Thursday, October 31, 2013

Almost 25 years, and it's worth watching Arsenal v Liverpool again!

Is it really almost 25 years since Michael Thomas lifted the ball over Bruce Grobbelaar to give Arsenal a 2-0 win and the league title at Liverpool? It doesn't seem like yesterday, but I can't believe it's from the 1988-89 season.

Those two meet again this weekend with far more at stake! Just kidding, but it is the game in the Premier League this weekend. Arsenal are at home and are two points clear of Liverpool (and Chelsea), although some people are already questioning if Arsenal can maintain their strong start after losses to Dortmund and Chelsea - neither of which was in the league.

Arsene Wenger wants to win the league again, make no mistake. I think he knows the Champions League is out of their reach unless they sign another striker, a 'keeper and another centre-back. So the league it is, and they have looked good so far. Aaron Ramsey has been immense, making Jack Wilshire look a shell of the player he was expected to be this year - Wilshire's struggles to get a starting place will help him in the longer term, but there's no doubt it's Ramsey and Mesut Ozil's team right now.

Liverpool are humming, Suarez and Sturridge are the league's two top scorers, they create a load of chances and have good support players competing for places. They look stronger at the back, although I still fancy an error or two from Skrtel or Kolo Toure.

Liverpool don't need to dominate the ball like Arsenal and will try and hit the Gunners on the break at the Emirates, but Arsenal have been a little more ruthless with their chances this season. As long as Giroud stays on, they have the upper hand in my opinion, but Liverpool will score - they just pose too many attacking threats right now, and are brimming with confidence.

It's by far the most interesting game of the weekend in the Premier League, although Everton v Spurs on the Sunday should be good viewing too.


Roma play tonight and Sunday, and will be hoping to go 11 for 11. They are fun to watch and aren't conceding goals. It's what you want your team to be, but then who doesn't want to watch Totti win games - apart from fans of Lazio, Inter, Juve, Sampdoria, oh wait, only neutrals and Roma fans love Frank.


Gareth Bale scored in midweek, twice. He's worth the money. He's not, he's still a very good player, but I reckon I'd have 5 or 6 in La Liga by now. Barcelona are averaging 3 goals a game and are still unbeaten - don't expect either of the big two to lose anytime soon.... Zlatan is out injured, so no need to watch Ligue Un! Just kidding, Falcao and Cavani are mustard too... Go to a Bundesliga game, don't watch it on TV. If you can't, search for a video of teh Dortmund fans at the Emirates last week - it'll give you goosebumps. 

Why bother with a 'keeper, just water the goalmouth!

Looks like it was going to hit the post anyway!

Probably just the video quality, but the rest of the pitch looks pretty dry - maybe the 'keeper couldn't make it to the bathroom in time - don't fancy heading that ball afterwards!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The League Cup - why not win a trophy?

Ask West Ham fans, Stoke, Leicester, Sunderland or Southampton fans - they want to win it. Swansea won it last year and are enjoying themselves against teams like Valencia (and hammering them to boot).

It may not be much to Chelsea or Man United fans, but I don't see why Spurs, Liverpool or Arsenal don't go all out to win it.

It's the Capital One Cup now, but has been the Milk Cup, Littlewoods Cup, Rumbelows Cup (or something like that), but let's call it the League Cup.

It's a trophy. A piece of silverware.

You don't get one for 14th in the league, or 2nd, 3rd or 4th for that matter. The Champions League is great and staying in the Premier League pays a fortune, but fans don't remember teams unless they won something.

I bet Birmingham fans love the fact they beat Arsenal in the final in 2011, and hate that they got relegated and are struggling in the Championship now. Wigan won the FA Cup last year and got relegated, and also don't look like coming straight back up. But they won a trophy, and they will get back to the top flight - as will Leeds, Sheffield United, Wednesday and Burnley. Fans have short memories, but most would take a win at Wembley even if it means playing Scunthorpe away next season.

Those teams have history and the way to measure that is trophies. Playing in the top flight is great, but will Stoke fans look back in 10 years and say how great the Premier League was, or would they love to have a Cup win to remember this (relatively) successful period in their history?

Arsene Wenger has got Arsenal into Europe for 15 or so consecutive seasons, but they haven't won anything for a while. Fans want to win, not qualify for Europe again just to lose in the quarter-finals. I can't guarantee it, but I think most Arsenal fans would take a League Cup win over bowing out of the Group stages of the Champions League this year. Playing Napoli, Dortmund, Barca or Bayern is huge, but winning something/anything (except the Emirates Cup) is huge.

So go all out to win everything, fielding weaker teams isn't the way to go - any trophy is better than playing for mid-table every year.

Pelotas' Ponderings: Reflection on historic win in NY

Recovery ends after fans, team celebrate first trophy

(To view additional photos by Danissa Alvarado from Sunday's match, click here)

                                           Photo: Danissa Alvarado

As Jay-Z's "Empire State of Mind" served as the soundtrack to celebrations in and around the stadium Sunday evening, many supporters old and new were seen high-fiving, hugging, crying and exhaling profusely. Was this real?

For it was the MetroStars side that was formed for the league's inception in 1996 that gave fans a chance to connect, assemble, unite and support a top-flight side that hasn't been seen since the infamous Cosmos spectacle that brought massive crowds to the old Giants Stadium in the 70s and early 80s.

The city's own Carly Simon had her "Nobody Does It Better" track blared around the stadium's speakers at the conclusion of all Cosmos matches at home. The Cosmos won titles, brought in superstars and were the talk of the town until the party ended in 1984.

It was natural that Major League Soccer would've wanted a revival of New York's famous team by bringing back the Cosmos but it's been widely discussed that bureaucratic bickering prevented it from happening. Enter the MetroStars.

To say the Metros endured a tumultuous relationship with the soccer gods would be an understatement. Anything and everything occurred on and off the field leading to the "That's So Metro" phrase that caught on with supporters, casual and hardcore. 

The Metros were able to ink well-known players and provided home-based players as well in all of its years but that elusive MLS Cup--hell, any trophy for that matter--was on everyone's minds from equipment manager to the front office to the most ardent of all supporters.

In 2006, when Red Bull came calling to purchase and rebrand the team to its namesake product, debates ensued. The team lost some fans and in-fighting reached new levels but management made its attempt to continue its focus on the field, splashing out cash for Juan Pablo Angel, Shakira and Wyclef Jean. OK, maybe, the latter two wouldn't solve its trophy aspirations but the Austrian empire wanted to show it meant business.

Before Red Bull Arena finally opened in 2010, a team video showed Angel gawking at its surroundings and boasting about how the environment would do wonders for any team and its quest for professionalism and potential projects for dominance.

The latter years up to Sunday provided glimpses of a "superclub," as former general manager Alexi Lalas dubbed them before unofficially retracting and labeling his next employer, the Los Angeles Galaxy, as the rightful owner to that name. For now. 

The run to MLS Cup in 2008 was a Cinderella story as they were crowned Western Conference champions but came up short under the California sunshine to Argentine legend Guillermo Barros Schelotto and his Crew side. Nevertheless, away wins at Houston Dynamo and Real Salt Lake showed the league's parity and although the chance to lift silverware came so crushingly close, it was possible. Something was missing.

When favoritism towards European managers died this year, native New Yorker and Metros/Red Bulls ex-backline roughneck Mike Petke was appointed manager after the team's flirtations with overseas candidates. He made sure that Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill knew the ins-and-outs of the long-suffering club. The team combined to produce a chemistry that helped it win its first trophy over the weekend in front of its dedicated supporters, all of whom partied well into the night.

Tonight, the playoffs begin. Ten sides will vy for MLS Cup. For the first time in the league's short history, New York's local side is the team to beat.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Can't tackle him? Just hump him instead!

Porto against Benfica, 3-2 and you need the ball back. What do you do? Smash the guy and give away a free-kick or just start humping the guy?

Not really sure what to say about this except the Porto player looks like a giant for some reason.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Allardyce mocking Flores? Why not?

Chico Flores is a big guy. So is Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, Luis Suarez - and if they were small guys, they still deserve to be laughed at and mocked when they dive.

Maybe Sam Allardyce was laughing at his cunning plan to sneak into the Swansea dressing room and eat all the post-game food while other people were sleeping watching the 0-0 draw, but I hope he was laughing at another pathetic dive.

Perspective from the Geezer; Torres Back? Or Lucky?

Torres is back, we all knew he had to break his drought. Form is temporary, class is permanent, etc. etc.

Give it a rest. While she may not have been able to get there, my grandmother would have scored that 90th minute goal. He anticipated the mistake, finished nicely, but it doesn't put him back on form. You can say he set up the first goal, but counter that with the sitter that he missed.

But I'm happy for him, and hope he gets a run in the team and starts to rediscover his best - but the media really needs to tone it down. I should call the blog the Perspective Geezer.

As for Joe Hart, get used to some splinters from the bench. A few too many mistakes recently, and even if this one wasn't really down to you, your defenders are nervous around you right now.


Manchester United won a game and sit 2 points behind City and 8 off the top. Crisis over? No, there was never one in the first place. There was a huge overreaction from the United players, fans and David Moyes after their 3-2 comeback win over Stoke. Yes, the same Stoke that had scored 4 goals in 8 games prior to Saturday.


We should be talking about Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool. They all stepped up over the weekend to win games that have troubled them over the past few seasons. Arsenal took care of Crystal Palace, when maybe last year Arteta's (harsh) sending off would have seen them crumble. Liverpool scored some top quality goals and have two strikers that are really on top form. They are enjoyable to watch, can't defend, but can score easily - they may be a little short in the title run, but the foundations are there. And then there's Chelsea. Mourinho is a nutcase, but plays his role really well. He jumped into the crowd, celebrated like a real fan and gets the juices flowing. He's the pantomime villain, and loves it. And it's great, how can you not like him, or hate him - and both work.


Sunderland won, but will still struggle. Palace have lost 8 of 9 (only beating Sunderland), and then there's going to be one other in my opinion. There are plenty of candidates, but Norwich, Cardiff and Hull are my picks at the moment, although it's still very early. 

Friday, October 25, 2013

Party just getting started as MLS season concludes

Lots of viable candidates to raise American league trophy

The great Football Geezer is curious to see how the MLS playoffs will come about, come next week, but yours truly has already begun the party in anticipation of Sunday's massive clash at Red Bull Arena, which is apparently sold out ahead of a potential first trophy for not only the big city side but New York's long-suffering supporters as well.

Bias aside (and putting on the bravest journalist face), let's take a peek at the final round of the 2013 regular season:

Four spots are still open for the taking with three in the East up for grabs. Only three points separate third-placed Montreal Impact and seventh-placed Philadelphia Union with 1998 champions Chicago Fire, New England Revolution and two-time champions Houston Dynamo all squeezed in between. The Red Bulls and 2000 champions Sporting Kansas City are in.

In the West, one spot is available but 2010 champions Colorado Rapids are all but assured of that final ticket. Why? Because they'd have to lose and have the San Jose Earthquakes--three points behind them---score 13 goals against FC Dallas. And my boy, the Texans' netminder Raul Fernandez, is not going to let that happen. I think. 

Safe to say the Denver side will join 2009 champions Real Salt Lake, a red-hot Portland Timbers, four-time champions L.A. Galaxy and a Jeckyll-and-Hyde Seattle Sounders team in the postseason.

Out of all of the aforementioned teams in the East, Philly is the only one with a home finale as the Impact travel to Toronto, the Dynamo are in Washington D.C, the Revolution go to Columbus and the Fire will be in beautiful Harrison, N.J. Two of these sides will have their MLS Cup 2013 aspirations crushed at the conclusion of this weekend. 

But the big story is in New York (well, New Jersey) as the Red Bulls are in the driver's seat to clinch the Supporters Shield trophy--its first piece of silverware for the team previously known as the MetroStars that played in the horrendous climates of the old Giants Stadium.

The 2013 campaign is probably the most memorable conclusion to a season in the league's short existence. Hopefully, that continues into the playoffs until the final on Dec. 7.

Chelsea look to exploit missing Kompany

With our La Liga preview here (ok, so it's an El Clasico preview), we're going to focus on the Premier League matchups, while I continue to ask Tio Pelotas for his MLS preview - he's doing it apparently, but is hungover and needs something greasy in his stomach.

Arsenal and Liverpool will be looking to pick up 3 more points against Crystal Palace and West Brom respectively, and if either are to seriously challenge for the title, then they have to win games like these. I think both have good chances of making the top 4, but that's not good enough for Arsenal, although it may be for Liverpool this year.

The huge game of the weekend is Chelsea against Manchester City. Both are coming off good wins in the Champions League, but City may be a little more fatigues after a trip to Russia, and playing on a pitch that looked like it was from the 1980s.

City are a different team without Vincent Kompany, and I'd expect Chelsea to try and expose Javi Garcia or Joleon Lescott. Pace is huge, and Samuel Eto'o still has plenty of that, even if he is trying to steal the ball off the goalkeeper just to open his account. Fernando Torres may start after his two goals in the week, but reports of him being back are stupid - yes, he's judged on how many goals he scores, but he (and Eto'o) needs a run in the team as the main man. Strikers need confidence, and neither has it in abundance at the moment - maybe they should stand next to Sergio Aguero at the kick-off in teh hope of catching some.

The teams returning from European action need wins too. Spurs will be hoping not to repeat what happened to them last time they played after some Thursday night action, while West Ham will hope Swansea are as generous as Tottenham were.

If Sunderland lose to Newcastle, Poyet will be out. I'm just kidding, but Gus needs a win (or at least not to lose), and a local derby changes everything. Form goes out of the window and passion comes through - I don't care how many 'johnny foreigners' are playing, the crowd will inspire whoever is out there.

Are aging defenses key to El Clasico?

Messi and Ronaldo, Bale and Neymar, Isco and Iniesta.

We won’t be able to take our eyes of El Clasico tomorrow at 5pm, but as good as the attacking talent is, maybe it’s time to consider the decline of both teams defensively.

Sergio Ramos and Pepe could start for Real. I’ve made my feelings known on Pepe, but Sergio Ramos is just as much of a liability defensively. He makes rash choices, stands off Messi too far, then gets too close and fouls. Pepe just kicks people and complains. With Iker Casillas still sitting on the bench (he must have done something we haven’t heard about), Diego Lopez will continue in goal – I can’t work him out, but he seems very average to me.

But Barca have issues at the back too. Gerard Pique looks likely to miss out with a hamstring injury, with Mr. Universe Carlos Puyol coming in. He makes you feel good about how you look, but he’s been a beast in the past. However, he’s 35 and not been playing much – pair that with the ticking time bomb that is Javier Mascherano and there’s trouble.

So basically, there are a lot of goals due tomorrow. Both teams have amazing attacking players who we don’t need to discuss, and they are playing against two defenses* that really aren’t up to the top level of world football – it’s amazing to even consider that seeing as Mascherano is Argentina captain and Ramos and Puyol are World Cup winners. They have been great players, but Busquets, Isco, Alonso and Xavi can’t protect their back lines for much longer.

Luckily it's at the Nou Camp, otherwise I'd be predicting a last minute penalty for Real to win.

*defense/defence - it depends where you live!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Goal of the Season settled?

The Premier League is rolling around again this weekend, and I've gotten grief from one of our followers - no names Mr. Hollo.

Apparently there wasn't enough love shown for Pajtim Kasami's goal against Crystal Palace on Monday night. It was a cracker, although not better than Marco van Basten's strike in the 1988 European Championship final for me.

But I can't deny it's leading the Goal of the Season contenders so far - maybe great goals are flying in for Fulham now the voodoo associated with the Michael Jackson statue has been lifted!

Lots of reasons to love the Europa League

There are 3 qualifying rounds (starting in early July), a playoff round, 12 groups of 4, a knockout stage involving 32 teams all head of a final in May - which this year takes place at Juventus' stadium.

Welcome to UEFA's Europa League.

It seems like a lot of games, but having replaced the UEFA Cup and the Cup Winners Cup, you'd have to expect that there would be an avenue for every country in Europe to be able to field a side in European club competition.

And nobody expects the teams from Andorra or San Marino to make the group stages, let alone the knockout stages. But they are entitled to get their chance.

Having played with pros who represented Wales playing for Total Network Solutions (now TNS or The New Saints), they have told me of how great the experience was, how it was their only chance to really play in big stadiums against really good, even great, players.

And it's not just great for the players, the clubs and fans get to see sides they would otherwise never face - a trip to Croatia, a Thursday night in Bilbao or a long weekend in Latvia, all sound great. I'm not saying Manchester United fans get bored of playing Barcelona or Bayern Munich, but the Champions League has become a little repetitive. And the way they're going, United may even jump at the chance of the Europa League next year!

People say Jermain Defoe loves the competition. But let's be harsh/critical/honest here - it's one of the only chances he gets to play a whole game. There are the FA Cup games, League Cup and a few substitute appearances, but not too much more these days. The Europa League gives bigger teams the chance to try out their youngsters, rehab players from injuries and get people back into form.

It's not a reserves league though. The competition is strong, with Porto, Atletico Madrid (twice) and Chelsea winning the tournament - I'm sure players like Falcao and Fernando Torres appreciate it and display the medals - and you know Rafa Benitez does.

It doesn't get the respects it deserves, and maybe the Thursday night takes its toll on teams for the following weekend, but it's interesting, compelling and exciting European football.

If only I could find somewhere to watch it!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

How to celebrate getting sent off!

I think the referee sent him off for the shocking hair cut/coloring, but if you're going to see red, at least celebrate on your way off!

Thanks to Broski Bradshaw for the tip - he's got too much time on his hands!

Juve in need of points; Moyes under pressure

Real Madrid against Juventus. It doesn't get much bigger than that. Throw in Carlo Ancelotti and Antonio Conte, Cristiano and Andrea Pirlo, and we should have a fantastic game.

Juventus have drawn their first two games, while Real have scored 10 in their two victories. There is a lot of history between these giants of the game, with so many stars of the game having represented one or both - with one of my all-time favorites Zinedine Zidane coming to mind.

Conte was captain of Juve when Ancelotti was the coach there, and won't want to lose to to his mentor. But more than that, he knows that should Juve fail to pick up at least one win against Real in their two games, they face the reality of not progressing from a group that looks relatively straight-forward on paper.

Then there's David Moyes. He's already getting loads of abuse from the media, and some fans are turning on him a little already. United have a tough game at home against Real Sociedad, and if they fail to win, you know they'll be people calling for him to go. He needs time, but he also needs his players to step up.

Rooney and van Persie are his best two players, but they need to get some service. Fellaini is average at best. He's never worth the money that Moyes paid for him and really looks out of his depth. Is it time for Kagawa? I doubt it - the Scotsman just doesn't seem to rate him. I hope they lose, just so United fans can experience the turmoil of change. Moyes needs time, and I am pretty sure he'll get it, but chairmen and fans have short memories, especially with the money associated with the Champions League.

The Man United glory hunters reach the US

There's the Yankees, the Cowboys, the Heat and now Manchester United. 

Not much of a surprise here, but Manchester United appears to be the most popular football club in America, based on Facebook data of which teams have the most likes by state. 

Man U clearly has the state by state advantage, while Barcelona controls coastal states California, New York, New Jersey and Florida, to name a few. 

Rhode Island is the lone state that doesn't count either team as its favorite, leaving that honor to Real Madrid, a fact which Deadspin links to Real Madrid star and Portugal countryman Christiano Ronaldo and the large Portuguese-American population in the state.

Just like most of America to grab on to the Dallas Cowboys of soccer.

If you're picking a team, I suppose success is one of the factors you consider, but don't people want to experience the shame, emabrassment, pain and suffering of supporting a team like West Ham or Birmingham?

-Nick Hatcher 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Arsenal v Dortmund or Milan v Barca - Dilemma

Another great day in the Champions League - and poses the question, what game to watch?

Arsenal v Borussia Dortmund jumps out as both teams are performing well domestically and not just getting results, but playing the type of football we all love to see. Dortmund are the only team I have seen recently that could live with Bayern. They don't have the consistency or overall quality, but they are really well coached, exciting and full of great individual talent.

Arsenal are a team that most of us loved to see fail, but by the same token, are a story of resurrection that we can't take our eyes off. Wenger was done, fans wanted him out and players were beginning to question him. But in came Mesut Ozil, something clicked and suddenly they are top of the league and pretty sure to reach the knockout stages should they win tonight.

My favorite story is Aaron Ramsey. He's 22, suffered a horrific injury against Stoke and is now displaying some great form, putting him up there with Ozil as one of the best midfielders in the league. People forget he's still a young guy and has so much potential. The abuse he got coming back from that injury was harsh, and I'm glad he's showing his true quality.

And so to Milan v Barca. The Champions League is the only real test for the Catalans. Yes, they play Real Madrid this weekend, and Atletico have started well in La Liga this season. But games like this bring out the best in Xavi, Iniesta and Messi. It's also a big test of Neymar. He's started well domestically, but we'll see if he's up to Champions League standard later. Of course I think he is, but I was fooled by Robinho before!

Milan are a mystery to me. Great one week, horrible the next. They have good players, but I still can't get past the fact they let Pirlo go...and to Juventus!

There's also Marseille v Napoli, Shalke v Chelsea and Celtic v Ajax to keep us entertained today - plus 3 other games for the DVR to take care of. Enjoy, as the winter break isn't too far away.

Monday, October 21, 2013

O Pierluigi, Where Art Thou?

Godoy Cruz-Boca Juniors 2-2 tilt ends in brawl

Pedro Arganaraz--who reportedly was only officiating his fourth top-flight match in Argentina--was timid throughout the match, missed some penalty calls and lost control of the proceedings before the brawl that ensued at the final whistle continued into the locker rooms.

Arganaraz was left off next week's round of matches in Argentina.

Gervinho flying in Italy; Man United continue to struggle

I'm going to start with Italy as I still don't know how to describe Arsenal's first goal, either of the first two goals in the Chelsea game or why Manchester United will be lucky to finish fourth.

Roma are legit. There's no doubting that. 8 wins from 8 is fantastic in any league, but they have beaten Inter, Napoli and local rivals Lazio, scoring 22 goals and conceding just one. In four away wins, they have yet to let one in. And who plays for them? If I told you Gervinho was looking like a real footballer, no one would believe me. But he is, and Totti and De Rossi hold the team together, allowing Adam Ljajic, Miralem Pjanic and Allesandro Florenzi to flourish. When they sold Dani Osvaldo to Southampton, and labored (a little) to a 3-1 win over the MLS All-Stars, I thought mid-table may be their best bet this year. It may still be as Napoli, Juventus and Inter are all going to be sniffing around, but for now, Roma deserve the praise they are receiving - including Gervinho.

A hat-trick for Giuseppe Rossi for Fiorentina against Juve was nice in a World Cup season, he'll be in Brazil - but could have been the star the US really needs.


Barcelona could only draw and Atletico lost, with yet another late dubious penalty for Real Madrid ensuring they made up some ground on the early front runners.... Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund are starting to pull away, but Bayer Leverkeusen are still riding the coattails right now... PSG and Monaco remain unbeaten, but it's to be expected with the money they spent.


Okay, so I had a chance to think about the Premier League and what went on this weekend. Arsenal looked great and scored a fantastic goal - in fairness they threaten goals like that most weeks, just this time it came off. Chelsea's goal is bizarre to me. I don't think it should count. The ball is in the goalkeeper's possession, and that's nine tenths of the law in my view. The fact Samuel Eto'o couldn't finish when Hazard passed back to him, then got hit in the head on the floor was some rough justice, but it is just going to lead to more hassle. 'Keepers don't need to bounce the ball, and hopefully this will cut that out, or they'll be argument of consistency.

Manchester United look average at best. Southampton are a good side, and bossed it at times, but United should still fancy themselves, even with a $40 million microphone in midfield. Fellaini isn't bad, but he's not good. Moyes couldn't get anyone else and overpaid, but the Belgian is just not up to it - he can play, but he's not the leader they need in midfield. And what it comes down to me is that Fergie got out at the right time. Rooney and van Persie are still quality players, but there isn't much else right now. They have no structure or creativity, hence the excitement about Adnan Janujaz - he could be great, but wouldn't be the focus yet if United had other players on form right now.

There can only be one....or 4 of 8

FIFA posted the 4 games that will decide the final European qualifiers for next summer in Brazil.

With 9 places taken, the winners over two legs will take Europe's contingent up to 13.

According to the FIFA website...

Portugal (ranked 14), Greece (15), Croatia (18) and Ukraine (20) were the seeded teams while France(21), Sweden (25), Romania (29) and Iceland (46) were unseeded, based on the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking of 17 October 2013.
The home-and-away play-off matches are due to be played on 15 November and 19 November respectively.
So, who do you fancy?
I'm taking Zlatan over Cristiano. Why? I don't know, I just think Zlatan knows it's probably his last World Cup, loves it when someone has an ego to match his, and would really enjoy sticking it to Sepp Blatter and FIFA. He knows they want/need Ronaldo at the World Cup. He's such an icon of the modern game and attracts so much interest. I'd like to see both teams go, but that's the beauty of it - it's like Highlander - there can only be 1....or 4 of 8, just doesn't sound as good!
France have the quality to beat Ukraine, but I worry about them. They are so inconsistent, but Didier Deschamps has got his team together a little and playing well. Ukraine are ok, but I don't see them winning away if they need to.
Greece against Romania is probably the lease exciting tie, but I fancy Greece, even with Gerogios Samaras in the team. 
And then there's Iceland. I don't think there's a neutral out there who doesn't want them to make their first big tournament - and it has nothing to do with Croatia. I'd like to see Eidur Gudjohnsen get there - mainly because he used to play for the national team with his Dad, and has great goal celebrations.   

Sunday, October 20, 2013

How not to celebrate; Straight red in my book

It's not a Sunday Funday, this type of thing will leave teeth marks!

I'm not sure what kind of celebration this is, but it seems a little more friendly than a chest bump of a high five!

Friday, October 18, 2013

Shorts like that must have led him on

These two may not even make it off the pitch to swap shirts.

Get out of the way, we'll miss the goal

I always wonder with these trick free-kicks whether the 'keeper would have got there anyway.

The distraction is a nice touch, but the free-kick is good enough to go in even without it.

Oh well, just something else to get you through a Friday.

Liverpool and Newcastle heading in different directions

It's back, it's back.

No-one cared about those pesky qualifiers, allowing Mexico yet another chance to qualify, or anything like that.

All we wanted was club football back. Ok, that's not technically true as there were some great games, high drama and a few good goals too.


The Premier League kicks-off with Newcastle v Liverpool - which has some great (relatively) recent history - but now pits too teams who seem to be going in different directions. Liverpool look like a fun, exciting team to watch, with players that will always create chances. Newcastle have Loic Remy,  Hatim Ben Arfa and Yohann Cabaye. That's it. When they don't play well, they look a shocking team. Papiss Cisse seems a shell of the player he was, and I don't expect much after coming back from trying to help Senegal qualify for Brazil 2014.

The drama at Newcastle is not really in the dressing room, but in the board room. Alan Pardew doesn't know if he's coming or going. If someone can explain what Joe Kinnear does, I'd love to know. It's not personal with him, he just doesn't have a place in modern football. He could be the boss of the Crazy Gang, because things were different then. I doubt he knows much about how the game works now, and maybe knows less than the 'confused' Spurs-fan chairman Mike Ashley.

Suarez and Sturridge are firing for Liverpool right now, but I think they miss Coutinho. Creating chances for them isn't a problem, but they need more from Victor Moses, Joe Allen and Jordan Henderson once the fixture list starts piling up.

West Ham v Man City is the other game that stands out to me, but most of my interest will be in whether teams can find some consistency after the International break. Arsenal were playing well, Spurs need a win and Gus Poyet has to get his team going. The next month should be interesting.


I hope Gareth Bale gets going against Malaga - the pressure isn't on yet, but it will be if he doesn't start producing by Christmas. Barcelona and Atletico are still 100%, with 8 wins from 8 in La Liga. Let's see who falters first.

Roma v Napoli tonight kicks of the weekend nicely, with Porto v Sporting Lisbon an interesting game in Portugal. 

There's so many games on this weekend, that I think the delivery man is going to be kept busy. 

Thursday, October 17, 2013

What's Andrey Arshavin up to?

I'm not quite sure what he's doing in the picture above, or why he's using the goalkeeper as a bar stool, but I miss the former Russian captain.

He went back to play for Zenit St. Petersburg after leaving Arsenal, but there's no doubt that Andrey Arshavin is missed. With quotes like this, he alienates and divides, but speaks the truth!!

‘I would never give driving lessons to women. We need to build new roads for them. Why? Because you never know what to expect from a woman on the road. If you see a car behaving weirdly, swerving and doing strange things, before you see the driver you know it is a woman. It is always a woman.’

Thanks Andrey, you make all these stupid political correctness arguments easier.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

How can you not love goals like this?

Not much to say on this one, but it makes me smile.

Quality goals don't need words, unless you're a blog writing about football (oh wait....)

It's about time CONCACAF made a change

There are lots of relieved people in Mexico this morning. Thanks to some late goals for the US against Panama, Mexico still have a chance to make it to Brazil next summer.

The Mexican drama has been like one of their infamous soap operas. An overhead kick with 5 mins to go to beat Panama, an unbelievable miss by Chicharito, followed by a Graham Zuzi header for the US in stoppage time to give the Mexicans a lifeline after they lost away in Costa Rica.

Mexico have always qualified when the competition was held in the Americas (1930, 50, 62, 70, 78, 86 and 94), and no doubt will have a good following if they beat New Zealand in two-leg playoff in November.

But surely it's now time that the CONCACAF region made a change in how teams qualify - or maybe FIFA need to look at taking one of the 3 automatic places away - or at least ditch the Intercontinental playoff game.

Mexico finished 4th in a group of 6, only won 2 games, scoring just 7 goals. This is undoubtedly one of the weakest Mexican teams in recent memory - they are so bad that they can't even rough teams up like they used to.

They finished behind the US, Costa Rica and Honduras - the latter two of which are highly unlikely to make it out of the group stages in Brazil. So why should Mexico get yet another chance to go? They have been very poor and don't deserve to be at the main event. The US have a decent team, but not one you would say is going to genuinely contend at the World Cup. Jurgen Klinsmann has done a very good job, and the US have completely dominated the region, but they really should - beating teams like Antigua & Barbuda, Guatemala and Jamaica should be pretty straightforward. But you can only beat the teams put in front of you.

And Mexico couldn't.

New Zealand won 6 of 6 in their region, but they should too - Tahiti and New Caledonia aren't much of a test either.

Maybe FIFA needs to revamp the qualifying process as it seems like they want some of the same teams there at every World Cup. With the current system, the US are pretty much guaranteed to be in, and it seems Mexico are being given more chances than most to also be there.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Bradley will be in Brazil, but probably as an ESPN analyst

Everything you need to know about the Egypt-Ghana match can be summarized in one word: letdown.

With their 6-1 loss to Ghana on Tuesday, Egypt is in a deep hole in their attempt to qualify for their first World Cup since 1990. The beating makes all of the recent press coverage on Bob Bradley's impressive and inspiring run at the helm a bit moot and a lot anticlimactic.

The story of Bradley going over to Egypt and taking on their soccer culture amid turmoil in the country is a tremendous one. Not many would have guessed an American coach would take the Pharaohs to a perfect 6-for-6 record in World Cup qualifying.

I found myself rooting for the Egyptian side for the quality narrative it would have made in Brazil and to see the former U.S. coach make a little bit of history in such an unlikely place.

Unfortunately, with a 5-goal cushion heading into the second leg, Ghana may have just ended this remarkable story before it got really interesting.

-Nick Hatcher

In case your 'keeper didn't make you nervous already

The backpass rule has made a few 'keepers decent footballers, but every time the ball goes back to the goalie, I get nervous.

Most just smash it upfield, but there are a few who love to take a chance. A cheeky dragback or a Cruyff turn will get a few cheers from the crowd, but get caught out and they'll never let you forget it.

This guy is pushing it...

Monday, October 14, 2013

What does it mean if England don't beat Poland?

England have failed to win a major tournament since 1966, but need some perspective.

Quite simply, if they don't beat Poland, they will face a playoff game - because Ukraine will beat San Marino.

They are guaranteed a place in a two-leg tie where they could face Portugal, Sweden, Croatia or France and others. 

But England don't have the right to qualify just because they invented the game 150 years ago. The problems the English national team have created are largely their own fault. Yes, the media is a huge issue as they only deal in soundbites, but some perspective is needed.

England last won a major tournament in 1966 - their only success. And would they have won it if Pele hadn't been kicked off the park in the early rounds? Maybe as they had some fantastic players, but that was a tournament held in England when they genuinely had world-class players. They could have repeated in 1970 had Gordon Banks not been ill for the quarter-final against West Germany, but that fantastic Brazil team of Jarzinho, Pele, Carlos Alberto etc, probably still would have won in Mexico.

The Premier League is fantastic, the players (of all nations) are a pleasure to see. And I don't blame the growth of foreign players in the league as part of the reason England aren't successful. If anything, it has helped. Kids want to emulate Gullit, Juninho, Ronaldo, Zola et. all - it's much better than them growing up with Carlton Palmer, Warren Barton or Kyle Walker on their wall. These players are distinctly average and aren't the world beaters the nation expects. 

Be thankful there have been 'world-class' stars like Gascoigne, Keegan, Hoddle and Lineker, because there have been lots of awful players to pull on the shirt. We don't need names, but you all know who they are/were. 

I'm not sure how this media coverage helps anyone.

The hype surrounding Wilshire, Rooney, Owen and other 'wonderkids' is stupid - they can never be who the media thinks they could have been. Let's not make Andros Townsend the next 'saviour'. He's not, he's an average player hoping to be part of an average international team that goes to Brazil next summer - which is where every player and fan wants to be - and nobody has the right to be there, you have to earn it.

It's a small country that no longer deserves to be considered a big team in world football. I want them to win as much as the next Englishman, but I'd prefer them to qualify, participate in the big tournaments and maybe pull off a shock or two.

A win against Poland would be great, but then the media machine starts again, placing the players and Roy Hodgson in a no-win situation. Celebrate any win, and enjoy winning. Watching England shouldn't be so stressful that we don't enjoy it. Because there's still a playoff should it be needed.

Why is today so slow? I need more football

Some exciting qualifiers in Europe on Friday, a great comeback from Colombia to draw 3-3 with Chile, goals galore in the African playoff games, and now it's Monday.

Hurry up and be done so we can get to the big games on Tuesday.

I am a soccer junkie, I need my fix.

Without it, I feel like this...

The stuff we dream about

Ok, so not everyone dreams about scoring for Mexico against Panama in a World Cup qualifier.

But this is special. Raul Jimenez had just come off the bench with his team tied 1-1 and needing a win to have any realistic chance of making it to Brazil.

The ball comes into him on the edge of the box, and what do you do after having a bad touch? Bike it of course! What else is there?!

Mexico now look like they will have to play New Zealand in a two-leg playoff.

Here's the YouTube version -

Friday, October 11, 2013

Who else could pack their bags for Brazil?

Ethiopia play Nigeria for a place in Brazil next summer

Brazil are hosting the 20th World Cup next summer.

They qualify automatically, and have so far been joined by Japan, Australia, South Korea, Iran, Holland, Italy, Costa Rica, Argentina and the USA. 10 names are confirmed, with another 7 having the possibility of joining them today.

Belgium, Germany and Switzerland are all in if they win - and I can't see Ireland upsetting the Germans, and it's even more unlikely that the Swiss will lose to Albania.

Russia can qualify if Portugal lose to Israel - it's not worth mentioning that the Russians play Luxembourg, 3 points have never been so easy - just ask Northern Ireland...oh wait. Honduras can make it if they beat Costa Roca and Mexico don't beat Panama.

Colombia and Chile can both clinch from South America, and even if they don't do it right now, both will get it done soon.

But who does that leave?

Spain and France are going to be the top 2 in their group, and it seems likely the holders will get teh automatic place. England have 'amazingly difficult' games against Montenegro and then Poland at home if they are going to clinch the automatic place - that's in quotes because the British press would have you believe that those games at home are too much for a team that includes so-called world beaters like Rooney, Gerrard and Wilshire. Can't have it both ways unless you're the British press - at club level, the players are the best in world, but not so much once the England shirt goes on.

Plus there are so big games in Africa - Ghana against Egypt, Senegal v Ivory Coast, and underdogs Ethiopia and Burkina Faso both still have a chance to make it. It's 5 from 10 in Africa, with the second leg in November after the openers this weekend.

Ecuador, Venezuela and Uruguay seem to be fighting it out for one automatic place and the chance to play Jordan in a qualifier - can't see that qualifier being much harder than playing the Page 3 girl Jordan, so it seems like 2 of 3 from there.

But there's still loads to play for with a couple of games left - 22 names still need to be confirmed, but we'll probably have 16 of the 32 known about once the weekend is over. Settle in, get the DVR cleared out, because there is a lot of football to watch this weekend.

Are we close to a 'Foreigners With Benefits' rule?

(Here's a feature from our Special Writer in England in response to our article about nationality and sport.)

An English footballer made headlines this week by venturing an actual opinion. In the abstract at least, this is something to be welcomed in these times of clichéd platitudes and football authorities trying to sanitise the game to the extent of criminalising words whatever the context. After all, the concept of free speech has to be extended to those with whom you disagree.

That hasn’t stopped people criticising Jack Wilshere in the name of liberalism or progression though. “The only people who should play for England are English people,” said the Arsenal man, revealing a hitherto unknown interest in politics and an interesting take on what all this means. “We have to remember what we are. We are English. We tackle hard, are tough on the pitch and are hard to beat.”

Various opponents since 1966 might beg to differ and Wilshere was surely just unfortunate that his comments came at the moment a power vacuum opened up within the English Defence League. But whether or not he made his point eloquently enough, his wider view has the backing of his club boss, Arsène Wenger, and Harry Redknapp, who should actually be the England manager, according to Harry Redknapp.

Pertinently, Wilshere’s assertion that “if you live in England for five years it doesn’t make you English” is not only supported by geography students the world over, but helpful in highlighting a rule many feel is absurd: that a player can be capped for his country of residence after a continuous stay of that length after his 18th birthday. The question came about because England haven’t had a proper left winger for 20 years and Manchester United seem to have unearthed one in Adnan Januzaj – an 18-year-old who already has as many claims to separate nationalities as the British Isles but who might fancy playing in front of the ridiculously priced, and consequently empty Club Wembley seats some time after his qualification date in 2018.

“If I went to Spain and lived there for five years, I’m not going to play for Spain,” added Wilshere, no doubt to the relief of Xavi, Iniesta and Fàbregas.

But here’s the rub. Wilshere’s entitled to say who he thinks should be eligible for England – and he was later at pains to point out that he has “great respect” for the many athletes who represent England and Great Britain despite being born abroad – but any rule change wouldn’t just affect England. It has to be the same for all countries, even though definitions of nationality don’t always tally: France have long chosen players from former colonies and dependent territories because there is a tradition of seeing those countries as “greater France”, and yet some players born and raised in France choose to represent their ancestral lands because of “a lack of integration”. The Italians have been discussing this for so many decades that they have long used the word “oriundi” for “foreign” players – mainly South American with Italian ancestry – who turn out for the Azzurri. And let’s not forget that plenty of Wilshere’s compatriots are currently raising their children in Singapore, Malaysia, the Emirates and many other countries besides, without a second thought of them ever being anything other than English.

Former France captain Patrick Vieira was born in Dakar, Senegal

So the real question is: what’s nationalism? Because the truth is that it can mean very different things. English and Irish nationalism, for example, are almost polar opposites: the former tainted by association with colonialism, imperialism and arrogance; the latter feted for rebelling against its controlling neighbour. It’s not that England only attract the kind of people who’ve just shed a tear over Tommy Robinson’s departure, it’s just that no one is denying they have their share of people whose political persuasions are quite far to the right. Of Enoch Powell.

It’s easy for me to sneer. I’m English but I don’t support England. I support Manchester United and, when I was growing up, England was the team Bryan Robson used to get injured playing for. When I was following my team around the continent, some ‘England fans’ were hanging effigies of David Beckham and singing “if the Nevilles play for England so can I” so many of us just assumed they were all people who couldn’t read. I’m lucky because I watch international games as a neutral. But I fully appreciate that many people are good supporters of clubs who don’t routinely play in elite competitions and for whom “Ing-er-lund” represents a genuine chance to support a team that, at least in theory, is taken seriously around the world.

So maybe the question of whether England should forsake the “foreigners with benefits” rule and “go native” should be left to the supporters’ club. Even if FIFA permits “nationality” through grand-parentage, Jack thinks England should make a stand for clear, black and white lines.

It won’t be very popular if Januzaj scores against England, but at least this burning issue stopped people talking about Wilshere smoking for a while.


Thursday, October 10, 2013

We are all Liverpool fans again

I’m a Liverpool fan. Again. Why? Because we’re  a couple of goals allowed from the top of the table. I know what you’re thinking. I’m a sunshine boy.  A fair-weather fan.  I only watch when we’re winning, and I only sing when they print the words to the songs on a karaoke feed.  Well, you’re right. And you wish you were one, too. Admit it.  That way, instead of spending the last 25 years hoping, in vain, that Everton would return to their Andy heyday or pretending that Aston Villa had never Peter Withered, you could have been sneakily watching Manchester United or Arsenal play some decent football.

Why is it considered such a footballing sin to pick winners?

Would thousands follow Novak Djokovic down to Court #25 if he put in five rubbish seasons in a row?  Do golf fans studiously avoid Rory McIlroy so they don’t miss a shot from onetime great Bernhard Langer in the group ahead?

I first became a Liverpool fan around 1982. I was conflicted from the start; my cousin Phil made me renounce QPR, who my Dad and I had picked out of the league table at random.

I was just in time for the first reign of Ian Rush. I wasn’t allowed watch telly on Saturday afternoons so I mostly experienced the exploits of Mustacheses II through my classmates’ postgame bragging.  Rush was so great that for years I thought strikers were shit if they only scored once a game. The only time I watched the Reds play before Kenny Dalglish took over as scowler-in-chief was the 1984 European Cup Final against Roma.  This game taught me the turgidity law: the more you look forward to a match, the more boring it usually is.

Mid Dalglish was my Liverpool period.  My mum relaxed the Saturday rule between 1987 and 1989, and I gradually fell for Bruce Grobelaar, Peter Beardsley, John Barnes, Craig Johnston, John Aldridge (Mustacheses III), Kenny Dalglish (with his hybrid player-manager tracksuit-overcoat, always ready to Special Guest Star in a game, and still useful at 5 mph) and, yes, even Gary Ablett.  For a couple of years, I understood why the word fan was short for fanatic.  I loved this team, and I deluded myself that they were reciprocating this love by beating almost everyone twice a year. These were the years when Liverpool fans felt unlucky to narrowly miss out on League-Cup doubles.

It felt like the beginning of a thousand-year Reich. My classmates talked about the team missing Rush, but, as far as I was concerned, Aldridge was just as good – from his mustache down to his first touch. Of course, I made this judgement without seeing Rush play. But Aldridge could score at will.  He could never reprise his Liverpool form for Ireland, but have you ever seen the clip where the linesman stalled him on the sidelines while Jackie Charlton was trying to throw him on as a sub during a group game against Mexico at the 94 World Cup?   Aldo, one of the world’s most unflappable players, got into a flap. When he finally got on the field, I knew he was going to score. Sure enough, he sprinted up field a few moments later and almost headered the ball through the net.  He could score at will.
I felt somewhat conflicted when Rush returned to take back the mustachioed striker role. But I kept faith with my team.  

Until that team disappeared. In ’91, Dalglish quit, and Graeme Souness took over.  Souness’s first act was to sack half of my favourite players. Liverpool clearly didn’t love me any more.
The only thing Souness, Moustacheses I, had in common with Dalglish was being an ex-great Liverpool and Scotland international player from Glasgow. OK, that’s a fair amount. But Souness was the Drago to Dalglish’s Rocky. The man was a brute. Anyone who saw the legbreaking tackle he committed for Rangers as I did (on Saint and Greavesie, where sunshine fans went to get their 30 minutes of football a week) could never love Souness.  Halfway through that season, Liverpool and I broke up.

For a couple of years, I was a closet Blackburn fan.  In three years, Shearer and Dalglish took them from 19th in the second division to premiership champions.  Nobody’s done it since.

Then I thought I’d go the Sleeping Giant route. Sleeping Giant fandom is more romantic than Sunshine Boy fandom.  Some football fans believe there is more honour in supporting their team when it’s shit. I spoke to a Boca Juniors fan once who scoffed at the league-leading season the club was enjoying. ”Two years ago, we lost every single league game at home. Every. Single. Game. And it was packed. Every week. And everyone sang, at the top of their voices. That’s Boca,” he said, sounding like a doting father.

I chose Wolverhampton Wanderers, the Wolves. They had a great chant (“We are Wolves, We are Wolves, We are Wolves” repeat x infinity, really fast); a great striker (Steve Bull, who could score hat tricks at will), and, most importantly, an illustrious history (they had won just as many league-cup doubles as Liverpool, and more than Man United at the time). 

But the Giant Wolves never really woke up. They were always tipped for promotion into the premiership, but very seldom made it. Even when they did make it, they immediately ruled themselves out of contention and started flirting with relegation.  They never even had a cup run to speak of.  Non-league Stevenage had cup runs to speak of.  Plus, pre-Internet, to find out what Wolves were doing took a lot of work. I told people I followed Wolves but then couldn’t name any of their players. It was embarrassing for both of us. Our relationship was going nowhere.

I spent several years unattached, just following games that I thought would be decent.  I was happy.
I signed on as a Liverpool fan again for a day in 2005.  One of the other Geezer contributors and I watched the European Cup final at a mate’s house. We almost switched the channel at half time, but after Liverpool got their first one back, I had the same feeling about Stevie G as I had once had about Aldridge in that Mexico game. Milan had been too cocky, and Gerrard was up for it.  Only the greats can carry a big game on their shoulders like that.  

You see it in games on the green in the housing estate, where one player just pushes their quality to a higher plane than everyone else  on the field. You seldom see it in a professional game and never in a big final. Pity Gerrard gets shirty about not getting his Phil Collins requests played, and apparently once chanted his own name like a scouse cuckoo…but you have to separate the artist from their art.
Luis Suarez seems to be that kind of great.  The much hyped “double threat” of him and Sturridge seems to be living up to the hype. And Brendan Rodgers seems to genuinely want a bit of style.  

I’m falling in love with Liverpool again. But if they start wasting leads against West Brom and fecking around in fifth place again, it’s off.

-Rob Curran