Football – In Tact as Ever (Part Two)

By Traolach Kaye © Traolach Kaye (March 19th 2015)

Shenanigans

The BBCʼs Dan Roan alludes to how offended the Premier League will be by all these shenanigans to host the World Cup in the winter in Qatar to avoid the searing heat of an Arabic summer. That is most odd. English football is all about the Premier League. Clubs are either in the Premier League or aspire to be in it.

Those seeking to give the lie to this will claim that the Championship play-off final is the ʻrichest game in footballʼ … by dint, oddly enough, of the winner being ushered into the Premier League. Should football fans, globally, take umbrage at how the machinations of the Premier League, itself – something of a tyrantsʼ charter – have been upset and knocked marginally out of kilter by the decision to host the 2022 World Cup during the Winter months?

Roanʼs assertion that the FA might be upset as it may interrupt some ceremonially flavoured FA Cup programme – 2022 is the centenary of the Final at Wembley Stadium – is laughable. This presentation of the FA Cup as some Holy of Holies sits uncomfortably with how the event has been policed and how its attendees have been treated – Hillsborough, for example.

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Uncomfortable

It sits uncomfortably with how managers and players treat it. It sits uncomfortably with the stark reality of attendances at FA Cup games with certain clubs, at even advanced stages of the Cup. If it is important, why is it being treated as an after-thought, especially by the big clubs and the prize of qualification for the Europa League being seen as a unwanted burden, even though for some clubs, it is the only possibility of Champions League football.

Take Hull City for example. A lacklustre approach to it saw them dumped out without even reaching the League stage. This in the year that the winner of the Europa League gets into the Championsʼ League. Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool dropped out in the last 32. Only Everton still fly the flag.

Disproportionate Effects?

If Roan is so concerned that the effect of hosting WC 2022 in the Winter Months will have a disproportionately negative effect on the ʻSmaller Clubsʼ, he would do well to look at how the same ʻSmaller Clubsʼ themselves treat the FA Cup, and how the FA Cup treats them. Name the last non-top flight Club to win the FA Cup?

Southampton, 1976. The last 10 winners are Arsenal, Wigan, Chelsea, Manchester City, Chelsea, Chelsea, Portsmouth, Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal. Who owns those clubs? Portsmouth at the time of their winning the FA Cup in 2008 were owned by Alexander Gaydamak. He had bought the club from Milan Mandarić who was subsequently charged with tax-evasion.

Gaydamak then sold the club to Sulaiman al-Fahim who had acted as spokesperson for Mansour al-Nahyan and smoothed al-Nahyanʼs takeover of Manchester City. Al-Fahim in turn sold the club six weeks later to Ali al-Faraj, a supposed Saudi oil tycoon. Portsmouth went to rack and ruin and who paid the price? The loyal supporters who were the backbone of the club and who ultimately saved the historic club.

By 2013, Portsmouth FC had finally returned to the ownership of the fans themselves, with the club having been bankrupted, relegated three times and almost forced out of existence in the intervening period. But we must keep an eye out for FIFA, it seems.

Fit and Proper

Anybody can own an English football club. They are for sale every day of the week on whatever index you choose to consult. They are open to bids from everyone, irrespective of their morals, their achievements, their politics, their ethics, or the pedigree of their finances. They are not even the Harrods of their time, for which a purchase price AND favour had to be first agreed. Who buys these clubs?

The best known example is everyoneʼs favourite ʻBillionaire from Nowhereʼ, Roman Abramovich – a long-time associate of Vladimir Putin. Abramovich rose from nothing to dominate the Russian aluminium and gas sector, after being the understudy of Boris Beresovsky who was subsequently found dead at home in March 2013 soon after a protracted legal battle with Abramovich ended badly for Beresovsky.

Other noted humanists such as Thaksin Shinawatra, Tom Hicks, George Gillette, Mike Ashley, Vincent Tan, Venkatesh Rao, the al-Mubaraks, Alisher Usmanov and the aforementioned al-Fahims, Gaydamaks, al-Farajs, Mandarićs, etc. either own outright, have owned outright, possess, or have had strong financial interests in various English clubs.

Chicken factories. Bangladeshi sweatshops. Human rights abusers. Leveraged buyout merchants. Corporate raiders. Oligarchs. Oil tycoons. Silicon valley entrepreneurs. Eastern-Bloc businessmen. But look out for FIFA.

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Mike Ashley, owner of Newcastle United has used his position to try take advantage of the collapse of Glasgow Rangers such that Rangers was in danger of becoming a satellite club of Newcastle United. But look out for FIFA.

Universal Problem

This is not alone an English problem. Perspective is loaned to the matter when one considers that Real Madrid have agreed a £350m deal with a construction company owned by a member of the family that owns Manchester City. These clubs are supposedly in competition. They are instead each otherʼs keepers. This is supposedly the football that we should be worried will be ʻtorn apartʼ by a tournament being hosted in the Winter months – a tournament 7 years now.

No self-respecting journalist capable of even the slightest abstract thought could possibly find themselves offended uniquely by FIFAʼs alleged corruption juxtaposed as it is against the backdrop painted above. A brief examination of those invited to do business in England, and fêted for doing same, says a lot about this. 

England held its nose and took its reluctant place at the trough in the run up to the decision to award the World Cups for 2018 and 2022 respectively. Had England walked away early-doors and refused to have anything to do with the selection process, then we might have avoided the entire saga. Instead, the tit-for-tat will continue, presumably up and until such a stage as England is awarded a World Cup to host.

And letʼs remember that three-times beaten finalists the Netherlands have never hosted the World Cup, let alone suffered a long delay waiting for it to return. Isnʼt it their turn first?

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.

Honours Even

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (February 19th 2015)

Dominant

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Mauricio Pochettino was disappointed with the result after his Tottenham Hotspur team were held to 1-1 draw at White Hart Lane tonight by Fiorentina. Pochettinoʼs decision to rest the in-form Harry Kane backfired, despite Roberto Soldado Rilloʼs 6th minute strike – his first goal of the year. In the first half hour Spurs dominated, running Fiorentinaʼs back three ragged, but despite creating chances, the hosts failed to profit.

After 5 minutes Nacer Chadliʼs effort was saved at the expense of a corner. Paulinho took it finding Soldado. The former Valencia strikerʼs shot beat Romanian keeper Ciprian Tătăruşanu to give Spurs a platform they failed to capitalise on. Half chances at the other end were made by Joaquín Sánchez Rodríguez, resulting in a weak effort by Mario Gomez and for Mohamed Salah, on loan from Chelsea as part of the deal that took Juan Guilermo Cuadrado Bello the other way, but Federico Fazio blocked the Egyptianʼs shot. Despite the threat posed by the visitors, led by their captain Manuel Pasqual, but Spurs were more dangerous.

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Christian Eriksen had almost converted a chance created by Chadliʼs excellent approach play, but shot just over. After his goal Soldado was profligate, but spectacular. Eriksenʼs cross found Soldado after Stefan Savićʼs block rebounded to him. Soldadoʼs bicycle kick was spectacular, but straight at the keeper from point blank range with the goal gaping.

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Recovery

With half an hour gone Fiorentina came into their own. Borja Valeroʼs cross field pass found Pasqual and Fiorentinaʼs captain set up Gomez. The former Vf Stuttgart and Beyern Munich strikerʼs effort went just wide. Two minutes later Salah slipped Gomez through, but recovering from a long injury lay-off Gomez had to settle for a corner.

That five minutes of pressure culminated in Soldado tripping Joaquín after the former Real Betis and Valencia winger had got past him. Soldado was rightly booked. Chilean international Matías Fernández Fernández took the free-kick. It was pushed out to his right by Hugo Lloris onto Savićʼs back and rebounded into path of José María Basanta, who took advantage of his good fortune to smash in the equaliser from close range.

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Just Deserts

Just before half time Spurs almost regained the lead. Kyle Walkerʼs cross was met by Soldado, whose header was saved by Tătăruşanu. Chadli latched on to the rebound. His shot was lashed onto the crossbar. Appeals for a goal were rightly turned down as the ball bounced on the wrong side of the goal-line. Vincenzo Montella changed his formation at half time and contained Tottenhamʼs threat, despite the introduction of Harry Kane.

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After 90 minutes we were better, we created more chances”, Pochettino said, “but it’s true that in the second half, in the last 15-20 minutes, we maybe didn’t create many chances. It’s a shame because at half-time maybe the team had deserved to score more than one goal and then it was 1-1. We have 90 minutes in Florence to try and win the game”.

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Return to Form

The decision to rest Harry Kane raised a few eyebrows, although it may indicate where Pochettinʼs priorities lie. At first he was vindicated by Soldadoʼs goal, but the equaliser and Montellaʼs changes in formation saw la Viola become a different proposition in the second half. Shortly after the restart Joaquín created space for himself on the right flank to tee up Salah. The Egyptianʼs curling shot from just outside the area went close with Lloris beaten.

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Savić deserved his booking for hauling back Chadli after 5 minutes of the second half. With an hour play Spurs pressure was absorbed by Fiorentinaʼs defence. Andros Townsendʼs cross was headed clear by Savić to Nabil Bentaleb. The Algerian defenderʼs long range shot failed to trouble Tătăruşanu. Five minutes later Pochettino made a concession of sorts. Kane was introduced for the last 25 minutes, but despite his red hot form, not even a front two of Soldado and Kane could find a way past Tătăruşanu.

We have a lot of games ahead, six in 17 days”, Pochettino said in defence of his decision to rest Kane. “It’s difficult. We need to rotate and give the possibility to play for all. It was a very open game. I think that we made a big effort in the first half, a great effort. I’m a little bit disappointed with the result because I thought we could have won.”

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Ambitions

Ambitions

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

Test

Vincenzo Montella wants success. The current coach of Fiorentina, known as the Little Aeroplane due to gis goal celebration has made the transition from player to coach. His opposite number Tottenham Hotspurʼs Mauricio Pochettino has too. Both teamsʼ league positions suggest that qualifying for the Championsʼ League through their respective leagues will be difficult, but there is another option – winning the Europa League.

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Thereʼs no doubt of course that itʼs a really important game tomorrow and yeah, this is what we work for, this is why we are involved in football”, Montella said. “Weʼre very, very passionate about the game and Iʼm sure that tomorrow will be a fantastic experience and weʼre focussed on tomorrowʼs game. Of course we want to go as far as possible, but we want to focus on tomorrow and the rest will take care of itself”.

Montella knows that Spurs will be a difficult side to beat. “Tomorrow, itʼs going to be very difficult”, he said. “We need to ensure that weʼre extremely focussed out on the pitch. We need to be full of energy, but by the same token not get too carried away, because that could perhaps make things difficult for us, perhaps even have a slight bit of fear that could keep us on edge during the game”.

Ready

Veteran defender Manuel Paasqual has no illusions either. “… weʼre in the Europa League, direct knock-out round”, he said. “We know weʼre playing a very good team, perhaps one of the favourites for the competition. We know that theyʼre fast, tough, very physical. And this year weʼre up against Tottenham, but weʼre going to go up there and do our best to carry on in the competition”.

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His coach is ready too. “I think whatʼs really important for us is to be ready, to be prepared, physically, tactically, mentally as well and I think that is something which we all are”, Montella said. “My team is ready for the game. We know itʼs a big game. Itʼs a big game against a strong team, playing at home with their own crowd behind them, which is not necessarily something weʼre always used to playing in this kind of atmosphere, but yeah weʼre ready”.

Important

Itʼs not a season-defining match, but both teams know that victory is important. “Well I think itʼs a very important game for us, because obviously weʼre playing a very strong team in Spurs, but I think we ourselves in the past and at the moment, we are showing ourselves to be a very good team”, Pasqual said. “We know that Spurs are going to be difficult.

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Montella is keen to play their own match. “Well I think that we know that we have to play our game”, Montella said. “We have to display what weʼre capable of doing We have to be combative; we have to be energetic. We have to know match the opposition, whether itʼs physically, mentally. We need to play well, stay true to our style, be brave and also a little bit humble and be aware of what might happen if we donʼt play to our top level”.

Commitment

Among the players returning for their first taste of football in England since leaving these shores are Mohamed Salah on loan from Chelsea and former Manchester City and England defender Micah Richards. Montella doesnʼt think that will matter much. “I think that what is important isnʼt so much being used to play here in England, itʼs being used to playing at this kind of level against these kind of teams,he said.

He has no illusions that Fiorentina face a tough tie. “Tottenham are a complete team”, he said. “Thereʼs nothing missing from them whatsoever and theyʼre pretty special in that they combine a Spanish style of play and an English style of play, so a lot of possession and the slow the ball down, but then theyʼre also very quick in the transition phase. Theyʼre able to speed things up. Theyʼre able to be very direct as well, so thatʼs something you have to get used to and yeah, theyʼre strong opposition. We know that. Theyʼre a very, very complete team”.

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Pasqual shares his coachʼs opinions. “Itʼs going to be tough, but the important thing for us to give our best, play well on the pitch in exactly the same way as weʼve done in any other game weʼve played whether it be the Cup Italia – the Italian Cup – or in the Italian Championship”, Pasqual said.

Montella tempers his enthusiasm with a note of caution. “We need to be extremely enthusiastic”, he said. “We need to be very brave. We need to enjoy the opportunity, but by the same token we canʼt get too carried away. We canʼt be too euphoric, because obviously that might lead us to become a little bit careless and thatʼs when mistakes can happen”.

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Spurs Ease Past Partizan and Pranksters

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

Rudely Interrupted

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Tottenham Hotspur guaranteed progress to the last 32 with a 1-0 victory over already eliminated Serbian outfit FK Partizan of Belgrade. The Serbian fans behaved immaculately despite three pitch invasions and the provocation of an Albanian flag being flaunted at them. They had their chances, but both teams were profligate.

Former Valencia striker Roberto Soldado being one of the worst culprits even though he got an unconventional assist for former French Under-21 international Benjamin Stambouli’s 49th minute game-winner. Stambouli put Soldado through and the striker did everything right but score. He latched on to Stambouli’s pass and chipped Partizan keeper Milan Lukač, but as was typical of his luck since joining Spurs, it hit the post and rebounded. Stambouli had followed in to score easily – his first goal for the club.

Amazingly, given the number of chances it was the only goal in the match. Within the first minute Erik Lamela, scorer of the fantastic rabona against Asteras Tripolis in the last Europa League match at White Hart Lane, found Soldado on the edge of the area. The former Valencia striker pulled his shot wide. Petar Grbić was at the heart of much of Partizan’s best attacks. With less than 10 minutes played Grbić crossed from the right flank, but Petar Škuletić couldn’t make contact.

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Near Misses

In microcosm it summed up the Serbians’ luck. Grbić’s long ball found Branko Ilić on the right wing after 17 minutes. His cross was controlled by Darko Lazović, but his shot went just wide of Hugo Lloris’ goal. Both Partizan and Spurs exchanged near misses. Moussa Dembélé, later to take down the third of three pitch invaders which organisers Troll Station called entertainment, won possession before spreading it to the left wing. Lamela crossed, but Soldado failed to connect at all.

Almost ten minutes later a nice move by Partizan culminated in another missed opportunity. Lazović bypassed Spurs’ defence by chipping it to Škuletić who rounded Lloris turned and squared, but the inviting cross eluded both Jan Vertonghen and then Lazović.

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Three first half ‘pranksters’ were rudely interrupted at White Hart Lane when 22 men insisted on playing a football match last night. Apparently the organisers of the invasions Troll Station think this was entertainment. The company whose t-shirts they were wearing headphones manufacturers BassBuds caught initial flak over it. The first of the invaders Nathan Brown amused the crowd by eluding security while taking selfies with Spurs players. The other two wore the joke out and the third managed to get play suspended for the best part of ten minutes.

More of the Same

After Stambouli scored Soldado had one last chance to ignite his Spurs career. His Head Coach Mauricio Pochettino claimed to be satisfied that he was getting into the right positions and making chances, but after Aaron Lennon’s delightful dink put Soldado through with just the keeper to beat, Pochettino must have expected to see his team’s lead doubled. Instead Lukač managed to save at point blank range. It summed up Soldado’s night and career to date at White Hart Lane.

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A minute later a flowing Spurs move ended when Vojislav Stanković blocked Lennon’s shot. Lamela went very close shortly afterwards. The in-form Harry Kane replaced Soldado with 25 minutes to go. His 30 yard free-kick was tipped round the post by Lukač. The resulting corner eventually broke to Algerian international Nabil Bentaleb. His shot took a wicked deflection off Škuletić, but Lukač managed to tip it over for another corner.

With less than ten minutes remaining a flowing Spurs move ended with Lennon picking the ball up on the left wing before cutting inside and putting Kane through. The striker scored, but a late flag – correct – ruled it out for offside. Playing for pride Partizan probed again. Lazović’s free-kick was cleared to Grbić – Partizan’s best player on the night. Grbić’s cross was headed at goal by Vladimir Volkov, which was well saved by Lloris, but substitute Andrija Živcović spurned the rebound by hitting the side-netting from a tight angle.

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There was time for Stambouli to make the wrong choice by passing to Lamela rather than shooting and for the officials to make a howler that simply should not have happened. Kane slipped past Vojislav Stanković and bore down on goal. Lazar Ćircović came across and tripped Kane in area with clumsy challenge. Astonishingly Ukrainian referee Yevhen Aranovskiy, and his assistant referees failed to give a foul. It was a stone-wall penalty that will fuel demands for technology to be used to get these decisions right. Lamela went close again, but Lukač was once again equal to the task. Spurs qualified for the last 32. Their position in the group will depend on their final fixture in Turkey next month.

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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.

Spurs Trounce Asteras

by Satish Sekar at White Hart Lane © Satish Sekar (October 23rd 2014)

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Rabona

Tottenham Hotspur warmed up for this weekend’s match against Newcastle United wit an emphatic display. Mauricio Pocchetino’s team demolished Group leaders Asteras Tripolis 5-1 and it was Spurs rather than the Greeks that came bearing gifts. With misfit Roberto Soldado confined to the bench Harry Kane showed the former Valencia idol how it’s done, scoring a hat-trick.

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Argentine Érik Lamela scored a brace – the second and third. Lamela’s first was one of the best goals you could hope to see – an absolutely awesome strike. With just over 12 minutes played Kane was supplied by Moussa Dembélé 35 yards out. He drove forward before scoring off goalkeeper Tomas Kosický’s right-hand post. Lamela’s goal was sweeter still as less than a minute earlier Thanasis Panteliadis was through on goal. He was partially thwarted by Hugo Lloris, but collected the rebound on the right of the area and shot. He hadn’t reckoned on Europa League winner Federico Fazio’s magnificent block. Spurs counter-attacked. Kane passed to Emmanuel Adebayor and it broke to Lamela, who scored a rare left-footed rabona – kicking it with the foot wrapped around the standing leg – to Kosický’s left. The Slovakian keeper stood no chance. The last rabona was scored a month ago by Olympique de Marseille’s Ghanaian international André Ayew against Stade de Reims in France’s Ligue Un.

Emphatic

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Despite creating opportunities Lloris was hardly tested prior to Lamela’s goal. Twenty minutes into the second half Lamela made it safe. A give and go with Kane created the first opportunity which was blocked. He reacted quickly to beat Kosický at his right-hand post. Asteras tried to respond. A lovely chip pass found Fernando Usero in the area, but his volley was magnificently turned aside by Lloris at the expense of a corner.

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As the match approached its final quarter of an hour Kane completed his brace – a tap-in. Lamela played a short corner to Dembélé. His shot was parried by Kosický to Kane who Kosický scored easily. Lamela was replaced by Christian Eriksen. He received a deserved ovation.

With less than 10 minutes of normal time remaining Kane completed his hat-trick. His first effort was blocked, but Fazio reacted quickest, collecting the rebound and crossing for Kane to nod in. About the only negative on a night when a deserved tribute was paid to Spurs – no football – legend, Bill Nicholson at half time, came in the last minute. Despite being well beaten the Greeks still chased an opportunity. It came late. Through with just the keeper to beat Gasos Tsokanis was cynically upended by Lloris just outside his area. Slovak referee Ivan Kružilak had no choice but to brandish the red card. The stage was set for Kane to cap off a truly memorable night as the striker donned Lloris’ jersey and the captain’s armband – all three permitted substitutions had been made.

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Substitute Jerónimo Barrales stepped up to take the free-kick. He struck it more in hope than expectation, but Kane let it squirm under his body to give the Greek’s a consolation. He knew he had had a good night as the Spurs faithful – a disappointingly low crowd – chanted ʻEnglandʼs number one at Kane after the blunder. After the disappointment of draws against Partizan (Belgrade) and Beşiktas, Pocchetino’s team has responded in style.

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Roller-Coaster

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (September 17th 2014)

The Prodigal

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Suspended indefinitely by the Ghanaian Football Federation after an altercation with the Black Starsʼ coach James Kwesi Appiah that saw him sent home from the World Cup, Schalke04ʼs German-born international Kevin-Prince Boateng must wonder whether it was worth reversing his decision to retire from international football and whether he made the right decision pledging his allegiance to the Stars rather than Germany.

Boateng was a former German youth international left Brasil early. Meanwhile his half-brother Jérôme was part of Germanyʼs World Cup winning team. The brothers have faced each other in World Cup matches twice. Four years ago Kevin was a hate figure in Germany when a mistimed tackle on Michael Ballack put the then German captain out of the World Cup. Boateng apologised to Ballack, but criticised both the German FA and national team manager Joachim Lõw. Ballackʼs international career ended controversially.

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Uncompromising

Boatengʼs disciplinary record has been troublesome, but the box to box midfielder deserves credit too. He moved to AC Milan in 2010 and made headlines for all the right reasons. Within 14 minutes of coming on as a substitute against Lecce, he had bagged a hat-trick, only the second by a substitute in Serie A

He also led the five main leagues in sendings off in 2012-2013 averaging one every six games. before deciding to leave Italy for Germany and Schalke 04. Boateng decided to change his international allegiance from Germany to Ghana. It was approved in May 2010, causing him to miss the Black Starsʼ run to the final of the African Cup of Nations in Angola.

In November 2011 he retired from international football, citing the effect of long distance travel. He was just 24 and once again missed the African Cup of Nations in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea and also South Africa in 2012 and 2013. He played in two World Cu campaigns, but his indefinite suspension suggests that he will never grace Africaʼs top competition – the next edition takes place in Morocco next year.

Uncompromising on the pitch Boateng proved himself an implacable opponent of racism too. During Italyʼs mid season break in January 2013, Pro-Patria, then in Italyʼs fourth tier played against AC Milan. Their fans racially abused Boateng who booted the ball into the stands and walked off the pitch in protest, followed by his team-mates. While some criticised him for walking off the pitch other praised his stand. Clarence Seedorf, then playing for Botafogo in Brasil thought Boatengʼs reaction played into the hands of racists.

They should just be identified and kicked out of the stadium,” Seedorf said. “Leave the 90% that were enjoying the match and finish the game. If Boateng was able to identify the whole corner, you just kick the whole corner out, That is how I think it should be handled Walking away? Yes, you send a signal. But this has happened more than once and I donʼt think it really changes all that much. We are just empowering that little group with their behaviour to make this mess”.

Among those who took to Twitter to support Boateng were Rio Ferdinand, Vincent Kompany and Patrick Vieira. “If the stories about KPB walking off the pitch with teammateʼs (sic) after being racially abused are true, fair play to him..well done #UefaStandUp”, Ferdinand said at the time.

Manchester City captain Kompany fully supported both Boateng and his then club. “Act of racism against Boateng during Milanʼs friendly” Kompany tweeted. “How about becoming extremely intolerant towards racist idiots”? UEFA has adopted penalties for racist conduct as did FIFA, but the problem persists despite close calls to a walk off previously – notably Samuel Etoʼo and Marc Zoro.

They need to be told I can only salute Milanʼs decision to leave the pitch”, Kompany tweeted. “Also noted that the majority of the fans were completely supportive of the players”.

Vieira, working with Manchester Cityʼs youth structure at the time, which he retains despite his subsequent promotion to reserve team manager, was vociferous in his support of Boateng. “It was brave of Kevin Prince Boateng to do what he did today, and it was the right thing”, Vieira said on Twitter. “We need to stand up and stand together. Well done”.

Boateng was appointed to FIFAʼs Anti-Discrimination Task Force under the CONCACAF President Jeffrey Webb. He presented his proposals earlier this year. Boateng also became an ambassador for the United Nations against racism in March 2013. He told FIFA President Sepp Blatter that he recognised that he was wrong to walk off the pitch, but that strong action needed to be taken.

Welcome

Last season Boateng completed the most dribbles in the top five European leagues. He is now an integral part of Schalkeʼs plans. Ghanaʼs decision to dispense with his services is the German clubʼs gain. Tonight he returns to England for his clubʼs opening fixture in the Championʼs League against Chelsea, weeks after playing a friendly against his former club Tottenham Hotspur.

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He was given a warm reception by Spurs fans. “Obviously itʼs a mark of respect and I think Kevin obviously did a very good job here”, Tottenham Hotspurʼs German international Lewis Holtby said. “Otherwise the reception wouldnʼt have been that good. I think itʼs good for him and itʼs good to see Tottenham fans being so positive”.

In the absence of Schalkeʼs captain the World Cup-winning German defender Benedikt Hõwedes, the responsibility on Boateng is even higher. “Heʼs a great player, a great personality, so heʼs very important for us and we are very happy that heʼs in our team”, Swiss international Tranquillo Barnetta told us.

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Eyes on the Prize

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (August 29th 2014)

Pared Down

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Hull City paid the price for taking the Europa League lightly. KSC Lokeren progressed to the group stage on away goals, leaving England with just two representatives in the Europa League this season – the one where it really matters. This seasonʼs winners qualify for the Championʼs League. Tottenham Hotspur and Everton are Englandʼs only representatives in the Europa League this season.

Mauricio Pochettinoʼs Spurs team will play Turkeyʼs Beşiktaş, whose striking prowess was bolstered by the capture of Senegalese international Demba Ba in the summer. Belgradeʼs Partizan dropped down from the Championʼs League qualifying stage, but only had the chance to play in the top competition because Serbian champions Red Star were banned after falling foul of Financial Fair Play obligations by failing to pay their debts. Greek outfit Asteras Tripoli completed Group C.

Meanwhile, Roberto Martínezʼ Everton will play Russiaʼs FC Krasnodar, Germanyʼs VfL Wolfsburg and Franceʼs LOSC Lille in Group H. The French team, boasting last seasonʼs record breaking goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama, were beaten by Porto for a place in the Championʼs League group stage.

Pick of the Rest

Defending Europa League winners Sevilla will play Croatiaʼs HNK Rijeka in Group H along with Belgiumʼs Standard de Liège and Rotterdamʼs top team Feyenord. Following Pochettinoʼs departure to Tottenham Hotspur, Southampton lured Feyenordʼs manager Ronald Koeman to St. Maryʼs Stadium. The vacancy at the de Kuip Stadium was filled by Fredericus Rutten. Unai Emery Etxegoien will expect the Andalusian club to dominate Group G despite losing captain Federico Fazio to Spurs.

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Villarreal is the only other Spanish team to make the group stage. They will expect to progress from Group A. Germanyʼs Borussia Mönchengladbach along with Cypriots Apollon Limassol and Swiss outfit FC Zürich complete the group. French outfit Saint-Étienne and Ukrainians Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk will expect to confirm Azerbaijanʼs Qarabağ Ağdam FK as Group Fʼs whipping boys while Internazionale di Milano complete the group.

 

Interʼs Vice-President and former on-pitch icon Javier Zanetti welcomed the draw, but assured us that Inter would not take the tournament lightly. Group K consists of Portuguese club EA Guincamp, Belarusʼ Dinamo Minsk, Salonikaʼs finest PAOK and Fiorentina, still boasting the talents of Colombiaʼs coveted winger Juan Guillermo Cuadrado Bello. Fiorentinaʼs CEO Sandro Mencucci told us, “He [Cuadrado] is one of the best players in the world”. The Viola do not want to sell him and Mencucci refused to put a figure on Cuadradoʼs value.

Controversy

Italyʼs final representative is controversial. Torino got the nod, although Parma have a right to feel aggrieved at being denied their place due to a financial infraction over taxes that they had not been informed of in time to meet the deadline – an utterly absurd situation. Despite the sympathy of Italian courts the sanction against Parma stood and Torino took their plaCIMG9125ce.

Torino could have qualified in their own right if Alessio Cerci had not missed a penalty against Fiorentina at Florenceʼs Artemio Franchi Stadium on the last day of the Serie A season. Cerciʼs tears showed what it meant to him, but the Granata were reprieved by Parmaʼs fate. Torino will face Belgians Club Brugge and the Scandinavian challenge of FC København and HJK Helsinki.

Celticʼs heroic recent performances in the Championʼs League particularly against Barçelona won the Glaswegian club deserved plaudits, but that goodwill was dissipated after a 6-1 thrashing by Polandʼs Legia Warszawa was turned into a 4-4 draw that allowed Celtic through on away goals after a technicality that had no bearing on the result. A Legia player had a three match ban – he actually served it, but the paperwork was defective. UEFA overturned the result, costing Legia their win and the possibility of earning in the Championʼs League. Legia was dumped out of the Championʼs League, allowing a shambles of a Celtic team another chance, which they failed to take. Sloveniaʼs Maribor beat them in Scotland to progress. Celtic and Legia both qualified for the group stage of the Europa League, but the draw kept them apart.

Austrian club FC Salzburg, little known Romanian outfit FC Astra from Giurgi, and Croatiaʼs Dinamo Zagreb provide the opposition for Celtic in Group D. Meanwhile, Ukraineʼs Metalist Kharkiv, Hull Cityʼs Belgian conquerors KSC Lokeren and Turkish outfit Trabzonspor are Legiaʼs opponents in Group L. The Europa League Final will be held in Warsaw this year.

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Spurs Spoil return of the Prince

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (August 9th 2014)

Tuned Up

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Mauricio Pochettino saw his revamped Spurs team deservedly beat Bundesliga outfit Schalke04, captained by German-born Kevin-Prince Boateng 2-1 at White Hart Lane this evening in their final tune-up before the new season starts next weekend. An offside flag spared Aaron Lennonʼs blushes as he hit the post after 4 minutes. It was a dreadful miss, but fortunately for him the assistant refereeʼs late flag against Emmanuel Adebayor rendered it moot.

Christian Eriksen fed Lennon on the left of the area after 13 minutes, but goalkeeper Ralf Fährmann came off his line quickly to smother the danger. Apart from that the opening quarter of an hour produced little of note. Within ten minutes Tottenham Hotspur began to exert control. Lewis Holtby spurned a gilt-edged opportunity provided by Eriksen once again. Fährmann saved well to deny the German, whose finish was hesitant, possibly believing that he was offside.

It didnʼt matter. Their possession was quickly rewarded with just under half an hour played. Togoʼs talisman Emmanuel Adebayor turned and shot into the roof of Fährmannʼs net. Holtby crossed to him from the right wing. Erik Lamela and Lennon had combined well with Holtby on the edge of the area before the German crossed for Adebayor.

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“I think very important”, Holtby said. “Every game is important especially in pre-season to get match fitness, to get a good run out and to be prepared for the first game”.

Schalke had produced little up to that point. Lamela fouled Boateng and Swiss international Tranquillo Barnettaʼs free-kick begged for a finish to match, but was headed wide by Roman Neustädter after 33 minutes. Spurs deservedly went in at half time leading by Adebayorʼs goal.

I think it was a really good test for us”, Barnetta said. “Spurs was really aggressive. Yes, they were very compact, really fast when they come from deep into the offence, so I think they make a good game and for us I think we have to work next week, so that we are ready for the first game”.

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Changes

Pochettino rang in the changes at half time. Andros Townsend made an impact and Harry Kane should have, but the officials were uninterested in his claims for a penalty. Replays established that Felipe Santana had shoved Kane over in the box after 53 minutes. Townsend tested the Germansʼ defence on the left flank with Kane unable to convert before popping up on the other side of the pitch.

The much maligned former Valencia striker Roberto Soldado gave Spurs comfort just over 20 minutes into the second half. Eriksenʼs pass found Townsend in space just outside the area. His fierce shot from over 20 yards out proved too hot for Fährmann to handle. The keeper parried it up in the air only for Soldado to embarrass him by nodding the rebound over him and into the net.

A couple of minutes later Townsend should have made it three, but wasted Eriksenʼs sublime reverse pass to free him on the right of the area by pulling his shot wide of Fährmannʼs far post.

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Zero Vier

With less than 20 minutes remaining Schalke, who qualified for the Championʼs League automatically, finally came to life. Camerounian international Jean-Eric Choupo-Moting released substitute Christian Clemens on the right wing. He pulled it back for Max Meyer to shoot just wide of Hugo Llorisʼ left-hand post. Five minutes later Sandro unleashed a fierce 30 yard shot which Fährmann parried rather flashily, but the danger passed.

Schalkeʼs belated ambition was rewarded with just over ten minutes left. Dennis Aogo was found in space just outside the left edge of the area. He crossed for Boateng to score to Llorisʼ right. The French international tried to block with his legs and ought to be disappointed with his efforts. It was Boatengʼs last contribution. He was brought off to a great ovation from both sets of fans.

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Yeah, obviously itʼs a mark of respect and I think Kevin obviously did a very good job here”, Holtby said of Boateng. “Otherwise the reception wouldnʼt have been that good. I think itʼs good for him and itʼs good to see Tottenham fans being so positive and I got the same reception when I came back from Fulham, so Iʼm very happy”.

Boateng was replaced by Donis Avdijaj who almost made a rapid impact, but after making space to shoot Lloris saved at the expense of a corner. Stung into a response a quick counter-attack saw Townsend feed Soldado, who found Holtbyʼs replacement Cristian Ceballos on the right of the area. His shot was saved by Fährmann at the expense of a corner.

In added time Townsendʼs excellent run and shot from just outside the area was parried by Fährmann, but Ceballos, following in, could only lob it just over the bar. He should have scored.

Strength

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Both sides put out strong teams with Spurs having the stronger bench. They start their league campaigns next week. Schalke began with five veterans of the recent World Cup. Bosnia-Herzegovinaʼs Sead Kolašinac: Swizerlandʼs Barnetta, Ghanaʼs Boateng and Camerounʼs Joël Matip and Jean-Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting provided a strong base.

Tottenham started with eight internationals on the pitch, two of whom played in the recent World Cup. They had the stronger bench which included Brasilian international Sandro, Andros Townsend who missed the World Cup due to injury and Robert Soldado whose form last season cost him a place in Vicente del Bosqueʼs ill-fated plans for the recent World Cup. Kyle Walker was also missing along with players on both sides who played in the latter stages of the World Cup.

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I think they gave us a good test”, Holtby said of his former club. “A lot of players were missing as well, Jan [Vertonghen] and Moussa [Dembélé], Paulinho, who just came back from that break and so Iʼm happy that we had a good game today and keep going forward”.

But Schalke had more significant absentees including two World Cup winners, Benedikt Höwedes and Julian Draxler. “I think we have also two world champion players”, Barnetta said. “Thatʼs not bad and also for the home fans it was a very good championship, but now it counts what happens with Schalke, so we have to look on us”. Dutch striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar was also missing.

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