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Champions League Round of 16 Draw

17 Dec

The dreadful group stages are finally over, and we can now look ahead to the round of 16, two-legged knockout round. These days, it seems almost a foregone conclusion that certain match-ups will emerge, that there is a conspiracy to force two clubs upon each other at the most inopportune time, or opportune depending on who you ask. This year is no different as a repeat of May’s final, Wenger’s now correct premonition, revenge, and snooze-fests were drawn in Nyon earlier today. UEFA, in all their glory, will continue the expanded schedule of the round of 16 to maximize viewership and TV revenue. The first legs will be played February 15/16 and 22/23, followed by the second legs on March 8/9 and 15/16.

Undoubtedly, all eyes will turn to the premiere match-up of this round as Arsenal face off against Barcelona. Of course, it may only prove premiere in the sense that both clubs play the most aesthetically pleasing football on the planet. Although as was evident in the first 45 minutes at the Emirates, and Messi’s dismantling of the Gunners in the return leg, this is and most likely will be anything but a competitive confrontation. Barcelona almost seem better than they were last year coming off a near-perfect demolition of Real Madrid 5-0. Meanwhile in North London, Arsenal have only themselves to blame for finishing second in the group and consistently lacking the big-game gusto both in Europe and domestically.

Elsewhere, Bayern will relish the opportunity for revenge against a Mourinho-less Inter Milan, after losing in the 2010 Champions League final 2-0. Benitez has this club in a tailspin as they distance themselves ever more from league leading Milan each week. Bayern should expect a “healthy” Arjen Robben by that time and will like their chances this year.

Real Madrid and the round of 16 are a poisoned union, having been eliminated at this stage of the tournament six times running. Earlier this year, it was a familiar foe in Lyon who knocked out the Spaniards convincingly over both legs. With Mourinho at the helm this year, chances are quite minimal that Lyon will repeat their feat. Although you never know with Madrid.

As for the other English clubs, United and Chelsea emerged relatively pleased with draws against Marseille and Copenhagen respectively. Tottenham’s group topping performance, however, conveniently landed them Serie A leading AC Milan. Redknapp surely must be wondering how his porous defense will deflect the attacks of Ibrahimovic, Robinho, and Pato. However, Milan’s aging squad will only get older by next year and Tottenham have shown everyone their ruthless speed and attacking prowess throughout this tournament. Can Zambrotta really corral Gareth Bale?

The full draw is below:

AS Roma v Shakhtar Donetsk
AC Milan v Tottenham Hotspur
Valenca v FC Schalke
Inter Milan v Bayern Munich
Lyon v Real Madrid
Arsenal v Barcelona
Marseille v Manchester United
Copenhagen v Chelsea


How many more screw ups before replay is introduced?

4 Nov

As Pippo Inzaghi started his run, I screamed at Gattuso to get rid of the ball and play him through. Whether he didn’t see his teammate or simply thought the ball would never reach the Pippo is anyone’s guess. Regardless, when he finally released the ball, I got up to go to the bathroom as he had missed the opportunity and Inzaghi was visibly two yards offsides. Next thing I know, the commentator is screaming “Goooool” on my television screen – Milan had taken the lead.

If you watched the match, the error was crystal clear. Senile grandparents going blind could have seen the gap between Inzaghi and Madrid’s back four. Nevertheless, Howard Webb’s “world class” linesman kept his flag down for one of the worst offsides goals you will ever see. Football cannot continue like this.

As a fervent Barcelona supporter, I was thrilled to see the Madridistas cheated and robbed. As a football supporter though, I was shocked and humbled by the realization that this travesty could very well happen to my own team on any given day. Or to yours.

Even more vexing was the fact that up in the stands, sitting in the very best seat in the house, was UEFA President Michel Platini – the stubborn grump who paraded himself in front of the Scottish FA proclaiming the initiation of video replay would result in “Playstation football.”

“The referee has to be helped by the clubs, the fans, by players, by the media and also by the authorities – everyone has a responsibility. It is why we have added two assistants for Champions League games this season. It is a logical step with so many cameras that can pick up incidents: the more eyes there are to assist the referee, the better the chance of spotting those incidents.”

Logical step? Logic would state that the 5th official standing on the end-line would have an actual flag on his stick, and the ability to call fouls or handballs. Logic would state that with so many cameras providing extensive and numerous angles, video replay would be used. Logic would state that anything coming from Platini’s mouth on the subject is moronic.

Do you want a logical recommendation to embrace technology? Baby steps. We can all agree it would be rather presumptuous and unrealistic to expect Sepp Blatter and Platini to allow video replay for everything immediately. Referees have a place in the game and their discretion must remain in tact (we cannot start overruling fouls and hand balls). Instead, start slowly. Start with something like offsides goals. The ebb and flow of the match would not be affected, as Platini often fears. In fact, the scoring team would probably waste more time celebrating at the corner flag than video replay would. Find the mistake, call the offsides, disallow the goal, and give the other team (in this case Madrid) a free kick at the spot.

The integrity of the sport is at stake here. Something must be done.

Where do you stand on the issue?

Platini claims goal-line technology will lead to "PlayStation football"

27 Oct

Michel Platini is an idiot. Plain and simple. His remarks regarding the use of goal-line are completely irrational inasmuch as they are rooted in a prehistoric mentality that football has been, and always should be decided by human error. Platini told the Scottish FA’s website on a visit to Glasgow that should FIFA initiate the use of video replay, “then we will have PlayStation football.”

Platini believes that two extra officials on the end line are more than enough to assist the referees. He continued:

“The referee has to be helped by the clubs, the fans, by players, by the media and also by the authorities – everyone has a responsibility. It is why we have added two assistants for Champions League games this season. It is a logical step with so many cameras that can pick up incidents: the more eyes there are to assist the referee, the better the chance of spotting those incidents.”

Did anyone else not catch the bullshit here? The “logical step” with such advanced and extensive video capabilities is to add another referee?! If it is the duty of everyone to help the referees, shouldn’t we allow video evidence to prevent their screw-ups, which sometimes lead to death threats and violent reprisals by fans?!

Apparently not. Platini wants to save these officials by simply adding more, so that when they miss calls, which they inevitably will, we can still say we did everything possible to help them. Got it.

Now forgive me for my ignorance, but that extra referee on the end-line is an extra pair of eyes? If you’ve watched Champions League and Europa League matches then you will know that the extra officials do absolutely nothing. They don’t even have flags on their sticks!! (In the case of the official pictured below, he doesn’t even have a stick…) Clear cut fouls or dives in the box go completely by the wayside with these extra officials. They stand there like statues. And if their role is simply to see if the ball has crossed the end-line, then what exactly is the point of their existence on the field? What are they doing that video replay can’t?

At least Playstation gets the calls right.

Platini guarantees 0% chance of human error

27 Aug

Speaking in Monaco yesterday ahead of the Champions League draw, UEFA president Michel Platini went on a bit of a rant regarding referees in the forthcoming competition. Notably, he stressed a “zero tolerance” policy towards referees screwing up calls. Right.

He then went on to discuss the brand new five referee system that will place an extra pair of eyes on the end line next to each goal.

“I think it’s a very good system. If they cannot see if it’s gone in they should get another job. If you cannot see the ball has crossed the line from three metres away then you are no good.”

“There should be near zero tolerance with regard to referees because they should be able to see everything now.”

“The Champions League final with only three referees makes me nervous because when it comes to decisions they can’t see everything. With five referees we can be 99% or 100% certain.”

A couple things here. First, all Platini really cares about is one thing only – goal line vigilance. Preventing botched calls of whether the ball has crossed over the line. Something that happens, and let’s be honest, not too often. What about every other missed offsides and handball and foul? I have watched plenty of Europa League matches to inspect the new system and those extra refs are clowns. They do nothing and say nothing.

Now to this guarantee. 100% certain?! No sir – humans are not perfect and we never will be. If the referees were secretly terminators that’s a different story. But he just sounds like such a moronic idiot when he throws percentages out there like that. Does he really think the intellectual public believes that two extra referees is more fullproof than technology? Apparently so. And Sepp Blatter at FIFA is even worse.

These are the people running the sport at the moment. Until they’re out, we’re stuck with an outdated, juvenile system.

Friday Links!

23 Jul

A great collection of look alikes for members of Manchester United [Right this way]

Sky Sports (England’s ESPN) released an indescribable commercial for their brand spankin’ new season. [Chicks in leather]

An insight into how American politics interact with football. I promise you won’t find another article like it. [Click]

UEFA’s cowardly response to goal-line techonology [The Guardian]

More disgusting and despicable behavior from South American club football [Managers starting fights]

All of the World Cup murals you may, or may not, have seen [Artwork this way]

FIFA’s Hypocrisy

29 Jun

I guess it was a only a matter of time before you heard this rant of mine. I was only waiting for a good opportunity to bring it up and in light of recent developments in France, this is a perfect time.

It revolves around football’s relationship with governments – or rather their attempt to distance themselves from it. As I’m sure you all followed the disgraceful exit of France from the tournament, you no doubt heard that President Sarkozy asked for a review of French football and was even planning to meet with Thierry Henry to discuss the Nicolas Anelka fiasco. Not surprisingly, big bad FIFA intervened the other day and has warned the French government of interfering with football affairs with the risk of being thrown out of future tournaments.

FIFA’s stance is quite simple – government and football are separate, independent entities. Article 13.1.(g) of FIFA’s laws explains that national federations are obliged “to manage their affairs independently and ensure that their own affairs are not influenced by any third parties.” The laws go on to dictate that third parties, “include politicians, governments, states, media, etc.” As the governing body for world football, these laws pertain to the continental confederations as well.

Since football and politics go hand in hand in every single country on this planet (except the United States of course), these types of laws are necessary to prevent interference from the highest levels. They were enforced in 2008 against Iraq. Greece, too, suffered in 2006.  Even Iran faced a suspension. While I applaud FIFA for having these statutes in place, it’s not enough. At the end of the day, FIFA (and the WTA for a time) backs off the BIGGEST issues around. Oh the hypocrisy…

Euro 2012 Qualifying Draw: Held on February 7th in Warsaw, UEFA (Europe’s governing football body)selected the 9 6-team qualifying groups to compete for entry into the 2012 tournament to be held in Poland and Ukraine. Prior to the draw however, UEFA took it upon themselves to publicly fix the draw. Due to political issues, Armenia and Azerbaijan could not be drawn against each other nor could Georgia and Russia. Sooo wait a minute. Let’s say Armenia and Azerbaijan were drawn in the same group. And then the Armenian government said it wouldn’t play in Azerbaijan – well then from what we know wouldn’t that result in a suspension???? Of course not. UEFA are cowards.

Which brings me to the issue at hand – Israel. As you can no doubt see here, Israel is geographically part of the Middle East and greater Asia. For years Israel competed in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) – qualifying for the 1970 World Cup and winning the Asian Cup in 1964. They came in 3rd place at the next Asian Cup which was held in Iran. Then, of course, war broke out in 1973. Emerging victorious yet again, Israel would eventually send a team to compete in the 1974 Asian games in Tehran. However, this is where things started to unwind. Kuwait – and every other Arab state in the tournament – refused to take the field against the Israelis. Rather than dock Kuwait points or suspend them from the tournament, Israel was booted by the AFC not simply from the Asian Cup but from the entire confederation.

As a result Israel was forced to, and please excuse the obvious metaphor, wander the footballing wilderness. For a time in the 1980s they competed in Oceania with the likes of Fiji and New Zealand. They were also given a chance to qualify for tournaments via Europe. Then in 1994, UEFA granted Israel full membership into Europe.

Fairytale ending? Not quite. It’s time for a change. It’s time for Israel to return to where it belongs in Asia. We are only talking a couple games a year – if that. If Kuwait or UAE or Bahrain or Iran won’t agree to play Israel in a qualifying game for any tournament, then THROW THEIR ASSES OUT OF THE COMPETITION!! I mentioned above that Iran was suspended at one point – that’s because Mahmoud Ahmadinejad put his own man in charge of the national football federation. Well if that same Holocaust-denying idiot would be the man to put his fist down to say Iran won’t play Israel, then issue another suspension! Dock points! Forfeit games!

If a country can’t guarantee the safety of the Israeli national team, then FIFA must step in. Why, after clamping down for years against government interference, does FIFA do nothing about this?

Just think about the repercussions of throwing Iran (4 WC appearances including ’98 and 06′) or Saudi Arabia (4 WC appearances – ’94, ’98, ’02, ’06) or Qatar (bidding to host a World Cup) out of competitions because of refusal to play Israel.  You really think the public wouldn’t mind? I promise you they would take to the streets.

In the meantime though, we’re left with a fool’s hope. Until Sepp Blatter, President of FIFA, grows a sac and makes some serious decisions (not least of which is allowing video replay), Israel will be left to fight it out with the big boys of Europe and miss endless opporunities of success in Asia. Why can’t Blatter step in and make a decree? He’s Swiss. Go figure…

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