Saturday, April 19, 2014

George's Premiership Predictions April 19 2014

bet365Of the three teams with a realistic chance of winning the Premier League, Manchester City play an in-form Southampton at home, Liverpool travel to east London to face West Ham, Chelsea play Stoke at Stamford Bridge hoping to put their poor display away to PSG in the Champions League.

Saturday 19 April 2014

Tottenham 1 v Fulham 1
Cardiff City 1 v Stoke City 0
West Ham 2 v Crystal Palace 1
Newcastle 0 v Swansea City 0
Aston Villa 1 v Southampton 3

Sunday 20 April 2014

Chelsea 3 v Sunderland 1
Norwich City 1 v Liverpool 1
Hull City 2 v Arsenal 2

Monday April 21 2014

Everton 1 v Man Utd 2

Tuesday April 22 2014

Man City 2 v West Brom 0

Man City 11/8 For A Trophy-Less 2014/15

One point from two games means that Manchester City will do well to add to their Capital One Cup success this season with bet365 now betting on their trophy haul for 2014/15.

bet365 spokesman Steve Freeth "It wasn’t so long ago that we were quoting 40/1 about Manchester City landing an unprecedented quadruple, but League Cup win aside, Pellegrini's first season has petered out over the last couple of months.”

"The owners may be looking for an upgrade on the Capital One Cup next season."

Total 2014/15 Man City Major Trophies

None 11/8 One 11/10 Two 5/1 Three 25/1 Four 300/1

Soccer - Ronaldo ready to greet Bayern Munich

Cristiano Ronaldo could give Real Madrid a timely boost by returning for Wednesday's Champions League semi-final first-leg showdown against Bayern Munich. The 29-year-old has not played for the capital club since first picking up a knee injury and then a thigh complaint in the Champions League quarter-final against Borussia Dortmund on 2nd April. The Portugal talisman had to watch from the stands on Wednesday as his team-mates secured coach Carlo Ancelotti his first trophy in charge of Los Blancos in a 2-1 win against fierce rivals Barcelona in the final of the Copa del Rey at Valencia's Mestalla. The former Manchester United favourite said he was hoping to be back for the crunch visit of Pep Guardiola's Bundesliga giants to the Santiago Bernabeu. "I'm really happy. I wanted to play and help the team but my team-mates did a great job. I'm getting better, now I don't feel any pain," Ronaldo told the club's official website. He added: "I might be back in time for next Wednesday or perhaps the second leg of our Champions League tie. "Bit by bit I'm feeling better and what I want more than anything is to be able to help the team out as soon as possible." Real Madrid are three points behind leaders and city rivals Atletico Madrid in La Liga and are quoted 7/5 by bet365 in the outright betting. Ancelotti's Treble-chasers can also be backed at 11/4 to win this season's Champions League.

Soccer - Wenger hints at Ozil return

Club-record signing Mesut Ozil is expected to make his Arsenal return in Sunday's FA Cup final dress rehearsal against Hull City, manager Arsene Wenger has suggested. The £42.5million deadline-day capture from Real Madrid has not played since 11th March after picking up a hamstring injury against Bayern Munich in the Champions League. Wenger revealed the Germany international "should be available" for the trip to East Yorkshire to take on Steve Bruce's men at the KC Stadium. The Frenchman also revealed long-term injury-victim Abou Diaby is expected to make his long-awaited return to first-team training on Thursday. The luckless 27-year-old has not played for an entire year because of a serious injury but Wenger played down suggestions he could make his comeback between now and the end of the season. "Abou is back in full training on Thursday," Wenger added. "It's very difficult to say [if he will play this season] because he has not played for over a year now, and it's very difficult for me [to decide]. He looks physically fine, but he has to play one or two games before I consider bringing him back." Hull have only lost six of 17 home games so far this season in the Premier League and are quoted 7/2 by bet365 in the 90 minutes market, while the draw is available to back at 11/4. Arsenal are currently priced at 3/4 for the away win.

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Thursday, April 17, 2014

What is wrong with Barça?

Bale's wonder strike capped a miserable season for the Blaugrana

Marc Bartra heading an equalizer and Neymar hitting the post in the final of the Copa del Rey encapsulated Barcelona's hit and miss season, while Real Madrid march on.

Barça might be third in La Liga but more worryingly failed to make the last four of the 2014 Champions League. Meanwhile, memories of being thrashed 7-0 on aggregate last season by the young pretender Bayern Munich are still raw. Times are tough down the Camp Nou.

The most recent clasico saw a crazy league clash at the Bernabeu end 4-3 to the Catalans, so in last night's Spanish Cup final in Valencia, both sides began more defensively.

The blaugrana entered the changing rooms at half-time a goal down to their arch rivals, yet made an energetic fight-back and deserved to draw level. Barça then had the upper hand for a while at 1-1 before some Gareth Bale magic and a Neymar miss settled the tie.

This was more fading Catalan grandeur under the microscope. The mesmerising tiki-taka through the middle had largely gone, replaced by a few short exchanges before the ball was spread to the flanks for a lob into the box from Andres Iniesta or Daniel Alves, neither of whom are natural wingers.

Iniesta, Xavi and especially Lionel Messi were often invisible and many a cross found a white shirt. It was as if they were mourning former totem Pep Guardiola so much they had tried to ape Bayern's style, yet without the requisite type of player.

Alves wasted many touches and looked angry and frustrated. Messi saw one shot saved but dropped deep and influenced little. Neymar was elusive for both Real's defence and his attacking teammates.
Fabregas pulled a few useful strings in midfield but the ensemble did not convince in any meaningful way. The ferocious pressing of a few years back was nowhere to be seen. This was a Barça, if not firing blanks, then revolving at 33rpm instead of 45.

Real employed their familiar anti-Barça plan of counter-attacking at speed, with flat blanks of four behind them. Cristiano Ronaldo was out injured yet Angel Di Maria and Bale had plenty of velocity to make up for him and both scored. Indeed, it has been said that Bale plays better when Ronaldo is not there stealing his space, while similar things are whispered about Messi and Neymar.

Di Maria was particularly dangerous in the first half while Bale, far from energetic throughout, bided his time until a golden chance sprung up twenty minutes from the end and he was able to switch on his deadly afterburners.The Welshman's 50-yard run and strike was a wonder goal, but Barcelona had left their back door open for him to steal in.

They had a total of six in the opposition box when Daniel Carvajal headed Messi's cross out to begin the move. Barcelona were not alive to the risk of a swift counter so when Fabio Coentrao played the ball quickly upfield, Bale had already ghosted clear of Sergio Busquets, who jogged back exhausted and unable to give chase.

The fleet-footed Cardiffian had spied yards of open grass ahead and as the ball was played to him close to the halfway line, a scoring chance was already on the cards. Bartra's attempted obstruction was no obstacle as the Welshman just sprinted around him, invading Barça's technical area momentarily before bearing down remorselessly on goal. Kick and rush still works.

Barcelona are four points off the top with five games to go, third behind two teams who unlike them are still in the Champions League. Having lost the Copa del Rey, it looks like a trophy-less season for the team dubbed the best of all time when they won the last of their European Cups, three years ago in London.

So what has gone awry?

For a start there is the age question. Is the backbone of the side getting long in the tooth? And if so why was young starlet Thiago sold to Bayern and two promising youngsters loaned out - Gerard Deulofeu to Everton and Bojan Krkic to Ajax? At 36, Carles Puyol is in his final season, Xavi is 34, Alves 30 and Iniesta and Mascherano 29. Yet Pique is 27, Fabregas, Messi  and Pedro 26 and Busquets 25, while Neymar is only 22.

Neymar's nine goals in 25 outings is a moderate return so far on his £46.8 million transfer, but time is on his side and his stock should surely rise after this summer’s World Cup Finals.

The Brazilian of course was at the heart of a transfer scandal involving tax evasion which ended up with Barcelona’s President Sandro Rosell resigning over tax evasion in February. Further investigations into the club's recruitment of under-18 boys ended with FIFA banning the club from buying any players until the summer of 2015.

What was strange was that the club was warned a year before and did nothing to change its practices, as if it felt it was untouchable. Whispers have long circulated that UEFA has a soft spot for Barça, yet blaugrana aficionados have countered with the theory that Real Vice-President Pedro Lopez Jimenez was the driving force behind the ban, abusing his position on FIFA’s Player Status Committee.

Yet unless an appeal succeeds, Barça will have to go through all of next season without reinforcement from outside the club at a time when the youth system is not producing superstars. On and off the pitch, this season has been one of anguish.

While in theory boardroom activities should not leak onto on-field actions, the bad headlines and press attention for the wrong reasons cannot have helped the squad’s morale as they registered disappointing results.

Surely a side boasting the world’s greatest player should not be moaning one might think, but Messi has not been sensational this season. He was injured for a total of almost three months and found the changing system means he has less influence in attack than before.

There are murmurs that he is keeping something in reserve for the World Cup Finals in June, a suspicion not helped by the permanent presence at the Camp Nou of an Argentine F.A. physiotherapist. The FIFA World Cup would of course be the jewel in Messi’s crown and put him on an even footing in the annals with his nation’s hero Diego Maradona.

Perhaps the malaise is largely a prolonged hangover from the wondrous era of Guardiola which ended two seasons ago. It was almost impossible for that golden age to be replicated or topped, and a radical transformation of the club is required instead of producing perennially pale imitations.

Tito Vilanova was unlucky to be diagnosed with cancer barely a season into his job, meaning Gerardo Martino was handed the poisoned chalice of a great side having peaked and needing overhaul, while bearing the psychological imprint of its former leader, an unenviable task much like David Moyes' at Manchester United.

What Guardiola honed of course was a system everyone understood, a playing style based on short diagonal passing triangles creating an attacking force which advanced up the middle until it crashed like a wave on the edge of the opposition's penalty box.

Understanding the system came from having being schooled in La Masia and having played together for so many years that it became telepathic. Yet Martino & Neymar are newly arrived from another continent and other clubs. Martino has tried to install a more direct approach than before, but without the time to procure the players necessary for a new system, a muddle has ensued.

The Argentine's appointment looks decidedly like a stop-gap until the club land their intended fish, in much the same way it callously used Bobby Robson for a season until Louis Van Gaal became available. Yet who that special one is we will have to see.

The club probably should have reinforced the defence given Puyol's recurrent knee problems and found a quality partner for Piqué instead of making midfielder Javier Mascherano play at centre-back. It could also have invested in genuine wide men if that was the system to be used, but instead went for the marquee signing of Neymar.

Scoring more goals than the opposition is one way to win games, but a club neglects its defence at its peril and it appears Barcelona are less interested in backline recruitment. If Bayern are the leaders in world soccer right now it seems sensible to learn from them.

The Bavarians press like the Barça of old, have recognizable strikers and in Frank Ribéry and Arjen Robben two world-class widemen. But they are also physically impressive and perhaps Barcelona should improve their speed and strength to compete with the likes of Bale, Ronaldo and Guardiola's new boys.

At the end of the day however, Barcelona, as its motto reminds us, remains 'more than a club' and its star will rise again. Soccer success comes in waves and there is no guarantee of sustaining it. Golden generations never occur on a regular basis and when a crop of several top players arrives at once but is not replicated for years, the reasons are never clear.

The competition across Europe is also fierce with millions being invested by arriviste oligarchs and sheikhs in new powers like Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain to add to the existing powers in England, Germany and Italy. With the rise of Atletico Madrid, Spain itself is now hosting a three-horse dynasty for the first time in years.

The blaugrana will rise again, there is no doubt. With a vast sold-out stadium about to be expanded to 105,000 seats, a long history of being run by its members and its greater symbolism in Catalan folklore, there is no prospect of F.C. Barcelona continuing to decline as a football power.

But this is one season they will want to airbrush out of the official history.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A-League Finals 2014

A-League
Finals time in the A-League can only mean one thing - the annual debate about the merits of a finals system.

While the debate has been more muted this year, it's one that bubbles beneath the surface as five clubs vie to stop Brisbane Roar claiming what would be just reward for their season - a third A-League championship in four years.

Almost all football purists in Australia prefer the first-past-the-post system, rewarding the most consistent team across the 27-round season. This year there can be no argument that Brisbane Roar has been that team.

This is where the debate regarding the merit of a finals system becomes interesting.

With a first-past-the-post system, and with no relegation in the A-League, such was Brisbane's dominance this season the season as a contest would have ended weeks ago, with the final few rounds reduced to being, effectively, dead rubbers, except for the battle for the remaining ACL spots.

However, given the way some clubs seem to treat participation in the ACL that might be something some would be happy to avoid.

Yet with a finals system in place, the final few rounds generated excitement as teams swapped and changed positions all the way up to the final minute of the final game as Sydney’s last minute winner saw them climb above Adelaide into fifth, and set up an Elimination Final against arguably their biggest rival, Melbourne Victory.

In the process, however, the Premiership gets undervalued, particularly by FFA who seem intent on playing down its significance so as to not take away from the finals series. One just has to look at the low-key trophy presentations since the A-League’s inception to get an idea of where the Premiership sits in the pecking order according to the FFA. Finals are king, and by some margin, with the Grand Final winner (the 'Champion') the team recognised as the best of the season.

And rightly so, in my opinion.

Finals are an Australian tradition, across all sports, and whilst football shouldn’t always borrow from other sports on this occasion it is something that works. Just look at attendances, television ratings, media interest. Finals matter in Australia. And for the most part, the deserving Champion has emerged at the end of each season.

Let's hope that continues this season as Brisbane is the only club that truly deserve the title of Champion this season. The inconsistency, and at times, terrible form of other sides means there is only one deserving Champion this season. It would be an injustice should any other club hold aloft the toilet seat on May 4.

While following the other codes with a finals system is fine, one area the FFA and the A-League should be a leader is with simultaneous kick offs in the final round. Damien de Bohun's rationale for not having simultaneous kick offs, which is standard in almost all leagues across the world, was, quite frankly, a joke.

Television, time zones, stadium availability he cried.

Has he not heard of the red button on his FOXTEL remote? Fox Sports utilise it every weekend with their EPL coverage and did likewise with their Saturday night NRL coverage. It is entirely possible to screen five games at one time. Imagine the drama on the final day, especially one like this year when every game mattered and every goal altered the outcome of the top six.

With the fixture already manipulated to within an inch of its life, time zones aren't an excuse with any credibility. There was a round earlier this season when all five games were played in New South Wales. It's tough for Wellington and Perth, but scheduling the final round entirely on the East Coast isn't, or shouldn't, be an issue.

Even Adelaide, with only a 30-minute time difference, could comfortably host a game.

Stadium availability is the only excuse that has some merit given the difficulties in obtaining access to multi-use stadia when the three other football codes are also in-season. However, it is not insurmountable. With careful planning it can be overcome.

The one thing lacking is the will to actually make it happen. It's no longer good enough for the FFA to dismiss it out of hand.

Given the same debate has been had in the other football codes, who also steadfastly refuse to consider the option, it's time for the FFA to stop being a follower and be a leader.

Paul Williams

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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Meaning of Hillsborough 25 Years On

25 years ago today, 96 Liverpool fans died at Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield, asphyxiated following a crush in a spectator pen at the Leppings Lane end of the ground. 766 fans in total were injured, 300 of whom required hospitalisation.

The Meaning of Hillsborough 25 Years On

The Liverpool v Nottingham Forest F.A. Cup semi-final was abandoned barely six minutes into the match as a tragedy of horrific proportions was unfolding across England's airwaves.

The aftermath was extraordinary, with an entire nation momentarily convulsed by the senseless carnage. English football came to a standstill, and Liverpool's manager and players said it felt impossible to continue playing the season after such a tragedy.

Although the whole country was touched in sympathy, the playing-out of the disaster was particularly Northern, involving three cities born of the 19th century industrial revolution: Liverpool, Nottingham and Sheffield. The blood spilt was largely working-class and in the resulting tableau football still flew the flag of the people's religion, a remnant of close-knit solidarity in a post-industrial age.

In an age of increasing individualism and dying collectivism, those Liverpool supporters wore the same colours, sang the same songs, surged into the ground together and were crushed and died as one. And Merseyside's very public reaction to the deaths - a tapestry of flags and scarves, packed cathedrals and wailing families, was decidedly Victorian in its sensibility.

Had the tragedy occurred in London or the South of England the mourning would have been more private and curtailed. Yet this cultural nuance was lost on some right-wing Southerners, such as conservative commentator Simon Heffer, who was angry at the victims' relatives and boldly claimed that "Liverpool fans were killed by the thuggishness and ignorance of other Liverpool fans."

Sunday Times writer Edward Pearce opined, "The shrine in the Anfield goalmouth, the cursing of the police, all the theatricals, come sweetly to a city which is already the world capital of self-pity."

Britain's best selling tabloid The Sun, prompted by Conservative M.P. Irvine Patnick, went further and claimed that dying Liverpool fans had been stolen from, sexually assaulted and urinated upon by their comrades, in a notorious front-page splash entitled "The Truth."

The then government was hardly football-friendly, considering its rowdy supporters a nuisance at best and a national disgrace at worst. Until the Taylor Report into Hillsborough destroyed its credibility, a scheme to force all fans to carry special I.D. cards was being planned.

The sports minister hastily despatched to Sheffield was the diminutive and shrill former rowing cox Colin Moynihan, whose clipped accent and private school background could scarcely have made him less qualified to understand northern football culture.

Although government ministers hurried to be photographed in Sheffield, the Thatcher administration's cultural distancing was laid bare, confirming many a suspicion it did not really care about the Northern cities, whose allegiances it had assumed to belong to the opposition.

Liverpool was a decidedly left-wing place, but with a special history that set it apart from the rest of the country. With quick access to the Atlantic and the Irish Sea, its deep-water harbour meant that since the 1800s it had become a working city of docks, cranes, ships and ocean liners. It had long been used to African and Irish immigration, lived off transatlantic trade including slavery and managed a religious divide unique for an English city.

While the Beatles made the Scouse accent famous across the world, the docks were starting to close and by 1989 Liverpool was reeling in the social wreckage left by industrial collapse. Nottingham and Sheffield had also witnessed decline but still profited from the labour of coal-miners, whom the Prime Minister had dubbed "The Enemy Within" during their bitter conflict a few years earlier.

The people of Liverpool had no option but to take control of the situation: Anfield became a sea of scarves and flowers of condolence, a charity single topped the charts and an appeal raised £12 million. Whatever the divisions, the nation appeared to come together in grief and consolation in a fleeting return to the spirit of the Blitz. There is thus some nostalgia for what was a famous cultural moment of the 1980s, a decade when politics and identity really mattered.

Football fans felt a particular brotherhood, and I well remember collections at grounds for the appeal.

When the semi-final itself was eventually replayed in Manchester, a surreal atmosphere enveloped the occasion, with Nottingham Forest coach Brian Clough admitting before kick-off his team was in "a no-win situation". Forest manfully respected the nobility of the sport by trying to win, but Kenny Dalglish's side was in a rabid mood, exorcising their demons as they tore into Clough's team, eventually winning 3-1 before lifting the cup itself in May.

Wembley dismantled its hated fences for that game, and across the nation, the cages which had imprisoned supporters like animals since the 1970s were taken down, never to return. Such was the feeling of catharsis after Hillsborough that English soccer hooliganism lost its appeal and would never dictate the direction of the national sport again. It was undoubtedly a watershed.

Justice Taylor's report analysed the tragedy precisely, yet drew the controversial conclusion, having been egged on by the Football Association, that installing all-seater stadia was the way forward, when standing can be perfectly safe, as German football proves today. The conversion of the nation's grounds to all-seated arenas began in earnest, initially aided by F.A. grants and later by the windfall of TV money from Rupert Murdoch's Sky.

Fans argued against the death of the terraces on phone-ins and in print, yet were powerless to prevent the transformation. English stadia certainly became safer as a result of Hillsborough and would never be again the "medieval fortresses" which had horrified Taylor, yet the sport lost an extraordinary atmosphere to be mourned ever after by the 'terrace generation'.

It is a mistake, as is often claimed, to argue that the Taylor Report and by extension Hillsborough helped midwife the Premier League. Technology had made satellite TV possible and a number of companies spotted there was a gap in the market for regular live football. As England's No.1 sport, football was always going to be snapped up by the highest bidder, all-seat stadia or no.

25 years later, the fulsome tributes to the 96 victims are a measure of the emotional strength of Liverpool as a city and football's undimmed power to unite, while the new inquest is a pertinent reminder of the immense and unresolved pain the tragedy caused.

The new age of the Premier League since 1993, along with its 'year zero' statistics erasing what came before means some may look on Hillsborough as an embarrassing detail of the past, or a merely local issue. Yet Liverpool fans' refusal to forget while the team returns as a force heading for this year's title, and perhaps the personal connection of skipper Steven Gerrard, who lost a cousin that day, has meant Hillsborough remains a hot topic in English football in 2014.

What remains frustratingly unresolved a quarter of a century on is the blame for it all. While some tried and failed to smear the supporters, the police's handling of the event, the design and maintenance of the stadium and the actions of the emergency services have never come under proper scrutiny.

The persistent campaign of 'Justice for the 96' never died down, and finally bore fruit a couple of years ago. In September 2012, the Hillsborough Independent Panel, which had been formed the year before, exonerated the fans of any blame and reported that an astonishing 116 witness statements had been doctored by the police. It also concluded up to 41 of the 96 lives could have been saved had the emergency services been properly prepared.

At the end of 2012, the initial verdicts of accidental death were quashed by the Lord Chief Justice and a fresh inquest was launched, which is hearing testimony as we speak. Amid the commemoration of an unspeakable loss, the fusion of football and religion which filled Anfield today reminds us of the healing powers of community and friendship, and at the heart of that memory burns a defiant flame of justice undimmed by time.

Trevor Hicks, the highest-profile campaigner, who lost two daughters at Hillsborough,  had told the inquest earlier this week,

"To lose both your children is devastating, It's not that it's twice as bad, it's that you lose everything, the present, the future, any purpose."

Today he reminded the thousands gathered in the stadium today how strong they had all been:

 "We stuck together," he said. "We pulled, we pushed, and we refused to lie down. We refused to go away."

Following the failure of a number of private prosecutions against the South Yorkshire Police, the release of a number of previously withheld documents could finally see those negligent that fateful afternoon face justice.

Only then will the families and friends of the dead feel public vindication, although their personal losses will remain, tied to an unforgettable date:

The 15th of April 1989.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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Monday, April 14, 2014

History Tells Us That Brazil May Not Actually Be Favorites for 2014 World Cup

World Cup 2014, Brazil
With the 2014 World Cup taking place in the warm confines of Brazil this summer, many experts and fans alike have basically come to the consensus that this the Brazilian World Cup to lose.

The host nation has an incredibly talented squad, a pure striker in Neymar who is ready to burst on the international scene, and a pride that is simply unmatched by any other soccer nation on the planet. In front of their vibrant home fans, the Brazilians should stroll to glory!

But one thing that might actually crush this blind hope is a little trip down memory lane. 2014 will actually be the second time that Brazil has hosted a World Cup, with the first edition coming in 1950. That year was also supposed to be a resounding victory for the host country of Brazil, but instead, it became a great soccer tragedy widely known as the "Maracanazo".

The 1950 World Cup was a strange one in many ways. Because of World War II, the event had not been held since 1938, and by 1950 there were many famous soccer teams that took no part in the tournament, including France, Germany, Argentina, Belgium, the Soviet Union, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Turkey. Nevertheless the tournament would go on, and still did contain some famous contenders like Italy, Spain, Uruguay, England, the United States, Mexico, and Yugoslavia.

Another strange quality to the 1950 World Cup was the organization. Because of teams dropping out, only 14 teams participated, and one of the 4 groups contained just Uruguay and Bolivia. But Brazil had a group they could dominate, featuring Mexico, Switzerland, and Yugoslavia.Brazil certainly liked their chances, but with the event having not occurred in over a decade, it was hard to place a finger on any favorites.

That all changed in the first game between Brazil and Mexico. Brazil won 4-0 thanks in large part to a brace by the fantastic striker at that time Ademir. Although a draw with Switzerland was not ideal, Brazil pushed on to the final round with a win over Yugoslavia, Ademir again scoring a goal! The final round would be a round robin affair with the 4 group winners taking part.Spain and Sweden both won their groups, while Uruguay turned a few heads with an 8-0 rout of Bolivia, but were still seen as outsiders.

In the final round, Brazil again opened strongly. They routed Sweden 7-1 (Ademir with a hat trick) and trounced Spain 6-1. Other potent Brazilians from this team included Cico and Zizinho, and they played beautiful soccer that wowed the spectators. Meanwhile, Uruguay struggled. They could only draw 2-2 against Spain and barely beat Sweden 3-2 with a late goal by Miguez. Heading into the last match, Brazil was a team on fire and needed just a draw to be crowned champions. Uruguay looked shaky at best and needed to win.

The days leading up to the match were a party for Brazilian fans who had already declared themselves as champions. The worldwide press agreed with these sentiments. A special song was being composed for the soccer team of Brazil, FIFA president Jules Rimet had a speech written in Portuguese for the impending "winners", and victorious medals had already been assembled for the Brazilian players. Everyone seemed to forget the simple fact that there was still a soccer match to be played.

On the morning of the final game, Uruguay captain Obdulio Varela collected a batch of newspapers (all declaring Brazil to be the World Cup champions) and brought them forth to his teammates, instructing them to pee on them!  In the dressing room, he brought forth a rousing speech, urging his players to not be intimidated by their opponents and go forth with an offensive strategy.

This famously contradicted with the views of the Uruguayan coach Juan Lopez, who had wished for his players to defend. But the players then had to march into a stadium filled with nearly 200,000 roaring fans, nearly all of which supported Brazil. It was the largest crowd for a soccer match in history!

Something tells me that such a monstrous crowd may have actually played to the favor of Uruguay. Due to all the pre-match hype and declarations of glory, Brazil was under immense pressure.  For such a proud soccer country, they had yet to actually attain the World Cup, and in front of their fans this was supposed to be their coronation. Even the mightiest of contenders can falter under such circumstances!


The match began tensely as this weight was firmly upon their Brazilian shoulders. At half time the score was still tied 0-0 and Uruguay was gaining hope that they could snatch victory. But Brazil scored early in the second half and the party was full on!  Friaca had broken through and beat the keeper, sending the crowds into frenzied celebrations.
Varela played a typical soccer stall tactic and began arguing a nonexistent offside call.  Eventually the crowd had settled from their cheers due to the delay and the game continued.  This move may have been the vital act that prevented an all-out trouncing from occurring.
Uruguay then took command of the game and played with an immense spirit beyond what people thought was capable. Schiaffino and Ghiggia both scored goals as the half winded down, and by the time of the final whistle, Uruguay had become the champions!
An eerie silence descended upon the stadium. There was no presentation for Uruguay simply because no one had thought they would win. The trophy was merely placed in Varela’s hands as the stadium began to empty.  Despair was widespread throughout Brazil as people failed to believe their eyes.  There were even reports of fans committing suicide!  The horror became known as the "Maracanazo" and Brazilian football would never again be the same. Players were booted from the team permanently. They even discarded their white uniforms forever, taking on the current yellow home jerseys. In essence, it was a national tragedy! So can something of the same sort actually happen now, 64 years removed from this infamous occasion?
You better believe it can! The latest odds makers only mark Brazil as 3/1 favorites to lift the cup. While those odds are the best among the contenders, it would still be less than a 50% certainty that Brazil should take home the title!
Additionally, with so many close competitors like Germany, the Netherlands, Argentina, Portugal, Spain, Italy, and even Uruguay all vying for glory, Brazil will have an even tougher task at winning the World Cup than they did in 1950.
In some way, I could even see Uruguay completing the feat once again.  They have top class strikers in Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani, and I am sure that they are being reminded regularly about that famous triumph in 1950.
However, this 2014 World Cup progress, we can be certain of one thing.  This will be no cake walk for Brazil!

© Nicholas Spiller & Soccerphile.com

Nicholas Spiller is the editor of the soccer site Sport Spiller

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Friday, April 11, 2014

George's Premiership Predictions April 12

bet365Of the three teams with a realistic chance of winning the Premier League, Manchester City play an in-form Southampton at home, Liverpool travel to east London to face West Ham, Chelsea play Stoke at Stamford Bridge hoping to put their poor display away to PSG in the Champions League.

Saturday 12 April 2014

Sunderland 1 v Everton 2
Stoke City 2 v Newcastle 0
Fulham 2 v Norwich City 0
Crystal Palace 1 v Aston Villa 1
West Brom 1 v Tottenham 0
Southampton 3 v Cardiff City 1
Sunday 13 April 2014

Liverpool 1 v Man City 1
Monday April 14 2014

Swansea City 0 v Chelsea 2

Man Utd 6/4 To Miss Top 4 – 14/1 To Win Europa League!

For the first time in nearly twenty years, barring a miracle, Manchester United won't be competing in the Champions League next season and bet365 are 6/4 they miss out on a top four finish in 2014/5 and 14/1 they win the Europa League.

bet365spokesman Steve Freeth "We’ve chalked up 14/1 for Man Utd to qualify and lift the Europa League next season but entertaining Europe’s lesser lights on Thursday nights may not be top of their agenda, whereas getting back with the elite as soon as possible, could well be."

2014/5 Manchester United Specials

Top 4 Finish

Yes 1/2 No 6/4

Manchester United to win 2014/15 Europa League 14/1 (All in, qualify or not)

To Win Major Trophy During 2014/15

Yes 13/8 No 4/9

(PL, FAC, LC, CL/EL)

Soccer - Moyes focuses on Champions League return

Manchester United boss David Moyes, whose side are 33/1 with bet365 to finish in the top four this season, is hopeful of a swift return to Champions League football. The Red Devils were knocked out of this season's competition by holders Bayern Munich on Wednesday evening, and United are set to miss out next season as they currently lie down in seventh place in the Premier League. However, Moyes is determined to bring in new players this summer to try and ensure that United are back among the European elite in 2015/16, stressing that his side's absence from Europe shouldn't last long. He told reporters: "My focus is on getting a side together to get back in the Champions League. "Any players we've quietly discussed it with are more than happy to join Manchester United. They know it's not a long-term thing. "We're looking to spend the right money on players who are available and it's not anything to do with the Champions League."

Soccer - Courtois sweats on semi-final draw

Atletico Madrid loan goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois is set to miss his side's Champions League semi-final if they are paired with his parent club Chelsea. Atleti, who are 9/2 with bet365 to be crowned European champions for the first time, would be forced to pay a major fee to the Blues to field Courtois and they are unlikely to be able to do so. Atletico president Enrique Cerezo told Spanish radio station Onda Cero: "The problem is whether Courtois can play if we get Chelsea in the draw. "There is something in the contract. For him to play we would have to pay a large quantity of money, a figure we cannot pay." If Courtois is forced to miss out, Atleti will be forced to turn to former Athletic Bilbao and Deportivo La Coruna keeper Daniel Aranzubia, who has only featured on two occasions so far this season. Courtois will be clear to play if Atletico are drawn against either Bayern Munich or Real Madrid.

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Fifa World Rankings April 2014

FIFA World Fifa Rankings
Fifa's World Rankings for March 2013 were published yesterday at FIFA HQ in Zurich, Switzerland. The Fifa World Rankings are now published on Thursday and not Wednesday as before.

Euro 2012 winners Spain are still on top of the FIFA rankings for yet another month and there were only a few changes in the top 20 positions. Spain are followed by Germany, Portugal, Colombia, Uruguay, Argentina, World Cup 2014 hosts Brazil, Switzerland, Italy, and Greece.

England are 11th up one place with their last game a home friendly win against Denmark at Wembley.

Scotland are in 22nd position, up an amazing 15 places. The Republic of Ireland are in 65th place up 3 places, Wales are in 47th, up 2 places with Northern Ireland down in 84th place, up 2 spots from last month.

Ranking Team
1 Spain
2 Germany
3 Argentina
4 Portugal
5 Colombia
6 Uruguay
7 Switzerland
8 Italy
9 Brazil
10 Belgium
11 Netherlands
12 England
13 Greece
14 USA
15 Chile
16 Croatia
17 France
18 Ukraine
19 Russia
20 Mexico

Full world rankings

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Tuesday, April 8, 2014

A Race that never ends

Chris Hughton's dismissal from Norwich City yesterday was the ninth sacking  in the Premier League this season.

Eight of the twenty teams have fired their managers since the campaign began last August, Fulham have pulled the trigger twice (on Martin Jol and Rene Meulensteen) and the result is a tableau of carnage with only six clubs employing the same coach they had in 2012.

Three of the top ten longest-serving managers currently working in the top flight were appointed as recently as last summer: Mark Hughes, Roberto Martinez and Jose Mourinho.

It is unlikely any more heads will roll before the end of the season, but expect another round of blood-letting in the summer. Last year five new Premier League bosses were appointed during the close season.

Despite the incessant opprobrium heaped upon Arsene Wenger, Spurs' Tim Sherwood is the bookies' favourite to be pushed next, followed by West Brom's Pepe Mel and Newcastle's Alan Pardew.

The merry-go-round is revolving so fast, the rewards of top-flight survival so high and the desperation of directors to avoid relegation so painful that at least half of the coaching roles on offer must be, as Graham Taylor said of England, impossible jobs.

If Michael Laudrup could bring Swansea their first major trophy and a host of admiring suitors but then be shown the door less than a year later following one win in ten, nobody is safe.

A fear of relegation is of course not the only reason for dismissal: Andre Vilas-Boas was booted out by Spurs with the team in seventh and having won eight out of sixteen matches.

A lust for short-term success militates against the sort of long-term planning the best teams have benefited from, leaving the hapless managers in Catch-22 positions, with no job security and an ever-present fear of the boot after a run of duff scorelines. Forget that new youth policy, the psychologist, advanced conditioning and new playing style you had in mind when you took the job, we need to get the ball into the box or I am out of a job on Monday.

Give him time is the perennial mayday call for managers in trouble, but since no-one can specify how long is enough, directors tend to plump for the fear factor, shift the blame and wield the knife. If Fulham go down this season, the owners can always blame it on Martin Jol instead of the mid-season upheaval his abrupt departure and the hasty appointing of his inexperienced assistant brought.

As of today, the bottom seven teams in the Premier League have all fired their managers this season, which makes Norwich's move with five games to go look like a clueless card, a last-ditch throw of the dice, or what they aptly call in American Football, a 'Hail Mary.'

God help us indeed.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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