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Football & Travel for the big tournaments including World Cup, European Championships, J-League, K-League, A-League, Premiership.

Last Build Date: Thu, 20 Oct 2016 04:50:58 PDT

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Fifa World Rankings October 2016

Thu, 20 Oct 2016 04:48:30 PDT

Fifa's World Rankings for October 2016 were published today at FIFA HQ in Zurich, Switzerland.The Fifa World Rankings are now published on Thursday and not Wednesday as before.The full top ten is Argentina, Germany, Brazil, Belgium, Colombia, Chile, beaten Euro 2016 finalists, France, Euro 2016 winners Portugal, Uruguay and Spain.England are 12th, behind Euro 2016 semi-finalists Wales in 11th.Côte d'Ivoire are the top African team in 31st place.Asian Cup winners Australia are in 40th place; Japan are in 51st spot. Near neighbors South Korea are in 44th place.The USA are in 24th. Wales are 11th. Scotland are in 57th position. The Republic of Ireland are in 33rd place, Northern Ireland are in 36th position.1 Argentina2 Germany3 Brazil4 Belgium5 Colombia6 Chile7 France8 Portugal9 Uruguay10 Spain11 Wales12 England13 Italy14 Switzerland15 Poland16 Croatia17 Mexico18 Costa Rica19 Ecuador20 The NetherlandsFull world rankingsPrevious Fifa World RankingsBet with Bet 365Soccer betting tipsSoccer Books & DVDs align="left" frameborder="0" marginheight="0" marginwidth="0" scrolling="no" src="<1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr" style="align: left; height: 245px; padding-right: 10px; padding-top: 5px; width: 131px;"> [...]

Another fine mess at the F.A.

Thu, 29 Sep 2016 16:17:12 PDT

Well, that did not last long.Sam Allardyce may retire with a 100% record as English manager but his reputation is so sullied it is hard to see him going back into club management.The egg is on the F.A.'s face of course for signing up a man already well-known as a bit of a wheeler-dealer. They had not learn from appointing Terry Venables or their passing over Harry Redknapp.At Bolton, Big Sam had assembled a United Nations of players much like Redknapp had at West Ham, ringing the alarm bells that the boss was more active than normal in the transfer market.Redknapp for all his talents, carried too much suspicion that a financial misdemeanor would blow up for the F.A. to pick him above Roy Hodgson, which makes their decision to opt for a similar character bizarre.The lack of English options following Euro 2016 and the desire to pick a strong personality who knew the domestic game inside out mitigates somewhat their error, but in hindsight the risk of a scandal with Allardyce was large.Ten years ago a BBC expose had already fingered his agent son as being involved with bungs attached to his father's club dealings some years back. Big Sam's fall cannot have come as a shock to anyone. Did the F.A. insist in their job interview that Allardyce sever all friendly connections with agents who might try to insert themselves in his inner circle?Were they satisfied one of the highest-profile wheeler-dealers in the domestic game was squeaky clean, or did the lack of obvious alternatives force their hand and make them hope for the best?The Allardyce video was merely the side of the game the fans do not see and the press often ignore - the big boys' rules which have always gone on behind the scenes.Across the board, managers had respect that 'Big Sam' was one of their own. Journalists seemed to warm to him too, though tabloid hacks really adored Redknapp above all, blithely ignoring all his financial chicanery.All that has changed are the inflated sums of money changing hands now. Alan Sugar claimed Brian Clough liked an envelope stuffed with cash while Allardyce was hoping to pick up £400,000 from this fatal deal.The Daily Telegraph has form, having sent two reporters disguised as constituents to bring down the otherwise impressive Vince Cable M.P. from making a bid to be chancellor in the coalition government.Then as now the sting seemed to be a show of arrogance from the newspaper rather than a noble act for a greater purpose.Handling the press is indeed as tricky for England managers as handling overseas opposition. Bobby Robson was hounded relentlessly by the tabloid media, as were Graham Taylor and Steve McClaren.Robson and Sven-Goran Eriksson had their private life splayed over the newspapers while Fabio Capello was lost in translation. Glenn Hoddle and Terry Venables enjoyed relatively good relations with Fleet Street but their own careless off-field errors cost them their jobs.What we see is a continuous comedy of errors with England managers. Only Roy Hodgson did the decent thing and quit his job for having lost a must-win match.But given Big Sam's ungracious comments about Hodgson, Gary Neville and the Duke of Cambridge, his criticism of his employers splashing £870 million on Wembley, plus the promise of more revelations, the F.A. had no option but to call time today on their new man, even after only 90 minutes of football.Reputations matter.-Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile [...]

In hindsight, the Euros were easy to call...

Fri, 23 Sep 2016 05:18:19 PDT

THIS SUMMER PROVED AGAIN HOW USELESS THE 'EXPERTS' ARE"We are not going there on an excursion," insisted Portugal coach Fernando Santos."We are going there to win!"Cue the smirks from the assembled press at the pre-Euro 2016 conference.Looking back at this summer's big European tournament, we can all we so maddeningly wise after the event, convinced now having read the statistics at leisure that the best team all along won it in the end. The elements for Portuguese victory were thus:Three appearances in the semi-finals out of their last four European Championships, seven consecutive one-goal wins, a tight defence, a focused and unified group of players, the young star of the tournament, oh and Cristiano Ronaldo.Speaking to 442 magazine before the tournament, Portugal centre-back Jose Fonte's resonating words should have alerted us to his team's potential:"We have the best player in the world," he reminded us. "We have a strong team, a fantastic manager and the full support of a nation."Well that sounds like a recipe for success.He went on:"I think we're very well organised, we're a close-knit squad and we have players who are extremely dangerous offensively."Yup, can't argue with that."I think Portugal have a very good chance, " ex-goalkeeper Ricardo told World Soccer. "I know there is an excellent spirit within the squad and the team has a very good coach. I think everything is in place for Portugal to have a good tournament."Ah, the 20/20 vision..."I think we're going to have a great Euro," added Paulo Futre. "Portugal can beat anybody if we're at the top of our game...Portugal are a great team when they are in good shape."Tom Kundert in World Soccer talked up their chances as well:"Portugal have an impressive European Championship record," he began. "They also have the outstanding player in the tournament, a core of experienced, solid performers and an exciting crop of young players."Looking at the Euros with the benefit of hindsight, Portugal were clearly always in with a chance of winning the thing but nobody tipped them as far as I can recall, despite this abundance of evidence.Why was this? Don't hundreds of men and now expensive computers spend hours analyzing football?Yes, but the best so-called experts, paid analysts and algorithms clearly cannot pick the rabbit out a 24-team hat. If they were able to, the football betting industry would die a death (no great loss perhaps) but football fandom would too, as everyone would know who was going to win.It is reassuring therefore that football retains this unpredictability in the face of smug punditry and advanced technology, a chaos factor that makes it relentlessly watchable. But getting back to Portugal, the ingredients for success were clearly there but pre-match odds placed them joint-sixth favourites with Italy at best, behind France, Germany, Spain, England and Belgium...?!?Most betting companies placed them seventh in fact!How could so many highly-paid observers get it so spectacularly wrong and fire so amazingly wide of the mark? I think the answer lies in gut instincts more than anything. Despite its team's pedigree, Portugal is a small country with only 62% of the population of the Netherlands, the other obvious small nation which punches above its weight, albeit not since the last World Cup.Portugal just did not have the F Factor of big names like Germany, Italy, France, Spain and England, national teams from the countries with the biggest domestic leagues coincidentally.Ronaldo's gargantuan profile continued to cast the rest of the team in the shade as far as casual spectator recognition went.His ongoing failure to win trophies in a Seleçao shirt having passed the landmark of 30 years of age also probably contributed to Portugal's under-valuation pre-tournament.They were defensively rather than attacking-minded too, a boring yet winning approach not unlike Greece's surprise win in 2004.A tight defence was clearly a big reason for their ultimate victory, grinding out wins in a functional fashion, a s[...]

Havelange was the Greatest Dictator

Fri, 23 Sep 2016 05:09:42 PDT

THERE WERE FEW MOURNERS AS THE KING OF CORRUPTION DIED 100 NOT OUTIt almost passed unnoticed during the Rio Olympics that Joao Havelange, the Brazilian former FIFA President, had died, aged 100.The major figure in post-war football governance is no more, and on immediate inspection, what a dark legacy he leaves.Havelange, who effectively ruled world soccer from 1974-1998, oversaw the transformation of a sport with global appeal into a money-making behemoth replete with corruption, tarnishing the reputation of the game's governing body.It was a Brazilian, Pele, who woke the world up to dazzling football and thanks to the proliferation of television, popularised the World Cup.But it was another Brazilian who also realised television had also made football into a fat cow ripe for milking.Substituting value with price, Havelange made selling the Beautiful Game FIFA's prime motivation and the resulting harvest of TV rights and corporate sponsorship dollars he only too happily spread among his coterie of parasites.Under his tenure, the FIFA Executive Committee turned into a Stygian den of thieves populated by jobs-for-life do-nothings like Ricardo Texeira, Nicolas Leoz, Chuck Blazer and Jack Warner, unbelievably corrupt men who would in any normal organisation have been fired years earlier.The musical chairs in FIFA's ExCo and the current chaos in football governance is a natural result of the Brazilian's revolution.His culture of embezzlement and bribes was carried on by his protege Sepp Blatter and after the fiasco of the 2018 & 2022 World Cup hosting vote, tournaments widely believed to have been bought, the Augean stables of FIFA have been under an unprecedented spotlight.Havelange even showed up in Zurich like a thousand-year-old vampire to nod approvingly at the travesties of awarding tournaments to Russia and Qatar, a fitting testament to the dishonesty he engendered at the highest levels.Over the years he had courted anyone with power, including several dictators, and effectively ran FIFA as one too.In bed with Adidas' Horst Dassler, Havelange made the selling of rights his priority and the pocketing of as much of the revenue as possible his favourite pastime.The overkill of international sponsors at World Cups is thanks to him more than anyone else, sponsors whose tawdry products demean the prowess of the tournament and often work against the health benefits football brings.Havelange it should be remembered had never been a football man in the first place - he had swum for Brazil at the Berlin Olympics in 1936 and played water-polo at the 1952 games.His early administrative experience was in swimming, cycling and as president of the Brazilian Sports Confederation before he realised football had the biggest potential for political and financial exploitation.Havelange's defeat of Stanley Rous for the 1974 FIFA Presidency remains a key turning-point in football history.His capture of the presidency from the decent, if stuffy Englishman, brought bribery and other dark political tactics into soccer and almost half a century later the game's governing body still reeks of the hand of Havelange.Rous had played a straight hand and sat down confident that his supporters would keep their word, while Havelange kept working the room until the end and managed to steal the victory through buying enough voters.In Havelange's defence, Rous had shown an unwise acquiesence with apartheid South Africa and limited the number of finalists at the World Cup to 16, ignoring the growth of the global game.At the 1974 finals, there were only three berths for nations outside the traditional strongholds of Europe and South America - places taken up by Australia, Haiti and Zaire. By 1998, 12 berths at the finals were for Africa, Asia and North and Central America.Havelange's promise of more places for the developing world allowed him to harvest African votes in particular, a tactic continued to great effect by his favoured successor Sepp Blatter.He also initiated [...]

Olympic Lessons

Fri, 23 Sep 2016 05:12:10 PDT

RIO'S SHINE SHADES OVER THE START OF THE FOOTBALL SEASONThe Rio Olympic Games have just finished and that two-week fiesta every four years has rightly had the lion's share of our hearts and minds again, despite the opening of the European football calendar.The Olympics is a useful aide-memoire that other sports are out there, rather like the Roman who was employed to whisper "Remember thou art mortal" in the ear of generals returning to the seven hills in triumph.Rio also served, like London 2012 did, to show the public how elite sportsmen can be good role-models and do not have to cut such greedy, ill-educated figures as so many top footballers do. The clean and honest endeavour of so many gold medallists always cast footballers' modest achievements in a poor light again, and the abundance of aggression-free joy from Olympic spectators also served to shine a light on the darker sides of the Beautiful Game.Only two months before, Europe's top international sides had gathered in France for Euro 2016 and several city centres were left full of broken glass and blood stains. Rio has its social problems of course but they were not caused by visiting sports fans in August.The corrupting influence of too much money is of course the salient difference between football and Olympic sports, but it is hard to see that problem improving anytime soon.Such was the unbridled joy Rio unleashed, the start of the football season suddenly seemed distinctly unattractive.Brazil seemed to be unaware that sports other than football existed during the games, given that swathes of empty seats was the norm at most events, with the notable exceptions of ones in which they had a shout of winning - boxing, judo and beach volleyball.The full Maracana got its golden moment when Neymar scored the fifth and clinching spot-kick in the men's football final, but Marta & Co. missed out on a home double by losing their semi-final to Sweden. In losing the men's final, Germany missed their own football clean sweep too.Women's football makes more sense at the Olympics than male football given the full national teams take part, but the absence of England, World Cup semi-finalists, but not an Olympic nation, jarred once more.There should be no problem having Team GB for women, any more than there is having the British Lions play rugby now and again. Having a men's team still looks a no-go however, because qualification depends on UEFA U-21 competition, where there is no Great Britain.Brazil's win in the men's tournament went a little way to soothing the horror of the 7-1 Maracanazo at the World Cup two years ago, and the host nation had at last a reason to get out in the streets and party, so all's well that ends well.The golden boy's successful seizing of his big chance on the big stage closed that chapter in Brazilian football history with aplomb, but no-one should be under any illusions that Olympic success will translate into victories at the subsequent World Cup in Russia in 2018.The seleçao's next big short at glory is realistically the Copa America at home in 2019.In the swirl of victory it is easy to forget that Brazil drew their first two games 0:0 with South Africa and Iraq. Only when they switched from a malfunctioning 4-3-3 to a 4-2-4 did they start scoring goals.Brazil also had two Barcelona regulars - Neymar and Rafinha - in their final team, which contrasted with the unknown German U23s lining up against them.The tournament rules of eight U-23 players and three overage players is perhaps the best compromise they organisers can come up with but football, try as it might, still does not seem a good fit with the Olympics, even in such a soccer-mad nation as Brazil.And so here we are with another long season beckoning. By the law of averages, the big teams will dominate once more and it is unlikely we will see another Leicester City.The Champions League will only become interesting in next Spring's knock-out stages [...]

Fifa World Rankings July 2016

Thu, 20 Oct 2016 04:44:12 PDT

Fifa's World Rankings for July 2016 were published today at FIFA HQ in Zurich, Switzerland.The Fifa World Rankings are now published on Thursday and not Wednesday as before.In the first World Fifa Rankings after Euro 2016 there have been quite a few changesThe full top ten is Argentina, Belgium, Colombia, Germany, Chile, Portugal, beaten Euro 2016 finalists, France, Spain, Brazil and Italy.England are 13th, behind Euro 2016 semi-finalists Wales in 11th.Algeria are the top African team in 32nd place.Asian Cup winners Australia are in 59th place; Japan are in 57th. Near neighbors South Korea are in 48th place.The USA are in 25th. Wales are 11th. Scotland are in 50th position. The Republic of Ireland are in 25th place, Northern Ireland are in 28th position.1 Argentina2 Belgium3 Colombia4 Germany5 Chile6 Portugal7 France8 Spain9 Brazil10 Italy11 Wales12 Uruguay13 England14 Mexico15 Croatia16 Poland17 Ecuador18 Switzerland19 Turkey19 HungaryFull world rankingsPrevious Fifa World RankingsBet with Bet 365Soccer betting tipsSoccer Books & DVDs align="left" frameborder="0" marginheight="0" marginwidth="0" scrolling="no" src="<1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr" style="align: left; height: 245px; padding-right: 10px; padding-top: 5px; width: 131px;"> [...]

Les Miserablues

Tue, 12 Jul 2016 04:50:37 PDT

I wasn't intending to come to the Final, but since I returned home two weeks ago I had kept an eye on the UEFA ticketing website and had been able to get tickets for every game played in the knockout stage whilst I was back at work.I mentioned this at work, and explained that if I got a ticket I would be late for work on Monday.I checked all the details and figured I could stay at the same place in Paris and catch the first Eurostar at 6.30am on the Monday morning.So on Friday 8th I saw that match tickets would be available from 1pm. I arranged to have my lunch at two ish as I know from experience that the first hour will just be waiting to get onto the website. Sure enough I managed to secure a ticket, a last check with colleagues at work who kindly agreed to cover for me and I secured the ticket.Returning home that evening I set about sorting out my journey. Slight problem.The first Eurostar available on their website would arrive in London at 2pm, meaning I would not be able to get back to Nottingham for work before my colleagues finished.I looked at other options. Available flights were in the evening and the overnight bus back to London left Paris at 10.15pm. Too early.I remembered Ivan telling me about Captain Train, a French website that he used to book European trains. They had an option. I could get the TGV to Lille from Paris at 7.40am, and then join the Eurostar, arriving London 10.29am which should mean I get back to work for 1pm so my colleagues can have some lunch.Not surprisingly this option was more expensive than I hoped, so to offset the cost I looked at cheap ways to get to Paris, the best I could find was Ouigo, the SNCF low cost bus at €29 and nine hours.I had already checked what's on in Paris and found I had already been to the top five so I decided I was in no rush and so completed a sequence of visits to Paris, by Plane, Train and boat (as the bus uses a ferry between Dover and Calais).After testing the three different routes the winner for me is definitely the Eurostar.It goes from the heart of the city, and delivers you to the heart of Paris. You can arrive 45 minutes before departure, no lengthy queues to get on ferries (as Welsh fans will testify). My first task Sunday morning was to collect my final ticket, and so I headed to Parc des Princes for the fourth time this tournament where my ticket was waiting.It felt strange on Sunday morning, travelling towards the ground without the football crowds, it was on my last journey here that I learnt the words to most of the Welsh songs... "5 at the back, With Bale in attack", couldn't quite manage the Welsh national anthem though.During the afternoon I visited The House of European Photography, where they just happened to have an exhibition with French photographers covering the work of Oscar Niemeyer (remember him?). It reminded me I have unfinished business and intend to be back in Brazil in 2019. After that I visited Victor Hugo's house, of course I left it wondering who were going to be Les Miserables this evening.I arranged to meet a few friends for a pre-match meal. The majority of whom had been here for the whole tournament. They agreed that it had been great travelling round France, but that the football was nothing special.The match itself saw Ronaldo, manage the Portugese team to victory. After he was forced off on 20 minutes. I saw him reappear at the end of 90 minutes, then gather the team for a huddle for the start of the second period, before wandering up and down the touchline barging his manager out of the way as he gave his commands.Later it emerged that there had been tear gas used at the fan zone by the Eiffel Tower as police struggled with the crowd, also a proposed victory parade on Monday, had been cancelled before the match.Would winning have caused more problems for France?It was a shame that France didn't win to try to heal the scars from 2015, and show how fa[...]

French revenge could light up the Euros

Mon, 11 Jul 2016 04:51:57 PDT

Let us be honest, the Euros have been a bit of a damp squib this time around.Northern Europe has had a wet and cloudy June and this seems to have been reflected on the field of France 2016.The free-flowing football of Brazil 2014 is a bit of a memory, perhaps a telling comment on the tactics-heavy European teams.With the possible exception of Portugal's 3-3 draw with Hungary, there have been no standout games which ebbed and flowed to keep the neutrals enthralled. There have been a couple of thrashings – France racing to a 4-0 half-time lead over Iceland or Belgium thumping Hungary 4-0 for instance, and some very clinical, high-quality football – Italy in the group stage most notably, but not a lot to write home about.The multi-team format, three times the size of the eight country Euro '92 in Sweden, has led to some teams deliberately playing for draws (Slovakia against England), fielding weakened elevens (Italy v Eire) or even happily losing 1-0 (Northern Ireland against Germany).The knock-out stage was supposed to add some spice to the mix and has done to a small extent – Wales' surprising 3-1 dismissal of Belgium woke the continent up even more than Iceland's 2-1 win over a soporific and mesmerised England.Then Germany and Italy provided some welcome comedy in their penalty shoot-out after an exhausting 120 minutes.Finally France remembered their lines as host nation to the relief of most football followers and put in a bravura performance to eliminate the Viking upstarts. The lack of an on-fire host nation, in sharp contrast to their outstanding team when they hosted the World Cup in 1998, has probably hurt the tournament.The Champs-Elysees may yet become a sea of red, white and blue on Sunday night, an echo of 1984, 1998 and 2000, but Les Bleus have only two games left in which to impress.Euro 2000 lingers in the mind as a colourful tournament decided by a rollercoaster final, Euro 2004 had the fairytale of a minnow, Greece, cheekily stealing the crown with unashamedly entertainment-free tactics.Euro 2008 was nourished by the exciting emergence of the Spanish tiki-taka dynasty and in 2012 La Roja's 4-0 thrashing of Italy in the final was the stuff of wonder.On paper a 24-team field in 2016 should have provided a fertile patch for great stories and indeed the tales of Wales and Iceland will live long in the memory.Just ask the citizens of those formerly minnow nations and they will tell you. I have an Icelandic friend who said despite many experiences, a wife and children, his country's run to the quarter-finals was the happiest time of his life. And Welsh football has had nothing to sing about since 1958 for goodness' sake.How disappointing therefore that the dragons lost their fire-breathing lungs last night in Lyon when they needed it most. Portugal had been there for the taking having stumbled into the semis after finishing third in their group and not winning a single game in 90 minutes.The shallow Welsh squad was sadly exposed last night with the yellow-card absences of defensive rock Ben Davies and their midfield schemer Aaron Ramsey. How wrong is this rule every tournament? Yet again the authorities' po-faced insistence on an imaginary ideal of fair play has deprived the big matches of some of their key actors. Play in the league and you only miss a game after five yellows, so why after only two in tournaments? Ramsey's second caution, earned for a handball against Belgium, was a harsh call at the time whose consequences cruelly blunted his nation's big shot at glory.The French have it in their hands to rescue Euro 2016 and make it a championship to remember. Didier Deschamps' men certainly should have the motivation to turn on the power against the Germans in Marseille tonight.Les Bleus were knocked out the World Cup semi-finals by the Mannschaft in 1982 and '86 and most recently were knocked out by their old n[...]

Euro 2016 Fin?

Mon, 27 Jun 2016 02:01:22 PDT

Who would have thought it? Two weeks have passed since we set out on our own "Tour de France" and I heard in the last few days that all the Home Nations have qualified for the next round. Brilliant, who are Scotland playing?I have struggled to keep up to date, (wifi in France isn't great) with things whilst we have been on the road, so maybe I missed something. Did UEFA finally actually act against Russia? Did they reinstate Scotland? Are the chances of those two things happening the same?OK, so now you know that the final game I watched at this tournament was Wales against Northern Ireland. With the break between the group stage and the Round of 16, I was lucky enough to have time and good weather to explore Paris.The Louvre, Petit Palais, Louis Vuitton Foundation, Napoleon's Tomb, Pere Lachaisse, Centre Pompidou were all visited where exhibitions of art by Rousseau, Paul Klee, Albert Marquet were viewed. But my favourites were The Beat Generation, with as well an exposition at the Philharmonie de Paris featuring The Velvet Underground (yes the ones that wrote I'm waiting for my man. Never early, always late, - you know who you are!).Looking for positives in the football I have witnessed is proving difficult. The real positives lie in having visited nine French cities, and sampling the food. Everyone knows about Paris, and I have just listed a few of the things you can see there. We were lucky enough to have good weather in Nice which helped to make it my favourite city. If you've seen the photos you may notice the difference, and understand why I choose it as my favourite on this trip.Then there was Bordeaux where it’s historic old town is on the UNESCO World heritage list and described as “an outstanding urban and architectural ensemble of the 18th century". Toulouse, the Pink City.Lyon with the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière. Marseille, a huge city which unfortunately saw bad weather to stop us fully exploring it on the two occasions we were there. Lille, with its Flemish architecture where we could see the beauty of this city, but didn't feel comfortable due to the situation I mentioned on our first night.Lens & St Etienne are football hotbeds unlike the rest of France where you would have struggled to find out there was a tournament going on. The size of the towns and the size of the stadiums bear witness to this fact. Lens population 32,663 - Capacity of Stade Bollaert-Delelis 38,223. St Etienne 178,530 - Capacity of Stade Geoffroy-Guichard 42,000.Special mention to the best Croque Monsieur, which was found at Fric Frac by Canal St Martin. But the French have other things to worry about. I visited the lively 11th arrondisment, scene of atrocities eighteen months ago when the Charlie Hedbo offices were attacked, and The Bataclan as recently as last November. It remains closed but is due to reopen on November 16th with Pete Doherty. The lively backstreets are vibrant, with bars full of students away from the tourist crowd.We witnessed strikers marching at the Bastille against Hollande's labor legislation. There were more police than we had seem at any football match. Two thousand sealed of the area around the Bastille to ensure there were was no repeat of the incident the previous week when cars were set alight in protests at République. If you remember before I set out there was problems with the level of water on the Seine, the rain seen in the first ten days couldn't have helped this.There was also the small matter of strikes, which I quickly realised was an occupation in themselves. Thankfully we were only affected once, and were not inconvenienced by them. Others would not have been so fortunate as planes were cancelled and if you didn't know about the strikes missing your train could have meant you were unable to get to your chosen destination on time. So back to the football,[...]

Paris The Last Leg

Thu, 23 Jun 2016 22:46:04 PDT

The last leg of our Tour De France, saw us wake in St Etienne, and catch a train to Lyon, where we boarded our Ouigo train to Paris Marne-La-Vallée-Chessy. A journey of over 300 miles.Ouigo is the French National Railways low cost train line (their Ryanair if you like.) We (I) booked our tickets last year for €10 each. We met someone yesterday who had paid over €100 for the Lyon to Paris leg of the journey. There was a large queue to board, as tickets and baggage were checked. On board facilities were basic, again just think Ryanair - without the garish blue and yellow.The two hour journey saw us arrive in Paris just after 10.30am. Paris was open.Lunch was had before heading to the stadium, where Northern Ireland fans out sang their German counterparts.We then headed off to the eleventh arrondissement, a lively area near La République, today 21st June is Fête de la musique. Where you can find bands in most bars playing live music.Unfortunately for us the festival seemed to be continuing into the night as we arrived back at our accommodation.The next day, and we didn't have to travel!We stayed in Paris and visited the cemetery at Pere Lachaise, The Crypt at Notre Dame and passed by the Louvre before heading off to Stade de France to see Iceland v Austria.After the match we went to Grand Train, a disused railway building turned into an assortment of pop up bars and eateries. [...]

St. Etienne

Thu, 23 Jun 2016 22:00:48 PDT

Beautiful blue sky first thing in the morning as I ran up the hill at Fourviere, 5km and 250 steps later, I returned to find the other two still asleep.We visited Musée Des Beaux-Arts in Lyon, before catching the train to St. Etienne.In the afternoon we found the majority of shops and restaurants shut. Clearly the locals were put off, by what they had seen and heard earlier in the tournament and had decided to lie low. We had to settle for a pizza. There was nothing else.Despite talk of alcohol bans, people were drinking in the streets, where Slovak fans mingled with the English. There was no hint of any trouble, but police were in the background in case.Supporters marauded through the streets to the ground, several clearly suffering from the lack of any alcohol ban, to the stadium, a fifteen minute walk from the centre of town.The four stands inside the ground are next to the pitch and provide a better atmosphere than the newer stadiums with their sterile seating plans. I couldn't quite make out the words to songs, as they seemed to be sung in a foreign language, but inspired by their performance on the pitch I think they were singing "England's going home". Then there was some other song "30 years of hurt", I must have misheard that one as I am sure it's 50.I am pleased to report that I witnessed no problems in the city throughout the day, other than a few individuals who had drunk too much.Ross [...]

Marseille Again

Thu, 23 Jun 2016 22:03:24 PDT

Got up at 6am in Nice in time for a 10km run along the 4km promenade. The pace felt like that of the starter in Lyon two days earlier.My alarm first went off at 3.50am, the time a week ago that this journey started. Since then we have been to 8 different venues and spent a day on a train (plus one flight) travelling.The cool morning air, the waves breaking on the pebble beach and the Art Deco buildings made the run pass quickly. At the far end of the promenade a number of Northern Ireland flags were laid with flowers in memory of the young man that died there last week.Nearby the police were moving on some Spaniards who had been partying/ sleeping on the beach.The promenade was being hoovered and washed down whilst a boat sprayed water on the pebble beach to clean it.After the run, I headed straight into the sea and quickly cooled down.Returning to our apartment, no one knew that I had been out.We took the train back to Marseille and met the clouds again.The Hungarian supporters congregated in Vieux Port, setting of an array of flares as they headed off for the Velodrome Stadium.We hid in a bar as the rain poured down before heading to the stadium for Iceland v Hungary.The behaviour of a nearby Hungarian fan, led me to support Iceland and gave the game an edge. There was a tense atmosphere throughout as the Hungarians laboured. Riots were only avoided by a last minute equaliser for the Hungarians.We headed to Notre Dame du Mont for Filet de Dorade Royale à la Planche, avec Risotto Basilic Bio. Ross Clegg [...]


Thu, 23 Jun 2016 22:06:26 PDT

For the first time a conductor on the train checked our tickets. Looks like the strike might be coming to an end. Ivan and I showed the conductor our tickets while Steve checked the bins for his discarded coffee cup, in which he thought his ticket might be.Later we discussed our future travel plans. That morning we received the final train tickets, by email, that we had booked months ago, for the journey on Monday between Lyon Perrache and Paris Marne-La-Vallée-Chessy. We were using this route as it was a cheap option and would take only two hours, by car it would be over four. Steve hadn't heard of our arrival station and I explained that it was the stop for Disneyland. Steve's innocent response "What ground is there then?" I thought to myself, some Mickey Mouse team.The journey took us along the coast, looking to my left at times it looked like a Rauol Duffy painting while to the right their were breathtaking views of the sea.The sun greeted us and we just had time to admire the view from our apartment overlooking Promenade des Anglais and the sea, before dining in the old town.Rossopomodoro a pizzeria, was Steve's choice of restaurant. Steve showed off his language skills and ordered vegetarian pizza with tuna. Conversing in English, French and Italian with the waiter. (It's not uncommon for people in this area to speak Italian in preference to French as Nice is near the Italian border).Ivan's pizza arrived with Steve's topping. I managed my Ricotta au lait de bufflonne, saucisson Napoli, mozzarella, tomate, fromage Grana et poivre. (Calzone pizza).We caught the bus to the stadium and just made it in time for kick off after a 25 minute walk from the drop off point.Spain strolled to an easy win and we started the long walk home. When we got back to pick up our bus it was chaos and midnight by the time we got back into town.Ross Clegg [...]


Fri, 17 Jun 2016 19:31:46 PDT

We had time for some sightseeing in Marseille and chose to visit Notre Dame, the highest point in Marseille, for it's church and views over the city.We caught the train, after checking it was running the night before, at lunchtime and made our way to Lyon as rain appeared on the Windows.Steve called an Uber cab (I hadn't used it before and so was interested to see how it worked), to pick us up from our location, so that we could meet up with friends to watch the afternoon's game in Lens.After 15 minutes, and us phoning the driver a few times we were united with the car and made our way. I can see room for improvements with the Uber system, these days with technology you should be able to get the driver to come to you.After that there was a long bus journey to the stadium which is situated some 12km out of town.During the game fans abandoned their seats in scenes reminiscent of Ukraine v France in Donetsk four years ago, as the rain and then hail poured down. Play was suspended.Thankfully it was nowhere near as bad as four years ago although it was for Ukraine as, like last time they lost 2-0. With Northern Ireland's boys in green on fire.We decided to head to the old town and eat at a Bouchon rather than watch the football that night.On the menu Fruit lets d'escargots aux asperges blanches, Crème d'ail et jus de persil (snail pastry with white asparagus garlic cream and parsley sauce). Followed by Andouillette Bobosse à la Fraise de veau sauce moût de raisin (Chitterlings sausage grape with a mustard sauce). And finally a strawberry soup. Excellent fayre for the evening unlike the 0-0 draw between Poland and Ukraine.Ross Clegg [...]


Fri, 17 Jun 2016 19:39:51 PDT

Once again we had to check the train timetables to ensure our train was running. It was, but it departed 40 minutes late. So far our journeys have been by TGV, but today it is an inter regional train which means a slower journey, which should take about six hours. We have been spoiled by the efficiency of the TGV network, as it has made travelling easy and by booking months in advance we had some bargain prices.Of course whilst on the train we saw the best weather of the tournament as we travelled from Bordeaux via Toulouse, Montpellier and Nimes to Marseille. The train was over 30 minutes late and staff handed out letters to be completed for refunds.Needless to say we were greeted by clouds, and as we sat down to Bouillabaisse in the Vieux Port, the heavens opened.There was a heavy police presence, and some bars appeared closed but alcohol was being served. The scars from the weekend were still evident with the glass shattered on the front door and a plaster on our waiter's face covering his six stitches after he was attacked with a bottle.You would hardly have known that a major football match was about to take place just a few miles down the road.We took the Metro and arrived at the impressive Velodrome in plenty of time.My night almost ended there after someone collapsed on me. Sending me over the seat in front with two rather large blokes on top of me. The culprit lay there upside down, apparently the victim of smoking something he shouldn't have been, in the stadium.Albania once again gave there all, and were only beaten by two late goals. Ross [...]


Fri, 17 Jun 2016 19:19:32 PDT

The night before had been unkind to Ivan. As we left our apartment and headed for the earlier train he commented "Even the local tramp looks better than me."Due to the strike the train was always going to be crowded so we thought of ways to find a seat. "We could sing English songs, that usually works!" Guess who said that? I think you know that was not going to happen. Despite having to play musical chairs we managed to sit for the two hour journey to Bordeaux. As we got nearer to our destination the rain started once again. Lunch today was at La Petit Commerce, a fish restaurant, the set menu with hake, was followed by the biggest Creme brûlée you have seen.And as for the coffee.Near the stadium the touts were out in force, as they have been at every stadium, but the demand seems to be decreasing match by match and it was no surprise to see plenty of empty seats in the stadium.Tickets were exchanging hands at less than face value, with top category tickets going for €50. Normal price €145.Hungary won the match, and we made our way back to town. For the first time we encountered delays and it took an hour to get back to town. Where we decided to go to a quiet restaurant as opposed to a bar to watch the game like the night before.On our way home we once again went to see Le Miroir d'eau, (the world's largest reflecting pool), where we had been earlier in the day. At that time we weren't impressed mainly due to the rain. This time the view of the Place de la Bourse was rather different. Ross Clegg [...]


Thu, 16 Jun 2016 03:21:40 PDT

We left Lille in the pouring rain and headed to Charles De Gaulle airport for our flight to Toulouse.Air France planes stood idly on the tarmac due to a strike by their pilots, but Easyjet flew to Toulouse.Fuelled on Duo de Canard & Banofee Pie we headed through the beautiful town of Toulouse to the stadium, which sits on an island just 20 minutes from town.As, is now normal we arrived with 30 minutes to spare. No problems with security.Spain dominated the game and won with a late goal.Planning ahead we found that one of the tournament sponsors, the railway company SNCF had decided to cancel tomorrow's train that we were due to catch. The plan now is to try and jump on the one two hours earlier which we believe is running.We returned to town and settled in a bar to watch the Italy v Belgium game. The setting couldn't have been more different than that encountered on our first night. Sat in a courtyard, glimpses of a blue sky, and a large screen with view obscured by an overhanging tree and flowers.Ross Clegg [...]

Parc de Princes/Lille

Tue, 14 Jun 2016 06:44:12 PDT

The morning after the night before and we are having breakfast in Lille discussing events . We hear that the Germans have asked to march from the centre of Lille to the ground a distance of 5km. Steve's response to this "With tanks?"We made our way to Paris by TGV and just had time for lunch, Croque Monsieur near Ivan's gym at République.There was once again a police cordon around the ground. We had decided to leave our bags in Lille to avoid any delays. We cleared this check and were almost immediately met by another check.Once again the stadium was bathed in red. This time it felt like the Turkish were making the majority of the noise.Croatia appeared capable of opening up Turkey at will, but only managed the one goal which settled the game.After this game we returned to Lille in time for Germany v. Ukraine.After conceding a soft goal, Ukraine caused Germany lots of problems down the flanks, but were unable to beat Neuer.Looks like the Germans are advancing.As we passed through the train station after the match I noticed now familiar posters announcing the trains that would be running the next day. It didn't take long to check. Thankfully the 05.57 was scheduled to run.Ross Clegg [...]


Sun, 12 Jun 2016 23:50:39 PDT

Let me introduce you to my travelling companions. Some time ago I looked at the schedule for the tournament and decided that I would go for the first two weeks and visit every venue. After checking the logistics I put together an itinerary which fitted the bill. I circulated this and three friends expressed an interest.Darren, you don't need to worry about. He can be relied upon and has helped with everything. It's Steve and Ivan we need to watch out for!Steve's introduction on this visit was by text to Darren. "Problems on the bus in London, I think I'll be there in time."No problem we are booked on the 8.58 Eurostar, arrive in Lille at 11.30, have to check into our hotel, dump our bags and catch the 12.19 to Lens. He made it, and so did we. Arriving in Lens full after sampling business class catering. (Thanks again, Darren).Along the way we caught up on the last four years as we were all together at Euro 2012. Amongst the stories told, the most memorable was Steve saying that it had taken him half an hour to eat a snail. Darren explained that snail's are slow!On the train from Lille to Paris we discussed politics with two Frenchmen, who lived in Newcastle upon Tyne. Running Le Petite Creperie in the city - visit if you can.In Lens we were to meet Ivan, we expected him to be waiting outside the train station but there was no sign. We took a moment to look around, and decided to head for the other exit, where Ivan would have arrived earlier. There he was sat patiently in the waiting hall with a rucksack on his back to distinguish him from the crowd!Ivan is French and lives in Paris, so he should be really helpful on this trip.In Lens we had heard that there was an alcohol ban for every game (not just the upcoming England v Wales match), so we were surprised to find out that this alcohol ban didn't include beer. So we headed to the nearest bar.The population of Lens is actually less than the capacity of the Stadium, and there was visible security in place to protect them.At the stadium Ivan's rucksack was spotted, security saw it/him as a risk and asked that he leave it outside the ground. The ground was a sea of red with what seemed to me to be predominantly Albanian supporters. It was noticeable that supporters of both sides were sat together and had come to the game together. This was further evidenced by the teams, with a number of Swiss being Albanian, and some of the Albanian team play in the Swiss league.The scoreboard, started the countdown to the match 9, 8. Being in France, I expected to hear neuf, huit, but instead heard the crowd countdown in English. Something I found strange for a country so proud of its mother tongue.The advertising around the stadium, did not seem to be the usual suspects. Ironically the French Railways, SNCF, were on the billboards, as talk surfaced of more possible strikes. Are the major sponsors wary of football....probably.An early goal for Switzerland settled the match, but a 10 man Albanian team gave a good account of themselves. Whilst the management dressed to impress!4 hours and 48 minutes after arriving in Lens, we were leaving and heading back to Lille for the night.Moules en frites were preferred over the joys of watching the football in a pub near the station full of English and German fans who seemed keen on reenacting World War II.Later we found a quieter pub further away and had some good company as we watched the conclusion of the football for the day.Ross Clegg [...]

A Decent Start to the Euros

Sun, 12 Jun 2016 17:32:53 PDT

FRANCE 1:0 ROMANIASWITZERLAND 1:0 ALBANIAWALES 2:1 SLOVAKIAENGLAND 1:1 RUSSIATwo days in and the 2016 European Championship promises to be a reasonably entertaining and attacking tournament.France happily won what had been a typically frustrating opening game thanks to Dmitri Payet's Roy of the Rovers winner. Had that game ended goalless it might have set a dull tone for the first round and more importantly left the host nation's fans a little demoralised when they need to be leading by example.Les Bleus did some good midfield work and should have no trouble despatching limited Albania on Wednesday. With every win the host nation gets more behind its team and France have all the means to tap into the spirit of 1998 - fine players and home advantage most notably.I travelled to Euro '92 in Sweden where there were only eight finalists: Sweden, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, France, England, Scotland and the Commonwealth of Independent States (the post USSR).Some of those might not look like they belonged in the top eight in Europe but with this edition's expansion to 24 teams, the minnows clearly outnumber the big fish.But how many tiddlers are there in the pond? Albania who had a typically plucky debut today, losing 1-0 to Switzerland and having their captain sent off, are clearly one. Yet the same afternoon, Wales, making their first finals appearance since 1958, beat Slovakia 2-1.The other suspects -  Northern Ireland, Austria, Eire, Iceland, Hungary, Romania and Turkey could well upset an apple cart or two so it seems churlish to complain about the tournament's size at this stage.Should we suffer from a plague of first-round draws and take-it-easy final games, as four our of the six third-place teams will qualify for the next round, then fingers should be pointed at Michel Platini, even though he has left the building.I leapt for joy when Wales won today, not least because I lived over Offa's Dyke for four years and watched endless near misses at qualifying, even with the likes of Ryan Giggs, Mark Hughes and Ian Rush in their ranks.Gareth Bale clearly is a large part of their success, as his goal underlined today, but credit too must go towards Ashley Williams' solid marshalling of their backline and Chris Coleman's tactical nous. Their use of the flanks and diagonal balls were ideal against the overloaded Slovakian midfield in Bordeaux.Slovakia again looked the hard-tackling, rugged side who muscled past Spain at home in the qualifiers, winning no points for artistic impression. Skipper Martin Skrtel was particularly aggressive and was lucky to escape censure for elbowing Jonathan Williams in the box and body-checking Bale at one point. What a pity Marek Hamsik and their other creative players are not the abiding memory.As for England, their 1-1 draw with a very limited Russia was a textbook example of the old adage that it's goals that win games. Were football a sport like ice dance, Roy Hodgson's men would have won on points by a canter. The Three Lions played excellently for about an hour, employing pace and off-the-ball movement to produce flowing football like the best modern sides, before succumbing in injury time to Russia's umpteenth hoof up towards the big guys.Despite the outrageous last-gasp theft of points from a deserving England, there was something endearing about Russia doing a compelling impression of a lower-league English side.After a confusing few final friendlies and a questionable squad selection, Hodgson's men finally seemed to be clicking, eve[...]

The Euros 2016

Mon, 27 Jun 2016 01:35:13 PDT

With the number of teams taking part in this year's competition increasing from 16 to 24, it was my hope that I would be able to see my team, Scotland compete in France this June.Who would have believed it when my dream came true - a friendly in Metz a week before the tournament began.This meant I could see how things are in France, before the tournament begins. I was actually at Paris Orly airport the week before, on my way to Malta, when I had my first reminder of life in France. We had already been advised that our plane to France had been delayed by bad weather…there was no sign any problem as coming from the UK we would have regarded it as a perfect summer's day…little did we know!Whilst waiting for the plane that was to take us from France to Malta a number of attendants ushered one of them to step forward and make an announcement. Unfortunately my French is rather limited, but I understood the gist. My flight was to be delayed, due to the Air Traffic Controllers going on strike. As this was read out the other attendants clapped.I am not quite sure what was going on but despite this announcement we arrived in Malta less than an hour late.My next hurdle was getting to Metz. I had chosen to fly to Paris and then get the train.The French had other ideas. First of all they cancelled my flight out to Paris over a week before, no reason was given, but there was another Air Traffic Controllers strike threatened. On a positive note, knowing in advance I was able to change my plans and with a bit of help (Thanks Darren.) I was able to travel to Paris by Eurostar. Sorted. Or so I thought. On the Thursday before I travelled to Metz, it was confirmed that there would be disruption to the train services, due to strikes. I checked and found my train to Metz from Paris was running. Others had received emails advising of cancellations.Luckily I checked my return journey, but found it was cancelled. If I had turned up for this train, I would have missed my flight home and work the next day.Despite not having an email, I arranged to travel back to Paris by Megabus. A 90 minute journey by train the day before turned into a 5 hour nightmare.We arrived in Paris on time and were moments away from the bus station, which just happened to be yards away from the River Seine. The Seine had overflowed and there were Fire Engines pumping water from an underpass, back into the river. This meant our road was blocked and our driver followed diversion signs which took us round in circles for an hour. Eventually he stopped another bus, got instructions and did a three point turn, in the tightest of spaces, before making it to our destination when the bus clapped and cheered his achievement.On the football front Scotland didn't show up. No shots on target in two games means that we have something to work on. Having lost in Metz we became the first team in June to head home from France.I did have realistic hopes at least of making the play offs as I remembered Scotland’s last tournament appearance (apart from their victorious Kirin Cup campaign in 2006) was at France in 1998. Looking through the records I also noted that France had won major tournaments in 1984 and 2000……can you spot the sequence!Now that Scotland have freed me from watching them I am free to carry out my very own Tour De France with a two week visit, where I will set out to visit all ten stadiums and take in 14 games in the next two weeks. Well that's the plan! What could possibly go wrong?Ross Cleggfootballtravelswithross.wordpress.[...]

Fifa World Rankings June 2016

Thu, 14 Jul 2016 07:33:49 PDT

Fifa's World Rankings for June 2016 were published today at FIFA HQ in Zurich, Switzerland.The Fifa World Rankings are now published on Thursday and not Wednesday as before.In the World Fifa Rankings of 2016 for June, Argentina are still top followed by Belgium, Colombia and Germany.The full top ten is Argentina, Belgium, 2015 Copa America winners Colombia, Germany, Chile, Spain, Brazil, Portugal, Uruguay and Austria.England, unbeaten in Euro 2016 qualifying, are 11th.Algeria are the top African team in 32nd place.Asian Cup winners Australia are in 59th place; Japan are in 53rd. Near neighbors South Korea are in 50th place.The USA are in 31st. Wales are 26th. Scotland are in 43rd position. The Republic of Ireland are in 25th place, Northern Ireland are in 33rd position.1 Argentina2 Belgium3 Colombia4 Germany5 Chile6 Spain7 Brazil8 Portugal9 Uruguay10 Austria11 England12 Italy13 Ecuador14 The Netherlands15 Switzerland16 Mexico17 France18 Turkey19 Ukraine20 Hungary20 Bosnia-HerzegovinaFull world rankingsPrevious Fifa World RankingsBet with Bet 365Soccer betting tipsSoccer Books & DVDs align="left" frameborder="0" marginheight="0" marginwidth="0" scrolling="no" src="<1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr" style="align: left; height: 245px; padding-right: 10px; padding-top: 5px; width: 131px;"> [...]

Van Gaal was lost in translation

Sun, 05 Jun 2016 00:39:07 PDT

"In Louis Van Gaal we have secured the services of one of the outstanding managers in the game today...His track record...makes him the perfect choice for us."So said Manchester United chief executive Ed Woodward two years ago.The stentorian Dutchman left the sport this week on a bitter-sweet note. Having said repeatedly his family do not want him to continue, it seems he has completed his last coaching role, although we may see him again as a technical consultant in Holland.He won the F.A. Cup in his final match but received his P45 in the evening via a press leak. Overall his Old Trafford reign goes down as a failure but the club thought they had hired a man to bring the good times back.Manchester United have faced the expected baggage of criticism for a sloppy dismissal but in truth there was little they could do to stop the news escaping through some nook and cranny of the fortress of Old Trafford. The same criticism was levelled at the club in the wake of David Moyes' firing, but reading between the lines it appears Van Gaal knew his fate well before the F.A. Cup Final and probably the dye was cast the loss at West Ham ended hopes of Champions League qualification.Chief Executive Ed Woodward officially told his manager he would not be required next season on the Sunday after their F.A. Cup win the day before, but the news had filtered out the night before.At least Van Gaal did not suffer the indignity of being sacked four games before the end of the campaign, as happened to Moyes.Van Gaal's choppy ride with the Red Devils never found a prolonged stretch of smooth water to sail in and suffered from constant rumblings of discontent from supporters and pundits, not least former Old Trafford star Paul Scholes, who persistently stuck the knife in on Sky TV.This is the same Paul Scholes who said in 2014 on the occasion of Van Gaal's appointment that, "Manchester United fans and myself cannot wait for Louis Van Gaal to get the job started. Van Gaal seems to have the Midas touch."Scholes then did not take long to notice a pattern of inconsistent form, a stark lack of rapport with the press and above all a soporific playing style jarringly out of keeping with the club's traditions.A slew of damning statistics show his side kept the ball more than any other team in the Premier League and played it backwards more than anyone too while netting fewer goals than any United team since 1990.His win ratio of 52.43% was the lowest of the eight coaching positions he has held in his career. In failing to make the Champions League next season, the Dutchman had also cost the club £22.5 million in payments from Adidas.In this case at least, the stats do not lie.Finishing fourth and fifth is not the end of the world or most teams but for a club as big as Manchester United is clearly not good enough. If the coach of Barcelona or Real Madrid guide their club to second place they are routinely given the heave-ho.Van Gaal may contend he had a three-year plan to rebuild the club and he should get some sympathy for that argument. But the question of how to accommodate the universally accepted need for managers to be given time to put things right and the big clubs' demand for instant returns is a conundrum with no obvious solution. So what happens in practice is more of a lottery than a well-executed plan, with everyone hoping the new man in charge will limp over the line and avoid the chop during the unsteady opening spell before improving in his seco[...]

Platini's Fall to Earth

Sun, 05 Jun 2016 00:48:41 PDT

THE GREAT FRENCHMAN'S FOOTBALL LIFE IS NOW HISTORYMichel Platini's football career looks finished and whatever the circumstances, the sport has lost a major figure.Even if he was corrupt and untrustworthy, his status as one of the greatest footballers of the modern era and the greatest French player of all time means his exit stage left from the game is tinged with a little melancholy.This week the former UEFA President resigned from that organisation after his appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport only reduced his FIFA-imposed ban on footballing activities to four years instead of clearing him as he had hoped.Platini was banned for eight years last December for accepting a payment of £1.3 million from FIFA President Sepp Blatter in 2011 without proper paperwork.The pair had claimed there had been a gentleman's agreement in place for Blatter to pay Platini for consultancy work he had performed between 1998 and 2002, but prosecutors instead believed the pair were putting their hands in the FIFA till and Blatter was using the money to grease the wheels of power a few months before his presidential election.It is remarkable how Platini ruined his otherwise excellent chances of becoming the chief of world soccer– his golden playing career had made him universally admired outside the corridors of power while within Zurich he was valued as head of UEFA and a loyal Blatterite.As he ascended the greasy pole at FIFA he carried the benefit of fans' doubt because unlike the rest of the world governing body's hierarchy, Franz Beckenbauer excluded, he had been a player, and a great one too. He was in effect a golden shoe-in for the top job in football.How sad that for now his amazing playing career - winning the European Championship scoring nine goals in five games, bagging the European Cup, Cup Winners' Cup, Ligue 1, two Serie A titles, Coupe de France, Coppa Italia and three Ballons D'Or, is sent far into the shadows while his tainted footballing political career implodes before our eyes. His playing prowess will probably never be forgotten but his descent into FIFA corruption is a bitter coda to his otherwise glittering soccer life.On the other hand, Platini probably only has himself to blame for inserting himself in the hierarchy of the sinking ship skippered by Sepp and partaking in their nefarious deeds. His faux-pas in recent years had been so calamitous, football fans had begun anyway to question the maestro's sanity. It was ubiquitously assumed having a real football man at the helm would end the madness of the Blatter years' perennial tinkering (golden goal, silver goal, 32-team World Cup etc) and craven obeisance to corporate demands (kicking off USA '94 at noon local time for instance or handing sponsors huge swathes of World Cup tickets). While lizards like Jack Warner and Ricardo Teixeira still stalked the corridors of FIFA, a new broom in the shape of a great no-nonsense footballer it was felt would start the clean-up of the Augean stables with aplomb. Alas, like a newly-elected government who stutter and stumble before the public finally loses patience, Platini began issuing edicts from Zurich which confused and eventually angered the constituencies of football fans who had previously backed his ascent.After it had been widely accepted that the World Cup's expansion to 32 teams had done nothing to improve the quality of the tournament, polluting the first round in particular with minnows a[...]

Atletico seek the start of a new age in Milan

Sun, 05 Jun 2016 00:53:04 PDT

ANOTHER ALL-MADRID AFFAIR GIVES ATLETICO MADRID ANOTHER CHANCE TO MOVE OUT OF THE SHADOWSHas the prospect of a Champions League Final of Real Madrid v Atletico Madrid set the football world alight?Not exactly. Why is that?Well, despite a city derby being something to relish on paper (2014's was the first in the history of the European Cup) the pair's rendezvous in Lisbon then proved to be such a long, drawn-out affair it has not left the continent chomping at the bit for another round.Atletico were leading in injury time that sweaty night before Real's last-gasp equalizer led to a white goal rush, but had they seen out the clock their victory would have been as dull as many a 1-0 in the history of the competition.Derbies are usually hectic affairs but the huge stakes of the Champions League trophy means the final will probably be a cagey affair once more.Atletico have never won the top prize so will not be going for broke while Real have too much experience to gamble. One point separates them in the league; they are too close to separate.There is also the fact Spanish football is so dominant – four of the last seven Champions League finals and seven of the last twelve Europa League finals have been won by La Liga clubs, while three out of the four finalists in this season's competitions are Spanish, that another all Spanish final has no novelty factor.If Manchester City had not been so overawed by the Bernabeu on Wednesday, then their first visit to the final tie would have engendered much expectation, even if they probably would have capitulated through a lack of experience on the night.Wolfsburg was the wildest of wildcard entries in the last eight but also froze like a deer in the Real Madrid headlights, despite holding a 2-0 first-leg lead. In that context, City's loss does not look so bad.Paris Saint Germain were the most exciting presence in the knock-out stages, and a win for them would have come as a welcome reassurance that French club football can compete again for the top prizes and that there exists another European centre of excellence. But it was not to be.Based on the semi-finals, Bayern Munich were the best side still in the competition but rotten luck conspired against them in their away goals loss to Atletico and Pep Guardiola's German chapter concluded without Champions League success.Real are little to get excited about for neutrals because they are super-rich and super familiar, reinforcing their ranks each year or two with mutli-million dollar galacticos.Only the deepest pockets can compete with their empire, which has turned the Champions League into a footballing arms race of financial frippery (the sport is a notorious bonfire of serious investments), where the most profligate spenders are currently the Arabs and the Chinese, with some Americans breathing down their necks.Real have an extraordinary following across Spain and profit from the stentorian support of the nation's biggest dailies AS and Marca as well as the television stations, banks and even the Royal Family.So the Whites are as establishment as it gets and seeing them in the final is a regular occurrence.And then there is the absence of Barcelona.The all-conquering behemoth surprisingly fell at the semi-final stage of the Champions League this season but were in the midst of a poor run and came up against a dogged and determined Atletico who deserved to advance 3-2 on aggregate.The age of[...]