Archive for World Cup Qualifiers

The Winner Takes it all…

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In football, the saying, to the winner go the spoils couldn’t be more true. The minute a footballer scores a few goals, he is immediately put in the same league as the greats of the game. And God forbid, if he makes a mistake in the heat of the moment, all his past greatness is forgotten and he is immediately an overrated talentless footballer. The headlines in the past week have been dominated by two individual footballers, Thierry Henry and Jermaine Defoe. Thierry Henry had his moment and could have become a hero cherished by millions (minus the French) for eternity or he could have fallen from grace for millions. Unfortunately for Henry, in the heat of the moment he didn’t think selfishly enough and now he is being termed a cheat, a liar, a shame, a no-gooder, an unethical person and a villain of the worst kind, an overrated footballer who was never really good enough. It seems everyone is trying hard to forget the magic of Arsenal’s all-time leading goal scorer with 226 goals in all competitions, the two time winner of PFA Players’ Player of the Year and three time winner of the Football Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year – Theirry Henry. Ironic, how almost all football journalists now seem to want to remember Henry only by the recent mistake that he made.

As is true of life, when a hero falls, a replacement is quickly sought. Jermaine Defoe’s 5 goals in the second half of the, 9-1 thriller between Tottenham Hotspur and Wigan Athletic couldn’t have come at a better time. Defoe’s horrible stamp on Aaron Mokoena in his return match against his old employers at Portsmouth which earned him a three match ban has been long forgotten and he is enjoying his sudden rise from a villain who manager Harry Rednapp had been absolutely livid with for the misdemeanor to a hero who manager Harry Rednapp is now busy hailing as the “best finisher” in the English game. His captain for the day, Jonathan Woodgate was even more generous with his praise saying, “I think he’s the sharpest striker not only in the Premier League but probably in the world. He’s that sharp he simply doesn’t miss, in training or in matches.”

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The winner takes it all and I can’t begin to imagine what praise would have been directed the strikers way had he got a Premier League record sixth goal of the afternoon. On the other hand, Wigan Athletic players who suffered their worst result  in club’s 31-year league history, making them the first English Premier League team to concede nine goals in a single match since Ipswich Town in 1995 have decided to refund the money to supporters who travelled to White Hart Lane on Sunday (November 22) to watch their team get so completely thrashed in the humiliating 9-1 loss. Jermaine Defoe’s 5 goals were added to by goals from Peter Crouch, Aaron Lennon, Niko Kranjcar and a  painful Chris Kirkland own goal.

Wigan Athletic Captain Mario Melchiot said the players had “badly let down” their travelling supporter and will therefore provide a full refund of the match ticket price. “This is a gesture we have to make and pay them back for their tremendous loyalty,” the Latics captain added.

Also, possibly related to the shameful result, Wigan Athletic today postponed the planned official opening of their new club store in the town. A spokesperson said: “The club apologises for any inconvenience caused to its supporters but stresses that the event will go ahead in the very near future, as soon as a new date can be arranged.” In the beautiful game, the winner is entitled to it all and then some, while the loser waits for his time to shine, good thing that it doesn’t take much to be a winner, a couple of goals can get you there.

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Neither a Cheat nor a Hero – Thierry Henry!

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Nothing makes you a hero or a villain faster than football. Unfortunately for Henry it was his time to play the villain. He made a mistake. He handled the ball in the World Cup playoff decider against Ireland,which put his country in next years World Cup in South Africa. He probably didn’t do it  intentionally (no one can plan such stuff) and may be he should have owned up to it immediately instead of waiting till the end of the match but no one can understand what was going on in his head at that time. It was a big game, the result of which was crucial  and he can’t really be blamed for not being strong enough to be honest but that doesn’t instantly make him a cheat, a liar, a good-for-nothing footballer with no ethics who was never really good enough.

Another dilemma to this question of him owning up is that  as a professional footballer, his duty was to do whatever it took to put France in the World Cup Finals. If he had owned up to the handball, would it have been fair to his countrymen? Its easy to judge sitting on the periphery and when the stakes aren’t very high for you. Hell, I confess that there are times when my team (Chelsea), get decisions in their favor because the referee was daft or blind or both and I refuse to criticize the player and the referee, just glad that my team are ahead.

Understandably, the French supporters feel like Henry has done nothing wrong and may be some even consider him (at their own risk),something of hero while the Irish are disgusted and feel cheated and football fans around the world are livid. Some even going far enough to make personal sacrifices as vowing never to use a certain shaving product promoted by Henry (a lot of very hairy football fans in the future).  Had Henry owned up to the handball immediately, he would have proven to the world that he was an extraordinary human being. Henry is not a cheat, he is not a liar, and he is not an extraordinary person, he is simply a professional football player.

Henry did what he had to do for his country and is not to blame. The referee, however didn’t do his job well enough and  FIFA, haven’t done their job for a while now by rejecting a replay of the match  and by continuously rejecting the introduction of technology in football.

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Ireland Demand Replay of World Cup Qualifier with France

The Irish aren’t so lucky after all, at least not when it comes to playing for a place in the 2010 World Cup Finals in South Africa.First came FIFA’s 11th hour decision to seed the World Cup play-off draw in favour of the big teams, which ultimately pitted the Irish against France. Then the lucky goal by Nicolas Anelka in the first leg of the play-off match played in Dublin which clinched a 1-0 win for the French and on Wednesday in the second-leg of the match a goal by French captain Theirry Henry which put the Republic of Ireland out of the World Cup in the cruelest fashion.

The Republic of Ireland were leading the game by a goal scored in the 33rd minute by their captain Robbie Keane and it looked like the Irish would be going to the World Cup after all but Thierry Henry had other plans. In extra time, the French captain showed great basket balling skills as he handled the ball twice before playing it to William Gallas who scored a winner which put France in the 2010 World Cup Finals in South Africa.

The Irish cursed their luck and couldn’t believe the referee hadn’t seen such a blatant violation of the most basic of football rules while the French players celebrated their ‘victory’, all the while knowing that they had cheated the Irish out of a place in the World Cup finals.

Now, the Football Association of Ireland have made a formal complaint to FIFA and written to the France Football Association asking for a re-match. Hopefully, the Irish run of bad-luck won’t continue and the match would be replayed which is more than a fair demand. Millions around the world saw the very obvious case of cheating by the French. The chief commissioner, the referee observer and the match officials have all recognised the handball.

Thierry Henry has already admitted to the handball, saying, “I will be honest, it was a handball. But I’m not the ref. I played it, the ref allowed it. That’s a question you should ask him.” It’s time that FIFA be seen valuing integrity and upholding the spirit of fair play in the game by ordering a replay.

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The Man Who Could be God: Argentina Qualify

Whenever I am asked who the greatest footballer of all time is; two names immediately flash through my head, Pele and Diego Maradona. Having to choose between the two is like having to choose between a Mars bar and a Snickers bar… unnecessary and impossible.  An easier question to answer is which is the nutty, unconventional, adventurous and unpredictable one of the two. Diego Maradona wins that one hands down.

Diego Armando Maradona was born in Lanús, a shantytown on the outskirts of Buenos Aires to a poor family. A wizard with the ball, his talent was spotted at 10 years old when he joined Los Cebolitas (The Little Onions), the junior team of Buenos Aires’s Argentinos juniors. No one back then could have guessed that this 10-year old, entertaining the crowds with tricks during the half-time break, would one day become a legend revered so much by his countrymen who would build a church in his name – ‘Iglesia Maradoniana’ in Argentina. It has 120,000 worshipers who actually worship him. Maradona became enshrined after the 1986 World Cup.

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In a quarterfinals match between Argentina and England, Maradona scored a goal that went into the net after his fist touched it. The referees failed to see the incident and the goal was awarded. He went on to score a second goal in the match, a goal which has since been voted by FIFA as the greatest goal in the history of the world cup, won Argentina its place in the Semi-Final and put England out of the tournament. In 1986, the emotions of the ‘Falklands War’ were still running high and Maradona’s goal was seen as a fitting revenge on the English. Later, when Maradona was asked about the first goal, he said it was scored, “a little with the head of Maradona and a little with the hand of God”.

Diego Maradona’s life has been a high-speed, topsy-turvy rollercoaster ride with tremendous highs and tragic lows. He won the World player award twice, lead his country to a World Cup win, held the record transfer fee record twice, won the league, League Cup and Super Cup with the Barcelona where he also picked up his cocaine habit. At Italian club Napoli, he elevated the club to its most successful era helping them win the Serie A, UEFA Cup and the Italian SuperCup. There wasn’t a more adored star in the late 80’s in Italy than Diego Maradona. He had reached the very high peak, the fall from which could only be spectacularly tragic.

He failed a drug test and was sent home from the 1994 FIFA World Cup, was suspected of having links with the Italian Mafia and ran up a $23.1b in unpaid taxes in Napoli.  His extravagant lifestyle and terribly bad choices, left him broke, without his diamond studs, obese, bloated, ugly, and unhappy, far from the sparkling, fresh star the ‘Hand of God’ had intended him to be.

Through it all, the one thing that always stands out about Diego Maradona is his honesty and his absolute love for his country and for football. In the FIFA World Cup 2006,  Pele was getting all the attention, respect, praise and was being hailed as the greatest player ever. It seemed a policy decision, not to mention Maradona.

A not-so-healthy looking Maradona was in the stands (not the VIP sort), brimming with enthusiasm and cheering his team, his country on. He has since been trying to get his act together and it was only fair that the sport that has been graced by his genius in the past, be instrumental in giving him a second chance. It came in the form of the job of the National Team Manager. Something that a lot of cynics were quick to criticize and for a while it seemed they’d be proven right when the odds were stacking up against Argentina in the run up for qualifying for the FIFA World Cup 2010.  However, one should never forget that wherever Maradona is, miracles and drama follow. Argentina qualified for the World Cup last night in true Maradona – against all odds style. The legend was quick to give the media a piece of his mind about their lack of faith in ‘El Diego’.

The last time the  ‘hand of God’ guided Maradona, he got himself 120,000 worshipers, and it is once again guiding him – South Africa get ready, here comes Diego Armando Maradona.

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The Sorcerer And The Superstar: Wizard Curses Cristiano Ronaldo

Barack Obama has added another amazing achievement to his year by winning the Nobel Peace Prize. What a year it has been for him. If he were a footballer, he would be the guy who won FIFA World Player of the Year, European Footballer of the Year, UEFA Club footballer of the Year and had the European Golden Shoe proudly displayed in his ever-growing trophy cabinet. He would be the highest paid footballer in the world. He would be Cristiano Ronaldo! Too bad for Ronaldo that he is not, like Obama, the most powerful and arguably the most respected man in the world.

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Footballers have to get used to seeing frivolous headlines about themselves in the tabloids and learn to either enjoy and revel in the silliness of it all or completely ignore it. Also, they realize soon enough, that the bigger star they become, the more ridiculous the stories get. So when the second-largest Spanish daily newspaper El Mundo, broke the news of a Wizard claiming he had been contacted to put on a curse on Cristiano, I am sure the Portuguese superstar smiled his smug smile and patted himself on the back. I mean, could the headline get any sillier?

It turns out ‘Pepe’ – The Wizard is quite the Harry Potter of Football sorcerer. Cristiano Ronaldo joins David Beckham, Carlos Queiroz, Esteban Cambiasso, Brazilian Ronaldo, Iker Casillas, Raul, Cannavaro and Sergio Ramos in the impressive list of people lucky enough to be cursed by our illustrious ‘soccerer.’ But first of all, I’d like to thank you, oh noble Wizard, for thinking us important enough to let us in on your evil plans. It gives us a warm fuzzy feeling. Wizards of the past have been downright rude by not even letting us know before they turn our favorite footballers into bats, or even worse vegetables.

The wonderful Wizard also said that he himself had nothing against the star and that he couldn’t violate the Wizard-Client (weirdo) confidentially law and tell us who the client was. He said his client was a “jilted lover”, “non-European” and “a very wealthy heiress from a well-known family”. Hail, thou Sly Sorcerer!

The story has the makings of a movie of the forgotten Bollywood era, which was obsessed with spells and sly serpentine women. And like the pathetic era, this story should have died a fast death in this super-fast information age. Alas, Cristiano picked up an ankle injury playing in the match against Marseille, which his team Real Madrid won 3-0. The wily Wizard was ‘lightening-quick’ to claim credit for the injury but no one really cared. It was only when Cristiano had to miss the next match which Madrid lost and when Portugal haven’t already claimed their spot in the 2010 World Cup, that fans all over the world started to somewhat fear the mighty Wizard’s ways!

Mr. Wizard, I hope you realize that we fans, are always quick to buy into conspiracy theories when our team loses. We never believe that the other team could have played better than ours. As, for Cristiano, he is currently busy replacing David Beckham in the Georgio Armani ads while he recovers from his ankle injury.So Mr. Wizard, enjoy you few moments in the limelight, `coz as soon as our ‘Wing Wizard’ is back to winning ways, you’ll have to go back to searching for hairs off the tail of a red donkey picked in the light of a full moon; or whatever it is you fake Wizards do for kicks.

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Sleepyhead Managers and Star Teams

The shocks just keep coming in. Having calmed my nerves with caffeine (oh yes, it works…thought I’d missed that raised eyebrow, did you?) My ‘roving’ eye went to the group standings table and my heart rate went up (wasn’t the caffeine). I blinked a couple of times (would you get off the caffeine theory already!) but there it was… Denmark were 5 points ahead of Portugal. Portugal have got the likes of Carvalho (had to be a Chelsea players first), Bosingwa (and second), Deco (and third!), Simao, Nuno Gomez, Nani, Ronaldo, Maniche. Players absolutely bursting with football magic. How can they be in danger of not qualifying, they should be top of the group!
So, what is coach Carloz not doing right? I would think he knew everything, having learnt from the very best Sir Alex. Also, in my naievity I assumed that the country coaches didn’t really need to be as good as the club coaches because, they got to pick from players with so much experience. I have changed my view since Fabio Capello worked miracles with the England National Team. To lead such accomplished players has to be even harder because you have to win their respect and boy, it don’t come cheap. Also, I think since players all their lives have been told what to do; they like it that way. They like a coach who tells them what to do ahead of each game and during the half-time break. A coach who has a plan he is convinced will work and asks them to play their part in executing it. The bottom line is that the players appreciate and respect being directed like other proffessionals in any other profession. Take actors for example. ‘Good’ actors always appreciate a director who knows what he is doing and tells them exactly what he wants them to do. Fabio Capello has definitely achieved that with the England squad, which in my opinion, is the hardest lot of players to win over. May be Queroz is taking too laid-back an approach to management, expecting his phenomemally talented lot of players to just do what comes naturally to them. But talent also needs direction. May be he is being too lazy or may be he is one of those who just doesn’t get it.
He needs to take a feather out of the cap of  managers of countries like Ireland and Denmark and Norway who don’t have such talent-loaded teams but manage to get super performances out of average players.  Another manager who could really sit up and pay attention is France’s no.1 romantic… no, not President Sarkozy, okay no.2 romantic Raymond Domenech, who if it’s possible, has an even stronger team than Queiroz, a ‘super-star-studded’ team as compared to Queiroz’s mere ‘star-studded’ team. But, on a serious note, come on you guys, do whatever it is, fix whatever needs to be fixed, because you got some players that deserve to be in South Africa and they got fans who deserve the pleasure of seeing their favorites battle it out for their countries. South Africa is simmering up and getting ready to sparkle!

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Messi, Ronaldo may miss WC – Bane, Bliss or Blah?

Isn’t football wonderful? Players with incredible talent, clubs with fanatical fans, rivalries and histories, and some truly inspirational stories. There never really is a dull moment in the footballing world, so I shouldn’t have been surprised when what I was considering to be a dull, dull week with only a handful of ‘International Friendlies’ and ‘World Cup Qualifiers’ to look forward to turned out to be quite a dramatic, thought provoking, intriguing and dare I say – entertaining week. I guess I was living in the past when football was only a weekend thing and not the 7 day, 24 hour entertainment fest and way of life for many around the world, that it has become today. While I missed seeing players like Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Thierry Henry and Kaka play over the weekend, a menacing headline jumped out at me “Messi, Ronaldo may miss WC”…. A zillion questions raced through my head as I stared dumbfounded at that terrible headline that refused to go away, despite my insanely rapid blinking… What kind of a horrible, mean person would write such a thing? What would the World Cup be without the ‘Sultan of Stepovers’ Ronaldo or the infamous ‘Winker’ if that is how you choose to remember him? Would it still be as exciting? Wouldn’t this undervalue the World Cup? Would it effect the tickets beings sold? Did I still want to go?
The last of the questions was the easiest to answer. Hell yea! I was going. So I guess if most people are like me and just love football, they were going too. And that answered the tickets question and the other hidden question… nope, the tickets weren’t going to get cheaper. Oh well, I’d rather have packed stadiums with screaming supporters around me than a cheap ticket with the echo of my own screams scaring me and making me jump! 
However would it undervalue the World Cup if they greatest player in the world right now, Lionel Messi and the official greatest player in the world weren’t on show? I still remember how excited I was to see ’em play against each other in the Champions League, Manchester United – Barcelona was probably the most anticipated game of all. Of course, now that Ronaldo has moved to the ‘La Liga’ we get to see them pitted against each other more often (oh thank you Mr. Perez). But what about Ronaldo against Kaka? Not having such a well-know team as Portugal who almost always have reached the quarter-finals in the last few campaigns would be very disappointing indeed. But when a team can’t even ‘qualify’ to play, do we really need them where all the big boys are? I mean, doesn’t not qualifying imply that they simply weren’t good enough at that time to compete on the big stage? Remember, how much we missed England at the Euros? As England fan I was heartbroken, miserable, irritable, mean, ‘on the brink of rage and tears’ every time the 
‘E-word’ was uttered but in all honesty, when the competition got underway, I was hooked and didn’t really miss them all that much. So I guess if Portugal and France don’t make it to the world cup, it will be disappointing and yes, we’ll miss some of the phenomenal players (sincerely hope that they do qualify) but thats about it. The competition will still be exciting, entertaining, nail-biting, intense, and memorable… and the show will go on.  

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