World Soccer News for week of 2/19
Ozren Podnar reports
Plague of injuries torments Barcelona
An unprecedented wave of injuries and suspensions led to Barcelona's first defeat in the Spanish League and the first away defeat in all competitions this season. Four defensive players were injured and two suspended within a couple of days of the big match between Atletico Madrid and Barcelona at Vicente Calderon forcing Josep Guardiola to play winger Jeffren Suarez as the right full back.
Without Alves, Abidal, Toure and Chigrinski due to muscular injuries plus the red-carded Pique and Marquez, Barcelona lost 2-1, allowing Real Madrid to close the gap at the top to two points with 16 matches to go.
Not only did Barcelona lose the points but also two more players, as Keita and Xavi succumbed to – you've guessed – muscular injuries! The events led to an emergency meeting of Barcelona's medical staff in hope of ascertaining the causes of the players' muscles' fragility and preventing future casualties.
Buffon under fire for blaspheming
Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon has upset the religious part of the Italian public for his alleged swearing during the Juventus vs Genoa game. The sports programs have employed lip readers in order to clarify if Buffon took God's name in vain.
The public interest is due to the fact that in a couple of weeks swearing in soccer will become an offence punishable by a red card if the referee hears it, or with a ban if the foul language is captured on film.
The rule, approved by the FA, has not yet entered into force, but Buffon's apparent blaspheming against God has turned into an experiment for the media. The question on everybody's mind is how the soccer authorities will prove what exactly a player shouted just based on his lip movement or facial expression.
Buffon admitted that punishing somebody who offends God or the faithful may be the right thing to do, but failed to clarify what he himself said on the occasion and noted that the regulation would be hard to apply.
"I wonder who will be able to prove whether a player said Dio (Italian for God), Zio (uncle) or Dino," Buffon was quoted as saying.
Ovrebo and Hansson in action again
UEFA's human resources department is due for some heavy maintenance after the organization's controversial decision to name Tom Henning Ovrebo and Martin Hansson for last week's Champions League matches.
Ovrebo made a name for himself last May when he singlehandedly stopped Chelsea from reaching their first Champions League finals by denying them at least three and possibly four good penalty claims against Barcelona. The Norwegian was also wildly wrong to send of Barcelona's Eric Abidal late in the second half. Still, good of UEFA to select him again to referee Bayern vs Fiorentina (2-1), where he showed that his eye for offside was just as acute as for penalties.
With a minute to go, Bayern's Ivica Olic headed the ball forward towards Miroslav Klose deep in an offside position for the German international to score the home side's winning goal. Since Klose was about two meters behind Fiorentina's defense, it is not clear what Ovrebo and his linesman were thinking when validating the goal.
Deep down south in Oporto the home crowd admired the performance by Sweden's Martin Hansson, the very same guy who denied Brazil a good goal in last year's Confederation Cup finals and overlooked Thierry Henry's handball in the World Cup qualifier between France and Ireland (1-1).
This time Hansson allowed Porto players to execute an indirect kick before Arsenal's defense had any chance to set up a wall or perhaps even to realize just what the ref had ruled. The play produced the second goal for Porto, who will travel to Emirates Stadium with an undeserved 2-1 advantage. Hansson also failed to award a clear penalty to Arsenal for a blatant foul on Rosicky.
And such a referee, inevitably, will be among the officials featured at the World Cup. Possibly because FIFA's human resources department belong to the same school of thought as their counterparts at UEFA.
Playoff to determine a CL berth in England?
According to UK press reports, the Premier League is studying a change in the qualifying system for the Champions League. The change would affect the fourth berth for the prime soccer competition, which is currently automatically awarded to the fourth placed team.
Under the proposed new regulations, the teams occupying the fourth through seventh position would play-off for the remaining spot in the Champions League. The playoffs would very much look like the post-regular season games in England's lower divisions between the teams placed from third to sixth in order to determine who goes up.
According to the proponents, the modification of the qualifying system would give added hope of reaching the European elite competition to a few more teams beyond the classic "big four" of Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool.
The Premier League apparently plans to discuss the measure at an assembly scheduled for April, while a spokesman for the organization declined to confirm or deny the reports regarding the proposed changes.
Advocaat not replacing Hiddink in Russia
Russia's debacle in the World Cup qualifiers against Slovenia put an end to Guus Hiddink's tenure as the national team coach, opening the floodgates to rumours as to who will succeed the Dutchman in one of the world's better paid jobs.
The Russian press claimed it would be another Dutchman with knowledge of the local game, Dick Advocaat. Still, the former Zenit Petrograd coach rejected the speculations saying no-one from the Russian FA has contacted him regarding the job. Even if they had, it would be highly unlikely that Belgium would release Advocaat from his current contract tying him to the Red Devils' squad.
On the other hand, the Turkish FA announced they had reached an agreement with Hiddink and that the ex-Chelsea manager will take over Turkey starting next July.
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