Those arrested in Switzerland were Webb, Eduardo Li, Julio Rocha, Costas Takkas, Eugenio Figueredo, Rafael Esquivel and Jose Maria Marin. They now face extradition to the United States. Warner, a former FIFA vice-president from Trinidad and Tobago, insists he is innocent of the charges. He quit world football's governing body in 2011 after being suspended pending the outcome on an investigation into corruption allegations against him. He is accused of soliciting ten million smackers in bribes from South Africa's government over the hosting of the 2010 World Cup. In a statement, he said the 'actions of FIFA no longer concern me.' In a separate move, just hours after the earlier arrests, Swiss authorities opened criminal proceedings over the awarding of the hosting rights to the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. Electronic data was seized from FIFA's headquarters in Zurich as part of a investigation into 'criminal mismanagement' and 'money laundering.' Swiss police intend to question ten FIFA executive committee members who took part in the voting process in December 2010. If convicted, the defendants could face up to twenty years in the pokey. Spelling out details of the US case, Lynch said that some FIFA executives had 'used their positions to solicit bribes. They did this over and over, year after year, tournament after tournament. They corrupted the business of worldwide soccer to serve their interests and to enrich themselves.' She alleged that some indicted individuals 'engaged in bribery to decide who would televise games, where the games would be held and who would run the organisation overseeing organised soccer worldwide.' Three years ago, FIFA hired a former US prosecutor, Michael Garcia, to investigate allegations of bribery over the awarding of the World Cups to Qatar and Russia. However, it refused to publish his report, releasing only a summary in which it said there were 'no major irregularities.' Garcia quit, saying the summary was 'erroneous.' World football's governing body has been dogged by allegations of corruption and wrongdoing in recent years. The latest events are another major blow, although FIFA's communications director insisted the organisation was committed to reform. 'This is good for FIFA,' Walter De Gregorio told a news conference. 'It hurts, it is not easy, but it confirms we are on the right track.' De Gregorio claimed that Blatter was 'very calm', adding that the seventy nine-year-old Swiss 'is fully co-operating' with the authorities. FIFA later issued a statement welcoming 'actions that can help contribute to rooting out any wrongdoing in football.' UEFA, the body that governs European football, said it was 'astonished and saddened by the events', while Jim Boyce, Britain's outgoing FIFA vice-president, said it was 'another sad day for FIFA'. England's Football Association said the developments 'are very serious for FIFA and its current leadership.' FA chairman Greg Dyke added that there 'must be a question mark' over whether the presidential election should take place now. Damian Collins, the MP who has called for FIFA reform, said it was 'a hugely significant development for FIFA' and added that Blatter had 'failed to live up to his promises' to stamp out corruption. 'Because he has totally failed to do this, it has been left to an outside law enforcement agency to do the job and take action,' said Collins.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Hard Times

A Premier League footballer has been 'caught up' in a one hundred thousand smackers blackmail attempt following an alleged one-night stand, it has been reported. The married defender, said to be 'a household name', is claimed to have spent a 'no holds barred' night of red hot rampant passion with the sweating and the thrusting and the 'yes, yes, Big Boy, harder' and that, with a woman before sending her a number of explicit photographs and videos of himself and his massive maleness. As ou do. Well, as you do if you're a hideously overpaid, numskull moron, that is. But, it has emerged that the alleged woman, allegedly in her thirties and allegedly single, then showed the allegedly intimate images of the player's naughty bits to the player's club allegedly after learning that he was married - and allegedly demanded loads of disgusting wonga in alleged return for her alleged silence. Allegedly. According to the Sun on Sunday (they're not alleged, they definitely exist), the pair allegedly met at a party close to the player's home last year and, allegedly, had sex - lots and lots of sex - some hours later. Blimey, he wasn't hanging about, was he? One wonders if he moves that fast when he's playing for his club. The newspaper quotes an alleged - anonymous, and therefore almost certainly fictitious - 'source' as allegedly saying: 'It was no holds barred. It may have been a brief encounter but it left them both exhausted. This was pure animal passion. His wife would be horrified if she ever found out the full details.' Yes, that sounds like exactly the sort of thing an alleged 'source' would allegedly tell a notorious tabloid newspaper. The alleged woman allegedly travelled to the footballer's club 'along with her family' after learning that he was married and showed officials the explicit material she had been sent. Their reaction is not reported. Although 'crikey, that's a big one. He keeps that hidden in the showers' would not have been surprising. After allegedly demanding an alleged hundred grand to 'keep quiet' - which, as far as this blogger knows is, actually, a crime - she was 'referred to the legal department at the club.' Officials have allegedly refused to pay out any cash. Whether they have also snitched her up to The Law for her alleged attempted blackmail is, also, unknown at this time. The Sun on Sunday claims that, 'for legal reasons', it cannot reveal the alleged identity of the player, the woman or the club involved. Curiously, it does not reveal where it got the story from in the first place although, there would appear to be only three potential sources and two of those would appear to have little reasons to go running to a tabloid with such a tale. It reports that the player is 'distraught' after learning the woman had contacted his club - and we're supposed to, what, feel sorry for him? - while his wife is said to be 'completely unaware' of the one-night stand.

FIFA says that it will not pay compensation to clubs and leagues unhappy about plans to play the 2022 Qatar World Cup in November and December. It also said that no apology was necessary for the idiotic scheduling of the tournament, which will disrupt a number of European leagues. A FIFA taskforce has recommended the 2022 World Cup take place in winter to avoid Qatar's hot summer temperatures. This, despite the fact that Qatar had been awarded the 2022 World Cup following a bid to hold the tournament in the summer. 'There will be no compensation,' sneered FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke. 'There are seven years to reorganise.' FIFA's executive committee will meet in Zurich next month to ratify the taskforce's recommendation. Valcke also suggested that a 2022 World Cup final on 23 December was 'looking increasingly likely.' Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore claims a final that close to Christmas will 'cause havoc' with the traditional festive club programme, while FIFA vice-president Jim Boyce wants it played a week earlier. But Valcke says that European governing body UEFA and other confederations are keen on Friday 23 December, although 18 December is 'also a possibility.' Valcke also confirmed that the 2022 World Cup will be four days shorter than previously 'as a concession' to leagues and clubs - twenty eight days instead of the usual thirty two - and that the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations will move to June from January.

The Greek government has suspended professional football in the country indefinitely. The move follows violence at a match between rivals Olympiakos and Panathinaikos, as well as a brawl between club officials at a board meeting on Tuesday. With chaps getting sparked and aal sorts. The Greek league has already been suspended twice this season due to violence. Newly-elected ruling party Syriza have pledged to stamp out the problem. As well as deal with the Germans. The suspension affects the top three divisions in the country. 'What we have been informed is that the Super League and the Football League have been suspended indefinitely,' Super League president Giorgos Borovilos told reporters. 'We have a new government who are looking to bring this subject up for discussion and implement state laws related to it.' Borovilos added: 'The government wants games to start again as soon as possible, but for that they want to see immediate reactions from all of us.' Fans hurled flares, rocks and bottles at officials during Panathinaikos's 2-1 victory over league leaders Olympiakos on Sunday. An executive meeting of Super League officials was then called off after a Panathinaikos official claimed he had been punched by Olympiakos security personnel. The two Athens clubs are known as the 'eternal enemies' and share a fierce rivalry that often spills over into a violence. Although it's still nowt compared to Newcastle and Sunderland. Matches in the professional divisions were previously halted in September and November last year. The first suspension was caused by the death of a fan after clashes between supporters of third-division teams Ethnikos Piraeus and Irodotos. The second sanction followed an assault on the assistant director of the refereeing committee.

Charlton Not Very Athletic have admitted that video footage of a couple apparently having big, hot, thrusting, sweaty sex on the centre spot of the pitch at The Valley was, in fact, a publicity stunt. The video of the man and woman had more than a million views on social media. The Addicks had claimed that the amorous pair had broken into the ground and they were 'investigating' the footage. 'We decided to own up and explain that it was set up by us to launch our pitch hire campaign,' said commercial manager Mark Hassan-Ali. The club are hiring out their pitch for fans to play on in the summer and launched the offer on their website under the headline Score at the Valley.
An unexploded Second World War bomb has been discovered close to Borussia Dortmund's Signal Iduna Park ground. The five hundred and fifty pound device, reported by German broadcaster DW as being 'of British origin', was found on Thursday and plans are in place to try and defuse it. The discovery came just hours before Dortmund boss Jurgen Klopp was due to give a news conference ahead of Saturday's derby against Schalke. The eighty thousand capacity stadium and the surrounding area was evacuated. 'It is not yet known how long the stadium area will remain off limits,' Dortmund, who shut their Fan World space and club museum, said in a brief statement. The bomb was found at a parking area to the west of the Signal Iduna Park and was discovered after viewing aerial photographs. Finding unexploded World War II bombs is a relatively common occurrence in Germany where several million tonnes of bombs were dropped by Bomber Command and the Soviet air force. The city of Dortmund suffered extensive destruction during bombing raids. Mind you, they did start the war in the first place so, you know, one could argue that those who live by the sword, die by the sword. Of course, the pen is mightier than the sword (and, much easier to fit into your top pocket as well).

China should start 'training babies' if the country is to be successful at football, according to President Xi Jinping. Who is, obviously, not mental nor nothing. The government has approved the country's 'football reform plan' and says that being good at football is the 'ardent wish of the whole nation.' As, it is indeed, the fervent wish of England. And, it's equally unlikely to happen any time soon. In its summary of the reform plan, state news agency Xinhua said: 'Grasp the development opportunity as babies.' Xi, a football fan, reportedly has three wishes for China - to qualify for another World Cup, to host one and to win one. This blogger also had three wishes although, to be fair, one of them doesn't involve football. Instead, it involves a paradise island, a big dirty woman, a swimming pool and nice plate of tasty prawn chow mein. Swings and roundabouts, innit. But, perhaps this blogger has said too much. Anyway, the Asian nation, which has a population of around 1.35 billion people, is currently placed eighty second in the FIFA world rankings. China qualified for its one and only World Cup appearance at the 2002 finals, which were held in Japan and South Korea, losing all three group games, without scoring a goal.

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Greed Has No Limit When We Reach For The Sky

Can you remember the exact moment when football began to lose its soul, dear blog reader? For yer actual Keith Telly Topping it occurred at some point in the mid-afternoon of 12 May 1990, the date of that year's FA Cup Final. For those who don't remember, the final itself was actually a terrific game between The Scum and Crystal Palace which ended in a 3-3 draw, but they day had already been soured by events from an hour or so earlier. (The Scum won the subsequent replay 1-0 a few days later.) In those days the Cup Final was still a jolly big deal and was covered extensively by both BBC1 and ITV. During the course of the BBC's six hour coverage, an interview took place between the late Tony Gubba and Crystal Palace's then owner the, now also late, Ron Noades. I dare say there will be quite a few younger dear blog readers who won't even know who Noades was so, for you, a brief history lesson. Noades was a millionaire had made his money in developing golf courses before getting involved in football and becoming owner, firstly, of Wimbledon and then of the Palace (and, later, Brentford). He was, in those days, something of a controversial figure, one of the first of a new breed of maverick, media-savvy, full-of-their-own-importance owner-chairman who seemed to relish the limelight in a way that the dull grey boardroom men of previous generations never had and were to be found getting their boat-races on telly as often, if not more often, than the managers they employed. Of course, these days, where our clubs are often owned by a series of shady figures - floggers of mucky books or dodgy sports gear, or Russian oligarchs who used to be in the KGB, Arab oil billionaires and American absentee landlords - a figure like Ron seems rather tame by comparison. But, nevertheless, in 1990, he was known for his outspoken pontificating on all manner of subjects in front of the cameras and, thus, the Beeb felt an interview with him during the course of Cup Final Grandstand would be value for money. During the interview, Gubba asked Noades a fairly straightforward question about how the Palace owner responded to criticism of the way in which he ran the club from the supporters who, after all, paid their money through the turnstiles. Didn't they deserve a say in the way in which their money was being spent? Noades's reply is etched onto this blogger's memory: 'Gone are the days,' he began, 'where supporters can makes those sort of demands of chairmen because they pay the players' wages.' He went on to explain that match day receipts now only accounted for less than half of the income which a football club depended upon (I believe the figure he actually quoted was forty five per cent, the rest being made up with external merchandising, sponsorship and other commercial activities). Now, remember, this is 1990, two full years before the first Sky TV deal was done which would make that situation a million times worse over the course of the next two decades. This blogger can remember being astounded by what Noades was saying; effectively suggesting that paying football supporters were perceived to be less important by those who ran their clubs than the number of replica shirts they could sell in the Far East. You might well be right, Ron, yer actual Keith Telly Topping thought, but I'll tell you what, I'll bet you and all of the other wideboys that run our clubs would, collectively, shite in your own pants and run an effing mile if, next Saturday, no one turned up at any football ground in this country. Of course, that will never happen, our fandom ultimately works against us in this regard. But, that was the first moment where the mask, momentarily, slipped and many football fans realised the true level of utter contempt with which they, as consumers, were held by those in charge of this game we all love.

This blogger mentions all of this because, as you may have read elsewhere, Sky Sports and BT Sport have won the latest batch of television rights for the Premier League from 2016 to 2019. The deal covers the rights to show one hundred and sixty eight games per season and is worth a total of £5.136 billion. Yes, dear blog reader, you read that figure correctly - over five billion smackers which, is the gross national debt of several third countries. Somebody's got their greed right on, good proper. The previous deal had fourteen fewer games, with Sky paying £2.3bn for one hundred and sixteen matches and BT paying seven hundred and thirty eight million knicker for thirty eight games per season. The new contract will see Sky paying £4.176bn, with BT paying nine hundred and sixty million notes. This equals three hundred and twenty million smackers per season for BT, compared to two hundred and forty six million at present. Sky's deal of £1.392bn per year is eighty three per cent up from what they paid for the current deal. 'This outcome provides a degree of certainty so clubs can continue to invest and run themselves in a sustainable manner; it also allows us to start planning how the Premier League can continue to support the rest of the football pyramid from the grassroots upwards,' claimed the Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore, as greedy disgusting Capitalist slavver dripped from his lips. 'This structure also allows us to strike a balance between match-attending fans and those who choose to watch on television. Keeping grounds full is a priority for the Premier League and our clubs, and I am sure the flexible ticketing policies that have helped keep attendances so high will continue to develop. Although we have had a successful outcome for this process, following on from the highlights' award, there is still the ongoing Ofcom investigation to be concluded. We remain confident that the Premier League's live UK broadcasting rights are sold in a way that is compatible with both UK and EU competition law as well as being of great benefit to the whole of English football.' Scudamore added that the five billion quid deal is 'not obscene.' Although, some might argued if it isn't then what, exactly, is obscene? Scudamore told BBC Sport that the size of the deal was 'a consequence' of what the fans want. 'it's market forces,' he said like a good Thatcherite when asked how the deal was justifiable in an era of supposed austerity. 'There is a product that people want to watch. First of all, first priority, keep the stadia full. Then make sure people want to watch and people want to view - and you're seeing the product of that today.' But, perhaps we shouldn't be surprised in all this naked greed. After all, football didn't lose it soul just this last week, it's a process which has been ongoing for twenty five years.

Monday, 8 December 2014

Go Tell The Spartans

Jarrett Rivers became part of FA Cup folklore by scoring in the ninetieth minute to send non-league Blyth Spartans through to the third round at the expense of League Two side Hartlepool. Rivers - who works in his mother's newsagent - broke forward on the right, produced a lovely step-over in the box before firing in a low angled shot that beat the reach of Scott Flinders. It sparked jubilant scenes as the scorer was engulfed by his team-mates, while some of the eleven hundred Spartans fans that travelled the forty miles down the north East coast to the 'Pool ran on, overwhelmed with emotion in front of the BBC TV cameras. However, the goalmouth drama was far from over as Hartlepool, bottom of League Two, mounted one last foray forward and came within inches of keeping alive their Cup hopes when Matthew Bates's strike came off the crossbar. But the Northumberland club, three divisions and sixty five places below their opponents, survived the six minutes of stoppage time to add 2014-15 to 1972, 1978 and 2009 in the list of occasions when they have reached the third-round. And if they reproduce the heart and guts on display at Victoria Park then perhaps English football's seventh tier side could emulate their exploits of thirty six years ago when they famously reached the fifth round (and, came within a minute of making it to the quarter final). Blyth hero Rivers said afterwards: 'I'm living off that goal for the rest of my life', while his manager Tom Wade told BBC Sport the victory was 'written in the stars.' Jonathan Franks's header gave Hartlepool a deserved lead for their first-half domination, before Stephen Turnbull levelled after the break for a rejuvenated Blyth, with a quality free-kick that found the keeper's top right. 'I said to the lads if we can stay in this game, these lads are getting beat week in and week out, and we have a chance,' said Turnbull, who is doing an apprenticeship with a ferry company. 'They are expected to batter us but we hung in there, sneaked a goal and got the other. We have an honest bunch of lads, everyone grafts. We are just buzzing.' Blyth are ball number fifty two in the hat for Monday's draw, when all the Premier League teams enter the competition. The draw will be televised live on BBC2. Rivers' late, late strike was heartbreak for the League Two's basement side. They created several chances in the first forty five minutes. Aside from Franks' goal - converted from Neil Austin's cross - Sidney Schmeltz had a header brilliantly saved by Peter Jeffries, while Marvin Harewood found the side-netting and Austin had two shots blocked. 'Pool were also denied when Harewood's strike at 1-1 was ruled not to have fully crossed the line; TV replays proved inconclusive. 'In the first half we were pretty good but didn't take our opportunities,' said their manager Paul Murray. 'The second half was diabolical. There was no fight, no passion, we thought we had it won. That's been the story in the league as well. There were angry words exchanged in the dressing room.' His opposite number Tom Wade added: 'We tried to keep the players calm at half-time. We knew we would have a few chances and if we could stay in the game after sixty minutes we would turn them over. We have a very young side, they are a brilliant set of lads, their attitude is fantastic. It is a great night and I am so proud.' On Saturday morning, Hartlepool made manager Murray the scapegoat for the and sacked his ass. The thirty eight-year-old had only been in charge since October after the departure of Colin Cooper. The former Oldham coach was Hartlepool's sixth manager since Mick Wadsworth's departure in December 2011 with no boss since Danny Wilson from 2006 to 2008 lasting two years in the job.

Speaking of whinging whingers with a sick agenda, Jeff Stelling launched a scathing attack on the BBC over its coverage of the Hartlepool versus Blyth match on Saturday. The Sky Sports presenter - and, completely co-incidentally, highly vocal Hartlepool supporter - criticised the rival broadcaster for filming pundit Alan Shearer inside the Conference North side's dressing room before the game, spurring the players on to their stirring deeds. Instead of Stelling, perhaps, concentrating his considerable ire on the fact that his own team's players let their supporters down so very badly with their woeful, inept and cowardly display. Just a thought to slip into your toaster there, Jeff and see if it pops up brown. 'There will be heroes on that pitch, make sure it's one of you,' Shearer told the Spartans players ahead of the match, a statement which Monkey Hanger Stelling thought was an example of BBC bias. He said: 'It's unacceptable to have Alan Shearer in the Blyth Spartans dressing room before the game saying "there will be heroes, make sure it's one of you in green and white." There are licence payers in Hartlepool too. BBC, hang your head in shame.' However, Stelling - who, of course, always presents Soccer Saturday with a complete lack of loud, crass, crowing bias whenever Hartlepool's latest appalling performance is the subject of any discussion - went on to suggest that he does not hold Shearer personally responsible for the segment, oh no, very hot water, as the former Newcastle striker was likely 'doing what he's told by a producer.' The idea that Alan Shearer does anything when 'told' to, by anyone is, of course, the biggest joke of this entire comedy saga. Shearer himself was unavailable for comment. But, if this blogger was Stelling, he'd certainly watching out for his nose if he happens to be marking Shearer at a corner any time sooner. Those elbows have felled far better men than you, kidda.
Two days after Blyth's memorable victory, another grand old North East non-league club with a cup fighting tradition, Gateshead, progressed to the third round for the first time in sixty years with a victory over eighth-tier side Warrington. The Northern Premier League Division One North outfit had, of course, reached the second round after their shcok giant-killing 1-0 win over Exeter City which was featured live on the BBC last month. Warrington fell behind to an early Gateshead goal from the former Newcastle midfielder Matty Pattison, who swept home Rob Ramshaw's cutback from the byline. Pattison and Danny Wright both hit the woodwork for The Heed, for whom former Sunderland winger John Oster was outstanding in midfield, before Wright sealed the victory in the last minute. The substitute capitalised on an error by Warrington goalkeeper Karl Willis to slide the ball into an empty net. Lee Gaskell's acrobatic volley that went just wide was as close as the visitors came.

Premier League leaders Moscow Chelski FC suffered their first defeat of the season as they were beaten at yer actual Keith Telly Topping's beloved, though unsellable, Newcastle in their fifteenth top-flight game of the campaign. The Magpies took the lead when Papiss Demba Cissé his very self slotted home after Gary Cahill missed Sammy Ameobi's low cross. An Eden Hazard shot hit a Newcastle upright before Moussa Sissoko set up supersub Cissé for another tap-in, his seventh goal of the season. The hosts then had Steven Taylor sent off for a second yellow card but, despite Didier Drogba pulling one back for the Russians, United held on for the win. Moscow Chelski FC piled forward late on and Diego Costa had a shot tipped over by twenty one-year-old goalkeeper Jak Alnwick, who was making his first team début having come on as a half-time substitute for the injured Rob Elliot. Newcastle had beaten the Blues in their last two league games at St James' Park but a repeat appeared unlikely considering the marauding form of their visitors. However, a heroic defensive performance, marshalled by centre-back and captain Fabricio Coloccini, was the foundation of a victory which ended Moscow Chelski's hopes of setting a new club record of twenty four matches unbeaten in all competitions and, as a consequence, strutting around like they owned the gaff. The defeat will also end talk of the Torpedo Stamford Bridge side repeating The Arse's 'Invincibles' by going the whole league season without losing and gives the Moscow side's title rivals the chance to make up ground. Jose Mourinho had insisted that it was 'impossible' to remain unbeaten all season and he was proven dead right as his side were frustrated by a disciplined and organised Magpies side, much in the way they were in a goalless draw at Blunderland last weekend. Before the break, Moscow Chelski FC were limited to a couple of Willian strikes which went wide, a Cahill header over the bar and a well-struck Oscar overhead kick past the frame of the goal. The hosts gradually grew in confidence as they quelled the Blues' threat and might have taken a surprise lead. Ameobi found Ayoze Perez and his sliding pass released Jack Colback, but the midfielder was thwarted when Moscow Chelski's keeper, Thibaut Courtois, saved his close range shot with a foot. It was easy to see how Newcastle had lost just once in nine games but they suffered a setback when goalkeeper Elliot failed to emerge for the second half, having injured himself taking a goal-kick. With regular keeper Tim Krul already out injured, that meant a debut for young Alnwick, whose first piece of action was to punch away a Cesc Fabregas free-kick assuredly. Alnwick should have been tested again when another Fabregas free-kick found John Mikel Obi in space at the near post only for the midfielder to head wide, wastefully. The miss was immediately punished when, at the other end, Cahill missed a low Ameobi cross and Cissé who had just come on as a substitute slotted in from close range. Moscow Chelski exerted more pressure but, forty seconds after a Hazard shot came back off a post, Newcastle extended their lead when Cissé scored after a swift counter-attack involving the impressive Colback and Sissoko. A Steven Taylor foul on Andre Schurrle earned the defender his second yellow card left the Magpies a man down for the last ten minutes. And, in a dramatic finale, Drogba gave Moscow Chelski some hope when he nodded in a Fabregas free-kick. However, Newcastle stood firm as Mourinho was left still searching for his first win at St James' Park in five attempts as Moscow Chelski FC manager. After the game, Mourinho was his usual mixture of providing entertaining soundbites and, in equal number, providing sour-faced, graceless, undignified and whinging comments in which he blamed everyone - from the crowd to Newcastle's ball-boys - for his team's defeat. Blamed everyone, that is, except his own players' for their inability to score more goals than their opponents and to defend properly. Odd, that. Alan Pardew, meanwhile, celebrating his a fourth anniversary in charge at St James Park this weekend, will reflect on what a funny old game football can be.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Power, Corruption & Lies

The Football Association has been urged to lobby UEFA for a European boycott of the next World Cup - unless FFIA implements meaningful reform. Which, they're obviously not going to because they're run by thieves and criminals. Former FA chairman David Bernstein said it was time for 'drastic action' against football's world governing body. 'England on its own cannot influence this,' he said. 'If we tried something like that, we'd be laughed at.' He says that a World Cup would be weakened without Europe's top teams and that a boycott would have public backing. 'If I was at the FA now, I would do everything I could to encourage other nations within UEFA - and there are some who would definitely be on side, others may be not - to take this line,' he added. 'At some stage, you have to walk the walk, stop talking and do something.' Bernstein said that he also wanted FIFA's president, the odious Sepp Blatter, to step down but described him as 'formidable, very shrewd, very smart', conceding it would 'not be easy' to bring his reign to an end. In an interview, the seventy one-year-old also said: FIFA is 'a totalitarian set-up' which reminds him of 'the old Soviet empire' and is 'beyond ridicule'; that the credibility of football is 'suffering enormously' under the current FFIA regime and that choosing Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup was 'one of the most ludicrous decisions in the history of sport.' Bernstein chose to speak out after a report into the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups cleared Russia and Qatar of any wrongdoing but was critical of England, accusing the FA of 'flouting bid rules' in its failed attempt to win the right to stage the 2018 event. Yet less than four hours after the document's release, it was questioned by Michael Garcia, the man who conducted the two-year investigation into corruption claims. The furore surrounding the report is the latest controversy to hit football's world governing body, which has been riddled with allegations of corruption in recent times. Now Bernstein, who led the FA for three years from January 2011, wants FIFA to change its ways or face a challenge it finds impossible to ignore. When asked again if he was calling for the FA to unite with UEFA to boycott the World Cup, he replied: 'Unless [FIFA] could achieve the reforms that would bring FIFA back into the respectable world community, yes I would. It sounds drastic, but, frankly, this has gone on for years now. It's not improving, it's going from bad to worse to worse.' He said that there were fifty four countries within UEFA and described Germany, Spain, Italy, France and Holland as 'all powerful.' He added: 'You can't hold a serious World Cup without them. They have the power to influence if they have the will.' Similar views have been expressed over the weekend by German Football League president Reinhard Rauball, who suggested UEFA could leave FIFA if the findings of the two-year investigation into corruption claims are not published in full. As for criticism of England by the FIFA report, Bernstein accused football's world governing body of 'trying to deflect attention' from its own failings. 'I don't think much to these accusations,' he said. 'I don't think we should get away from the real issue. The real issue is FIFA governance and trying to achieve real change. But it won't happen easily. FIFA is sort of a totalitarian set-up. Bits of it remind me of the old Soviet empire. People don't speak out and if they do they get quashed.' Bernstein also described the decision to award the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, where blistering summer temperatures means the event could be switched to winter, 'as one of the most ludicrous decisions in the history of sport.' He added: 'You might as well have chosen Iceland in the winter. It was like an Alice in Wonderland sort of decision. The attempt to change the timing is also absolutely wrong.' He felt the decision to choose Qatar as 2022 hosts could come under further scrutiny. 'There's also a background of political, social and employment issues that keep emerging and I think there's a danger that FIFA and football might be embarrassed by what emerges in the coming years,' said the former Sheikh Yer Man City chairman. 'It's certainly not sour grapes. England didn't lose to Qatar, we lost to Russia. Qatar is clearly a totally unsuitable place to hold a World Cup.' Bernstein also revealed he has quit FIFA's anti-discrimination taskforce. He described it as 'ineffectual' and wishes to end his ties with FIFA. Explaining his decision to leave the taskforce, which was introduced in 2013, Bernstein said: 'I've resigned for two reasons. Firstly, the body has been pretty ineffectual. I've been on it for more than a year and we only had one meeting. Secondly, because frankly I don't wish to be personally associated with FIFA any further. FIFA sets up these things - and we've seen it with their regulation - that look good in theory but don't seem to do very much in practice.'

In calling for the organisation he used to lead to unite with UEFA and lead a boycott of the World Cup - as well as a breakaway from FIFA - Bernstein has dared say what many have no doubt been thinking. After all, if the FA are so outraged with the world governing body's handling of the investigation into the bidding for the next two World Cups - and, they damn-well should be - then why not take drastic action and salvage some dignity by voting with one's feet? Sadly for the FA, there are plenty of reasons and, most of them are financial. Firstly, with two hundred and sixty seven million smackers of debt still to pay off for the seven hundred and fifty seven million knicker Wembley Stadium, the FA simply could not afford to lose the revenue that comes with hosting World Cup qualifiers, not to mention the sponsorship that results from contesting one of the world's most fabled sports events. Breaking away from FIFA would have major ramifications, too. A place on the International Football Association Board - the game's law-making body - would be sacrificed, for instance, while England representative teams at every age group would be unable to compete in their respective world championships. As Bernstein himself suggests, the FA would never dare to go it alone. It would need the support of UEFA. But there are encouraging signs on this front. Over the past weekend, the president of the German Football League warned that UEFA's fifty four member nations could quit FIFA if Michael Garcia's full report into the 2018 and 2022 World Cups is not fully published. Certainly, at a time when European football is already furious with Sepp Blatter - for standing for a fifth term as FIFA president after promising not to and for being expected to entirely rearrange its calendar to accommodate a winter World Cup in Qatar - you may think a breakaway has never been more likely. After all, Europe has the Champions League and the European Championships, which attracts the best of the global talent pool. Then there is the Nations League, which, from 2018, will attempt to make international friendlies more significant. But it's unlikely that this new format will be extended to fill the vacuum left if European countries refused to take part in the World Cup. With Russia hosting the next World Cup, it is hard to see them feeling the need to join a European rebellion. As for Spain and Portugal, they have no problem with the report into allegations of World Cup corruption, not after they were cleared of any wrongdoing over their bid for the 2018 World Cup. Then there is UEFA president, oily little glake Michel Platini. Having voted for Qatar as 2022 World Cup hosts, it is not easy to see why he would back a boycott. And if UEFA is so upset with Blatter, why isn't it putting up a credible challenger to him? Why, for example, is Platini himself not standing? It's hard not to take the view that UEFA will try to use FIFA's current meltdown, not to turn its back on football's world governing body, but to strengthen its power and influence, especially when it comes to the presidential election next year and negotiations over 2022 scheduling. Which, in and of itself, isn't an entirely healthy option. The FA knows this and that is why its plan is to bring about change from within. Next year, it hopes to get its vice-chairman David Gill - already a member of UEFA's executive committee - on to the FIFA executive committee as the home nations representative. If the FA was to suddenly agree with its former chairman Bernstein and call for a boycott on moral grounds, it would stand accused of hypocrisy. After all, according to FIFA ethics judge Hans-Joachim Eckert, Garcia found that England's own twenty one million quid bid for the 2018 World Cup was guilty of breaking a few bidding rules. And let us not forget that, as recently as 2010, the English FA's bid team ludicrously attacked the BBC as 'unpatriotic' over a Panorama programme which looked into allegations of FIFA corruption - more or less exactly the same allegations that the FA is now voicing itself - such was its grovelling desperation to land the game's show piece event. Would Bernstein and the man who replaced him as FA Chairman Greg Dyke be this outraged by FIFA if England had won the vote? And would there by quite so much current media scrutiny of the 2022 World Cup hosts if Australia or the USA had won, rather than Qatar? Almost certainly not. Given all this, how easily could the FA claim the moral high ground? One can understand why the FA feel hard done by following the FIFA report into World Cup corruption. Much of it is simply inexplicable. Why, for example, was the English 2018 bid criticised when it was so obviously more open and transparent about what it did than the 'highly uncooperative' Russians, for instance, whose computers were destroyed along with any potential e-mail chains? How can England be admonished for their thirty five thousand dollars sponsorship of a Caribbean Football Union gala dinner in the hope of gaining the support of the odious Jack Warner when Qatar got away with a $1.8m sponsorship of the CAF Congress in Angola shortly before the 2010 vote? Why did Eckert take it upon himself now - before Garcia has even had the chance to open proceedings against individuals suspected of wrongdoing - to recommend there was 'no need' for any kind of re-vote? Why was the evidence from alleged whistleblowers dismissed so readily? Why - short of crass and brown-tongued arse-licking was Blatter praised in Eckert's concluding sentences? And what exactly is it about Eckert's summary that Garcia has such a problem with? These questions have left FIFA in apparent meltdown, the credibility of its landmark investigation - something that was meant to restore faith and trust in a scandal-plagued organisation - in tatters. Its next move will be interesting, but football's world governing body will no doubt come under increasing pressure to publish the full Garcia report. Nevertheless, thanks to FIFA's 'Financial Assistance Programme' - the hundreds of millions of pounds that it hands out to regional confederations and national associations in the form of 'development' payments - Blatter knows he has solid support in Africa, Asia and South America. A European breakaway would simply be portrayed as a selfish (possibly racist or colonialist) move by the wealthiest region in the sport. Blatter will not lose any sleep over what his old adversary Bernstein says. Or about current FA chairman Greg Dyke calling the Eckert report 'a joke.' Rumours coming out of the United States that the FBI are keen to press ahead with their own investigation into senior FIFA officials, however, should concern him far more. So should the fact that Dubai-based airline Emirates recently ended its sponsorship deal with FIFA, with South Korean electronics giant Samsung expected to follow suit. The continuous loss of the sponsors which generate billions of pounds for FIFA, rather than the threats of former FA chairmen, are what would really rattle Blatter. It's a horrifying thought that one of the few things which would likely cause change at FIFA is if their major sponsor Coca-Cola decided to develop of conscience. And, of course, we all know that's very unlikely to happen. Three years ago, when he was FA chairman, Bernstein made a lone appeal to postpone the unopposed re-election of Blatter in the wake of serious bribery allegations involving FIFA executive committee members Mohamed bin Hammam and the odious Warner. The rebellion failed and left the FA more isolated than ever. Just like then, Bernstein may now win praise for his principles, but this latest stand will almost certainly meet the same fate.

Monday, 14 July 2014

Day Thirty One: Deutschland Sind Die Weltmeister

Germany were crowned world champions for the fourth time as Mario Götze's extra-time winner beat Argentina in the World Cup final in Brazil. The German substitute demonstrated perfect technique and commendable calm to chest down André Schürrle's cross before volleying in with seven minutes left. Both sides wasted chances in normal time, Argentina's Gonzalo Higuain and Lionel Messi both dragging wide. Benedikt Höwedes hit the Argentine post with a header late in the first half, but it was Götze's volley which was the queue for wild German celebrations. Argentina, with skipper Messi looking subdued despite flashes of talent, could not respond and Germany claimed their first World Cup since they beat the same opponents in Rome twenty four years ago. The success means Joachim Löw's side have become the first European team to win the trophy in the Americas. Germany had to regroup after losing key midfielder Sami Khedira to injury in the warm-up - and his replacement Christoph Kramer to a blow to the head before half-time - but they shrugged off these setbacks to write another triumphant chapter in their sporting history. Argentina's fans were in the vast majority of a crowd that created a vibrant atmosphere inside the Maracana - although Germany were also well represented and had the support of many yellow-clad Brazil supporters who still turned up despite seeing their hopes of watching the hosts in the final dashed by that stunning semi-final beating. German supporters stayed in their places more than an hour after the final whistle as the victorious side indulged in lengthy celebrations of a win which vindicated the rebuilding plan put in place a decade ago when they suffered the humiliation of going out of Euro 2004 at the group stage, which resulted in then coach Rudi Völler's resignation. It was a process which has also seen Bayern München become one of the most pre-eminent club sides in European (and world) football and it was not an insignificant factor that seven of the winning German side play their club football for Bayern. Germany had reached the semi-finals of the previous two World Cups but have now managed the crowning achievement for Löw, who not only brought the trophy back to Germany, but also ended Europe's grim record in this tournament on South American soil. Argentina failed to have a shot on target in the entire game and four-time world player of the year Messi looked an increasingly jaded figure as the game went on. The Barcelona midfielder never stopped striving to carry his team over the line in the manner achieved by his predecessor Diego Maradona, who inspired a not particularly good Argentina side to their last World Cup when they beat what was then west Germany in Mexico City in 1986. For Germany this completes the transition for a group of emerging players such as Golden Glove winner Manuel Neuer, midfielder Mesut Özil, defender Mats Hummels, captain Philipp Lahm, Thomas Müller, Toni Kroos and the injured Khedira. After destroying hosts Brazil seven-one in Tuesday's semi-final in Belo Horizonte, this was a game that required different qualities such as resilience and concentration - but Germany have those qualities in abundance and were never found wanting and their ecstatic celebrations at the end were in contrast to the bitter tears of the Argentines. And ominously, twenty two-year-old match-winner Götze symbolises the next generation of Germany players that coach Löw declared would dominate for ze whole vert for years to come when he addressed the media twenty four hours before this final. For now, though, they have another World Cup to celebrate and while it may not have been the extravaganza many hoped would crown this generally thrilling tournament, Germany were worthy winners. Argentina, with Messi's speed and sleight of foot posing problems for the previously untroubled Hummels in the early phases, had the game's first big opportunity courtesy of Toni Kroos' error. The Bayern München midfielder delivered a misplaced header which sent Higuain clear on goal but the striker did not live up to his elevated reputation with a horrible miscued finish that did not trouble Neuer. Higuain had the ball in the net soon after from Ezequiel Lavezzi's cross but he was clearly offside - although his prolonged celebration and then stroppy discombobulation when he finally spotted the flag suggested that he thought differently. As Argentina continued to trouble the German defence, it needed a crucial clearance from Jérôme Boateng on the goalline as Messi pulled the ball back for his in-rushing colleagues. It was not all Argentina though, and their keeper Sergio Romero was forced to make a fine save from substitute Schürrle - on for the concussed Kramer - a stop made even better as Özil ducked right in front of the unsighted keeper as the shot came in. The closest either side came to a goal was right on half-time, when Höwedes crashed Kroos' corner against the post with Romero well beaten. Messi had been threatening and he almost put Argentina ahead seconds after the break, only to pull a poor finish across goal with his normally lethal left foot. As the final entered the closing ten minutes, Kroos had Germany's clearest opening for some time but he sent a sidefoot finish off target after Özil had laid the ball invitingly into his path. So it was extra time - and while Rodrigo Palacio was off target when he lofted a finish over Neuer - Götze showed his class and composure to decide an increasingly attritional and tetchy game with the final flourish of quality this World Cup in Brazil fully deserved as its conclusion.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Day Thirty: Third Is The New Fourth

Brazil's World Cup campaign came to a miserable end as the hosts were convincingly beaten by the Netherlands in the single most pointless exercise in world sport, the World Cup third-place play-off. Goals from Robin van Persie, Daley Blind and Georginio Wijnaldum condemned Brazil to back-to-back defeats on home soil for the first time since 1940, following Tuesday's embarrassing seven-one loss to Germany in the semi-final. As an added insult, Brazil must now watch as their fiercest rivals, Argentina, take on the Germans for the chance to win the World Cup at Brazilian football's spiritual home, the Maracana, on Sunday. Having backed their side so vocally throughout, home supporters turned on Brazil on Tuesday, cheering opposition attacks and directing loud boos at their own players and their frustration continued in the capital, Brasilia. Coach Luiz Felipe Scolari bore the brunt of their anger and his long-term future as national team boss must now be in doubt. Brazil's fans had packed homes, bars and fan parks to watch the action, leaving streets near empty, but the shock defeat by Germany left a question mark over how they would greet their team before Saturday's game. There was little indication in the build-up that their interest had wavered, as thousands descended on the Copacabana beach fan park in Rio, while the Estadio Nacional was close to capacity. When the teams emerged from the tunnel to go through their pre-match warm-ups, the players were greeted by loud cheers, which increased in volume when injured talisman Neymar appeared. The striker - who scored four goals before a back injury ruled him out of the Germany debacle - was wearing a full training kit, but watched from the bench as his team-mates went onto the pitch. It seemed the Brazilian fans were determined to support their team, but they also made it known they had not forgotten the spanking handed out to them by Germany as loud boos rang out when the names of Scolari and beleaguered striker Fred were read out. The hapless Fred was one of six starters against Germany who were relegated to the bench against the Netherlands and several players from Brazil's twenty three-man squad are likely to have played in their last World Cup. Whatever the future holds, it was briefly forgotten about before Saturday's game as players and fans once again sang the Brazil national anthem in unison. It was as rousing a rendition of the anthem as any throughout the tournament, but thoughts of redemption lasted barely three minutes, when Brazil captain Silva pulled back Robben and the referee awarded a penalty, which Van Persie expertly converted. Quite why Silva wasn't shown a straight red card was beyond the understanding of most observers since if that was the very definition of a goal-scoring opportunity, then what the hell is? The home fans were stunned into silence, but it was to get worse barely fifteen minutes later when they conceded a second. This time David Luiz - you know, the chap whom FIFA were bigging up as 'the player of the tournament' just a few days ago - committed one of the cardinal sins of defending when heading a tame clearance straight to Blind on the penalty spot. The Dutch midfielder steadied himself and found the top corner for his first international goal. Brazilian faces were sullen, perhaps fearful of similar capitulation that saw Brazil concede five goals in just fifteen minutes against Germany. They improved, slightly, as the half wore on, but it was not enough for the players to avoid being booed as they left the field at the break. The game slowed to a pedestrian pace in the second half, with Brazil fans continuing to boo Scolari every time the big screen in the stadium showed the sixty five-year-old's miserable face. Ramires flashed a shot wide before Oscar was booked for diving as Brazil strived for some way back into the game. Instead, though, Wijnaldum completed another sorry defeat for Scolari's side with a third goal in stoppage time. Echoing full-time in the defeat by Germany, the final whistle was greeted with a huge chorus of boos. It was a positive send-off for departing Netherlands boss Louis van Gaal - who had whinged before the game, rightly, about what an utterly pointless exercise the whole third-place play-off malarkey was and is - as he embarks on his next assignment, as manager of The Scum. But for Brazil, a tournament that started with optimism and promise for the five-time winners ended in frustration.

Friday, 11 July 2014

Day Twenty Nine: Shoot The Runner

Ray Whelan, head of FIFA partner Match Hospitality, has fled to escape arrest in Rio over alleged illegal World Cup ticket sales, Brazilian police say. Police chief Fabio Barucke said that Whelan was 'officially considered a fugitive from justice.' Earlier on Thursday, a judge accepted an indictment for Whelan - who is British - and eleven others. An 'international gang' is said to have earned some fifty million quid per tournament and may have acted at four World Cups. The gang is believed to have been making money by acquiring and illegally selling on VIP tickets and hospitality passes. Whelan was first detained on Monday at the exclusive Copacabana Palace hotel in Rio and released after questioning. The other eleven suspects were arrested last week. In a statement after his arrest, Match Hospitality denied any wrongdoing by Whelan, and said that he would co-operate with any investigation. However, police in Rio said that they went to Whelan's room in the Copacabana Palace but he was no longer there and they were told he had left an hour earlier. Barucke said outside the hotel: 'We have security camera images of him exiting the hotel through a service door.' Brazilian newspaper O Globo, quoting police 'sources', said Whelan had 'fled the hotel' with his lawyer, Fernando Fernandes, who was now 'negotiating with officials' over the terms on which his client would present himself to police. After his initial arrest, Whelan was reported to have surrendered his passport and returned his FIFA credentials for the World Cup. Switzerland-based Match Hospitality - part of UK sports event manager company Byrom based in Cheadle - said on Tuesday that it was 'assisting the police investigation.' FIFA also said it continued 'to fully collaborate with the local authorities and will provide any details requested.'

Ghana's government has said it is 'scandalised' after two hundred Ghanaian World Cup fans asked for asylum in Brazil, saying they were Muslims fleeing religious conflict. A government statement said there was no religious violence in the country. The group are believed to be part of a government-sponsored delegation, mainly comprising supporters of the governing party. Ghana is seen as one of West Africa's most peaceful and prosperous countries. 'The basis for this alleged request is completely false as no religious conflict is taking place in Ghana,' said a statement from Deputy Information Minister Felix Kwakye Ofosu. 'Ghana's mission in Brazil has been instructed to liaise with the Brazilian authorities to investigate the matter.'

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Day Twenty Eight: Orange, Squashed

Argentina will meet Germany in Sunday's World Cup final at the Maracana after winning a penalty shootout to eliminate the Netherlands. After one hundred and twenty somewhat tedious and wholly goalless minutes which were in stark contrast to the spectacular shock of the first semi-final between Brazil and the Germans, Argentina prevailed and a repeat of the 1986 and 1990 finals - when they played West Germany - will be played out in Rio. Goalkeeper Sergio Romero was the hero with penalty saves from Ron Vlaar and Wesley Sneijder, while his opposite number, Jasper Cillessen, was unable to repeat the heroic feats of his deputy, Tim Krul, in the quarter-final win against Costa Rica. And for Brazil, a nation still coming to terms with their worst defeat after being crushed seven-one by Germany in Belo Horizonte, there is arguably the even more harrowing prospect of seeing their fierce rivals Argentina lift the World Cup in the iconic surroundings of the Maracana. Germany will be favourites given the manner in which they destroyed Brazil but there is a streak of steel running through Alejandro Sabella's side which offers resilience beyond the genius of Lionel Messi. Dutch coach Louis van Gaal - who will now complete the formalities by guiding his side in Saturday's third/fourth place play-off before taking over at The Scum - employed first the returning Nigel de Jong, then Jordy Clasie, to shadow and nullify the influence of Messi. The plan broadly succeeded but Van Gaal's problem was his side's failure to pose any attacking threat, with Robin van Persie peripheral and substituted and Arjen Robben only able to deliver their first shot on target after ninety nine minutes. That Argentina's chances were at a premium was down, in large part, to Aston Villain Vlaar, the game's outstanding performer at the heart of the Dutch defence. He did not deserve the cruel fate of being one of those to miss a penalty. So to Sunday's showpiece and the repeat of the 1986 final, which Argentina won three-two to record their last World Cup triumph and West Germany's one-nil victory in Rome four years later, which was their last win. Argentina will see the prospect of winning in Brazil's heartland as the perfect incentive. Earlier in this tournament, their supporters had flooded across the border in thousands in a show of support and they will do so again. This was not a spectacle of any sort, but as firecrackers went off among Argentina fans and their players celebrated in front of them in the Sao Paulo rain, they did not have a care. The pattern was set from the opening moments as De Jong's role - upon his surprise recovery from a groin injury which had been earlier reported to be likely to keep him out for the tournament - became clear. He was to stay in close proximity to Messi in an attempt to stifle Argentina's main creative force and, to a large extent, it worked. Messi, however, cannot be kept completely quiet and he produced the only serious test for either goalkeeper in a stale first half when his free-kick was held comfortably by Cillessen after Vlaar fouled Enzo Perez. Robben's lack of influence was reflected in the statistic that he only had four touches of the ball in the first forty five minutes, also an indication of how the Netherlands had failed to test Argentina's defence. As heavy rain poured down on the Arena de Sao Paulo's uncovered stands after the interval and some fans decided to seek shelter out of sight of the game, the stretching Gonzalo Higuain came closest to breaking the stalemate when he steered Perez's angled cross into the side-netting. Sabella made a double change with ten minutes remaining, sending on Aguero and Rodrigo Palacio for Higuain and Perez, but still there was no invention or ambition. Van Gaal even sacrificed the listless Van Persie in extra time - his third change, a move which deprived the coach of the opportunity to introduce Krul again - and the tedium was lifted when Robben produced the first Dutch shot on target after nine minutes of extra time. It was saved easily by Romero. In a rare spell of excitement, Cillessen saved from Palacio and Maxi Rodriguez but there was no escaping the almost inevitable conclusion of penalties. Vlaar had his opening penalty saved by Romero and, when Sneijder missed their third, the Netherlands' fate was effectively sealed. Robben and Dirk Kuyt scored but Argentina were unerring, with Messi, Ezequiel Garay and Aguero on target before Rodriguez's kick sent Sabella's side to Rio.