Respect

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (February 21st 2015)

Reputations

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Carlos Velasco Carballo rapidly established himself as Spainʼs top referee since deciding to concentrate on officiating in 2010. He had built up a reputation as a firm but fair referee – one who managed to combine a disciplinarian streak with letting the game flow. This was quite an achievement. It was not unusual for there to be several yellow cards and the odd red card too.

Armed with the appropriate FIFA badge, Velasco Carballo refereed his first international in 2008. His first season refereeing past qualifiers for the Championʼs League coincided with a meteoric rise. In that season he was awarded the 2011 Europa League Final in Dublin. Radamel Falcao García Zárate – then playing for Porto – set a Europa League (UEFA Cup) record for goals scored in the competition.

It was a niggly match settled by a solitary goal scored by Falcao and liberally peppered by fouls and cards. 42 fouls resulted in eight yellow cards. This was a typical Velasco Carballo performance. The following season, he continued where he left off. Velasco Carballo refereed 19 Primera División matches and brandished 16 red cards.

He was Spainʼs representative at Euro2012 ahead of the more experienced Alberto Undiano Mallenco. He refereed the opening match in Poland against Greece. Sokratis Papasthapoulos was controversially sent off, having received two unfortunate yellow cards.

Stock

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Velasco Carballoʼs stock plummeted at the World Cup in the wretched quarter-final between Brasil and Colombia. Some say the occasion got to him, but that does not explain his performance. It wasnʼt just the record tally of fouls – 54 – some of which were appalling. Flagrant encroachment at a free-kick was not only unpunished, but rewarded. It was a performance that defied explanation.

He permitted over 40 offences before brandishing a yellow card in that match in Fortaleza and the first was for a comparatively trivial offence compared to what had gone before and later. FIFA insists that there was no directive to referees to show leniency when it came to showing cards and refused to criticise Velasco Carballoʼs performance in Fortaleza.

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Diego Maradona and Falcao were scathing in their criticism, but they werenʼt to know that Velasco Carballo had officiated against type. It remained to be seen how the Spaniard would perform post Fortaleza. If FIFA was correct and there was no directive then Velasco Carballo must have chosen to abandon his previous style and referee in an alien fashion, which he would no doubt stick to.

The Renaissance

His reputation had taken a mauling during the World Cup. But the signs were there after the World Cup that Velasco Carballo had refereed that match in an alien manner. Last December he refereed Eibar versus Valencia. There were 21 fouls, but 10 yellow cards, four in the last ten minutes. His first match of the new year took place on January 3rd between Sevilla and Celta de Vigo. There were 45 fouls. Velasco Carballo showed nine yellow cards and one red.

It was nowhere near as dirty a match as that infamous quarter-final. A league match between Real Sociedad and Villarreal last month had 24 fouls. He brandished ten yellow cards and a red card too. Just over a month ago he refereed a local encounter Levante versus Elche. Velasco Carballo showed a red card to David Navarro after just 6 minutes. He also showed six yellow cards. There were 26 fouls in the match. Clearly, this was not a referee who would not use his cards if the offence warranted it in Spain. What about in European competition?

He officiated the match between Schalke04 and Maribor in September. There were 24 fouls and five yellow cards were shown, all in the second half. He refereed FCK versus Bayer Leverkusen last August. Each side committed 12 fouls. He showed six yellow cards. Anderlechtʼs home defeat by Arsenal resulted in just three yellow cards with 27 fouls. Ajax beat the Cypriots APOEL comfortably at home in December. The 4-0 drubbing had 16 fouls, 8 each. Two Cypriot players were the only ones booked. It was hardly a dirty match deserving a flurry of cards.

His latest international after the World Cup was a Euro2016 qualifier between Iceland and the Netherlands. Iceland won 2-0. There were 23 fouls and only one booking – Nigel de Jong in the last ten minutes. But all of these statistics donʼt necessarily tell the whole story – not all fouls deserve cards. I have seen only two of his matches since the World Cup – Sevilla versus Celta de Vigo and last Thursdayʼs Europa League tie at White Hart Lane. His performances were true to form. Fortaleza was an aberration.

The Return

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Fans of los Cafeteros present at White Hart Lane would be forgiven a double take or two at his performance on Thursday night. It was the same referee who lost control of the quarter-final between Brasil and Colombia. There was never any danger of a repeat dose tonight as long as there were no ludicrous directives. It soon became clear that there were not.

Just three minutes into the match those familiar with the style and performances of Madrid-based referee Carlos Velasco Carballo – remember him – saw a familiar sight. The real Velasco Carballo jogging over to Spursʼ right wing with intent. Gonzalo Rodríguez brought down Andros Townsend. It was a bad foul that deserved a booking and got one.

Velasco Carballo had made it clear where his line was and the match quickly settled down. There was no danger that this would degenerate into foul fare. The referee was in control. The whole match had 24 fouls and just three yellow cards. The refereeʼs authority was never in doubt and it flowed. There was no need for more cards. This is the real Carlos Velasco Carballo.

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Life After Cuadrado

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (February 18th 2015)

Won’t be Missed

Tottenham Hotspur manager Mauricio Pochettino told a press conference that Fiorentina won’t miss Juan Guillermo Cuadrado Bello. The Colombian winger – one of the stars of los Cafeteros’ best ever World Cup – went to Chelsea in the January transfer window. Egyptian winger Mohamed Salah went in the opposite direction on loan for the rest of the season.

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Salah has already said that he wants to stay in the renaissance city. He scored at the weekend and will be keen to impress. Salah’s rapid return to English soil with a point to prove will grab the headlines, but a forgotten Englishman returns too for the first time since his departure for sunnier climes in the summer – former Manchester City and England defender Micah Richards

But most column inches will be about the Cuadrado-sized hole in the Viola’s plans, plugged by among others Salah. “Juan [Cuadrado] is an unbelievable player, but it is true Fiorentina have a strong squad”, Pochettino said. “We have seen a lot of their games and they have a very good team. They have a lot of players and I’m sure they will do fine without him”.

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Impact of the Loss of Cuadrado

Vincenzo Montella the young coach of the Viola would rather talk about the players he still has or brought in than the versatile Colombian winger, but talk he must. “Well I think we pulled of a bit of a coup ourselves to be honest with you in signing Salah, but joking aside of course, itʼs almost a source of professional pride that someone wanted to pay so much for Cuadrado and that he developed so much as a player, because he certainly wasnʼt at that level when he first arrived to play for us, so I think us, the management and the players are very proud of how far heʼs been able to go with our help, but we havenʼt just replaced him with one player”, Montella said. “Weʼve replaced him with several players”.

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Cuadrado wanted to leave Florence last year even before the World Cup. His erstwhile Viola team-mates must get used to his absence and to his replacement. “Salah is a very good player”, Montella said. “Heʼs used to playing at this level and although heʼs only been with us for a short while, heʼs already shown very quickly thatʼs heʼs up to playing very well in Italy and playing very well for us”.

Veteran defender Manuel Pasqual agrees. “Cuadradoʼs a great player, the kind of guy who could make a difference on the pitch, but I think that Salahʼs got off to a flying start”, he said. “Heʼs being doing really well and I hope that he just continues playing the way he is at the moment”.

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The Shop Window

Fiorentina did not want to sell him, but money talks and Cuadrado had put himself in the shop window by having an exceptional World Cup. It was going to be a tough job to keep him. The Viola did well to stave off interest in the summer transfer window.

James Rodríguez Rubio had starred in the absence of the injured Radamel Falcao García Zárate and got the move both coveted to European champions Real Madrid. Falcao moved to Manchester United on deadline day on loan – a move that hasn’t worked for either party yet.

But while those stars got their moves Cuadrado stayed put in Florence, but his heart was already wandering. Cuadrado wanted to capitalise on his successful World Cup, but the hoped for move to Barçelona failed to materialise – he was the one major Colombian star not to get a big money move.

For a while at least it looked as if the Fiorentina might just keep their star. “He’s very important”, Fiorentina’s Administrative Delegate Sandro Mencucci told us exclusively at the Europa League Draw. “He’s one of the best players in the world in my opinion and it’s important that Cuadrado is with our team. We are a strong team – very tough”.

Going, Going, Gone

Cuadrado was not happy, but the Camp Nou faded into the distance as the transfer ban on the Catalan giants ended any hopes of a transfer there this season or in the summer. “Yes, he’s very important,” Mencucci.

Fiorentina had made him a better player than when he joined them from Udinese in 2012.Montella was quick to point that out. So how much was he worth? Mencucci laughs. “It’s difficult to talk about a sum”, he says determined to avoid tipping off potential suitors to the likely price. “I think that’s great valuable”. The message from Mencucci was clear. “No, no”, he said. “I don’t want to sell”.

But money talks and Cuadrado wanted to leave Florence. Chelsea knew his buy-out clause and got permission to talk to him. Before long their bid was accepted. Cuadrado – a boy who grew up in poverty without his father, because he was murdered during the appalling drug-related violence that tortured that nation in the 1990s – had joined the Premier League’s millionaires row.

He’d come a long way from his origins when the boy with a passion for football would go to extraordinary lengths to play the sport he loved, despite his mother’s and then grand-mother’s disapproval. He made his Champion’s League bow for his new club from the bench on Tuesday against Paris Saint Germain.

Familiar Faces

If he’s watching his old team tonight he will see plenty of familiar faces, including an unexpected one. “As far as officiating, then, no [he has no concerns] as far weʼre concerned”, Montella said. “The referees do their job. We respect their decisions; thatʼs it”. Cuadrado will beg to differ when he sees who the referee is. Carlos Velasco Carballo was the official who lost or never had control of the quarter-final between Brasil and Colombia (see Pockmarked at https://empowersport.wordpress.com/2015/01/10/pockmarked/).

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If the Spaniard referees as he normally does (see Tatters at https://empowersport.wordpress.com/2015/01/10/2007/), Cuadrado’s incredulity will turn to bemusement and then incredulity and anger. Velasco Carballo was a very different type of referee before the World Cup and returned to form afterwards. Colombians still await a satisfactory answer of why he refereed against form in Fortaleza.

Shameful

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (February 6th 2015)

Appalling

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The 30th edition of the African Cup of Nations descended into complete chaos this week. Both the quarter-final and semi-final involving the host Equatorial Guinea were shameful. Lacking skills and ability the hosts had little option but to try to intimidate the far more accomplished Tunisians and also the referee. There would be no repetition against the far more accomplished Black Stars.

Ghana outclassed the hosts. With less than ten minutes remaining and trailing 3-0 the 15,000 strong crowd in Malabo turned on Ghanaʼs supporters, hurling missiles at them. The Black Starsʼ fans took refuge by the pitch. Still the objects rained down on them. The match was suspended for half an hour. It resumed in farcical conditions, playing just the three minutes of added time. Ghana progressed imperiously to the final where they will play la Côte dʼIvoire – a repeat of the 1992 final in Senegal, which the Ivorians won on penalties.

Gamesmanship

Meanwhile, the headache of what to do about the hosts emerged. They had all but been given a bye into the semi-final through some atrocious refereeing by the Mauritian official Rajindraparsad Seechurn. The enraged Tunisians were punished by the Confederation of African Football, but the hosts were only given a $5000 for security breaches.

Equatorial Guinea made the most of what they had and sadly what they were given. The Mauritian official allowed himself to be influenced by the gamesmanship. Ranjindraparsad Seechurnʼs performance was so poor that he was sent home from the tournament and suffered further sanctions – a six month ban and being removed from the list of top African officials. CAF imposed a $50,000 fine on Tunisia, whose players, incensed by the refereeʼs performance had tried to get at him. They were prevented from chasing him down the tunnel by security officers. Nevertheless, the hosts were fined, but not for the shameful gamesmanship they employed.

Repeat Offenders

Well it had worked once. Why not try again. After all, the odds of the Nzalang Nationale (National Thunder) as the hosts are known achieving a famous win by outplaying Ghana were very long. There was a far better chance of pilfering a result using the same methods, but the Gabonese official Eric Otogo-Castane, had other ideas and so did the Black Stars.

The hosts had not been punished for their gamesmanship against the Carthage Eagles – far from it. They had been rewarded. The far better team was eliminated – robbed of their dreams by home-town refereeing at its worst. Seechurn paid the price – he deserved to.

Equatorial Guineaʼs coach Esteban Becker– a huge story in his own right as he took over just a couple of weeks before the tournament started after coaching their womenʼs team – blotted his copy book by blaming the Tunisians, claiming that they had been persistently fouling. Was he watching the same match?

Ghana left nothing to chance. They outclassed their hosts. The frustration proved too much for unruly supporters of the hosts. 36 people were injured; some required medical treatment The shameful violence continued long after the match ended outside the stadium. It was not the first time that Equatorial Guinea supporters had disgraced themselves.

The Ghanaian FA called on CAF to take strong action against the hosts. Equatorial Guinea was fined $100,000, but despite 14 people being hospitalised, CAF did not enforce a stadium ban – that was suspended. CAF defended the lenient punishment by claiming the ban had been suspended for the third place match against DR Congo tomorrow ʻto promote a spirit of fair play and brotherhood during the AFCON 2015ʼ.

Beggaring Belief

Astonishing. The shocking scenes in Malabo betrayed neither a spirit of fair play or brotherhood. The hosts disgraced the competition and should have been expelled. Instead they donʼt even have to play behind closed doors. CAF warned that any repetition will result in a stadium ban. As if it would matter then. What will Malabo host after the third place match? Qualifiers. Certainly nothing on a par with this match.

CAF denies showing favouritism to the hosts, but would any teamʼs supporters guilty of the violence rained down on Ghana on Thursday night have escaped playing behind closed doors at the very least? Meanwhile, Tunisia can only cast a bemused eye over these events. What grave offence will it require before Equatorial Guinea face punishment that fits the crime?

Meanwhile, CAF claimed to have acted decisively in the Seechurn case and they did, but they demanded either an apology from Tunisia over claims that they were involved in a conspiracy to ensure that the hosts progressed, or proof that this had happened. The deadline has passed.

The Tunisian FA refused to give an apology and has yet to provide proof either. They maintain that their protest related to the performance of the referee and asked for clarification. But while CAF punished Seechurn and Tunisia – the victims of the refereeʼs blundering performance – the hosts got a clear message. They benefited from the refusal of the officials to punish them once and even after very serious offences the sentence was far from deterrent. The decision to play the 30th edition of the African Cup of Nations in Equatorial Guinea has been seen to be a catastrophic error of judgement.

Technophobes

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (February 5th 2015)

Travesty

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The international career of Mauritian referee Rajindraparsad Seechurn is all but over. His performance in the quarter-final between hosts Equatorial Guinea was far below the required standard. Seechurn has paid the price. Although the headlines were dominated by one very soft decision – the injury time phantom penalty – there was much more.

The Confederation of African Football (CAF) has suspended him for six months over his performance in this match. He has also been removed from CAFʼs list of top African referees, which to all intents and purposes ends his international career. It was a baffling performance, but the Carthage Eagles contributed to some of their misfortune.

Tunisia made the mistake of making their superiority tell. They were better on paper, in FIFAʼs rankings and on the pitch too. The hosts were there for the taking, but Tunisia bided their time, deservedly taking the lead midway through the second half.

Robbed

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They were coasting to victory. But then the referee intervened and the timing raised eyebrows too – injury time had just begun. The hosts were going out without looking like scoring until gifted an utterly undeserved lifeline. Substitute Ivan Bolado fell over in the penalty area. Defender Hamza Mathlouthi had challenged him. To the consternation of the Tunisians, Seechurn gave a penalty.

Before former Real Madrid prospect Javier Balboa converted the penalty – he doesnʼt want to talk about the award of it, just that he had pressure on him and still had to score it – a green laser was clearly shone at the eyes of Tunisian goal-keeper Aymen Mathlouthi.

So extra time began. The appalling decision affected the Tunisians. They clearly felt that Seechurn would not give any decision in their favour – with cause – as clear fouls were ignored. The time-wasting, especially by Equatorial Guineaʼs goal-keeper Felipe Ovono Mbang, was outrageous.

Enraged

Seechurn made no effort to control it or sanction it with a yellow card. Instead, he allowed the hosts to run the clock down. Adding insult to injury he allowed a ludicrous two minutes added time, much of which was wasted by a brawl caused by the hostsʼ bench refusal to return the ball for a throw in. Seechurn did not even allow the added time to be completed – ending the match a few seconds early.

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The Tunisians were understandably incensed. They chased the referee, who was protected by security police, which prevented the enraged Tunisians from getting to Seechurn. In addition to the sanctions against Seechurn, CAF have punished the Carthage Eagles, fining them $50,000 and demanding an apology – no individual players were punished. Equatorial Guinea were punished for the poor security.

Solutions

Seechurnʼs career at the top level of African football is over. Good. His performance in this match alone – thereʼs no shortage of complaints about his refereeing in other matches too – was so abysmal that he should not officiate at élite level again. Arguably he should not be trusted at any level. His decisions defied logic.

But there was a simple solution that could have delivered the correct decisions in actual time. It could have been referred for a video review. As the match had already stopped due to the decision anyway it would not have affected the flow of the game. Examining the footage would have shown that it was not a penalty and the match ends differently. There is no extra time and no further injustices and no ugly scenes that followed.

A review system such as used in cricket or tennis where decisions can be appealed could also be used at least in cases where the game has stopped. Conceding the use of goal-line technology – only used in some matches – while refusing to review absurd decisions like the phantom penalty is absurd and will inevitably lead to injustice.

The use of available technology could and should have prevented the shameful scenes in Bata. There is no longer any credible reason not to make full use of it.

A Disaster Waiting to Happen

By Segun Odegbami © Segun Odegbami (February 2nd 2015)

Dramas

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The quarter-final matches of the ongoing 2015 AFCON lived up to expectations in terms of drama. Ghana’s match against Guinea was a stroll in the park. Following that performance the Black Stars now look almost set to break the over three decades jinx of not winning Africa’s most coveted football championship. Their next match is against hosts Equatorial Guinea, but the way that they reached the semi-finals will not have been lost on Avram Grant or his side and hopefully CAF too.

The other matches were brutal physical contests that rendered impotent any talk of serious football tactics. The most refreshing aspect of the matches is the avalanche of goals that came tumbling down from the plateau of earlier mediocre performances made worse by poor finishing in front of goal. In the past few days the floodgates have opened and the drizzle of goals has started to pour down.

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Integrity

The match with the least number of goals, between hosts Equatorial Guinea and Tunisia now threatens the integrity of the competition. Indeed, in the opinion of my friend and co-journalist, Satish Sekar, the main feature writer of Empower-Sports magazine, CAF’s reaction to the referee of that very controversial match Rajindraparsad Seechurn will impact, one way or the other, on the rest of the championship and even beyond.

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For a team that was still under suspension for fielding an ineligible player in an earlier competition, it was highly suspicious why CAF swallowed its pride, disregarded the consequences of treating its own punitive measure as a minor inconvenience and awarded the hosting rights to Equatorial Guinea – of all the countries that showed interest to host it.

It was a step too far for Satish. He normally attends the African Cup of Nations and had planned to go this time until Morocco withdrew and the tournament was moved to Equatorial Guinea. Remember that Morocco had withdrawn from hosting the competition only a few weeks before due to the Ebola virus scare, and CAF had sought for an alternative volunteer host country.

Satish believed that awarding the tournament to that nation was simply wrong – it rewarded an ineligible country for cheating. To maintain integrity in football, especially in these times when corruption and more has reared its ugly head in the beautiful game, CAF had to maintain its ban on Equatorial Guinea.

Lack of Pedigree

That’s how this small Central African country, without any deep or rich pedigree in African football, became last-minute participants in the championship, replacing Morocco. And it should be remembered that Equatorial Guinea has only ever qualified as hosts – never on merit on the football field. In 2012 they had earned their spot as legitimate hosts. This time they were not eligible, because they had fielded an ineligible player and been rightly punished for that transgression.

For some observers CAF was setting itself up for a possible disaster by ignoring their own rules. Last Sunday night that fear became real. The rest of the world outside Africa is watching to see what happens next. I did not watch the match. I was high above the Sahara desert heading to Europe at the time. By the following morning the reports of that ignoble match were everywhere.

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Fiasco

The highlight of the reports was that the Tunisian players had chased the Mauritian referee after the match and were going to assault him but for the intervention of security personnel. Also, George Leekens, the Belgian coach of Tunisia, affectionately known as the Carthage Eagles, was so outraged that, at the press conference after the match, he described the officiating of the match as the worst in the 45 years of his experience in football.

I quickly rang up my friend, Satish Sekar, who had been following the matches with a microscopic lens. He would be neutral and give me a professional perspective. Satish was scathing in his remarks, to say the least. A football purist he dislikes poor officiating and the failure to use technology to correct bad or even mistaken decisions with a passion.

Highway Robbery

This is the worst case of highway robbery – in football – I have ever seen”, he said. “Dick Turpin (the notorious 18th Century highway robber) was hanged for less! What happened was simply unbelievable. CAF made a mistake. Why did they take the match to Equatorial Guinea? In the first place they were ineligible because they were under a ban by the same CAF for fielding an ineligible player”.

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Satish believed that a disaster would follow that decision. Incredibly the hosts had complained previously that CAF did not want them to progress. But what of Seechurn?

The referee was either completely appalling and incompetent, or, the match is a set up”, Satish said. “It is hard to believe anyone could be that bad. It wasnʼt just one bad, or even terrible – there were several. The Tunisians were robbed. It is even more painful for them because they had a good chance to win the cup and had done enough to win in normal time”.

The phantom penalty was a terrible decision made even more sinister in appearance by the timing. The hosts were on the way out when a blatant dive resulted not in a deserved yellow card, but a penalty. Adding insult to injury Seechurn refused to enforce the laws of the game in extra time as well and tolerated outrageous time-wasting at every opportunity once the hosts had taken the lead.

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The decent thing for CAF to do is order that the match be replayed”, Satish said, “but I know that will never happen. But they need to do something about a referee with such a dodgy record. Information is now readily available about the man’s record in previous matches too. CAF and the championship’s integrity are at stake. That referee should be sent back home in disgrace”.

A catalogue of ʻErrorsʼ

Satish went on to provide a vivid description of what happened at the tail end of a match that the Tunisians had wrapped up in normal time, and how they were robbed with some disgraceful and dubious officiating. If indeed, the situation is as bad as Satish, Leekens and many others here in Europe describe, why has CAF not done anything publicly to sanction the referee?

Have the Tunisians become the scapegoats, the sacrificial lamb needed to make the competition respectful and justify CAF’s decision to bring the competition there? Only if Equatorial Guinea continue to win will spectators fill the stands that have so far been full of empty seats at all venues except where they are playing.

The referee’s penalty kick decision was an undeserved gift. Even television replays have shown that there was no offence committed deserving of a penalty kick. What is clear, however, is that the end of the road is near for Equatorial Guinea. Their hopes of winning it all should end when they meet Ghana next.

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Defining Moment

It will be a great injustice if a team that has played some of the poorest football in the championship, has no pedigree, which got to this stage with the help of a dodgy referee, gets to the final and possibly wins it. Ghana are favourites to get to the finals where they are likely to meet old foes Côte d’Ivoire.

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However, a hard match against DR Congo stands between Hervé Renardʼs team and the final. A Ghana versus Côte d’Ivoire would truly be a terrific final, a befitting climax to a dramatic feast of African football – a repeat of the 1992 final, during which the Elephants beat the Black Stars on penalties. It may also restore some badly needed integrity to this edition of the African Cup of Nations.

Branded

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (November 28th 2014)

Pitch Invasions

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Tottenham Hotspur booked their place in the knock-out phase of the Europa League with a 1-0 win over Serbian outfit FK Partizan of Belgrade. Benjamin Stambouli scored his first for the club, but the story was might have been different as three pitch invasions, which appear to have been a co-ordinated marketing ploy caused Ukrainian referee Yevhen Aranovskyi to take the teams off after 41 minutes. Spurs could still face sanctions from UEFA over it.

The first ‘fan’ gave stewards the run around after he posed for selfies with a less than amused Argentinian international Erik Lamela, Mr Rabona. The first invader was given a rapturous reception as he evaded capture for a couple of minutes. A bit later a second so-called fan breached the security to run on the pitch. Roberto Soldado can’t catch a goal by accident, but he managed to grab the fan’s t-shirt. That fan was led off too.

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Enough

The third invader was booed loudly by fans. He was quickly captured thanks to a magnificent rugby tackle by an irate Belgian international Moussa Dembélé, which suggests he may have an alternative sporting career should he choose. All three were arrested and led away. Spurs have announced that the fans have been banned and that all three had their tickets bought by the same person.

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The three pitch-invaders were wearing the same branded T-shirt. Bassbuds a company making headphones was at the centre of the controversy. Pending an investigation Spurs have suspended any involvement the club has with the company. Spurs say that they could not have predicted the third invasion, even after the second and therefore saw no reason to increase security around the pitch.

Both Tottenham Hotspur’s Head Coach as Mauricio Pochetino prefers to be called and his counterpart Marko Nikolić said that they were not worried for the safety of their players, but that it affected the flow of the match. UEFA was asked for comment, Partizan were ordered to play their next match with a partial stadium ban after an offensive banner was displayed by their fans in the match in Belgrade.

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Their coach lost no time praising the conduct of Partizan’s fans tonight. Despite claiming that they could not have predicted the third fan bursting onto the pitch Tottenham Hotspur can expect UEFA to take a dim view of tonight’s events.

Harsh Lesson

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (November 23rd 2014)

Germany Poops Party

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The European champions are currently ranked second in the world. England came into the historic and prestigious friendly oozing confidence from an impressive run in World Cup qualification – both sides had won all ten of their qualification matches, but the gulf in class was clear. Nevertheless, Karen Carney celebrating her 100th cap and striker Eniola Aluko still believe that England could pull a surprise at next year’s World Cup.

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6 minutes into the match Melanie Behringer’s corner was headed past Karen Bardsley to give Germany the lead. The goal was credited to Simone Laudehr, although other angles showed that it was an own-goal by Alex Scott. Six minutes a team huddle heralded further organisation was necessary after conceding a sloppy second.

Miscommunication between the captain Stephanie Houghton and their most experienced player Fara Williams resulted in Williams prodding it into the path of Germany’s skipper for the afternoon Célia Šašić1, who was playing her 99th international. Šašić needed no second invitation. Her progress was easier than it should have been. Scott couldn’t get to her and Lucy Bronze fell between two stools – neither challenging her nor covering another attacker. Šašić found the far corner from the left.

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Awed?

The Lionesses have never beaten Germany in 19 attempts. Five years ago they were beaten 6-2 in the final of the European Championship. There was no shortage of spirit, but German quality and organisation was superior. The benefits of their infrastructure, development policies, youth structures and longer established league were plain to see.

Carney showed that spirit to dispossess Tabea Kemme near the halfway and press forward before Lena Goeßling came across to snuff out the danger at the expense of a corner. Williams was poised to take it, but Swiss referee Ester Staubli raced across and refused to let her take it – apparently ordering her to go and get treatment for a leg injury. The corner was wasted.

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Šašić’s goal – assuming that the first is credited as an own goal – was the first conceded by England to a European on home soil since 2009 against Iceland. The defence was normally their greatest strength at home, but the opponents were a different class and uncharacteristic errors and perhaps awe. Meanwhile, the Germans had insisted that they were excited about playing at Wembley, but would not let pressure get to them. They were good to their word.

Positives

It could have been different as England almost got the perfect start within seconds of the start. Jordan Nobbs’ swerving 22 yard effort thudded against the cross-bar with keeper Almuth Schult, deputising for team captain Nadine Angerer who couldn’t make it over from Australia in time, beaten. Germany countered swiftly. Bardsley denied Melanie Leupolz’s effort from the right of the area.

Nobbs went close again with a looping header that Schult claimed and took to the line. Nobbs appealed for a goal, but there was no evidence that the whole of the ball had crossed the line. Another marginal decision occurred around the half hour mark.

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Leupolz was denied again after savvy defending by Arsenal striker Lianne Sanderson defending a free-kick. As Behringer took it Sanderson stepped up to catch Leupolz offside. It was needed as Leupolz headed it in. It was rightly disallowed for offside. Interestingly the officials got both major decisions right without the aid of technology.

Williams almost profited from a poor defensive clearance by Jennifer Cramer, which she controlled neatly and then volleyed at goal, but too close to Schult. In first half injury time Alexandra Popp found Kemme on the right wing. Her cross was headed in to Bardsley’s left. A record attendance for a women’s international of over 45,000 was a positive too.

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Improvement

The Lionesses failed to score, but they held the European champions in the second half, although Silvia Neid’s team lost the fluency of their first half play in the final quarter with one notable exception. Just over 20 minutes into the second half substitute Anja Mittag crossed from the left wing.

Šašić sensing a hat-trick stretched to connect, but her header was weak and easy for Bardsley. Šašić was unaware that substitute Luisa Wensing coming in behind her was in a better position. Wensing was not amused.

Mittag had been quite rightly booked for a sliding tackle that sent Williams flying ten minutes earlier. With injury time beckoning England went close. Bronze found space on the right wing and pulled it back to Jodie Taylor who put Jill Scott through, but her shot hit the side netting.

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1 Šašić, formerly possessed the longest surname in German women’s football – Okoyino da Mbabi – before marrying Croatian footballer Marko Šašić last year.